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Posts Tagged ‘Martin Luther’


Last year at this time I was preaching through Jonah. I wish I had Tim Keller’s latest book at the time. The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy should raise any controversy with the title. I’m sure there will be plenty to annoy some. But I loved reading this book.

The book is dedicated to John Newton whose life and ministry made a big impact on Keller. Those familiar with Newton’s writings will find his influence in many places.

He makes two passes through the book, exploring the themes that are found there. The first pass (9 chapters) handles the text sequentially. The second goes back through thematically to address our relationship to God’s Word, God’s world and God’s grace.

It is in Keller’s typical winsome style that points out where we tend to go wrong whether to the left or the right. He’s an equal opportunity offender, but it is so gentle I don’t understand how people get so mad at him. He’s generally right.

In the introduction he alludes to one of his other books. In the first half of the book Jonah is like the younger brother who goes to the far country to avoid his father. In the second half he’s like the angry older brother who is upset about the Father’s joy in repentance.

Jonah stands out as the willfully disobedient prophet to a willfully disobedient people. He is the representative Israelite. Jonah doesn’t trust God. He doesn’t trust that God has his best interests in mind. He is so like, … us.

“And that is the problem facing Jonah, namely, the mystery of God’s mercy. It is a theological problem, but it is at the same time a heart problem. … The story of Jonah, with all its twists and turns, is about how God takes Jonah, sometimes by the hand, other times by the scruff of the neck, to show him these things.”

Keller starts with the storms of life. “All sin has a storm attached to it.” (btw: I read people who claim Keller never talks about sin, or uses the word. What are they talking about?!) Jonah’s disobedience brought a literal storm not only into his life but the lives of the Gentile sailors. Sin’s storms don’t remain isolated to the particular sinner in question. “Sin is the suicidal action of the will upon itself.” He does clarify that most storms are from the condition of sin, meaning that we live in a fallen world and we don’t need to find the particular sin/sinner behind each hurricane, flood or drought. But know that when we sin, there are often earthly consequences.

For the Christian, the storms of life (afflictions) are meant to produce good. He is at work in this storm to bring Jonah to Ninevah for them to receive mercy. For example, I saw a recent interview with Donna Rice who experienced a storm of publicity due to her affair with Senator Gary Hart. She said that the storm brought her back to her Christian faith.

Next Keller explores the idea of who our neighbor is. These Gentiles are better human beings than the prodigal prophet. God is using the disobedient prophet to lead Gentiles to faith and repentance through his disobedience. Jonah only wants to see himself as an Israelite, as part of a faith community. He needs to also see himself as part of humanity, the broader community. Frankly, Christians have the same problem. We don’t have much concern with those around us as long as our lives are going okay. And so Keller explores common grace.

He then moves into the “other”, the question of identity and those who have a different identity than we do. Jonah’s national identity blinded him in many ways. The early church would struggle with the same problem. We use that identity to exclude other people unnecessarily. We dehumanize people who don’t share our ethnic, national or political identities. We’ve seen this as one of the early steps in the holocaust and other genocides (Rwanda, Armenian etc.). This was very helpful as I preached thru Philippians 3 and the false identities we can boast in.

Keller moves to the pattern of love, and the heart of the gospel with substitution. Jonah is a type of Jesus who would die for our sins instead of sins of his own. The storm of God’s merciful wrath (the phrase I used in my sermons, adapted by a phrase of Luther’s) is stilled.

“To deny God’s wrath upon sin not only robs us of a full view of God’s holiness and justice but also can diminish our wonder, love, and praise at what it was that Jesus bore for us.”

In this context he connects wrath with love too. God’s wrath is directed at actions (and people) who harm what He loves. He again clearly articulates the gospel contrary to what the discernment blogs claim about him.

The Gentile sailors end up offering praise and sacrifices to YHWH after the storm is stilled. Keller notes the irony in that Jonah sought to avoid bringing truth to Gentiles, aka wicked pagans, but actually does anyway.

Image result for jonahHe then delves deeper into grace as Jonah wrestles with God in the belly of the fish. He’s gone as low as he can go (the literary irony) because he didn’t go up to Ninevah. Jonah “does business” with God only when he can no longer run from God. He’s trapped and finally admits the ugly truth. Often God has to bring us to similar places before, like addicts, we admit we’ve made a complete mess of things by our disobedience and can’t fix it.

With Jonah finally going to Ninevah, the discussion moves to repentance. They repented of their injustice, and moved toward justice. They were a violent, oppressive people. Repentance meant turning away from their violence and oppression. When the gospel calls us out of sin, it also calls us out of injustice. This is Keller’s connection between the gospel and “social justice”. He’s not preaching a social gospel, but the gospel of Christ’s penal, substitutionary atonement with implications for justice in society. He’s not preaching a privatized faith nor a civil faith or religion. Personal faith is lived out in society as well as the community of faith.

With God relenting another storm arises, this time in Jonah’s heart. He’s beyond angry. In Jonah’s mind, relenting from destruction means the inevitable destruction of Israel. He’s blind to Israel’s sin, apparently, just as we tend to be to our sin and the sin of our communities.

God responds with patience and instruction. He is not only concerned about Israel, but all these people who also bear His image. He even cares about the livestock. That’s who He is. Unlike Jonah, Jesus wept over Jerusalem over the impending destruction for its wickedness.

“They want a “God of love,” but a God of love who does not get angry when evil destroys the creation he loves is ultimately not a loving God at all. If you love someone, you must and will get angry if something threatens to destroy him or her.”

Both God’s righteousness and His love are functions of His goodness! We don’t play them against one another but embrace them both as grounded in His goodness. So, this same God can justify the wicked because He loved them in sending His Son as a propitiation for their sin. Jesus satisfied His righteousness and His love. He didn’t satisfy His righteousness so God was then free to love.

Keller then moves to the three final themes of his book. Like Jonah (following Adam and Eve) we struggle to believe God’s Word is good for us. We minimize His wisdom and magnify ours. We trust our word over His.

“Sin always begins with the character assassination of God. We believe that God has put us in a world of delights but has determined that he will not give them to us if we obey him.”

Keller defends the substitutionary atonement from the charge of “divine child abuse” as infamously made by Steven Chalke. That charge does damage to the Trinity, not simply atonement. The one God in three persons works to save us. Jesus is not some lesser being offered to change the mind of an angry deity.

IImage result for dodo birdn terms of our relationship to God’s world he returns the question of our neighbor. Calvin, he notes, reminded us that all our neighbors bear the image of God and we must remember that. Keller applies this to politics. We must find a way between the erroneous beliefs that we should just preach the gospel and avoid politics, or that politics is all-important. The two party system tries to push a “package deal” on us instead of allowing us to vote “a la carte”. Pro-life Democrats are going the way of the dodo. But this doesn’t mean that Jesus is a Republican. They have anti-Christian views too. The gospel of the One who died for us when we were His enemies, calls us out of our partisanship and demonization of the other side. Loved by One we hated, we can begin to love ones we hated.

Keller moves into how privileged status can play out in perverting justice. The same laws should apply to all within a society. He mentions “citizens over immigrants” without any mention of their legal or illegal status as immigrants (I think this matters in light of Romans 13). But immigrants and other vulnerable groups should not be taken advantage of by the powerful. Christians, who worship a just God, should care about justice.This is not at the expense of the God but on account of the gospel.

“We must realize that since all our social problems stem from our alienation from God, the most radical and loving thing you can do for a person is to see him or her reconciled to God.”

