28 February 2007

Black, no sugar

by Frank Turk

I'm arguing with iMonk about a paper Dr. Ed Stetzer delivered to an SBC conference on Southern Baptist Identity regarding the implementation of "missional" strategies in home missions. You can read Dr. Stetzer's paper here (it's a pdf, so dial-uppers beware) if you are interested. While I agree with the flavor of Dr. Stetzer's paper, and its conclusion, I'm troubled that some people are reading this paper and thinking that the problem is all about stodgy SBC old men not giving the next generation a chance to carry on. Part of the problem, really, is what constitutes valid forms of cooperation.

And some more of the problem -- in fact, I would say that the lion's share of the problem -- is exemplified by Tim Keller.

[dramatic pause]

No, I'm not about to out Tim Keller as a crypto-heretic. I like Tim Keller -- I have never heard him speak or preach where I didn't say, "geez, that's good." But the problem is that "missionals" want to say, "Listen: we're all like Tim Keller. Trust us." And the fact is that most of them -- the majority of them -- are nothing like Tim Keller. If they were, most of the complaints about "emerging" church types would never come to light.

So the black coffee, no-sugar Wednesday update from me is this: if missionals want to be trusted the way any right-minded person trusts Tim Keller, they should be more like him. And for the espresso shot to chase that, if you don't understand what that means, you probably aren't ready to lecture anyone on what being "missional" is.

That's from a layman who teaches at his church, has his pastor read his blog for accountability, and for the invasively curious, has also started driving through that trailer park and praying for those people in preparation for talking to them about the Gospel.

Talk amongst yourselves, and go about your day.

27 February 2007

A word to Christian yoots

by Dan Phillips

As I am reading through Proverbs, it strikes me that I may aim my posts too narrowly. When I write I think of male and female, married and single, pastors and not. But usually I am writing to adults, folks who have established their own homes.

But surely not all our readers are adult. Surely some are single teens and twenties (--and thirties?), still under their parents' authority and/or roof. The Bible addresses such frequently. It occurs to me that I should do the same, at least from time to time. (And besides, the rest of you can use the material in your ministry to the "yoots.")

Here is the verse that put this thought to me:
A wise son makes a father glad,
But a foolish man despises his mother
(Proverbs 15:20 NKJ)
My own rewording of the verse's contrast is "Glad dad / glum mum." Let's see who makes who what, and how, and why.

Here's the DPUV: "A wise son makes his father rejoice,\But a stupid man belittles his mother." Proverbs, by nature, speaks in black and white generalities. So it is here: the wise son is contrasted with the stupid man (kesîl); the glad, happy, rejoicing father is contrasted with — well, with whom?

The glad dad is contrasted, the ESV says, with a despised mother. Now first, the presence of the mother is worth noting. Sometimes it is said that Proverbs focuses solely on males, and we see here that this is not entirely true. Also, it is said that the "father" and the "son" are simply teacher and student, respectively, in a school or courtly setting. If so, then, who is the "mother"? The secretary? Hardly. My revolutionary suggestion is that "mother" means "mother."

But what of despise? English translations use this word lazily and misleadingly, I think. We associate despise with strong negative emotions, such as those I feel towards any kind of squash, or loudmouth actors.

This isn't that. It is from the verb bāzâ, of which Bruce Waltke in TWOT says:
The basic meaning of the root is "to accord little worth to something." While this action may or may not include overt feelings of contempt or scorn, the biblical usage indicates that the very act of undervaluing something or someone implies contempt.
So the stupid man looks down on his mother, sees her as of little worth or value, regards her disdainfully and contempt. My own little mnemonic device for the feel of bāzâ is "Buzz off!"

In this, the stupid child exhibits the opposite of the attitude Yahweh enjoins as the fifth commandment, which is the first horizontal commandment: "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you" (Exodus 20:12; cf. Ephesians 6:1-3). To honor (kabbēd) means to give weight to, to regard and treat with respectful deference, to show honor to. In some texts, the two words ("despise" and "honor") are semantic opposites (cf. Psalm 15:4; Malachi 1:6).

How does the wise child do that? Proverbs itself probably gives us a lot of guidance here. The wise child listens hard and closely to his father (Proverbs 2:1), and memorizes it (3:1; 6:21-23). He does not merely remain outwardly silent but inwardly inattentive; he gives his heart to his father (23:26). He gives his parents rest and delight (29:17).

Other texts grant still more light, which would take us beyond a simple essay. Leviticus 19:3 adds an imperative to revere; the Hebrew tîrā'û ("fear") introduces that element found so frequently in Scripture, and so seldom in our society, of a submissive respect that conditions a heart genuinely to shrink from giving offense. Malachi 1:6 treats this honor a son owes his father as a duty, something inherent in the relationship.

By contrast, in Proverbs the foolish child is neglectful during his years of instruction and learning (10:5), disregards what he has been taught (19:27), is abusive and insulting to his parents (19:26), is stupid (17:25; 19:13), ignores correction (13:1), and hangs around with the sorts of people his father warned him against (1:10; 24:21; 28:7).

If the stupid man embodies the opposite of the Fifth Commandment, the wise son embraces and embodies its values. We read that the wise son makes his father glad, rejoicing, merry. Doesn't this do what Proverbs so often does—give specificity to the Law's generality? A legalistic rebel could think that by hewing to the bare letter of the Law, by giving the bare minimum of compliance to orders when given, he is honors his father and mother. But God has more in mind than bare, grudging, occasional outward compliance to parental commands.

The wise son embraces his father's values, and seeks to please him, to make him happy—not just to avoid getting in trouble. His measuring line is not merely, "How much can I get away with?" It is "How can I please my parents?"

"Any parents?" one might ask. The focus of the proverb (and this essay) is on the child, but I'd feel amiss if I didn't re-state the obvious. This is a proverb. It is brief and pointed, and makes certain assumptions. Would a believing child be expected to make a Baal-worshiping dad happy in every way? Of course not. The assumption is a wise parent, operating within the bounds of his delegated sphere of authority.

This proverb, then, is a down-home picture of two children: one responds to the Fifth Commandment in the warmth and enthusiasm of a living faith. The other does not.

Questions for application: Do you really honor your father and your mother? What part does their upbringing and their teaching play in your major decisions? Do you even consult them, let alone give weight to their input?

Do you think, not just of not angering them, or what you can get away with—but actually of gladdening your parents, making them happy by your choices, attitude, behavior?

Can your friends bear witness to the respect and honor in which you hold your mother and father? Do you bring them around to show your parents off to your friends, and to show your parents how you've taken their counsel to heart in who you associate with (Proverbs 13:20)? Is it obvious to all your friends that you think God gave you pretty neat parents? Or do you clearly act embarrassed by them? Is your behavior anything like Solomon's very public honor shown his mother (1 Kings 2:19)? Do you treat your parents as optional, dispensable "extras" in the drama of your life?

Or let's just bring it home like this. What if I were to look at your father, your mother, as they think about you? What would I see?

