Reformation Day

Today is Reformation Day, October 31 – the celebration of the event that is the source of all Protestant denominations.

Yet in 99% of North American churches, including the one I attend, few or no words will be spoken of this great event. Sermons will not focus on it. This is truly a travesty and a betrayal of all those saints and martyrs who went before us by the Grace of our Lord.

It betrays the sad state of the visible church today. Mores the pity…

Beyond the Good-O-Meter

In the previous post containing the Good-O-Meter clip, I mentioned that the theology had some issues. What issues, you might ask?

Well, the meter implies in its evaluations that each of the lost individuals has some amount of good credited to them at judgment. It surges up to as much as the half way mark, then falls back to the level assigned by judgment – that of ‘bad’. Though this works well dramatically, it is very important to understand that this is not the case in reality. There is an implication that the ‘good’ parts of the individuals have some value before God. That is completely wrong.

Scripture is clear that all are tainted in every aspect, having no good at all unless they are regenerated in Christ. Works or virtues outside of Christ have no value whatsoever before God.

Isaiah 64:6 states it clearly “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment”

Even the finest virtues and character of the unregenerate are a ‘filthy garment’ before God. All of the virtues and any good that is done by the unregenerate is tainted by the imputed sin that is passed on to every one of Adam’s seed. Every superficially Godly or good dead is in fact an abomination to the Lord because it is done in a spirit of rebellion against Him and denial of Him. That makes every human being (past, present and future) that has not been saved unacceptable before a righteous and holy God. Scripture is again clear that nothing of them is counted as of any value.

So, in this clip, the meter should not move at all from initial ‘bad’ position except in the case of the regenerated.

That said, however, the most important point is made very clearly – salvation is through Christ Alone.

The Good-O-Meter…

The truth can be told in many forms. Though the theology of this is not perfect, it does make the essential point well – Christ Alone. (It is an old clip, so the resolution is poor)

Congregational Identity

In a previous post, A TULIP by any other name , I posed the question “So, how and to what degree should we seek theological clarity? Does it even matter?”.

A small church pastor of my acquaintance, some years ago, proposed that not only does it not matter but that giving it any importance is wrong and divisive. In the words of the Apostle Paul “May it never be!”.

We are in effect asking what purpose and value there is in theological inquiry, and if it is mandated biblically for the congregation at large. I would propose that not only is it mandated, but to do otherwise would be to ultimately revert to a pre-Reformation state, with an all powerful Magisterium. Further, this would reduce any real Bible reading to word repetition with only magical significance, again falling back to the Magisterium understanding. Surely this not where we are lead to go!

As to the mandate to study the Scriptures, we have only to cite the Bereans, who are praise as correct for searching the Scriptures day and night to attain understanding (Acts 17:11).

Now to the purpose and value there is in theological inquiry.

Let’s start by considering an underlying issue at hand. How does a church get its identity? Or more appropriately – how should a church get its identity? Any difference between the does and the should will help with our original question.

When you think of a church with which you are familiar, what do you think of?

Do you think of their great contribution to the community? Do you think of their great childrens programs and activities. What of their assistance to those in need physically or mentally? Do you think of the wonderful people who attend there? Do you think of their support for the family or marriage in trying times?

If those are the attributes that come to mind, then those are the things that form the identify of that church before the world, the things into which their energy and thought are poured.

All of these things are good in themselves, but are they the primary reason for the church to exist? Do they bring to mind the primary place that believers are to draw identity from? It would not appear so.

All of the attributes listed are supporting things of world. They are secular in nature. All are addressed by other good and honourable agencies, possibly even more effectively than by the church. Though these good works are certainly the hallmark of the church, they can not be the primary distinguishing characteristic because they are man-centered.

Man-centered activities are of the flesh by nature, derived from the mind of flesh. As such, they are can not lead to spiritual things. As Galatians 5:17 states “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

Things of the flesh and programs based upon it can not produce an identity that is based in the Lord. They are an anathema to one another and the identity produced is of the world.

Does this mean that this identity is bad or evil. Not at all. But is does mean that it, like the fallen man from whom it springs, is not of God and can not by definition truly please god. They do not develop an identity based in Christ. They can not. They are of the world and as such unacceptable before God. As Scripture states, they are clothed in “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6), no matter how good they appear.

Conversely, do think of the church in terms of their love of Christ, their dedication to His Word, their passion to understand it, their joyful worship, their passion for glorifying Christ and the Father in everything, almost forgetting their programs and such?

