Saturday, August 25, 2012

Local Church Sanctification

Since we have a couple families going through our membership process right now, this video caught my attention. There is much biblical wisdom here for all of us.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Come and Worship

Looking forward to gathering with the saints this Lord's Day!

Holy, Holy, Holy (#3)
Call Jehovah Thy Salvation (#499)
Be Still, My Soul (#500)
He Who Would Valiant Be (#507)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Exodus 40; Psalm 100
New Testament: Hebrews 13:7-25

Jonathan Bixby

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Radically Secularized Bible

A few weeks ago, I identified Americanism as one of the idols we must avoid as American Christians. This is particularly important in our current election year if we are to keep our heads screwed on straight. In that sermon I said it was dangerous to apply Christ's "city on a hill" metaphor to America.

In a recent interview about his book In Search of the City on a Hill, Hillsdale College professor Richard Gamble, with far more historical expertise than I, expressed exactly the same concerns.

I'm troubled by just how secularized the 'city on a hill' metaphor has become. I think it has become so closely identified with the American nation and with the American sense of mission that at risk of losing all of its identification with the church. This was a test case for me of showing how biblical language can become radically secularized and politicized....I'd like to see Christians who read this book pause and think a little more carefully about what happens to the identity of the church when America, or any nation state, takes on even part of that identity....But the church has ultimately lost something by surrendering that city on a hill identity, and it leads to a profound confusion between the city of God and the city of man, between the work of the church and the work of the state.

I truly believe that the gospel will not make good progress in this nation if we don't make clear that it means turning to God from idols to serve the living and true God. May God help the churches of this nation to reclaim our God-given identity.

Again, you can listen to the entire interview here.

Friday, August 17, 2012

All Things to All Men

Those with a heart to serve others for the sake of the gospel will want to know, "What does it mean to become all things to all men?" Join us this Lord's Day to find out.

All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name (#36)
Jesus Christ, the Crucified (#386)
The Solid Rock (#392)
Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness (#400)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Exodus 39:22-43; Psalm 99
New Testament: Hebrews 13:1-6

A Godly Example of Liberty in Love: Part 3: All Things to All Men - 1 Corinthians 9:1-27

Friday, August 10, 2012

Serving Others because of the Gospel

The apostle Paul had the gospel running through his veins. He simply could not approach any situation without trinitarian, doxological, free grace ways of thinking and acting. His deep understanding of the gospel, not his own rights, directed how he should act in every situation, and it demanded that he serve others. Join us to observe his example and apply it to our lives this Lord's Day.

Come, Holy Ghost, Our God and Lord (#209)
Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed? (#141)
Make Me a Captive, Lord (#565)
Take My Life and Let It Be (#560)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Exodus 39:1-21; Psalm 84
New Testament: Hebrews 12:18-29

A Godly Example of Liberty in Love: Part 2: Serving Others because of the Gospel - 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

The Holy Catholic Church?

Someone asked me a good question a few days ago about the Apostles' Creed. Why does it say "I believe in the holy catholic church?"

The confusion is perfectly understandable. "Catholic" to us often means "Roman Catholic Church." But a simple definition, along with some history and biblical explanation, should clear up the confusion.

The term "catholic" comes from the Greek word katholikos, meaning "general" or "universal," and it is still used that way in contemporary English. The catholic church is the universal church.

Early Christian leaders described the church in this way for three reasons. First, the church spreads throughout the whole world and is thus universal. It is not limited to any particular nation or ethnic group. Second, the church is universal because it takes into itself all kinds of people. Kings, criminals, rich, poor, intelligent, simple, married, unmarried, old, young, men, women - all sons of Adam who are in Christ are in the church. Third, the church is universal because it holds forth the gospel which is the universal remedy for sin.

Is this description biblical? Very much so. Christ commanded his disciples to "make disciples of all nations" (Matt 28:19). Jesus "ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation" (Rev 5:9). All who have put on Christ are one in Christ Jesus, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female (Gal 3:28). We preach the gospel because "it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believers, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Rom 1:16). These are the biblical truths that are confessed when we say, "I believe in the holy catholic church."

Over time, for a wide variety of reasons, catholicity became attached to being in fellowship with the bishop of the church of Rome - i.e., the pope. In other words, you are part of the universal church if you are in fellowship with the pope. We reject this unbiblical teaching. But while rejecting what is unbiblical, we must also hold to what is clearly biblical. Belief in the catholic church is basic biblical truth.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Classic Book for Free

I highly encourage everyone in our church to read, digest, and re-read J. C. Ryle's classic work Holiness. I recently became aware that it is freely available in pdf format here.

"Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord" (Heb 12:14, ESV).

Once again, you can access and download the entire book here.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Olympics Profit Little

Given our current sermon series, and the applications we have made, I cannot pass up the opportunity to point you to this rumination on the religious underpinnings of the Olympic Games. In "Salvation by Sport," Peter Leithart writes,

The modern Olympics is the most wildly successful product of the classical revival in Romantic and post-Romantic culture....The religious underpinnings of the Olympic revival were explicit in the voluminous writings of the French educator, historian, and sociologist, Baron Pierre de Coubertin....For Coubertin, the Olympics cultivated the ancient religio athletae for the modern world. Sports foster physical culture as well as an ethos of "nobility of thinking and purity of morals." Coubertin wrote in his memoirs, "For me, sport is a religion with church, dogma, cult . . . but especially with religious feeling."

It is not that sports are wrong; far from it. But the Olympics are not merely people playing and having a good time of challenging competition. Thus Leithart says,

Working out Christianity’s relation to sports raises tricky ethical and pastoral questions. But we can’t hope to untangle those issues without starting from the baseline recognition that Olympism was created to be, and remains, one of the church’s most formidable rivals.