Glad Dad?

Or glum Mum?

Confession: I wish I could say this post is about "how to be a godly kid...as I was!" The truth lies far more in the opposite direction. In my testimony, I asked and answered: "Had I dishonored my father and mother? Since I could talk." That wasn't much of an exaggeration. If I wasn't born with a disrespectful, backtalking mouth, I developed it soon enough.

And I wish I could say it changed from black to white instantly, on the day of my conversion. I can't. But I can say that it began to change, I came to see it had to change, and God started me working on that change for the rest of my parents' lives. It did take work.

Our culture is not conducive to respect of anyone, much less our parents, least of all our fathers. I used to fit in just fine with that culture, more's the shame.

But when God saves us, He changes our culture. He transfers our citizenship from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). We have different standards, and different values.

And home's where we need to show them first.

(BTW, my pastor preached an excellent sermon on just this theme, from Ephesians 6:1-4. Some of his on-target applications are woven into my essay.)

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26 February 2007

The Wrong Kind of Unity

by Phil Johnson

he unity Christ prayed for in the church is not, to begin with, an organizational unity.

When Jesus prayed that we all might be one, He was describing a spiritual unity. In John 17:11, He prayed "that they may be one, even as We are." Verse 21 continues: "that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us."

That describes a very specific kind of spiritual unity that proceeds from our union with Christ. Christ Himself likens it to the unity between Father and Son. It is certainly not something as mundane and superficial as the homogenization of all churches under one earthly hierarchy of bishops in Rome or Constantinople.

Organizational unity cannot guarantee true spiritual unity, and the proof is seen in the Church of Rome herself. Despite all the Catholic finger-wagging about the lack of unity reflected in Protestant denominationalism, there may well be more disharmony within the Roman Catholic Church than there is in the typical Protestant denomination.

Take, for example, Catholic Answers, the apologetics organization headed by Karl Keating. Although Keating and Catholic Answers did not invent the argument that Protestant denominationalism disproves sola fide, they certainly have perfected and popularized it. Staff apologists from Catholic Answers are the chief ones who brought this issue to the forefront of the Catholic-Protestant debate.

Catholic Answers published the tract cited in the first post in this series. And Keating himself personally trained a number of pro-Catholic debaters to employ this argument in their dialogues with Protestants.

Catholic Answers has hammered this same theme for years. According to them, an infallible, magisterial interpretation of Scripture is the only thing that can assure true unity, and the continuing proliferation and fragmentation of Protestant denominations is living proof that there can be no unity under the principle of sola scriptura.

Suppose for the sake of argument we grant their premises and measure the Catholic apologists themselves by their own standard? Keating is arguably the most prominent of dozens of Catholic apologists on the Internet. All of them claim they have an infallible interpretation of Scripture, given to them through the magisterium of Rome. So how has the principle of "unity" fared in the Roman Catholic apologetics community?

Not very well, it turns out. To cite one well-known example, Keating has disavowed and waged war on the Internet for several years against one of his best-known former lieutenants, Gerry Matatics, a convert from Protestantism who now heads an organization of his own. The trouble began, it seems, when Matatics declared his preference for traditional Catholicism with a Latin Mass, while Keating is staunchly in favor of the innovations instituted by the Vatican II Council—including the new Mass in the vernacular.

In 1995, Keating said he considered Matatics "a sad example of how schism leads very quickly to heresy." [The Wanderer, February 16, 1995 p. 7.] Keating has published a number of articles over the years in This Rock magazine warning other Catholics against his former associate's influence. [e.g., Karl Keating, "Habemus Papam?" This Rock (July/August 1995).] Both sides took their case to the World Wide Web, posting articles and open letters, debating whether Keating or Matatics best represents the "Catholic" position. [See, for example, "An Open Letter to Mr. Gerry Wells in Defense of Gerry Matatics"]

The battle raged for several years while Matatics remained in full communion with Rome. Then in early 2005, Matatics embraced a view known as sedevacantism, which is the opinion that no legitimate pope has occupied the Holy See since the death of Pius XII. Ostensibly, this involves a kind of auto-excommunication. According to Dave Armstrong (himself a lay Catholic apologist), when Matatics renounced the current pope,
he incurred latae sententiae (automatic excommunication), based on cc. 751 and 1364 of the Code of Canon Law. The first states: the aforesaid canons defines schism as "refusal of subjection to the Roman Pontiff, or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him". The second states that the penalty for is automatic excommunication.

Matatics, of course, still considers himself a Roman Catholic—a truer Catholic than those who accept Vatican II. The ironic thing is that virtually every pope for the 450 years before Vatican II would have much more in common with Matatics than with Keating in their respective opinions about the Mass. (So much for semper eadem.)

And Matatics is not the only Roman Catholic apologist to wage a public feud with Keating. Robert A. Sungenis is still at it.

Such feuds are symptomatic of several larger conflicts within the Catholic Church. Keating is a "conservative Catholic," whereas Sungenis is a "traditionalist." The Roman Catholic Church is home to vast differences of opinion about the Marian doctrines, confusion about supposed Marian prophecies, disputes over canon law, and other deep-seated disagreements about important doctrines. Various factions and sects operate within the walls of the Catholic Church, waging polemic battles as lively and intense as any that ever took place between Protestant denominations.

Add into that mix the scores of radical or liberal priests who blend their peculiar doctrinal and political preferences into the Catholic system, and you have a chaos of varying opinions that is at least equal to that of even the most variegated Protestant denomination.

The simple fact is that there is really no more unity of agreement among Roman Catholics than there is among Protestants. Even with an "infallible interpretation" of Scripture, it seems, the Roman Catholic track record on true spiritual unity is as bad as, or worse than, that of the Protestants.

How much "unity" can there be, for example, between, say, Father Andrew Greely and Mother Angelica (to name two of America's best-known Catholics)? Greely is a liberal priest and novelist, who once said on "Larry King Live" that he believes the Catholic Church eventually will not only ordain women as priests, but also elect a woman as pope. Mother Angelica is a traditionalist Franciscan nun who has used her televised talk show to criticize other Catholic leaders, including Cardinal Richard Mahoney, for their non-traditionalist stance on liturgical matters.

Do Catholic critics of Protestant denominationalism seriously imagine that their Church embodies a pure, visible, organizational, and spiritual unity comparable in any way to the unity within the Trinity?

In fact, with so many who profess loyalty to Peter's chair waging battle amongst themselves over church politics and key points of truth, it should be painfully obvious to all that Roman Catholics are really no better able to agree on their own Church's "infallible interpretation" than Protestants have been able to agree in exhaustive detail on the meaning of Scripture itself.

Clearly, an external, organizational unity cannot guarantee the kind spiritual unity Christ was praying for. It would be a serious mistake, and a serious blow to real unity, to imagine that the answer to our denominational division is the abandonment of denominations altogether, and the union of all who profess Christ into one massive worldwide organization where we affirm only what we all agree on. No real agreement whatsoever would be achieved through such means, and thus we would have no more true unity than we already enjoy. Meanwhile, the cause of truth would suffer a severe blow, and that would ultimately prove fatal to all genuine unity.

