29 June 2014

"I would have you be decided"

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from Words of Wisdom, pages 74-75, Pilgrim Publications.
"I have often thought the best answer for all these new ideas is, that the true gospel was always preached to the poor—“The poor have the gospel preached to them.” 

I am sure that the poor will never learn the gospel of these new divines, for they cannot make head or tail of it, nor the rich either; for after you have read through one of their volumes, you have not the least idea of what the book is about, until you have read it through eight or nine times, and then you begin to think you are a very stupid being for ever having read such inflated heresy, for it sours your temper and makes you feel angry, to see the precious truths of God trodden under foot.

Some of us must stand out against these attacks on truth, although we love not controversy. We rejoice in the liberty of our fellow-men, and would have them proclaim their convictions; but if they touch these precious things, they touch the apple of our eye.

We can allow a thousand opinions in the world, but that which infringes upon the precious doctrine of a covenant salvation, through the imputed righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ, against that we must, and will, enter our hearty and solemn protest, as long as God spares us.

Take away once from us those glorious doctrines, and where are we, brethren? We may lay us down and die, for nothing remains that is worth living for. We have come to the valley of the shadow of death, when we find these doctrines to be untrue. If these things be not the verities of Christ, if they be not true, there is no comfort left for any poor man under God’s sky, and it were better for us never to have been born.

I may say what Jonathan Edwards says at the end of his book, “If any man could disprove the doctrines of the gospel, he should then sit down and weep to think they were not true, for,” says he, “it would be the most dreadful calamity that could happen to the world, to have a glimpse of such truths, and then for them to melt away in the thin air of fiction, as having no substantiality in them.”

Stand up for the truth of Christ; I would not have you be bigoted, but I would have you be decided.

Do not give countenance to any of this trash and error which is going abroad, but stand firm. Be not turned away from your steadfastness by any pretence of intellectuality and high philosophy, but earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, and hold fast the form of sound words which you have heard of us, and have been taught, even as ye have read in the Book, which is the way of everlasting life.

27 June 2014

The word and the Word: do not sunder what God has joined

by Dan Phillips

Ask a group of Biblically faithful Christians how God is known. Some will likely answer, "In Christ." Others, "Through the Bible." I had just such an array when I asked the other day, as we have been studying how God reaches out to us and how we must respond.

Well, which response is right?

Broadly, one could say that three answers have been given in the history of the Christian church. Taking "A" as representing "In Christ," and B as "Through the Bible," we can treat them thus:

A, not so much B. This would be broadly the view of Christianoid liberalism of all stripes. Like virtually all false teachers, they do want to be seen as on the Jesus bandwagon, so they would claim Him. "Christ, not doctrine" would be their rallying cry. It might be neo-orthodox shaped with a sprinkling of existential spice, but it would amount to this: "We must encounter the living Christ. The Word witnesses to this Christ, but it is just the words of men witnessing poorly and fallibly to the Christ. It is inadequate. All that matters is the soul's contact with the living Christ, a contact that can't be tied to dogma or reduced to doctrines."

This is useful, of course, because this "living Christ" usually fits in pretty well with wherever the professor wants to go. This "living Christ" gets down with the world just fine. He's for evolution, "a woman's right to choose," "marriage equality," "social justice," "empowering women"; He's green, He voted for Obama, He loves Huffington Post, He's not so sure about literal Adams and Jonahs and falling walls and man-swallowing fish. In other words, He pretty much hates and loves what the world hates and loves. The  professor need not deny himself, much less take up anything as distasteful as a cross.

Machen killed this monstrosity decades ago but, like Freddy Krueger, it just keeps coming back. Unlike Freddy, it does change its shirt from time to time. But it's always the same nonsense, under the skin.

Both A and B. Many orthodox Christians would sign onto this, and it's a vast improvement. It at least recognizes that Christ and the Word are not opposed to each other. In fact, I wouldn't quarrel too insistently with this answer, as long as its view of B matched B's witness to itself.

However, I think this isn't the best way to put it. It still envisions a parting between the two that doesn't do justice to the role Christ Himself (A) gives to the Word (B). That is better expressed as...

A, by sole means of B. Of course and always, the intent is to know Christ truly and intimately (Ephesians 3:17-19; Philippians 3:10). And this can happen only as we are born of the Spirit (John 3:1ff.), and the Lord opens our hearts (Acts 16:14). But by what means, through what instrumentality, is this accomplished?

As I've been studying closely with my church on Wednesday nights, God has always had but one means of making Himself known, from the first moments when there was sentient life: by His Word. This has always been the case. Adam's first recorded experience of God is of God speaking to him; and so it goes through redemptive history. The grand trans-covenantal paradigm of Abram is that his right standing before God came through his saying "Amen" to the word of God (Gen. 15:6 and context).

