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Monday, December 24, 2007

His Humble Exaltation

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.--Philippians 2:5-11
Praying you are again amazed by His incarnation!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Preaching Sola Fide

Whether Calvinist or Arminian, Cessationist or Pentecostal, Paedobaptist or Credobaptist, Dispensational or Covenantal, you have felt the effects from the Reformation. Even the Roman Catholic church has been forced to respond, though they remain in signficant error.

No matter what protestant background you come from, one of the greatest areas of influence is in the preaching. This can be seen even by the arrangement of the furniture in the auditorium. The table for the "sacraments" has been moved, and the "pulpit" became the centerpiece. While the furniture is insignificant (our church does not have a literal pulpit) that attitude is. We gather around the Word of God, to hear the Word of God and apply the Word of God. We have the Reformation to thank (at least in part) for helping remind us that the Word of God is central to our corporate worship. However, much of contemporary preaching ignores the heart of the Reformation (the "five solas") as they deliver their homily.

This post marks my last article on the five solas as they regard to preaching.

Sola Fide

Imagine a church where the pastor tells his church to abstain from all alcohol, avoid movies, enter their children in Christian schools and that women should only wear dresses.

Down the street, another pastor exhorts his congregation to get involved in environmental issues, invite your neighbors over to your house, seek to understand your surrounding culture and avoid a judgemental perceptions at all costs.

Which sermon is pleasing to the Lord? The conservative message? The trendy message? Both?

Possibly, neither. Consider:
But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.--Romans 14:23
Therefore, the pastor who calls his people to be separate from the world, giving guidelines for achieving moral purity may be calling his people to sin. Likewise, the pastor who challenges his people to be more tolerant, perhaps even more missional, laying out perfect strategies for connecting with lost people may be calling his people to sin.

Because avoiding movies is bad? Or conversely, is inviting your neighbors over to your house wrong? It is, if it neglects faith. Consider these words:
And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.--Hebrews 11:6
If faith is not the center of our motivation, we will not be pleasing God. Neither a full-fledged boycott of the things of the world, nor an unadulterated leap into your neighbors' lives means a thing if segregated from faith. This shouldn't stump us. For if God is most pleased by the perfect obedience of His Son, and if that obedience is credited to our account by faith, then that in my life which pleases the Father must purely be the reflection of my faith in His Perfect Son.

So what does this mean for preaching?

Application must aim at the heart. We are not called to be coaches for behavior modification. We are called to be heralds of the transformation producing Word of God. Our application should not be action steps or exterior based uniformity. To instruct our Body in ways to behave during the week without addressing the heart primarily is simply to attach the hose to the power washer so they can spray down their own tomb. No, our application must address who they are, and then speak to how they act in light of this truth. To do anything else is simply a different form of legalism, and is beating--not shepherding--your sheep.

Application must find its fulfillment in Christ. A quick glance at Matthew 5 will remind us that when Jesus focused the Law to the heart, the standards went up, not down. On the outside, a man may consider himself pure if he has never had a physical relationship with anyone other than his spouse. However, direct the Law to the heart and suddenly one act of lust reveals the adultery in his heart. The standard has been raised, and the man sees his guilty position.

At this point, the preacher must direct attention to Jesus Christ. God, in His grace, provided multiple opportunities for us to hear His pleasure with His Son (Matthew 3:17; John 17:5). Our preaching must proclaim Christ, so that when we present application, the listener understands that we live holy lives, not to earn our righteousness, but because He Himself is Holy. No sermon, whether in the Old Testament or New, can neglect Christ as the main character and be a sermon preaching application in faith.

Application must be grounded in the gospel. This statement should not be necessary. For if we preach at the heart, our people will understand they fall short of God's glory. If we preach Christ's perfect fulfillment, we've practically covered the entire gospel message. However, I am shocked how often this element becomes neglected.

I have noticed an odd phenomena. Those churches which most would label as "seeker-____________" or "missional" or "outward focused" are often pastored by men who think a clear gospel presentation is not necessary weekly. I really can't understand this. They strategize, plan and possibly even compromise some standards just for the sake of attracting an unregenerate crowd, and then once they are gathered, they neglect to lay the gospel out in full.

I believe the answer lies in the attraction mindset. When I gather the unregenerate (and focus my service around getting them there and keeping them coming) I must give them what they want. And the "natural man" does not want application aimed at his heart. The nonbeliever wants to hear a better marriage is achieved by committing to a weekly date night or learning the art of "active listening." They want to be told to get out a calculator and work through this formula to determine your charitable giving. They do not want to hear they must love their wife like Christ loves the Church. They do not want to be told their questions about charitable giving have more to do with learning contentment than debt reduction processes. Therefore, the pastor neglects to aim at the heart. Since application is not aimed at the heart, there is not need to look to Christ for perfect fulfillment. Since Christ is not necessary to achieve this standard, a gospel presentation would feel like an odd proselytization commercial, and would fall on deaf ears. Therefore, the gospel is alluded to, but not enunciated.

