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Posts Tagged ‘Westminster Confession of Faith’


It has been a very long time since I’ve watched All in the Family. But one of the “bits” that I remember periodically is the argument between Archie and Meathead about how to put to socks and shoes. Was it a sock and a sock, then a shoe and a shoe, or a sock and a shoe and a sock and a shoe.? Meanwhile, the whole reason Archie was there was they were running late to go fishing. Now they were even later. And angry.

A number of arguments and discussions about the best method of evangelism are like that. They keep us from doing what we actually should do (evangelism) and we become frustrated with one another. Perhaps it is the little Pharisee in all of us but we want everyone to know that our way is best. The rest are just pretenders.

Mike Bechtle is not going to argue for one way as the best way to evangelize in Evangelism for the Rest of Us. He does start with his informal research in bookstores. First, he found that most Christian bookstores had few books on evangelism. The clerks would tell him, “There isn’t enough interest.” What few he found were “heavily slanted toward the traditional extrovert perspective.” He had two thoughts:

  1. According to Scripture, God has a real passion for people. He wants us to be godly people, but he also wants us to intentionally influence others toward faith.
  2. The percentage of books I found that dealt with “outreach” (evangelism) was tiny compared with the percentage of books dealing with “inreach” (growth).

One of the tensions we’ve argued over, generally speaking, is like Archie and Meathead’s argument. Which comes first, believing or belonging? In some circles (largely pietistic, baptistic and modern) evangelism happens “out there”. They believe and then become part of a local church. In other circles (Westminster Confessionalism and postmodern) the person becomes part of the congregational life and comes to faith thru the witness of word and deed (and Sacraments) of the church.

My confessional standards, the aforementioned Westminster Confession, point to the ministry of Word and Sacrament being the ordinary means. Our children are baptized and participate in the life of the church and then believe. We invite unbelievers to hear the Word preached and hope they believe. I think that is ordinary, in the terms of the Confession.

But not exclusive. There are some people who won’t accept an invitation to worship, community group etc. Evangelism necessarily takes place out there in the hopes of getting them in here.

Arguing for one, not both/and, distracts us from engaging in evangelism with the people both in our midst and those in our circles of influence. Here Bechtle makes a (small) mistake. He brings us Philippians 1:18. Paul was rejoicing that Christ was preached despite people’s motives. Bechtle is focused on different means. Just be explicit about the shift.

Another area Bechtle seems to struggle with is a clear grasp of the gospel. Or rather expressing what he means by presenting the gospel. You may present different aspects of the gospel based upon needs, or the direction the conversation has been going. But people have been known to have unproductive discussions over the content of gospel presentations.

Bechtle then explores 7 misconceptions about evangelism I’ve tried to simplify.

1. Evangelism bears witness to the whole plan of salvation. Eventually it will. But you can really be evangelizing and only get to a small part of the Christian message. Jesus didn’t walk around with His version of the 4 Spiritual Laws (that we could worship) but met people where they were and … asked questions of them. So, don’t feel like you need to give an information dump and call that evangelism. Evangelism is a process, not an event. You may only have one evangelism opportunity with them, but God’s work is bigger than you.

We recently went to a wedding. We knew only the bride and groom, who are not Christians. We ended up at a table with her former co-workers who all happened to be Christians. They had been sharing the faith with her for years. The burden was not on my wife and I, but we do need to participate in the process.

2. Success is measure by conversions. Many books (and sermons) have a sales pitch view of evangelism. I’ve closed a few deals, so to speak (and I hate speaking like that). But I was successfully sharing my faith even though the person didn’t come to faith in the course of that conversation. It is not our job to convert. God does that (this opens a bigger can of worms). The means He uses is these conversations with Christians who speak the truth in love. The push for a conversion can produce manipulative practices that lead people to think they are a Christian when they actually aren’t. Success is sharing your faith, perhaps moving them an inch closer (from a human perspective).

3. If you don’t share the gospel with someone, their blood is on your hands. Some people use Ezekiel 3:18 to guilt-trip the average person. Taken out of context, it could mean that, but we are to keep Scripture in context. It was a message to Ezekiel, not to the people. He was to be faithful as God’s prophet to God’s people. Ezekiel didn’t have a messiah complex. You shouldn’t either. Don’t share the faith out of guilt and fear. You are not the only person God can and will use in that person’s life. It is NOT all up to you. Relax…. it is a process in which you may play a role.

He notes the “search for the one” to marry. This is similar. It is the notion that there is one person out there who is perfect for you and your job is to find them. Where Blechte struggled with the logic was he couldn’t control “the one’s choices”. Not only could he mess it up, but she could and then he’d be stuck with a lousy marriage. Marriage isn’t a means to perfect bliss because you marry “the one”. Marriage is about two imperfect people facing their problems and clinging to Christ. It is about God changing us both through the process. Evangelism is kinda like that. God’s got it all under control, just be faithful and let him worry about all that other stuff.

