Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Theologies of Glory I: Kingdom Confusion

Luke 20:25

Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God
what is God's.

"Whether the Church tries to rule the culture or form a culture of its
own, sin runs too deep. Christian monarchies succumb to corruption.
Christian communes dissolve due to jealousy, personality conflicts,
and overt sin. No one, including Christians, can live a perfectly moral life,
much less force anyone else to. And on this fact, all attempts to enshrine a
perfectly Christian culture founder.

Whether preaching the need to conform to society, reform it, or separate
from it, all of these options are the theologies of Law, not Gospel.
They reduce Christianity to rules, behaviour, and codes of conduct -
neglecting the fact that human beings are in such bondage to sin that
they cannot fulfill the Law. More profoundly, they neglect the fact that
Christianity is about God's grace, the atonement of Christ, and the
forgiveness of sins. Put another way, in their ambitious kingdom-building,
they exhibit the theology of glory rather than the theology of the cross."

(Gene Edward Veith, The Spirituality of the Cross, p.122-123)

False teaching is always looking for another way to build the kingdom of God aside from the gospel of Christ's death and resurrection. Focusing not on our Lord's efforts but on our works by which we build moral ladders believing they will take us to God or earn enough favour as to bring God down to us. In the Apostle Paul's day it was the super-apostles subverting the churches he built with a gospel of works (namely circumcision) distracting them from Christ's grace. In Martin Luther's time, the papists lavished in their Holy Roman Empire supporting a Pope who claimed divine rights for himself to "enthrone and depose kings, regulate secular dominions"; and who wanted his articles and laws to be made equal to Scripture (The Book of Concord, "The Power and Primacy of the Pope", p. 421-22).

Today within the New Apostolic Reformation, founded by Peter Wagner, the Seven Mountains Mandate (see video) attempts to build God's kingdom apart from the gospel, by usurping the secular and cultural realms of Caesar, attempting to re-Christianise those secular elements of our culture (media, education, economics, government) which were never entirely Christian to begin with. In order to bring the earthly kingdoms of the world under the Church's direct power and influence.

This teaching is based on a logical fallacy - that our spiritual warfare is founded on our influence in the culture, on essentially creating a theocracy to make America and other nations more moral, whilst leaving unbelievers dead in their sins and trespasses. Social transformation is a worthy goal but to neglect the pronouncement of the forgiveness of sins, repentance and faith in Christ alone, as the means by which we enter God's kingdom is Christless Christianity. It is to make the Church the head rather than Christ, when we should be the tail following the teachings of the Holy Spirit. It is to put the emphasis on the political and social activism of the Church rather than on Christ's substitutionary atonement to save every tribe, tongue and nation. As if the Church could build heaven here on earth by human hands, thereby losing our gospel focus and becoming another worldly institution with dreams of social and theological utopia.

"Human societies and governments are intrinsically limited, prone to fail,
and tainted by sin. They are realms of human and divine service, but they
can never be heaven. The only way to heaven is the cross of Jesus Christ.

The Church does not depend on power, social prestige, rhetorical
manipulation, or human-designed programs. All it has are the Word and
Sacraments, which, though they seem weak to the world and to all theologies
of glory, in fact carry the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit."

(Gene Edward Veith, The Spirituality of The Cross, p.131)

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Call To Discernment: A Biblical Critique
of the Word of Faith Movement

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Spiritual Warfare

Psalm 35:1-3, 22-25

Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me;
fight against those who fight against me!
Take hold of shield and buckler
and rise for my help!
Draw the spear and javelin
against my pursuers!
Say to my soul,
"I am your salvation!"

You have seen, O Lord; be not silent!
O Lord, be not far from me!
Awake and rouse yourself for my vindication,
for my cause, my God and my Lord!
Vindicate me, O Lord, my God,
according to your righteousness,
and let them not rejoice over me!

Spiritual warfare rests on the covenantal faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ, who promises to keep us in his strong right hand (Jn 10:28-29), and intercedes before the Father for our deliverance from evil (Jn 17:15). These covenant obligations are not merely for our spiritual benefit but that God would be glorified above all principalities and powers. That he alone would be acknowledged and praised as the only living God; and that all gods and idols who challenge his authority would be humbled and unmasked as false.

Isaiah 2:17-18

And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled,
and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low,
and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.
And the idols shall utterly pass away.

