Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Crime of Partiality

Psalm 82: 2-4

"How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked?
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked."

Proverbs 18:5

It is not good to be partial to the wicked
or to deprive the righteous of justice.

Proverbs 24: 23-26

These also are sayings of the wise.
Partiality in judging is not good.
Whoever says to the wicked, "You are in the
right," will be cursed by peoples, abhorred
by nations, but those who rebuke the wicked
will have delight, and a good blessing will come
upon them.  Whoever gives a honest answer
kisses the lips.

The scales of God's justice are perfectly and righteously balanced; 
he will judge rich and poor alike in matters of sin, and upheld the
rights of "the weak and needy" in matters of civil justice within
the Mosaic covenant.  In this covenant "to wrong a sojourner"
or to "mistreat any widow or fatherless child" carries the danger
of God's righteous retribution as he promises to hear the cry
of the oppressed out of his compassion, and to visit "eye for an
eye" justice on the wicked.  The crime of partiality is also concerned
with true and false witnesses in the civil and religious realm,
embodied in the eighth commandment which Luther further expounded
on in his small catechism:

"We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our
neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend
him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way."

Intrinsically connected to God's command to us to love our neighbour,
the matter of reputation is highlighted by Jesus in how we practice
church discipline.   Only when two or more witnesses are made aware
of the unrepentant sins of a fellow Christian may the church speak privately 
or publicly about their sins, and if absolutely necessary to excommunicate 
them if they refuse to repent. Acting this way stops the spreading
of false reports from embittered Christians within the church, and
outwardly protects the reputation of the church in the eyes of the
outside world who see Christians acting with true justice, not becoming
a rumor mill of slander, gossip, and lies. It is important to note, however,
that this form of church discipline doesn't wink at people's sins, or choose
to remain silent about them.  When a case of sexual immorality in the
Corinthian church is made common knowledge, the apostle Paul doesn't
hide it behind closed doors, but writes about it openly, and calls
attention to the public disgrace it sparks outside of the Corinthian church
in the hope of bringing the guilty parties back to godly repentance 
and restoration.  

Today, unfortunately, prominent evangelical ministries seem to
protect reputation at the expense of truth, and calling out sin
for what it is.  Which brings me to the recent, ongoing actions of 
The Gospel Coalition.  For years this para-church ministry (with a 
strict Reformed emphasis) has operated with a kind of ominous
silence towards theological errors and public scandals involving
prominent church leaders within the New Calvinist movement.  
None more so than the "young, restless and Reformed" darling,
Mark Driscoll, senior pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle.  When
the plagiarism scandal broke this year, it was business as usual 
at The Gospel Coalition with the venom reserved not for Driscoll's
sinful behaviour but for those exposing the sin and bringing light
to darkness.  So while Mars Hill and Driscoll wrung their hands,
and apologized for their "mistakes" (using church monies to buy
your way onto the New York Times bestseller list isn't a sin apparently). 
A member of The Gospel Coalition council, Justin Taylor, called for an open boycott of The Janet Mefferd Show who exposed the scandal, and prominent
Christian publishers rallied their forces in the manner of rushed
press releases denying any wrongdoing, flying in the face
of strong public evidence to the contrary.  

Now I don't remember Jesus saying to the church when two
or three witnesses discovered unrepentant sun in their midst, "start
hushing things up and take the fifth" even when the world at large
was in the know.  Likewise The Gospel Coalition's actions are inconsistent 
with Jesus' repudiation of the Pharisees in the public gatherings at the
Jerusalem Temple, and the apostles' confrontations with various
false teachers, ranging from the "circumcision party" to the sorcery
of Bar-Jesus on Cyprus.  Unwelcome or inconvenient truths aren't
meant to be hidden but rather brought to light, not so we can repeatedly
tear into fellow Christians. but so that true repentance and restoration
can begin, in the light of God's mercy.  This should be particularly the
case when the church itself is the victim, as we see in the recent sex
abuse conviction of a former youth pastor, Nathaniel Morales, of 
Sovereign Grace Ministries, which passed by without comment from
The Gospel Coalition blogosphere. Except from the Presbyterian
pastor, Tullian Tchividjian, who shortly after criticizing the culture
of silence within TGC coincidentally became embroiled in a heated
theological battle over the issue of the third use of the Law, where
the claim of antinomianism was laid firmly at this door, despite numerous
attempts to assuage that myth.  Frankly all this stinks.  And seems
more akin to Richard Nixon's administration and its campaign of dirty
tricks brought to public attention by the Watergate scandal.  While
the matter of what CJ Mahaney knew or didn't know about the sexual
abuse is still somewhat uncertain, the fact that his brother in law
admitted to a cover up during Morales' trial should have prompted a
response, and a thorough examination and investigation of Mahaney's
pastoral actions at Covenant Life Church.  Instead we got obfuscation,
misdirection and a public, online statement of "standing by our friends"
while the evangelical church lets the non-Christian world do its dirty work, of exposing sin and bringing crimes within the church to justice. 

