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Posts Tagged ‘Word and Sacrament’


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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A recent meeting of our missions team discussed the generally introverted nature of our church, something I’ve mentioned to our congregation before. We have some extroverts, and would like more extroverts. We want to be a faithful church. How that looks for us may not be the same as how it looks for an extroverted congregation.

One of the books I found to help me think through all of this is Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Church by Adam McHugh. I will be blogging through this book. Perhaps much of this will be helpful for the slim majority of people who are introverted. Our context is a Reformed and (dare I say) evangelical church. Evangelical churches, in particular, appear to be largely extroverted in how they understand the faith and how they expect it to be lived out.

One problem is our view of Jesus. Studies indicate that most people consider Jesus to be extroverted. This is probably due to the number of large groups before whom He spoke. This is to overstate the case. We do see that Jesus would retire to quiet places to pray. He also invested Himself primarily in the Twelve and others in the group that traveled with Him (which included a number of women too). My thinking, for quite some time, was that neither introverts nor extroverts could claim Him. Jesus is the perfectly balanced person since He was a perfect man. He was equally comfortable with the masses and small groups with deep, meaningful friendships as well as alone with the Father.

McHugh notes the three evangelical anchors that contribute to the extroverted priority of evangelical churches: a personal relationship with God, priority on the Word of God as our authority, and the Great Commission. McHugh does issue a disclaimer of painting in broad strokes (which is an unavoidable element of the process). Not all evangelical churches are extroverted, or act in these ways. But many do such that many introverts feel devalued, out of place and shamed for not being extroverted. This should not be the case, but sadly it often is.

God is a relational God, revealed to us in a Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit in an eternal community of love. Introverts are also relational, don’t get me wrong. But it looks differently for introverts than extroverts. (One weakness at the beginning of the book is not really drilling down on what these two terms mean.)

Personal Relationship with God

In America, one of the great influences on evangelicalism is the Great Awakenings. These put a priority on public displays of this personal relationship with God. The biblical call to community is often seen through a lens in which everyone in the congregation is your friend (an impossibility). Extroverts are very comfortable with a large number of friends, and a number of activities. Introverts prefer a smaller number of closer friends, and can find the busy church very draining.

“… for some churches spirituality is equated with sociability.”

Introverts can often be shamed for not being fully invested or involved. They can be shamed for appearing (key word) to be self-involved. I remember one of my extroverted friends years ago calling the rest of our group to get out the Windex and be open with one another. Their personal relationship with God is more personal, meaning more private. They don’t necessarily share the dynamics of this (often deep) relationship with many people. They will share it, but more likely with their closest friends. Even as an introvert myself, I can forget this because my calling includes sharing some of my relationship with God publicly.

“By no means are introverts against intimate relationships; indeed, we are motivated by depth in our relationships. … in community we prefer interactions with smaller numbers of people with whom we feel comfortable.”

For instance, I am closest to those with whom I work most closely (the officers) and my community group. I need to stretch myself in doing this. Sometimes introverts can be called to stretch themselves. But extroverts can expect them to become extroverts as though that is what godliness really looks like.

Centrality of the Bible

God communicates with us through the Word. The gospel is communicated, primarily through words. Evangelicalism places a priority on words. Extroverts have more words to share than introverts. Introverts are often more thoughtful about their words. Their hesitancy can be misunderstood as an unwillingness to talk. Their reluctance to make small talk should not be confused with an unwillingness to relate.

Personal Evangelism

Evangelicalism is rightly concerned with the proclamation of the gospel. The focus on many church is not on “Word and sacrament” as the ordinary means of God’s calling sinners to Himself, but on personal evangelism. Extroverts don’t meet many strangers, but rather future friends. Introverts hear “evangelism explosion” and recoil in fear. Talking to complete strangers in of itself induces terror. Talking about their most personal relationship increases it exponentially. Our evangelism methods are “often tilted toward extroversion, and when we conflate our values with our methods we run the risk of alienating introverts.”

