Friday, November 30, 2012

Just Another Idol

Scientism - or what Austin L. Hughes calls the "latest superstition" - is simply another way of exchanging the glory of the immortal God for created things. Scientism is the belief that all real knowledge is 'scientific' knowledge, i.e. that which is observable and measurable. As we have learned from 1 Corinthians 8-10, this is one of the idols that we must flee, both for our brother's sake and for our own sakes.

Here is an interesting little video which discusses C. S. Lewis' insight into parallels between magic and modern science.

You can read my recommendation of Lewis' book, The Abolition of Man, over at the Religious Affections Ministries website.

Do All to the Glory of God

One all-dominating goal if we want to advance the gospel in a land of false gods - do all to the glory of God. We will explore and apply this principle this Lord's Day.

Psalm 95
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (#87)
What Child Is This? (#120)
Give to Our God Immortal Praise (#53)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Leviticus 10; Psalm 141
New Testament: Luke 5:17-39

Do All to the Glory of God - 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Freedom Perfected in Service

Only the Son can set you free, and we will only be free when we serve him as our master.

This has political ramifications.

Oliver O'Donovan writes that what happens in the church by the Spirit of God "is a paradigm for the birth of free society, grounded in the recognition of a superior authority which renders all authorities beneath it relative and provisional. We discover we are free when we are commanded by that authority which commands us according to the law of our being, disclosing the secrets of the heart. There is no freedom except when what we are, and do, corresponds to what has been given us to be and to do. ‘Given to us’, because the law of our being does not assert itself spontaneously merely by virtue of our existing. We receive ourselves from outside ourselves, addressed by a summons which evokes that correspondence of existence to being" (The Desire of the Nations, 252).

By contrast, the late modern social order in which we live conceives of freedom quite differently.

"The point of departure [for the modern social order] is the moment of 'free' choice, indifferent and indeterminate....Society derives from an original free compact of individuals, who have traded in their absolute freedoms for a system of mutual protection and government....It means that society's demands are justified only in so far as they embody what any individual might be expected to will as his or her own good. It rejects the Christian paradox of freedom perfected in service" (275).

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Free Indeed

Freedom is a god-word in our society today. Everyone appeals to it as an unquestioned and unquestionable good. But what is it?

Christians also talk much about freedom and Christian liberty, but too often we fail to grasp and appreciate the full meaning of liberty in Christ. This is particularly important to our grasp of 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1, the text we have been considering for a few months now.

Let me illustrate with something I recently read. In a work beloved by libertarian types and Austrian school economists, Frederic Bastiat asked,

...What is the political struggle that we witness? It is the instinctive struggle of all people toward liberty. And what is this liberty, whose very name makes the heart beat fast and shakes the world? Is it not the union of all liberties--liberty of conscience, of education, of association, of the press, of travel, of labor, of trade? In short, is not liberty the freedom of every person to make full use of his faculties, so long as he does not harm other persons while doing so? Is not liberty the destruction of all despotism--including, of course, legal despotism? Finally, is not liberty the restricting of the law only to its rational sphere of organizing the right of the individual to lawful self-defense; of punishing injustice?

There is much to appreciate in these questions, particularly in opposition to the socialists, but there are also fatal flaws. This is not the biblical understanding of freedom, and we do not do well if we read this into the apostle Paul's discussions of the topic. Bastiat thinks of freedom as arising from the individual, but because of this his whole theory of law and society breaks down. He can only see law as a negative constraint, not as a positive contribution to a greater good. He opposes the "many" of socialism by means of the "one" of individualism. He cannot overcome the perennial problem of how to harmonize individual man and corporate mankind.

Yet Bastiat even went so far as to promise a kind of heaven on earth if only individuals could be free from restraint.

Self-preservation and self-development are common aspirations among all people. And if everyone enjoyed the unrestricted use of his faculties and the free disposition of the fruits of his labor, social progress would be ceaseless, uninterrupted, and unfailing. 

This is a decidedly humanistic view of mankind.

