Archive for the ‘Theology Lite’ Category

Vibrancy, Diversity and Theology

Sunday, April 8th, 2007

Theology is both significant and sadly unfashionable in today’s church. Feeling and friendliness have full reign, ruling the day, with foundational understanding being relegated to the realm of the unnecessary, possibly even guilty of causing dissatisfaction, and reducing the possibility of church growth. A harsh diagnosis? Seemingly so, but nonetheless accurate once the facades are stripped away. Enquire of the knowledge of foundational beliefs in most assemblies, and the situation is clearly evident. This synopsis of the current situation in many churches has been quietly stated to me numerous times recently by church members (both men and women) of more than one congregation and of various ages.

On the more global horizon, this mirrors the decline of fundamental values and the rejection of sovereign origins in society as a whole. With liberal relativism and the pluralistic definition of beliefs comes constant variance in those beliefs. This yields no permanent benchmarks for sustained values, from basic civility to more global societal behaviour. Societal decline, though hidden in high sounding philosophies of man’s ability to rise above problems, continues, and reflects his imperfect nature. With this in mind, we have the spectre of the church institutionally mirroring the proforma definition of man as sovereign, confirming the downward Biblical paradigm illustrated repeatedly after the Fall.

What does this have to do with our everyday congregational and church program focus or experiences? More that might be evident initially.

Today’s church formats include many approaches in style, music, dress, sermon focus and so on. These are frequently structured to appeal to many different congregants depending upon preferences. In the case of worship this allows a diversity that helps all participate – a positive result.

A decade ago, congregants often used denominational choice to express preference within similar evangelical churches. Athough still true to a degree, many congregations exhibit every more similar appoaches to worship and church life, often resulting is very minimal denominational differences. Doctrinal and theological issues have in many cases become completely subservient to presenting a face that attracts congregants. Since the overall size of the congregant pool is not growing substantially (and has not done so over the past several decades), the churches are effectively competing for the same group. This results in the narrrowing of worship and church formats to those which are considered most appealing and desirable. This is essentially a market oriented enviroment.

Foundational doctrinal or theological issues on which a particular church or denomination was founded, especially any that might seem restirctive, demanding or controversial, are proactively removed from view as counter-productive. They are not condusive to the implicit focus on inclusion at any cost and sustained enjoyment, and this do not fit.

The result of this is very likely to be vibrant worship, heartfelt emotional experience, and often strong growth, with little or no foundational understanding or true biblical grasp of the basic beliefs or concepts of the faith. In other words, a wonderful building built on a foundation of sand. In present times this is most likely to be completely invisible and seeminly inconsequential. When looking at the church in the present, it could even be argued (falaciously in my opinion) that it doesn’t matter. In the times of tribulation (which Scripture clearly states are coming) however, how will this church and these believers fair? With the likely removal or collapse of the things supporting the organizational vibrancy, what will be left to cling to, and what will there be to fall back upon? The likely answer is, nothing. Scripture also indicates that this will also take place.

You might conclude that I am proposing that this situation is without any redeeming merit. In many ways, you are correct. I feel very strongly that the current lack of virtually any practical interest in laying solid foundational and doctrinal groundwork in believers (individually and congregationally, new or old alike) is a massive and far ranging error. The long term result is a new generation of believers with no underpining of factual belief. This senario is ripe for collapse in the face of the Scripturally predicted times of and types of tribulation. If there are times of tribulation in which many will fall away to false profits and doctrines, the developing situation as laid out here is what one would expect. The Lord is of course sovereign in all of this, but that does not mean that action is not appropriate on the level of the individual congregation.

The situation is not hopeless. The present growth of vibrant styles can work in tandem with the necessity of foundational development at all congregational levels. The rise of one does not have to mean the decline of the other, though without concerted effort experience would indicate that is precisely what does occur.

To assume (even uncounciously by omission) that new believers do not need foundational grounding as a manditory part of thier development is certain folly. To be even bolder, it is negligent. Further, that grounding does not simply imply vague compliance with some general statement of faith or beliefs. It is basic and specific understanding of the confession, catechism and theology of the faith. This is the only cement upon which a robust structure is constructed.