By contrast, God's Word says plainly that "whoever conceals his 
transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them 
will obtain mercy" (Proverbs 28:13).  God will call to account those who 
conceal their unrighteousness because they "feared the crowd and dreaded 
the contempt of the clans" (Job 31:34).  Unlike The Gospel Coalition, 
God doesn't act with partiality because of the demands of the
evangelical celebrity culture, where reputation and status must
be maintained for consumerist goals.  Our Father is concerned with the sins 
of everyone within the body of Christ, whether rich or poor, slave
or free.  God wants us to confess our sins and to receive his mercy,
so that we can be brought back to a right relationship with him, and so
that our faith isn't put at risk of being extinguished by the evil one who
accuses us day and night, and wants us to fall into unbelief.  These concerns seem to have escaped the attention of The Gospel Coalition, much to the
detriment of the sheep who are either stuck in the controlling hands of
wayward pastors free to operate with impunity, or engaged in an increasingly heated and divisive environment where the reputation of the church is wide open to conspiracy theories, outright slander and lies.  When a group
is repeatedly silent about sins committed by evangelical pastors within
its influence, something usually moves in to replace the gap left by
its presence, which explains the growing number of suspicions created
by The Gospel Coalition's friendship with CJ Mahaney and its handling
of the SGM sex abuse scandal.  To qualm those suspicions I feel
The Gospel Coalition must do several things:

1.  Speak impartially on the matter, with no protestations of
friendship to the parties involved and implicated in the victims'
law suit.

2.  Follow the breadcrumbs to wherever they lead, no matter
how uncomfortable the truth turns out to be.

3.  Remove endorsements from the guilty or accused parties.
Do not sell their books and have them speak at your conferences.
Choose not to appear on stage with them, until such a time
when their guilt has been ascertained.  

How The Gospel Coalition responds to the sex abuse scandal
in the coming months, along with a growing number of other
pastoral crimes and misdemeanors within the ranks of the young,
restless and Reformed movement, will govern its future success
and survival.  The wider church is watching.  More importantly,
so is God; against whom all our sin is ultimately directed, and
who on the day of judgment will burn up all the works of darkness
committed against his church like the straw and chaff they are.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.



Monday, May 26, 2014

Top Ten Signs You Might Be An Antinomian

Amidst all the strife, its time for some theological humour.

Top Ten Signs You Might Be an Antinomian


Paul Washer checks your water tank, and doesn't think
you're crying enough tears over your sin.


You can't do a good impression of Stallone playing 
Judge Dredd when he says "I AM THE LAW!"


You show off your collection of Lutheran beer steins.


When your wife tells you to take out the trash, you
always say, "it is finished".  


The Sorting Hat (from the Harry Potter novels) names
you in the house of Slytherin.


You think plagiarism was a pandemic that died out 
with the Great Fire of London in 1666.


Using a time machine, you travel back to meet Dr.
Samuel Johnson and tell him "sin" really means "mistake"
for his "Dictionary of the English Language".


Todd Bentley is your marriage counselor.


You sell coloring books of Pelagius. 

And the number one sign you might be an Antinomian...

Your name is Mark Driscoll, or Stephen Furtick, or Ed Young, 
or CJ Mahaney, or Todd Bentley, or Gerhard Forde, or get the idea...


Friday, April 18, 2014

The Real Noah Story (Part 2)

 Matthew 24:37-39

 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark,  and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

1 Peter 3: 18-22

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison,  because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.  Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,  who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

The sad thing about Darren Aronofsky's "Noah" is that it misses the types 
and shadows by which Noah's story points us to Christ.  Focused on its ecological 
parable, the film distorts the New Testament reading of the flood narrative and its typological importance for Christians today, especially on this Good Friday.  
For as Noah and his family were saved from God's judgment through the ark, 
so we were brought safely by another human creation made of wood through sin, death, and the devil, when Christ was put to death in the flesh on a Roman cross, bearing the due penalty we deserved for our rebellion. Released from the condemnation of the Law, the cross brings us the eternal peace with God that Noah's ark hinted at but couldn't preserve, for though God promised not to send another flood on the earth, there is a greater "day of the Lord" coming, when God in Christ will return to judge mankind according to its works. Christ's voluntary sacrifice on the cross eternally releases us from the guilty verdict that is coming on the wickedness of men, which this time around will not be blotted out by "the waters of the deep" but instead cast into the eternal fires of second death that wait for those outside Christ.