Nothing has changed in the coming of Christ. He preached, He preached and preached; He was known as "the teacher." His miracles showed that his preaching had power, but their meaning was known through His preaching. When people came for his miracles, He moved on so He could preach more, say more words about God and His Kingdom (Mark 1:33-38).

This is what He said would be the norm. The mark of someone who was a genuine disciple was that that person continued in His word (John 8:31-32). That person who experienced God and knew God personally would be the person who kept Christ's commands and word (John 14:21, 23). Christ's abiding in the person would flourish by means of His word abiding in him (compare John 15:4 and 7).

And so it continued after He ascended. When Peter was surrounded by inquiring unbelievers, he preached God's words to them and used those words to urge them to salvation (Acts 2). The saved — reconciled to eternal fellowship with God — were those who embraced his word (Acts 2:41). Again and again, Luke describes the spread of Christianity as the spread of the word of God (Acts 6:7; 12:24; 13:49). In fact, how would we today have fellowship with the Father and the Son? Through the words of God through the apostles (1 John 1:1-3).

This is but a brief sample. I could just put it like this. You say the really important thing is to know Christ. I say "amen." And then I ask, "Who is this 'Christ'? Where do we learn of Him? Where do we find out infallibly who He is, what He taught, what He did, what He offers and demands, how I can know Him, and how He wants me to live and think?"

You know the answer.

A, by sole means of B.

Don't sunder what God hath joined.

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26 June 2014

"God Without Mood Swings"

by Phil Johnson

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following excerpt was written by Phil back in April 2010. Phil used Exodus 32:10-11 to address the doctrine of Impassibility.

As usual, the comments are closed.
Scripture tells us that the eternally unchanged and unchanging God became so angry against Israel at Sinai that He threatened to annihilate the entire nation and essentially void the Abrahamic covenant:
And the Lord said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation. And Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand? (Exodus 32:10-11).
Two things are perfectly clear from such an account: First, we are not to read this passage and imagine that God is literally subject to fits and temper tantrums. His wrath against sin is surely something more than just a bad mood. We know this passage is not to be interpreted with a wooden literalness.

How can we be so sure? Well, Scripture clearly states that there is no actual variableness in God (cf. James 1:17). He could not have truly and literally been wavering over whether to keep His covenant with Abraham (Deuteronomy 4:31). Moses' intercession in this incident (Exodus 32:12-14) could not literally have provoked a change of mind in God (Numbers 23:19). In other words, a strictly literal interpretation of the anthropopathism in this passage is an impossibility, for it would impugn either the character of God or the trustworthiness of His Word.

Nonetheless, a second truth emerges just as clearly from this vivid account of God's righteousness anger. The passage destroys the notion that God is aloof and uninvolved in relationship with His people.

In other words, we can begin to make sense of the doctrine of impassibility only after we concede the utter impossibility of comprehending the mind of God.

The next step is to recognize the biblical use of anthropopathism. The anthropopathisms must then be mined for their meaning. While it is true that these are figures of speech, we must nonetheless acknowledge that such expressions mean something. Specifically, they are reassurances to us that God is not uninvolved and indifferent to His creation.

However, because we recognize them as metaphorical, we must also confess that there is something they do not mean. They do not mean that God is literally subject to mood swings or melancholy, spasms of passion or temper tantrums. And in order to make this very clear, Scripture often stresses the constancy of God's love, the infiniteness of his mercies, the certainty of His promises, the unchangeableness of His mind, and the lack of any fluctuation in His perfections. "With [God there] is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17). This absolute immutability is one of God's transcendent characteristics, and we must resist the tendency to bring it in line with our finite human understanding.

24 June 2014

To be or..to become: when translators should try harder (John 1:1, 6)

by Dan Phillips

Last week I discussed an instance where the ESV used two different words to translate the same Hebrew verb in two consecutive verses, unintentionally obscuring a significant point of interpretation. There are cases where the reverse happens. One such is John 1:1 and 6.

Everyone knows verse 1, which doesn't warrant much creativity from a translator: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." That word "was" crops right up again in the ESV of verses 2, 3, and verse 6.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
"Was," "was," "was." Of course, verse 3 doesn't count since "was" there is just an auxiliary verb ("was made"). But the English-only reader is left to assume that every other occurrence of "was" must either translate the same verb, or that there is no exegetically-significant variation. Both would be incorrect assumptions.

In verses 1 and 4, the verb is ἦν (ēn), which is the imperfect active indicative of eimi, the common copula (I am). At this point, novices have sometimes waxed a bit imaginative, noting that the imperfect means continual action, so John is saying that the Logos continually was at creation.