Futhermore, to assume (particularly in this case, by omission) that ongoing or even basic foundational grounding is not needed for existing and even long standing believers, is the height of hubris.

The laying and maintenance of foundational knoweldge is not a happenstance. It can only be accomplished by deliberate action. As with the case of vibrant worship and prayer, it most often does not happen by accident, but by design.

As we wait for the Lord, let us be deliberate in both worshipping with great vibrancy and in building a faith standing upon foundational bedrock, that we will be carried across the waves to come.

For longtime readers, some of this post may have sounded a tad reminiscent of “What ever happenned to Christian Doctrine?” of some months ago. Though it is related, recent conversations and observations have brought the issue into more practical focus. With the ground work here in mind, the next question would be exactly what should be taught, at what level and in what order of priority? All good questions…

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Expectations and the Unsaved

Saturday, April 7th, 2007

We have been discussing some of the situations that can arise for the believer in the assembly of God’s people when expectations placed on him or her meet, and possibly conflict with, the reality of the ongoing process of Santification.

But what of the unsaved in the assembly as these situations unfold? Does the senario of stumbling by believers have a deleterious effect on the unsaved observing it? Is their path towards Salvation hindered? Does the presentation of a positive face, irrespective of the reality, make the assembly better for the unsaved? Are the unsaved, upon witnessing the flaws of Saints as displayed in lapses in behaviour, pushed deeper into the world? For the saved, how do expectations and their implications inhibit or block the Scriptural directives towards supporting the believer (ie. you can’t have real accountability and teaching if the classroom is by definition serile)? And how does all of this play out in the face of Scriptural reality? A set of issues with wide scope and wider implications. Our view, admittedly, will not be exhaustive. Nonetheless, it is worth addressing.

One’s view of this will likely be strongly influenced but basic theological disposition. Though on the surface the theology may seem distant, and it’s effect may masquarade as general feelings about the symptoms of the situation, these underpinings are nonetheless the pivotal issue.

Let us begin with a very general overview of those underpinings, as related to this situation.

For the Calvinist believer, the suggestion that the process of one believer influencing the potential for Salvation, or the path thereto, in any serious way outside of the exclusive Will of God, is patently absurd. Since God is obsolutely sovereign, any affect that may appear to be propogated by a believer can only have influence on the movement of the unbeliever toward or away from Salvation as it fits within the Lord’s sovereign and preordained plans. Recall that “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” Ephesians 1:4. As such, in modern language, in the present there is nothing new under the sun. Accordingly “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself” Ephesians 1:5 (emphasis mine), and thus any effect is as planned.

In contrast, if an Armenian paradigm is adopted, there are potentially serious deleterious effects at every turn, from the tone of the assembly in the global sense, to any overt act by a believer that might portray a negative view of Christian life or the effects of Salvation in the individual sense. Since in this paradigm the future path is not preordained in a sovereign sense, a great and ongoing responsibility is placed upon both the assembly and each individual believer situationally, to alway present the optimal view to the unsaved, that they might be attracted and thier view not juandiced. There is little or no maneuvering room for any believer’s individual process of growth within this framework. One needing room for growth, with the inevitable miss-steps that occur thereis, would likely have to find it outside the body. And this is often the case. This is clearly undesireable and unbiblical. This paradigm is appealing and sensible from a Natural point of view, but it is Biblically unsupportable without interpretive gymnastics.

Consider the first question above, that is, the potential that any stumbling by believers might have a deleterious effect on the unsaved observing it. The unsaved in any situation will indeed experience effects, in that whatever we observe can not but effect us. According to Scripture, the Lord will either quicken or harded the heart of the unbeliever to the Gospel message through the Spirit. Who experiences each action by the Spirit is clearly stated as the sovereign choice of the Lord, without regard to any condition of the individual. Since the actual decision has been taken by the Lord “before the foundation of the world” Ephesians 1:4, the actions of the person were not a parameter. That being said, every situation reflecting upon the Spirit’s procative work in the heart, whether outwardling or inwardly occuring, must be part of that same sovereign plan and process.