IImage result for c.s. lewisn our relationship to God’s grace Keller clearly puts a changed life as a result of salvation, not the cause of salvation. In this it differs from every other religion. Here he explores Lewis’ The Four Loves to discuss our attachment to our people and culture. Lewis affirms a love for our people, but notes “We all know now that this love becomes a demon when it becomes a god.” Love of country is not the same a fascism or racism. Lewis rejects anti-patriotism as extremism just as he rejected any nationalism that begins to denigrate and destroy those who are different. [It is important to understand what is meant when someone uses the term ‘nationalism’. It can simply refer to the love of country that is normal for most people, and not the political movement used to justify the supremacy of a nation.] When do you know love of country has gone toxic? When it ignores the blemishes of its past. EVERY country has very ugly blemishes in its past. In the present, every country is full of “good” and evil people (law abiding vs. criminals). Lewis notes that when a country begins to intentionally suppress or erases its misdeeds they begin to express racial/national/ethnic superiority. We then find ourselves on the doorstep of racism and oppression. This is a very helpful section. This is pertinent because it helps us to understand what Jonah experienced in himself. Turning from grace he was in the throes of a toxic nationality that wanted to withhold God from other people groups.

Jesus purchased people from every tribe, tongue, nation and language. The gospel mission focuses on loving other people groups, not just your own. This is the heart of Jonah’s struggle and ours. Will we embrace the mystery of God’s mercy or will we try to bottle it up as exclusively for people just like us? Jonah doesn’t resolve that question in his life, because it isn’t fully resolved in the readers. The question is, what will you do next knowing that God cares about those people too?

In the future I hope to read Anthony Carter’s book on Jonah,Running From Mercy: Jonah and the Surprising Story of God’s Unstoppable Grace, which was released at about the same time.

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I first heard of this book from Tim Challies’ blog. It piqued my interest. I thought it may prove a good resource when I preach through NT epistles.

This book is Sexual Morality in a Christless World by Matthew Rueger. Rueger is a Lutheran pastor who was asked to teach a lesson “on the other side” at a university class on ethics. The argument by cultural progressives is that Christianity is morally regressive. Rueger explodes this myth/fallacy by showing what the world was like before the Christian sexual ethic took root in the Roman Empire with the spread of the gospel. The sexual morals of societies before the spread of Christianity looks like where the progressives are trying to bring society. Rueger then moves to the present and discusses the current debate over homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

“My desire in writing this book is to help Christians engage the world around them in reasoned discussion.”

In a sense this feels like two books at times- or perhaps three. There are historical sections, theological/expositional sections and then sociological sections. They all work together to build a compelling case.

In many ways this is not an easy read, or one that should be read by everybody. In particular, some may struggle with the early chapters discussing the sexual morality of Greece and Rome. It made me very glad I was not born in that time and place. People who have suffered similar victimization may be troubled by it. However, this is an excellent book to offset the views students are taught in public schools and centers for higher learning.

The first chapter is The Roman Context, which necessarily includes Greece too. At the time of Christ, much of the Roman Empire had once been part of the Greek Empire and Hellenized. There were not really differences of practice, but there were differences of rationale behind those behaviors.

He begins by noting that orientation is a “modern phenomenon” which seems to be lost on most conservatives. Orientation is slippery, in a sense, because some gay activists freely acknowledge that orientation is a concept of recent conception, and some would not agree with the way orientation is defined by the courts. They see orientation as fluid, while the courts have defined it as immutable (he notes Varnum v. Brien, Iowa 2009).

The ancients, therefore, including the early Christians “did not understand sexuality in terms of orientation.” For Greek culture, “sex was about the pursuit of beauty”, and they took it where they could get it. The ideal of beauty in their culture was young boys. In Roman culture, sex was tied to their idea of masculinity which was domination. Men were honored for dominating others sexually, and ridiculed if they were dominated sexually. It was an ethic very much like what we see in prisons today. This shaped their view of rape in the legal system. It was only rape if it involved a free Roman citizen. Slaves and non-citizens could be raped without consequence, particularly by free Roman citizens (talk about privilege!).

Greeks made no such distinction between citizens and non-citizens. Pederasty was common among Greeks and Romans, though there was some taboo in Rome where freeborn boys were concerned. Young male slaves were vulnerable. You were expected to take advantage of them.

“Our early Christian ancestors did not confess biblical chastity in a safe culture that naturally agreed with them.”

Marriage was not between equals. Male privilege ran rampant in these “progressive” cultures. Marriage was for status and heirs and the Empire, not love. Sexual pleasure was sought elsewhere. Seeking sex from a boy or man was viewed as a higher form of sexual relationship which included intellectual love.

He discusses the role of the gymnasium in Greek and Roman life. The word meant ‘naked’ for it was where the boys and young men exercised naked. One of the more popular sports was wrestling. Clothes, inhibitions and modesty were all shed together. Generally slaves were prohibited from entering the gymnasium. These teens were watched, and pursued, by older men in this environment.

Family life was twisted by their diminished view of women. Greek wives were virtually prisoners in their homes. They would leave for some religious rites, but that was about it. Roman wives had more rights and mobility. They could conduct trade. Since their “job” was to produce children for the Empire, women were often married once they were able to have children to maximize the child-bearing years due to infant mortality rates. For the population to grow, you needed to have at least 3 children survive to adulthood (it’s all about the Empire)so you needed to have at least 6 children. Expectations were different for the wealthy (you can’t have too many elites), and infanticide was a problem in Rome.

Husbands had rights over their wives, but not wives over her husband. He was free to sow his oats outside of the marriage. She was not. If caught, she and her male partner could be prosecuted (assuming the husband was a free man with means). In keeping with the twisted view of sexuality in Rome, the husband could “rape the male offender and then, if he desired, to kill his wife.” This was a brutal and depraved society.

Image result for escherIt was a world of promiscuity and perversion into which the gospel of Jesus Christ was first preached. Paul called it a crooked and twisted generation (Phil. 2:15). The Gentiles who converted came from a background of pornography, prostitution (including temple prostitutes), homosexuality/bisexuality, and rape. Like those around them, they had been given over to their disordered desires. The Gospel called people out of this perverse way of life, confronting the sexual mores of Rome.

Rueger then addresses the Jewish Context, which should not be assumed to be the same as the Christian viewpoint because it wasn’t. Judaism did not permit homosexuality like the Gentiles did. It prohibited prostitution. It did, however, permit polygamy and concubines. There was also a double standard concerning adultery. Wives were to produce heirs.

The sexual abuse of children was considered punishable. But it was merely a fine in the Mishnah. Generally, Jewish culture was less perverse than Greek and Roman cultures. But we see it was still warped by sin. The Gospel and subsequent definition of holy living would confront aspect of Jewish sexuality and marriage as well.

“We live in a culture that has a vested interest in misinterpreting the passages about sex and morality.”

He then moves into the expositional section of the book. Rueger looks at particular passages that are central to these discussions. He discusses context, briefly, to help people understand how to interpret texts. He includes some passages about marriage to indicate the equal rights and responsibilities of spouses in sexual matters. He then moves into sexual immorality and homosexual sex. In 1 Corinthians he notes the two words used for homosexual activity which indicate both the penetrator and penetrated are guilty of breaking God’s Law, which is quite contrary to Roman ethics.

“It should be noticed that Paul does not treat homosexual sins differently than heterosexual sins when it comes to the application of Law and Gospel. Both are addressed side by side as equally contrary to God’s Law and both are spoken of as equally forgivable.”

