Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Worth Repeating - Lessons on Church Discipline by Tom Ascol

The real difficulty in corrective church discipline is not so much in knowing what to do or even how to do it--though those questions can at times be problematic. The hardest part of church discipline is in the actual administering of it. It is painful. There is no easy way to confront a brother in his sin. If he persists, there is no easy way to take one or two others with you to confront him again. If he still refuses to repent, there is no easy way to tell it to the church, and if he refuses to hear "even" the church, it is absolutely excruciating to remove him from membership--to "deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Corinthians 5:5).

Coming to terms with the fact that there simply is no easy way to carry out these steps has been one of the most sobering yet helpful lessons that I have learned as a pastor. When leading a church to take the final step of discipline certain questions always lurk in the shadows, "Isn't there another way? Is there anything more that we can do to avoid this?" They are provoked, I think, out of a proper desire to avoid taking the most serious step a church can take in dealing with a person's soul. By reconciling myself to the fact that doing what Christ commands in such a case is unavoidably painful, and by teaching the church to view it that way, we are encouraged not to shrink back from our duty but to take up this cross with a view to God's glory and the welfare of the wayward member.

In His kindness, I have had the privilege of seeing the fruit of church discipline born out not only in the restoration of brothers and sisters who have submitted to it but also in the strengthening of the church in the fear of the Lord and in the conversion of unbelievers. I fully identify with the following words of Robert Murray M'Cheyne as he describes his own pastoral grappling with the exercise of church discipline.

When I first entered upon the work of the ministry among you, I was exceedingly ignorant of the vast importance of church discipline. I thought that my great and almost only work was to pray and preach. I saw your souls to be so precious, and the time so short, that I devoted all my time, and care, and strength, to labour in word and doctrine. When cases of discipline were brought before me and the elders, I regarded them with something like abhorrence. It was a duty I shrank from; and I may truly say it nearly drove me from the work of the ministry among you altogether. But it pleased God, who teaches his servants in another way than man teaches, to bless some of the cases of discipline to the manifest and undeniable conversion of the souls of those under our care; and from that hour a new light broke in upon my mind, and I saw that if preaching be an ordinance of Christ, so is church discipline. I now feel very deeply persuaded that both are of God--that two keys are committed to us by Christ, the one the key of doctrine, by means of which we unlock the treasures of the Bible, the other the key of discipline, by which we open or shut the way to the sealing ordinances of the faith. Both are Christ's gift, and neither is to be resigned without sin.

My Commentary
Few things are more sad than a church that is altogether ignorant of how to execute church discipline. Learning this practice is relatively easy. Applying takes a little more tact. Withholding it entirely is an indication that the church in question is suspect of apostasy. I am not saying it has apostasized, but only that the danger may be lurking in nearby in the shadows. On the other hand, leaders that use church discipline as a power tool to abuse members who dare to disagree with their teachings or praxis are no less wicked than those who care so much about the truth that they intentionally ignore it altogether. Balance is the key. Love demands the practice of church discipline, for all the right reasons.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Biblical Repentance - Worth Repeating by Thomas Watson

COUNTERFEITS of Repentance

To discover what true repentance is, I shall first show what it is not. There are several counterfeits of repentance, which might occasion that saying of Augustine that "repentance damns many". He meant a false repentance; a person may delude himself with counterfeit repentance:

1. The first counterfeit of repentance, is LEGAL TERROR.

A man has gone on long in sin. At last God arrests him, shows him what desperate hazard he has run—and he is filled with anguish. But after a while, the tempest of conscience is blown over, and he is quiet. Then he concludes that he is a true penitent because he has felt some bitterness in sin. Do not be deceived! This is not true repentance! Both Ahab and Judas had great trouble of mind. It is one thing to be a terrified sinner—and another to be a repenting sinner. Sense of guilt is enough to breed terror in the conscience. Only infusion of divine grace, breeds true repentance. If pain and trouble were sufficient to repentance, then the damned in hell should be most penitent, for they are most in anguish. "Men gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done!" Revelation 16:10-11. Repentance depends upon a change of heart. There may be terror—yet with no change of heart. "I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds." Acts 26:20

2. Another counterfeit about repentance, is RESOLUTION AGAINST SIN.

A person may purpose and make vows—yet be no penitent. "You said, I will not transgress" (Jer. 2:20). Here was a good resolution. But see what follows: "but still you would not obey me. On every hill and under every green tree, you have prostituted yourselves by bowing down to idols!" Notwithstanding her solemn engagements, they played fast and loose with God—and ran after their idols!

We see by experience what protestations against sin, a person will make when he is on his sick-bed, if God should recover him again. Yet if that person does recover—he is as bad as ever. He shows his old heart in a new temptation. Resolutions against sin may arise:

(1) From present extremity; not because sin is sinful—but because it is painful. This kind of resolution will vanish.

