Saturday, June 9, 2018

There Is No Salvation Without The Trinity

The monotheistic 'gods' of the other major world religions are often aloof figures speaking only through intermediaries, and whose love and grace are based solely on our moral performance. If we keep such deities happy they might be generous, if not.....oblivion.

The true God presented by the great statements of the Athanasian Creed, "Unity in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity", shows us a Triune God in relationship with himself and with us, who acted in unison at the creation of everything, but more importantly acted together to save us his fallen creatures blighted by sin and death. God came to earth in human flesh so we could know the mercy of the Father and have a relationship with him through the shed blood of Christ on the cross, who sent the Holy Spirit to indwell and sanctify us bringing us back from ruin into the light of God's will.

The Father sends, the Son justifies, the Spirit sanctifies, Three Persons in One seeking us out to create a holy people for Himself, one in perfect relationship with their Creator. Not based on moral performance, good works or religious fervour but on the work of God alone whose mercy and grace will never run dry.

In the name of Christ. Amen.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Tale of Two Davids

The history of God's salvation plan boils down to a tale of two Davids. First a lowly shepherd who ascended to the throne of Israel, led the army of God to victory against the Israelites, establishing his lineage for generations to come.
From his blood line came a second David, a greater King whose coming was foreshadowed by the kings of Israel who remained true to God's covenant. Unlike David, He came not with the power of the sword to defeat his enemies but was born in weakness, "born that man may no longer die". Born lowly in a manger, our heavenly King came not to condemn but to usher in a new reign of peace not just to Israel but through all the nations who heard his call to repent and believe. He brought this peace not by restoring the kingdom of Israel as the kings of old had done, but by his death on a cross which destroyed the age old enemies of sin, death and Satan, and ushered in a new creation order that will find its fulfillment when our Saviour returns to restore all things to himself. The festival of Christmas marks the birth of our David, the Second Person of the Trinity, who condescended to us in the likeness of sinful flesh to share in our sorrows and to make atonement for our sins. This is the true light that shines in the darkness which no evil can overcome and has established his Messianic kingdom through the gospel of which there can be no end.

In the name of Christ.  Amen.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Meditations on Easter I

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Psalm 22: 1-2

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.

Luke 22: 39-44

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

Hebrews 2:9

But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Life is full of separations.  In our fallen world we are confronted with the loss and grief produced by the separation of husband and wife, estrangement of parents from their children, and the alienation of ethnic minorities from their host society. In their humanity, these separations reflect on the brokenness of the imago dei, our mirror-likeness of God's eternal attributions which has been damaged ever since the Fall and marred the horizontal relationships we have with each other, causing us to act in self-love to serve our own ends, rather than the agape love Christ showed us in his sacrificial act of atonement for our sins. These separations also hint at a divorce far more deeper and profound in its implications for our eternal status, one which caused our Lord to cry and sweat bloody tears in the garden of Gethsemane and to pray that the cup of suffering be removed far from him.  Temporal separations come with a period of grief and mourning from which the human heart can eventually recover, but the separation of man from God carries with it an eternal price tag: spiritual death and eternal judgment under the wrath of God.
Christ tasted God's judgment and wrath on the cross for us, marking the separation from His heavenly Father with cries that matched the Psalmist's: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Surrounded and mocked by his enemies, Christ faced the punishment for our sins alone, without consolation and with only silence from the eternal throne room, so that we wouldn't know God's silence but rather his fatherly approval.  Christ's propitiation satisfying the demands of the law and granting to us an alien righteousness that gives us access to God's kingdom, once barred by flaming swords.  Christ's separation on the cross is our relief, his mourning bringing us joy at Easter time that he tasted God's righteous anger so that we may go free forever.  In the name of Christ.  Amen. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Enthusiasm and Mindless Worship

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In the great divide between creedal Christianity and the search for experience, the worship service has long been a battleground. For those looking to worship God in spirit and truth, and with order and reverence, the torrent of worship leaders emerging from the charismatic movement who seemingly now gather at every major Christian conference with star billing, and exist to stir up the masses like the prophets of Baal on Mt. Hermon, is a phenomenon that should give us cause for concern.  My love in for charismatic forms of worship took a beating back in 2009, suffering from burn out and depression, I realised I couldn't muster the levels of emotionalism necessary to wrench God out of heaven.  I wanted quiet and peace in which to pray. I realised God didn't need my noise.  Today worship has turned into a theology of glory. With arms outraised and voices lifted, Christians climb the ladder of glory into heaven to get God's attention, so that He might in term bless them with his presence, spiritual gifts, and 'the baptism in the Holy Spirit'.

