30 May 2007

Because I said that I said so

by Frank Turk

Yes: this is another post on how to read your Bible. And as a brief exposition on why I'm not letting this topic go, it's because I am frankly tired of people tossing off the glib objection, "but how do you know? All those denominations out there – which one of them has the right reading?"

We have about 5000 readers a day at TeamPyro (when Dan and Phil are posting, anyway; when I post, the numbers fall off because, obviously, I'm just a reactionary Baptist), and when any of us post here, that means 5000 different people read the post. And let's face it: we have a problem with people failing to engage what we write here all the time. It's frustrating. People see their pet peeves in one sentence, and suddenly the post is not about what it's about, but about what this person has made his life's work to confute.

As another example, we were sitting in church in the last couple of weeks, and my son was sitting next to me (because my kids attend their age Sunday school, but they come to worship as if it matters) as my pastor was preaching on the doctrine of salvation. (Because we have a pastor at my church, fwiw, and not a motivational speaker) Well, Tad was on about why salvation implies a need for being saved, and he was completely on about this passage:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it -- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. [Rom 3]
And my son whispered to me as Tad read that passage, "Daddy, I know that verse."

Listen: it is important to memorize Scripture, and it is important for children to memorize Scripture because they must have a foothold in God's word which is the foundation of the way they perceive the whole world. But when my son said that, I was certain that he wasn't the only one in the service who was thinking that – because that's how many adults perceive Scripture: as maxims of wisdom which are not connected except that they are all bound together with cotton stitches in their Bible.

I mention that because unless we understand the real, literary connections of the 66 books of the Bible, we don't really understand the Bible – and almost every single error one can make in interpreting or paraphrasing the Bible is founded in misconstruing how one passage fits into the book it appears in, and then in the whole canon of Scripture together.

We touched on that last time, but how do you find these connections? Is there a way to do that?

Well, of course there is. Let's look at Romans 3 to flesh that out. Paul has made (in the part I have quoted) the clear affirmation that we're all sinners, and that Christ redeems sinners – but so what? How do we know what Paul meant by that?

The really sharp among you will say, "well, cent, it's because he spent the previous 2-1/2 chapters (as we reckon chapters) telling us how no man has any excuse because each man knows enough about God to know His invisible attributes." And that's fine – that's actually a good answer. I'm glad to see you are reading Romans that well.

But let me suggest something: Paul makes a far move vivid point in Romans 3 by referencing Psalms 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Eccles. 7:20, Psalm 5:9, Psalm 140:3, Psalm 10:7, Isaiah 59:7,8 and Psalm 36:1. You never ran all those down before, did you? Most people haven't, so don't feel like you’re some kind of outcast for not reading your center column reference. But let's look at only a couple of these to see what Paul is getting at.

For example, he cites Psa 14 – but why? Is it because there's a kernel of wisdom there and, like some motivational speaker, he can find some snippet of God's nice turns of phrase to underscore his point? Or is it because Paul's point here is that there is nothing new about the plight of man, and in that there is nothing new about God's plan of salvation. See: the point in Psa 14 is that certainly all the people God sees are sinful, but that psalm closes by affirming that God saves in spite of men's sinful foolishness.

And again, Paul cites Psa 140 to underscore the wickedness of men's mouths – but he cites Psa 140 because it says that God delivers men from that kind of wickedness. His point in connecting his theological statement in a letter to the Romans to the book of Psalms is that the Bible is telling one particular story about God's work through all of time.

This view of Scripture shuts the mouth of any man-centeredness. It is in this way we can see the systematic and unified aspect of Scripture which drives us away from our errors if we are willing to receive what is there.

It is in this way that Scripture explains itself – but this view of what is happening in Scripture requires that one connect all the dots. It requires one to have a larger picture of each book, and all the books, of Scripture than one can get buy reading a verse a day.

I'm sure you have some questions; please feel free to ask them in the meta.

29 May 2007

Memorial Day, a day late

by Dan Phillips

I've been out of town, and my betters here at Teampyro are busy, so I offer you this brief thought.

As Memorial Day approached, I found myself focused on this simple truth: every bit of freedom we Americans enjoy was bought and paid for by the blood of men and women, and those willing to shed their blood.

That I can write these posts without being jailed for seditious ideas, or tortured and killed for reproaching the "Prophet" Mohamed; that my family can worship publicly in the church of our choice; that I can call some portion of my earnings mine; that I can vote in open elections — these and countless other freedoms are mine because of blood. You who preach the Word here, week in and week out, do so because of blood shed or risked.

Philosophers philosophized, theoreticians theorized, speakers spoke, writers wrote, and preachers preached. But until some people put their "Lives, [their] Fortunes and [their] sacred Honor" on the line to secure the actualization of those ideals, no actual liberty was secured. And it has only been preserved to the degree that we still have it because men and women have pledged their own lives to its defense.

So our family honored those sacrifices at a service in a cemetery yesterday.

But as a Christian, all this talk of freedom purchased by blood makes me think of Jesus and His sacrifice. Perhaps the similarities and contrasts could be developed further in a less hurried post, but I immediately think of these, and offer them to you:
  • They died to secure and/or preserve temporal freedom; He, eternal freedom
  • Some of them died with no immediate effect; by His death He actually "saved sinners"
  • Some of their deaths may have been tragic mistakes due to flawed policy or tactics; He died according to the eternal, infinitely wise, just, and perfect plan of the Triune God
  • When they died, they had no guarantee of success; He died "for the joy set before Him"
  • Their lives were taken from them; He had the authority to lay down His life, and the authority to take it up again
  • Their graves are marked by crosses, headstones, flags; He has no grave, having risen bodily and ascended to the right had of the Father
  • Some use the liberty their deaths secured to sin more flagrantly; His death breaks sin's bonds forever
If you haven't, thank the vets you know for taking the risk that Memorial Day could have been about them, and tell them you thank God that it wasn't. (Thank you, vets!)

But also thank your Savior and the Captain of your salvation, for His perfect atonement for sin, for having given all He had to secure your freedom not just now, but forever.

Dan Phillips's signature

Just FYI

by Frank Turk

We haven't abandoned the blog. We just need a minute ... maybe another 20 hours or so ...

... sorry to interrupt your loss of worktime productivity ...

27 May 2007

In Memoriam

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive.

The following excerpt is taken from the fast-day service held at the Crystal Palace on October 7, 1857, after the
"Indian Mutiny," (or "First War of Independence,"
depending on one's perspective). The rebellion resulted in large-scale losses for the British army and began the process that ended the Raj.