In contrast to this, when the apostle Paul speaks of being free, he does not have in mind the autonomous use of his faculties. Freedom primarily has to do with being released from the power of sin and the law by the power of the Spirit so that one can be all he was meant to be in Christ (note esp. Rom 6 and 8 and Gal 4 and 5). "Freedom" has theological meaning for the apostle Paul which is overtakes any passing sociological context (cf. 1 Cor 7:21-22). It is intimately connected with the new creation and the new covenant (2 Cor 3:17). This mirrors perfectly what Jesus said to the Jews (John 8:33, 36).

Paul's idea of freedom also comes through in the statements "All things are lawful for me" (6:12) and "All things are lawful" (10:23). Paul takes a common notion about freedom and redefines it in Christian terms. As David Garland expresses it perfectly: "Freedom is freedom from something; but for it to be meaningful, it must be freedom for something….[Paul] conceives of freedom in terms of belonging to another (6:19-20; 7:22-23; 9:19; Rom 14:8), not in terms of self-determination or self-interest. The more one seeks life’s meaning in God, the freer one becomes" (1 Corinthians, 229). So when Paul says "All things are lawful," he means that everything in its proper relation to Christ is permissible for him to do. [And he can quite literally say “all things” because everything belongs to Christ and believers possess them by virtue of their union with Christ (1 Cor 3:21-23).]

This, of course, rules out anything which is contrary to the law of Christ. That which is inherently sinful is not included in Paul’s statement, for it is not part of “all things” from a new creation perspective. For example, adultery is not permissible. But adultery is a perversion of marital love, and marital love is permissible. All things, as they were meant to be in Christ, are permissible for me. 

For Paul, to be free meant to be able to live for God, to be all he was meant to be in Christ. Freedom is tied to holiness, without which it would not be freedom. Freedom includes righteousness and justice, without which it would not be freedom. Freedom includes mercy and grace, without which it would not be freedom. Freedom includes truth and faithfulness, without which it would not be freedom. Freedom includes love, without which it would not be freedom. In other words, freedom means being taken up into the life of God via union with Christ by the Spirit.

All of this is possible because Jesus has come, perfectly kept the old covenant as the last Adam, died in our place, and has risen from the dead and ascended to the Father, inaugurating the new covenant era of the new creation. That redefines everything! Paul saw this, and that’s why he lived according to the law of Christ, which is the perfect law of liberty and is fulfilled by love. He understood himself and his ministry and everyone else in that light. May we do the same, and thereby show the world that "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36).

Saturday, November 24, 2012


This is late in coming, but here it is in time for your preparations for the Lord's Day.

O Worship the King (#46)
Let Us Love (#483)
May the Mind of Christ My Savior (#476)
O for a Heart to Praise My God (#70)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Leviticus 9:1-24; Psalm 138
New Testament: Luke 5:1-16

Freedom to Seek the Glory of God and the Good of Others - 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Value of Reading Multiple Translations

Twice today I experienced scenarios which illustrate well something I encourage believers to do - study from multiple translations of the Bible. While it is practically wise to have one primary translation from which to read and study and memorize, it is also good to compare with other translations. This becomes particularly important (1) when you have little experience with the original languages, and (2) when you base a point of doctrine on a text.

A few hours ago I was talking to a fellow believer when the subject of nonresistance came up. For those who may not know, nonresistance is an application of Christ's teaching to love our enemies and not to resist evil. According to those who embrace nonresistance, this means that Christians must avoid violence at all times, including refusing any participation with governments in their exercise of the power of the sword. So, for an obvious example, nonresistant Christians would not join the military (although the issue of nonresistance extends far beyond this). In our discussion, this young man said, "What really drove [nonresistance] home for me was where the Bible says, 'Do violence to no man'" (Luke 3:14 KJV). Not remembering that text, I pulled out my little pocket ESV and read, "Soldiers also asked him, 'And we, what shall we do?' And he said to them, 'Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusations, and be content with your wages.'" There seems to be a real difference in the meaning of these translations. At the time I was talking, I did not know the reason for the difference, so once I got back to my office I looked it up.

In this case, the difference in translation is not based upon a textual variant. That is to say, both translations are translating the same Greek words. The term in question is (transliterated) diaseio, a term which is used only here in the New Testament. The standard Greek lexicon for the NT (BDAG) gives this gloss, "extort money by force or threat of violence, extort (literally 'shake violently'; cp. our colloquial 'shake down')." In fact, it claims that this term was a legal technical term in ancient Greek documents from around the time of the NT. Another NT lexicon based upon semantic domains (Louw & Nida) defines the term in the same manner and classifies it with other words that have to do with stealing or robbing.