Theologically, this is of course accurate. Etymologically, not so much. It might be, if a simple past (aorist) finite form of eimi were available to John. None was. Just the present (estin, is) and the imperfect (ēn, was). John could not have used that verb to say that Jesus "was," in the aorist tense, if he'd wanted to. (To oversimplify, aorist serves for punctiliar past events, with no emphasis on process: he ate, she sat, he built.)

But what of verse 6? According to the ESV, it's the same: in the beginning was the Word (v. 1), there was a man sent from God named John. The Word was, John was. No point is being made.

However, John (not the ESV) used two different words. Verse 6 employs the aorist tense of the verb ginomai, meaning simply "I become." It indicates beginning to be... something. Becoming something. Springing up on the pages of history.

In practice, one can't translate ginomai with forms of "become" every time, and I'm not arguing that we should. However, here it's pretty clear that John is making a point by using two verbs — ēn, ēn, ēn, ēn, ēn, ēn ...then egeneto. He introduces two characters in his opening verses: the Logos, and John. One had a beginning, one was at the beginning. The contrast between the two is, very literally, infinite.

So why not at least note the fact in translation? Sometimes, it is simply impossible to reflect nuances of Hebrew and Greek in English. Here? Not at all. Many translations make some try, such as "came" (NASB, NET, ASV, NJB), and "arose" (Rotherham). You could say "A man came to be; his name: John." But the ESV is not alone in apparently not even trying: "was" is found in ESV, NIV, CSB, KJV, and NKJV.

I can't even speculate about what moves translators to do or not do many things. It just seems like it's most respectful of the text to try to note both similarities and differences in the original text when one can. John could have used a sixth ēn, but chose to use egeneto instead. If we can reflect his word-choice, I think we should.

And here, we can.

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22 June 2014

No apology given!

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from Words of Wisdom, page 112-13, Pilgrim Publications.
"Never judge according to numbers; say they are nothing but men after all; if they be good men fight on their side, but if they and the truth fall out, fall out with them." 

Be a friend to the truth; make your appeal to the law and to the testimony, and if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.

That was grand of Latimer, when he preached before Henry VIII. He had greatly displeased his majesty by his boldness in a sermon preached before the king, and was ordered to preach again on the following Sabbath, and to make an apology for the offence he had given.

After reading his text, the bishop thus began his sermon:— “Hugh Latimer, dost thou know before whom thou art this day to speak? To the high and mighty monarch, the king’s most excellent majesty, who can take away thy life if thou offendest; therefore, take heed that thou speakest not a word that may displease; but then consider well, Hugh, dost thou not know from whence thou comest; upon whose message thou art sent? Even by the great and mighty God! who is all-present, and who beholdeth all thy ways, and who is able to cast thy soul into hell! Therefore, take care that thou deliverest thy message faithfully.”

He then proceeded with the same sermon he had preached the preceding Sabbath, but with considerably more energy. Such courage should all God’s children show when they have to do with man.

Thou art thyself nothing but a worm; but if God puts his truth into thee, do not play the coward, or stammer out his message, but stand up manfully for God and for his truth.

20 June 2014

Literal translation can make a big difference: example from Proverbs 8

by Dan Phillips

Have you been following along in, and been using the outlines for, my sermons through the book of Proverbs?  If so, you'll have noticed, to your amusement or amazement or indifference, that I always provide my own very literal ad hoc translation. Here's an example of why.

As I have explained more than once to my dear ones here, I don't do it to supplant any standard translation. Our church used a now-out-of-print edition of the NASB, and has since switched to ESV. Probably like anyone who's studied Greek and Hebrew closely, it drives me nuts. Every translation does. There is no fresh, consistently and readably literal translation.

Now, my point isn't to discuss translation philosophy or debate individual translations, but to make one point. I don't know whether it's the effect of committees or what, but one of the specifics that drive me nuts is the interpretive clues that translations withhold from readers.

For instance, here's one all translations do: there are a number of different Hebrew words for "fool" and "folly" in Proverbs. English versions all tend to render them all simply by "fool" and "folly." If Solomon is doing something with his word-choice, no English reader can tell; he'll sometimes look unnecessarily repetitive — as in 17:21, where ESV has "fool" twice to render two unrelated Hebrew terms.

Now, some of this is pretty much unavoidable. Anyone who reads my translation will say it's well-nigh unreadable, and I will agree. It's extremely literal. It isn't meant to replace a standard translation. My point is to try to make transparent nuances of structure and word-choice that a smoother, more readable translation would obscure.