Since the process must have the effect that the Lord intends (sovereignly willed plans that deviate are not by definition sovereign), then both the observed behaviour of a believer and the effect upon the unsaved observer must be part of the developmental plan. If the heart of the unsaved person is destined for the Lord, then irrespective of how the situation might appear, it must in some way contribute to the path to Salvation. If the observing heart is hardening, then the effect may indeed be negative, but that in no way reflects upon the believer or their process. To presume otherwise would place the believer in a partially sovereign position with the Lord. jointly overseeing the destiny of the observer.

So, what does all this imply in term of the situations and senarios that play out in the Assembly of God’s people, and is there a message for us? There are several actually, and possibly others that are not seen here…

First, Salvation is a process that will engender reaction at times. As such, some overt acting out of the believer’s underlying difficulties is to be expected. That is not to say that this behaviour is to be encourged in a ‘rewarded’ sense, but it is not something that should be shocking nor that engenders peripheral guilt. The believer should be aware of this as part of the cost, and inherent in the death of the old natural self.

Next, and more to the point in the present context, the body of believers must actively recognize the sovereignty of the Lord in this process, not in just a general sense, but also in the minutae of the interactions of the Saints and the unsaved. This is surely a cause for worship and celebration at the Glory of His work.

As the individual believer works through the reality of their Sanctification, while striving and being encouraged to show the fruits of the Spirit and love within the Body, they should not be unduly saddled with guilt in their miss-steps due to the erroneous assumption that it has hindered another. For the congregation, this should reduce the temptation to judge the fellow believer who errs. Specifically, the believer is not culpable in influencing the unsaved either towards or away from Salvation beyond the preordained, sovereign plans of God.

Does this negate the Scriptural proscription that believers should not participate in activities that, despite being of no harm to themselves, might be a stumbling block to others? Not at all. This is not at all the same issue. We draw a distinction here between the miss-step in the process of change, and that of willful defiance, though admittedly this is not always that case.

There is great diversity in those called to the Lord, and a similar diversity in their path of Salvation. The Lord is sovereign in every path. Surely, as we support (including providing accountability without personal adgenda) one another through the process, the unsaved will be impacted precisely as the Lord intends, and we will contribute to Salvation as He plans.

Soli Deo Gloria

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Fellowship in process – Who are you anyway?

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007

One evening about two months ago I was having coffee (tea, actually) with a couple of Christian brothers. Between us we represent several churches of different evangelical demoninations, all generally Reformed in flavour. We are on reasonably common ground in our basic expectations of congregational life and relationships, bearing in mind that our impressions still admittedly represent a tiny microcosm of anecdotal evidence. A draft of this post came from that meeting, but remained a draft. Then, recently I heard a related exhortation in church, and subsequently started the current topic thread. The article now fits. The Lord works even in the smallest things…

At the coffee shop meeting a discussion developed around the apparent (and unfortunate) superficiality of portions of congregational life and interaction. It was interesting that this was apparently not unique to any congregation, nor was it an anomaly related to any particular church event. It was felt, irrespective of where one now or had previously worshiped, that there was a noticable void in real personal relationships within the congregational fellowship. There was simply no depth, and it was often quite unsatisfying. This is competely at odds with what is universally preached, in term of openness and encouragement within the family of believers. There was a perception of a common church game-face (much like the classic work game-face) that avoided most openness, thereby removing the possibility of real encouragement, often when it was most needed. Since real needs were frequently not shared as a result, they remained unknown and could not be addressed within the church family context.

Having said this, were we concluding that there is no encouragement available in the face of dire circumstance? Quite the opposite actually, but that is an extraordinary situation. In the face of dire circumstance, the game-face is frequently stripped away of necessity, and actual support is requested, available and extended. But the special nature of that sort of circumstance belies the normal reality, and does not address the real issues of acceptance, fear of rejection or dissapproval, and lack of genuine fellowship, in everyday congregational life.

