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Monday, June 30, 2014

"Reformed" Apologetics -- A Pompous Misnomer

When I was in seminary, they offered a course called "Reformed Apologetics", for Presbyterian Church in America guys. The premise of the course was that only Cornelius van Til's approach to apologetics was Reformed. Even as a non-Pres, I knew enough about philosophy to know that there is nothing particularly Reformed about being aware of someone's presuppositions. Human beings (not just professional philosophers) have been aware of the topic of a person's underlying assumptions, presumptions, preconceptions, suppositions, hypotheses, surmises, theses, axioms, and postulates since the Adam and Eve. They should have called that course, "The Apologetics of Cornelius van Til", because the name they chose was partisan and wrong. But the PCA is still plagued today by Van Tillians who tripped over a 10,000 year old geyser and think they were the first to find hot water.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Jesus' Bread of Life Discourse, and God's Sovereignty in Salvation.

John 6 can be divided into three parts:

I. Christ miraculously feeds five thousand (1-21)

II. Jesus dialogues with the crowd about salvation (22-59).

III. Many disciples abandon Christ as a result (60-71).

Christ tells the clamoring crowd not to strive after perishable food, but to work for the food that grants everlasting life. He, the Son of Man, will give them this wonderful food. They can believe He is the Son of Man because God has certified Him by the miracles He performs (6:26-27). The crowd asks Christ how to work the works of God, that is, how to perform miracles. Christ tells them that the work God requires is for them to believe in Christ (6:28-27). Verse 29 might have a double meaning – belief in Christ is the work God requires of us, but it is also the work of God in us.

The crowd defiantly demands that Christ perform a sign like Moses and the manna, before they will believe in Him. This response is an expression of willful unbelief, since the only reason they are there at all is because of the sign He just performed. Christ corrects their words by saying that God, not Moses, gave them manna. God was also offering them “bread” at that very moment, the bread of heaven. Heaven's bread is he who came from heaven (Christ) and He offers life to all people without exception (6:30-33).

The crowd asks Christ for this heavenly bread. Jesus replies that He Himself is heaven's bread. We eat (or drink) Christ by believing in Him, and as a result we never spiritually hunger or thirst again. Christ charges them with the sin of unbelief, because they had seen Him and His miracles and yet they did not believe.

In contrast to their unbelief, there are people who will believe in Christ. They are the ones God gives to the Son. That group comes to Christ without exception (37). People who trust in Christ do so because God the Father leads them to Christ, and in that way they are God's gifts to His son. Christ will always welcome all who comes to Him, because He came down to do the Father's will. The Father's will is that all who trust in Christ will have everlasting life and rise again on the last day (6:34-40).

The Jewish leaders begin muttering angrily, because Christ attributed pre-existence to Himself (41-42). Christ chastises them for muttering. Lost people need the pre-salvific, drawing grace of God for the ability to come to Christ (44), due to sinful humanity's spiritual inability. Christ is clear that non-Christians are incapable of believing in Christ. Saving faith in Christ is given by God to particular people. Verse 44 implies that God is always successful in His drawing work, since the same person God draws will be raised up by Christ (44). The Lord's drawing never fails.

Christ clarifies that “drawing” is spiritual enlightenment. Christ had been teaching the whole crowd outwardly, but the sinner needs God's inward revelation as well. “Heard and learned” describe the two aspects of drawing – the person hears the Word of God and by God's grace realizes that it is true. Christ elsewhere called this God “revealing” Christ to someone (Matt. 16:17). Christ is not talking about having mystical visions of God, as Moses did. Only Jesus Christ has actually seen God (46). When many of Christ's disciples understood what He was saying about the need to spiritually “eat” and “drink” Him (48-59), they abandoned Him in disgust (60). However, Christ knew they abandoned Him because, even though they were disciples, they were never believers in the first place (64). Peter stayed on with Him because he had true faith (68-69).

What do we learn about God's sovereignty in salvation from this section?

Miracles do not convert. This contradicts those Pentecostal ministries that claim that miracles are an essential part of evangelism.

Exposure to the Gospel, in itself, does not convert. This contradicts the idea that unbelief is the result of poor Gospel presentation. Who presented the Gospel better than the Son of God?

Christ exhorts the crowd of unbelievers to seek eternal life. This contradicts hyper-Calvinists, who claim it is wrong to generally exhort, invite, or encourage lost people to come to Christ.

Faith in Christ results in the permanent cessation of thirst for everlasting life. That thirst for everlasting life never resumes, which amounts to what is called eternal security.

Lost people have zero natural ability to believe in Christ. Christ's doctrine of absolute spiritual inability is universally denied by Arminians and Pelagians. People who do come to Christ come because God did something in and for them.