4. Witness early and often. It is like voting in Chicago. Fact is you are surrounded by a wide variety of people. You will struggle to communicate with or identify with many of them. God has put plenty of people in your life you can bear witness to. Don’t think you’re supposed to reach them all.

5. You have to be bold. Boldness is also a process. As we grow more assured in our faith we’ll grow more bold. But few of us are naturally bold, or made supernaturally bold instantaneously. “But boldness really means doing what God has asked us to do in each situation, relying on his strength.”

6. “You shall be my witnesses” is a command. He’s referring to Acts 1:8. It is a statement of fact rooted in the empowering presence of the indwelling Spirit. You are a witness (part of our identity), so bear witness as opportunities arise. As Americans we can focus on doing. He’s trying to remind us that being leads to doing.

7. God loves you when you witness, and doesn’t when you don’t. Many of us wrestle with self-righteousness. We think we still live under the covenant of works. Therefore when we fail we think God now hates us. We don’t have an understanding of union and communion. United to Christ we are secure in God’s love, just as a child is secure in the love of a good parent. When we disobey, God responds like a good parent. He may be displeased because He loves us, and disciplines us, but we don’t fall out of favor or kicked to the curb. Lose the performance based relationship you’ve likely been having with God. Faith rests in Christ’s perfect obedience on our behalf. This frees us to share out of love and gratitude, not an “I have to” mindset.

Having deconstructed some of our false views of evangelism, Bechtle tries to reconstruct a healthier understanding of evangelism.  Here are the 5 things he says.

  1. Evangelism is a team effort. The Body bears the responsibility and each of us has a place in that in keeping with our place in the Body.
  2. You have to hang out with non-Christians. Paul sought them out, and so should we. One problem is that we often misunderstand Scripture and avoid them. Paul told the Corinthians to avoid the immoral person who claimed to be a Christian. “Most Christians have separated themselves from the world for fear of being corrupted instead of praying for protections as they live among unbelievers.” Too many of us have no non-Christian friends. To bear witness to them, you have to spend time with them and love them.
  3. We don’t “do” evangelism- God does. Our task is to bear witness. God converts. How we bear witness may build walls or tear them down. He notes one guy started asking people if he could pray for them. He would follow up as he could to manifest love and concern. Some of those walls came down when they were genuinely cared for.
  4. God uses us the way he made us. He gave us gifts, a personality and personal history that are useful for the task of bearing witness. You bear witness uniquely as a result. There are people you can identify with, and people you can’t. When we try to do things we aren’t equipped for, we will botch it and be frustrated. Not every method is for everyone. There is no “best method” but many that are better for you or worse for you. Some will better match up with how God made you. Use those. This is why much evangelism training frustrated me- it was asking me to be someone other than God made me.
  5. Satan does the opposite of what God does. Oh, there will be some truth in there to hook you. But there is enough falsehood to get you off track. He’d rather you try to bear witness as someone else instead of relying on what God has given you.

“So is everything we’ve been taught wrong? No. It’s just incomplete.”

Put on your socks and shoes, and bear witness as only you can do.

 

 

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I’ve said it before, I’m glad Sinclair Ferguson retired.

I miss listening to his sermons, so I wish he hadn’t retired too. But his retirement has meant a steadier stream of great books. One of those books is From the Mouth of God: Trusting, Reading and Applying the Bible.

“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4

This is not a new book such much as a revised and expanded version of Handle with Care! which was released in 1982. It was written to fulfill a commitment he’d made to provide a book on the Trinity. Unable to prepare that manuscript, they were willing to receive Handle with Care! Hopefully we will see that book on the Trinity some day.

In some ways, From the Mouth of God reminds me of Kevin DeYoung’s Taking God at His Word. They cover much of the same territory. Their styles are different due, in part, to differences in age and cultural background. Both are very good books and worth reading. Both are relatively short and accessible to lay people. I intend you use both in the teacher training, and officer training, that I am in the process creating and revising respectively.

As you might realize from the subtitle, the book is divided into three sections: trusting the Bible, reading the Bible and applying the Bible. The middle section is the longest. Unfortunately the section on application is the shortest. As one who can struggle with this aspect of sermon preparation, I would have liked this to be explored more thoroughly.