The preacher must present the gospel weekly. Not because their will be visitors there (though there will be, and they will have opportunity to hear). Not because they probably have false converts sitting in their midst (though any honest reading of the Scriptures will reveal they probably do). But because every person, unregenerate and regenerate alike, needs to hear the gospel. The nonbeliever must hear the words of Christ for their conversion. The believer must hear the gospel to be reminded that any application must be built out of what Christ has done and their full reliance on this message.

To do anything else is to neglect faith, and cause our people to not please God. To stand before people claiming to share the Word of God, and to instruct in a way that causes God displeasure is not the mark of a good shepherd.

Brothers, we must preach faith alone!

Sola Fide

by Jason Bradshaw
“Faith is being exalted so high today that men are being satisfied with any kind of faith, just so it is faith. It makes no difference what is believed, we are told, just so the blessed attitude of faith is there. The undogmatic faith, is better than the dogmatic, because it is purer faith—faith less weakened by the alloy of knowledge.”
-J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism
It wasn’t more than a few months (June 20th article) ago that Danny posted the story of the woman priest who considered herself both Muslim and Christian. As blaring as these contradictions may seem to be, there are many who now pick and choose parcels from the religious smorgasbord for their spiritual diet—a slice of eastern mysticism with a few sides of Christianity. To be sure, spirituality is in.

On the other side of this coin is the attempt by the leaders of major world religions to synchretize their faith with other, formerly contradictory faiths. The rise of the Common Word document would seem to be a prime example; Islam and Christianity offering olive branches under the guise of a joint interest in responsibility to love God and love people. Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) produced a document a few years back, stating the common ground held between Protestants and Catholics.

It would even seem that faith has even become an issue for the presidential ticket. If you go to Chrisitanity Today’s website right now, you will find a feature article on the faith of Hilary Clinton (insert joke here). GOP candidate Mitt Romney recently gave an address in regard’s to his Mormon faith (insert joke here). And, of course, all of this has not even acknowledged Mike Huckabee and President Bush’s not-so-hidden faith.

All of these examples would seem to center around faith. While many evangelicals have seen fit to celebrate these movements toward faith as victories, I remain hesitant. This, it would seem is the fatal error of evangelicalism; always expanding, never defining. Truly this has been the church’s history after the era of the Puritans- to include on the basis of commonly held beliefs but to ignore doctrinal distinctives.

Consequently, our world has taken to a faith that has no definition—a belief in the smoke and mirrors of religion. Like Todo pulling back the curtain of The Great Oz, these belief systems will one day be shown for what they truly are—a pathetic attempt to be something they were never meant to be. We Biblicists know that there is only one true faith, one true reality as defined by the Scriptures themselves—that is, that righteousness is only available through faith in Jesus Christ.

Dedinition of faith came when man needed it most. The Catholic Chruch had long placed an unattainable expectation upon men. Consider JI Packer’s assessment:
So, where Rome had taught a piecemeal salvation, to be gained by stages through working a sacramental treadmill, the Reformers now proclaimed a unitary salvation, to be received in its entirety here and now by self-abandoning faith in God's promise, and in the God and the Christ of that promise, as set forth in the pages of the Bible. Thus the rediscovery of the gospel brought a rediscovery of evangelism, the task of summoning non-believers to faith. Rome had said, God's grace is great, for through Christ's cross and his Church salvation is possible for all who will work and suffer for it; so come to church, and toil! But the Reformers said, God's grace is greater, for through Christ's cross and his Spirit salvation, full and free, with its unlimited guarantee of eternal joy, is given once and forever to all who believe; so come to Christ, and trust and take!

It was this conflict with the mediaeval message that occasioned the fivefold "only" in the slogans quoted above. Salvation, said the Reformers, is by faith (man's total trust) only, without our being obliged to work for it; it is by grace (God's free favor) only, without our having to earn or deserve it first; it is by Christ the God-man only, without there being need or room for any other mediatoral agent, whether priest, saint, or virgin; it is by Scripture only, without regard to such unbiblical and unfounded extras as the doctrines of purgatory and of pilgrimages, the relic-cult and papal indulgences as devices for shortening one's stay there; and praise for salvation is due to God only, without any credit for his acceptance of us being taken to ourselves.
It was in this conflict with The Roman Catholic Church that texts like Romans 4 became pertinent. Righteousness was no longer earned, as a wage, but was credited in line with one’s faith. Faith did not make one able to be righteous, as Rome had held, but rather, it gave one the righteousness of Christ. This emphasis on the dikaisune Theou (righteousness of God) became a point of separation. Previously, Luther had seen this as that which was condemning—a fearful thing. Now, in reinterpreting Romans, the righteousness of God was credited to us through faith. Writes Luther:
But the true gospel is, that the works of charity are not the ornament or perfection of faith: but that faith itself is God's gift, and God's work in our hearts, which therefore justifieth us, because it apprehendeth Christ our Redeemer. Man's reason hath the law for its object, thus thinking with itself: this have I done, this I have not done. But faith being in her own proper office, hath no other object but Jesus Christ the Son of God, delivered to death for the sins of the whole world. It looketh not to charity: it saith not, what have I done? What have I offended? What have I deserved? But what hath Christ done? What hath he deserved? Here the truth of the gospel answereth thee: He hath redeemed the from thy sin, from the devil, and from eternal death. Faith therefore acknowledgeth that in this one person, Jesus Christ, it hath forgiveness of sins, and eternal life. he that turneth his eyes from this object, hath no true faith, but a fantasy and a vain opinion, and turneth his eyes from the promise to the law, which terrifieth and driveth to desperation.