Today the good news of the cross is applied to us through Word and Sacrament,
creating new life where before there was spiritual death.  None more so
than in the Sacrament of Baptism whose washing of regeneration through
water and the Word corresponds to the waters of the flood that washed
away the sins of the world.  This Baptism now saves us through the
resurrection of Christ, uniting us to his death that crucifies our
old self with its body of sin, and to his resurrection life by which
death no longer has dominion over us.  Through the flood waters of Baptism
we are raised from death to life.  Now called to walk in "newness of life",
drowning our sins and evil desires so that "a new man should daily emerge
and rise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever". Living
daily repentance in the sure knowledge that our salvation has already been won
by what looked like to the world as a defeat: a condemned Rabbi sentenced to
die who was actually God in the flesh, who by his blood triumphed over the
rulers and authorities that once held us in slavery.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

We Remember Because God First Remembered Us

 Exodus 28: 1-12

“Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. You shall speak to all the skillful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill, that they make Aaron's garments to consecrate him for my priesthood. These are the garments that they shall make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a coat of checker work, a turban, and a sash. They shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons to serve me as priests. They shall receive gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen.

“And they shall make the ephod of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and of fine twined linen, skillfully worked. It shall have two shoulder pieces attached to its two edges, so that it may be joined together. And the skillfully woven band on it shall be made like it and be of one piece with it, of gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen. You shall take two onyx stones, and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel, six of their names on the one stone, and the names of the remaining six on the other stone, in the order of their birth. As a jeweler engraves signets, so shall you engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel. You shall enclose them in settings of gold filigree. And you shall set the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel. And Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord on his two shoulders for remembrance.

Isaiah 49: 15-16
“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
    that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
    yet I will not forget you. 

Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
    your walls are continually before me.

We think of remembrance as our religious duty.  We take bread and wine in remembrance of Christ as he commanded the New Testament apostles.  We worship through spiritual hymns remembering "the deeds of the Lord " and all his "wonders of old" (Psalm 77), and as we keep his commandments, we "remember the Sabbath day, keeping it holy" when we feast on Word and Sacrament every Sunday in the divine service (Exodus 20).  But primarily remembrance is God's work, as by his righteousness and covenantal faithfulness he keeps his promises to us.  At key times during Israel's history, God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, hearing Israel groan under slavery in Egypt, when they suffered under various tyrants throughout the Book of Judges, and during Israel's exile in Babylon, each time delivering on his promises that he had made to his people to save them, years before in his prophetic Word.  

Likewise God remembers us through the new covenant in Jesus Christ.  Just as Aaron carried the 12 names of the tribes of Israel before the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle, so Jesus took our names into the throne room of God, written in his Book of Life by our great High Priest.  Where he intercedes for us daily, bringing our prayers to remembrance before our heavenly Father as we pray under the covering of Jesus' name.  Jesus also brought us to remembrance before God on the cross.  Our names and more importantly our sins "engraved on the palms of his hands" nailed to the cross that interceded for us with the words "it is finished, your sins are forgiven", which God will never forget or forsake (as we so easily do), as he looks down on us from his "holy hill" and sees us signed,
sealed, and delivered through baptism with the righteousness of Christ.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Real Noah Story (Part 1)

In my film review of Noah (, I mentioned that the Creator was only "tangentially connected to the Christian God of the Bible".  Thinking back, I realize this was an understatement, as the god pictured in Aronofsky's opus has more in common with the God of Deism, a blind watchmaker, who might speak from time to time but overall leaves humanity with little in the way of directions.  This is certainly true of Noah's plight in Aronofsky's film, after the initial vision Noah is more or less blindfolded as to God's intentions once the Ark has set sail, so much so that Noah believes for no reason apart from the weather that God wishes him to commit infanticide on Shem's twin daughters,
and for his whole family to commit suicide once they reach land.  Noah's belief in the film is more akin to Greek mythology, describing the kind of gods that communicate ambiguously through natural weather events and demand instant appeasement.  A cruel, capricious God who acts against his own just Law is not our Heavenly Father who is holy, righteous and pure and has issued the command throughout the generations not to commit murder.  In actuality the triune God gave clear, concise and direct commands for Noah to follow, as described in Genesis 6 and 7:

Genesis 6: 9-21

These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark 300 cubits, its breadth 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits. Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above, and set the door of the ark in its side. Make it with lower, second, and third decks. For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground, according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you to keep them alive. Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up. It shall serve as food for you and for them.” Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.