Surely introverts can be stretched and move out of their comfort zone. But the constant drumbeat can often discourage them as if they don’t measure up. How they do evangelism will look differently. For them it will not be with strangers, but with those they have let in. It may tilt more toward inviting people to church to hear the preaching of the gospel, or to sharing appropriate sermons (one benefit of technology), or a book on the particular struggle of a friend. Their efforts at spreading the good news should be applauded too. They may be likely to adorn that gospel with love, as it ought to be. One of our members recently told me that our smaller church tangibly loved her through crises in a way she never experienced before in other churches. Such love is the gospel in action, as faith expresses itself in love (Galatians 5:6).

Contemporary evangelical culture focuses on the immediate and the relevant. We see the rise of megachurches in which people worship nearly anonymously. These churches do have lots of programs to keep people busy. I’m not sure which came first, the consumerist congregant or the consumerist congregation.

“At its worst, it has produced a superficial, consumerist mold of Christianity that has sold the gospel like a commodity.”

There is a move to create “comfortable” environments with coffee houses, a lack of mystery and a removal of the sacred. The pace is fast, and the service is a production. There is little space for reflection that introverts prefer. The pastor is often an big personality who can draw big crowds, show up at all kinds of social events and shake hands.

“Human limitations often lead pastors forming congregations in their own image, presenting a picture of Jesus and of discipleship that matches their own patterns. It is not surprising that extroverted pastors are prone to encourage extroversion in their churches.”

I was called by a church that was generally introverted. My thoughts on ministry appealed to them. The simple church model resonated with me. But not because I wanted them all at home reading theology. I wanted people to have space to serve their communities through parachurch ministries, build relationships and share the gospel. I probably need to make that explicit more often, particularly with visitors and extroverts considering membership. I don’t expect our church to meet all of the members relational needs. I want them to serve one another. I also want those with extra energy for people to serve the community in various ways.

“They love their people, but after expending a tremendous amount of emotional energy to preach, they would prefer to disappear in their offices than mingle.”

That’s me. I don’t hide, but I’m wiped out. I like studying, and am told I deliver deep, meaningful sermons. I’m sure some would disagree. But I am more reflective, not dumping my sermon & text because of a current event that “must be addressed”. I may reference it, but want to let the Word address those things in the ordinary course of ministry.

The introverted church gets a bad rap. McHugh provides a few quotes to make his point. The introverted church is confused with the isolated church, the disobedient church. This is because some confuse methods with values.

“In their minds, the ‘introverted’ version of the church lacks missional identity; it is self-preoccupied and exclusive, worried about polishing the walls that separate it from the world, rather than seeking to tear down the walls that distance people from the love of God. God the ‘extrovert’ has his eye on all the world, and therefore the mark of his true people must obviously be extroversion.”

This view devalues the faith of the introverted. It devalues the practice of the introverted.

“If we are broadly defining the extroverted church as “outwardly oriented’, then a wholly extroverted church is liable to lose its center, lapsing into spiritual compromise and excessive cultural accommodation. Just as a church that is turned in on itself is stunted, a community that is thoroughly turned outward could lose its internal cohesion and disintegrate.”

The Church, and particularly congregations, need both introverted and extroverted people. A church should grow in depth as well as numbers. This will require thoughtful people and out-going people valuing one another for the common goal: maturity in Christ. That maturity should not be defined as either introverted or extroverted. But in the Body of Christ both are needed so the church grows up into Christ.

“I believe that the truly healthy church is a combination of introverted and extroverted qualities that fluidly move together. Only in that partnership can we capture both the depth and the breadth of God’s mission.”

A church can be busy. But it should also accommodate those with a slower, thoughtful pace of life too. Often these are its teachers. Not exclusively, obviously. But a deep, meaningful community requires deep and thoughtful people (this often takes time alone) as well as those who build community through friendship and service. We shouldn’t expect extroverts to become introverts, not introverts to become extroverts in order to really love God. We each love God, according to His Word, in a way that fits how the creative Creator has made us. God loves introverts. God loves extroverts. God uses both!