But the unity Scripture calls us to is a unity in truth. Paul wrote, "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Cor. 1:10). He did not counsel the Corinthians to grasp for a superficial unity by setting truth aside and embracing an organizational unity without regard to sound doctrine. Nor did Paul order them to abandon their differences and simply place a blind and implicit trust in his apostolic magisterium. He was urging them to work through their differences and strive to achieve unity in both heart and mind. Such unity is possible only when people are themselves in union with Christ. "For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16).

That is precisely the kind of unity Christ was praying for. There is nothing superficial about it. It is a unity of spirit. It is a unity in truth. And that is why, in the context of his prayer for unity, Christ also prayed, "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth" (John 17:17).

Phil's signature

25 February 2007

False "Unity" and the Duty of Separation

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote space at the beginning of each week to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "True Unity Promoted," a sermon preached at the morning service on New Year's Day 1865, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London.

n former days, when some of the Churches of Christ began to shake off the yoke of Popedom from their necks, the plea urged against reformation was the necessity of maintaining unity. "Ye must bear with this ceremony and that dogma; no matter how antichristian and unholy, you must bear with it, 'endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.'"

So spake the old serpent in those early days. "The Church is one; woe unto those who shall create schism! It may be true that Mary is set up in the place of Christ, that images are worshipped, cast clouts and rotten rags adored, and pardons bought and sold for crimes of every kind; it may be that the so-called Church has become an abomination and a nuisance upon the face of the earth; but still, 'endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,' you must lie down, restrain the testimony of the Spirit of God within you, keep his truth under a bushel, and let the lie prevail."

This was the grand sophistry of the Church of Rome. When, however, she could not seduce men by talking of love and union, she took upon herself to use her natural tone of voice, and cursed right and left right heartily: and let her curse till she expires!

Brethren, there was no force in the argument of the Papist. Ephesians 4:3 bids us endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit, but it does not tell us to endeavor to maintain the unity of evil, the unity of superstition, or the unity of spiritual tyranny. The unity of error, of false doctrine, of priestcraft, may have in it the spirit of Satan; we do not doubt that; but that it is the unity of the Spirit of God we do utterly deny. The unity of evil we are to break down by every weapon which our hand can grasp: the unity of the Spirit which we are to maintain and foster is quite another thing.

Remember that we are forbidden to do evil that good may come. But it is to do evil; to restrain the witness of the Spirit of God within us; to conceal any truth which we have learned by revelation of God; to hold back from testifying for God's truth and Word, against the sin and folly of man's inventions, would be sin of the blackest hue. We dare not commit the sin of quenching the Holy Spirit, even though it were with the view of promoting unity.

But the unity of the Spirit never requires any sinful support; that is maintained not by suppressing truth, but by publishing it abroad. The unity of the Spirit has for its pillars, among other things, the witnessing of spiritually enlightened saints to the one faith which God has revealed in his Word. That is quite another unity which would gag our mouths and turn us all into dumb driven cattle, to be fed or slaughtered at the will of priestly masters.

Dr. McNeil has, very properly, said that a man can scarcely be an earnest Christian in the present day without being a controversialist. We are sent forth today as sheep in the midst of wolves: can there be agreement? We are kindled as lamps in the midst of darkness: can there be concord? Hath not Christ himself said, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword?" You understand how all this is the truest method of endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit; for Christ the man of war, is Jesus the Peacemaker; but in order to the creation of lasting, spiritual peace, the phalanx of evil must be broken, and the unity of darkness dashed to shivers.

I pray God evermore to preserve us from a unity in which truth shall be considered valueless, in which principle gives place to policy, in which the noble and masculine virtues which adorn the Christian hero are to be supplemented by an effeminate affectation of charity. May the Lord deliver us from indifference to his word and will; for this creates the cold unity of masses of ice frozen into an iceberg, chilling the air for miles around: the unity of the dead as they sleep in their graves, contending for nothing, because they have neither part nor lot in all that belongs to living men. There is a unity which is seldom broken, the unity of devils, who, under the service of their great liege master, never disagree and quarrel: from this terrible unity keep us, O God of heaven! The unity of locusts who have one common object, the glutting of themselves to the ruin of all around, the unity of the waves of Tophet's fire, sweeping myriads into deeper misery: from this also, O King of heaven, save us evermore!

May God perpetually send some prophet who shall cry aloud to the world "Your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand." May there ever be found some men, though they be rough as Amos, or stern as Haggai, who shall denounce again and again all league with error and all compromise with sin, and declare that these are the abhorrence of God.

Never dream that holy contention is at all a violation of Ephesians 4:3. The destruction of every sort of union which is not based on truth, is a preliminary to the edification of the unity of the Spirit. We must first sweep away these walls of untempered mortar—these tottering fences of man's building—before there can be room to lay the goodly stones of Jerusalem's walls one upon the other for lasting and enduring prosperity.
C. H. Spurgeon

24 February 2007

Baring my musical soul

by Phil Johnson

arlene and I are flying to Dallas first thing this morning. We'll be there less than 48 hours. I'm filling the pulpit Sunday morning and evening at Countryside Bible Church. Their pastor, Tom Pennington, is in Russia, teaching pastors there.

I intend to post Sunday's regular Spurgeon excerpt. I'm also planning to continue my short series on schism Monday morning. Then the rest of the week I need to devote to final preparations for the Shepherds' Conference. So if such a thing were possible, I'll be even more scarce around here than I have been for the past few weeks.

I've really been getting a lot of work done, lately, though.

One thing that's occupied some of my spare time this week is getting my iPod more organized. I've more than filled the allotted 60 gigs, so it's imperative that I keep everything organized. I really like the iTunes feature that keeps the album artwork with the music. (When you've got 12 versions of Ravel's "Le Tombeau de Couperin," it helps to associate each recording with something visual.) So I've been scanning old, stray CD covers. My whole CD collection (2,000+ albums) is now ripped to iTunes and every album's cover is scanned in. I freed up a whole closet in the house by boxing up those CDs and storing them in the garage.