There are transcendent ideals in play here, just as in the Olympics of old. Some sources I have read recently seem to corroborate Leithart's evaluation.

Mark Golden, in his careful study Sport and Society in Ancient Greece, says, "Greek religion was essentially a matter of acts – rituals such as processions, sacrifices, feasts – not of creeds or dogmas. It might be argued that festivals, which brought together most of the acts characterizing Greek religion, were its most important public manifestation. By this token, athletic and equestrian competition, allied as it was with festival celebration, was intrinsically religious" (14-15).

The ancient athlete was considered the embodiment of what was good, beautiful, and excellent. Nigel Spivey notes "the pervasive Classical Greek belief that beauty was invested with morality; that to look good was also necessarily to be good....According to this equation, what you saw was what you got" (The Ancient Olympics: A History, 57). This fit precisely with the ideology behind competing nude. As David Potter says, "looking good in the buff was a sign that one possessed what it took to be a contender. It also marked the athlete as someone special and, to survive the events in which he competed, special was what he needed to be" (The Victor’s Crown: A History of Ancient Sport from Homer to Byzantium, 78).

By training and overcoming in competition, the athlete achieved arete - excellence, virtue. In his superb study Ancient Greek Athletics, Stephen Miller observes that we easily think this way today. He opens his chapter on "Arete" with these words: "We want our athletes to be better than they are. We want to follow their exploits and rejoice when they win or break records. They are an extension of ourselves and an unrelinquished claim on our youth, an eternal source of memories of the days when we could run fast and jump far, when our muscles stretched and grew. We look at them and see ourselves as we would want to be seen, and sometimes we fool ourselves that we might have been as good at games as they. They represent an undying hope that we have a share in immortality, and they allow us to step outside ourselves from time to time so that we can return refreshed and revived to our everyday lives" (235). For a contemporary example of this undying hope, just note how ESPN advertises its "Body Issue": "It's okay to stare. That's what The Body Issue is here for. Each year, we stop to admire the vast potential of the human form. To unapologetically stand in awe of the athletes who've pushed their physiques to profound frontiers. To imagine how it would feel to inhabit those bodies, to leap and punch and throw like a god. To ... well, gawk. So go ahead; join us."

This arete was the path to a pagan kind of immortality. Glory would be given to the victor in statue and song. Potter says, "Statues at this time and place do not represent the common man, or the ideal of the average. They are intended to reify the ideal of the extraordinary that Pindar also commemorates. But both statues and victory songs considerably understate the role of the great athlete in contemporary imagination. Indeed, even Great King Darius of Persia knew that athletes had to be very special in the world of his Greek subjects….Fans of men like Theogenes and Euthymus imagined that they had extraordinary qualities….The equation between divinities and athletes was well established by the time the games of 476 opened, even if Theogenes hadn’t started telling people that Hercules was really his father…" (93-5). William Blake Tyrrell says, "To have his name resound upon the ears of men born long after his death - that is the motivation that drives more than the Homeric warrior; that is the ideal sought by every Greek" (The Smell of Sweat: Greek Athletics, Olympics, and Culture, 4).

I don't think it is an accident that as Christian ideals gradually influenced Western civilization, athletics were put back in their proper place - a grateful enjoyment of a good gift from God, but with no transcendent pretentions (1 Tim 4:7-8). I also don't think it is an accident that as our society has embraced pagan humanism, sports systems have started to show an uncanny resemblance to Olympia, and sports stars to the offspring of Zeus.

I hope that Christians will think carefully and act wisely in our current cultural moment, neither rejecting God's good gifts nor participating in idolatry. Frankly, I suspect that we are deep into the latter without realizing it. 1 Corinthians 8-10 has a lot to say to inform us. I don't know all the answers to this problem. As Leithart said, there are tricky ethical issues here. Nevertheless, I plead with all believers who watch the Olympics to do so with their eyes open. Jesus is Lord, and our zeal for his kingdom ought to make the Olympics look like the child's play that it is.

Free from All, Servant to All

"Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many," Jesus tells us. He also says, "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."

Free from all...servant to all. How does this work?

The apostle Paul understood. He lived his life as a beautiful combination of these truths, and this Lord's Day we will look at his example in order to learn how we can do the same.

O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing (#69)
Amazing Grace (#247)
O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus (#249)
Lord Jesus Christ, We Seek Thy Face (#667)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Exodus 38:21-31; Psalm 66
New Testament: Hebrews 12:12-17

A Godly Example of Liberty in Love - 1 Corinthians 9:1-27

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Churchly Unity

I do not think that evangelical unity is particularly important or something to which we should aspire.  Christian unity is; but Christian unity, if it is to be achieved this side of glory, will be a churchly unity.  Evangelicalism is a non-churchly category. It does not organize churches. It does not ordain people. It does not disciple people. All these things are done by specific churches in specific places under specific leadership (both in terms of structure and personalities). The church is a creation of God; the parachurch is not. And Christian unity, if it is ever to be achieved on earth, requires churches talking to each other as churches.

Carl Trueman, "Ah, Ted, that would be the great leaders themselves..."

Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes! If you get just this point, then you will understand something that is near and dear to the vision of High Country Baptist Church.

Digging About

Athelas, Aragorn tells Sam Gamgee, grows now only sparsely and near places where the Men of the West camped in ancient times. We are the heirs of a great cultural inheritance, and with a little effort, it can still be found....

In his inaugural lecture at Cambridge in 1954, C. S. Lewis spoke of thinkers like "Old Western men," men who, like Tolkien's Men of the West, were dying out. As Lewis predicted, they are now all but gone. But if we dig about their camps, there are things still growing that have the cultural power to heal.

Martin Cothran, "Man & Men," The Classical Teacher (Late Summer 2012), 14

Reminds me of what we are doing as a church.