 

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When No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God by Aimee Byrd came out, I bought copies for many of the key women in the church. I thought it would help them as they think about ministry to women in our congregation. They have been meeting periodically to discuss what they are reading.

My wife, after she read it, thought I should read it. It is also intended for the officers of the church to help them think through their congregation’s ministry to women. As a result, it was one of the books for my vacation/study leave.

“This is a book that aims to help the whole church by examining church initiatives for a group that makes up over half of our congregations- the women. … My hope is that this book will help both pastors and elders to shepherd the women in their congregations, and to encourage women to thrive under the ministry of Word and sacrament, so that it flows out to the whole church, to their homes, and to their communities.” From the Introduction

Aimee Byrd has been blogging as the Housewife Theologian for years. This has turned into being an author and a cohost of The Mortification of Spin podcast with Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt. She, along with her husband and three children, are members of an OPC church.

She approaches this subject from a complementarian viewpoint. She affirms male headship of home and church. But she also pushes back against some forms of complementarianism as well as patriarchy. For instance, she takes issue with Piper on his views on which jobs are suitable for women outside the church. I think she is right to do so. In my opinion, in this view Piper sounds like he holds to patriarchy (he doesn’t, but is so far right on some points that it’s “leaky”, even though he affirmed women deacons on the left side of the spectrum). Byrd uses Pearl as an example of some bad theology, particular excerpts that espouse a form of patriarchy (the view that women are subject to men irrespective of their relationship).

She doesn’t see women as inferior or second class citizens of the kingdom of God. She has a vibrant view of ezer, or helper/ally. Women are called alongside their husbands to fulfill the creation mandate, not just to make babies and clean house. They are to study and learn, teach, encourage and serve the broader church. She wants to empower women to serve to the fullest of their abilities within the bounds God has established (though she doesn’t really interact with the different views on this, even among complementarians). Now that you know where she is coming from ….

Byrd breaks the book up into 4 parts. She begins with Pinpointing a Real Problem, then Examining Our Context, to Working toward a Solution and lastly Honing our Skills. There is a logical movement within the book. In the process there is plenty of theology, examples for illustration, and helpful ideas. There are also a few minor idiosyncrasies (I’m sure I’ve got a few myself). It is well-written and accomplishes its purpose. There was only one chapter in which I was left scratching my head because I was thinking “And…” since it really didn’t (in my opinion) answer the question.

What is the problem? It is two-fold in a sense. First, ministry to women is often isolated from the rest of the church. The officers of the church don’t want to be bothered and grant the women a fiefdom free from interference. Second, the books written for women are often filled with bad theology that often undermines the theology of the congregation. Byrd goes back to the temptation of Eve to understand this. Satan started with attacking Eve to undermine Adam. As Satan continues to war against the saints, he still employs this strategy. Why is this so important know? Often it is the women who are teaching the children. Multiple generations can be infected with bad theology or methods of interpretation.

“In his malevolent shrewdness, Satan when for the woman. He went after Adam’s gift from God, his bride. That was indeed a clever way to get to Adam. So it isn’t surprising today that Satan goes after Christ’s bride, his church, with the same distortion of God’s word.” (pp. 20)

She is right to point out these errors in books marketed especially for women. Many authors & speakers undermine the authority of the Scriptures by claiming to “hear” from God apart from the Scriptures (which is how the Spirit speaks, thru the Scriptures read or preached). Many are prone to eisegesis (reading into the text) rather than exegesis (reading out of the text). And there are all manner of doctrinal issues with regard to the Trinity, Christ, sin, redemption. Many promote false gospels as well. There is a profound lack of discernment, largely because church leaders haven’t been developing the skills for discernment to the women of the church (and often because pastors can exhibit some of these same problems in their sermons).

Aimee references how Paul addresses this problem in 2 Timothy 3:6-7.