In the process, I have been paying more attention to my iTunes stats, and some of the data have really surprised me. I listen to a lot of music. I play my iPod in the car, at work, and in the background when I am blogging. I even put it on when I am going to sleep at night. iTunes keeps a record of everything I listen to, and I'm sure there's subliminal meaning in the data. Here are some key facts about my listening habits that may provide a window for you to peer into my soul:

  • The single most-played cut on my iPod is a recording of Aaron Copland's "Las Agachadas," an a capella chorus in Spanish, whose words liken priestly genuflections to a drunken dance. It's a very snappy and appealing little tune, which I always had trouble finding when I used to have to dig the right CD out of my collection and find the right track. Since getting an iPod, it seems I have played that track some 429 times. No. Make that 430.
  • Of my top twenty-five most-played tracks, only a couple are in English. The top two are Spanish; several are Latin; one is Italian; two are in Hindi; five are German; and one is in Russian.
  • Not one track in my "Top 25 most-played" could be classified as "contemporary Christian Music."
  • My largest playlist consists solely of Bach Cantatas. It currently has 1103 discrete tracks; and if I looped it, it would play nonstop for 2.5 days before returning to the first track. Even so, my collection of Bach Cantatas is nowhere near complete.
  • I've listened to Cantata BWV 95 ("Christus, der ist mein Leben") exactly 95 times. But it's not my most-listened to Bach Cantata.
  • Another playlist, "Hymns," has 381 tracks. It would play nonstop for 21 hours before repeating a track. The most-played track on that list, at 93, is a stirring version of "Now Thank We All Our God."
  • Based on the cumulative play-counts, however, my favorite musician, apparently, isn't even a baroque or classical artist. It's Perez Prado, king of the mambo. Go figure.
  • My newest addition (see right sidebar) is a minimalist composition by Gavin Bryars, titled "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet." The story behind this hypnotic but truly touching piece fascinates me. The vocals are done by a tramp who lived and died in the shadow of London's Metropolitan Tabernacle.
  • My all-time favorite recording, originally recorded in the 1960s on 35-millimeter film (how'd they do that?) is the version of Rachmaninov's second symphony by William Steinberg with the Pittsburgh Symphony. It's been unavailable on CD until recently, when a couple of privately-produced and digitally remastered editions became available on the Internet. I ordered one immediately, of course. Since it's a new addition to my iPod, it doesn't show up in my most-played lists yet. That will no doubt change by this time next year.
  • Lest you get the impression I'm more spiritual than I really am, I should confess that my Spike Jones playlist has 385 tracks, and it would play nonstop for some 20 hours. (Note to self: download some more classic hymns.)
  • The entire library cataloged by my iTunes program currently fills 81 gigs. It consists of 13,422 tracks, which would take 92 days, 21 hours, 47 minutes, and 15 seconds to play through consecutively. I'm not bored with it yet.

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23 February 2007

My poor inbox

by Frank Turk

Yes, Good Morning.

Listen: in Wednesday's post, I made reference to posting on the same subject at my own blog, and I made good on that by posting not once, but twice. And in those posts, most of this has been covered.

However, many of you have not read those posts. (So much for my memo pad, Dan.) And you have e-mailed me about your situation -- which I never have any problem with -- and have told me that I have gone too far. For example, some of you have left pseudo-Christian cults where they have "pastors" and "churches" and "elders" and a "congregation" after you had realized, through reading the Bible, that these cults (Mormonism, JWs, Oneness, Unitarians, etc.) were defaming God with their false teaching. Doesn't my post overlook that?

Well: no. I said don't leave your church, not "don't leave your cult." For the record, those of you who were baptized in those organizations ought to think about whether you have ever even been legitimately baptized. Leaving those organizations for a church is not the same thing as leaving a church with an orthodox confession of faith over even grave matters where some are denying that confession. Matthew 18 applies in that situation; it doesn't apply if you are worship a guy from the planet Kolob any more than it applies to those who worshipped Zeus or refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah of whom the Prophets foretold.

Some are e-mailing me and saying, "Cent, my pastor wouldn't listen to me." That's a fair concern: does Matthew 18 stop there? Your obligation doesn't stop just because he won't live up to his -- but if you cannot get a fair hearing, made in love and not as a lynch mob, because the institution is standing in the way of the Biblical method of resolution, you should consider yourself turned out -- and do what seems right if they don't want you around. But you have an obligation to find out if that's what's going on. You're not leading an inquisition if you know others agree with you and you approach the matter with humility and, frankly, a heavy heart.

And others are confused over why one would want to stay and "cause trouble." Listen: I didn't say "stay and cause trouble." Matthew 18 doesn't say "stay and cause trouble." It says "get reconciled to your brother." Most people see that as one of the "easy" teachings of Jesus, but that's one of the hardest teachings of Jesus. You stay because you are seeking to be reconciled to your brother.

Think about that, please. In Matthew 18, it doesn't say, "If your brother has done you wrong, wait for him to bring it up because it's only a decent apology if he engages you first -- and if he doesn't bring it up but instead keeps doing it, book." It says, "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother." You go and make your case in order to gain him back.

I am sure there are other questions which are going to come up about this -- some have even accused me of making an unbiblical case, but of course those people didn't actually provide me with the Biblical one (yet -- some of them may be working on that, especially after post #2 at my blog). Feel free to keep the discussion open, but also remember that these posts don't occur in a vacuum. I'm still the same guy who said all the other things I have said in time and space, and you have to take some of that into consideration when you start with the "whaddabouts".

Thanks. Be with the Lord's people in the Lord's house on the Lord's day this week, and try to make it right with them. Ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building.

22 February 2007

How to be a pathetic leader

by Dan Phillips

There are many layers to the pivotal narrative of Exodus 32. The chapter starts out, "When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, 'Up, make us gods...'" I've often thought that this reflected early church history. When Jesus did not return immediately, the church headed off to the idol-worship in which we now see Rome firmly embedded.

But let us focus on Aaron's response to the situation. As Moses' second-in-command and designated High Priest, it fell to him to lead the people in Moses' absence. He is faced with a crisis. He must respond; and respond he does. In so doing, Aaron gives us a virtual How-to manual in bad leadership.

So if you want to lead like Aaron led — well, God help you, and God help those you lead. But here's how to do it:
  1. Give the people what they want, regardless (vv. 2ff.). Or, we could word it this way: "Allow your leadership to be driven by the people's felt needs." Now, as we discussed earlier over at my blog, Aaron had already seen that the masses could be flat-out dead wrong. He knew they'd already been as fickle as a presidential candidate. But they were there, visible, loud, and right in front of him. At the moment, God was none of those things. So Aaron went with the loud and visible.
  2. Give yourself "cover" (v. 4). Aaron is slicker than a pig in a Vaseline factory here. Translators and interpreters ever since have puzzled over whether they said "These are your gods" (ESV), meaning the golden calf; or "this is your God" (CSB, NAS), meaning that Yahweh was riding invisibly upon the calf. Because of the regular use of the plural-form 'elohim to indicate God, 'elleh 'eloheyka could equally mean "These are your gods," or "This is your God."

    And who's to say that Aaron didn't embrace the ambiguity? It all depends on what the meaning of 'elohim is. Given the cowardice Aaron shows throughout, isn't that even more natural? He doesn't argue with them, per se. He may well have thought, "Well, I'm not saying this calf is a god. I know God is invisible. I can't help it if they do something wicked with this." And if they plunge themselves into spiritual ruin (as a result of his caving in)—what of it? That's on them, right? Aaronic thinking.