(2) From fear of future evil, an apprehension of death and hell. "I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hell was following close behind him!" (Rev. 6:8). What will a sinner not do—what vows will he not make—when he knows he must die and stand before the God in judgment? Self-love raises a sickbed repentance. But if he recovers—the love of sin will prevail against it. Trust not to a such passionate resolution; it is raised in a storm—and will die in a calm!

3. The third counterfeit about repentance, is the leaving of many sinful ways.

It is a great matter, I confess, to leave sin. So dear is sin to a man—that he will rather part with a child than with a lust! "Shall I give the fruit of my body—for the sin of my soul?" (Micah 6:7). Sin may be parted with—yet without repentance.

(1) A man may part with some sins and keep others. Herod reformed many things which were amiss—but could not leave his beloved Herodias.

(2) An old sin may be left in order to entertain a new sin—as you get rid an old servant to take another. This is to exchange a sin. Sin may be exchanged—and the heart remained unchanged. He who was a profligate in his youth, turns to be a miser in his old age. A slave is sold to a Jew; the Jew sells him to a Turk. Here the master is changed—but he is a slave still. So a man moves from one vice to another—but remains an unrepentant sinner still.

(3) A sin may be left not so much from strength of grace—as from reasons of prudence. A man sees that though such a sin is for his pleasure—yet it is not for his best interest. It will eclipse his credit, harm his health, or impair his estate. Therefore, for prudential reasons, he dismisses it. But true leaving of sin, is when the acts of sin cease from a principle of grace infused into the soul—as the air ceases to be dark from the infusion of light.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Antithesis of Human Reason and Biblical Faith


What exactly was Paul getting at in his letter to the Corinthians? The more I interact with believers, and the more I read evangelical authors, the more convinced I am that evangelicalism has drifted into an open sea, ranging from Pelagianism to Arminianism on its doctrine of man. As a result, men are constantly tweaking doctrines and practices that require the use of this doctrine in order to fit the overarching scheme of a view of anthropology that is more and more unbiblical with each passing day and each new book that reaches publication. The impact of this abhorrent view of fallen man is nowhere more prominent than in the area of apologetics and the modern presentation of the gospel, so-called.

With all due respect to much of the work that William Lane Craig is doing, his views do not reflect the biblical revelation on the nature of man and sin, not to mention God. His middle knowledge and rejection of the sensus divinitatis place him at odds with the orthodox understanding of God’s nature, man’s nature, the devastating consequences of sin, and even the creation account of Genesis 1-3. With this attitude, Craig builds an apologetic empire that has a questionable foundation because it abandons Scripture on several occasions and it is satisfied merely to show that Christian theism is probably true. The disturbing trend is that more and more conservative scholars are satisfied with this approach. This too indicates a great downgrading in our understanding of the nature of man and sin.

Not only is Christian apologetics severely impacted by these false views of man and sin, but as one might imagine, the gospel has been sorely impacted by them. I was once a member of an independent Baptist church that grew from 300 to 1100 in less than 3 years approximately. The pastor had adopted the seeker sensitive model. His idea was to bring the people in through a variety of means in order to give them the good news. Once the church grew to a certain size, the pastor, without admitting it realized he had created a problem. He failed to recognize that what brought them there is what will keep them. In other words, you can’t change the game once the church is full. Otherwise, these selfish, unregenerate, Jesus hedonists will just find somewhere else to go. Secondly, people that were loyal to Scripture and to a right understanding of man and sin left the church. The mature based deteriorated. Without a mature base, it is difficult to help 1100 people grow spiritually. In time, the trend chasers demanded the church adopt and integrate other new trends that were emerging. When the pastor set some limitations, those who wanted more simply moved on.

These things happen when we fail to take into account the fundamental difference between unregenerate human reason and biblical faith. God has set the gospel over against the rational thought process of the unbeliever, in effect destroying their wisdom. The true gospel of Christ is not attractive to unregenerate man. The unbeliever thinks the gospel, the real gospel is scandalous and foolish. This upsets modern Christians. We don’t like to be made fun of or stigmatized as fools and idiots. No one likes that. However, that is exactly what we look like to an unregenerate world.

The apostle Paul, writing to one of the most philosophical cultures to ever exist, ancient Corinth, quotes Isaiah the prophet when he sets out to describe what the gospel actually looks like and what it does to unbelieving minds. First, Paul says that God destroys the wisdom of the wise! The Greek word translated destroy is apollymii. Its root means to ruin, perish, or destroy. It is translated lose, destroy, lost, ruined, perish, and even kill in the NASB. It appears some 90 times in the NT. The idea is that it is brought to nothing. What is God said to destroy by the gospel? The ability of man to understand so that they may act prudently. In other words, human wisdom. The gospel is antithetical to human, earthly, fleshly wisdom. Since man reasons from his nature, which is where the intellect resides, how do we get him to reason against his nature? In order to get man to make sense of the gospel, we have to penetrate his intellect and get him to think differently! And that is the problem of the gospel. So long as man has the nature that he has, he will continue to reason the way he reasons. The gospel is the power of God that explodes this reasoning by regenerating man’s heart, hence giving him a new nature by which his entire faculties are changed. Unless God works on man’s nature, man will continue to reason against God and hold the gospel in extreme contempt.