Saving faith is a gift given by God to certain particular people, whom He intends to give to His son.

Christ offers the living bread to the whole world without exception. His teaching clarifies that it is God the Father's responsibility to do the individual “follow-up.” This illustrates the spiritual “division of labor” between the Christian witness and the Lord. Christ invites all, and the Father draws some.

The Lord's drawing of someone never fails to complete its objective.

People who claim to have been disciples of Christ abandon Jesus Christ because they never truly believed in the first place. Others stay with Him, even when His teachings baffle them, because they have faith.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Thanking God Today For the Ministry of Francis Schaeffer

I thank God for how He used to writings of Francis Schaeffer in my life. Schaeffer delivered me from the shallow simple-mindedness of legalistic fundamentalism, and the emotionalism of the Charismatic movement. There is quite a difference between thinking that the Bible is all about "spiritual stuff" (usually that means relationships and feelings), versus knowing that the Bible carries authority over -every matter to which it speaks-, in every field of endeavor. That God intends the Bible to create a complete worldview. God's intention is that every thought should be taken captive -- not just thoughts about how to become a saved person.This is a huge difference between the wealth of the Reformed tradition, versus the feebleness of second-great-awakening sentimentalism

Looking Back (For A Moment) At Iraq.

Looking back: I am sure that the people who were imprisoned in Saddam Hussein's rape dungeon's are happy the Western powers deposed him. I believe the persecuted Kurds are happy, too. Were they not our "neighbors"? And it isn't every day that the leader of a foreign nation organizes an assassination squad and sends them to America to murder an American President, as Hussein did to Bush 42. It's interesting to note that Clinton was the one who retaliated for that: (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/longterm/iraq/timeline/062793.htm). The state does not wield the sword in vain. Gulf War II was the finishing of Gulf War I, which had only been suspended, not declared over. So, Gulf War II actually was Gulf War I. The potential of Hussein gaining control over the Middle East's oil fields could not be permitted to happen. The Bible presents a total worldview that has implications for every part of culture including war (whether just or unjust). Better to follow the Reformed / Francis Schaeffer type approach to the faith, than hide in the narrow boundaries of Pietism.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Depression

Depression can have physical causation. The brain is a material thing, and according to Scripture is united with the soul until death. I have a friend who suffered with splitting headaches. He found relief by taking an anti-seizure medicine. Something was wrong with the way the electrical impulses in his brain were working. I can testify to having wrestled with mood issues, irritability, and spotty memory, until I was diagnosed with diabetes and put on medicine. I had someone tell me I wasn't qualified for the ministry, because of the "spiritual" faults. The failure to strongly look into the possibility of bodily causation for mood and behavior problems is a flaw in conservative evangelicalism. We know that negative spiritual attitudes (like bitterness or unbelief) can distort the mind. We believe in the existence of demons. We dislike the heavy medicating of children. But many in "my" group have an inadequate doctrine of the fallenness of nature, or the union of body with soul. We are so worried about promoting irresponsibility that we don't entertain the scientific hypothesis that something is _physically_ wrong. This is an area where my thinking has changed a great deal over the past ten years.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"Elder Led" vs "Elder Rule"


The Evangelical Free Church does not permit "elder-rule" governance in our churches, and I hope we never do.

The "elder-rule" movement seems to have started at Dallas Theological Seminary during the late 1970s, but has picked up a quasi-Reformed coloration to it over the decades. The essence of it is that the elders of a church are self-perpetuating and self-disciplining. Elders in a church self-appoint, and they cannot be removed by the congregation. One well-known church group that follows it is the Sovereign Grace churches. A second group that uses this leadership system are the Fellowship Bible churches, which were fostered by Dr. Gene Getz of DTS.

The "elder-rule" method, by insulating elders from congregational power, does not follow Scripture. Even under the Old Covenant, which was heavy with kings and priests, the people had the authority to execute judgment on their own leaders. To take life is the ultimate exercise of earthly authority. By implication of Moses' law, an Israelite elder who tried to turn the nation away from the living God would be executed by the people, not just by other elders (Dt.13:10). The people executed anyone who worshiped Molech (Lev. 20:2). God said they were all a royal priesthood (Exodus 19:6), not just the elders. The people of Israel were the congregation of the Old Covenant, and the people had the God-given right and responsibility to execute their own leaders under certain specific circumstances!