  3. Par-tay (v. 5)! Aaron has just caved in to the people's idolatrous cravings... and now he proclaims a feast to Yahweh! Had Yahweh authorized this feast? In no way. (I wonder: is this where Nadab and Abihu got the idea that it's okay to "make it up as we go along" [Leviticus 10] in worshiping Yahweh?) Everyone likes a party. Plus, this further mollifies Aaron's conscience ("See? I never said idolatry was okay. I called for a feast to Yahweh!")
  4. When it goes bad, blame everyone and everything but yourself (vv. 22-24). This little speech of Aaron's has to go right up there with Adam hiding behind a bush from the Creator of the bush, and the blame-shifting that followed ("It was the woman You gave me!" — "It was the snake!"). First, Aaron blames the people (v. 22). Yes, that would be the people whose lead he, the leader, just followed. It's their fault. Second, Aaron implicitly blames Moses for staying away so long—and, in so doing, blames the people for blaming Moses (v. 23)! Got to give him this: the guy's slick.
    "I did not have idolatry with those people, the nation of Israel. I never told anyone to commit idolatry, not a single time, never. These allegations are false and I need to go back to work for the Israelite people."
    Hmm.... Well, anyway, Third, Aaron blames the calf (24)! Well, he blames the calf, the fire, the gold; it's hard to tell. "I threw it in the fire, and, darnedest thing, out came this calf. Shazam."
  5. Overall, give a selective narrative (v. 24). "Out came this calf." In a sense, that's true. A very, very tortured sense. Moses obviously wasn't buying, since his history had already observed that Aaron "received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf" (v. 4). Oopsie. Aaron left that part out. "But I didn't deny it!" he might have said, when confronted. (Slick.)
Does any single thread tie all these lamentable strands together? Certainly: the lack of faith in the sufficiency of God's Word. If Aaron believed that Yahweh had told him enough at that point, he would simply have stood on it. What's more, he would have directed the people to do the same. He would have had no part in any defection, and in fact would have stood foursquare against it.

But Aaron didn't. He panicked. He gave in, unctuously working out a way to see himself as not responsible, every step of the way. "I'm not the bad guy here." Did Aaron care about Yahweh? Did he care about the people? Maybe. But not nearly enough.

Now, many modern applications are jostling about in my mind. I think many of them are fairly obvious. Every church movement, every fad born primarily of "felt needs" gained by polling (i.e. the lust to be popular), rather than eternal truths and principles gained by Biblical study (i.e the passion for God and His glory), has Aaron as its forefather. I'll leave it to our very sharp readers to comment further on specific applications.

But before leaving off, let me point out something. In every type, every foreshadowing of the person and work of the Lord Jesus, there are designed connections, and designed disconnections.

For instance, consider the sacrificial system. The sacrifice was physically perfect, vicarious, and bloody; these are connections. But they were animal sacrifices, they did not purchase full forgiveness, they had to be repeated; these are disconnections. Both connections and disconnections point forward to the immeasurably greater glory of Christ.

So Aaron stands as High Priest, representing the people before God. Even while Aaron is preparing to defect so miserably, up in the mountain, God dictates to Moses a design for a garment which twice depicts the fact that he carries the people on his heart and shoulders before Yahweh (Exodus 28:9ff; 39:14). That is Aaron's priestly duty. It is a point of connection to Christ. It all points forward to the Lord Jesus, who also carries His people's names on His heart before the Father in Heaven (Hebrews 7:25).

Yet Aaron failed miserably in this office. Aaron cared about Aaron. He did not care, above all, for Yahweh and His people. He could not bear that burden himself. He was not sufficient. And in this, too, Aaron points forward to Christ, who never failed those He led by giving over to their shifting will (Matthew 16:21-23), and who did not allow the most Hellacious torment in history to drive Him from performing every last work that His priestly care for them required (John 12:27-28; 13:1; 17; Hebrews 2:14-15; etc.).

Aaron's personal example would point us one way. Christ's entire character, life and ministry would point us in the opposite direction.

Which shall we choose to emulate?

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21 February 2007

My poor local church

by Frank Turk

I have something cooking over at my blog today, so I only have a short (?!) TeamPyro post this Wednesday. This is actually related to that post, but it is also related to this blog, so I posted this short piece here and will post the longer piece over at my blog later today.

See: we get letters. That is, I get e-mail often enough to say I get it from readers, and there’s one kind of e-mail that troubles me deeply. It goes like this:
Dear Cent,

I’m an avid TeamPyro reader, and I just wanted to tell you how important the encouragement I get from your blog is. I’m technically a members of a local church, but my family and I are church-shopping right now because [something about this church is not right]. I know you’re sympathetic to that problem as I am sure many people face it, but I just wanted to let you know that you, Phil and Dan are my spiritual food right now.

Please keep up the good work and pray for us.


Avid Reader
Let me say frankly that I have a big, importing-stuff-from-China boat load of sympathy for the struggling local church. There is no question that this is probably the greatest actual symptom in American Christianity today, and if we could somehow nurse all the churches which are struggling today to “health” – whatever that means (and boy is there a blog series in that) – we would have a much more robust (red-blooded, vital, strapping) church against which the gates of Pop Culture and Political Influence could not stand.

So when you write to me – or all three of us here at TeamPyro – and you are grateful for our encouragement, thanks. But I think maybe you don’t understand what we’re encouraging you to do if you write a letter which says what the fictional letter above says.

Let’s focus on the bit in the square brackets for one second: [something about this church is not right]. Let’s assume for one second that [something about this church is not right] is, for example, that your pastor is a rank Arminian – a guy who can’t even read the book of Romans without injecting the term “free will” (meaning a libertarian, unable-to-be-under-God’s-Sovereignty, human will) every place it says God chose or God kept. And let’s assume that while he never veers into Open Theism or Pelagianism, he never quite gets to the bondage of the will or the necessity of election in the face of the depravity of man. So he’s constantly on about how you choose, etc.

Or let’s assume that your elders (by whatever title they go by) have hired a worship pastor who is very, um, entertaining. That is, he sings all the songs with Jesus’ name in them, but you always find yourself waiting for the lighters to come out or the disco ball to lower from the ceiling because he and his band are so darn well-produced even in a live setting.

Or let’s assume, in the worst case, that you have prepared a series for our Sunday school class on the work of the cross, and out of conscience and humility you give the outline to your Sunday school administrator and he tells you that you can’t talk about election and the scope of the atonement – that it’s either too controversial or too deep or actually false, and you can’t teach that here.

What if you’re clinging to TeamPyro because of these things? What of you’re leaving your local church over these things?

Atta boy?

Listen: I have advice for you who are in these [something about this church is not right] situations which you are not going to like, and you are going to think that I have somehow gone soft when you hear it – but I am actually telling you how to buck up.

My advice is this: God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. Some of you may be insulted that I have cited the Message to say this to you, and let me say plainly that this is what I am talking about.

See: in our personal logic – our normally-functioning brains – we say to ourselves, “holy moley – this is bad! We have to run away!” And we can even cite Bible verses to ensure that we have a Scripture basis for doing so, I am sure. You have to run away from error and sin, don’t you?