 Rather than a great banquet where God openly displays his gifts in Word and Sacrament, and gives them freely to penitent sinners, worship in the charismatic mode has turned into a Ponzi scheme where God dispenses his gifts according to how 'psyched' the worship service is that Sunday.  Everything in the charismatic liturgy exists to pull God down out of heaven.  This accounts for the often mindless and repetitive nature of charismatic worship, which I recently tasted at Kings Church Seaford (part of the quasi-Reformed charismatic church body New Frontiers to which I was once a member) just to remind myself how bad it can get. As the service started, I got 20-25 minutes of repetitive mantras and verses stretched out to infinity to make room for the 'Spirit to move', since freedom nowadays means no structure or order, although that is contrary to God's character.  It was after the event that it struck me, truth has been replaced by feeling in much of charismania.  Although there were some gospel nuggets free floating about in the ether, much of the biblical truth articulated by the worship leader served only to excite and stir the congregation to far higher plateaus of feeling.  I should point out that I'm by no means against emotion.  However emotions are not the end goal of any church service, neither are they a replacement for the true, objective Sacrament in which we can be 100% certain that Christ is present, whether we feel anything or not. When the objective truth of Scripture serves only to heighten the subjective experiences of today's Christians, the Bible becomes subservient to the 'worship experience' and whatever aesthetic that might take.

Rather than worship being a quid pro quo, it is how God dispenses his gifts to his people. Worship is not about us giving back to God, as if He needs anything from us. But rather it is about receiving.  Receiving forgiveness, receiving the Word that sanctifies us, receiving the truth of our identity in Christ, receiving Him in bread and wine, week in and week out. Christ reprimanded Martha for her busyness, but honoured Mary for choosing the better part, sitting at Christ's feet to receive him. He simply isn't interested in our entertainment, whether worshipping gives us pleasure in any hedonistic sense is irrelevant to God.  God wants us rejuvenated, rearmed so to speak, for the week ahead when we fight the same old battles with the devil, the world, and our flesh that wants excitement (in whatever form it comes) rather than the ordinary, mundane means of grace that God has chosen to feed his people.

So this week, how will you worship God, on your knees humbly receiving God's many mercies to you in Word and Sacrament even when you're spiritually dry, or with your arms outstretched trying to lure God into giving you a gift?  One way is the theology of the cross, the other is trying to inch up the ladder on the slippery path of the Law because however excited and pumped up you'll be this Sunday, the Law will say 'Worship God with all your heart'.  And after all your white noise, that's the kicker that will send you back down the mountain. The Law accuses all forms of enthusiasm for not being enthused enough, the gospel releases you from its grip. In Jesus' name.  Amen.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Todd Friel Is No Monergist

I agree with Todd Friel: "precision in language" is important. So when a Reformed Baptist who claims to hold a monergistic sotoriology goes off the deep end using non-monergistic terms to reason away the sinfulness of children, imprecision begins to creep in. In Friel's April 17th video clip, "Babies who die go to Heaven", based on arguments from silence, speculations, and vague clutching at Scriptural straws, Friel brings in Greek philosophy by the back door using non-Reformational, and Anabaptist terms, "age and level of accountability", as if one of these ideas is better than the other. Both have their roots in classical Greek formulations about the development of children. In Greek thinking, children were not highly thought of, existing as a kind of blank tableau incapable of thought or decision making until a certain age when the first sparks of reason were thought to begin. These ideas crept into Arminian views of salvation during the Enlightenment in relation to children and particularly infant baptism where it was believed that children must first attain understanding and a certain level of intellect in order to possess Biblical faith and then be baptised as a believing adult. Friel seems to share some sympathy with this soteriology, to the point where children can't accrue a "sin debt" because they don't have a Biblical understanding of what sin is. Two problems arise at this point.

Firstly, original sin is downplayed. Friel's assumption that children don't understand sin explicitly states that somehow adults do. However, in the Apology to the Augsberg Confession, original sin is defined as a "diseased nature that cannot fear and love God and believe God", which includes an "ignorance in the mind" that denies to human nature an ability to understand "the things of the Spirit of God". This concupiscence continues into adulthood, however educated one may be, as attested to by Paul's condemnation of "wisdom of the world" as foolishness and folly.  Clearly original sin isn't isolated to the young. As when Jesus cried out to the crowd, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do", he was mostly addressing adults: Roman soldiers, the Jewish leaders of the day, and others who came to witness his crucifixion.