As shown by these verses, God established a covenant with Noah, having declared him and his household to be "righteous before [God] in [his] generation" (Genesis 7:1), out of God's sheer mercy and grace.  Therefore Noah and his family were not to be destroyed along with the "wickedness of men", as the film suggests (Genesis 5: 5).  Part of the Noahic covenant was God's command to Noah and his family to "go out from the ark", and to "be fruitful and multiply on the earth" (Genesis 8: 16, 17). In return God promised them salvation in the shape of the ark, and his enduring promise that "never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth" (Genesis 9:11). Noah and his family were left in no doubt as to God's wishes within that covenant, and Noah was certainly not left to decide for himself who lived and who died,  as God commanded that "two of all flesh", male and female", should enter the ark.  These included every living creature but also Noah and his wife, his sons and their wives (yes Mr. Aronofsky, Noah's sons HAD WIVES!!!), who were saved not as New Age environmentalists to begin over again (God isn't against industrialization by the way) as the film suggests, but that they might receive God's blessings, and that they would worship him in spirit and truth for all he had done for them by his acts of grace.

In Part 2 I will move away from the film somewhat, and talk in terms of typology, relating Noah's story to our covenantal relationship in Christ which will become keenly clear to us
as we move into Holy Week.

In the meantime....

Thank you heavenly Father that you are not absent from us, but that you have spoken to us clearly through your Word, and that you continue to speak through the words of your Son, through whom you have purchased salvation for us by the shedding of his blood, now
and forever.

In the name of Christ.  Amen.

Monday, March 31, 2014

"It Is An Inscrutable Mystery Why Some Are Saved, and Others Not"


 From "Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Series 1, Volume 5: St Augustine - Anti-Pelagian Writings", ed. Phillip Schaff, Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Now there is much significance in that He does not say, “The wrath of God shall come upon him,” but “abideth on him.” For from this wrath (in which we are all involved under sin, and of which the apostle says, “For we too were once by nature the children of wrath, even as others”) nothing delivers us but the grace of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. The reason why this grace comes upon one man and not on another may be hidden, but it cannot be unjust. For “is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.” But we must first bend our necks to the authority of the Holy Scriptures, in order that we may each arrive at knowledge and understanding through faith. For it is not said in vain, “Thy judgments are a great deep.” The profundity of this “deep” the apostle, as if with a feeling of dread, notices in that exclamation: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!” He had indeed previously pointed out the meaning of this marvellous depth, when he said: “For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all.” Then struck, as it were, with a horrible fear of this deep: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been His counsellor? or who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of Him, and through Him, and in Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.” How utterly insignificant, then, is our faculty for discussing the justice of God’s judgments, and for the consideration of His gratuitous grace, which, as men have no prevenient merits for deserving it, cannot be partial or unrighteous, and which does not disturb us when it is bestowed upon unworthy men, as much as when it is denied to those who are equally unworthy!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Start Touching

From "Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection" by Edward T. Welch, New Growth Press, 2012.