Wherefore those things which the popish schoolmen have taught concerning the justifying faith being furnished with charity, are nothing else but dreams. For that faith which apprehendeth Christ the Son of God, and is furnished with Him, is the same faith which justifieth, and not the faith which includeth charity. For a true and steadfast faith must lay hold of nothing, but Christ alone, and in the terrors of consience it hath nothing else to lean upon, but this diamond Jesus Christ. Wherefore he that apprehendeth Christ by faith, although he be never so much terrified with the law, and with the weight of his sins, yet may he be bold to glory that he is righteous. How or by what means? Even by that precious pearl, Christ Jesus , whom he possesseth by faith.
Now, faith had found definition once again in contrast to that which Rome had held. We possess Christ as we possess faith—and Christ is our righteousness. This is stated best in 2 Cor. 5:21 where Paul concludes his argument by saying that “He (God the Father) made Him (Christ) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (Christ).”

In response to the false faith which they had seen in Catholicism, Luther and Melancthon saw three aspects to saving faith; notitae, assensus and fiducia. Notitia refers to the content of the gospel—the 1 Corinthians 15:1-7 necessities of the gospel. Christ had died, been buried and was raised again, according to the Scriptures and did so for the sins of mankind. Assensus would seem to point to the idea of belief, not just the comprehension of notitae but a step further toward belief. And finally, fiducia refers to the commitment to the gospel, a trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ. To possess only two of these three was not saving faith.

Such distinction to the concept of faith was meant to contradict mere mental assent to ideas of faith and promote reliance in the work of Christ. This gospel was laden with ideas of repentance and trust, a far cry from our modern understanding of faith.

Hebrews 11 tells us that faith is being sure of what we hope for, “the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Of course, the postmoderns among us love this verse because, on the cover, it seems to speak of mystery. But note that the author does not call faith unknowable but rather simply “not seen”. There is certainly mystery in Christianity—I don’t understand how God is one but also three—but yet there is also, definite, real truth.

The Reformers had a very real understanding that the important thing about faith was it’s content. The box for my wife’s engagement ring was very nice, but nearly so nice as the ring which was inside it. Such is the state of faith—it is only valuable when it is centered in Christ. All of our other “faiths” fall short.

In fact, if we look closer at Hebrews 11:1 we find an interesting paradigm. Faith is the conviction of “things”—that is real, existent. Therefore, if our faith does not hold to this real, true faith, it ceases to be faith at all. (In one of life’s many ironies, this word for “thing” is a form of the word pragma, from which I can only assume we would derive our word pragmatism.)

If faith does not treasure Christ, it is not faith—this is what the reformation brought back to the church. This is what was carried on in the line of the Puritans, and this is what God has desired that we carry on in His church today.

Jason's article provides the last installment of my guest reformation posts. His article really wasn't as far behind as it seems...I held onto this one for a while. However, the content of his post seemed to fit much of the discussion on this blog lately. Jason Bradshaw serves Greenville Grace as our Music Pastor and resident theologian.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Common Word

Today, I heard the testimony of a dear brother who has lived in an Islamic state. He did not mince words or try to claim that Christians and Moslems should be seeking unity. He does not applaud their monotheism...for they worship a false, non-trinitarian god.

However, there are some Moslems who think we should celebrate our similarities: A Common Word

What is their motivation? Could it be an underhanded move to catch Christians off guard? Possibly. Could it be that they simply don't understand the differences in our faiths? Apparently. Is it understood by the fact that "the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of God in the face of Christ? Certainly (see 2 Corinthians 4:4).

Whatever their motive, we should not be surprised. However, if evangelicals then wrote back to them, applauding their efforts...now that would be troubling.

What, you say? That has already happened!

So the real question must be asked, "What is their excuse?" (By the way, read the full article with list of signatures here to see if your favorite author/speaker/advocate or your child's dean/professor signed the document.)

There was an urgency to this brother since he had seen the persecution first hand. He did not try to pretend it is a religion of peace. He did not try to portray a "positive spin" to Islam. Bottom line: Islam, like all faith systems that deny the Biblical portrayal of Christ, is Satanic.

And why has the church lost her urgency to say so? Somethings wrong if a field trip would have to recovery it.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Golden Compass

Excellent article written by Al Mohler found here.