Secondly, Friel's arguments takes away the sovereignty of God in salvation and places the emphasis on how old, educated or mentally disabled an unbeliever is, as if God's power through his Word isn't quite enough to puncture these underdeveloped minds: to quote Todd Friel "an ability to believe" must be present, a statement that contradicts Ephesians 2: 8-9 which reads that faith is not of human doing. Even one of Friel's heroes, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, would baulk at his "ability to believe" comment. Taking Friel's argument to its rather comic extremes, we would have an impotent God basically sitting on his hands until finally He could say, "ok, you're old enough, you've been schooled enough, now I can act". The conditions of human age and reason are made to supersede the power of the Holy Spirit to create faith and repentance, and render God as a bit part player in someone's salvation. A conditional salvation based on the ability of human reasoning is behind all Friel's talk of babies and the mentally disabled not bearing a responsibility for their sin: if they can't think, therefore no sin debt is attributed to them.

However, its here we run into another problem with Friel's thinking: how God dealt with the children of the Canaanites in the Old Testament. There are several clear examples of whole cities "devoted to destruction" with their entire populations wiped out at God's command. If its Friel's position that the children in those cities did not have a sin debt, what does that say about God's character? It would appear to make God unjust that He would condemn children who held no responsibility for their sins along with the rest in such a cruel, capricious fashion. However when we remember that even original sin in itself is enough to condemn humanity, even apart from wilful or ignorant sins, God's judgment on the Canaanites is perfectly in line with his righteousness and holiness in whose presence sinful man cannot stand. Friel's appear to God's character therefore is an emotional one, and is not borne out by several examples of God's judgment on various people groups, including the Israelites, which included the killing and mistreatment of children:

Deuteronomy 28:52-63

 "They shall besiege you in all your towns, until your high and fortified walls, in which you trusted, come down throughout all your land. And they shall besiege you in all your towns throughout all your land, which the Lord your God has given you. And you shall eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your sons and daughters, whom the Lord your God has given you, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemies shall distress you.  The man who is the most tender and refined among you will begrudge food to his brother, to the wife he embraces, and to the last of the children whom he has left,  so that he will not give to any of them any of the flesh of his children whom he is eating, because he has nothing else left, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in all your towns.  The most tender and refined woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground because she is so delicate and tender, will begrudge to the husband she embraces, to her son and to her daughter,  her afterbirth that comes out from between her feet and her children whom she bears, because lacking everything she will eat them secretly, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in your towns.
 “If you are not careful to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God,  then the Lord will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions severe and lasting, and sicknesses grievous and lasting.  And he will bring upon you again all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you.  Every sickness also and every affliction that is not recorded in the book of this law, the Lord will bring upon you, until you are destroyed.  Whereas you were as numerous as the stars of heaven, you shall be left few in number, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God.  And as the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it."

In conclusion, if it's Friel's assertion that God is incapable of violence towards children, he should reconsider that position in light of this Scriptural example, along with the following passage:

2 Kings 2: 19-24

Now the men of the city said to Elisha, “Behold, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees, but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.”  He said, “Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. Then he went to the spring of water and threw salt in it and said, “Thus says the Lord, I have healed this water; from now on neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it.”  So the water has been healed to this day, according to the word that Elisha spoke.
 He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!”  And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys.  From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.

(I guess God didn't hang around for the 42 small boys to understand their sin, after all.)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Sufficiency of Scripture

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God's Word alone is sufficient:

1. To guide our character and behaviour unto good works by the grace
of the Holy Spirit:

Psalm 119:105  Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8  For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;  that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honour,  not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;  that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.  For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

Ephesians 2:10  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Romans 6: 12-14   Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.  Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

2. To show us our sin (disobedience unto God), and our need for Christ:
Romans 3: 9-12

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,  as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

Acts 10: 42-43   "And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Ephesians 1:7  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.

3.  Change the course of history:

Romans 13:1  Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

Jeremiah 1: 9-10   Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow,

to build and to plant.”

4.  To create salvation in us:

Ephesians 2: 4-9   But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

John 1: 12-13   But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

5.  Warn us about false teachers in the church:

Jeremiah 23: 16  Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.

Matthew 7: 15  “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

Mark 13: 22   For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.