In Christ you have been drenched by the cleansing Spirit. You have been sent swimming in him. That certainly is enough to cleanse you. You have also been reclaimed as a living tabernacle. Where idols once reigned and tainted associations separated, the Spirit has come to stay. His holiness overcomes any uncleanness within you. The Holy Spirit cleanses you once and for all; you have gone from uncleanness to cleanness. Cleanness, however, can still be common and not holy. That’s why the Spirit’s residency is also important. It shows that God’s intent is to make you his own. You, who were once common and unclean, have now become holy and clean. Now, instead of contaminating others, you can touch them and somehow sanctify them. Your presence in the lives of other people is more powerful than you think. You can, in some real way, make them holy. Your presence announces God’s unique interest in the other person. I observed this on a human scale when I married. My parents did not meet my wife until a month after our wedding, but the moment they met her they loved her. My parents loved me; I loved my wife; so my parents loved my wife. They were linked to me; I was linked to her; so they were linked to her.
This does not mean that those who are linked to us immediately belong to Christ, but it does mean that they enjoy an enviable position. At the very least, they have daily opportunities to witness the Spirit within another person. In a real way they too have been set apart. The apostle Paul gave a concrete application of this. In ancient Israel there were strict taboos against marrying people outside Israel. Such a marriage brought pagan contamination into the home and defiled any Israelite. After Jesus ascended, the early church encountered similar relationships: one spouse put his or her faith in Jesus but the other one did not. A possible application of Old Testament principles to this situation was to advise the believer to divorce the unbeliever, thereby breaking the link to the unclean person. The apostle Paul, however, used different logic. If the unbeliever was willing to live with the believer, Paul advised the believer to stay because the believer—the holy one—can spread holiness to others in close association with him or her. With Christ in you, by way of the Holy Spirit, you can touch other people.
If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (1 Corinthians 7:13–14) So get out there and start touching. This is the era of action. If you have said “I love you” to Jesus, you have all the benefits that come with your new relationship. You also have the responsibilities. In other words, you have purpose. You have a reason to live. You claim all the benefits of Jesus Christ and he claims you. Just as Jesus moved toward you in love, you move toward others on his behalf. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (1 John 3:23–24) There is nothing burdensome in this purpose. It is hard but invigorating. Imagine that you are the new Isaiah. You have been purified by the King. He lives in you by his Spirit, and he gives you a mission.

God Honours You

From "Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection" by Edward T. Welch, New Growth Press, 2012.

 The world is turned upside down as soon as you enter the kingdom. Jesus takes you through a gate that says—and this is amazing—HONORED. It is the only way in. Shame for one woman I know gives way when it’s her birthday. For those few hours, shame is elbowed out from the center of her life. Friends call her. She usually gets a gift or two. Someone at work keeps track of birthdays, so either a cake or cupcakes show up at lunch. She is honored. Birthdays can be a big deal. For children, they are the days when they eat whatever they want, receive gifts, celebrate with songs, and feel like royalty from sunup to sundown. On my birthday I still get to choose my dinner and dessert menu and my family treats me most kindly, even if I am a grouch. Of course, tomorrow is someone else’s birthday and I leave the limelight, but it certainly can be nice while it lasts. I, for one, am not above using “It’s my birthday” as a way to garner a little more patience and mercy from others. Birthdays can feel peculiar, though. We receive kindness we do not deserve. Who are we to receive special treatment, especially when we know we don’t deserve it? Who are we to be honored for doing nothing more than being born? Well, get accustomed to that feeling because, like it or not, there is only one way into the kingdom of God. You must receive honor—honor that is extravagant and eternal. God has honored you. The gospel is the story of how he did it. At the heart of the story is the word servant. Jesus Christ became your servant. There is no honor in being served by paid help. The servant is only doing a job; it is fee for service. Employees don’t have to like their bosses, or servants their masters. But what if someone volunteers to serve you? Jesus freely placed your interest above his own. His desire was to elevate your status; in the process he lowered his own. He gave you the royal treatment: he works, you benefit. And you must accept this treatment. Jesus made himself nothing in order to be your servant, and servants live to enhance the status of those they serve. God honoured you. No wonder the apostle Paul was immune to the shame of the world.  No amount of worldly shame could diminish the honor God had bestowed on him.  Indeed, "the Lord bestows favor and honor" (Psalm 84:11), but we never thought he would come down off the throne, willingly become our servant and serve us all the way to the cross.      When Jesus voluntarily became your servant, he lowered himself and elevated you.  Yes, you might feel laid low initially. When you first see your sin clearly, you feel like you come crashing down to earth. You acknowledge that you have no status or accomplishments to offer the King. But when you stop to think about it, there was nothing especially humiliating in that. You simply stopped pretending you were God. You finally acted like the human being you were created to be: you turned from your independent, isolated ways and connected to Jesus. It is a sign that you are moving when you see your sin and don’t immediately go back into the gutter. Sin is a fact. To be blind to it is shameful. To see it is normal and human. To confess it to the Lord and see that he gladly accepts you rather than turns away? That shows you are connected to him and becoming more like him. So the beginning of life with Jesus Christ, even when it means seeing your own sin, is honor, not humiliation. When you are served by Jesus and connected to him, it can be no other way.

 Isaiah 43:3 Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Message: Our God Hides


Exodus 19: 21-24

 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to look and many of them perish. Also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, lest the Lord break out against them.” And Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for you yourself warned us, saying, ‘Set limits around the mountain and consecrate it.’” And the Lord said to him, “Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord, lest he break out against them.”
 Exodus 33: 17-23

And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

Matthew 2: 7-11
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

The Heidelburg Disputation, Theses 20

He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross. The manifest and visible things of God are placed in opposition to the invisible, namely, his human nature, weakness, foolishness.  