In considering the normal culture of the church lobby, fellowship hall, or meeting, and though there are certainly exceptions, what was experienced was definitely not what those in the discussion found to be a positive or biblical environment for the development of the Saints. It must also be noted that pleasant and enjoyable were not included in this list of missing attributes, for on a purely social level these qualities are often present and quite enjoyable. What seemed more desirable and biblical (looking back on our often limited view of the early church, and on what we know of the Lord’s comments on fellowship) was a more open environment, devoid of the necessities of social appearance which most use to live in the world. Overall it would appear that we, as the church, are often assembling but at the same time neither meeting nor coming together. This was deemed dissappointing at best, potentially destructive to the Saints and the church at worst.

In desiring an improved situation, could it be said that one is proposing some sort of utopia, devoid of any reality. No, but admittedly the word ‘easy’ is not part of the equation. Surely, however, an expectation of interpersonal encouragement and relationship based upon safely sharing our real lives (warts and all) and assist each other in working through them, is not impossibly unrealistic.

Viewed through the lense of the disappointment and basic dissillusionment articulated in the discussion, what would appear to be occuring in many congregations is a subtle but steady increase in the influence of the world within the bounds of the fellowship of believers. As long as we view each other from the point of view of worldly values, then our view within the fellowship of believers will be increasingly juandiced. In that senario many will perceive a need of personal protection (the game-face). Part of the key issue here is those wordly values that are used to evaluate others. If these normal secular paradigms are carried unchallenged into church relationships, then it will follow that the reactions and behaviour of believers will follow suit and be worldy.

Could it be that this need or lack is specific to some sub-group or groups within the demographics of the typical congregation? This is very likely. Those that at any point in time form the mainstream of a congregation, or for whom congregational life (by design or situation) forms a minor role in satisfying their personal needs, are unlikely to notice this issue since it does not touch their normal pattern of living. Those for whom the assambly of believers potentially forms a significant part of their emotional lives, however, are more likely to be marginalized if they do fit perfectly, and likely must seek supportive relationships either in the para-church if available, or outside the Body. This is unfortunate and undesirable.

While we live in this life, waiting for the Lord one day at a time, this problem will always be a struggle by virtue of our broken world. However, possibly an awareness that it is a struggle, an awareness of the effects of the world within the congregation, and discussion with an open desire for something else, can help. Recalling the previous post on expectations subtely communicated to believers, there is a close link between that problem and this phenomenon. The solution in that case will go a long way to alleviating the situation under discussion here.

It is hoped that by shining a light on these closely linked symptoms and focusing back on the Word and the Lord, there can in some way be a small beginning to working together as a true people apart, even now.

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Sanctification – Expectations and Behaviour

Sunday, April 1st, 2007

There seems to be a paradox between the process of Sanctification and the behavioural expectations within that process proposed by many Christians, as well as many churches. The result can be quite counterproductive and diss-heartening for the believer. This stems from preventable error.

Scripture indicates that the process of Sanctification and the subsequent presence of the Spirit will yield recognizable fruit in the Saint, namely “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” Galatians 5:22-23. These are clearly desirable and recognizable behaviours.

It is also implied elsewhere (and accepted by most) that part of the cost of the process of Salvation will be the exposure and working through of the parts of one personality, approach, etc. which do not line up with the emerging new self. This is part of the refining process, driven by the Spirit. Scripture, however, does not state or imply a time frame for the appearance of these attributes (fruits). Since we are never complete until Glorification in the presence of the Lord, this is a life long process, which will likely vary in intensity over time, and the appearance of the results will be progressive in nature.

The tone of the associated Scriptures implies that during the refining process, while difficult changes are being wrought within the Saint thought the work of the Spirit behind the scene, that person is nonetheless expected to strive towards the ideals of behaviour expressed in Galatians. That notwithstanding, most will falter at times in the normal course of events. In fact, Scripture characterizes the process as on-going and often difficult. Seeking the Lord in these times of challenge is an important part of developing dependence upon Him alone, in the face of worldly difficulty and the temptation of worldy solutions.