Secondly, Paul says that God rejects unregenerate man’s faculty to comprehend and understand things. God rejects the intelligence of the intelligent because it is untrustworthy. Unregenerate man desires to take credit, not only for his own salvation, but for plotting how the kingdom may grow. The seeker sensitive pastor deludes himself into thinking that God’s kingdom expands, in part, because of his genius strategy and eloquent messages. We see this everywhere. The emergent church is producing young pastors who are subject to no one for anything and they are taking their crass style and using it to attract young Christians, so-called. They are building empires of 10,000 member, multi-site churches where people gather together, enjoy loud rock music and hear sermons about how awesome they are and how the power of their God is going to help them rule the world and control their own destinies. Doctrine is vilified, orthodoxy mocked, and the true gospel is absent. Nevertheless, this fits in well with the idea that human reason is somehow able to grasp God on its own. It fits in well with the Roman scheme that man is not totally depraved after all, but rather just sick and can still find his way to God through a natural theology.

Paul could not disagree more in 1 Corinthians 1-3. He contends that unregenerate human reason is antithetical to Christ, to the gospel, to Christian theism on every level. That unregenerate men need is the foolishness of the preaching of the cross. What they do not need is some rock concert with Jesus’ name tossed about here and there in the auspices of a code orange, Holy Ghost revival. Entertaining? Perhaps to the unregenerate and the rebellious. Biblical? Not even on paper is it biblical, let alone in practice.

Pastors and elders are responsible for the spiritual growth of their churches. They are responsible for establishing indoctrination programs and preaching and teaching the Word in such a way that God becomes, in the heart of the members, their all in all. When Christians who have been saved 10 years and longer, are unable to articulate the gospel, can’t tell you who God really is and what He is like, and they have little or no grasp on doctrine, the pastors and elders are obviously failing to carry out their responsibility before God. For this, they will certainly give an account. This is not to remove individual responsibility, but we can talk about that after we get churches to at least care enough about their people to at least have a serious discipleship program in place. It is mind-boggling to me how many churches simply don’t bother with it. I have been in several churches that have no discipleship program, no small group program, and very little accountability. People divorce with NO consequences unless someone really pushes the envelope. There is little to no intimacy in these communities. In fact, in some of them, people are filled with hatred and freely engage in malicious gossip and slander while the pastors and elders sit on the sideline and almost nothing to correct the community. It is a pernicious evil for pastors and elders to permit such individuals to deceive themselves into thinking they actually love God, all because they are good tithers, piano players, and deacons. Their hearts rage with vain and ungodly speculations about others with the full knowledge and consent of their spiritual leaders. Still, these pastors and elders talk about how much they love God and care for His word and His church. I guess they don’t love God and His Church enough to implement real programs that are designed to make a real difference in the spiritual growth of the covenant members under their care. Every pastor and elder on this planet will have to answer to God for why this is the case, if in fact it is the case with them. If you are a pastor or elder reading this blog, perhaps my words don’t set well with you. Then open Scripture and refute them in your mind. See if you can find God’s revelation justifying your actions or lack thereof. If you cannot, then maybe you should direct your irritation toward the mirror rather than the author of this blog. Can you really expect others to take you seriously when it is clear you don’t even take your high office of elder seriously? If you are spending more energy over the temporal aspects of your covenant community, then your energy is misplaced. Get to those things once you have addressed the more important ones.

To the apologist who wants to boast about how intellectually powerful and clever his argument is I say it is for nothing. The most powerful intellectual argument in the world will not convert one man to Christ. But there is a darker aspect here. Yes, it may be true that God converts men despite the shallowness of our attempts to be the “best” apologist on the planet. And that is the problem. How many more could we give the simple gospel to if we were not wasting our time attempting to address every ungodly objection against the cross? God saves men by the power of the message of the gospel. It is not in eloquence of speech, nor in intellectual strategy, nor in wise and clever arguments that men are led to Christ. If He uses them, He uses them in spite of their folly. How many men have been truly converted by a less than perfect presentation of the gospel? Yet because the imperfect presentation has within it a grain or seed or truth, it is enough for God work His miracle. This truth, by no means serves as an excuse for men to engage in the sloth of poor presentations in preaching or in apologetics. Rather, it illustrates just how powerful the truth of the gospel is, even when it is mostly hid by foolish strategies. When we defend and preach, the question is not personal effectiveness in making converts. Rather it is in personal effectiveness in accurately handling God’s word God’s way. We preach God’s word, God’s way. We defend God’s word, God’s way. If we do that, we are successful even if God never converts the first person in our ministry. Conversion is God’s business. Preaching and defending He gave to us. Let us be faithful in how we carry them out.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Beyond Revelation: The Sin of Intellectual Speculation