In a positive sense, God hides himself for our benefit.  If we were to see him in his full glory "who dwells in unapproachable light", we would suffer the fate that God warned Moses and the Israelites of before Mt. Sinai.  God is holiness personified, and so no unclean thing can exist in his Presence without being burnt up as chaff. Hence God prescribed certain limits around the Tabernacle (where God met with Moses) in the Israelites' camp.  Outside of the Aaronic priesthood, no one was allowed to "come near to the vessels of the sanctuary or to the altar lest they, and you, die." (Numbers 18: 3) As God warned Aaron, "any outsider who comes near shall be put to death." (Numbers 18:7)
So between God and the Israelites, there was a veil that remained in place emblefied by the Most Holy Place where only the High Priest could go and stand before the mercy seat to offer sacrifices for the sins of Israel.  

In the Incarnation of Jesus Christ,  the veil between God and man was torn apart.  Hiding his deity in human flesh, Jesus made himself approachable for the sake of many unclean sinners in Israel who came to him to receive healing, mercy and forgiveness.  Not even  Gentiles were barred.  At his birth, the Magi from the east came before him to offer gifts and to worship him, signifying a shift in the nature of the priesthood that pointed ahead to the creation of Christ's church at Pentecost.  To the weak Christ made himself weak, that "he might gain the weak" (1 Corinthians 9:22), emptying himself of his glory, and being "found in human form" (Phillippians 2:8), where he could dwell with men and make the mystery of the gospel "hidden for ages and generations", and God the Father known to us (Colossians 1:26): 

John 1: 18
No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.

John 14: 7- 11

 "If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

Two thousand years removed from encountering Jesus in human form, we still meet with him today physically in bread and wine each Sunday.  Coming down from heaven, as with the Incarnation, "the bread of God" still dwells in the presence of sinners today and gives life to us, touching unclean lips with his body and blood that alone is the way of our salvation.  

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.



Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ambrose On The Incarnation


from Ambrose's "Exposition of the Christian Faith", Book III, Chapters VIII and IX,
Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Series 2, Volume 10 (ed. Phillip Schaff):

 This beginning did Isaiah see, and therefore he says: “A Child is born, a Son is given to us,” as also did the Magi, and therefore worshipped they, when they saw the little One in the stable, and said: “A Child is born,” and, when they saw the star, declared, “A Son is given to us.” On the one hand, a gift from earth—on the other, a gift from heaven—and both are One Person, perfect in respect of each, without any changeableness in the Godhead, as without any taking away from the fulness of the Manhood. One Person did the Magi adore, to one and the same they offered their gifts, to show that He Who was seen in the stall was the very Lord of heaven.
Mark how the two verbs differ in their import: “A Child is born, a Son is given.” Though born of the Father, yet is He not born, but given to us, forasmuch as the Son is not for our sakes, but we for the Son’s. For indeed He was not born to us, being born before us, and the maker of all things created: nor is He now brought to life for the first time, Who was always, and was in the beginning; on the other hand, that which before-time was not is born to us. Again we find it thus recorded, how that the angel, when he spoke to the shepherds, said that He had been born: “Who is this day born to us a Saviour, Who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David.” To us, then, was born that which was not before—that is, a child of the Virgin, a body from Mary—for this was made after man had been created, whereas [the Godhead] was before us...

 Even as the Child, then, is born not unto all, but unto the faithful: so the Son is given to the faithful and not to the unbelieving. He is given to us, not to the Photinians; for they affirm that the Son of God was not given unto us, but was born and first began to exist amongst us. To us is He given, not to the Sabellians, who will not hear of a Son being given, maintaining that Father and Son are one and the same. Unto us is He given, not unto the Arians, in whose judgment the Son was not given for salvation, but sent over subject and inferior, to whom, moreover, He is no “Counsellor,” inasmuch as they hold that He knows nought of the future, no Son, since they believe not in His eternity, though of the Word of God it is written: “That which was in the beginning;” and again: “In the beginning was the Word.” To return to the passage we set before us to discuss. “In the beginning,” saith the Scripture, “before He made the earth, before He made the deeps, before He brought forth the springs of water, before all the hills He begat Me...