Here is one example of the use of this term in an ancient apocryphal book called 3 Maccabees. In 3 Maccabees 7:21, we read "And among their enemies they possessed a greater dominance than before, both honored and feared, and were abused of their belongings by no one" (NETS, my underlining indicates the translation of the term we are considering). As you can see then, in Luke 3:14 John the Baptist was not issuing an order against violence in general. He was telling the soldiers not to abuse their position of power to intimidate, bully, threaten, or otherwise oppress the people in order to get what they want out of them.

Now with a text like this, what is a Christian to do who does not read Greek and does not have access to Greek lexicons? First of all, always read carefully in context. Read in context, even the KJV translation does not necessitate a nonresistant interpretation of this text (as a perusal of Matthew Henry's commentary will show). But in addition to that, a very simple and easy step is to read the text in some good English translations. The point of doing this is not to cherry pick the translation that suits you. It is to gain a more well-rounded understanding of the text. By simply reading a few other translations besides the KJV, one can quickly discern that the violence spoken of here has to do primarily with others' possessions.

New American Standard Bible: "Do not take money from anyone by force."

New English Translation: "Take money from no one by violence."

New International Version: "Don't extort money."

Holman Christian Standard: "Don't take money from anyone by force."

New King James: "Do not intimidate anyone."

Thus, we can see that this text does not support a nonresistant application. When John the Baptist had the perfect opportunity to tell soldiers to quit their profession and stop waging war, he did not do it. He told them not to abuse their power, but he did not tell them that repentance required abandoning soldiering.

Now, my point here is not to prove or disprove the theory of nonresistance. There are many good brothers who hold that position based upon their understanding of Scripture. My point is that reading a few different translations will help you avoid misunderstanding and misapplying a text of Scripture.

Praise the Lord All Nations!

The Bible calls upon all nations to praise the Lord and upon all peoples to extol him. This Lord's Day we will do exactly that, with singing and feasting, for the Lord has been faithful to us this year. Our morning service will be followed by an overflowing Thanksgiving Dinner. Come prepared to tell what God has done for your soul.

Come, Ye Thankful People, Com (#708)
We Plough the Fields (#704)
All Things Bright and Beautiful (#723)
We Gather Together (#709)
Psalm 117b

Responsive Scripture Reading
Psalm 118

Received with Thanksgiving - 1 Timothy 4:1-5

P.S. Remember that there will be no seminar hour.

High Country Baptist Church of Colorado Springs

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Artistic Theologian

A couple weeks ago my friend Scott Aniol alerted me to the publication of a new online journal, The Artistic Theologian. I finally had the opportunity to peruse it today, and I am excited that Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is putting forward this quality contribution to church worship. I commend it to you if you have not already seen it.

John Simons introduces the journal: "The Artistic Theologian is designed to provide a place for publication, research, discussion, and resources for those engaged in worship and artistic ministry. We hope it will create points of connection between worship leaders, pastors, church music scholars, theologians, and students preparing for ministry. The journal and its allied resources support the point of view that a church musician should be an artist and a theologian, and it addresses the need to increase dialogue between pastors and church musicians."

The first issue includes four articles, in addition to a number of book reviews.
 Kevin Bauder's article brought back to mind a wonderful quote from Augustine, which I have posted here in the past. Kevin rightly says,

"The core of biblical religion is the same in both Testaments. Whether for Israel or for the Church, true worship begins with the recognition that the Lord alone is God. Both in the Old Testament and in the New, this recognition implies that the Lord alone is worthy of worship. At all times, in all places, and for all peoples, the true worship of God means loving him with all of one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength. Right feeling (ordinate affection ) is the heart of all biblical religion."

May this journal do much to promote right love for God!

High Country Baptist Church 

Friday, November 09, 2012

Running Hard

The first letter of John concludes with these words, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." We are dead set on doing just that, especially after hearing the Scripture's warning in 1 Corinthians 10:14-22. We will continue where we left off last week with the Scripture's instructions regarding fleeing idolatry and not dining with demons.