Some four-hundred plus years ago, John Calvin wrote these words:
Not to take too long, let us remember here, as in all religious doctrine, that we ought to hold to one rule of modesty and sobriety: not to speak, or guess, or even to seek to know, concerning obscure matters anything except what has been imparted to us by God's Word. Futhermore, in the reading of Scripture we ought to ceaselessly to endeavor to seek out and mediate upon those things which make for edification. Let us not indulge in curiosity or in the investigation of unprofitable things. And because the Lord willed to instruct us, not in fruitless questions, but in sound godliness, in the fear of his name, in true trust, and in the duties of holiness, let us be satisfied with this knowledge. For this reason, if we would be duly wise, we must leave those empty speculations which idle men have taught apart from God's Word concerning the nature, orders, and number of angels. [Calvin's Institutes: I.XIV.4]
John Murray has this to say about Calvin's views on unrestrained or undisciplined speculation:

No one has ever fulminated with more passion and eloquence against “vacuous and meteoric speculation” than has Calvin. And no one has ever been more keenly conscious that the theologian’s task was the humble and, at the same time, truly noble one of being a disciple of the Scripture. “No man,” he declares, “can have the least knowledge of true and sound, doctrine, without having been a disciple of the Scripture. [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).]
In case you are wondering, I am working with two different versions of Calvin's Institutes (just so you know).

It seems that undisciplined and unrestrained intellectual speculaton have so permeated the Christian academy that we have forgot two things: first, all predication and intellectual inquiry are subject to the Christian ethic. Somehow, it just feels like scholars and theologians continue to forget this. Second, Christian inquiry into revelation must always retain as it's primary goal, sanctification. John Calvin wrote,
The theologian's task is not to divert the ears with chatter, but to strengthen consciences by teaching things true, sure, and profitable.
A curosry survey of books shows there to be no lack of inquiry into matters that seem to me to be clearly beyond human grasp. This is so because God has chosen not to reveal them. God's revelation is designed to transform our life. God revealed what He revealed in order to transform the human mind, thus, leading to a transformed life. There must be some limit placed on matters of theological and philosophical speculation.

If I Cor. 1:18-2:5 does NOTHING else for us, it should cause us to realize the great deal of humility involved in the message of the cross. We have scholars so-called who reject knowledge of God, the miraculous nature of Christianity, the creation account, all miracles recorded in Scripture, the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of Scripture, and a multitude of other heresies too voluminous to mention. Rather than setting down requirements for participation in the Christian community, we are busy doing our best to push down the few remaining walls that exist. We have even reached the place where some supposed Christian pastors and theologians have decided that salvation can exist outside of Christ. When these men have finished their work, there will be no need of Scripture whatsoever. And if we do not need Scripture, then we do not need the church, her clergy, the academy or her experts. Look to the east, across the pond at the plight of Christianity in Europe and this is where the west heads. But in Asia, word has it that Christ is performing a marvelous work in the body.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Faith without Evidence – Taking God at His Word

Ἔστιν δὲ πίστις ἐλπιζομένων ὑπόστασις, πραγμάτων ἔλεγχος οὐ βλεπομένων. Heb. 11:1

Now faith “IS” the basis, or support, or structure of the things hoped for, the evidence or proof for the truth of the things we are not seeing. In continuing my response to J.P. Holding and other apologists who oppose presuppositional apologetics, it seems to me that Hebrews 11:1 provides a good description of faith. If it is true that faith needs proof, then does it not follow that such proof needs proof? If this were true, would not an infinite regress of a need for proofs logically follow? However, the writer of Hebrews seems to think otherwise. Faith, rather than requiring evidence as a ground, is itself evidence and proof. Hebrews tells us that faith is the basis for our hope. Faith IS the evidence or proof for the truth of the things we are not presently seeing. What is the content of this faith? Who is the object of this faith? Orthodox Christianity has always maintained that the content of faith is Scripture while the object of faith is God. Since God’s word serves as the content of faith and God serves as its object, what more does faith require?

According to alternative forms of apologetics, faith rests on the evidence provided it by human reason. That is to say that unless faith is deemed “reasonable” by human method, then it is no longer faith, but rather, fideism. This is exactly the opposite of Christian theism. According to the Christian worldview, reasoning is no longer reasoning, but vain and empty speculation unless and until it is reformed by faith. The proposition that belief without evidence is irrational is an unsupportable proposition. It is impossible to locate this deontological notion in human reason. Who says that belief is “wrong” without evidence? Perhaps there are some cases, to be sure, where this is the case. However, it is not the case, universal. I need no evidence to believe that I have a mind. I have no right to demand evidence for the belief that tomorrow, the earth will continue its rotation around the sun. I do not require evidence in order to believe other people exist. “Belief” in and of itself does not require evidence for its justification. If every belief requires proof, then so too does this belief. Where is the evidence for the belief that every belief requires evidence? The proposition that every belief requires evidence is self-referentially incoherent.

Not only has the writer of the Hebrews told us that faith IS THE EVIDENCE or proof for the truth of the things we are not seeing, he also says that faith is how we understand creation. The term “pistei nooumen” which is translated “by faith we understand” tells us that the instrument of understanding creation is faith. This construction is an instrumental dative, signifying that the instrument of understanding in this phrase is faith. Therefore, the writer to the Hebrews falsifies the proposition that faith logically follows from human reason.