His opening chapter It Is Written covers the Bible as God’s self-revelation. He brings our depravity as expressed in a darkened understanding into the equation. Ferguson uses passages like Hebrews 1 to affirm that the Bible is historical, verbal, progressive and cumulative, and Christ-centered. He discusses the dual authorship of Scripture as an expression of the doctrine of concurrence. He also covers the doctrine of accommodation, that God speaks in such a way that we can understand. The second chapter, Getting It Together, focuses on questions of the canon. This includes the OT canon and Jesus’ view of that canon. He addresses inerrancy and infallibility, as well as finality. Inerrancy is often misunderstood. For instance, it includes the lies of men. It accurately reports those lies in some historical accounts. Faithfully communicating those falsehoods and errors does not mean the Bible itself errs.

He wraps up the first section with Is It God’s Word?, which evaluates the claims of Scripture to be God’s word. The Spirit who inspired the Scriptures also illumines the Scriptures for us. We see the depth of our dependence upon the work of the Spirit in knowing God.

Ferguson opens the section on reading the Bible with an example of how not to read it: allegory. Christians have struggled with how to read, and therefore understand, the Bible. The priest of my youth told us “Don’t read the Bible, you’ll get it wrong.” And many do. But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t Do-It-Yourself. We have a responsibility, and need, to read the Bible for ourselves. We aren’t saved by implicit belief in what the priest or pastor knows & believes. We must explicitly believe saving truths, and we know them through the Scriptures.

Explaining Paul’s statements, Ferguson discusses rightly handling the Word of God, thinking in the hopes the God grants understanding (2 Tim. 2:7). He then turns to the Westminster Confession of Faith to explain some principles for interpretation. He contrasts this with the medieval church’s 5-fold interpretation.

In Keys, he notes the 5 keys to interpreting Scripture: context, Christ, the unfolding drama, and gospel grammar. These keys help us by helping us grasp the historical and literary context, the redemptive-historical context, its connection with Christ and reminding us that the indicatives (facts) of the gospel precede the imperatives (commands) so we live by grace. In Prose, Poetry, Wisdom, and Prophecy focuses on the different literary genres in the Old Testament. He briefly provides the basics needed to understand each of these genres. He includes brief examples of how to interpret each. Similarly in Gospels, Epistles, and Visions Ferguson looks at the genres in the New Testament. In For Example, he interprets the book of Ruth. He repeats one of the keys he noted earlier: “in reading Old Testament narrative we must always have in mind the way in which the promise of Genesis 3:15 unfolds in terms of God’s covenant promise working out through deep conflict to establish his kingdom in Christ.”

Ferguson moves to application with What’s the Use?. Here he returns to 2 Timothy 3 to help us understand the use of the Scriptures in making us wise for salvation. This chapter will find its way into my officer training.

In Seed Needs Soil he addresses the condition of hearts that hear the gospel. This is one of the few places I disagree with Ferguson. It is a minor disagreement. I believe the parable is told to explain the different reactions to the ministry of the Word for the disciples. I don’t think it is meant for us to be self-reflective as if we could prepare our hearts. Still, he does a good job explaining the nature of those hearts.

He concludes with Speaking Practically, which is about how to implement the material you have read. He discusses the role of discipline to develop a routine, and a method for reading the Bible. We have to actually read the Bible, consistently and repeatedly, to bear great fruit. Each of the first 5 years or so that I was a Christian (until I went to seminary) I read the Bible through once a year. I gained a good working knowledge of the Bible as a result. Unfortunately it was the NIV, and many key phrases in my head don’t match up with the ESV. Even after 20 years in ministry, while reading the Bible for my own devotion I continue to see new connections points (I just read Exodus 22:28, noting its connection to NT texts about honoring the king).

Though Ferguson is done, the book isn’t. He includes two brief appendices. The first is John Murray on The Guidance of the Holy Spirit, and John Newton’s letter on Divine Guidance.

This is a good book that leaves you wanting more. I recommend it for all those interested in teaching others, and people interested in why they should trust the Scriptures and how to read them.

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This is a concept that has been debated at least since the 1970’s: can one be a “gay Christian”? It started with denominations for homosexuals who professed Christ. Recently it has “conquered” mainline denominations. The conversation is beginning to happen in conservative denominations, like the one I serve in. Okay, precisely the one I serve in. So far I’ve seen more heat than light in this debate. There is little thoughtfulness and plenty of knee jerk reactions.

As Joe Dallas notes in Speaking of Homosexuality, both terms in this phrase need to be identified so we know precisely what we are talking about.

“Gay can refer to someone sexually active, whether in a relationship or in more casual encounters. Or it can mean a person who’s not sexually active but it willing if and when the time seems right. It can also refer to a Christian who believes homosexuality is wrong but is tempted that direction and sometimes yields. Yet again, it could mean someone who’s homosexual in attraction only but chooses not to act on the attraction. Clearly the term’s meaning influences the question’s answer.