All fine, so far, but do you see the potential paradox that could be presented to the Saint, depending upon how this set of internal and external circumstances is spun by a Christian ‘authority’?

The difficulty arises in well meaning, but partial, presentation of the overall senario of Sanctification, as it relates to living in the world. In most cases, it occurs when the reality of faltering is forgotten or glossed over superficially, and only the requirement to exhibit the recognizable fruit becomes the sole communicated expectation.

Time and time again we hear preached the need (or even the requirement) for consistent, continuous, demonstrable, clear evidence of the fruits of change in the life of the redeemed. These results are expected to be obvious to all and sundry. Further, the presentation often also contains the implication that these results should be particularly obvious to the unsaved, for the express purpose of casting the best possible light upon Salvation. Admitedly this is not always stated quite that bluntly, but the implication is nonetheless there quite clearly.

There is high probability that this can set up conflicting expectations for the individual, and actually make the process more difficult.

On the one hand the Redeemed are being refined by the Spirit, likely experiencing a multitude of internal conflicts from time to time. In many cases this will make their remaining ‘flaws’ stand out all the more obviously. It may even in some cases precipitate behavioural miss-steps or at least a less than perfect image as they work through the situations of life with a completely new and emerging perspective, fueled by the Spirit. This will most likely not provide to the world a perfect image of the fruits of the Spirit.

In 1 Corinthians 10:13 it states that “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (emphasis mine). This does not say that the escape will be without difficulty or struggle, or that it will be transparent on the surface in the individual’s life. In fact, if the process is of sufficient magnitude to require the Lord, then the most reasonable conclusion is that the upheaval will be obvious. And it may well produce a less than desirable surface appearance at times.

On the other hand, the Saint is exhorted (at least implicitly) on a regular basis to search for clear indication that they are exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit. Encouragement to examine the changes and symptoms is positive, but then comes the problem. They are also exhorted that these fruits must be evident on the surface, and that the appearance they present is to attract the unsaved to the Faith. This clearly implies that it is then a responsability to present a face to the world as a saved person that will fullfil the world’s expectations of a Christian, in such a way as to attract them to the Lord (and in most cases the church). Also, and more incidious, it may be implied that absence of clear and obvious surface indication of these fruit most of time (pesumably as determined by those looking on) may be an indication that Salvation might be questioned. Though this may be simply missguided, I find it presumptuous, possibly even subtly arrogant, and in need of re-evaluation.

Having heard this exhortation to display positive results, and with often challenging problems occuring as a person struggles with the refining process internally, what is the probability that they would expose their real struggles within the exhorting environment, be it church or group? Very low to say the least!

Does this mean that the fruits of the Spirit should not be preached and extolled, that believers should not be encouraged to pursue behaviour reflecting the fruits of the Spirit, or that the behaviour within the body of believers should not be discussed or subject to due accountability? Not at all, as these factors are important. However, it does indicate the needed for a more balanced discussion and set of expectations. This would go a long way to increasing fellowship and actually assisting each person in their unique process.

Lastly, let us examine what might be considered the most serious underlying problem. One of the major stated reasons that is preached for the unvarying display of joyous Christian life, and by implication the implicit encouragement to supress anything else, is to entice the unsaved and unchurched into the fold. We have likely all heard that almost verbatim from time to time. In essence it is trying to ‘prove’ something to the unbeliver. This implies that our actions in this regard are a pivotal factor in the calling of the unbeliever to Salvation. When exposed, the implication is that if you we do not display the correct appearance, irrespective of what is occuring, the Salvation of the unbeliever willl be in jeopardy. This line of thought and action is not only counter-productive to the very openness that is the hallmark of legitimate assembly, but it implies serious error concerning the origin and motivation for Salvation. Their feelings for a particular assembly or group may be changed, but their call from the Lord is separate and beyond effect.