We Gather Together (#709)
All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name (#36)
Jesus, the Name High Over All (#31)
Psalm 103b

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Leviticus 8:18-36; Psalm 66
New Testament: Luke 4:31-44

Don't Dine with Demons - 1 Corinthians 10:14-22

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Repentance-The First Step on the Road to Hope and Change

Many Christians I know are responding with sturdy resignation to the "catastrophe on moral issues" that occurred yesterday. Many are pointing out that God is sovereign. Others note that we need to be in subjection and pray for governing authorities. Others remind us that we need not despair or be discouraged. To all these observations I say a hearty, "Amen."

But may I add another thought? This is not to downplay anything of the good points that have been made, but simply to encourage further reflection and positive response. Along with acknowledging that God is sovereign, we must also acknowledge that God is just, and that what he is bringing to pass in this election has all the earmarks of judgment (Romans 1:18-32). We will miss the opportunity if we simply say, "Let's get busy and work hard over the next four years" or "Let's get back to spiritual work instead of politics." We will miss the opportunity for repentance.

We must acknowledge that our nation has been progressively adopting idols as its gods for a long time now. I'm not discouraged by the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, per se. This is simply par for the course we are on. I will be discouraged if God's people respond to this with American "can-do" activism without first repenting of the sins which have gotten us into this mess in the first place. Without recognizing how much we have contributed to the problem by our die-hard commitment to personal autonomy and equality. Without rebuilding the church as the unified centerpiece of God's program. Without depending upon our families and local associations instead of national government.

One of my fears if Mitt Romney would have been elected was that Christians would rest easy, thinking that somehow our nation was on a good track. Thankfully, that mirage has evaporated (again!). This election is another clear signal that we are a humanistic nation which fundamentally trusts in man. Idolatry flourishes in our social systems. Until we admit it, we are going to have a difficult time figuring out how we ought to live.

God is still sovereign, and we can serve him right here and right now. We can be the people of God, no matter what our political circumstances. We need not despair...but neither should we be cavalier. I believe these election results are a weighty call to repentance. May God grant us that grace, for the sake of his name.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012


Yesterday I testified during the sentencing hearing in a court-martial convened at Ft. Carson. Since I had counseled with the soldier involved, the defense counsel thought that my testimony would be relevant in assisting the judge as he determined the appropriate sentence. The whole situation was very sad, and in the faces, tears, words, and procedures of the day, you could almost hear creation groaning under the weight of its subjection to futility.

As I sat in the courtroom observing the procedures, I was grateful for some features of the justice system in our nation (in this case, in the military, following the Uniform Code of Military Justice) which reflect God's revealed truth. I was grateful for the respect for life built into the law codes, for the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and for procedural safeguards designed to produce clear, careful, and impartial handling of the evidence. I also observed how even the best system men can devise will only be as good as the men operating it. I was fairly disgusted at the emotional manipulation attempted at times.[And one more thing - the trial revealed how fully the biblical view of mankind has been replaced by the 'medical,' 'scientific,' and humanistic view of mankind in the law, especially when it comes to deciding what to do for 'correction.']

Human courts can never deal fully with the problem of sin, whether in the hearts of man or in society. At their best, they are imperfect executors of God's justice. Even at their best, they leave us longing for the Servant who will establish justice in the earth. Watching the proceedings made me even more amazed at the God who can be both just and the justifier of those who believe in Jesus. What a joy it is to have hope and confidence in him!

Friday, November 02, 2012

Decline Demonic Dinners

One evidence of how secularized we have become is how difficult it is for us to conceive of actually dining with demons. Yet it is not only possible to do so; people regularly accept their dinner invitations. Every time people participate in idolatry they participate with demons. Join us this Lord's Day to see how we can maintain our loyal love to Christ and flee from idolatry.

All Creatures of Our God and King (#59)
O for a Heart to Praise My God (#70)
Praise the Savior (#17)
Now Thank We All Our God (#5)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Leviticus 8:1-17; Psalm 81
New Testament: Luke 4:14-30

Run! - 1 Corinthians 10:14-22