“Now, Christian, for some implied simply being “saved”; to others it implies both being saved and walking in rightness before God.

“Muddying the waters further is the question of salvation. Can it be lost, or is it a once-and-for-all status? How you view eternal security will likewise direct your answer to the gay Christian question.”

In addressing the second part of this question, Dallas writes as an Arminian. I am thinking this through in my own heritage, that of Reformed Theology. As such I ponder this in terms of the Preservation of the Saints and Assurance of Grace and Salvation. So, let’s work through the four ways “gay” can be understood.

Can a Christian be sexually active with the same sex?

The answer is yes. But before you either rejoice or want to stone me, let me explain. I do view homosexuality as a sin (like I would consider murder, theft, lying, gossip, adultery and other actions and predispositions to be sin or outside the boundaries established by God). Christians do sin. Sometimes we sin big too.

We should not simply say Christians persevere to the end because God preserves them in grace (by Christ’s merit & intercession as well as the indwelling Spirit). That is true, but not all that is true. We should reckon with the rest of what the Westminster Confession says about this, including:

3. Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; and, for a time, continue therein: whereby they incur God’s displeasure, and grieve his Holy Spirit, come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded; hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves. (WCF, XVII)

A Christian may, for a time, fall into the practice of homosexuality. This is disobedience, but Christians can and do disobey God. We see such sin a result of the remaining corruption within us (indwelling sin) which produces internal temptation, and the external temptations of Satan and the world which tells them it is okay, and “don’t knock it til you try it”. While they may feel “like themselves” in so doing, we see there are earthly consequences as they grieve the Spirit, harden their hearts and are deprived of a measure of graces and comforts from the gospel. Its hurts and scandalizes others as I know all too well from watching people I know fall into this sin and become entangled by it.

In the next chapter on Assurance of Grace and Salvation we see similar comments:

4. True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which woundeth the conscience and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God’s withdrawing the light of his countenance, and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the meantime, they are supported from utter despair. (WCF, XVIII)

The key is “for a time.” One who is truly regenerate and justified will eventually repent and acknowledge its sinfulness as well as apprehending the mercies of God in Christ and endeavoring to obey. But “for a time” is vague. No time limit is given such as having 1 year. People would probably abuse that as an opportunity to spend such time in full rebellion of their choosing and show up at the appointed time with a mea culpa like Amish teens returned from their experience in the world.

For instance, I had a friend who was promiscuous as a teen. While working with teens later, his past was known. One teen contemplated partaking of fornication and his justification was “you repented.” My friend wisely replied, “How do you know you will?”

In the meantime, a faithful church will admonish, rebuke, suspend and possibly excommunicate a member to guard the honor of Christ, reclaim the sinner and protect the church (not from the person but from believing such actions are acceptable and appropriate among God’s people). In this sense it is possible to be a Christian and gay, but not part of the visible church due to discipline so they may produce a later harvest of righteousness.

In terms of Dallas’ second category, we see it is also possible to be a “gay Christian” in the same sense. They would need to repent of their erroneous understanding of homosexuality even if they aren’t sexually active. In due time this should happen if the Spirit really dwells in them.

In both the 3rd and 4th categories, the Christian experiences same sex attraction but knows that to act on it is wrong. The attraction is a result of remaining corruption, and they experience that inward pull toward people of the same sex romantically and sexually. While they know this is not what God intended in creation, it is what they experience due to the Fall, and have not yet been relieved of it in redemption. That may, and often does, await glorification as it does for all Christians though the particular temptations differ.

Here is where it is tricky. While the temptation flows from remaining corruption (our sinful condition) is the temptation itself sinful? Here is were some of the debate lies as we try to parse temptation. It is different from the temptation Jesus experienced in that it is internal. Jesus was tempted from without. We should confess it flows from indwelling sin and that it is wrong, though we have not committed a sinful act. The person who acts on such temptations periodically should repent like any other Christians who sins does. While they are still a Christian, they have been disobedient. As I noted above, this desire may never go away (though not experienced in every waking moment), just as other sinful desires may never go away.

There is another question that arise, should such a Christian as we see in categories 3 and 4 self-identify as a “gay Christian”? It seems strange to those of us who are straight. I’m not a straight Christian. Nor would I identify myself with any of my habitual sins. People don’t say “I’m an alcoholic Christian” or “a deceitful Christian.” Should we, as an act of repentance or confession? I suspect it isn’t very helpful.

In her book Openness Unhindered, Rosaria Butterfield addresses this question over the course of two chapters. In the first, she focuses on self-identification and the roots of self-identifying as gay. She ought to know since she used to teach Queer Theory at Syracuse University. For years she was working toward the world we now live in here in America: acceptance of homosexuality and same sex marriage as normal. So she unpacks all that so you know what many (not all) gay people mean by that term. She explains why she does not like the term “gay Christian” nor advocate for its use. In typical Rosaria-style she can be quite blunt.