Yes, I think you do – and if you have a problem with pornography, you should run away from sin; if you have a problem with anger or a hard heart, you should run away from conflict; if you have a problem with overeating, you should run away from the Chinese Buffet. But the problem in every case here is not other people but you yourself.

See: the example Christ gives us is to die to sin and to do this for the sake of others. If our personal holiness is a matter of the highest importance, I think it turns out that it’s not in order to make ourselves into moral paragons: it is to make ourselves into offering poured out for the Lord.

And in that, in your local church where the Pastor does not have the theological shrewdness you have picked up on the internet and by reading the Top 100 Protestant Classics of all time – seasoned by the weekly Dose of Spurgeon, right? – maybe what you should do is pour yourself out a little rather than sniff at a guy who, unlike you, is an ox in the yoke who theadeth out the corn.

I love my pastor – but as we all know, love is not an emotional state: it is an act of the will. It is a commitment which results in action. Suffer for his sake a little. If you do that – if you have the truth, and you have love as defined by truth, and you speak the truth in love – and that fellow asks you to leave, that’s one thing. If you leave because you can’t find it in you to love him, that’s another.

Don’t e-mail me, either, to make yourself feel better. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who think a lot about the theological implications of love but can’t muster up 20 minutes a day to demonstrate the theological implications of love in a way which does more than point out [something about this church is not right].

Let’s be honest: there is something not right about you – and that is actually why Christ died. Christ died for our sins. Christ did – Christ who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant. So if you’re really after Christ-likeness, start with the people you can see, and touch, and say something to with your mouth.

And get serious about being in fellowship. If you want more on that, check my blog later today.

20 February 2007

February 11: the most pivotal day in my life (Biblical lessons to learn)

by Dan Phillips

The first word which I wrote unto you, O Pyrophilus—and the second—related the Lord's dealings in my life. They started in the eternal counsels of the Trinity, and worked out in my own history, culminating in my conversion on February 11, 1973.

But my conversion featured some aspects that probably raised an eyebrow or three hundred. I spoke of a voice, I read C. S. Lewis, I "walked the aisle," I was read the Four Spiritual Laws, I "prayed the prayer." Plus, one's conversion can be instructive (1 Timothy 1:16). And so, now, these observations, musings, questions, and/or lessons:

1. Do not decide that any living person cannot be saved. Know that I was virulently anti-Christian. I was known campus-wide as a Christian-hater. I was, if you will, evangelistically anti-Christian. I was like Elymas in Acts 13: if I saw evangelism going on, I did my best to foil it. I was arrogant, cocky, foul-mouthed, condescending; "formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent" (1 Timothy 1:13). I had contempt for my fellow-cultists who had a "live and let live" attitude towards Christianity. If Christians were engendering false fear, and giving false hope, they should be stopped. And I aimed to stop them.

I'm not sure whether Greg knew all this or not. If he did, it didn't deter him. You see, it says, "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost" (1 Timothy 1:15). So this person you're thinking of not witnessing to—is he really nasty? Is he dead-set against Christ? Is he smarmy, sarcastic, cutting, smug? So then, are you saying that he is a sinner?

Well then, that's great news. See that is exactly the sort Christ came to save. Do not assume that this man or woman is beyond the Gospel. Tell him the truth of Christ straight, with intelligence and love, and leave the rest to God.

2. Sow with hope. Greg was not the first Christian to try to talk to me. Many Christians tried to talk to me, and I blew them off. Some of them have (reportedly) long-since apostatized. Others surely prayed for me. The Lord heard their prayers, and broke up the hard soil of my heart, so that I could receive the good seed, hold it fast, and bear fruit (cf. Mark 4). Not right away. But eventually.

3. There is no one method of evangelism. Which is the right way to deal with people? The way Jesus dealt with Nicodemus? Or the very different way He dealt with the Syro-Phoenecian woman, or the distraught father in Mark 9:14-27? Or the woman at the well in John 4? Or the rich young ruler? Or Zacchaeus? Which was the right way?

Of course they all were the right way. Legitimate commonalities can be found among them. Nevertheless, if one doesn't also acknowledge significant differences in tone and approach, one is reading the texts through funny glasses.

To be specific, I believe God has used street preaching. He's used "cold" evangelism, that doesn't necessarily have much more context than, "Nice day. So, has anyone ever told you about Jesus Christ?" God has used tracts (even bad ones), videos, books, billboards, "friendship" evangelism, door-to-door. And He has used altar calls.

If Greg had said to me that first day, after I got into his car, "Did you know that God loves you and Jesus died for your sins," I might have argued, or I might have said "Yes and not interested, respectively." But that would have been our last conversation; I'd just have walked home from then on. It would have slammed my mind shut.

Instead, Greg befriended me, and took the slower approach of building a rapport and credibility, though he had specifically pointed to the door on our first conversation. But it was no pressure; no personal pressure.

Then later, the Holy Spirit applied all the pressure that was needed, and I needed to talk to someone, and Greg was just the man--because I knew he, and his faith, were genuine.

People aren't all plastic figures. They're (we're) complex individuals. One size does not fit all.

4. Show the way of God, but show love as well. I had no interest in hearing about the former from Greg until I'd seen the latter. I think professional, full-time arguers have an important ministry. But their ministry isn't most of ours. Most of us need to do the hard work of showing love, so as to create a context for the Gospel. It isn't our love that saves anybody, it's the Gospel (Romans 1:17). But it can be our love that makes anyone willing to hear the Gospel from us. Shining as lights in the world (Philippians 2:15) means more than being able articulately to describe light, and contrast it from its opposite. It means showing forth its qualities in a credible witness. It means integrity, and integrity means (among other things) love and grace.

5. Be real. Fairly or (more probably) unfairly, I saw most Christians as sloganeering, shallow, plastic, hypocritical fools. If Greg had only unctuously said, "Yes, friend, I once had problems just as you do. But Jesus fixed all that up, and now I'm perfect and happy all the day!", I'd've cocked an eyebrow, and become scarce. Instead, Greg affirmed that he'd seen the same inside himself that I was discovering within my own heart. He was "a man of like passions." That's helped me want, ultimately, to hear the Word from him. He could point me towards solutions, but they'd been solutions he'd needed and used first.

6. God saves perfectly through imperfect means. It's odd that I should need to make this point to Reformed readers, yet here we are. Who saves? We Reformed loudly shout, "God!" God is the one who foreknows, calls, justifies, glorifies (Romans 8:29-30). God is the one who draws, gives live, redeems, saves.

But He does all this through means (Romans 10:13-17), and those means are without exception (except, I suppose, in cases where someone is converted reading the Hebrew OT or the Greek NT, alone) imperfect means. Or do you think that your evangelism is the exception to that rule? If so, God help you, God help your hearers, and God help those who don't share your perfection.

A brief aside: you may have noted that I did read the Bible before and through the process. I had "studied" the Gospels, enough to be bothered by them. And as I came under conviction, I read the Gospel of John.