He then moves to the present with “Mom, Dad, I’m Gay”. As a Lutheran pastor, he applies Law and Gospel to this situation. He also challenges the basis for those who challenge traditional/biblical teachings on homosexuality. In our culture, objectivity is laid aside and subjectivity is embraced. He discusses the many reasons why someone could be homosexual.

“It is important for us as Christians to understand that not all homosexuality is the same. … Christians do a great disservice to those who seek Christ’s grace and mercy by lumping all same-sec attracted people into one group.”

In that application of Law and Gospel, he draws a big distinction between those who seek to normalize homosexuality and those who believe it is wrong and struggle with their same sex desires (as well as other sexual sins). The former need the Law to convict them of sin, and the latter need to Gospel for forgiveness and sanctification. Too often I hear Christians speak of people struggling with same sex desire as one big group, as if they are all activists. There is a quiet majority (?) of those who are conflicted in themselves between what they experience and what they believe is right.

Additionally, the Church needs to remember that heterosexual desire also creates sinful desires (such as for adultery, fornication, pornography, polygamy etc.). I’ve had pastors say to me that it is different because same-sex attraction is unnatural. But we need to put those desires to sin to death because they are just as deadly & dangerous, just as sinful, as same-sex desires. Until we do that, we will treat them as lepers.

He stresses the role of the Church as making the pardoning and purifying grace of Jesus Christ known to its members who struggle with these desires. Being Lutheran, he stresses the sacraments. As a Reformed Christian, I hold a high view of the sacraments and their being means of grace. But not as high as Lutherans. He seems to disconnect their efficacy from faith. But the Table is a place to bring disordered desires of all kinds to Jesus and receive His help through our union with Him.

“Temptation is not the same as sin. Temptations play on those elements of our inner being that have a weakness for a certain sin, but in and of themselves temptations are not sins.”

He moves into an area of debate among even conservative Christians. He distinguishes temptation from sin. His statements are similar to those of Nancy Pearcey, Rosaria Butterfield and others (though Rosaria then seems to put homosexual temptation in a separate category in the next paragraph). The gospel does teach us to say ‘no’ to unrighteousness, which means we are mortifying our temptations. As Christians our temptations, while real and present, should not define us. He includes three paragraphs from Luther’s Larger Catechism in which Luther differentiates temptation and sin. Luther further distinguishes temptation from desire (or what we call lust), in which we are entertaining or giving way to temptation rather than mortifying it, but have not yet committed the act in question. This is likely what Owen means in his phrase “entering into temptation.” I find this a helpful distinction.

Tempted? Mortify it! Lusting? Mortify it and repent! Done it? Repent!

“Christians are not less sinful than non-Christians, but they do have a Savior who both forgives sins and fights within them against the temptations in their path.”

He returns to the question of orientation. It usually refers to the idea that sexuality and attraction are essential elements of a person resulting from their individual biology which cannot be changed. This “immutability” is an accident of their birth. This is how the courts have spoken about this. As Rueger notes, real life is not some simple. For some people, “orientation” or attraction is more fluid. They shift between heterosexual and homosexual at points in life (as opposed to bisexuality). The claims of the courts, and activists, don’t fit reality. Instead of orientation, he advocates talking about sexual identity or gender preference. These leave room for the gospel to be at work, while the language of orientation is misleading and fatalistic.

Rueger then addresses “A Mixed Bag of Objections”. He brings up objections to the Christian understanding of homosexuality and refutes them. We see objections like “inconsistency in applying the law” to which he responds with the three divisions of the law. He brings up racial prejudice and slavery, genetics and brain studies, and twin studies. He explores them, affirms where there are real concerns (Christians have been guilty of prejudice and advocated for and against race-based slavery rooted in man-stealing). He examines those studies and mentions other studies that sought to correct methodological flaws.

The next chapter focuses on same-sex marriage. He builds a case against it from natural law and reason since most people (especially the courts) aren’t concerned about what Scripture says. He brings up studies indicating that children thrive to a greater extent with two parents of the opposite sex. They do better in school and get into less trouble with the law. Where traditional marriage decays (including through divorce and never-married parents), state funding to support children increases greatly. He recognizes the limits of these arguments. Most people, while appealing to reason, often don’t listen to it. Their hearts want what their hearts want. Only God, by His Spirit can change that.

“Sexual promiscuity leaves a trail of broken people and regret. It also tends to go hand in hand with an attitude that sees people as objects for one’s own sexual gratification and not as beings worthy of committed love.”

This was a very helpful book. It is not a long book. Rueger is generally succinct and gets to the point. He does make a number of good and necessary distinctions which often trip up discussions by their absence. This would be a helpful book for pastors, youth workers, teachers, parents and students facing pressure to conform to worldly standards.

To return to his thesis: Christianity is not affirming regressive sexual mores, but continues to call people out of the regressive sexuality that results in rampant promiscuity, sexual abuse and assault, societal instability and misogyny.

 

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For those who have forgotten, my reading project this year is 2000 Years of Christ’s Power, a church history set by Nick Needham. Each quarter I’m reading one of the 4 volumes in the set. Due to vacation I started the 3rd volume a little late but finished it before the end of the quarter. A whole week to spare.

Volume 3 covers the Renaissance and Reformation. It covers quite a bit of material since the Reformation was not a uniform movement. By no means am I an expert on the history of the Reformation, but have read a fair amount. Needham provided plenty of nuance in his discussion, bringing in other factors that influenced people and events. There was plenty here I didn’t know and found beneficial particularly on interactions between groups seeking elusive unity. One issue that kept arising, and preventing union, was communion. Attention is paid to the different views and meetings over those views. Another distinctive mark of the series so far is present here as well. He addresses events in Eastern Orthodoxy during this time period in the final chapter. That he refuses to limit himself to Europe is one of the strengths of this set.

The first chapter covers the Renaissance, which in God’s providence give birth to the Reformation. The humanists were those who developed a great fondness and dependence on the “ancient books” that had in many places been forgotten. They began to read Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and fell under the spell of Greek and Hebrew. It was a revival of the knowledge of the past. There were pockets of the Renaissance in Italy, Germany, England, France and Spain. It was not a uniform movement with ideological goals. But many humanists, like Erasmus, begin to see and confront the problems they saw in the church. There were some theological critiques due to the renewed influence in Augustine, but largely they focused on moral issues.

The humanists laid the groundwork for the Reformation by bringing the study of Greek and Hebrew, and Augustine (among others) back into vogue. Many began to realize the rich heritage of the Church and how it differed at points with parts of their contemporary church. The theology of Rome was not uniform either. The theological aspects of the Reformation would later produce more uniformity in Roman Catholic theology as a response.

There were “Reformers” before Luther, people who expressed “evangelical” theology and called for changes within the Church. They would influence communities, but not a nation like Luther did. Needham notes people like John of Wesel who held to an early form of sola scriptura, attacked indulgences, rejected transubstantiation and enforced celibacy of priests. He was deposed from his office and subjected to the Inquisition. 79 years old, the Inquisition was too much for him and he renounced his “heresies”. He was sentenced to imprisonment in an Augustinian convent where he died 2 years later. Wessel Gansfort was a teacher who made many of the same criticisms, though he accepted a form of transubstantiation. He managed to escape the Inquisition. Girolamo Savonarola led a moral reform in Florence in which people burned their pornography, cosmetics and gambling devices. In his preaching he also attacked the corruption of the papal court. He was a strong Augustinian, and therefore drew the ire of the Franciscans.