“Any category of personhood that reduces a saint to a sum total of his or her fallen sexual behavior is not a friend of Christ.”

“Because as Christians, we need to practice what we want to model: a call to use words honestly. A call to use words honestly, in ways that correspond to God’s truth.”

“The conservative Christian church bears some responsibility for driving brothers and sisters in Christ into this “gay Christian” ghetto with our blindness to the way that we have insensitively tried to fix or fix up all of the singles in our church.”

“New nature does not necessarily mean new feelings (although it may). … “New creature in Christ” means that we have a new mind that governs the old feelings and a new hope that we are part of Christ’s body.”

“Believers know that help does not come in destigmatizing the word gay, but in helping the boy and his family do what all believers must do: mortify sin and live in faithfulness to God.”

While she argues against using the term, in the next chapter she talks about when Christians disagree, particularly about that issue. She addresses her relationship with a friend named Rebecca who has a different viewpoint, and is a professing Christian too. While Rosaria sees the word gay as laden with Queer Theory, Rebecca says “For me the word gay is no different than saying, “I am deaf” or “I am quadriplegic.” It simply refers to the truth that I have an enduring affliction (whether based in biology or environment) that has not been healed despite many years of prayers.” We return to the idea that two people can use the same term in different ways, and that we should try to understand how they are using it because we love them.

We see this problem in social discourse all the time. For instance, in the 2016 election “the wall” has very different meanings for progressives and those who voted for Trump. Progressives hear xenophobia, racism and other ideas that make them angry or want to cry. They see his election as betraying their ideals and lament for America. Many of those who voted for him (and may like myself who didn’t) hear wise immigration policy, having a border like most other nations that means we have some measure of control over who enters our country not because we hate other people groups but for our national and economic security. It doesn’t mean you are against immigration reform, but that you believe we actually have a border that matters.

Rosaria counsels love in the midst of such disagreements. She’s only advocating what the Scriptures do, but in this gospel-deprived society this is seen as a novelty. We have to allow each other some space to own our ideas instead of mandating that they agree with us. After all, the Scripture doesn’t directly address this. We can treat the use of this phrase as one of indifference as long as we are using very different definitions of the term. She talked with her friend, listened to her friend, and found they were using the term in very different ways. They could choose to disagree and remain friends because they agreed on the basics of the gospel and its implications for homosexuality even if they disagreed on the use of a term. I think there needs to be more of this: listening, understanding, discerning and accepting one another as Christ accepts us when we do disagree on secondary issues.

“Friendship and neighborly proximity are necessary components to working through theological differences in Christian love. … Ideas that divide must travel on the back of Christian life practices that allow us to stand shoulder to shoulder as we submit before our holy and loving God. This is the Christian labor of real neighbors.”

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I’ve been working on a Sunday School curriculum on the Westminster Standards. Among the resources I’m using are commentaries of the Westminster Confession by A.A. Hodge and Robert Shaw. The main resource was Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith by R.C. Sproul.

It is a layman’s guide. It is less technical than Hodge and Shaw. Paradoxically it is much longer than those commentaries. Sproul’s guide is 3 volumes. At times it was repetitive, particularly when he would launch into the elements of faith: content, assent and trust. On one hand I understand since faith plays a big role in the Confession showing up in many of the chapters. It begs to be understood. On the other hand, there is a chapter entitled “On Saving Faith” which addresses this topic. I’m not sure why he didn’t hold off on the discussion of faith until then. It doesn’t bother me, but when I consider those who would greatly benefit from studying the Confession, this may make it more difficult. Many laypeople are busy and don’t have time to read. And some really don’t like to read. A three volume set, while enticing to me, can look daunting to many.

As someone who has read most of his books, this is typical R.C. Sproul. He is gifted in making difficult subjects understandable for average people. It can be easy, in this case, to be overwhelmed with the Confession’s archaic language. But he breaks it down well. There are plenty of illustrations to help people understand.

It is not just for laypeople. I benefited from reading the book as well. There were somethings I hadn’t thought through before.

As a guide to the Westminster Confession, this set is essentially a systematic theology as it moves from the doctrine of Scripture and God to salvation and eventually to the Christian life (including the state, family and the church). It shows the progression of thought in all of this and shows the interconnectedness of these doctrines. This reflects the intention of the Westminster Divines.

While Sproul handles the Confession, the Catechisms are in appendices. This is a good thing in that they have a slightly different emphasis. The Short Catechism begins with the famous notion that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” This is how I theologically orient the study. All of this is intended to help us glorify and enjoy God. The Larger Catechism has more of an emphasis on union with Christ. While Sproul does mention this topic, it could use more development (just like it could use development in the Confession).