England's official response to the catastrophe was to declare "a Solemn Fast, Humiliation, and Prayer before Almighty God: in order to obtain Pardon of our Sins, and for imploring His Blessing and Assistance on our Arms for the Restoration of Tranquillity in India."

Spurgeon was asked to preach at a public commemoration, held at the massive Crystal Palace. That solemn occasion drew more than 20,000 Victorians. It was the largest single audience Spurgeon ever addressed. The excerpt below is his prayer just before the sermon. It contrasts starkly with the tone and flavor of most of today's Memorial Day celebrations, and contains some lessons for us.

On the one hand, Britain's response to a national disaster like this—with public expressions of repentance, a plea for forgiveness, and a call for a national fast—is the kind of thing that was fairly common in the Puritan era, less common in Victorian times, but almost totally unheard of today. That is to our shame.

On the other hand, Spurgeon's belief that God Himself was on Britain's side was certainly not a safe assumption. Spurgeon probably underestimated the speed with which modernism, rationalism, and secularism were beginning to dominate Victorian society.

And yet that society, spiritually disintegrating though it was, was not yet so degenerate as to flinch from a call to public repentance. The remorseless and stiff-necked attitude of our culture makes a frightening contrast.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Spurgeon's Crystal Palace message, and this seemed a fitting entry for Memorial Day weekend. Selah.

UR Father, which art in heaven," we will be brief, but we will be earnest if Thou wilt help us. We have a case to spread before Thee this day. We will tell out our story, and we will pray that Thou wouldst forgive the weakness of the words in which it shall be delivered, and hear us, for Jesus' sake.

O Father, Thou hast smitten this our land, not in itself, but in one of its dependencies. Thou hast allowed a mutinous spirit to break out in our armies, and Thou hast suffered men who know not Thee, who fear neither God nor man, to do deeds for which earth may well blush, and for which we, as men, desire to cover our faces before Thee. O Lord God, Thou couldst not bear the sin of Sodom; we are sure Thou canst not endure the sin which has been committed in India. Thou didst rain hell out of heaven upon the cities of the plain. The cities of Inde are not less vile than they, for they have committed lust and cruelty, and have much sinned against the Lord. Remember this, O God of Heaven.

But, O Lord our God, we are not here to be the accusers of our fellow-man; we are here to pray that Thou wouldst remove the scourge which this great wickedness has brought upon us. Look down from heaven, O God, and behold this day the slaughtered thousands of our countrymen. Behold the wives, the daughters of Britain, violated, defiled! Behold her sons, cut in pieces and tormented in a manner which earth hath not beheld before. O God, free us, we beseech Thee, from this awful scourge! Give strength to our soldiers to execute upon the criminals the sentence which justice dictates; and then, by Thy strong arm, and by Thy terrible might, do Thou prevent a repetition of so fearful an outrage.

We pray Thee, remember this day the widow and the fatherless children; think Thou of those who are this day distressed even to the uttermost. Guide the hearts of this great multitude, that they may liberally give and this day bestow of their substance to their poor destitute brethren. Remember especially our soldiers, now fighting in that land. God shield them! Be Thou a covert from the heat! Wilt Thou be pleased to mitigate all the rigours of the climate for them! Lead them on to battle; cheer their hearts; bid them remember that they are not warriors merely, but executioners; and may they go with steady tramp to the battle, believing that God wills it that they should utterly destroy the enemy, who have not only defied Britain, but thus defiled themselves amongst men.

But, O Lord, it is ours this day to humble ourselves before Thee. We are a sinful nation; we confess the sins of our governors and our own particular iniquities. For all our rebellions and transgressions, O God have mercy upon us! We plead the blood of Jesus. Help every one of us to repent of sin, to fly to Christ for refuge and grant that each one of us may thus hide ourselves in the rock, till the calamity be overpass, knowing that God will not desert them that put their trust in Jesus. Thy servant is overwhelmed this day; his heart is melted like wax in the midst of him; he knoweth not how to pray.

Yet Lord, if Thou canst hear a groaning heart which cannot utter itself in words, thou hearest his strong impassioned cry, in which the people join. Lord save us! Lord arise and bless us; and let the might of Thine arm and the majesty of Thy strength be now revealed in the midst of this land, and throughout those countries which are in our dominion God save the Queen! A thousand blessings on her much-loved head! God preserve our country! May every movement that promotes liberty and progress be accelerated, and may everything be done in our midst, which can shield us from the discontent of the masses, and can protect the masses from the oppression of the few.

Bless England, O our God. "Shine, mighty God, on Britain shine;" and make her still glorious Britain, "beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth." Lord accept our confessions; hear our prayers, and answer us by Thy Holy Spirit! Help Thy servant to preach to us; and all the glory shall be unto Thee, O Father, to Thee, O Son, and Thee, O Holy Spirit; world without end. Amen and Amen.

C. H. Spurgeon

25 May 2007


posted by Phil Johnson

I'm at Dodger Stadium tonight,where it's the top of the second and the Cubs are already losing the game.

Bad day all around. I managed to fry my hard disk on the main desktop computer—so badly that I can't even boot the computer with a system disk.

So as I watch the Cubs lose again (we drove to San Diego to watch the Padres beat them Wednesday night) all I can think about is that I need a new computer ASAP, and I'll be spending the first half of next week (including Memorial Day) installing software.


Now, I still use a DOS command line for a lot of file management functions, and I still think WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS is the finest word processing software ever made for serious writers who care more about their text than about page formatting. So I'm locked into Windows, although I dislike Microsoft as much as the next person.

On the other hand, I don't care for Apple's smugness in the current Mac/PC ad campaign.

And yet—I love the look of the computers at the Apple store. And if I decided to make the switch to Mac, now would be the best time to do it. So I've decided to ask for feedback: Mac or PC? I'm asking Pyro readers to help me decide.

PS: I'm writing and posting this with my phone. Ignore the typos.

Phil's signature

Why God gave you parents, etc.

by Dan Phillips

(This reflection was sparked by musing on Proverbs 24:19-20.)

Let's say you are about to embark on a journey you've never taken before. Let's say it is a high-risk journey. How do you prepare?

Well, you get a good map, and you study it. You get a ruler, maybe. You are here, and you want to get there. So you measure out which is the shorter course between these two points. You think you've found your route. It is short, you feel that you've considered every alternative, and this looks like the best way to get there.

Are you ready?

What if you know people who've already gone the route you're considering? What if they've already gone from Point A to Point B? Would it be smart to ask them? And, having asked, to listen? Of course it would — unless they're stupid, treacherous, or mean you harm.