Sometimes there's no good reason for what English versions do, and the less-literal hides delightful features of Solomon's art.

An example is found in Proverbs 8:32-36. Here's the ESV:
32 "And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways.
33 Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it.
34 Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors.
35 For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD,
36 but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death."
It looks like Wisdom asks them to listen and promises a blessing, says to hear (similar word, but different), then gives blessing and warning. And that's not wrong. Nobody is harmed by that translation.

But what Solomon's doing is a bit more artful than what's apparent. Here's my very-literal translation:
8:32  “So now, sons, listen to me!
And oh! the blessings of those who keep my ways.
8:33  “Listen to discipline, and be wise,
And do not ignore it.
8:34  “Oh! the blessings of the man who listens to me,
Watching at my doors day after day,
Keeping vigil at the doorposts of my opening.
8:35  “For he who finds me finds life,
And he obtains favor from Yahweh.
8:36  “But he who misses me does violence to his own soul;
All who hate me love death.”
Oh, look, that's a little different. "Listen" is in v. 32a, and v. 33a; then "oh! the blessings of" begins both v. 32b and v. 34a. Could that mean something?

Indeed it does. It means that verse 32 is the key to the entire section. Line A's call to listen is expanded in the terse imperatives (three imperatives in five words) on v. 33, and Line B's exclamation "oh! the blessings" is expanded in vv. 34-36.

In other words, Solomon has Wisdom saying "So now, sons, listen to me!" in Prov. 8:32a. Keying on "listen," verse 33 then expands this to three commands of which two are positive and one negative. It is a terse five-word verse, of which three words are imperative. Positively: listen, be wise. Negatively: do not ignore.

Then in Prov. 8:32, Wisdom exclaims "Oh! the blessings of those who keep my ways." What does all that involve? She tells us in vv. 34-36. Keeping her ways involves listening (again!), eagerly watching at her doors daily, keeping vigil at her every opening (v. 34). The one who does this gains real life, which is to say favor from Yahweh (v. 35). This bounty is heightened by a glance at the anti-blessing, the consequences of not seeking and finding her: doing violence to one's own soul, and loving death. (As I expound it, Lines A and B ov v. 36 are cause/effect, then effect/cause, respectively.)

What ESV does with vv. 32 and 33 is what it does when it's at its worst: simply echoing RSV without needed revision (pun noted, not intended). Both versions translate the exact same Hebrew word (שִׁמְעוּ, shim`û) by two different English words (listen, hear) in two sequential verses. (CSB and [it pains me to admit] NIV do not obscure this connection.)

As I said: does it harm anyone? No. Would a false doctrine be born of it? No. Could a reader read and be blessed and built up? Absolutely.

But as I say and have often said, a pastor is like a professor of ancient Hebrew and Greek literature. It'd be pretty rough for him to teach that course without knowing the languages. And one of the things that knowing the languages does for anyone is show greater color. If you've got a good B&W TV, can you watch Star Wars or Sound of Music and "get it"? Absolutely. But might you miss the color, and in some cases, the beauty is in the chromatic variations? Sure.

Proverbs 8:32-36 is a perfect example where a pastor's possession of a color TV can serve to bless his congregation with a deeper appreciation for and reverence of what God did in inspiring Solomon to craft this masterpiece.

POSTSCRIPT: having said all that, it is also true that the woodenly-literal can sometimes mislead an English reader, as I illustrate in today's post over at my personal blog.

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19 June 2014

The abiding authority and perspicuity of Jesus' teaching

by Dan Phillips

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following excerpt was written by Dan back in December 2010. People find many ways to deny Jesus' Lordship claims; Dan addressed three of them.

As usual, the comments are closed.
Everybody who's heard of Him tries to "deal with" Jesus, and there are only two basic ways to do it:
  1. Submit to His Lordship claims; or
  2. Don't
The latter category has many varieties, of which this post hits on three.

There are the airy hand-wavers, who like to dismiss Jesus as a child of His time, merely reflecting current beliefs and speaking only to them. Some will throw in the gem that He wrongly expected the apocalypse within a few years, so He taught with no long-term thoughts or expectations.

It may be a lovely theory to some, but it comes to grief on the facts of history. The only Jesus who actually lived expected His words to be around, and to remain binding, for the duration of history. Note: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (Matthew 24:35).

Second, there are the wild and wacky cultists. There are the "Mind Science" cults such as Christian Science, Unity School of Christianity, and Religious Science, as well as other New Age cults. They approach Jesus' words almost as if they were floating in mid-air, free to be re-attached to any philosophy or worldview at all.