Christ continued this rule into the New Testament era, though He changed the implementation of discipline from execution to excommunication. God gave Israel the power of the sword, but He did not do so with the Church. Jesus was clear, in Matthew 18:15-20, that God assigned the power to evaluate and excommunicate to the entire congregation, not just with the elders. Paul reaffirms this rule, with a caution, in 1st Timothy 5:19-20. On one hand, Paul forbids the accusing of an elder on light or insufficient testimony (5:19). On the other hand, those elders who are found to be sinning should be publicly rebuked (5:20), and probably are removed due to no longer being above reproach (which is the standard in 1st Timothy 3:2).

This is why the "elder-rule" system lends itself to cronyism and abuse -- it is not accountable to the congregation. It also promotes church splits, since a congregation protesting elder-incompetence, malfeasance, or doctrinal error, has no alternative but to knuckle-under or leave. (A claim that an elder board will always take care of such things themselves is naive).

God is wise. He set up a system of checks-and-balances for the Church, which we ignore at our peril. A rebellious congregation is a shame on the name of Christ, but so is a system of lords-n-peasants. People should not be tenant-farmers in their own church! This is one reason why liberalism spreads so quickly and so decisively in episcopal and presbyterial systems -- as the episcopal fish rot from the heads down, the rot spreads because the bodies have no administrative authority to stop it.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Ethnic Identities

I'm feeling grateful that the only thing God asks of us to belong to His group is to love his son Jesus Christ in spirit and truth. Pity the poor soul who sincerely doesn't like the stuff that his or her defining family-group is nuts over. E.g., the beleaguered child dragged off to sports tournaments when he can't stand the game; some kid forced into AP classes when they'd rather be having fun fixing automobiles; someone forced to talk, or dress, or recreate, or vote in certain ways, or else they're condemned by their own community as "not one of us." It's great, in the warring confusion of fallen self-definitions, that the Lord only asks one thing of us.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What Happens To Believers Who Die During the 1,000 Year Reign of Christ?

What happens to aged believers during the 1,000 year reign of Christ upon the earth? Do they die? Go to heaven? 1. Rev. 20:14 says that death is not destroyed until the end of the 1,000 years. There is no reason why physical death can't exist on the planet during Christ's reign. A Christian doesn't become instantly holy the moment Christ reigns in his heart, so there's no reason why the earth would become instantly perfect physical the moment Christ visibly reigns from Jerusalem 2. So people still die during the 1,000 reign. The world is a tremendously better place during the 1,000 years, but it still isn't a perfect world. One of the minor prophets predict that nations like Egypt or Ethiopia will still rebel from time to time (Zechariah 14:16-19). These are not symbols, any more than the Messiah being born in Bethlehem was a symbol. 3. Those who die as unbelievers will be raised and judged at the end of the 1,000 years. Revelation 20:13. 4. What happens to believers who grow old and die during that time? The Bible doesn't say straight out. So dogmatism is not justified. 5. However, there is no need for them to go to heaven, since Christ has already returned to the earth. 6. God has directly transformed mortal believers into their immortal bodies before. God did that to Enoch and to Elijah, both of whom were translated into glory without dying. Their examples might be why some people make the educated guess that an aged believer would transform directly into their glorious new bodies, at some point in time

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Other Preacher At Lynchburg

While waiting at Georgetown College during my daughter's tutoring appointment, I read a fascinating little book titled "The Other Preacher At Lynchburg", by Dr. John Killinger. Killinger was an extremely liberal pastor who lived and worked in Lynchburg during the early 1980s. The book is an expose' against Jerry Falwell. I never especially liked Falwell at the time, and the more we learn as years go by, the more I never want to be like him. But I also thought that it's easy to make one's self look good, if you pit yourself against an obnoxious colossus, and that's what Killinger's book does. It is basically a self-flattering book by a man who calls himself a Christian, but based on the pillars of Christian orthodoxy was not one

Should You Get a 3-Day Vacation and a Plaque For Highest Number of Baptisms?

I misread a date, and as a result missed going to a evangelism conference with a friend. But my friend thinks maybe I should be glad I didn't go. According to him, they gave out applause, prizes and plaques to the preachers whose churches had baptized the greatest number of people. One preacher even got a three-day vacation stay at a resort! My friend is right, I would have sat there feeling appalled. Beside the fact that preachers often aren't the ones who actually led the particular people to Christ (more likely it was the believers in the congregation), whoever heard of rewarding preachers for baptisms like they were Kroger managers breaking quarterly sales goals? These convention was handing out plaques, while Paul in 1st Corinthians was saying that he and Apollos were nothing. Huge disconnect there between Scripture and practice.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