So say you ask them, and they say, "Oh boy, do not go that way. It looks great when it's a line on paper, but you have no idea. It is a one-way road, for one thing. It is narrow, and winding. The road is full of pot-holes and sheer drop-offs you can't see until you've already gone over them. There is no need to go that way. We can show you three other ways, but for mercy's sake, do not go that way!"

Do you shrug it off, say "Thanks," and go with your paper-knowledge?

You do... if you're a fool. Consider Proverbs 22:3—"The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it."

One level of application is, I think, plain. But what if you're not "prudent" (`arúm) in the sense of shrewd, experienced, savvy? Perhaps it is because you are "simple." This is the word petî, so often found in Proverbs, generally translated simple or naive. This is the young man who simply has not had the years and experience to build a frame of reference by means of convictions tested by time and trial. He isn't yet settled hither or thither; he isn't yet wise, nor a scoffer.

What does such a young woman or man need? He needs wise folks who have had and used that time, who have built that framework and tested it out.

Now, Proverbs itself supplies that need. Solomon states at the outset that he was intending the book "to give prudence to the simple" (Proverbs 1:4, using the same two roots noted above). So the study of Proverbs itself, as well as of the rest of the Bible, is essential in the building of a prudent framework.

But what does Proverbs itself say, as well? Over and over it says "Hear, my son, your father's instruction, and forsake not your mother's teaching" (Proverbs 1:8), "My son, keep your father's commandment, and forsake not your mother's teaching" (Proverbs 6:20), "Listen to your father" and "do not despise your mother" (Proverbs 23:22) , "My son, give me your heart" (Proverbs 23:26), and so on.

Why does it do this? For one reason, because Solomon took seriously God's own counsel to give great weight to father and mother (cf. 4:3f.). There is a rich, broad, and deep Biblical teaching on this subject: please read A word to Christian yoots.

Another reason is the nature of youth. Young people by definition are full of confidence and vigor. They want to conquer the world. They think they can. They see themselves (often) as so much smarter than those old, dull-witted folks who keep trying to talk to them. They've got it all worked out. So they don't think they need to listen to their parents, etc.

But they do. So Solomon tells them. And tells them, and tells them.

But also, there is need to listen to those with experience that you don't have. This is part of why Proverbs repeatedly admonishes "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice" (Proverbs 12:15), "By insolence comes nothing but strife, but with those who take advice is wisdom" (Proverbs 13:10), "Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed" (Proverbs 15:22); " Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future" (Proverbs 19:20).

Nor is that in particular peculiar to the young. When I embarked on Career Plan B (temporary, I pray), I became what is derisively and deservedly called a "paper MCSE." That means that I did a bunch of studying, took some nasty tests, and got various computer certifications — but virtually the only experience I had was that of studying for the tests!

And so in my first positions, I leaned crushingly heavily on some extraordinarily patient people who, unlike me, had experience. If I had refused to do that, I would have been a forty-plus-year-old fool.

But is Solomon counseling us to be slaves to every latest bit of advice we get? Is he binding us to slavish obedience to foolish, evil, malicious parents? Of course not.

His God-breathed counsel grows out of the whole Canon, and out of the book's particular recurring theme: consider the end. Again and again Solomon says, "I know this path looks great at its outset: but let me tell you where it leads...."

Now, in some cases, one does not need experience to tell this. Are you tempted to adultery? You don't need to ask someone who has committed adultery whether or not this is a smart move. God says, in so many words, "Bridge out!" That's all the "experience" we need.

But what of life's huge, major decisions where there is no Divine dictum, no "Thou shalt/shalt not"?

Those are the ones where we most need the framework of Divine revelation, and some advice or counsel from wise, godly, experienced folks.

And that's why God gave you a Mommy and a Daddy.

But the title says "etc.," and that is because that is also why He gave you pastors, and great writers of ages past, and godly friends.

Now, to anticipate a certain question: "What if my ____ is foolish, ungodly, unbelieving, or means me harm?"

That will complicate it greatly. You still may glean something. If they're your parents, you still must respect their position, and honor them in every way you can.

But if your parents/friends/advisors are not foolish, ungodly, or malicious, you're a fool if you don't seriously consider their counsel.

The only cure for naïveté is a frame of reference by means of convictions tested by time and trial. Young man, young woman, you don't have it yet.

That's why God gave you parents — et cetera!

(And sometimes we old guys at Pyro get to try to be your "et cetera"!)

Dan Phillips's signature

24 May 2007

All About Me um, Us

by Frank Turk

A reader of the blog posted this in yesterday's meta:

See especially 7,11,12,13,14,18 and 21.

My sense of the Pyros is that you are at your best when you are writing about what is true and good and beautiful, you can be good when you write about what is false, and you can be awful about what is false.

The context of Paul writing about false teaching, or Machen's battle with liberalism, are far different battles than the ones we might have with, say, infant baptists, charismatics, or Anglicans.

I would much prefer to see your indomitable brains be put to work against atheists, relativists, theological liberals, social issues, and the ever encroaching Islamic world.
And I bring it up because, on the one hand, he has a somewhat-compelling point: there are a lot of fights not worth fighting.

Now, rather than give a laundry list of those fights (and I'm sure some of you will resent that as you always need reality-TV-esque examples of what I'm talking about), I'm going to talk a little bit about the zeitgeist of our blog here as I understand it in order to refocus the complaint made here. If Phil or Dan or Pecadillo (he is still allegedly alive) have some addenda to add to the enda' this, so be it.

Believe it or not, TeamPyro is not an apologetics blog, per se. "per se" means "by, of, or in itself" – so I'm saying that's not the primary motivation of our little house party here. We may happen to provide an apologetic once in a while, or something useful, say, to Freakishly-Tall Todd Friel (sorry Todd; no offense -- I know you have a decent sense of humor but not all our readers get the jokes), but our goal here is not to assert ourselves as the premiere Protestant Apologetics blog in English. That's what AOMIN.org is for, and we're happy they have their own ministry and we are proud of their success in a familial kind of way.

TeamPyro is also not primarily a DebateBlog. In many cases, with all humility and respect and love, we don't really care what the "other side" thinks. We don't want to tell lies about them, and we don't want to straw man them, and we want to honor God as we encounter them in their many hydra-like manifestations. But our motive is not really to argue with people. Most of these people either aren't capable of arguments, or they aren’t really interested in arguments – only lectures (giving, not getting).