These are things of the Spirit. They lead to correct understanding and to correct standing before God. They are the reason that we were created.

Part of this pursuit is the desire to understand the precepts which the Lord has given us in His Word. To follow His precepts we must understand them and His Word is our source. So (as did the Bereans) we study them, their meaning and the resultant biblical doctrine as a first priority. Following this doctrine in common understanding gives us identity with its source.

The identity of the believers and their church should have nothing whatsoever to do with the programs, works and activities of worldly life. It must be grounded solely in the Word and its precepts (doctrine). This is where the true church draws its identity and the only way it can be know as belonging to Christ. This is precisely the opposite to the worldly focus initially described.

That said, this does not denying the value of programs and activities . They are invaluable. They are not, however, the basis of the church nor the primary focus of believers. They are fruit – an after effect of correct identity, when energy is focused upon Christ and the Word.

So, back to our original questions. The sole source of identity of the church, supporting the faith of believers, is the focus on our Lord and His worship, the seeking of theological truth from the Word and the communication of biblically correct doctrine.

These matters of theology are not small differences. Correct doctrine binds believers together in worship of God, creating a solid church. Without that, identity is a fleeting feeling based in programs that succeed or fail in the world. And without foundational agreement, the body is not solid, but frail.

Identity based upon worldly matters may in fact create a church, but it is not the church of Jesus Christ.

A TULIP by any other name…

For God says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I have mercy, and I will show compassion to whomever I show compassion.” So then, it does not depend on the person who wants it nor the one who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very reason I raised you up, in order to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. Romans 9:15-18

As believers, we serve a totally sovereign God, who demonstrates His absolute freedom in saving His elect as suits His own purposes. Being the result of His sovereign will alone, the calling of His elect proclaims that salvation does not depend upon man who wills or man who runs but on God who has mercy.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Giving Offence to God – Part 3

Finally, with all the peripheral groups dealt with, we come to the reason for this set to posts and the real question at hand.

2. The unbeliever actively praying.

Worldly sense would say that this person is actively ingratiating themselves to God by this act of supplication. You could say “Surely this brings blessing to this person?”.

First, their status before a Righteous and Holy God. As with all human beings (past, present and future), this unregenerate person is in open rebellion against God in two ways: 1. by not acknowledging Him as God, creator and sustainer of all that is (see Rom 3:20 below) , and not worshiping Him accordingly: and 2. by not believing in His Son as their sole saviour. Their failure is this regard results is their being wicked, as in our verse from the previous post.

The way of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD,  (Prov 15:3a)

Or the even more pointed

The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; (Prov 21:27a)

Notice that their are no caveats or exceptions. The wicked are always an abomination to the Lord. That means that their state makes everything they do an abomination to Him. Outside of salvation in Christ, can anyone be righteous in anything before God? No, not one (Rom 3:10b).

So, we have a person who is in active rebellion against what his Creator requires of him, who actively denies that Creator’s sovereignty and Son, approaching God in a way that He (God) has reserved for believers.

Let us think back in the Old Testament to Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron (Lev 10:1-2). What happened to them when they inappropriately performed what the Lord specified. Right! – the Lord put them to death. So, the Lord clearly takes a very dim view of those who approach Him inappropriate and with the wrong attitude of submission and worship.

Since, as mentioned above, the unregenerate person is inherently and completely tainted by sin, all that they do is similarly tainted and can not please God. Their rebellion is reflected in the essence of who they are and thus in everything that they do. Moreover, their execution of actions that are reserved for believers, who are pleasing to God, is an even greater affront to the Lord.

If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination. (Prov 28:9)

In conclusion -> This individual is putting themselves at further enmity with God by performing this act of supposed worship – digging the hole deeper, so to speak. They are incapable of acceptable worship or supplication in their spiritual condition and their attempt to approach God is an affront.

Unpleasant though it sounds, this is the biblical message, and it glorifies God by demonstrating His absolute, unwavering righteousness and justice. He is holy and can not abide unholiness.

Every unbeliever is called by all of creation around them to acknowledge the sole and total sovereignty of God. There are no exceptions.

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Rom 1:20)

They are further called to repent of their worldly self and turn to His only son Jesus Christ.

Only then are their worship and supplications acceptable to God – becoming a living sacrifice and “a pleasant aroma to the Lord.  (Numbers 15:13)

For the Glory of God alone!