In addition, the Apostle Paul had something to say about faith. Here is the idea posited by J.P. Holding and others from that school of apologetics: humans examine the evidence employing autonomous human reason, which calls upon a variety of tests and judgments to determine if the evidence is sound. After arriving at a judgment, belief in the matter is either justified or not, depending upon the evidence. Paul tells the Corinthian church to think exactly in opposite terms. Paul intentionally avoided rhetorically impressive speech and human wisdom. In contradistinction to this, Paul’s message came, not with persuasive words of human reason, but rather in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. Why would Paul speak in this manner? He knew that humans insisted on having things their way. If they were going to bow to God, and believe in Him, they would at least do so based on their own steam! Their own intellectual predication would be the basis of their faith. The power of the Christian argument, from an intellectual standpoint would be the basis of their faith. In short, their faith would rest on their own ability to reason to Christian theism. However, Paul would not permit this sort of thinking to stand. Rather, Paul said he used a foolish method (preaching) to deliver a foolish and offensive message (the cross) to fools SO THAT their faith would not rest on human reason and predication, but rather on the power of God. That is the gospel delivered to us by the apostles.

If one were to read a variety of publications by men like J.P. Holding, one would have to conclude that Christianity is not a supernatural work of God at all. Rather, it is the product of men, over the years that reasoned their way to God and made a natural decision, using natural reasoning, placing their natural faith in Christ. One cannot help but feel the impact of naturalistic social science methodology throughout Holding’s theology and apologetic. I suspect it was not always this way. For whatever reason, Holding decided to embrace a method of criticism that orthodoxy views with a suspicious eye and make it his primary means of interpreting Scripture. The architects of this method that Holding most often calls upon for their “expertise” deny the inerrancy, inspiration, authority, and self-attesting nature of Scripture. They deny the supernatural origin of Christianity in preference for a social science explanation instead. This has led to voluminous errors in Holding’s theology and has resulted in an apologetic method that is at best seemingly schizophrenic. Such a result is predictable if one desires to hold to orthodoxy on one hand, all the while using hermeneutical method that deny it’s very foundation on the other hand.

Does this mean there is no evidence for faith in Christian theism? Absolutely not! The evidence for Christian theism is overwhleming. Evidence follows from faith, never before it. Reason must serve as Faith's minister, never her magistrate!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Is J.P. Holding Correct that Faith is Founded on Evidence? We Deny.

In his essay on faith, J.P. Holding states:
Peter's primary appeal here was threefold:

He appealed to the evidence of the wonders and signs performed by Jesus; he appealed to the empty tomb, and he appealed to fulfillment of OT prophecy.

In short, his appeals were evidentiary. One of course might wish to dispute the validity of the evidence, but in context this is beside the point. The point is that Peter grounded belief in Christianity on evidence -- or, as the definition of pistis in Acts 17:31 would put it, proofs.
In his article on biblical faith, J.P. Holding asserts that Peter grounded his belief in Christianity on evidence. This is in keeping with the Roman Catholic/Arminian concepts of God, man, and sin. Holding refers to Acts 2:22-36 to support his argument. In so doing, Holding leaves out the beginning of Peter's sermon, which begins at v. 14. Peter begins his sermon by referencing Joel 2:28-32. Step one, Peter argues to the crowd that the phenomena they see was prophesied by Joel. A startling new work of God is progress. The Messiah has come! This Messiah, Jesus Christ as Peter exclaimed in v. 22 was attested by God among you, using signs and miracles that no man could do. God worked these miracles through Christ! Peter begins with Scripture, not pure miracles. Miracles prove nothing outside of the presupposition of God's revelation. These miracles served to show that God's prediction in Scripture of the Messiah had been fulfilled in Christ! Peter's evidence was not evidence in a vacuum. The evidence of miracles had its PROOF in Scripture. The evidentialist's argument for probabilities is nowhere present in Peter's argument. Peter begins his sermon with Joel 2:28 and exclaims that Jesus is the reason for the event they are now witnessing.

Secondly, Peter then claims that Jesus was raised from the dead and this serves as proof that He was the Messiah! Why? Was it merely because a resurrection had taken place? It was not! It was because David had long ago prophesied that the Messiah would be resurrected. In other words, God promised to raise the Messiah from the dead. God has raised Jesus from the dead. Again, Peter calls on Scripture to prove that Jesus was the Messiah. In the first place, the Messiah would come, perform many miracles according to Scripture, He would be rejected by His people, He would be killed, and He would be raised from the dead according to Scripture! Jesus of Nazereth came, worked these very miracles, was rejected and killed and raised from the dead ACCORDING TO SCRIPTURE. Then, and only then, Peter proclaims "Therefore, let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ - this Jesus whom you crucified.