So what's it all about, Alfie? Whither TeamPyro? While we enjoy "All Your Base are Belong to Us" and "Apply Directly to the Forehead", Phil called himself "pyromaniac", and thereafter dubbed us "teamPyro", based on one verse of Scripture:

Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces? [Jer 23:26, KJV]
And in that is the whole philosophy of why we do what we do here.

We are bringing the fire and the hammer of the word of God.

I don't want that to sound too, um, self-important – because it's not actually about me, or Phil, or Dan, or officer Pecadillo: it's about whether or not people are getting it when it comes to how God's word needs to be burning up the chaff and the stubble, and how God's word will and ought to break down the stoniness of our hearts and our habits and our preferences.

And let's face it: it's fine and obvious to go after the Rational Response Squad, and the Mormons, and the other clowns in the other clown cars trying to run the Gospel off the road. That's 100% the right thing to do with other gods and their schticky underlings. But if we make any headway against atheism and we call people to this so-called church of God, and when they walk in the door at last happy to be with the Lord's people in the Lord's house on the Lord's day they find out it's the same thing as joining KIWANIS or ROTARY, I think we're going to find out that we have a larger problem than whether someone has ever heard a person with a loud voice read John 3:16 to them.

What is at stake, then, is what Psalm 122 proclaims: that we seek the good of God's people first because that's where God's goodness should be praised.

Apologetics is fine – it is good, and worthy to be praised, in a Godly way. We are not apologists here: we are in the church, trying to get God's people to stop goofing off. If God's word is like a fire, and a hammer, let's burn off the fallow fields; let's break down the rotten renovations.

To my knowledge, we have had little trade with the paedobaptists here – because we're not really concerned about Baptist identity as such here. We count Presbyterians (for example, like Machen) as brothers in Christ and fathers in the faith – in spite of our objections to their misuse of the ordinance. We have had less-still trade with Anglicans because, well, they have made themselves irrelevant. They are hardly surging ahead and growing their churches by ordaining homosexuals and down-trading the doctrines of the atonement and Scripture, favoring instead a reconciliation ever-immanent with Rome.

And while it is true we have had much trade with the charismatics, it is expressly about the primacy of God's inscripturated word above and against emotive and experiential party favors. God's word stands true, and on that basis it must be the measure of what is preached and believed and exhorted in God's church – God's visible, incarnated, set-apart, adorning-to-His-promises church.

That's who we are. That's what we do. Welcome to the party.

23 May 2007

On Controversy in the Church

by J. Gresham Machen
posted by Phil Johnson

The following article is excerpted from an address originally delivered in London on June 17, 1932. The whole article is well worth reading. I quoted part of it in a message in Atlanta last week, and Caleb Kolstad wrote to ask me for the source. I sent him the snippet he requested, but it occurred to me that this would make an excellent post here at PyroManiacs:
f we are to have Christian apologetics, if we are to have a defense of the faith, what kind of defense of the faith should it be?

In the first place, it should be directed not only against the opponents outside the Church but also against the opponents within. The opponents of Holy Scripture do not become less dangerous, but they become far more dangerous, when they are within ecclesiastical walls.

At that point, I am well aware that widespread objection arises at the present time. Let us above all, men say, have no controversy in the Church; let us forget our small theological differences and all repeat together Paul's hymn to Christian love. As I listen to such pleas, my Christian friends, I think I can detect in them rather plainly the voice of Satan. That voice is heard, sometimes, on the lips of good and truly Christian men, as at Caesarea Philippi it was heard on the lips of the greatest of the Twelve. But Satan's voice it is, all the same.

Sometimes it comes to us in rather deceptive ways. I remember, for example, what was said in my hearing on one occasion, by a man who is generally regarded as one of the leaders of the evangelical Christian Church. It was said at the climax of a day of devotional services. "If you go heresy-hunting for the sin in your own wicked hearts," said the speaker, as nearly as I can remember his words, "you will have no time for heresy-hunting for the heretics outside."

Thus did temptation come through the mouth of a well-meaning man. The "heretics," to use the term that was used by that speaker, are, with their helpers, the indifferentists, in control of the church within the bounds of which that utterance was made, the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, as they are in control of nearly all the larger Protestant churches in the world. A man hardly needs to "hunt" them very long if he is to oppose them. All that he needs to do is to be faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ, and his opposition to those men will follow soon enough.

But is it true, as this speaker seemed to imply, that there is a conflict between faithfulness to Christ in the ecclesiastical world and the cultivation of holiness in one's own inner life? My friends, it is not true, but false. A man cannot successfully go heresy-hunting against the sin in his own life if he is willing to deny His Lord in the presence of the enemies outside. The two battles are intimately connected. A man cannot fight successfully in one unless he fights also in the other.

Again, we are told that our theological differences will disappear if we will just get down on our knees together in prayer. Well, I can only say about that kind of prayer, which is indifferent to the question whether the gospel is true or false, that it is not Christian prayer; it is bowing down in the house of Rimmon. God save us from it! Instead, may God lead us to the kind of prayer in which, recognizing the dreadful condition of the visible Church, recognizing the unbelief and the sin which dominate it today, we who are opposed to the current of the age both in the world and in the Church, facing the facts as they are, lay those facts before God, as Hezekiah laid before Him the threatening letter of the Assyrian enemy, and humbly ask Him to give the answer.

Again, men say that instead of engaging in controversy in the Church, we ought to pray to God for a revival; instead of polemics, we ought to have evangelism. Well, what kind of revival do you think that will be? What sort of evangelism is it that is indifferent to the question of what evangel it is that is to be preached? Not a revival in the New Testament sense, not the evangelism that Paul meant when he said, "Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel." No, my friends, there can be no true evangelism which makes common cause with the enemies of the Cross of Christ. Souls will hardly be saved unless the evangelists can say with Paul: "If we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel than that which we preached unto you, let him be accursed!" Every true revival is born in controversy, and leads to more controversy. That has been true ever since our Lord said that He came not to bring peace upon the earth but a sword. And do you know what I think will happen when God sends a new Reformation upon the Church? We cannot tell when that blessed day will come. But when the blessed day does come, I think we can say at least one result that it will bring. We shall hear nothing on that day about the evils of controversy in the Church. All that will be swept away as with a mighty flood. A man who is on fire with a message never talks in that wretched, feeble way, but proclaims the truth joyously and fearlessly, in the presence of every high thing that is lifted up against the gospel of Christ.