 

Giving Offence to God – Part 2

So, the big question is, what about the unbeliever who is doing the praying. They are, after all, praying for good things.

As mentioned previously, their prayer is being used by God for both the benefit of the elect and the sanctification and definite redemption of His creation. Does this count as redemptive credit to the unbeliever, in some way bringing them closer to salvation?

The short answer, to steal a phrase from Paul, is “May it never be!”. In other words – absolutely not. In fact, quite the opposite, as we shall see.

Actually there are two groups to consider here: unbelievers passively in the audience and the unbeliever praying.

1. The passive unbelieving attendee

To be clear, this is not the ‘yet unsaved’ member of the elect. They were dealt with in the Part 1 post.

This is the remaining, non-elect, passive unbelieving attendees.

“The way of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but he loves him who pursues righteousness.” Prov 15:9

Since all of the fallen, that is all of mankind throughout all of the ages since the Fall, are at enmity with God by default, in active rebellion against Him, and serving Satan, nothing in this situation affects their status. The wicked are all those who are not redeemed.

However, that is not to say that they do not contribute to God’s program of redemption, but only that this contribution (since God uses all things to the benefit of His program) does not benefit or change their status before Him. The only thing that can change that is salvation.

Further, since this situation, like all of creation, confronts them with the sovereignty of God, they are herein implicitly commanded to acknowledge His sovereignty. Their denial and failure to do so is an ongoing affront (wickedness) to Him.

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, being understood by what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their reasonings, and their senseless hearts were darkened.” Romans 1:20-21

 

 

 

 

Giving Offence to God – Part 1

In a post a while ago (Five Points and Luke 6:45-49) I stated “Now, in reference to apparent good verbal acts of the unsaved, these are good in the natural sense. They can not, however, appear good to God since their root does not emanate from God.” I would like to follow this train of thought a bit further. Fasten your set belt please, as the going may get a tad rough.

Let me pose a scenario: You are visiting a group of friends or family, and you sitting down to a meal together. Or you are at a large, primarily secular gathering, for the meal. Countless other scenes are possible in your memory I am sure. In line with modern inclusiveness, ecumenical sensitivity, and in deference to you or other ‘religious’ folk in the room, the non-Christian leader says a prayer for the meal and all who are in attendance.

Now let us look thru a Biblical lens at the attitude of God to and the efficacy of this praying.

We know that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28). First, this covers the believers in attendance. This is not qualified and is irrespective of the current circumstance. It is also exclusive. That is, God works in the interests of His elect only. As such, they are blessed. I think that I would even extend this to any yet unsaved elect in attendance, since they are headed for the Lord, so to speak.

Next, “all things work together for good” is inclusive of all circumstances, working for the ongoing sanctification and redemption of the elect in God’s purposes. So we have not only individual benefit to the elect but also to the Lord’s “purposes” in creation. This would included the benefit to the earth of eventually being released from the effects of the Fall, under which it continually suffers (Romans 8:19-23). Again, this is irrespective of circumstance or in this case who is the active agent in the scenario.

So God uses all circumstances for the good of His elect and His creation, all in the movement forward of His program.

Since He is absolutely sovereign in all things, there are no surprises or variances to Him. His program can not be thwarted and even the worst scenario will be used in the interest of the elect and towards Heaven.

Next, the sticky part…

Minor points of theology?

In conversation quite some time ago, with the pastor of a small church, he referred to the difference between a faith based on the Doctrines of Grace and one based upon a Doctrine of Works as a minor point of theology. It was certainly not worthy of real discussion, let alone argument.

He was particularly concerned that someone might consider the difference between Limited Atonement and Unlimited Atonement of any significance to their faith.

What could I say? The time and place were not appropriate for getting into a brew ha ha, but I was almost speechless. My previous experience also said that any short discussion would prove fruitless and divisive if his mind was already made up.

That said, if one truly considers matters of foundational doctrinal identity to be of no real importance, what then IS of importance?

In the end, he was of the “let’s just forget all this doctrinal silliness and love Jesus” school. He did not realize that he was thereby challenging the actual efficacy of the work of Jesus and the extent  of His love for us.

So, how and to what degree should we seek theological clarity? Does it matter? The answer is: Of course it does, because clarity brings conviction irrespective of circumstance. Without clarity, faith is merely based on wish and whim.

 

Five Points and Luke 6:45-49

“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” Luke 6:45.