Now, autonomous human reason, still captive to sin could argue that just because the Scriptures speak so of the Messiah, it does not follow that Jesus was the One! From a logical standpoint, that is a valid argument. One could say that the Messiah may still be yet to come and that Jesus just happened to resemble him a great deal. They could have taken up an attitude of wait and see who else comes along. And that is exactly what most of them did then and for different reasons, it is what many do today.

Was it the signs and wonders that served as the ground of Peter's faith? I think not! Of the 22 verses mentioned in this pericope, 13 were direct quotes from Scripture! First Peter calls upon Joel to prove his point. Then He pulls David into the conversation and shows David's words of God to be certain proof that Jesus was the Messiah. Holding's view of faith exposes his Roman Catholic/Arminian orientation through and through. Holding's faith is a natural faith, something existing in fallen man. It is not the supernatural gift of God mentioned in the NT, given to God's elect in the process of His gracious conversion. Holding takes the simple word faith and overlays on it the Greco-Roman cultural understanding of faith. This faith was a natural faith, a simple trust between human beings in various relationships. Biblical faith transcends such human notions and is far more than that. Biblical faith takes as its obect, God, its ground, Scripture, and comes to us through the redemptive act of Christ in the atonement, being itself a gift, given to us as the Holy Spirit applies that redemptive work of Christ to our hearts. More than once Scripture talks about faith as a gift and the idea that belief in the Messiah is something that must be granted by the Father! If this is true, how can natural faith or trusting be the equivalent of biblical faith? (John 6:65; Phil 1:29; 2 Tim. 1:9; 2 Tim. 2:25; 2 Pe. 1:3-4)

The miracles of Christ were enough to cause anyone to pause, and closely examine this Person in light of God's revelation. These miracles should have provoked faith, grounded on Scripture, that God had sent His promised Messiah! Unfortunately, they did not. Rather, they served as grounds for God's indictment of men whose fallen sinful nature preferred rather to serve the creature more than the Creator who is blessed forever. Man knows that God is there and this knowledge is clear enough. However, man sinfully prefers to worship himself by surpressing his knowledge of God and perverting the image of God into something he can live with as opposed to the God of Scripture. Man has no interest in an authoritative God with full right and power to judge him for his sinful acts. That sort of God simply will not do.

The gospel presentation along with apologetics has been clouded by a distortion of the God depicted in Scripture. Men like Holding have conjured up images of a god that is far different from that revealed to us in the text. Ideas like libertarian freedom, middle knowledge, open theism, process theology, and others have flooded evangelicalism and have served to downgrade God, elevate man, and devalue the atonement. Human reason is exalted above all things and even Scripture itself is subjected to the bar of human reason. Man sits on the bench while God and His word are in the docket. This is even true with supposedly evangelical ministries like Tekton Apologetics.

What is the difference, the deciding factor in those who believe and those who do not? Since it is not sinful, fallen man, it must be something else. It must be God's gracious act of regeneration. Sinful men do not conclude and decide that Jesus makes all the sense in the world. The world, by its wisdom does not know God. To them, this Christian message is offensive and foolish! (1 Cor. 1-3) God has sovereignly determined to display His glory, justice, and grace by punishing evil while also choosing to save the undeserving, according to His divine plan and for His own good pleasure.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Biggest Problem with Southern Baptists by Dave Miller - An Observation or Three

Over at SBC Voices Dave Miller makes the following observations about the biggest problem with Southern Baptists:
First, two observations:

1) Southern Baptists (at least the blogging kind) are often kinda angry people. I observe blogging and I am simply amazed at the anger that comes through. From all sides at all sides.

2) Just about everyone considers themselves the victim of the other side. Calvinists are being pushed out by the anti-Calvinists. The non-Calvinists are offended at the arrogant and aggressive Calvinists. The hipsters are “marginalizing” the traditionalists and the traditionalists are excluding the younger generation from leadership. It just goes on.
Now to be fair, I am not a Southern Baptist. However, I could not help but notice that Dave's observation, while partially true seems to miss the point entirely. It would seem to me that Dave thinks the problem is the in the existence of disagreements. Some may respond by saying, no! It is in the manner in which people disagree. Well, to be sure, there are better and worse ways to disagree. There are Christian principles that guide the manner in which we treat one another, sure. If one reads this blog, they walk away from it saying, ok, so what is the biggest problem again and more importantly, how do we solve it? Some things we have to live with, others, not so much. In all things we should demonstrate light and grace, but in nothing is truth to be compromised. The biggest problem I have with Dave's observations is that they seem to marginalize the real problem: doctrinal truth. This seems to be the same old tired "doctrine divides" argument from my perspective.