 Perchance you will ask how I came to cite, as referring to the Incarnation of Christ, the place, “The Lord created Me,” seeing that the creation of the universe took place before the Incarnation of Christ? But consider that the use of holy Scripture is to speak of things to come as though already past, and to make intimation of the union of two natures, Godhead and Manhood, in Christ, lest any should deny either His Godhead or His Manhood.  In Isaiah, for example, you may read: “A Child is born unto us, and a Son is given unto us;” so here also [in the Proverbs] the prophet sets forth first the creation of the flesh, and joined thereto the declaration of the Godhead, that you might know that Christ is not two, but One, being both begotten of the Father before the worlds, and in the last times created of the Virgin. And thus the meaning is: I, Who am begotten before the worlds, am He Who was created of mortal woman, created for a set purpose.
Again, immediately before the declaration, “The Lord created Me,” He says, “I will tell of the things which are from eternity,” and before saying, “He begat,” He premised, “In the beginning, before He made the earth, before all hills.” In its extent, the preposition “before” reaches back into the past without end or limit, and so “Before Abraham was, I am,” clearly need not mean “after Adam,” just as “before the Morning Star”need not mean “after the angels.” But when He said “before,” He intended, not that He was included in any one’s existence, but that all things are included in His, for thus it is the custom of Holy Writ to show the eternity of God. Finally, in another passage you may read: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever the earth and the world were made, Thou art from everlasting to everlasting.” Before all created things, then, is the Son begotten; within all and for the good of all is He made; begotten of the Father, above the Law, brought forth of Mary, under the Law

Saturday, December 7, 2013

What We've Learned Lately About Evangelical Ecclesiology

Matthew 23: 1-4

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 

Mark 10: 42-45

 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and 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.”

Acts 19: 23-29

 About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.”
When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul's companions in travel.

In the last few weeks we have witnessed another scandal upsetting the apple cart in mainstream evangelicalism.  Without commenting on that directly, I thought I would highlight what this latest incident reveals about the kind of ecclesiology in vogue among modern evangelicals and their celebrity pastors:

1.  It is virulently anti-democratic.  When the power structure of a church is in the hands of a few, and the congregation's role is limited to adopting the pastor's jargon and vision and following blindly, dictators are easily bred.  This is more likely in churches where the congregation's call to act as Berean-like watchmen is diminished or outright challenged by bully pulpits with a "do as you're told" attitude, which discourages and silences any healthy criticism meant for the good of the body.  In these environments the role of the celebrity pastor is indistinguishable from the rulers and authorities in the secular world who lord authority over the people, and therefore cease to fulfill Jesus' command: "whoever would be first among you must be slave of all".  

2.  Silence.  Whereas Paul and Jesus taught the church to practice discipline on the basis of two or three witnesses, today there is a pervading air of silence when a celebrity pastor falls from grace or is questioned about his impropriety.    Where congregations are effectively silenced or threatened with censure, you would expect the wider church to speak up for their sake.  But aside from independent bloggers, radio apologists, and pastors at odds with the evangelical subculture, evangelical parachurch organisations that seem to function as an accountability group for pastors instead become enablers for further transgressions.  When the money and prestige that a celebrity pastor brings might be at stake, its easier for parachurch groups to remain silent and even to call for boycotts on anyone who would dare to criticise.  Rather than protecting the congregations of wayward pastors, these groups are ultimately self-serving, looking out for their "old boys network" (built on the cult of personality) when it comes under attack.  The behaviour of Christian leaders in this respect is no different from the Ephesians who rioted when the apostle Paul threatened their livelihood based on the manufacture of shrines of the goddess Artemis.  When an idol is challenged, even one in the shape of a celebrity pastor, Christians can and do respond with anger at the thought of their idol being toppled and brought into disrepute, especially if worldly gain is on the line.

3.  Lack of accountability.  With congregations at the mercy of the celebrity pastor leadership model, what accountability is there?  With the rise of the unbiblical practice of vision casting, pastors tie elders and the congregation into a covenantal arrangement where all agree to follow the pastor's supposed 'vision from God', or otherwise "get thrown under the bus".  Unfortunately in this arrangement elders become little more than 'yes men' who exist much like everyone else to bow down at the pulpit.  Since most churches in this seeker-sensitive/purpose-driven mould follow the Baptist model of autonomy, it leaves Christians without a wider hierarchy for them to appeal to in cases of false doctrine and pastoral malpractice.  Silenced within by controlling pastors and unquestioning elders, and silence without with no Bishops or synodical authority to call to for help, Christians often feel forced out to the detriment of their faith and spiritual well-being.