They forget that Jesus spoke from a knowable and understandable spiritual/intellectual framework. He has a context. Jesus was quite emphatic in His embrace of the literal truth of the entire Old Testament as the Word of God, from its earliest narratives (Matthew 19:4-6) to its latest (Matthew 23:35). He saw the entire Old Testament as a revelation of God, pointing forward to and framing Him and His work (Matthew 26:54Luke 24:25-2644-47). The imagery and phrases and even specific words He used were already familiar to any careful student of the Old Testament.

Finally, there are academic Gnostics, who imply that no one can puzzle out Jesus' meaning unless he has immersed himself in highly-academic, highly-specialized studies.

If the great bulk of Jesus' teachings are comprehensible only to academics, then Jesus was a failure as a teacher. He was less the consummate teacher (as He claimed; Matthew 23:8Luke 6:46), and more of a verbal graffiti artist, penning images lost on all but a tiny fragment of the initiated.

Regular readers know I'm far from denigrating godly scholarship. However, Jesus' words and images were chosen by vast, limitless, shoreless wisdom, crafted to connect with all sorts of people throughout history until the consummation (again, see Matthew 24:35). It seems that children were never far off (Mathew 18:2), and His audiences were made up of a wide variety of folks (Matthew 14:21). Jesus Himself rejoiced that the academics of His day missed what the "children" were able to grasp (Matthew 11:25).

So we go astray if we look for highly coded or highly specialized language. It's a step back to pre-Reformation Roman tyranny, the Bible reserved only for the Specialists and held off from commoners.

The Bible was meant for commoners. Jesus spoke to commoners.

After all, "the fullness of time" (Galatians 4:4) did not come until Jesus could teach people in a dialect that came to be known as Κοινή.

Which means "common."

17 June 2014

Satan, Christ, us: an exercise in perspective

by Dan Phillips

In my reading of Luke, I was bowled over afresh by the unimaginable, mind-blowing audacity of Luke 4:7 — "If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours."

This being who is speaking knows who he is talking to. The religious leaders didn't, the masses didn't, Jesus' own brothers didn't. His parents had at least a glimmer. Even His own students would be slow in putting everything together, and then only by an act of divine revelation.

But the speaker knew. Satan knew.

He was fully aware that he is talking to the Second Person of the Trinity, to God incarnate. His minions just could not keep their mouths shut about that fact (Mark 3:11). He had the facts, whatever nightmare tangle he'd since made of them. He was aware that this one before him created heaven and earth, was the Father's dear Son, had the real right to rule over all.

And yet, hear him speak here! Listen to him. Just try to wrap your mind around what he is trying to do, what he presents as his grand offer to the Son.

Satan clearly actually strikes the pose that he can cut a deal with the Son, that his proposition just might swerve Jesus from the course His Father assigned Him. If he went for Satan's alternative, Jesus would not redeem mankind, would not fulfill the Father's will, would not execute the eternal counsel of the Trinity, would not set in motion the eventual redemption of the universe — all because of this little bauble Satan dangles before Him.

And even the bauble was created by the One he addresses. In fact, in those words of v. 6 (ἐμοὶ παραδέδοται, "to me it has been handed over") — by whom were these things delivered (Col 1:16)?

If Satan can stand in front of Jesus and talk this way without dissolving into a quivering puddle of abject "please-don't-destroy-me" terror, what can we suppose that we represent to him? How must he see us?

What an incentive not to allow the least little bit of daylight between us and the Lord. Facing an adversary of this magnitude of sheer hubris, we are no match. We can only do as our Lord did, and stand on Scripture — and, by means of Scripture, stand really, really close to Him (John 14:21, 23; cf. Eph. 6:10ff.).

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15 June 2014

Have you done your part?

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 38, sermon number 2,261, "One worker preparing for another."
"I revere the man who, in his old age, when there is weight in every syllable that he utters, concludes his life by urging others to carry on the work of Christ." 

It is something to gather about your last bed young men who have years of usefulness before them, and to lay upon their consciousness and their heart the duty of preaching Christ crucified, and winning the souls of men for the Lord.

So you see that David had done his part toward the building of the temple. I should like to ask every believer here, Have you done your part? You are a child of God; God has loved you, and chosen you; you have been redeemed with precious blood. You know better than to think of working in order to save yourself; you are saved; but have you diligently done all that you can for your Lord and Master?

It was well said, in the prayer-meeting before this service, that there are several thousand members of this church who could not preach, and there were some who did preach of whom the same thing might be said, for it was poor preaching, after all; and our brother said in his prayer, “Lord, help us who cannot preach, to pray for the man who does!”

Have you, dear friend, who cannot preach, made a point of praying for the pastor of the church to which you belong? It is a great sin on the part of church-members if they do not daily sustain their pastor by their prayers.