One of the ironies of the Renaissance is the rise of the witch hunt. In such a time of great learning, there was also a time of great superstition and fear regarding black magic. Over 300 years governments put thousands of men and women accused of black magic to death. Estimates range (widely from 100,000 to as much as 9 million). For instance, in Geneva while Calvin was alive 2-3 women a year were executed by the government for witchcraft. Most were hanged, not burned.

Martin Luther by Cranach-restoration.tifNeedham moves to Luther in whom all of this took root, and through whom all of this came to be a crisis that rocked Europe. While a monk and professor, Luther’s spiritual guide was Johannes von Staupitz. He was a professor of biblical studies at Wittenberg University, as well as a disciple of Augustine. He was highly influential on Luther. Luther would take over Staupitz’ duties in 1512.

The initial dispute was over indulgences. Eventually the dispute moved to the root of that dispute: justification. But this took a few years. Luther’s personal breakthrough on the issue of justification likely took place in 1518-19 (with Melanchthon’s help), after the 95 Theses sparked the controversy. Men like Spalatin, Carlstadt and Melanchthon joined Luther. Some for a time (Carlstadt) and others for a lifetime (Melanchthon).

As one considers the Reformation, you see the different tensions that emerge. There was the theological tension between Augustine and Aquinas (despite being greatly influenced by Augustine), nationalism and the Holy Roman Empire, informed faith and implicit faith. The Reformation was about salvation, worship and Church government as well as the Church’s relationship with government.

The 3rd chapter focuses on 1521-1531 as Luther’s views began to shake up and shape much of Germany. In Germany a state church developed under the authority of the magistrate. There were no more Church courts, thereby unrolling the reforms of Hilbebrand.

All was not fine and dandy however. It was the Peasant’s Revolt, which was a misunderstanding and misapplication of Christian liberty among other things. There was also the iconoclast vision of Carlstadt and Zwilling in Wittenberg. They were concerned with actions, not hearts and went far beyond where Luther was willing and disrupted the city.

This period includes the beginning of the Swiss Reformation under Zwingli. While there were many common points with Luther, the one big difference was the Lord’s Supper. While they tried to work it out, it seemed insurmountable. Luther would condemn the Swiss Reformed, not even counting them as brothers. The milder Melanchton would maintain his friendship with them and would end up counting John Calvin as one of his best friends.

Martin Bucer by German School.jpgNeedham then brings us to Calvin whose reformation when deeper than Luther’s on many points. It would have gone deeper still if not for the hindrances of the local magistrate which saw itself as controlling the church. Under this chapter he includes Bucer who would have a great influence on Calvin, as well as Peter Martyr. Martyr would work with Calvin to “finalize” the Reformed doctrine of communion as distinct from transubstantiation, Luther’s view and Zwingli’s memorial view. Emphasis was placed on our union with Christ, the nature of signs and the role of faith in receiving that which they symbolized by virtue of that union.

He then focuses on Calvin. One of Calvin’s contributions was his view of the Church in distinction to the Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Anabaptist views. Calvin is dependent on Bucer but was able to say it better, with more force and able to implement it far more than Bucer did. They distinguished between the visible and invisible church, argued that the church and state work together but that the church was not controlled by the state. The church must exercise church discipline lest the visible church become corrupt.

Needham spends a fair amount of space on the controversy with Servetus. This “tragic episode” should be seen in a larger context of Calvin’s controversy with the Libertines or Perrinists. The Libertines opposed Calvin in his desire to enforce moral discipline. They often had loose morals and many held hetrodox views: pantheism, denying the inspiration of the Scriptures etc.. The Libertines made life very difficult for Calvin: so difficult he often wished God would let him leave. At the time of the Servetus trial and execution, Ami Perrin was the chief magistrate.

Michael Servetus.jpgServetus was considered a heretic by Roman Catholics and Protestants alike for his denial of the Trinity. Over the years he had correspondence with Calvin in which Calvin tried to reason with him. Eventually Calvin decided to no longer offer pearls to swine. Servetus was arrested and condemned by the Inquisition, but escaped the prison before he could be executed. For reasons unknown he went to Geneva where he was arrested.

The trial was a contest not only between Servetus and Calvin (a primary witness against him) but also between Calvin and the Libertines (who controlled the city council). In one of histories great ironies, Servetus believed that the magistrate should put heretics to death. He just didn’t believe he was the heretic. The Libertines used this as an opportunity to harass Calvin, putting every conceivable obstacle in the way to justice according to Genevan law. They strung it out even as they knew they couldn’t acquit him with all the western world watching. The council condemned him to death by burning. Calvin argued for a quicker, less cruel manner of death. His old friend, Farel, called Calvin soft.

The Libertines had destroyed their credibility by how they conducted the trial. In the next elections they lost power. In response they staged a riot, for which the ringleaders including Perrin were arrested and convicted. Most were banished, but Perrin was sentenced to death. He was able to flee Geneva to Berne to avoid his sentence. But the Libertines troubled Geneva no more.

Calvin’s work as a pastor and theologian of the first order was not carried out in ease. “He was a constant martyr to arthritis, migraine headaches, bleeding from the stomach, bowel disorders, hemorrhoids, inflamed kidneys and kidney stones, fever, muscle cramps, and gout.” He endured all of these without the benefit of modern medicine.

The 5th chapter covers what is called the Radical Reformation. Needham views this time as one of Reformations, not a single Reformation with different branches. This is due to the complexity of this phenomenon regarding theology and the view of the state and worship.

Needham identifies three Radical tendencies. Any group may have more then one of these tendencies, but any one of them put them outside of the Lutheran and Magisterial Reformations. Those three tendencies were Anabaptism (rejection of infant baptism and baptizing people “again”), Spiritualist (rejecting the authority of the Word for the Spirit apart from the Word) and Rationalist (rejecting the authority of the Scriptures for the authority of one’s on reason).

Some groups majored on Anabaptism, thinking the Reformers at the time weren’t going far enough in their rejection of Rome. Many of them were peaceful groups wanting to live out their faith in an increasingly dangerous environment due to the political realities of the time. One of their distinctive views was that of a “pure church” comprised only of the truly committed. Today this is expressed in a “regenerate church” in which being in the covenant is conflated with salvation. This is the presupposition that drives credobaptism. Zwingli, for instance, believed the Swiss Brethren were asking too much of him- to abandon the existing church and form this new separatist religious communities. Early on, Anabaptists like Grebel did not seek to change the mode of baptism to immersion but that would come and become a shibboleth for “real baptism” among Baptists today. Zwingli saw their baptisms and celebration of the eucharist as anarchy since they were outside of the established church.

They also seemed to shun theology. The Schleitheim Confession is a case in point. It “dealt exclusively with matters of morality and Church order.” With regard to the latter it develops their understanding of the ban or shunning. They thought everything flowed out of lifestyle, and theology arose from their “ethical and communal concerns”, which is quite the opposite of the Magisterial Reformation and Luther. This led to a rejection of the Augustinian views of salvation found among the Reformers. They were semi-pelagian or even Pelagian in their understanding of salvation. They rejected the forensic doctrine of justification by faith alone, and maintained Rome’s conflation of justification and sanctification. Like Rome they feared it was a license to sin.

Since Zwingli was forced to engage them on baptism, his own position changed. Early on he wrote that infant baptism was “neither right nor wrong.” In 1523 he was committed to infant baptism. In his engagement with the Anabaptists he formalized a biblical defense of infant baptism rooted in the covenant and connected to circumcision. One of his key texts was Romans 4, which was one of the key texts in my transition to Reformed infant baptism.