John Fletcher's Chronic Confusion

I have been reading selected works by John Fletcher, John Wesley's close associate. I am amazed how confused he was about salvation by grace. Instead of recognizing that the Bible sometimes spoke of eternal life by law and in other places spoke of eternal life by grace (with the first being impossible for any sinner to attain), Fletcher and Wesley habitually compounded grace and law into one. So if a Bible passage spoke of eternal life by doing good -- say, Jesus' instructions to the rich young ruler who didn't think he was a sinner, or Paul's words about attaining eternal life through continuously doing good from Romans 2 -- they always assumed that these were talking about the Gospel! They seem completely blind to the fact that the Old testament Law also offered eternal life, on the condition of perfect obedience. As a result of their partisan biases and poor interpretive principles, Wesley and Fletcher confusedly mingled passages together that should have been kept distinct, like yoking a donkey to an oxen. Paul was clear that salvation was by faith from first to last (Romans 1:17). In their obsessive anxiety over the sin of lawlessness (which they called antinomianism), they ignore legalism. They preached that you started off your initial salvation by faith, but you attain final salvation by good works. But many of their opponents were hyper-Calvinists like the Rev. John Gill, so that made Wesley and Fletcher look better in contrast. Thy assumed that any time the Bible promised eternal life, it automatically was talking about the Gospel, and because of that fundamental error, they ended up preaching salvation by works.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Mental Illness

There is a great deal of personality dysfunction that is rooted in foolish heart-attitudes. Bitterness, for example, warps the personality. Arrogance leads to violence. Just taking a pill isn't going to cure these things. Only repentance will work. But what about the unseen world? Messing around with the occult opens the mind up to demons. Demons are real, and they cause distortions of the mind and of moral desires and choices. The Gerasene demoniac would not have cut himself, or lived among the tombs, or been maniacally violent, except for his demonic possession. As soon as Christ cast out the evil spirits, his bizarre behaviors ceased. But thirdly: as long as our minds (which are spiritual, and not caused by our brains) are bonded to our bodies, then the sickness of our bodies can impact our minds. The Biblical doctrine of the fallenness of nature, combined with the Biblical view of man as a single, unitary being, means that there is such a thing as mental illness. The skeptic H.L. Mencken once wrote that for every complicated problem there is a simple, easy solution that is invariably wrong. We pastors often fall into this trap. We need to remember there are three possible explanations for mental dysfunction, and possibly a combination of all three. Sinful heart attitudes are one. Spiritual warfare is a second. Biological breakdown is a third. All three are real, and it isn't easy to discern what's going on. We should beware thinking in a simple-minded way.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Jealousy In the Ministry

I am reading a really good book on the life and ministry of Francis Schaeffer, but in the middle of it I felt convicted. There are Christian ministers I admire, and Schaeffer was one of them. But I can be so easily tempted to cross a line, from feeling inspired by someone else's example, to feeling jealous of their achievements. God created the scope of Schaeffer's work for him. I should not compare myself to the scope of his accomplishments, or anyone's accomplishments. Sometimes ministers are held up to young Christian men with the idea that we should drive to imitate them. Billy Graham, Francis Schaeffer, D.L. Moody, John Piper, it could be anyone. It is good to see what was admirable about other ministers, and try to imitate their virtues. It is not good to covet the scope of their influence or breadth of accomplishment. It just now occurs to me that some of those judges in the book of Judges -- the ones you learn almost nothing about, or who judged for only short periods of time -- might turn out to have been better judges than the well-known ones like Gideon.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Why Orderly Bible Preaching Is Better Than Topical Messages.

Expository Bible preaching grates against the consumer tastes of our age. The expository preacher presents God's Word in an orderly way, explains the meaning, and then applies. Bible exposition presents the Bible in this way: "Life is about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Bible is the only way God has given us so that we can savingly know Him. This book is God's unique Word. So, not only will this book give you answers, it will also challenge you to ask different questions." Bible exposition respects the authority of God's Word. The consumer mentality says, "No, life is about me. Life is about my issues, my questions, my needs. And I define my own needs. Don't tell me to stand before the Bible as if I will ever answer to it. It's job, and your job, is to please me. So I will go hear someone who will speak to my issues, with the entertainment factor I enjoy, giving me answers that I like.", And so our topical series are tailored to suit that spirit. As a result, our people are spiritually weak, sick, and many are unconverted. Topical preaching is sometimes good for pulpit counseling, or when there's been a crisis in the community. But the difference between expository preaching and typical topical preaching is like the difference between whole-grain bread and Pop-Tarts. People like Pop-Tarts. Yes, there is some nutrition in a Pop-Tart. But whole-grain bread is better, if long-term health and vitality is your goal. The apostle Paul said, "I have not withheld from you the whole counsel of God."