So, caveats accepted this is a worthwhile set to add to a pastor’s library, a church library and officer training. It will also be of great interest to Christians old and young with an interest in theology.

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Session meetings are not often the highlight of a week. I enjoy being with the men, and I enjoy talking about church life and how we can be more faithful. The problem is that our meetings end late and some of us have a hard time the next day at work. I need time to decompress from a meeting, and even if they are held in my home, I don’t go to bed right away.

We have two options: have more but shorter meetings, or have more efficient meetings.

These are men who are already too busy so the first option really doesn’t seem to be an option. A few books were recommended to me. One of them was Meetings that Work by Alexander Strauch. One reason I bought it was that it was specifically about elders’ meetings. I had already read Strauch’s book Biblical Eldership. The third reason was it wasn’t very long. It was accessible for very busy men (I bought one for each elder too).

Our issues are not about character (though he mentions that), which seemed to be the thrust of some of the other recommendations. We have good men, who want to do a good job who just need help doing it quicker.

One thing is evident to me as I read this book: his gifting is kingly. He is all about efficiency, order etc. My gifting is prophetic and priestly, so I could use a bit more organization. But it didn’t make for an enjoyable read. It was informative. It was helpful. I’m not sure how to make this subject interesting. I, however, did not need interesting.

Another thing that became clear to me was how thankful I should be that I am in a confessional church. He often talks about discussing doctrinal issues. In over 15 years in ministry, I have not given very much time to doctrinal discussions in meetings. I am a doctrinally oriented person and read lots of theology. But the Westminster Confession of Faith means that we don’t have to spend time hammering out very many doctrinal issues.

Some of the issues require some wisdom and balance. In my first pastorate, EVERY conversation seemed to prompt an historical dissertation that bogged us down. A church’s history does matter. It does need to be discussed, but it cannot dominate the conversation or bog it down. I took his comments to almost exclude them. A wise moderator will begin to develop a sense of when it is helpful and when it isn’t.

There were, however, a number of very helpful ideas to help make meetings happen more efficiently. This brief book accomplished its purpose. This week we will discuss some of the ideas that we want to implement. Strauch’s book is well worth the investment of your time.

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If you love Christ you have most likely discouraged by the recent spat of news regarding Christian leaders, and laypeople, and sexual sin. It is disheartening to hear of yet another person who has fallen to this type of sin. I’ve lost track of the number of guys I knew in seminary that were disqualified from ministry due to sexual sin.

I’ve read something just as disheartening from the “pen” of a prominent blogger’s wife. I appreciate his ministry. I guess I just don’t get his wife’s perspective. It sounds to me like the old Bob Newhart skit.

What strikes me is how naive it sounds. It seems to minimize the power of indwelling sin and the wiles of our Enemy who wants to destroy the Church, marriage and family. I don’t say this to minimize the power of the Spirit nor the sufficiency of Christ’s work. I often push back against the worm theology that thinks we can never obey. We can grow in obedience, which means we can obey as we mature. The grace of God did appear to teach us to “no” to unrighteousness in this present age (Titus 2).

This does not mean it is easy, as we see in Romans 7 as Paul, who was a more mature Christian than me, cried out to be delivered from “this body of sin.” He shifted immediately into the gospel balm of there being “no condemnation for those who are Christ Jesus” which is so important because we continue to sin. He builds on this later in Romans 8.

Paul, in Romans 7 and Galatians 5, talked about sin and the sinful nature: indwelling sin. We talk too little about this fact. Indwelling sin means that we are still attracted to sin in various forms. If this woman was honest with us, she’d admit that there are sins she has seemingly made little to no progress in fighting. Her’s may be far less destructive to marriage and ministry than sexual sin, but that doesn’t mean she faces her own helplessness against sin. Were it not for indwelling sin, there would be nothing in me for temptation to hook.

Indwelling sin also hinders movement toward obedience. It is like trying to swim while wearing a few layers of clothing. At every turn, my flesh comes up with reasons not to obey. I need to talk to myself in gospel terms to goad myself on toward greater faithfulness to Him who died for me.

This is only the third of the great enemies of holiness. The others, of course, being the world and the devil. The former is under the control of the latter to some degree. The world promotes sexual sin, as we see with the existence of the Ashley Madison website, Tinder and pornography in more forms than you can shake a stick at. But lest we think sin is only “out there”, I remind you of indwelling sin which produced the visions of naked women experienced by Jerome as he hid from the world in a cave.