But men tell us that instead of engaging in controversy about doctrine we ought to seek the power of the living Holy Spirit. A few years ago we had a celebration of the anniversary of Pentecost. At that time, our Presbyterian Church was engaged in a conflict, the gist of which concerned the question of the truth of the Bible. Was the Church going to insist, or was it not going to insist, that its ministers should believe that the Bible is true? At that time of decision, and almost, it seemed, as though to evade the issue, many sermons were preached on the subject of the Holy Spirit. Do you think that those sermons, if they really were preached in that way, were approved by Him with whom they dealt. I fear not, my friends. A man can hardly receive the power of the Holy Spirit if he seeks to evade the question whether the blessed Book that the Spirit has given us is true or false.

Again, men tell us that our preaching should be positive and not negative, that we can preach the truth without attacking error. But if we follow that advice we shall have to close our Bible and desert its teachings. The New Testament is a polemic book almost from beginning to end. Some years ago I was in a company of teachers of the Bible in the colleges and other educational institutions of America. One of the most eminent theological professors in the country made an address. In it he admitted that there are unfortunate controversies about doctrine in the Epistles of Paul; but, said he in effect, the real essence of Paul's teaching is found in the hymn to Christian love in the thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians; and we can avoid controversy today, if we will only devote the chief attention to that inspiring hymn. In reply, I am bound to say that the example was singularly ill-chosen. That hymn to Christian love is in the midst of a great polemic passage; it would never have been written if Paul had been opposed to controversy with error in the Church. It was because his soul was stirred within him by a wrong use of the spiritual gifts that he was able to write that glorious hymn. So it is always in the Church. Every really great Christian utterance, it may almost be said, is born in controversy. It is when men have felt compelled to take a stand against error that they have risen to the really great heights in the celebration of truth.

J. Gresham Machen

22 May 2007

Gutsy grace

by Dan Phillips

If you've ever tried to come up with a definition of "grace" that satisfies the full breadth of Biblical meaning, you've begun to realize what a daunting task it is.

It isn't that the many definitions of "grace" are untrue; it's just that they tend to be inadequate.

"Unmerited favor" is flat and shallow. It rightly strikes the note of the freeness of grace, without which the word is without its own essential meaning, but it only brings us to the right door. It doesn't take us beyond the threshold.

The GRACE acronym of "God's Riches at Christ's Expense" is better, in that it points to the multifaceted abundance of grace ("riches"), and brings in the additional thought that grace, while free to us, is not free to God. We "are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24). Christ secures grace for us by His active and passive obedience. Grace is at the price of His payment of the ransom-price in His blood. What costs us nothing, cost Him everything He could give.

When I designed a way to present the Gospel in a church I pastored, I devised an acronym based on the word:
God is holy
Righteousness is required
All have sinned
Christ died for sinners
Each must repent and receive Christ by faith
It had its usefulness in sounding essential Biblical truths; but as a definition of grace (which it wasn't intended to be), it stressed initial salvation, which is an incomplete picture.

We must see that grace is more than saving in the sense that it doesn't just bring us to the marriage-ceremony and get us wed. That is, our picture of grace is inadequate if we see it only as making it so that "when that roll is called up yonder [we'll] be there." That is the decisional error that (rightly) calls one to commit oneself to Christ, and then (wrongly) leaves out the truth that this begins an eternal, daily, growing, vital relationship.

The error is not in linking grace-alone to salvation; it is in our view of salvation. We rightly oppose the Pelagian/Arminian "daisy" of "He loves me, He loves me not." Genuine, Biblical salvation is not a hope-so, maybe, one-day-in-the-future affair. We can have confidence that we have eternal life now (1 John 5:13). This is because we stand abidingly saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9).

But saved means more than just a category-switch on the books somewhere Out There. It is that, to be sure (Colossians 1:13), but it is also...

...well, it's what Paul says it is in Titus 2:11-14—
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
There it is, you see. Grace brings salvation, and it then trains us in holiness. For a doctrine of grace even to approach the robust, multifaceted richness of the Biblical concept, it has to live happily with this section. It can't stumble or turn to mumbling "Yes-but"-ing.

Paul says that the grace of God indeed has appeared in Christ and brought salvation — but God's grace did not stop with merely an external, bookkeeping re-categorization. The inspired apostle writes that grace — grace! — actually trains us in holiness. It is our pedagogue (παιδεύουσα, paideuousa) in sanctification, in holy and hopeful living.

So, while he does distinguish the two, the apostle does not divorce saving grace from sanctifying grace. The one is the necessary cause of the other. If our doctrine of grace does not include both truths, it is at best sub-Biblical, and at worst anti-Biblical.

If you asked the apostle how he was saved, he might answer, "By grace" (Ephesians 2:8-9). But equally, were we to inquire as to the source empowering Paul's Christian life and ministry, he would no less answer, "By grace" (Ephesians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 15:10). Grace, to Paul, is not a static accounting term, but a dynamic reality.

This is why it is such a crime that a school of thought should falsely hide itself behind the rich Biblical word grace, while its actual definition boils down to gutless grace. A "grace" that merely technically categorizes one as "saved," while making no necessary resultant impact on one's life and thought, is nothing like what the apostles would recognize as genuine grace. Their God-given and authoritative notion of grace is that of gutsy grace, a grace which atones, redeems, converts, regenerates, sanctifies, empowers, and keeps. To give false license to unregenerate professions and godless living, under that moniker, is a crime of the first magnitude.

God's grace saves and, necessarily and consequentially, sanctifies.

What God has joined together, let no man sunder.

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20 May 2007

What went wrong?

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "The Old, Old Story," a sermon preached on Sunday Evening, March 30th, 1862, at the Met Tab.

ust as they say fish go bad at the head first, so modern divines generally go bad first upon the head and main doctrine of the substitutionary work of Christ. Nearly all our modern errors, I might say all of them, begin with mistakes about Christ.

Men do not like to be always preaching the same thing. There are Athenians in the pulpit as well as in the pew who spend their time in nothing but hearing some new thing. They are not content to tell over and over again the simple message, "He that believeth in the Lord Jesus Christ hath everlasting life." So they borrow novelties from literature, and garnish the Word of God with the words which man's wisdom teacheth.

The doctrine of atonement they mystify. Reconciliation by the precious blood of Jesus ceases to be the cornerstone of their ministry. To shape the gospel to the diseased wishes and tastes of men enters far more deeply into their purpose, than to remould the mind and renew the heart of men that they receive the gospel as it is.

There is no telling where they will go who once go back from following the Lord with a true and undivided heart, from deep to deep descending, the blackness of darkness will receive them unless grace prevent. Only this you may take for a certainty:
"They cannot be right in the rest,
Unless they speak rightly of Him."
If they are not sound about the purpose of the cross, they are rotten everywhere.

"Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." On this rock there is security. We may be mistaken on any other points with more impunity than this. They who are builded on the rock, though they build wood, and hay, and stubble, thereupon to their sore confusion, for what they build shall be burned, themselves shall be saved yet so as by fire.

Now that grand doctrine which we take to be the keystone of the evangelical system, the very corner-stone of the gospel, that grand doctrine of the atonement of Christ we would tell to you again, and then, without attempting to prove it, for that we have done hundreds of times, we shall try to draw some lessons of instruction from that truth which is surely believed among us.

Man having sinned, God's righteousness demanded that the penalty should be fulfilled. He had said, "The soul that sinneth shall die;" and unless God can be false, the sinner must die. Moreover, God's holiness demanded it, for the penalty was based on justice. It was just that the sinner should die. God had not appended a more heavy penalty than he should have done. Punishment is the just result of offending. God, then, must either cease to be holy, or the sinner must be punished. Truth and holiness imperiously demanded that God should lift his hand and smite the man who had broken his law and offended his majesty.

Christ Jesus, the second Adam, the federal head of the chosen ones, interposed. He offered himself to bear the penalty which they ought to bear; to fulfill and honor the law which they had broken and dishonored. He offered to be their day's—man, a surety, a substitute, standing in their room, place, and stead. Christ became the vicar of his people; vicariously suffering in their stead; vicariously doing in their stead that which they were not strong enough to do by reason of the weakness of the flesh through the fall.

This which Christ proposed to do was accepted of God. In due time Christ actually died, and fulfilled what he promised to do. He took every sin of all his people, and suffered every stroke of the rod on account of those sins. He had compounded into one awful draught the punishment of the sins of an the elect. He took the cup; he put it to his lips; he sweat as it were great drops of blood while he tasted the first sip thereof, but he never desisted, but drank on, on, on, till he had exhausted the very dregs, and turning the vessel upside down he said, "It is finished!" and at one tremendous draught of love the Lord God of salvation had drained destruction dry. Not a dreg, not the slightest residue was left; he had suffered all that ought to have been suffered; had finished transgression, and made an end of sin.

Moreover, he obeyed his Father's law to the utmost extent of it; he fulfilled that will of which he had said of old—"Lo, I come to do thy will, O God: thy law is my delight;" and having offered both an atonement for sin and a complete fulfillment of the law, he ascended up on high, took his seat on the right hand of the Majesty in heaven, from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool, and interceding for those whom he bought with blood that they may be with him where he is.

The doctrine of the atonement is very simple. It just consists in the substitution of Christ in the place of the sinner; Christ being treated as if he were the sinner, and then the transgressor being treated as if he were the righteous one.
C. H. Spurgeon

18 May 2007

The Rest of the Story

by Frank Turk

I'm bumping Dan, btw, because I told him I was going to post today, and he posted anyway. Nyanyanya.

Over the last -- what has it been now? In blog time its seems like 10 years -- 5 or 6 weeks, I've been essaying on how to read one's Bible, and we got derailed by a brief rant on apologetics and hermeneutics, and last time I got back in the thing by talking about what I called a "good example" of hermeneutics in action. And we talked briefly (some might say "superficially") about how we can frame the doctrine of election by looking at the matter from the broadest possible frame of reference -- which is, from the two ends of the story. Whatever proof texts or favorite passages you might have regarding election, the fact remains that God circumscribes the matter by the scope of the covenant with Abraham ("many" -- more than a man could count), and the rock-solid book end of the Lamb's book of Life in Rev 20, where the number is finite, and those not listed there are cast into the lake of fire.

And, of course, that view has its detractors -- but none of them said, "yeah, those passages aren't relevant to the issue." That's great, isn't it? We could at least agree that these passages were definitely relevant, and the question was only to what extent they guided us in our understanding of election.

Let's be fair to me for a second here: I didn't say that these passages are the whole story -- they are not the whole story. But they set limits on the answers we can find in Scripture. And when we fill in the rest of the story -- albeit by proof text or some other parsing of the text -- we have a sort of dart board that the rest of the story has to hit in order to be relevant to our understanding.

So what's the deal with "the rest of the story" anyway? I used the apparently-controversial example of Stephen King's the Stand last time, and in order to try to keep this post from getting derailed by people offended by secular or pagan literature, I'll switch over to something less obscure -- at least in our circles.

Those of you who read my personal blog know that I am rather obsessed with 1 Cor 15:1-4. I have used it, since the beginning of my blog, as the pointer to orthodoxy. You know: anyone who wants to fiddle with what Paul there calls "of first importance" has not only gotten off the Christian bus, but he's also trying to stop other from getting onto said bus, and such a person needs to rethink the story he finds himself in. So to speak.

But isn't dropping a Scripture reference into an argument the bad kind of proof-texting? Isn't saying it sort of glib to say, "well -- 1 Cor 15:1-4. read it for yourself, bub. That's all I have to say"? Well, yes it is. But factually, we can stand on a passage like that because that's what Paul meant to do when he wrote it.

See: the rest of the story for the letter of 1 Cor is that Paul was writing to a church which he founded (see Acts 18), and he was answering their letter to him about certain problems they were having. And after 14 chapters (as we think about them -- Paul didn't write in chapters) of telling the Corinthian church all the things they were getting wrong, Paul lays it out for them plainly: "I think you guys don;t really understand what it is I was telling you for the 18 months I was with you." Well, he tells it better --

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures
Now, of course: the rest of chapter 15 here is about that last bit -- about the overwhelming importance of the resurrection. It's easy to lose sight of that if we get myopia about these 4 verses. But what Paul is impressing here to the Corinthians -- as a reiteration of what he said in his greeting to them -- is that if you are Christians at all (that is, unless you believed in vain) you have to believe the Gospel in a way that is real in the same way that the death and resurrection of Christ is real.

If you have the Gospel, you don't jockey for church status; you don't abide sin in the church -- but you also don't discipline to punish but to redeem; you get your ideas about marriage right; you get your ideas about dress and appearance right; your get the Eucharist right; you get community worship right. To Paul, the rest of the story to understand the Christian life is the centrality of the Gospel. And the rest of the story of the centrality of the Gospel is getting the Christian life right.

So another aspect of right-headed hermeneutics is using the text the way the author of Scripture intended to use the passage.

I know for a lot of you this looks like baby steps, but my guess is that those who thing this series is going forward to slowly don't find every word from the mouth of God, as Jesus said, better than bread. This is how you learn to live on the word of God, people: by reading it carefully and thoroughly and in the way it is delivered to you, rather than as God's Cracker Jack box, or the daily divine Bazooka Joe comic strip.