There is, to be sure, irony in the fact that God used means in my conversion that I myself would not use today, in evangelism. But if you bristle at my insistence that God used these imperfect means, please re-read my testimony (especially part two) more carefully. You and I share legitimate concerns about what the Four Spiritual Laws, Lewis, and altar calls might either mis-communicate, or leave out. We are concerned about a smaller Savior, a less sinful man, a less sovereign God, a more exalted view of free-will and human decision-making. among other things. These are legitimate concerns.

But NONE of those things made an impact on me, because GOD was using the truth in them to save me.

Read my testimony, and you will see that the elements in all those sources that God pressed home upon my mind were my lostness, my hopelessness, my unbridgeable distance from God due to my sin, Christ's Lordship and Deity, Christ's truth, Christ's uniqueness, and the fact that God called me to find forgiveness through faith in the Jesus Christ presented in the Bible alone.

I daresay that if you have trouble with that Gospel, you have trouble with the Gospel.

So suppose some precise soul had waylaid me on my way down the aisle, dragged me into a side-room, and asked me, "So, you think Jesus is just some problem-solving Mr. Fixit who is at your beck and call, some glorified embodiment of myths and legends, waiting helplessly down at the front of this aisle for your free-will to activate Him at your command? You think you're going to go save yourself? Is that it, hippie-boy?"

I might have said, "I don't know about any of that. But I am convinced that I need Jesus, God's only Son, to save me from the ruin of sin and [garbage] that is me, and bring me to God. Someone down there is going to help me find out how. Jesus is my only hope. Don't try to stop me; I don't want to have to hurt you [cf. Matthew 11:12]—especially in church."

So if your or my view of evangelism leaves us feeling superior to other Jesus-preaching Christians (pace Philippians 1:14-18), as if God saves more people better because of our purity and perfection... just whoa.

If there is something seriously wrong with a Gospel that exalts the sinner, I think there is no less wrong in a Gospel that exalts the preacher.

7. Dude—you said you heard a voice? I said nothing of the sort. I said, "It was as if a voice came back." So what do I think that was? Do I think it was the actual voice of God, brushing Scripture aside to address me directly, by special revelation?

No. I do it was a result of God the Holy Spirit working in my mind to convict me of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8-11). I think the "voice" was my own mind, but it was the distillation and the culmination of what God had already been impressing on me by an agonizing process that took months and months. It was the focused application of what I'd already seen from the Gospels, laid on my own wretched heart and the destruction of my false foundation. It was nothing like prophetic revelation, which is direct and unmediated.

In sum: I was saved by the sovereign mercy and grace of God, to whom alone be the glory. In my conversion, He used (as He regularly does) "the foolishness of preaching" (1 Corinthians 1:21).

This does not serve to commend our degrading the Gospel by adding our human follies. Nor does it rule out Biblical assessment of evangelistic methods and contents. But it does serve to humble us appropriately, and counsel grace towards others who preach Christ through different means, because it serves to exalt our gracious, saving God.

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19 February 2007

Sectarianism and Separation

by Phil Johnson

The Danger of Schism

ast week I began a series of posts by mentioning the ever-increasing number of denominations, church splits, and intramural sectarianism in the wider Protestant world. This not an issue Protestants can or should easily sweep aside. It is quite true that schism is a fruit of sin and unfaithfulness, and it has hurt our testimony.

The apostle Paul rebuked the Corinthians for having a sectarian spirit: "Each one of you is saying, 'I am of Paul,' and 'I of Apollos,' and 'I of Cephas,' and 'I of Christ.' Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" (1 Cor. 1:12-13). Later in the epistle he added, "For when one says, 'I am of Paul,' and another, 'I am of Apollos,' are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one" (3:4-5).

Deliberately causing schisms in the body of Christ is a demonic sin—so much so that divisive people are not to be tolerated in the church. In Matthew 18, Christ outlined a series of four steps churches should go through in calling a sinning brothers to repentance. But when someone is schismatic, Paul says, that discipline process may be accelerated. He wrote in Titus 3:10-11: "Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned."

It's fair to ask, then, if schism is such a serious sin, why are there so many different denominations? The Protestant Reformation gave rise to Lutheranism, Presbyterianism, Anglicanism, Congregationalism, Methodism, Episcopalianism, the Plymouth Brethren, the Open Brethren, the Closed Brethren, the Church of Christ, the Church of the Nazarene, the Church of God, the Assemblies of God, Holiness churches, Pentecostal churches, Dutch Reformed churches, Christian Reformed churches, Protestant Reformed churches, Baptists, Reformed Baptists, Sovereign Grace Baptists, Landmark Baptists, Independent Baptists, American Baptists, Southern Baptists, Freewill Baptists, General Baptists, Regular Baptists, Particular Baptists, and Strict and Particular Baptists.

And that list only scratches the surface. The Handbook of Denominations lists hundreds more.

Let's be honest: one can hardly blame non-Christians for being nonplussed by the variety. The pagan from a non-Christian society is not likely to look at Christendom and say, "Behold, how they love one another."

The Necessity of Separation

On the other hand, we who are Christians must understand that Christendom is not "the church." All who call themselves Christians are not true followers of Christ—and there's no reason we should try to make Moslems or Hindus think all varieties of so-called Christianity are truly Christian.

Just because a church or denomination calls itself "Christian" does not mean it is part of the body of Christ. That has been true even from biblical times. Consider, for example, the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3. At least one was totally apostate and three or four others were already apostatizing. We know from Jesus' warning to the church at Laodicea that it is possible for a church to abandon the truth so completely that Christ Himself will reject that church and spew it out of His mouth.

True Christians must not fellowship with such apostate groups (2 Cor. 6:15-17; Eph. 5:11).

In other words, some degree of doctrinal purity is a valid prerequisite for organizational unity. It's simply wrong to set aside all our doctrinal differences for the sake of an artificial organizational "unity." This is particularly true of those doctrinal issues that are immediately germane to the gospel. In fact, the apostle Paul taught that so-called "Christians" who corrupt or compromise the utter freeness of justification are not to be regarded as brethren at all! He pronounced a curse on them (Gal. 1:8-9). The apostle John taught the same thing (2 John 7-11).

Since the major point at issue between Protestants and Catholic or Orthodox traditions is the gospel (particularly the doctrine of justification by faith—which is the very point Paul wrote to defend in his epistle to the Galatians), it is utterly fatuous to suggest that a show of external unity should take precedence over our doctrinal differences. It is tantamount to saying Christians are not supposed to be concerned with truth at all.

Is organizational solidarity what Jesus meant by unity? That's a question worth examining, and we'll take it up in the next entry.

Phil's signature

18 February 2007

Postmodern disbelief on the one hand; charismatic gullibility on the other...