Unfortunately, some Anabaptist groups began predicting the return of Christ. Perhaps this was a consequence of their pure, or true, Church focus. Now that the true Church had been established, Christ would/could return.

MennoSimons.gifMenno Simons was one of the more balanced Anabaptists. But one way he differed significantly from the Reformers was his formulation of sola Scriptura. He disallowed any appeal to tradition. It was not simply that Scripture alone is the final authority, but cleaved Scripture and the church from the past for help in understanding Scripture. That is a very dangerous place to be.

The more a group also drank from the Spiritualist well the more dangerous that group became. This thread subordinated all external authorities, including Scripture, to the “living voice of God speaking directly in in the individual’s heart.” It was about “inward personal experience.” Sebastian Franck went so far as to argue that God deliberately placed contradictions in the Bible to point us away from it to the Spirit. At its worst it also resulted in the Munster community which was filled with sexual license and violence before the armies came to lay siege.

The Rationalist Radicals subordinated all external authorities, including to Scripture, to human reason, often called “right reason”. As a result they rejected the doctrines which were revealed but not provable by reason: the Trinity and the Incarnation. The most famous of them was Socinus.

Needham moves to the topic of Europe divided. Here is where the politics of the time rises in prominence. There were power struggles galore as states sought independence from the Holy Roman Emperor and regional churches sought independence from Rome and the Pope. At times it stained the Protestants, including Luther, Melanchthon and Bucer, when they approved of the bigamy of Philip of Hesse. This was significant because Philip’s role in the Schmalkaldic League which united Lutheran states against the Emperor. When Luther died, Charles struck and defeated the League. He could defeat their armies, but not their faith.

The Reformation spread to the Scandinavian countries, first gaining a toe hold in Denmark. Luther’s death also saw the growth of the Reformed faith in Germany due to the work of people like Peter Martyr. France experienced stiff resistance to the Reformed faith with quite a few persecutions and eventually a war that split the nobility. The Catholic League formed an alliance with Spain to destroy the Huguenots. Philip Duplessis Mornay, a Huguenot, developed Calvin’s statements on the lesser magistrate into A Defense of Liberty against Tyrants, which would be a theological justification for the English Civil War, the American Revolution and the horrible excesses of the French Revolution.

In addition to the divisions on the European continent, divisions would come to the British Islands. The 7th chapter focuses on England and Scotland. Here as well politics and religion formed a dangerous combination at times with persecution breaking out periodically, particularly by Mary as she sought to restore Catholicism as England’s faith. It all began with a king’s idolatrous pursuit of an heir. His three children from three mothers led to a see saw effect. Edward embraced Protestantism, Mary Catholicism and Elisabeth was Protestant but more concerned with uniformity. Her Act of Supremacy reasserted the throne as the Head of the Church of England setting the stage for the rise of the Puritans and the English Civil War.

In Scotland there was no king like Henry VIII, but plenty of internal struggle between Catholic royalty and Protestant nobility. We see the rise of John Knox (who spent time in England and Geneva as well as a French slave galley to make for an interesting resume).

The Catholic Counter-Reformation was not quite uniform. Needham spends some time on the evangelical Catholics. They affirmed justification by faith alone but typically maintained allegiance to the Pope and the doctrine of transubstantiation. One of these was Luther’s old mentor, Staupitz. While a faithful Catholic, his books were placed on the index of forbidden books in 1563. Others included Albert Pighius, Jacob Sadoleto and Juan de Valdes.

One the other side of the spectrum was the rise of Ignatius Loyola and the Jesuits. A former military man, he organized his order in similar fashion and acted like it was on, moving into “enemy territory” to reconvert the Protestants.

Rome also responded to the Reformation with the Council of Trent. Intended to be ecumenical, it was anything but that. The Pope(s) and Emperor struggled over the Council including its composition and location. They each had factions loyal to them. The Catholic Evangelicals were involved in early meetings but soon were pushed out. Roman Catholic theology had a greater breadth and variety leading up to the Reformation. Trent changed all that, bringing greater uniformity with its anathemas and affirmations. Needham notes that the anathemas were largely aimed at straw men. They consistently misinterpreted Protestants.

In the East, the Church fell on hard times to the spread of the Ottoman Empire. The courting of Rome for help didn’t work, and alienated much of the Orthodox masses who greatly resented the Pope and Roman Catholicism. The Russian Orthodox, among others, saw this compromise as close to apostasy. The Ottoman Empire defeated Constantinople and made Christians 2nd class citizens. They allowed the Patriarch of Constantinople to exist, but began to appoint men to the position. There was some correspondence with the Lutherans who wanted to remind Rome that there were churches tracing their roots to the early church that rejected Rome and the Pope’s authority. It didn’t get far due to stark theological differences.

The power vacuum created by the Ottoman conquest was filled by Moscow which was granted the position of Patriarch city. Oddly, the Russians didn’t seek to push the Ottomans out of Constantinople. While offended that Constantinople looked West instead of North, they did nothing about it. But the compromise of the South lead Russian Orthodoxy to believe they alone held to the true faith, a view which still exists today.

There is obviously much more in this volume. I’ve only touched on some highlights. As usual, this volume is engaging in its writing. Some history can be dreadfully dull as written. Needham’s isn’t. He hits on some points that other historians seem to overlook. He also rejects the temptation to neglect the Eastern Church after the Great Schism. This is good and informative reading that includes sections of original source material. Can’t beat that.

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Sometimes the question of whether or not we should use unleavened bread in communion arises. Our Session addressed the question recently.

Here are some of the common reasons given for using unleavened bread in communion.

  1. “Unleavened” bread is mentioned 62 times, not exclusively in connection with Passover aka the Feast of Unleavened Bread. No leavened bread was to be used in the Passover.
  2. Jesus and the disciples were celebrating the Passover, using unleavened bread, when the Lord’s Supper was instituted.
  3. Tradition may have overridden God’s Word in permitting leavened bread to be used.
  4. Scripture never says to use leavened bread.
  5. No teacher or pastor promotes partaking of leavened bread.
  6. Leaven has a negative symbolical overtone. Since it seems to symbolize sin how can we use it to celebrate the Lord’s Table.

 

In Response:

  1. Leavened Bread was Only Prohibited During Passover

Leavened bread should not be seen as a symbol of sin. It was permitted to be eaten 51 weeks a year. It is okay for us to sin 51 weeks a year?

The bread of the Presence, set on the table in the Tabernacle (Ex. 25) is not said to be unleavened. If it was a symbol of sin, would such leavened bread be permitted to serve as the bread of the Presence?

In Exodus 29, recounting the ordination of the priests, it is unclear if the bread mentioned in vv. 23 (one loaf of bread and one cake of bread made with oil, and one wafer out of the basket of unleavened bread that is before the Lord) is the same as that mentioned in vv. 2 (unleavened bread, unleavened cakes mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers smeared with oil). Both include bread, cakes and wafers. But vv. 2 indicates all of them are unleavened. In vv. 23 only the wafers are. Only bread, unqualified, is mentioned in vv. 32 & 34. This is clarified in Leviticus 8:26 which again mentions both.

26 and out of the basket of unleavened bread that was before the Lord he took one unleavened loaf and one loaf of bread with oil and one wafer and placed them on the pieces of fat and on the right thigh.

In Leviticus 7, thanksgiving offerings include unleavened bread, BUT peace offerings include leavened bread (vv. 13).

In Leviticus 23:17 bread baked with leaven is used in during the Feast of Weeks.