Be with God's people in God's house on His day this week, and try to get the rest of the story from the bit of Scripture you read this week. And listen: if you do that, you;re going to hear something which tells you to do something which is going to cost you something. Don't be afraid. It will be good for you.

Passing along a pastoral ouchy

by Dan Phillips

I am in the process of getting beaten up and beaten up as I listen to an audiobook of Richard Baxter's The Reformed Pastor. From this morning's drive-time listen, I share this timely pointer with you brothers who have the enviable position (and burden) of occupying the pulpit week after week:
A sermon full of mere words, how neatly soever it be composed, while it wants the light of evidence, and the life of zeal, is but an image or a well-dressed carcass.
You should hear the rest. I wish that this had been the textbook in my Pastoral Ministry class at Talbot.

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17 May 2007

"In doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility. . ."

by Phil Johnson

The FIRE National Conference ended last night, and I'll be back in the office before noon today, Lord willing. I preached last night about how it's impossible to make a clean dichotomy between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, and neither one is either primary or optional. Defending the faith is part of holy living (not to mention getting the truth right in the first place —Titus 2:7), and holy living is the proper and necessary dress for sound doctrine (vv. 1, 10).

It made me think of this:

o one would argue that everything in the Bible is crystal-clear. The inspired text itself contains an acknowledgement that "some things [in it] . . . are hard to understand" (2 Peter 3:16). But some of our Emerging friends give the impression they think most of the Bible is sheer mystery—so lacking in clarity that every interpretation and every opinion about every doctrine deserves equal (or automatic) respect.

That's hard to square with the many biblical commands urging us to defend the truth against those who twist it (Acts 20:28-31). There are plenty of people who do mangle vital truths, you know. Some of them drop by and post in the comment section of this blog from time to time—and one or two of them are regular gadflies here.

I'll go even further: As politically incorrect as this might sound to postmodern ears, there are abroad and within the church "many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers . . . . They must be silenced" (Titus 1:10-11). Or, in the more picturesque imagery of King James parlance, "[Their] mouths must be stopped."

How false teachers are to be silenced is one of those things in Scripture that is crystal-clear. It is not by physical force or auto-da-fé. But they are to be refuted and rebuked by qualified elders in the church who are skilled in the Scriptures, "able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it" (v. 8). That presupposes that vital truth is clear enough to know for certain. And it prescribes a clear remedy involving exhortation, reproof, rebuke, and correction.

This is to be done patiently, not pugnaciously: "The Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil" (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

And yet even within those boundaries, the defense of the faith sometimes requires a kind of spiritual militancy (1 Timothy 1:18; Jude 3). The Christian life—especially the duty of the leader—is frequently pictured in Scripture as that of warfare (2 Corinthians 10:3-6; Ephesians 6:10-18; 1 Timothy 1:18; 2 Timothy 2:3-4).

So the defense of the faith is no easy task. But it is an indispensable duty for faithful Christians. Again, Scripture is not the least bit vague or equivocal about that.

Phil's signature

16 May 2007

Dealing Biblically with apostasy

by Dan Phillips

[This is the longer (!) post that was promised/threatened HERE. That post is foundational to this; if you haven't read it, please do.]

One of my life-themes is that I keep being surprised by what should no longer surprise me.

When a question is asked and answered, it still surprises me that the answer is not received, if it is disliked. When an issue is clear-cut and the implications huge, folks who don't like it still find ways to cloud it up. The spirit of Elymas still lives.

Take, for instance, Mormonism. With the Presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney, Mormonism continues its march to the spotlight. For years I have been amazed at the many who will sell their reasoning processes to make the "Mormonism is Christian" argument. Goodness, folks, it isn't rocket science. Just to take one point:
Religion A = there is only one true God
Religion B = there are many true gods
Given the fundamental nature of the definition of God, can these possibly be compatible religions? But many of us have friends who are Mormon, and once again, as I discussed last week, sentiment overrules Scripture, and folks end up thinking what they want to think because they want to think it. "A scoffer seeks wisdom and finds none, But knowledge is easy to one who has understanding" (Proverbs 14:6).

Yet we have self-(and-oft)-proclaimed evangelical Hugh Hewitt, who recently denied that Mormonism is a cult, after fabricating his own definition of the word. This isn't terribly surprising, since Hewitt is obviously sadly muddled (for instance) about Roman Catholicism, proclaiming himself an Evangelical Roman Catholic Presbyterian. So Hewitt's addle-headedness on Mormonism cannot be too surprising; what is surprising is that Evangelicals respect his opinion on spiritual matters, and keep buying his books.

On Roman Catholicism, I'm not going to reinvent the wheel here at Pyro. Unlike too many today, we do not functionally pretend that the Reformation never happened. We do not proceed as if it were a mistake. We know why it happened, we celebrate it, and we've learned from it. We're not (as it were) 10/30/1517 Christians. We know that the Biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone is (A) central, (B) pivotal, and (C) at irreconcilable with Rome's "gospel."

Our Bibles still have Galatians 1:6-10 and 5:4, and we still believe them.

So what happens when a professed Evangelical such as Dr. Francis Beckwith, whom perhaps we have grown to trust, like, and admire, becomes a Roman Catholic?

If Beckwith had become a Buddhist, a Hindu, or a Mormon, would any hesitate to call it apostasy? But he has now identified himself with an institution who is on-record as opposed to the Biblical Gospel. Is the Gospel no longer an essential issue, if we really like the person who forsakes it?

Suppose the revert were not Beckwith. Suppose it was some obscure nobody, or some disliked figure. Would we so hesitate to use the word in his or her case?

Is it not apostasy, when the person involved is someone we really like?

This has never been merely an academic issue for me. Years ago, I accidentally (=providentially) was sent an email from a dear, Christian friend. This man's intellectual firepower was to mine as that of the Sun is to a wooden match. A wet wooden match.

Not knowing that the email hadn't been meant for me, I read it. To my utter horror, in it my friend expresses the sentiment that he was toying with the idea of becoming a Roman Catholic.

When this friend had earlier left an evangelical church for an Episcopalian church, I had expressed alarm and concern. I had said, sharing my real concern semi-humorously, "First step, Canterbury; next step, Rome; next step, Hell."

"Bud" assured me that no such thing would happen, that this church had deepened his love for God, and his earnestness to spread the Gospel.

And now "Bud" was telling a Roman Catholic that he was thinking of becoming one, himself. That was what had become of his evangelistic zeal.