There is also that prowling lion looking to see whom he may devour who tempts us and places crazy and sinful thoughts in us. Satan hates God, but he can’t destroy God. He is aiming at the next best thing: God’s image. Sexual sin is one that strikes at the core of who we are since we were made male and female. Additionally, God gave us the creation mandate which includes “be fruitful and multiply”. Sex within marriage is essential for procreation that we might fill the world with God’s image. Satan does not want the world filled with God’s image, but he’ll settle for that tarnished image resulting from the fall. He wants to destroy the marriages of God’s people precisely because they are seeking to raise up godly seed. Satan wants to destroy the marriages of Christians, and one really good way to do that is sexual sin.

He also hates the Church and the Great Commission (an application of the Creation Mandate to the fallen world). He seeks to stop its growth and progress. One of the many schemes he has is sexual sin. He can destroy marriages, ministries and churches at the same time.

Impalement of PhinehasThink of how Balaam got God to curse the Israelites. If they sinned, turning away from God. So he told Balak to send in the Moabite “hoochie mamas” to seduce the sons of Israel with fornication leading to worshiping their Gods (Numbers 22-25). In discussing this in 1 Corinthians 10 Paul says their temptation was common to all.

This means that sexual sin is, in many ways, not like any other sin. While a particular person may not feel temptation to sexual sin, most Christians will. This also means that most pastors will too.

I don’t say this to excuse any sin, or anyone’s sin. I say to this to remind us of the danger there is to people. If you know you are particularly tempted, you need to take steps to be vigilant in fighting temptation. Spouses need to pray for one another (women commit these sins too!). People need to pray for their church leaders. Assume they at least occasionally face such temptation. The recent revelations should move us to pray for people to live upright lives in this present age. They should remind us that the Nancy Reagan “Just Say ‘No’!” approach is not as easy as it sounds when dealing with a sin that promises so much (that it cannot deliver).

“So far as moral failings are concerned, we need to show much more patience. It is easy to trip up here, and the devil is amazingly ingenious in leading us astray.” John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (1541)

2. This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence arises a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.

3. In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. WCF, XIII

114. Q. But can those converted to God keep these commandments perfectly?

A. No. In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience. Nevertheless, with earnest purpose they do begin to live not only according to some but to all the commandments of God. Heidelberg Catechism

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At the beginning of his book, Calvin and the Sabbath, Richard Gaffin notes that everyone seems to make use of a quote from Calvin to support their view of the Sabbath. The subtitle helps us understand the quandary: The Controversy of Applying the Fourth Commandment.

This volume is a re-working of Gaffin’s Master of Theology thesis under John Murray at Westminster Seminary many years ago. This means it is not written at a popular level. Most of us will have to concentrate to track with Gaffin at times, and there will not be any interesting stories to help us understand a point. It is still an academic work.

Gaffin’s procedure is pretty simply. He begins with some background to the controversy before examining Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion and some catechisms. Gaffin compares different editions of the Institutes as well. He then examines exegetical writings (his commentaries) and sermons. He then includes other Reformers and some of the Reformation Creeds to show a similarity of thought on the issue.

“First, widespread disagreement as persisted about what Calvin meant where he has expressed himself concerning the Sabbath.”

As you read you can see how it is that people can latch on one aspect of what Calvin says to support so many views of the Sabbath and its application to our corporate and personal lives.

In the background material Gaffin summarizes the main theories regarding the Sabbath or Lord’s Day.

1. The Antinomian View. This began with the Anabaptist movement during the Reformation which had a sharp antithesis between law and gospel. It argues that Christ fulfilled the law for us and we no longer have an obligation to keep the ten commandments. To fulfill this command would be to contradict the NT teaching regarding there being no distinction of days and seasons (Rom. 14 & Col. 2).

2. The Seventh-Day Sabbatarian View. Gaffin notes that this view also appears among 16th century Anabaptists. While Christ fulfilled the law for us, Jesus didn’t abolish the law and we keep it out of faith, love and gratitude.

3. The Ecclesiastical or Dominical View. This cluster of views hold that the Sabbath  has its origin in the Mosaic covenant and therefore was strictly for the Jews, not for Christians. The end result is the same as the Antinomian view, but the rationale is quite different. This has been the dominant view in Anglican churches.

4. The Sabbatarian View. This focuses on the Sabbath as a creation ordinance from Genesis 2. The Mosaic regulation of the Sabbath is not binding on us but was for Israel, yet the creation ordinance remains. This view was argued by many of the English Puritans.

On the eve of the Reformation the western church was overloaded with feast and fast days which were required to be celebrated as part of the sacramental system essential for salvation. The Reformers were not only dealing with the Scriptures but also their own historical context. We do best to keep this in mind. At times Calvin is arguing against the view of Rome. At other times he is arguing against the Antinomian Anabaptists. When we forget this we tend to see him as contradicting himself instead of addressing a different series of errors. This, in part, is why Gaffin wants to look at all of Calvin’s writings to get a more comprehensive understanding of Calvin’s view.