17 You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as firstfruits to the Lord.

 

  1. Leaven is Not a Symbol of Evil

33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” Matthew 13 c.f. Luke 13:21

In this passage, we see that leaven is used positively in describing the kingdom of heaven. While many of the uses of “leaven” are negative, the overall use is figurative to indicate how a little of the matter at hand spreads to permeate the whole of a body. This is how it is used; sometimes negatively and sometimes positively. Therefore, leaven itself is not to be seen as evil. Its presence would not necessarily make the bread “unclean” for the purposes of the Lord’s Table.

 

  1. We Celebrate the Lord’s Supper, not the Passover.

1 Corinthians 5:6-8 indicates that Christ has fulfilled the Passover for us. It was a type of Christ. The shadow of Passover has been fulfilled and abrogated as part of the ceremonial law which governed worship in the Old Testament. Paul’s use of leaven/unleavened in the context is figurative rather than literal: malice & wickedness vs. sincerity & truth. He speaks not of the bread used, but of our attitudes in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (not Passover).

In 1 Corinthians 10:14ff we see Paul using the general word for “bread”. The flight from idolatry is also the flight from syncretism. His focus is on our unity in Christ as depicted in the Lord’s Supper.

In Luke 22:7 we see there is a word for “unleavened bread”. Paul could very well have used this in his letter to the Corinthians to clarify matters for these Gentile Christians.

In 1 Corinthians 11:23ff the general word for “bread” is used again in reference to their celebration of the Supper. Paul does not clarify this for his largely Gentile audience. Paul may have implicitly intended them to use unleavened bread as in the Jewish festival. However, he has previously told them the Passover was fulfilled in Christ. Paul once again seems less concerned with the elements used than how they celebrated it (the point of the passage is corrupt worship in Corinth).

 

  1. Our Confessional Documents Simply Say “Bread”

WSC Q 96: What is the Lord’s Supper?
A: The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christ’s appointment, his death is showed forth; and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace.

 

WLC 168: What is the Lord’s Supper?

A: The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine according to the appointment of Jesus Christ, his death is showed forth; and they that worthily communicate feed upon his body and blood, to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace; have their union and communion with him confirmed; testify and renew their thankfulness, and engagement to God, and their mutual love and fellowship with each other, as members of the same mystical body.

 

WLC Q. 169: How has Christ appointed bread and wine to be given and received in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper?

A: Christ has appointed the ministers of his Word, in the administration of this sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, to set apart the bread and wine from common use, by the word of institution, thanksgiving, and prayer; to take and break the bread, and to give both the bread and the wine to the communicants: who are, by the same appointment, to take and eat the bread, and to drink the wine, in thankful remembrance that the body of Christ was broken and given, and his blood shed, for them.

 

  1. The Lord Jesus hath, in this ordinance, appointed his ministers to declare his word of institution to the people; to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to an holy use; and to take and break the bread, to take the cup, and (they communicating also themselves) to give both to the communicants; but to none who are not then present in the congregation. WCF, XXIX

 

  1. The outward elements in this sacrament, duly set apart to the uses ordained by Christ, have such relation to him crucified, as that, truly, yet sacramentally only, they are sometimes called by the name of the things they represent, to wit, the body and blood of Christ; albeit, in substance and nature, they still remain truly and only bread and wine, as they were before. WCF, XXIX

 

  1. That doctrine which maintains a change of the substance of bread and wine, into the substance of Christ’s body and blood (commonly called transubstantiation) by consecration of a priest, or by any other way, is repugnant, not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense, and reason; overthrows the nature of the sacrament, and hath been, and is, the cause of manifold superstitions; yea, of gross idolatries. WCF, XXIX

 

It is noteworthy that only one of the commentaries on the Westminster Standards and Heidelberg Catechism addresses this issue. Those not mentioning this include A.A. Hodge, Robert Shaw, R.C. Sproul, and Kevin DeYoung. G.I. Williamson does not address it in his volumes on the Shorter Catechism. In his volume on The Westminster Confession of Faith he writes:

“It is our conviction that when the Lord instituted the sacrament he used unleavened bread and fermented wine. … And with this evidence agrees the known practice of the ancient Church, in which unleavened bread and fermented wine were used.

“However, we would not argue that the sacrament cannot be valid without unleavened bread and fermented wine. We can readily envision circumstances under which it might be necessary to use either leavened bread, or grape juice, or even both. Though technically irregular, we would not maintain that the sacrament may not be observe under such conditions. Even those who ordinarily use leavened bread and grape juice out of mere convenience we will not condemn. But if the decision to use grape juice instead of win is based on the influence of the Temperance Movement, we must regard this as seriously unbiblical.” (pp. 222)

 

  1. Response from Church History:

Since church history was mentioned we thought it pertinent to include the views of Martin Luther and John Calvin, two of the most influential Reformers. Their views are not authoritative, but rather helpful for us.

One of Luther’s objections to the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation was that they no longer served bread and wine. Luther held to the view that we should use bread and wine in obedience to Christ’s institution of the Supper. In culture where bread and/or wine are available (like ours, but not some islands in the Pacific for instance) they should be used. We should not celebrate it with pizza (though it includes bread) and Coke. Luther did not specify that unleavened bread should be used.

“According to Luther, the miracle is that Christ, in his human body and blood, becomes present in, under, and through the bread and wine. There is not a change of elements, but an addition to them.” R.C. Sproul[1]

Shifting to Calvin:

“Furthermore, Satan, to deprive the church of this inestimable treasure, has long since spread clouds, and afterward, to obscure this light, has raised quarrels and conflicts to estrange the minds of simple folk from a taste for this sacred food, and also has tried the same trick in our own day.” John Calvin, Institutes IV, XVII, 1.

Calvin, in the above quote, warns about quarrels and conflicts which estrange people from the Table. Satan, he believes, often tries to keep people away due to secondary matters. Calvin affirms that the signs are bread and wine. He does not qualify them at this point. They are bread and wine, not rice cakes and sake or any other combination. (IV, XVII, 1, 3)

“Thus, when bread is given as a symbol of Christ’s body, we must at one grasp this comparison: as bread nourishes, sustains, and keeps the life of our body, so Christ’s body is the only food to invigorate and enliven our soul.” John Calvin, Institutes, IV, XVII, 3)

Calvin notes that the Supper sends us to the Cross, not to Passover except as much as Christ is the Lamb slain for us. The “thing signified” is of far greater importance for Calvin than the sign. As a result, he did not focus on the type of bread that is to be used.

Another aspect of church history we should consider is the practice of the church. It is not authoritative, but illustrative. Both John Hammett and Robert Letham note that the early church used leavened bread. Eventually the Roman Catholic Church began to shift to unleavened bread. Letham connects this with the development of transubstantiation. Leavened bread would create crumbs, and they did not want the physical body of Jesus to fall on the ground. The Anglican Church is the only Protestant church to continue to use unleavened bread. All of the others used leavened bread like the Eastern Church has for over a thousand years.

 

 

In his book Given for You, Keith Mathison, mentions a controversy involving Baptist theologian Stevens regarding the use of grape juice versus the use of wine in the Lord’s Supper. Stevens notes that this is similar to whether to use leavened or unleavened bread. Mathison rightly responds that leavened bread is still bread while grape juice isn’t wine (nor is wine simply juice). The Scriptures and our confessional documents simply say “bread” without any clarification or limitation.

Conclusion:

In light of the above reasons, we believe it is wise to affirm the view expressed by John Calvin.