For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

She spends quite a few pages interacting with this text. Women then were being targeted. In particular, weak women. Not all women are weak, or better translated gullible. False teachers don’t seek to corrupt competent and equipped women. Like wolves they look for those who are gullible, guilty and immature. In Timothy’s context and ours, those wolves were in the church. Godly leaders must seek these women out too and help them to become competent and equipped.

She develops the idea of woman as a necessary ally (ezer). She is in covenant with the man she helps, they are married. Women  are not helpers to men generally, but a specific man. God is also a necessary ally to those to whom He is covenantally bound. The OT use of this term for God means such an ally is not servile or inferior. The ally has resources and a commitment to use them for the well-being of the other. Byrd notes a quote by Spurgeon long before Toula’s mother said the same thing to her.

Theology is essential for women, not just men. Paul supported the idea of women learning, just as Jesus did. In this way the neck can turn the head in good directions.

Having identified the problem(s), she addresses the context in which we live. She goes back to Genesis 1-3. Eve, as Adam’s ally, entertained Adam’s enemy. Even in really good places like the Garden love is vulnerable. Satan didn’t want them to expand the garden-temple throughout the earth. What was important was God’s mission. Marriage, among believers, is about God’s mission. They work together to accomplish it, not their own personal dreams and kingdoms. She does some theology connected Adam the First with Adam the Second (aka, Jesus) to understand creation, fall & redemption. Christ is restoring our relationships, our households and our churches (the household of God) as He applies redemption in both justification and sanctification. Here she mentions another problem, women’s ministry often focuses on “being a woman”, not simply on being a mature Christian who happens to be a woman. But her primary focus is developing a robust view of competent, godly women. In their household and God’s. She mentions the many women in both the OT and NT who were highly involved in God’s mission as prophets, patrons, servants, etc.

In her zeal for the ministry of Word and Sacrament, she has one of her idiosyncrasies. She doesn’t like the term women’s ministry, thinking it devalues the ministry of Word and Sacrament. We don’t need to talk about women’s initiatives (or men’s, children’s etc.). I think we can all understand that though separate, they are not ultimately distinct. We are serving these portions of the church by and thru the Word even if it isn’t the Word preached.

When she moves toward a solution, she begins with the question of men learning from women. This was the headscratcher of a chapter. On the positive side she mentions how all of us learn from women who are in Scripture, like the songs of Hannah and Mary. There are also those instances when women taught men directly (Hulda, Pricilla). Those passages aren’t “for women only”. This is also a chapter in which she pushes back against some of Piper’s stranger comments.  There was also an odd rabbit trail on Anne Hutchinson and Aimee Semple McPherson. It reiterated the idea that in the quest to be heard, some women talk about hearing direct messages from God. This would be more suitable in the first section of the book. The head scratching came in discussing parachurch ministries and the use of women speakers at conferences. Conferences are confusing. They have times of worship utilizing many of the elements of worship, and I’m not sure how you differentiate between a conference speech/lecture and a sermon. She seemed to not be quite clear. I will not be excommunicated for disagreeing with any teaching given at a conference (though some churches should consider excommunicating people who go to particular conferences, I am sort of kidding). Conferences are voluntary and there is no “membership” or discipline. Personally I have no problem with a woman speaking at such a conference intended for mixed audience. Perhaps it is my experiences at Ligonier where women like Elizabeth Elliot and Joni would speak. They didn’t clear out the men, and I don’t think they should. I can learn from women, and should learn from women. Like reading this book. I just felt like she didn’t answer the question, and experienced some cognitive dissonance.