Then there is much else that you can do for Christ, in your family, in your business, and in the neighbourhood where you live. Could you go to bed tonight, and there close your eyes for the last time, feeling, “I have finished the work which God gave me to do. I have done all that I could for the winning of souls”?

I am afraid that I address some who have a talent wrapped in a napkin, hidden away in the earth. My dear man, go home, and dig it up, before it gets altogether covered with rust, to bear witness
against you. Take it up, and put it out to heavenly interest, that your Lord may have what he is entitled to receive.

O Christian men and women, there must be very much unused energy in the Church of God! We have a great dynamo that is never used. Oh, that each one would do his own part, even as David did his!

13 June 2014

The Snarky Materialistic Reductionism Dodge (NEXT! #41)

by Dan Phillips

Challenge: Oh look. Bob's talking about his Invisible Friend!

Response: ...came the noise from the bipedal meatbag-shaped hodgepodge of random atoms.

(Proverbs 21:22)

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12 June 2014

Do you want a church to belong to? Are you sure?

by Frank Turk

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following excerpt was written by Frank back in October 2007. Frank addressed several wrong-headed ideas regarding church membership.

As usual, the comments are closed.
From the day of Paul and his life after founding all those churches across the ancient world, the church was never perfect. Go back and read this post by me and look at the state of the churches Paul was writing to. The churches Paul founded were frankly not perfect -- they weren't even really very consistent. You know: it's not like 40 years had passed between the time Paul founded the church in Corinth and when they decided that the Lord's table was really a private party and not a public place where sinners demonstrate their unity in Christ, or where they had, apparently, forgotten the Gospel which is of first importance.

And Paul's first letter to Corinth didn't say, "Dudes: flee to the hills -- your pastors and elders are apostates." He said, in effect, "remember the truth of Christ and find unity in truth."

So in our right-minded expectation for Christ to come soon, we cannot at the same time look at Christ's church as something which we hold at arm's length.

I don't think people mean to profane the things God has made holy -- I think many people are simply looking for something which has never existed in the history of time and space, and our expectations of others are too high and of ourselves are too low.

That is: we want to find a church that makes us holy and perfect rather than seeing that Christ makes us holy and calls us out to be joined together in spite of the fact that none of us are right now perfect in the "things we do to ourselves and other people" kind of way. We are not the spiritual equivalent of "Mr. Clean" -- Jesus is. He is the one who cleans the whole house and everything in it, not you or your book-larnin', and certainly not the perfection of the pastor at your church. When we get that right, we can get a lot more right in the way we act toward others.

You know: the holiness of the church doesn't come from the holiness of the members. It comes from Christ.

John, at the end of his life, sees visions and hears the Glorified Christ say stuff, has the audacity to write stuff like this:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
Now, look at all the "us"'s there -- and he's saying "us" to churches which Paul has written off decades before, and to whom he is about to write the letters of warning and condemnation.

That's not to soft-soak the warnings in the next 3 chapters: that's to say that even in giving these churches strong warnings, John wasn't ready to say that individuals needed to flee the church. He was ready and able to say that it is for the truth of Christ that we must stand firm, and it is by being the church that we repudiate error.

So before you get to "But I have this against you" or "some there who hold the teaching of Balaam" or "you tolerate that woman Jezebel" or "I will spit you out of my mouth", go back to the greeting John gives and ask yourself if you personally should spit out of your mouth something Christ's blood has purchased.

10 June 2014

The hateful practice of redefinition

by Dan Phillips

Last Wednesday, one of those minor household accidents happened while I was away. My dear wife was readying some of her award-winning chili which, in my house, usually requires the accompaniment of corn bread. Everyone in my family loves corn bread, excepting only me. So chili needs corn bread, and corn bread needs honey. But our honey was crystallized.

So Valerie popped it in the microwave and got it boiling hot or thereabouts. In transferring it, something slipped, and she poured this boiling hot honey on her hand. Both she and my boys swung right into action.

What did they do?

What Valerie didn't do is say "Boiling honey has gotten a bad rap all these years. At some point, uptight and narrow-minded people took a wrong turn and labeled the experience of spilling boiling honey on your hand as 'painful' and 'bad' and 'harmful.' But if we read the ancient texts right, they were talking about particular honey produced by bees visiting a particular flower that grew only in Greece, and only in the fourth century BC. Our modern honey is nothing like ancient honey. We can't apply those categories to this experience."

Likewise, what my boys didn't do was to say, "Oh Mother-dear, because we love you so, we are going to embrace and celebrate your new discovery of this new experience of joyous new-honey-pouring. In fact, we must change the language. Instead of 'boiling-honey burn,' let's call it Glistening Aroma of Sweet Pinkness. You've just had a GASP of joy! Here, we want to be supportive! Let us boil some more for you!"