1 John 4: 1   Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

6.  For evangelism:

Isaiah 55: 10-11   “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Romans 10:17   So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

7.  Shows us the character and attributes of God:

  • as Creator:   Isaiah 40:28  Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God,  the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary;  his understanding is unsearchable.
  • as Saviour:  Hosea 13:4   But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt;
    you know no God but me, and besides me there is no saviour.
  • as Judge:   Psalm 7:11  God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day.
  • He is holy:  Leviticus 19:2  “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy."
  • He is faithful:  Deut. 7:9  Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations
  • He is gracious:   But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness
    . (Psalm 86:15 )
  • The immutability of God:  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17 ESV)
  • The self-sufficiency of God:  nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. (Acts 17:25 ESV)
  • The love of God:   So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1 John 4:16 ESV)
  • The incomprehensibility of God:  Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counsellor?”
     (Romans 11:33-34 ESV)
  • The omnipresence of God:  If I ascend to heaven, you are there!   If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. (Psalm 139:8-10 ESV)
  • The wisdom of God:  "In order to change the course of things your servant Joab did this. But my lord has wisdom like the wisdom of the angel of God to know all things that are on the earth.” (2 Samuel 14:20 ESV)
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8.  Shows us the glory of God in Jesus Christ:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20 ESV)

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high   (Hebrews 1:3 ESV)

9. The eschatological reality of heaven and hell:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4 ESV)

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:12-14 ESV)

10.  Creation

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
(Genesis 1:1-3 ESV)

Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.
(Psalm 102:25 ESV)

The heavens declare the glory of God,and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1 ESV)

11. The fallen and temporal nature of man

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5 ESV)

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Psalm 51:5 ESV)

As for man, his days are like grass;  he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,  and its place knows it no more. (Psalm 103:15-16 ESV)

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. (Romans 5:12-14 ESV)

Contrast these examples with the errancy of the world's philosophies and religious systems which Scripture describes in this manner:

1.  Foolishness and vanity:

For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.  (Ecclesiastes 2:16-17 ESV)

For it is written,  “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:19-21 ESV)

2.  Idolatry:

All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. (Isaiah 44:9 ESV)

The idols of the nations are silver and gold,   the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak;  they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear,  nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like them,
so do all who trust in them
. (Psalm 135:15-18 ESV)

"Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field,  and they cannot speak; they have to be carried,  for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them,  for they cannot do evil,
neither is it in them to do good.”(
Jeremiah 10:5 ESV)

3.  Ascetism:

 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8 ESV)

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23 ESV)

4. Created by the devil:

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44 ESV)

5.  Adulterous:

 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4 ESV)

For they have committed adultery, and blood is on their hands. With their idols they have committed adultery, and they have even offered up to them for food the children whom they had borne to me. (Ezekiel 23:37 ESV)

My people inquire of a piece of wood,  and their walking staff gives them oracles.
For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they have left their God to play the whore. They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains and burn offerings on the hills, under oak, poplar, and terebinth, because their shade is good. Therefore your daughters play the whore, and your brides commit adultery (Hosea 4: 12-13)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Pitfalls of Lutheran Ecclesiology

Over a year ago, I explored the dangers of evangelical ecclesiology specifically within the modern church growth movement, with its emphasis on vision casting pastors as the central hub around which the congregation revolves. Moving onto today, I want to highlight certain issues within the Lutheran system of church membership, which despite being a vast improvement , leaves the door open to congregational and leadership abuses. What follows is a few observations based on the stories of Lutheran friends, and is not meant to constitute a system wide study of any Lutheran church body as a whole.

1. Though I value  a democratic system of church government, it works best when everyone is moving in the same direction. In churches which are negligent about Lutheran catcechesis and instruction, confessional pastors are often unprotected from Christians who want to smuggle evangelical doctrine in under the radar, and form sectarian groups within the church to challenge his office. Thereby church democracy becomes a weapon in the hands of non-Lutherans to throw out Lutheran distinctions, and force the pastor to compromise on the truth with implicit threats to his own well-being. To combat this abuse, I would suggest changes to the church by laws whereby congregational participation depends on adhering to catechical studies, with those who refuse to participate losing their membership benefits including altar fellowship.