So how could I respond? Given my deep affection, should I alter reality, "massage" the facts, to accommodate his choices? Would that honor God? Would it help my friend?

I wrote him right away, in deep concern and alarm. This, in part and slightly edited, is what I wrote him:
I'll be blunt, as love would (I think) require: When I hear a Christian say he's considering becoming a Roman Catholic, I hear him saying that he is considering leaving Jesus Christ.

Nor does that arise from ignorance (though every Roman Catholic invariably charges anyone who voices critical thoughts of Rome with ignorance). There may be ignorant, saved Roman Catholics. Still, for someone to have tasted of the fruits of the genuine Gospel, and to turn his back to take on the shackles of such an anti-Christ sect (as Hebrews 6:1-4 describes that tasting and turning)... I can find little comfort to offer, or hold to myself.

So since I've barged on friendship this far, I shall barge yet further.

If you asked me, I'd say, _____, for your sake and your family's, do leave the Episcopalian church. But don't leave it for Rome; leave it for God. Find a church, a little obscure church with 47 people in it, or a large thriving one with 4700 people, but a church that preaches the pure and unvarnished Word of God, without fancy trappings and encrustations. If you want culture, go to the museum twice a month. Buy a CD. But go to church to hear Christ and His Word proclaimed, without fetters or trappings.

There you have my heart for you. If you're angered, I'll be sad, and you should go ahead and hammer away. But my love for you, what, ___ years strong and still going, requires I speak my heart plainly to you.

Again I say, if I can be of any use to you whatever, please don't hesitate to let me know.
We exchanged some further correspondence. He asked me, since I was a Calvinist, what I would make of (say) a woman who had a "verifiable" born-again experience, had attended Bible Study, and basically gave every impression of being a Christian for 15-20 years — and then became a Roman Catholic. Was that person leaving Christ? Did she lose her salvation? How could I square that with my Calvinism? I replied in part:
Calvinism or not, it is the teaching of Christ that none of His sheep ever perish (John 10:28), and I accept that on His authority. But I affirm Hebrews 6:1-4 as well, and find it a terrifying warning. But it is not a warning of losing salvation; it is a warning of being all but saved, of hearing the Word of God repeatedly, of giving outward acquiescence (as unconverted Simon did, in Acts 8) of even participating in the life of the Church outwardly and giving every indication of spiritual reality to the outward eye, and yet of turning out not to have been truly saved at all.

It is well-said in Hebrews 3:14 -- "For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end,...." Note the tense: "We have become [abidingly and at some point in the past; perfect tense] partakers of Christ if we hold...steadfast [at the present moment; aorist subjunctive] until the end." So the indication of past salvation is present reality. The converse would clearly be, "For we have NOT become partakers of Christ if we FAIL TO hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end."

Imaginative lad that you are, you could pummel me with a thousand situational questions. Let's try just to stick with the teaching of the text and the specific situation at hand. What if I knew someone such as you describe, who left Jesus Christ to join himself to the monstrous Roman Catholic church? What would I conclude? I would conclude that it may be that I was mistaken about that person's spiritual reality -- as ELEVEN of the apostles themselves were indeed mistaken about ONE of their number, until he revealed his true colors. I would fear for that person's soul, and abandon all assurance of his or her salvation. I would give a clear and unambiguous call to him or her to repent, to leave off the seductive and ornate rationalizations of heresy, and to cling to Jesus Christ alone.

And if someone insisted, "Oh, I am! I cling to Him by taking to myself all these layers and layers of myth and symbolism and pageantry, and by sacrificing Him again and again in this beautiful Mass, and by loading myself with endless reams of notions never found in, and in fact ruled out by, the Word of God!", then I would be left with a choice, wouldn't I?

My choice would be: do I stand with the Word of God, or do I cast it all aside at my friend's word?

To ask that one is, surely, to answer it. And how could I help my friend if I countenanced his or her apostasy, or pretended that it was but one choice of many possible good choices? How would that be being a friend? How would that be any attempt to carry out Jude 23?
My friend stopped writing me.

My question then is my question now: how do we help anyone by lying to him? Were I a doctor, surely I would rather tell my patient that he has a benign cyst, than a malignant, cancerous tumor. But if I do, he will not know his danger, he will not seek the right cure.

Is it really about him? Or is it about making me feel better about the situation?

Apostasy is apostasy, no matter who commits it. Telling the truth in love is the only Christian option. That, and mourning, humbling ourselves and doubling our self-watch against our own inner apostate, and praying for God's convicting, converting, restoring, saving mercy towards our friend's imperiled soul.

But to hold out false hope and sentimental ameliorations, when what should be expressed is vivid and fearful alarm (cf. Galatians 1:6; 4:19-20; 3:1f.; Hebrews 3:12-13; 10:26-31; Jude 22-23, etc.)?

Ah, there's the crime.

Dan Phillips's signature

15 May 2007


by Frank Turk

Dan has shut the comments off on his post from yesterday, but he inspired some thoughts which I wanted to share.

First, consider the picture to the right. Many of you will see this woman (the actress Jeri Ryan) and recognize her immediately. And I don't think any would point to this picture of her and say, "wow. That's really provocative. She shouldn't be dressed like that in public." (Well, maybe our Mennonite readers in southwest Missouri -- but what are they doing reading a blog?) She looks good in this picture -- and we should all grow up to look this good when we grow up.

There's nothing wrong with her outfit there -- and it's hardly a burkha.

Now, before we go to the next photo, let's think about something: 1 Cor 12. This is not a passage of Scripture about how to dress in public, but a passage about how to behave in church vis a vis daGifts, right? But what's the example Paul uses to explain how to act in church? Why, it's how to dress in public! He says explicitly:

On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require.
See: the virtue of modesty is about treating "less honorable parts" with "greater honor".

So in that understanding of modesty, take a look at the photo to the left. Same actress. No skin exposed, for the most part (hands, face; nothing else out of bounds), but this costume leaves nothing to the, um, honorability of clothing. It is designed specifically to obey the letter of a law about nudity but violate the spirit of that same law.

So modesty is not about how many yards of cloth you wrap around yourself: it is about how we honor our bodies with the few yards of cloth we have. Honor your own body -- and I'll bet you receive honor in return.

And if you can't see the difference between the former outfit and this one -- which is not a matter of color or coverage but of honoring the parts of the body which require modesty -- don't start up the organ grinder music until you know where your monkey is.

Dan will have a post later today. [Dan here. Mm... not so much, sorry. Negotiating with Frank about tomorrow. —DJP] Consider this post eminently bumpable.