As I say, they did none of this. Instead, Valerie gave a yelp and headed for the tap, and the boys got her ice and took care of her. Because all the scholarly papers by all the pointy heads in all the world wouldn't change the fact that boiling honey hurts like fire.

You're a sharp bunch and I'm sure you know right where we're going. Yet another sad soul has reportedly greeted yet another scion's sin against God his Creator by trying to redefine reality to enable his son's damning immorality. And, as always, he is unsuccessful.

What we are seeing in such small events as well as the large sweeps of legislation and litigation is a large-scale attempt to force everyone to say that spilling boiling honey on one's hand is a good thing, a real good thing. Because the aim is to remove the shame from soul-ruining perversion. God forbid that someone feel bad for doing bad.

But feeling bad is as much for our good as are the pain receptors that told Valerie that something had gone amiss in meal preparations. If the honey hadn't hurt, she wouldn't have treated the injury. Worse, if she could have persuaded herself that it was actually a positive experience, God knows what might have followed.

It is the lot of fallen men in full flight from God that they "know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die" and, notwithstanding, still "not only do them but give approval to those who practice them" (Romans 1:32).

Now, we expect (or should expect) lost  people to act like lost people.

But the professedly saved?

The place of the loving Christian is to stand athwart all such ultimately-ruinous, ultimately-hateful attempts, no matter how widespread they are nor how loud the applause. The call of God on us is to show such deeds to be what God says they are, to affirm the shame that attends them (Ephesians 4:11-12) and, at the same time and at least as insistently, point to the only One who legitimately strikes at the root of and offers the sure remedy for all such shame, both theirs and ours (1 Cor. 6:9-20).

But to tell a supposed loved one "Go ahead, pour boiling honey on yourself, everyone who ever said it was a bad thing was deluded"?

How much do you have to hate someone to do that?

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08 June 2014

Chance is not in our creed

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Gospel of the Kingdom, Pilgrim Publications, pages 73-74.
"God observes the death of a sparrow, and he much more notes the lives and deaths of his people." 

Even the least part of his children’s bodily frame has been registered. The very hairs of their head are counted and catalogued; and, to the most minute circumstance, all their lives are under the arrangement of the Lord of love.

Chance is not in our creed: the decree of the Eternal Watcher rules our destiny, and love is seen in every line of that decree.

Since we shall not suffer harm at the hand of men by their arbitrary conduct, apart from the will and permission of our Father, let us be ready to bear with holy courage whatever the wrath of man may bring upon us.

God will not waste the life of one of his soldiers; no, nor a hair of his head. If we die in God’s battle we live in the grandest sense, for by loss of life we gain life.

06 June 2014

The pivotal nature of youth

by Dan Phillips

After preaching on the sad saga of the sluggard (Proverbs 6:6-11) at the church I serve, I had the opportunity to open it again, modified, for some yoots at a local Christian school.

Over the years I've often thought about this mini-discourse, this pointed proverbial parody. On this reading, I was struck with greater force by one particular passage. Here's how I translated it quite literally:

6:9  Until when, sluggard, will you lie there?
When will you rise from your sleep?
6:10  “A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to lie down….”
6:11  Then comes, like a vagabond, [1] your poverty,
And your lack like an armed man! [2]

[1] Literally “walking man.”
[2] Literally “as a man of the shield.”

In this song, Solomon hasn't given his usual call (listen! give ear! attend! treasure! memorize!). The reason can probably be sought in the form of address — not "my son," but "sluggard!" He knows there's no point to call this layabout to anything rigorous. So he finds him on his belly, and talks to him there.

In his attempts to wake up the laggard's languid braincells, Solomon asks questions. Note that they're not yes/no questions. Every youth leader — and every parent! — learns to avoid yes/no questions. Instead, the sage poses provocative open questions: "Until when? When?" The message is that the sluggard will eventually have to rise; but when will this happen?

The sluggard answers in v. 10. Of course he'll get up! He has a plan to do that very thing. Just... not yet. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands. That's all he asks. Then yes, of course, in due course he'll be right up and right at it.

But then verse 11 gives the wise man's answer to the sluggard's response. And it's a doozy.

Escalation of various kinds is common in proverbs. Line A commonly makes a statement, then Line B escalates it. We see that here in this verse. This is what the sluggard's policy of "Work? not yet! / Idling? right now!" will bring him. First, destitution will come as a vagabond. This is a wanderer, a prowler; someone who simply goes about and strikes by stealth and through inattention.