2. Strict adherence to church protocols not mandated by Scripture is hurting the sheep and allowing wayward pastors to go unchallenged and uninvestigated. This erroneous idea that pastors have no obligation to suffering Christians in other churches within their synod, who are faced with domestic violence , false teaching, and isolation, is quite frankly cowardly and irresponsible. Christians who cry for help should expect to see godly, ordained men to step up and show some leadership, questioning sinful behaviour from other pastors and congregations when that church fails to exercise biblical methods of church discipline. In cases of domestic violence, outside parties should be educated in the ways abusers use lies to manipulate pastors and congregants to isolate the innocent party, so that in future the victims will not be treated as an equally guilty party in a failed marriage. Interchurch and parachurch organisations like the LCMS taskforce on domestic violence and Boz Tchividjian's GRACE should be consulted, and their literature and speakers made available to every church to prevent abusers gaining a foothold in the church.

3. Stop outsourcing biblical counselling to non Christian third parties. I've been made aware of several LCMS pastors who rather than perform their duties to counsel Christians with besetting sins are shipping them off to the godless world of psychiatry where sins are labelled as "mistakes" or "disorders", and rather than being confessed and absolved sins are medicated against by whatever the world considers to be this year's wonder drug. If we seriously believe that Scripture and our confessions alone are our source for biblical wisdom, then we should stop seeking the wisdom of this world, and in particular psychoanalysis, for counselling in areas of Christian life where the works of Freud and Jung or modern psychiatry journals have no authority to speak. Pastors are called to lead God's sheep with Word and Sacrament, not psychiatrists.

4.  Faithfulness to confessional documents in certain Lutheran church bodies has within the last year wavered, especially in the light of the #fivetwo movement, seemingly without any external action from church leaders apart from the occasional Facebook sound bite that talks tough. In reality whole circuits, DPs and pastors (as in the case of #fivetwo) can deviate from our confessions without lasting temporal consequences so that silence is often seen as a tacit 
approval of more missional, non confessional movements within Lutheranism.
As an antidote to breakaway movements I suggest that more help and theological training be offered to assist church elders whose role is to watch over the church's teaching and practice, and if necessary to take action against the erring with the application of proper church procedures. Further training would encourage, arm, and deepen church elders ' knowledge of our confessions and give them more tools for battling false teachers among their congregations to the betterment of God's elect and the reputation of the church.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Glory Hounds

Luke 20: 45- 47
And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples,  “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts,  who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
2 Timothy 4: 3
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.
Luther's  1518 Heidelberg Disputation:
Thesis 21. A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is. This is clear: He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil. These are the people whom the apostle calls “enemies of the cross of Christ” [Phil. 3:18], for they hate the cross and suffering and love works and the glory of works. Thus they call the good of the cross evil and the evil of a deed good. God can be found only in suffering and the cross, as has already been said. Therefore the friends of the cross say that the cross is good and works are evil, for through the cross works are destroyed and the old Adam, who is especially edified by works, is crucified. It is impossible for a person not to be puffed up by his good works unless he has first been deflated and destroyed by suffering and evil until he knows that he is worthless and that his works are not his but God’s.
A theologian of glory craves applause, and the respect of congregations above the purity of God's Word. In so far as the two polar opposites conflict, he will choose the plaudits of goats over the other out of fear of ruffling their feathers and losing his livelihood and place in the community. Such people who exist amongst the Office of the Holy Ministry are the shifting sand that buckle in times of trouble, suffering and persecution.  Christians, true to God's Word, often find themselves isolated and abused in a church populated by goats in all manner of ways, when the cowardly theologian of glory aping the role of pastor leaves suffering Christians to their fate without comment or reply. His preaching lightens sins to the vocabulary of "mistakes" and reduces the gospel to how Jesus made us happy so that any painful or potentially 'upsetting' talk of Law, God's Wrath against sin, or eternal damnation might be relegated to the lower leagues around the coffee table so that itching ears might continue to be amused by his repertoire of parlour games and anecdotes.  Against such superficiality that leads people to hell, true Christians speak out for church discipline and reform to his irritation, which demands respect and an unblemished reputation where none is deserved as he surrenders God's Word and the confessions to the postmodern hordes for whom truth is relative and who all agree to disagree on the fundamentals to their ruin.  The kingdom of the theologian of glory is never built to last.  Jesus won't tolerate its soiled existence among the true lampstands in his kingdom and would rather tear it loose from his branches, than let it inflict his people further with its thorns and briers.  In such places there will be no clapping of hands, but an absence of God's Word as he refuses to grace such temples of man made glory with his presence, and leaves them to their sacraments of ash.