“But as for the outward ceremony of the action- whether or not the believers take it in their hands, or divide it among themselves, or severally eat what has been given to each; whether they hand the cup back to the deacon or give it to the next person; whether the bread is leavened or unleavened; the wine red or white- it makes no difference. There things are indifferent, and left at the church’s discretion.” Calvin, Institutes, IV, XVII, 43

Our conclusion is that we will continue to use leavened bread but also make an unleavened, gluten-free option available for those whose conscience holds that it should be unleavened.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Additional Research:

 

Does Scripture Demand Unleavened Bread in the Lord’s Supper? By John S. Hammett

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/does-scripture-demand-unleavened-bread-in-the-lords-supper/

 

“While evidence as to the early church’s practice isn’t abundant, ordinary leavened bread seems to have been the norm. A difference gradually developed between East and West, though, with the East continuing to use leavened bread while the West adopted unleavened bread- a distinction between Orthodox and Roman Catholics that endures today.”

 

Most Protestant churches used leavened bread while the Church of England continued to use unleavened bread.

 

Argues that in places that don’t grow wheat or have bread, a common staple food can be used.

 

This is not a question of novelty, introducing a new sign, but recognizing that bread would be novel for them.

 

Given For You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper by Keith Mathison

“The bread used by Jesus was doubtless the unleavened bread of the Passover meal, as the wine he used was doubtless the fermented juice of the grape. But this does not mean that we must uof necessity use unleavened bread, nor does it mean that we cannot use the unfermented joice of the grape. … To insist on literalism would be tantamount to legalism.” Quoting William Stevens, pp. 306.

 

Response: “Finally, the comparison that Stevens makes between leavened and unleavened bread and wine and grape juice overlooks one big difference between the two. Leavened bread is still bread, but grape juice is not wine.” pp. 306

 

The Lord’s Supper: Eternal Word in Broken Bread by Robert Letham

“Following this, the evidence (such as we have) indicates the church in the early centuries universally used ordinary leavened bread. By the eighth century, the bread and wine had officially begin. To be identified with the body and blood of Christ. Since leavened breat was mor likely to crumble and so fragment the body of Christ, Rome required the use of unleavened bread. However, the East refused to follow, accusing Rome of Judaizing tendencies, and to this day it continues to use ordinary leavened bread.” pp. 54.

 

“However, the word consistently used in connection with the Lord’s Supper is the wider ranging term artos, meaning a small round loaf of ordinary bread.” pp. 54

 

“A.A. Hodge, in response to the question “What kind of bread is to be used in the sacrament …?” argues that this is not specified, nor rendered essential by the nature of the service.” pp. 54

 

“What is clear is that the elements to be used in the Last Supper are bread and wine (“the fermented juice of the grape … that wine and no other liquid is to be used is clear from the record of the institution”); but as to the exact brand of bread or wine we have no precise requirement.” pp. 55

 

 

[1] Sproul, Vol. 3, pp. 148.

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My list differs in that I’m focused on books I actually read in 2017, not books released in 2017. I’ve got a variety of books in this list. It is not simply theology, Bible and ministry related. Perhaps there are some you will be prompted to read. I hope so, because you might benefit from them. So, here we go.

Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification by Sinclair Ferguson. This was probably the best book I read in 2017. Ferguson focuses on a series of texts that provide a framework for our sanctification. He does a great job of defining sanctification in terms of our devotion to God, and unpacking those texts. I highly recommend this book.

From the Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading and Applying the Bible by Sinclair Ferguson. Yes, another book by Sinclair Ferguson. This is an updated version of one of his earliest book. He addresses the authority of the Bible and how to benefit from reading it. Both novices and experienced readers of the Bible can benefit from it.

Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom by Carl Trueman. I’ve loved this series by Crossway. This is another impressive contribution by Trueman. He is not trying to repaint Luther to look like a 21st century evangelical. Luther places great stress on the Word of God in our worship and Christian living. It is an emphasis that should mark us more than it currently does.

Calvin on the Christian Life: Glorifying and Enjoying God Forever by Michael Horton. This  is another excellent volume in the series by Crossway. It is fairly theological, but not for theology’s sake. Like the Luther volume, we see the very different context in which the Christian live is lived. The church was close to the center of life for most people with services offered daily. Horton focuses on the story of redemption and how this shapes Calvin’s views. Not just a man of his times, Calvin was also a man ahead of his time.

Faith Seeking Assurance by Anthony Burgess. This Burgess is the Puritan, not the author of A Clockwork Orange. The focus of the book is assurance of salvation. Assurance is viewed subjectively (Calvin tends to view it objectively- assurance God saves sinners), meaning that God has saved this particular sinner. He holds to the view expressed in the Westminster Standards. In my review I note that this is not a perfect book, but that it is a very good and worthwhile book.

Keeping the Heart: How to Maintain Love for God by John Flavel. Another Puritan volume worth considering. It is not long but focuses on maintaining our love for God in a variety of difficult circumstances that Flavel lays out for us. He notes the particular temptation of each set of circumstances and provides means to help us maintain our love for God in them. This is a very good little book.

Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining and Bitterness by David Powlison. This book is unusual in that it doesn’t frame anger as essentially wrong. He does address our anger problems, tying them back to what we love. Often our anger problems reveal love problems. This was a very helpful book.

Making All Things New by David Powlison. This is a short book focused on God’s plan to restore our broken sexuality. He addresses both the sexual sinner and sexual victims though it is weighted toward the sinner. He is realistic as he views this within the framework of our sanctification. Though brief, it was helpful by providing an overview of God’s goals and purposes.

Dream with Me: Race, Love and the Struggle We Must Win by John Perkins. If you haven’t read any of John Perkins’ books before, this is a great place to begin. He is an activist for civil rights as viewed through the framework of the gospel. He sees Christ as the only real hope for racial reconciliation. The books is full of stories compiled according to the themes he explores.

Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God by Rankin Wilbourne. This is a very good and accessible book on the subject of union with Christ. It doesn’t address all that it could. What it does cover, it covers quite well. It is written for laypeople so you won’t get lost in abstraction or in over your head theologically.

Getting the Gospel Right: The Tie that Binds Evangelicals Together by R.C. Sproul. I read the recently updated volume which was originally published in the 1990’s. Sproul examined and critiqued the controversial Gift of Salvation document which followed after Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Generally winsome and irenic, Sproul explores the reality of the communion of saints and its connection to the doctrine of justification. In the process, R.C. sheds light on a recent theological controversy as well as the one we call the Reformation.

Rejoicing in Christ by Michael Reeves. I like Reeves’ books. He writes with a sense of humor, sense of history and wanting a doxological focus. This volume focuses on Christology and presents it in an interesting and accessible fashion.  This is a very helpful book for laypeople wanting to understand Christology.

Jonah (The Exegetical Commentary of the Old Testament) by Kevin Youngblood. This was my favorite commentary while preaching through Jonah this fall. It has a very good blend of exegesis and application. It strikes a very good balance. Knowledge of Hebrew was not essential to benefit from his discussion of the Hebrew text. He talked about how each passage fits within the canon of the Bible. I’m looking forward to other volumes in this series by Zondervan.

War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team by Michael Holley. Holley has written a number of books about the New England Patriots. So far, all the ones I’ve read have been interesting. This book focuses on the staff, though it includes some material about key players and the draft process.

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Adam McHugh now wraps up his book Introverts in Church. In some sense this is a summary for much of it sounded familiar. This final chapter is the one that mentions postmodernism and its effects on church and worship the most.