We could summarize Calvin’s view as Gaffin does in a number of places.

1. The weekly day of rest which Israel was ordered to keep by the fourth commandment fulfilled three distinct functions.

a) It was a promissory sign, typical of the spiritual rest from sin which God would one day give to his people.

b) It provided a day for public assembly, a stated time for hearing the law and offering sacrifices.

c) It provided a day of rest from toil for slaves and servants.

2. At the first advent of Christ, culminating in his death and resurrection, the Sabbath ceased to function as a type. The spiritual rest promised to Israel by the weekly day of rest, has become a full reality. Christians now enjoy that rest on every day of their lives. In this sense, as a type of spiritual rest, the Sabbath has been abrogated and should no longer be observed.

3. Although the typical character of the Sabbath no longer exists, the other two functions of the Sabbath given to Israel are still in force.

a) The fourth commandment requires the public assembly of the church … Which day of the week is set aside for this assembly, whether one or more, is a matter of indifference.

b) The fourth commandment requires that rest be given to those who in their labors are subject to the authority of others.

4. The fourth commandment must always be seen in its context, that is, as part of the Decalogue, which applies to all people in every age.

There, you got that? The commandment is still binding, but the typological function of the command has been fulfilled in Christ. What remains, basically is a spiritual rest from sin, the need for public worship and the provision of rest for those under authority. This view would be different from the way the Westminster Divines expressed our responsibility in a way very similar to its Mosaic expression. This presents a tension in denominations like my own which holds to the Westminster Confession of Faith and yet holds Calvin in high esteem with many pastors embracing his view (as they understand it).

“Here Calvin shows himself, despite undeniable and decided differences in theological rationale for observing the Lord’s Day, to be remarkably close, in practice, to later Puritan views, like those given confessional status in the Westminster Confession of Faith.”

Calvin’s view would not appear to undermine the system of doctrine in the Westminster Confession. He upholds it as part of the moral law which still abides, but differs on how to apply it.

Yet, I still experience some cognitive dissonance with Calvin’s view. I also experience some with regard to the view of the Confession (I did take an exception). In other words, neither view completely expresses my own view which even I struggle to express. This is because in some ways my views are still “cooking” or developing. I think of it like a stew that needs time for everything to come together.

Gaffin, in his evaluation of Calvin’s view, puts his finger on some of the areas of dissonance for me. First, his understanding of the Sabbath as spiritual rest for everyday seems deprive it of it’s place in the Decalogue. He quotes Edwards as one who recognized this: “And if it stands in force now only as signifying a spiritual, Christian rest, and holy behavior at all times, it doth not remain as one of the ten commandments, but as a summary of all the commands.” In other words it no longer stands alone and doesn’t really command anything in particular. It “merely” summarizes the many other commands to flee sin and pursue godliness.

Second, Calvin does not seem to fully appreciate the Sabbath as creation ordinance. Calvin sees the Sabbath within the context of sin. As a creation ordinance it has bearing on man as man, not only as sinner. He doesn’t seem to do justice to the concept that as made in the image of God I not only work, but rest as God does. I need rest as man, not only as sinner. “The meaning of the Sabbath institution prior to the fall seems not to have crossed his mind.” This is a big weakness in Calvin’s view. This also affects how he views work, or at least how he expresses his view of work. Work is good! But we cannot only work, even if we recognize work as worship.

Gaffin also notes that we lose the full eschatlogical significance of the Sabbath when we do this. Typology, Gaffin argues, is present in every aspect of creation. It points us to the new heavens and earth. We cannot enter into the rest that awaits unless we are in Christ, but also until we have completed the tasks appointed to us like Adam. We are only able to complete those tasks because we have been redeemed by Christ, and those works have been prepared for us beforehand (Eph. 2:10 for instance).

Sabbath as creation ordinance also reminds us that this regular rest, which prefigures our ultimate rest in Christ, is for all people everywhere. They suffer when they do not rest. As Gaffin, and one of my professors notes, they do deserve to suffer so since they are in rebellion. Yet, we should offer them rest as a common grace for the benefit of society.

“Faithful and joyful Sabbath-keeping, we should not forget, is among the most concrete ways for the church to witness to a world full of turmoil and unrest, as never before or at least as much as ever, that there does indeed “remain a rest for the people of God” (Heb. 4:9).”

This is an important book to read, but not always an easy book to read. Anyone wrestling with the Sabbath should include this volume as part of their study. It will be worth the investment of time and mental energy.

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