If the pervasive wave of liberalism should have taught the SBC anything, it should have been that there is more to the Calvinist charge that Arminianism leads to liberal theology when taken to its logical conclusions, than previously appreciated. The SBC was nearly swallowed up by a tidal wave of liberal theology and it is my view that that threat still exists. Liberal theology will simply change it's cloak and return with a different look, perhaps as what Dave calls the "hipsters." This is the younger generation that has swallowed, hook, line, and sinker postmodern philosophy and as a result rebelled against all things orthodox simply because someone else did the thinking. Truth is, hipsters for the most part don't think. They have a cultural aversion to the practice. "Thinking" is for old people and legalists. I have little patience for ignorant young people who demand to be respected for thier uninformed, uneducated, ill-formed opinions. Earning a seat at the table requires experience, education, and wisdom. The younger generation's primary objective should be to learn from the older generation, not turn their nose up at everything we say as if we are old, out-dated, and irrelevant. That attitude is unwise, uninformed, and foolish, not to mention ungodly. Why do we permit such attitudes to prevail in the church? Have we stopped reading Proverbs? Sometimes I think we have completely thrown out Scripture and replaced it with Emergent Church best sellers.

To reduce the serious theological differences that exist in the SBC to simply a problem of how we disagree without recognizing that, for the most part, our beliefs are prior to how we go about disagreeing in the first place is a much bigger problem than Dave observes. In fact, he seems to miss that point entirely. Like it or not, the Calvinistic view of God and Arminian view of God are serious issues that lead to serious consequences. I realize we don't like the tags, Arminian and Calvinist. If it were left to some, we would have no way of distingushing one theological system over another because we don't like labels. A word of advice: get over your arrogant self. Labels are means we use to be able to identify a theological system so that we don't have to write a book about it every time we encounter it.

Libertarian freedom logically leads to views of God that are not orthodox. Moreover, it elevates human ability above that described in Scripture. In addition, the authority of Scripture is devalued for, how is it possible that God could work with libertarian freedom to produce a perfect, self-attesting revelation? As for the hipsters, their first order of business is to subject themselves to the older men in the church for doctrinal instruction and discipleship. If they are found to be of constantly rebellious disposition and obstinate regarding the orthodox tradition of Scripture, then they should be dealt with for their contumacy.

I am not a SBC member. I am a member of the PCA. Our problems are not so different from the SBC. We too have men arguing for an old earth and even Catholic mysticism in our ranks as well. We have illicit divorce with no real consequences in many congregations as well. Basically, I think Dave's observations represent a bigger problem in the SBC than the ones he points out. What do I mean? I mean the lack of critical thinking using Scripture as the authority for idenfying the biggest problems in the SBC is really the biggest problem I see in his article. He makes the problem one of school yard clubs. The Arminian club needs to be nice to the Calvinist club and the Hipsters club, and et cetera. That is not the biggest problem in the SBC. The biggest problem in the SBC is the same as it is for the PCA and any other denomination: the authority and perspecuity of Scripture. This problem was dealt with some 500 years ago but we seem to be in a state of perpetual backsliding on the issue. God's revelation is clear and it is authoritative. Doctrine is critically important. Arminians need to think about how their understanding of God and man impacts the rest of their theology. Calvinists need to be more interested in applying Christian doctrine to Christian praxis. Hipsters need to keep their mouths shut until they learn something from the older men who are responsble to teach them as is God's design.

A bigger problem in the SBC would be not having the discussion at all. Truth matters and we are all sinners. When you bring these two together, there is bound to be disagreement. If we aren't talking about it, that can only mean truth isn't that important to us. There is nothing wrong with healthy disagreement or debate. It is more wrong not to point out what we believe is error than it is to keep quiet. That is not a biblical virtue, it is an American one. Yet, in speaking up, we should do so passionately, but always in love. Our comments should concern views and teachings, not personalities. Silence is a much bigger problem than the one Dave Miller observes in his blog about problems in the SBC in my personal opinion.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Recovering Piety

Pious or Piety occurs over 350 times in John Calvin's Institutes. For men of this era, the word was held in the highest esteem. Unfortunately, for modern men, almost everything held in such regard by that generation is held in contempt by this one if for no other reason than that generation held it to be so. In modern times the word "piety" has been recast and held in ill-repute no thanks to the foolish souls who have unwittingly swallowed the intellectual poison of postmodern philosophy.
 For to begin with, the pious mind does not dream up for itself any god it pleases, but contemplates the one and only true God. And it does not attach to him whatever it pleases, but is content to hold him to be as he manifests himself; furthermore, the mind always exercises the utmost diligence and care not to wander astray, or rashly and boldly to go beyond his will...Because it acknowledges him as Lord and Father, the pious mind also deems it meet and right to observe his authority in all things, reverence his majesty, take care to advance his glory, and obey his commandments. [Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion, I.ii.2]
 The Christian community is in sore need of a recovery of piety. In the 1560s existed a group of Protestants who thought the reforms of Queen Elizabeth did not go far enough and, they called for a further purification or what moderns might refer to as "additional reforms." These Protestants were intensely focused on the authority of Scripture, the Trinitarian character of theology, the significance and purpose of Christ, the national life present by the crisis of their day, and individual conversion. J.I. Packer says,
Puritanism was an evangelical holiness movement seeking to implement its vision of spiritual renewal, national and personal, in the church, the state, and the home; in education, evangelism, and economics; in individual discipleship and devotion, and in pastoral care and competence. [Beeke & Pederson, Meet the Puritans, xviii.]
The church has talked about the need for reformation on and off for decades now. The problem with this language is that it usually refers to a reform in praxis -or- a reform in doctrine. The trouble with this dichotomy is that you cannot have the former without the latter and you will not get the latter without the former. All too often, reform in doctrine proceeds in the wrong direction. For instance, I read a review of a book on inerrancy recently and one reviewer criticized the author because he considered the author's thesis to be a devotion to "the traditional evangelical view of the sacred cow in evangelicalism." The reviewer demonstrated that he has not grapped with the conseqences of an errant Scripture. An errant Scripture is a non-authoritative Scripture. This makes the Scripture anything but self-attesting. If this is the case, what fills the vacuum created by this lack of epistemic authority? It must be human reason! Ultimately we end up with a subjective approach to truth which is where the non-Christian lives. On these grounds, we are no better off than the ungodly. Indeed, the church is in dire need of recovering pietistic living. By pietistic living, I mean our manner of living, thinking, doing church, how we do philosophy, scholarship, eldership, etc. I mean there is no area in the Christian community and the Christian individual in most modern cultures that is not in serious need of reformation.