In later chapters she focuses on what it looks like to be a competent ally. While there were some good thoughts there, I wish she could have developed a few more and been a bit less reliant on John McKinley, adding some of her own ideas to the mix. She identifies the three traits of a competent ally as equipped, having resolve and discerning. This last one takes up much of the rest of the book as Byrd discusses how to read, how to interpret and how to assess false teaching (not all false teaching is equal since not all doctrines have equal priority). This is the most practical section, obviously. And she doesn’t short-change it. She then provides examples for the reader to apply what they have learned with excerpts of books with bad theology, methods of interpretation or statements that undermine the Scriptures. You are encouraged to note the problems to develop greater discernment. She provides a caveat, she doesn’t want to put authors on a “do not read” list. This is not a discernment blog approach, and we shouldn’t have such an approach. Discernment isn’t just about spotting the bad, but also affirming the good.

She wraps up with a chapter on preaching and teaching to women. The focus is on men, the officers of the church. She wants to help us help the women under our care. This is in keeping with her stated purpose for the book.

I think she did a good job fulfilling the purpose of the book. At times she put material that may have been better suited for another section. But as one whose book is in the process of being published, I recognize how hard it can be to do. There is no air lock between sections, sealing content or ideas. There was enough theology to keep me engaged (not simply personal stories strung together to make a point) and she applied it well. I think this is a good book for church officers and key women to read so congregations can better minister to (serve) the women in their midst so they become fully mature in Christ.

 

 

 

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Another vacation means reading another volume in the “Theologians on the Christian Life” series of books. So far I’ve read the volumes on Newton, Luther, Bavink and Edwards. I enjoy these books tremendously as they interact not just with their theology but also their practice.

This summer I chose Calvin on the Christian Life: Glorifying and Enjoying God Forever written by Michael Horton. I had some hesitancy about this volume. I haven’t read any Horton in years having grown weary of polemical theology, and not finding his expressions of two-kingdom theology all that helpful. I always seemed to be left saying “And?” when he talked about it.

This book was a pleasant surprise. It was a little more weighted toward theology than some of the others, but that theology was a necessary background to understanding how Calvin viewed life in Christ. There was a good progression of thought throughout the book. There were no exceedingly long chapters. There were plenty of quotes from Calvin and others who have produced volumes on his life and thought to make Horton’s points. I found it to be an edifying and encouraging volume in this series.

As he notes, Calvin’s was a very different time. The Reformation had been spreading throughout Europe and nation-states were gaining some measure of independence from the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Emperor. Like today there were many political and religious refugees in Europe, and many of them made their way to Geneva. In the religious reforms they were still in the process of sorting out how to implement what they believed. Calvin was one of the people working to bring the Protestants together as some differences seemed to be driving them apart.

Church was a central part of life with daily services part of many people’s routine or rhythm of life. It was a less distracted time, even if sin still found its way to manifest itself abundantly. As a result of this, some of how Calvin viewed the Christian life is anachronistic, or at least seems to be to us with personal devices, long commutes, mass media and more. Christian living, while personal, was far more public than we see today.

As one of the great figures in the Reformation we tend to think he was a parochial as we can be. There was no “Reformed tradition” or heritage for Calvin to draw upon. He drew upon the larger tradition of the Church, eastern and western. He was influenced, not only by Augustine, but also by Chrysostom, Cyprian, Irenaeus, and Bernard of Clairvoux among others. He interacted with Luther and Melanchthon to find common ground. He was not impressed with Zwingli. He spent time during his exile with Bucer and found that a great benefit. He influenced many of the next generation of leaders, like John Knox. Calvin was not an innovator but a man who lived as part of a theological community that exceeded his geography and time.

Horton begins where the Institutes begins: the knowledge of God and self. We were made to be in relationship with God and to reflect or reveal His glory as His image. So, to know God is to know ourselves in greater measure even if we see what we are not. Calvin was no fan of speculative theology. We cannot know God in the abstract, but know Him in Christ who came in the flesh to exegete the Father. We know God through His works, and so we recognize the divine drama or great Story of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Glorification. All of Scripture reveals this larger Story. We see some differences between how the Reformers and Roman Catholicism viewed general revelation and common grace. He saw our depravity going deeper so that no one was neutral when examining our world and/or doing theology. The pursuit of truth is distorted by our depravity. General revelation is not simply a “dimmer light but a different light than special revelation” because it does not speak of redemption.