Some time ago I heard a sermon on this and several following verses from Luke. I actually wrote about it elsewhere. The sermon made a number of good points surrounding human communications difficulties. The thrust of the sermon was that when words are exchanged (whether good or bad), it is not just the words that are important, but the fact that they implicitly reveal the state of the speaker’s heart. As such, communications problems (in this particular sermon, those between the sexes, often in the heat of the moment) must be addressed as heart issues as much as, if not more than, issues of verbal technique. A very good point! And to take it to the obvious next step, to alter the symptomatic expressions in a vacuum is unlikely to yield real, long lasting success.

Thinking about this, both then and later, it would seem that this principle should be extended to other communications, possibly even less direct modes of communication.

For the moment I wish to address only the case of the believer. For the believer, it struck me that one can delve beyond the initial reality that words expose the heart. The tone of that heart, expressed implicitly through the words, is a reflection or barometer of the speaker’s level of confidence in the Grace of our Lord, in a very personally sense. Surely the major component of the good treasure that is stored up in our hearts is the conviction and confidence that not only are we the Lord’s by His power and not our own, but also that in this belonging is an unchanging reality that was established by Him, not us.

If this is not the case, and if indeed the good or even the bad treasure of our hearts is established even marginally by us, then problems arise and our eternity exists on very shaky ground indeed. Scripture states (Jeremiah 17:9) that by virtue of its fallen nature the heart is bad (evil) and that none are worthy to be saved, not one. We are both collectively and individually portrayed as utterly lost in our trespasses and sin. These trespasses and sins are always against God, irrespective of the external circumstance, since He is the standard beyond all circumstance. Since (Romans 3:12) bad can not create good of itself, we are without any ability to alter our basic nature. That being the case, intervention from outside our natural state is required for change to occur. There is no other possibility. Proverbs 28:8 sums it up well, in that even the prayers of unbelievers are “an abomination to the Lord.”

If whatever treasure is in the heart is established by us, outside His intervention, it can not be of Him and thereby can not be truly good – that is, of Him. In that case, any apparent good treasure must be from who we are naturally, and be jaundiced by that natural state from which it springs. What subsequently issues forth from that heart, appearances not withstanding, in the form of words can not be other than similarly jaundiced. This can in no way truly glorify a totally holy God.

Now, in reference to apparent good verbal acts of the unsaved, these are good in the natural sense. They can not, however, appear good to God since their root does not emanate from God. They must therefor fall short before Him no matter how they might appear in the world or what temporal benefit they might exact. They are based in the natural world and its standards of good. They are based on the standards of heaven, which are only achievable through the representation of Christ.

On the other hand, once the heart is changed by the Spirit (again, by the Spirit because the natural man is defined scripturally as completely lost, unable to create good from evil, and thereby unable to change himself) the good exists as the core of his nature, though not completely perfected until sanctification is completed. That path of sanctification, from imperfection to perfection, is certainly one of progressive and at times even faltering change. However, within is the heart claimed by God and regenerated with a core of good. Even at the beginning, but more as the process unfolds, the heart is progressively purified, and so must be the result in the words issuing from it, irrespective of the topic or situation.

A later point made in the same sermon was that, in the end, the heart issue comes down to the issue of rightness with God – that is, salvation. Clearly this is true, since it is from the movement of the Spirit, as evidenced in salvation, that the change of heart occurs.

All this is to say that though words are a good barometer for the heart, they are an even better barometer for self analysis and accountability within ones self, and within our close family in the Lord. What is required is the courage to examine both aspects of our communications and their implications. Only we will truly see the dichotomy between our own heart, how we would like it to be, and the evidence of its expression. A powerful tool in the process, and one that should humble us.

Accordingly, the remedy for the communications slips that we all exhibited in our imperfect state is not communications training, but heart training. Since we, as natural men (or women) are incapable of exacting change from our natural state and can not train our own hearts, the only remedy is to humbly seek change from the Lord, in prayer and the Word. That is the only venue for this development.

Further, in this we can only seek His face. Since it is His sovereign hand that exacts the continued change, on His timetable, we can only bring supplication and worship in obedience. Therein lies the solution, the final part being to rest in confidence in His eternal plan, sufficiency and preservation of the elect.

And once again, I never said easy.

“the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart” Matthew 15:18

Further, for those who would object that we might be in some way entitled to understand the situation more completely, I would cite one of my favourites.

“”The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Deuteronomy 29:29