Notice that Calvin says a pious mind does not merely dream up a god of its own choosing. Yet, our own projections of god are as corrupted by cultural productions as they have ever been. We see this in the lack of pious living in the Christian community. On the one hand, we have antinomians who presume upon God and abuse His grace daily by not paying any attention to how they live their lives. We divorce at will, without consequence. We shack-up, we lie, cheat, steal, backbite, etc. Pastors do NOT take the sin of their communities seriously in any sense whatever. I recently had a pastor tell me that hate in the congregation was no large matter. He made light of the fact that there were people in his own congregation that hated him. Church discipline has vanished and where it does exist, it is primarily used as a political tool to support the selfish ambition of carnal elders and pastors. On the other hand, we have the legal moralists whose self-righteous ambitions and haughty opinions of themselves know nothing of grace and mercy for they are too busy judging the motives and retaining the sin of others to give a second thought to the concept of Christian love. There is almost no middle ground between these two.

The fields of theology and apologetics are not unaffected by a lack of piety. For many scholars, piety in thought has been rediculed and reduced to "uncritical" and naive approaches in hermeneutics and philosophical inquiry. For many theological and philsophical societies, one of the quickest ways to lose credibility is to articulate a high view of Scripture. These are the men who are training our pastors folks. Scripture is not silent on the matter of piety of mind. We have been over this ground before. There are clear warnings regarding the practice of allowing the intellect to wander from the practice of godly discipline. Paul says we are to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. (2 Cor. 10:3-6) We are not free to consign Genesis 1-11 as myth. We are not at liberty to discard the warnings of Scripture about the deraved condition of the fallen human intellect. It is not our place to categorize the teachings of Paul on the role of women and men and his teachings on sexual behavior to cultural bias. It is beyond our authority to whimsically discard the ethics of Scripture and to launch out into the sea of life as if we are free to navigate on our own accord.

It is an act of love and devotion to God for us to resist the natural urges of the senses and of the intellect alike. Neither can be permitted to roam freely upon the plains of the culture as if it were an open prairie where our senses and intellects are free to take their desired course. Devotion to Christ in those who are inclined to sensuality can be seen in their fight against lust. Rather than cohabitation, they marry in order to avoid the burning of sexual desire. Odd though it seem to our culture, it is not odd according to divine revelation. Rather than fulfilling homosexual tendencies, they direct their affection toward the opposite sex in accord with God's design. The liar disciplines himself daily so as to be a person of honesty and reliability though his sinful desire rests in deception. Grace rescues Him. The married in the Lord remain so, not disuaded by modern, western notions of a shallow and foolish romance, but out of a sense of awe for the covenant that serves to govern the arrangement. The gospel means more to them than all else. The godly recognize the sinful, selfish idoltary in divorce and put the thoughts far from them. The scholar recognizes that he will never be able to satisfy the intellectual demands of sinful humans. They will sit in judgment of Scripture and place God in the dock relentlessly. His faithfulness to divine truth is far more important to him than academic respeectability before the god-hating academy. It is a price he will gladly pay in order to show his love and devotion to Christ. Given the current state of the Christian communities, the eldership, and scholarship, can there be any doubt that we are in dire need of recovering piety from end to end?

The business of religion is, from time to time, compared to those exercises, wherein men are wont to have their hearts and strength greatly exercised and engaged; such as running, wrestling, or agonizing for a great prize or crown, and fighting with strong enemies that seek our lives, and warring as those that by violence take a city or kingdom...yet every one that has the power of godliness, has his inclinations and heart exercised towards God and divine things with such strength and vigour, that these holy exercises prevail in him above all carnal or natural affections, and are effectual to overcome them: for every true disciple of Christ "loves him above father, mother, wife and children, brethren and sisters, houses and lands; yea more than his own life." [Edwards, Jonathan. Concerning Religious Affections.]

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