Like Luther, Calvin was a theologian of the cross rather than a theologian of glory. God is known through Christ, and Him crucified. We do not seek to climb “ladders of speculation, merit and mystical experience” to gain union with God. Rather we are united to Christ crucified and resurrected for us to gain knowledge of God.

In this great drama there are actors and a plot. Here Horton explains that for Calvin the solas of the Reformation were a fabic, not independent statements. Similar to TULIP which was formulated long after Calvin’s death, they stand or fall together. Scripture is our final authority because it is God speaking to us about the Son through the inspiration and illumination of the Spirit. The great actor is the Triune God, not merely dogma but “the heart of reality in which we live and move and have our being.” The Incarnation of the Son reminds us that matter is good, not evil. That there is nothing inherently sinful about humanity itself despite its weakness and limitations. Our sinfulness is tied to being “in Adam” not simply being human. So Calvin did not hold to a Spirit-matter dualism as did medieval Rome and early Anabaptists. Rather, God made matter and uses it to His good purposes. One application of this is that the Spirit works thru the Word, contrary to the views of the Anabaptists and other fanatics.

The other actors in this are people, and so Horton moves quickly through Calvin’s anthropology. He is always contrasting this with the views of Rome expressed through the medieval church. This brings us to providence and grace as God works to redeem fallen humanity. Horton contrasts providence with the Stoic notion of fatalism. We see a God at work to redeem us, not a people who seek to redeem themselves. We see people who are lifted up by a Redeemer, not who lift themselves up by their bootstraps. We see people who are sought (and found) by God though they hide in the bushes, not people who seek after a God who hides. When we grasp both providence and grace, our circumstances are not punishment from a Judge but instruction from a Father who seeks to mold and shape us.

“Properly speaking, God is not angry with his elect, whose diseases he cures by afflictions as it were by medicines.”

From here, Horton proceeds to Christ the Mediator who came to us and for us. He uses a phrase that will be used often within the book, here with reference to His two natures: “distinction without separation”. This is a difficult formula to maintain but it was the heart of the Chalcedonian formula which made its way through Calvin’s theology. This formula, and how it is understood, was a key in the disagreements about the Lord’s Table that separated the Protestants. Horton’s comments on this are quite helpful.

As the Mediator, Jesus does not merely provide assistance to us but saves us to the uttermost. Yet, we live in the gap between inauguration and consummation, the already and not yet tension is at the heart of Calvin’s spirituality. Our salvation is received in union with Christ. We don’t receive His benefits so much as Christ Himself. He brings all those benefits with Him. They are distinct but without separation because we don’t have a divided Christ. Horton distinguishes these benefits in another chapter. They include effectual calling, justification, sanctification, and adoption. He always distinguishes the Protestant view from the Roman view, particularly as expressed in the Council of Trent.

With this heavier theology out of the way, Horton moves into life in the Body of Christ. Our Christian living is not a private thing, but one that is lived in the context of the Christian community. This is important for our individualistic society to hear so we can be freed from the shackles of a privatized faith. For Calvin it was corporate worship (Word, sacrament & prayer) that fed our personal worship (Word & prayer), and not the other way around. Corporate worship is where we learn how to read the Word and pray. We apply that in our personal and family worship. Community has precedence over individual. This is a radical statement today. Yet at we look at love and the fruit of the Spirit we see they all require others. The Trinity is an eternal community or fellowship of love. We have been made in God’s image to be a community or fellowship of love, not simply a periodic gathering of saved individuals.

This plays out in seeking grace in public worship, not medieval spirituality. We do not ascend to God, but Christ descended to us. We do not seek seclusion like the monks and nuns, but live in Christ in the midst of the world. Horton speaks of Calvin’s views of the preached Word, baptism, confession of sin (a good thing in worship!) and the Lord’s Table.