But the second man is a different sort: he's an armed man. The first takes what you have while you're not looking. Theoretically, if you were more alert and more on-guard, you might foil him. The second man, however, puts a sword-point at your throat and says, "Hand it over, and do it now." In that case, your choices are essentially nil.

As always, this proverb is meant to provoke thought and reflection. What's the thought here?

Well, there was a time when this sluggard had abundant opportunity. God had loaded his days with treasures. He woke up in God's world, breathing God's air, subject to Wisdom's call to listen and learn the fear of Yahweh, and be wise (Prov. 1:20ff.). He had parents to love him and teach him of God, and prepare him for life. His future lay open to him. The choices he would make today would affect all his days to come.

Oh, but the use he chose to make of all this was to make no use of it at all. He whiled it away. He learned to defy or dodge his parents, to avoid or skim his responsibilities, and to turn a deaf ear to the Word of God. Instead of cultivating a deep and vital relationship with God, he cultivated a deep and ennervating relationship with rationalizations and excuses and distractions.

And now all those opportunities are gone, destitution is at hand, and poverty (of many kinds) has a knife to his throat.

There's a great deal more to be said, but it would take us beyond the length I aim at for blog posts. You can find some of it here.

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05 June 2014

The Biblical Concept of Liberty

by Phil Johnson

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following excerpt was written by Phil back in July 2007. Phil explained what true Christian liberty is in contrast to prevailing erroneous views.

As usual, the comments are closed.
The biblical concept of liberty has little to do with the way that word is popularly used in the evangelical community nowadays. When Paul speaks of liberty, he is not primarily concerned with the dos and don'ts of Christian behavior, styles, entertainments, beverages, and such. (Pushed to its extreme, the perspective of "liberty" that obsesses about rules and "standards" will spawn either Pharisaical legalism on the one hand or worldly libertinism on the other.) But in Paul's view, authentic Christian liberty has two vital aspects:

First, our liberty in Christ is a freedom from the yoke of sin.

Liberty in Christ is not a freedom from spiritual responsibility. It is certainly not any kind of moral autonomy. It is not a release from the divine standard of righteousness. It does not mean we are discharged from our duty to obey the moral law. If you think of liberty in those terms, you need to think again.

In fact, there's a name for that kind of thinking. The theological term for it is antinomianism. Antinomianism is the belief that our liberty in Christ releases us from any and all obligation to the laws and commandments of God. Some will even boldly tell you that the moral law of God has no binding authority for the Christian. But the liberty described here is not freedom from the moral demands of the law.

On the contrary, Scripture clearly teaches that freedom from righteousness is no freedom at all. The apostle Paul says in Romans 6:20 that to be free from righteousness is to be enslaved to sin. Jesus said in John 8:34, "Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin."

So fix this in your thinking from the very start: The liberty Christ promises is first of all a liberty from the bondage of sin, and therefore it cannot be a the kind of freedom that nullifies our obligation to the moral law of God.

Romans 6:7 says, "He that is dead is freed from sin." And verse 8 goes on to show that we are dead in Christ and therefore we are liberated from the bondage of sin. Paul's whole argument in Romans 6 is summarized with these words in Romans 6:17-18: "Ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness."

So our liberty in Christ, paradoxically, involves a positive kind of servitude as well. It's not an absolute freedom or moral autonomy.

Second, true Christian liberty is freedom from the yoke of the law.

Now this is the point at which many people get confused. Didn't I just say that Christian liberty doesn't erase the moral duties set forth in God's law?

Yes, but the "yoke" or burden of the law doesn't consist chiefly in the standard of moral righteousness it affirms. The moral demands spelled out in the law were not inaugurated by the law, nor is our duty to live in accord with God's moral standard eliminated just because we're "not under the law" covenantally (Galatians 5:18; cf. Romans 6:14-15).

What made the law of Moses a burden was not its moral content per se. In fact, the law's exaltation of righteousness is what made the law holy, just, and good (Romans 7:12). But the law itself could never justify sinners. Even in the Old Testament, believers were justified by faith when a righteousness not of their own merit was imputed to them. That's Paul's whole point in Romans 4. No one was ever saved by his or her own obedience to the law.

The whole point of the law is to condemn sinners and leave them with no hope but the grace of God. The law is a killer. It can only condemn; it cannot save. That is the curse of the law.

And that is the very curse Christ frees us from. Galatians 3:13: "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us." He took the guilt of our sin, and He was punished in our place. He died, bearing the guilt of our sin, not His own. So the curse of the law is eliminated. The demands of the law are fulfilled. Our guilt was transferred to Christ, and He paid for it. Now His righteousness is transferred to us.

That's real liberty. "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (John 8:36).