Calling on God for vindication embraces him as the only source of salvation. He alone has the strength to eternally defeat the demonic forces, that fight against us and rejoice when we lie defeated in our sins (Ps 35:15-16), above all the earthly claims of exorcists, witch doctors and mystics who claim to have power in the "heavenlies". In him eternal justicewill be exacted on our "pursuers" who in turn will be pursued when Christ returns to defeat them with the sword of his mouth (Rev 19:15). In that day our vindication will be complete and final as all of God's enemies will be trampled by the winepress of his judgments. Thereby fulfilling the prayers of the Psalmist to contend with those "malicious witnesses" that rise up against God's people in the earth (Ps 35:11).

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Rob Bell Ducks and Dives on The Question of Hell

In his latest promotional video, Rob Bell dances around the central
question of the Christian faith - are those outside of Christ under God's
condemnation and heading for eternal punishment in a literal hell.
He opts instead for fake outrage over someone who wrote a note
suggesting Gandhi was languishing in hell, obfuscating over the fact
that repentance and faith in Christ alone is necessary for salvation.

What's at stake here is the exclusiveness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
While I believe as a Lutheran in the inclusive reach of the gospel - that
Christ died for the sins of the whole world- Christ made exclusive claims
about his gospel of grace being the narrow road on which we as his disciples
walk. Those who reject the narrow path of faith in Christ and walk the
broad road are excluded from the Kingdom of God. As Christ said to the
Pharisees, "unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins"
(John 8:24). Bell wants to paint over the Jesus who came to bring division
(Matthew 10:34). And ultimately to throw Satan and those not found in the
book of life into "the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:15).

Bell doesn't draw on these absolutes found in Scripture but throws
doubt-raising questions designed to undermine a central tenet of the
gospel - Christ's penal substitutionary atonement for our sins.
Rob Bell's question, 'how could a God that rescues us from himself
ever be good', denies Christ's propitiation for our transgressions and casts
a shadow on God's grace revealed to us on the cross. That in Christ
our heavenly Father was turning his wrath away from us, and judging Christ
on the cross for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5).

That the triune God would choose to do this for sinners that
continue in unrepentant rebellion against him shows the goodness and
grace of God. So, sorry Rob, your hell-less gospel is the real
contradiction here; a Christ that doesn't save me from hell and God's
eternal judgment is no Christ at all. The good news isn't that love
wins but that through Christ, God's mercy triumphed over judgment (James 2:13).

The clouds of judgment gather
The time is growing late
Be somber and be watchful
Our judge is at the gate
The judge who comes in mercy
The judge who comes in might
To put an end to evil
And diadem the right.

(Bernard of Cluny, 12th cent.)

Comfort, comfort ye my people
speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
comfort those in sit in darkness,
mourning 'neath their sorrows' load;
speak ye to Jerusalem
of the peace that waits for them;
tell her that her sins I cover,
and her warfare now is over.

(Johann Olearious, 1611-84)

Further Reading and Listening:

Rob Bell - Universalist?

Rob Bell and The Judgmentless Gospel

Review of Love Wins by Rob Bell, Part 1, Some Introductory Thoughts

Bell Brouhaha

Love Wins Sermon Review

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Handle with Care

2 Cor 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show
that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

2 Cor 12:9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness".

Do we really boast about our weaknesses in the church, or
do we rarely let them out of the closet? Or have we buried them
under an avalanche of pieties and soundbites about purpose,
victory and breakthrough. Do we hide them from others wearing
a false mask of joy concealing the pain and despair underneath.
Often in myself I wear masks when I struggle with depression,
and withdraw into my private bubble from other Christians. So
I won't face the embarrassing moments when I breakdown in tears
in front of them.

But these passages say to me, speak openly of yourself as a weak,
broken and fragile Christian because God uses weaklings to shame
the world. He used someone poor in speech to defeat Pharoah and
to bring his people out of servitude in Egypt (Exodus 3:10). He raised
up a king from the youngest of eight sons (2 Samuel 16). He chose a
man of unclean clips to pronounce judgment and grace on Israel (Isaiah 6:9).

Why does God choose weaklings like us? Because he knows we need his
helping hands. As we repent of our own efforts when we put our faith in
Christ. The strong despise his assistance. The fool in his heart says "with
our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is master over us?"
(Psalm 12:4). But those who realise they carry the sign "handle with care"
in their souls and bodies, cast their cares on God and wait dependently
on him for his shelter. I desire each day to know more of my own brokenness,
so that I would look more to Christ for my strength and not to my faltering,
stuttering self.

Humble me, Lord, that your power and grace might be clearly seen,
and that I would rest solely in you. In the name of Christ. Amen.