“The only way to serve God well is to serve our fellow believers. Since our good deeds cannot reach God anyway, he gives us instead other believers unto whom we can do good deeds. The one who wants to love God can do so by loving the believers.”

Horton continues with worship, discussing visual representations and music. These are some of Calvin’s more controversial views regarding worship today. While I want to keep the images of Christ out of our worship, I don’t want to keep the instruments out. I don’t see how they are part of the shadows and ceremonies. I see instruments in the heavenly visions of Revelation. If they are symbolic, what do they symbolize (it notes the singing, so….)? Music seems circumstantial to me. We don’t have any “authorized” tunes. So we waste our time, energy and breath arguing over such things. I’m sure God is more concerned with whether I strummed my guitar for him or myself, or if you listened to the instruments for his glory or simply your pleasure, than whether or not the corporate worship used instruments or not. But I digress.

Horton then brings us to Calvin’s view of prayer as the chief exercise of faith. Horton notes “true worship consists not in outward rights but in casting ourselves on the Father’s gracious care in Christ and by his Spirit.” He interacts with God’s providence and prayer so that prayer is one of the instrumental means of God’s providence. For Calvin prayer was “to the Father, in the Son and by the Spirit.” Our union with Christ also means that we do not pray alone but that Christ is praying not just for us, but with us. Our prayers are an echo of His prayers for us, we are following His lead because of the work of the Spirit in us resulting from our union.

You can’t talk exhaustively about Christian living without touching upon the Law of God. Horton brings in Calvin’s views in the tenth chapter. Like Luther, Calvin utilized a law and gospel distinction. “Calvin also appropriated Melanchton’s threefold use of the law.” The Law drives us to Jesus as He is presented to us in the Gospel. As justified people, the law shows us the pattern of holiness the Son wants to create in us by the Spirit. Law and gospel are distinct but not separate. Christians hear the law as the words of a Father, not a Judge; wisdom and guidance, not condemnation; and cry out to the same Father to help them walk in this way that pleases Him. Horton then summarizes Calvin’s view of these “house rules” expressed in the Ten Commandments.

Horton then addresses this new society, the church, as a theater of God’s fatherly care. Christian living includes finding a faithful church and making disciples. In church we are fed and guided by pastors and elders. We receive God’s hospitality from the deacons. Horton explains Calvin’s view of elements and circumstances regarding worship and how legalism turns circumstances into binding elements. License turns elements into circumstances. “Thus, the Reformer could see even among elements a ranking order, prizing unity over polity. Here we see a man of principle, to be sure, but among the principles was love. While wanting to obey everything that Christ commanded, he realized that not everything was equally clear or equally important.” And so my comments on music.

“Even when the church lies in ruins, we still love the heap of ruins.”

This new society exists, just as our original parents did, for a mission. For the creation mandate to be fulfilled, the Great Commission must be fulfilled. The church exists to make Christ as He is presented to us in the Gospel known, and to teach people to obey Him. The circumstances of the day meant that the Roman Catholic nations controlled the seas. But Geneva sent missionaries throughout Europe, many of whom died in France. The church brings Christ to the world.

We not only live in the church, but we live in the world. Here Horton explores Calvin’s view of the relationship of church and state, and Calvin’s understanding of the two kingdoms. There is discussion of moral law and its reflection in natural law. Christians don’t retreat from the world, nor do they think they can save the world (or creation) through “social justice”. This doesn’t mean Christians shouldn’t seek justice within our spheres of influence, but we have realistic expectations, goals and agendas. It also makes no sense to focus on race relations in society unless we are addressing them in the church. We don’t focus on sins in one kingdom while ignoring them in God’s kingdom. (My thoughts there)

We offer our gifts and abilities to the world, and the church, in terms of our vocation. The sacred-secular distinction has minimized the value of a layperson’s work in the world. Work that helps others survive or flourish is valuable work, not merely legitimate work. Jobs have value not simply as opportunities for evangelism, but for loving others by providing goods that enrich life. This is a big part of Christian living.