Now is the time for steadfastness

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote space at the beginning of each week to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. This excerpt is from "The Pastor's Life Wrapped Up With His People's Steadfastness: A Pleading Reminder for the New Year," a sermon on 1 Thessalonians 3:8, first published at the start of 1884.

ome are always shifting their doctrinal opinions. Within the last ten years we have had the most remarkable selection of abominations in the way of new doctrines that ever cursed our human race.

If all the heresies that have been vamped were true, I do not know whether there would remain either heaven, or hell, or earth, or God, or man, for all these have been removed by the foul finger of doubt.

Some go in not so much for disbeliefs as for fanaticisms; and, believing nothing one day, the world is to believe everything the next. We have already miracles restored to us, and a daring person has arisen who assumes the name of Christ. A bottomless pit of fanaticism is yawning. Hell from beneath is vomiting all manner of absurdities to vex the church of God.

Now is the time for steadfastness. It is a blessed thing for a man to know what he does believe, and to hold it; to have no ear for novelty-mongers, but to say, "If it be new it is not true. I have my colors nailed to the mast, and I cannot take them down."
C. H. Spurgeon

16 February 2007

These Words [2 of 2]

by Frank Turk

So my point in posting so far is to say that God gives us His word for a reason, and that reason is clear to us when we read His word. I’m sure that rubs a lot of people the wrong way (they are probably not regular readers of TeamPyro, but they are out there). But they would teder up this question: “How do you know your interpretation is a good one, cent? What’s the basis for making sure you got it right?”

Because, as many of you know, Roman Catholicism doesn’t agree with Presbyterianism about John 6 – and the Baptists think both of these groups are off their rocker. How do you figure it out?

I know one guy who says, essentially, that you don’t figure it out. If you’re a layman under a Presbyterian (for example), you might ask questions about the Presbyterian way, but you honor the authority you are under by not leaving Presbyterianism if you discover that baptism is only for the believer or the eucharist is only a remembrance or whatever, and you don't insist you're the one who's right. In fact, in many ways the idea that you should exercise your own brain for the sake of being or doing something – especially in the context of the Gospel – is (he says) radical autonomy, and idolatrous.

Mind you, this is also a guy who writes a lot – reams and reams of stuff – so what he’s doing when he’s writing is anybody’s guess, but suffice it to say that clearly, it cannot be autonomous and idolatrous. Maybe the key lies in whether he is using his own brain at all … I dunno.

Anyway, that said, can the Bible be figured out? If Deu 6 is one explanation of what Scripture is and does, how does it turn out that so many people disagree about what Scripture says, and how do I make sure that I don’t fumble the football?

I’m going to use myself as an example of how you figure it out – not because I’m such a bright guy, but because my testimony is that, as an atheist, I could read the Gospel of John and “get it” enough to know that my trust has to be in a savior that saves. When my wife asked me years later, while we were dating, what would happen to me when I died, I told her: “if it’s up to what I've done, I’ll probably go to hell, but Jesus says He is the way -- I'm trusting him.” You can see that [a] that's not bad for a guy who only read the Gospel of John once, and [b] I've come a long way in 15 years.

So my leaping-off place with this is that you don’t need a complex hermeneutic to “get it” from Scripture. What you need is to read Scripture as it is presented. Trying to “get” the Gospel of John by starting in John 2 and then jumping to John 6 and then jumping to John 14 doesn’t give you John: it gives you a fallible version of John – one edited by man.

But here’s the other half of that, in which I am also the example. As my wife (at that time, my girlfriend) acted as the Holy Spirit to me (a role God clearly made her for), we began attending church together, and we started reading Scripture together. And somehow, the topic of Jonah came up.

Yes, that Jonah.

And whilst we were talking about it, I blurted out what I thought was a fairly-intelligent comment about the book of the minor prophet: “Well, it’s allegory anyway.”

Now, my wife is a born Baptist. Her grandfather was a Baptist preacher – a pretty good one as I hear it. And when I said that, the conversation made a screeching stop.

“What?” She said, apparently calm. “What makes you say that?”

And, having the resources of a Jesuit education, I informed her that there was no way that Jonah was a historical story because of the big fish – the whale, if you will. Nobody gets swallowed by a whale, nobody lives through getting swallowed by a whale, and that just makes Jonah into a fancy story. It has truth in it, but it’s not true – not like me typing into my laptop true.

However, being a good Baptist (as opposed to a “pheh!” Baptist), she opened up the Bible to Matthew 12, and read from the NKJV:

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.”

But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.
She looked at me and said, “If Jesus believed that Jonah spent 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of the great fish, I do, too.”

And in retrospect, I think it’s a lot more brutally-clear than that. Jesus believed Jonah was real; Jesus believed the great fish was real; Jesus believed the Ninevites were real; Jesus believed their repentance was real. And Jesus believed that all of it together was enough to condemn the Pharisees for overlooking the Messiah, who, by the way, was real.

So the story of Jonah is true and it is verified by the way in which Jesus uses it to chastise the Pharisees.

And what that means, getting back to my point actually, is that we have to use Scripture the way Christ used Scripture. We have to use it the way John the Baptist used it. We have to use it the way Paul and Peter used it – and Stephen, and James, and John and Matthew and Mark and Luke.

You know: the hermeneutic of the men who delivered the word of God to people as prophets and apostles is not actually a very complicated hermeneutic. It is a rigorous hermeneutic, to be sure. And it is hardly an “objective” hermeneutic in the sense that it calls for the reader to be sort of a flavorless paste. And it requires something from us, to be sure. The position these men all put Scripture in was one which is above human reasoning in such a way as to guide and form human reasoning.

But the problem with people today is that we prefer a more-complicated hermeneutic. We have things we like just the way they are, and sometimes we want to find a way to justify that. We can do extraordinary linguistic studies to find out if God saved anyone eternally in the Old Testament in order to justify our truncating of the New Testament expression of salvation; we can do the same thing to make a sin out of wine-drinking, and out of married love, and to tone down the problem of excessive riches because we live in an excessively-rich society. We can use Scripture to buttress our beliefs in the church to make it more than it ought to be, and also less than it ought to be.

And the reason I started this off with the example of me in the first place is to say this: what we ought to do with Scripture is come to it in complete poverty and desperation, knowing that it is the wisdom of God which makes the wisdom of men look like foolishness. Our hermeneutic ought to be one where we frame ourselves not as peers to the writer but as abject beggars before the writer. Our hermeneutic ought to be the sinner who will die without God’s intervention.

That’s what Deu 6 says, isn’t it? The word God has commanded is there for us to remember who God is when we think we have enough that we can live without Him. The word of God ought to be taking us down a notch from satisfied to grateful, from safe to seeking refuge, from comfortable to poor in spirit. You can know your conclusion about the word of God is sound when what you have brought out of the text something you could have never put in there. When you are a student of the text, drawn there by God’s wisdom in the face of your own foolishness, you will be getting it right.

I am sure that doesn’t satisfy anybody, but there you go. Be in the Lord’s house with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s day this week, and ask yourself – seriously – am I learning anything from this book we are reading, or am I trying hard to show how smart I am?