What I think he struggles to say is that as a community, church involves compromise (in the positive sense of not needing to have your way on preferences). We are to stand firm on biblical principle (orthodox doctrine, the elements of worship, mission of the church), but any community, no matter how united on those principles will struggle with preferences as to how those principles are worked out. Often is the squeaky wheel, the loudest protesters or advocates, that may seemingly get their way. In this perspective, it may more often be the extrovert.

Perhaps his perspective is skewed. His pastoral experience seems to be in larger, multi-staff churches. The vast majority of churches in America are under 100 members. His research doesn’t seem to be thorough, but more anecdotal, even though many aspects resonate with my own experience and struggles as one who has been the pastor of average, ordinary churches.

I would say that I think the personality of our congregation is introverted: a congregation that likes to think, appreciates liturgical aspects, wants to sing and not feel like they are at a concert (when discussing music recently I was told not to have it so loud our ears hurt). But we also struggle with over-commitment. Our people are busy and pulled in many directions. They work long hours, have kids in sports or music, are involved with parachurch ministries on top of the primary responsibilities of marriage and parenting. It is hard to really grasp the primary obstacle(s) to outreach. Perhaps it is a lack of an intentional plan (we are working on one to reach a new neighborhood, and extend that to our current ‘neighbors’).

“Learn to say ‘no’. It will be of more use to you that Greek or Latin.” Martin Luther

Okay, back to the book. There are trade-offs in church life. I commonly say worship music is like the car radio on a long ride. You change the station periodically so there is something for everyone’s taste. Many people don’t like that. They want their station (be it Psalms, hymns, choruses or CCM etc.). There is a huge reason the “love chapter” is found right in the middle of Paul’s discussion of worship in 1 Corinthians. True, God-pleasing worship, requires not only love for God but also love for the rest of the Body. You consider their interests as well as your own.

Think of that! Do you consider what the person in the row in front or behind you needs in worship? Do you value their preferences, or just your own? This matters whether you are an extrovert, introvert, ambivert, non-vert, are a confessional Christian, neo-Calvinist, high church, low church, mid-church, amil, post-mil, pre-mil or prefer rock, folk, classical, jazz, blues or country. I forgot hip hop. Tough for public worship.

We could all share worship service horror stories. McHugh shares his worst which was at a church that had “quadrupled in six years” and was filled with college students and 20-somethings. (Can I say I hate the homogeneous principle?). He felt like it was entering an exclusive club where you had to get past the bouncer. Inside there was blaring music, flashing lights, rolling PowerPoint announcements, lots of chatter (and flirting, imagine young singles…). It was sensory overload for him (and anyone else who finds a need for some reflection and emotional space in worship). The 55-minute message was on sacrificial love (hmmm), and then back to the music. For him it was 2 1/2 hours of words (and loud music) that left him “feeling empty and disoriented. Never have I needed a nap so badly after church.”

This application of the homogeneous principle left him, older people (likely anyone over 30 or who has kids), and those who are nourished by more reflective worship out.

“When introverts go to church, we crave sanctuary in every sense of the word, as we flee from the disorienting distractions of twenty-first century life.”

I’m not sure about that statement as many still bring their phones and all those distractions with them.

“My point here is not that churches should coddle introverts. I do not intend to create yet another target audience for a church culture that is already marinating in consumerism. We should not cater our worship services to introverts any more than we should to extroverts. There are times when introverts should feel uncomfortable in worship, though we should be cautious as to the degree of discomfort. But if we are always comfortable, our faith goes stagnant.”

Correct, we should reject a homogeneous principle and recognize that a healthy community has different kinds of people: different ages, sexes, social standings, economic status, personalities, ethnic & cultural backgrounds. These differences require love! That whole thing upon which the Great Commandments hang. This is being a light on a hill and the salt of the earth. This is respecting the different ways our members engage with God and one another (keeping the biblical principles in mind as healthy boundaries).

Love, and such biblical boundaries, will not allow anyone to remain anonymous for long. That is not “a healthy form of belonging.” Such a ghost-like participation makes mission hard, and mission isn’t an elective.

“Through Christ we die to false identities and put away inauthentic behaviors.”

Your primary identity is always “Christian”. Not White (or other ethnic group), American (or other nation), introvert, left-handed, or another of the multitude of identities are culture seems to manufacture to create division and gain power.

Rather, we are to move towards community. We move inward toward self-understanding (not self-actualization), and outward in love. These two movements are meant to be complementary, not competitors. Understand yourself so you know who you are bringing into community: your gifts, weaknesses, priorities, preferences. Then, I think, the Body of Christ will be healthier, stronger, deeper and wider.

 

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I was so excited about the 500th anniversary of the Reformation I was laying awake for hours in the middle of the night.

Not really. Just some insomnia as I pondered my next sermon, my sermon series that begins in January and a host of other things. One of them was the Reformers.

Some people are very critical of the Reformation. There is indeed cause for lament over another divorce in the body of Christ (as a friend’s sermon put it). Some people are really bothered by the sins of the Reformers and subsequent leaders. Sins they are.

Many happen to be sins that our age looks down upon most severely. Sins that were not necessarily understood to be sins in their day. Luther’s anti-Semitism late in life. Calvin’s involvement in Servetus’ trial as a heretic resulting in the death penalty (this would be scandalous today, not necessarily sinful, though many misunderstand the circumstances and act like Calvin lit the fire). Edwards, Whitefield and others owned slaves. I could go on.

Some try to discredit the Reformation, or other movements within Protestantism, based on the sins of such leaders. How could God use such stubbornly sinful men?

Perhaps their sinfulness is the precise reason God used them.

God magnifies His grace by using Moses the murderer, David the adulterer & murderer, Jacob the con man, Abram the liar, Peter the impetuous, Paul the blasphemer etc. And the Reformers.

Ah, but those men repented. Luther, Edwards and others didn’t. Hmm, what about the sins you fail to repent of? Shall they overcome union with Christ too? Do they mean you were never united to Christ? We have to be careful for the measure we use will be how we are measured.

I’m not saying that these things weren’t sins. I am saying that His grace is greater than their sin (and mine).

By their sinfulness He is also saving us from our sinfulness. As Calvin noted, the human heart is “a factory of idols.” We would turn these men into saints, like Rome and the Orthodox so. Rather than leaders, we’d make them super-saints who were better than us. Even now many of us still struggle with this. Some try to down play, ignore and outright reject the idea that they were sinner like us.

God is patient and long-suffering with sinners. His active and passive obedience are sufficient for our salvation. As Steve Brown so “scandalously” said at the Ligonier National Conference in ’91, “there is nothing you can do to add to, or take away, from the work of Christ.” We are justified by Christ’s righteousness, not our own. This is the whole point of the Reformation’s re-discovery of the gospel. This is revealed clearly in the lives of these men (and women). Their faith was imperfect, just like ours is.

We quickly forget that we have our own cultural blindspots. We stand firm against many forms of addiction/idolatry. But not gluttony or shopping. Not our idolatrous pursuit of external beauty and “fitness”. Our “American Dream” driven greed would be called idolatry by Paul. Our exaltation of our culture as a norm (particularly by majority cultures) would receive a Galatians-like lashing from Paul. We’d better take the log out of our own eyes lest we somehow think we are better than these saved by grace alone saints of days gone by.

Reformation Day should really be humbling. We are truly saved by grace alone, always. Salvation is thru faith alone in Christ alone. It is for God’s glory alone. Reformation Day is the great day to remember that “Salvation Belongs to the Lord”, the focus of my sermon from Jonah 2:8-10.

The Reformation, and the Reformers, need not be perfect for us to express gratitude. It isn’t about big parties and celebrations (though those aren’t wrong) but about the grateful disposition of the heart.

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