Lastly Horton ends with contemplation of glorification. We are not escaping the material world, but longing for freedom from sin; ours and others against us. We live in the not yet with regard to sin. This is intended to shape our lives in the already.

Horton lays before us a very thorough look at Calvin’s understanding of the Christian life. We exist for God, and to enjoy God. This means we live before the face of God at home, at work and at church. We live before the face of God and experience His grace because of Christ our Mediator in whom we experience all God’s blessings. Christian living is not about trying to attain God’s grace, but receiving it so we can glorify & enjoy Him. This was a great addition to the series.

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The Church in America has struggled with the notion of Christian activism over the years. Usually such activism is associated with the “Religious Right” but there are groups that would not consider themselves part of that “Religious Right” that engage in activism as well. Is the Church to be involved with activism? Are Christians to be involved in activism? This is the subject of Appendix E in The Doctrine of the Christian Life by John Frame.

Frame begins with mentioning the book What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? by D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe. There they remind people of the great influence of Christians on Western culture. Christians have been instrumental in education (founding many of our colleges), health care (founding many of our hospitals), political freedom, literacy (the original reason for Sunday School) as well as the arts and more.

“Without Jesus, without the gospel, without the influence of his people, all these areas of culture would be vastly different and very much worse.”

The efforts and influence of Christians have not lead to a perfect society. They have lead to a clearly better society in many instances (note I didn’t say all). Here in America, as a result of the Fundamentalist movement, large portions of the Church retreated from social action. Ironically, it was often the more liberal branches of Christianity that lobbied for things like Prohibition which would typically be associated with Fundamentalists today.

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0875525628(this is the 3rd & final installment on Covenantal Worship by R.J. Gore)

Characteristics of Covenantal Worship

Simple– this is in distinction to the Old Testament pomp and circumstance.  Synagogue worship (upon which most early Christian worship was based) was simple.  The buildings were not extravagant, and the service was simple (not simplistic).  “New Covenant worship is preeminently worship in the Spirit, under the guidance of the Spirit, by the power of the Spirit (pp. 144).”  It is simple in that it is clearly understood, and reveals a progression in its parts that moves us from the presence of God to proclaim the message of grace to the world. 

 

Orderly– there is a structure to biblical worship.  Paul issues the command that worship be done “decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40) because God is a God of order.  Order is not to be mistaken for conformity.  Within the Created Order there is a great diversity of plants, animals, environments, sights, smells, tastes and… people.  Structure provides the boundaries for the exercise of creativity.  It does not stifle creativity, but prevents it from being chaotic.  As a result, our worship should be thoughtful (in preparation and execution).

 

Free– the conscience of the individual worshiper is guarded, so they are not coerced into participating in anything against their will.  People must not be chastised for not singing or participating in particular types of prayer.  Parents must not be forced to baptize their children.  Education and encouragement are not ruled out.  Leadership must also help them to not participate decently and in order.

 

Glorifies and Edifies– biblical worship must do both.  Congregations tend to gravitate toward one or the other.  God is the primary audience (though not the sole audience), and should be honored and glorified.  “Significantly, we serve a God who delights in blessing us (pp. 149).”  Those who faithfully worship will receive grace and encouragement.  Faith should expect this, but not make it the primary goal of worship.

The reality of community must be accounted for.  We do not worship as individuals, but as part of the Body of Christ.  “It is not enough that I am transformed by worship; I must also help to transform others, and I should allow other to be used by God to transform me (pp. 149).”

 

Catholic– as in universal (not Roman).  This means that “there must be a willingness to learn from others, a willingness to be taught by the entire breadth of the Christian tradition (pp. 151).”  As a result, the past is not to be totally discarded.  We can learn from the past, and incorporate some elements from the past.  The same can be said about the present.  “Worship that is catholic requires the willingness to hear the truth contained in other traditions, even when that truth has been obscured by non-biblical accretions (pp. 152).”

 

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