4.  Higher standards.  In both letters to Timothy and Titus, Paul stresses the ethical standards required of pastors and elders to Timothy.  One of these standards is that "an overseer must be above reproach".  Is this true of celebrity pastors today?  The recent cases of Mark Driscoll's alleged plagiarism, Stephen Furtick's financial spending, and Ed Young's "sexcapades" on the roof of his church building prove that the higher standards Scripture commands of pastors doesn't somehow apply to them.  Again because they are protected by powerful forces within and without that rely on their book sales, conference appearances, charisma, etc.  And also due to the pastor's own spiritual pridefulness and blindness to their own sin and need for repentance.  This spiritual blindness can lead to hypocritical messages issued from the pulpit when they speak out on issues in which its revealed that they haven't followed their own advice.  Similarly Jesus warned the crowds of the Pharisees' hypocrisy: "they preach, but do not practice".  When pastors fall into hypocrisy because of lower ethical standards set for them, church ministry suffers and the spread of the Gospel is undermined, as the outside world looks on with cynical eyes.

What is our response to these errors, betrayals, and outright idolatry within the body of Christ?  It would be easy as Lutherans to shrug off much of what we witness as evangelical hi-jinx, however Paul does warn us to not imagine ourselves beyond temptation.  We should watch ourselves putting any pastor on a pedestal, and likewise we should keep a watchful eye for Lutheran pastors building a foundation on their personality and who think themselves beyond reproach and correction.  For such leaders, the Scriptures carry this warning for those betraying the cause of Christ:

1 Corinthians 3: 10-15
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Second Advent: Jesus isn't just for Christmas

 Isaiah 55: 6 “Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near"

Matthew 22: 11-14

 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Matthew 25: 1-13

 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

The Christian festival of Christmas is the one time of year when Jesus is paid lip service in our culture.  We hear future pop stars sing of him in "The X-Factor" final, countless Christmas albums are released, and many schools invite parents to come and watch their children dress up as Mary, Joseph, wise men, shepherds and angels in their Nativity plays.  And in parish churches doors are open to unbelievers for various carol services and midnight mass, so that they may too hear the good news of the coming King, born in weakness two thousand years ago for the salvation of the world.  While all these things are good, in so far, as they exalt the name of the true Jesus, God of God, Light of Light, and the gospel of salvation by grace through faith,  the Scripture carries several warnings to unbelieving visitors.  That this Jesus, born in a manger, will return in glory to judge both the living and the dead, and his dominion will have no end.

Those found in unbelief at the return of the King of the universe will be cast 
into the lake of fire prepared for Satan and his angels, while his elect will be 
glorified as all the promises of our eternal salvation will finally by consummated 
by the great Shepherd of the sheep.  So as we offer the good news of Jesus' 
first advent this Christmas, led us leave our unbelieving audience in no doubt 
that Jesus is coming again, and preach to them the necessity of faith and 
repentance unto salvation.  

To non-Christians I would warn, "there is no flirting with Jesus.  
You can't make him a small part in your Christmas festivities and then 
ignore him the rest of the year".  The incarnation of Jesus Christ demands the 
same response given by the shepherds and angels; and God-willing we believe 
the Spirit will grant faith and repentance to all who hear God's Word and receive 
it with gladness.  But for those who turn down the invitation year after year, 
who persist in flagrant unbelief despite how many times they've sung "Silent 
Night", there is only a "fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire" that 
will consume the unrepentant (Hebrews 10:27).

So the message for our unbelieving culture is clear: "seek the Lord while he may be found" this Christmas",  Do not spurn the implanted Word of God that has the power to save your souls (James 1:21), and thus be found without the imputed righteousness of Christ that comes by faith at the time of his second parousia (coming).  And hence forth be cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  For now the door is open.  The message of the free forgiveness of sins for Jesus' sake is available to everyone for God desires "all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth"  (1 Timothy 2:4).  So this Christmas if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts against God's promise to save as the Israelites did and died in the wilderness.  Be under no illusion that the "narrow door" to God's kingdom will one day swing shut when Jesus comes in glory with his holy angels.  For on that "day of the Lord" the wise and foolish virgins will hear one of two statements from Jesus, words of eternal welcome or eternal separation: "I never knew you" or "Come, you who are blessed by my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you" (Matthew 25: 34). This Christmas, will you be wise and cloth yourself with Christ, or will you continue in foolishness unto utter devastation, found without the oil of faith that alone (apart from works) can save you.  Whatever your response, the reality of history's ultimate destination remains:  Jesus is coming.

Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus!  

Check out the first part of this joint Advent blog event at:

One Sheep Ponders - The First Advent: The First Shepherd