In “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will” Ephesians 1:5, and “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son” Romans 8:29, nor anywhere else does it mention any conditions for success related to the technique or perfect appearance of the assembly of believers.

Having said all this, what of the effects on the fellowship of believers, and on the unsaved in the assembly? We will hopefully get to that shortly…

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Five Point musings on Luke 6:45-49

Thursday, March 29th, 2007

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

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

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

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

If this is not the case, and if indeed the good or even the bad treasure of our hearts is established even marginally by us, then problems arise and our internity exists on very shakey ground indeed. Scripture states that by virtue of its fallen nature the heart is bad (evil) and that none are worthy to be saved, not one. We are both collectively and individually portrayed as utterly lost in our trespasses and sin. These trespasses and sins are always against God, irrespective of the external circumstance, since He is the standard beyond all circumstance. Since (again from Scripture) bad can not create good of itself, we are without any ability to alter our basic nature. That being the case, intervention from outside our natural state is required for change to occur. There is no other possibility.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And once again, I never said easy…

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

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Only one vote in this election

Saturday, March 17th, 2007

Following on from the previous post, a few more comments on Mark 13…

It is made clear that as the tribulation progresses, the family that is being saved is the family of God, the family of believers. It is the family bound by the blood of the Lord, not necessarily the blood of the flesh (thought those who are related by flesh may be saved). It would also seem that this includes the Angels (the elect of heaven) since they will be gathered “from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven” (verse 27).

In verse 10 we have “The gospel must first be preached to all the nations.” Does this imply, as some propose, that every person in every nation must hear the Gospel? Since ‘all’ is used in many places in the New Testament to indicate not every single person but a reasonable number from some group (eg. ‘all of the city came out’ does not mean every single person but a large representation), then the answer is no. It does seem to indicate, however, that the Gospel will reach every nation at some level. Since one must assume that they would hear it from the body of believers, this indicates that evangelism and missions continue to hold a significant ongoing role in the lead up to the end.

In verses 8, 12 and 13, among others, it is clearly stated that the peoples will be divided at every level of society, even within the nuclear family. When this is followed by “the elect, whom He chose” in verse 20 indicating those who would were appointed to salvation, it is clear that election crosses every boundary of human society and relationship.

Further, since this choice by the Lord was accomplished before the creation was put in place (”He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” Ephesians 1:4), it must be unrelated to any human factor of either individual merit or demerit, or of human relationships, as shown in the divisions discussed above.

So, there we have it in a microcosm – all of Him, according to His original plan alone, working towards His ends alone.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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Just for you and I

Monday, March 12th, 2007

In speaking of the days of tribulation to come, Mark 13:20 states that “Unless the Lord had shortened those days, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom He chose, He shortened the days.” Lorraine Boettner, in The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, sums up what this implies: “It is for the sake of the elect that God governs the course of all history”.

Mark goes on, in the remainder of that chapter, to described and caution of various difficulties related to the wrap up the era in those days, culminating in the sudden return of the Lord (Mark 13:26-27).

I had of course read this before, and I had the idea, but the enormity of it struck me personally like lightening this time. Here we have the Lord in effect choreographing the course of all history so that the elect could fulfill their destiny in Him. Election in and of itself certainly implies this, but not in a way that is immediately grasped so starkly and personally.

This means that you and I, as believers, were not only the recipients of salvation and that entire Grace filled process which places us in eternity with Him, but the very course of human history was set in place just as it is so that each individual one of us was guaranteed that eternity. The reality of what has been given here is beyond words!

You may be thinking “What is he going on about! I knew that all along”. Maybe so, but for me it was not in a personal and truly convicted sense, if you get my drift. Knowing, and being convicted of something about you personally, can be different. Nuance possibly, but nonetheless a critical one. One understanding is flat, the other has complete experiential dimension, so to speak. Somehow the realization of the totality of the plan required to support the elect (each unique one) makes the remainder of that chapter all the more a stark reality. It is a call to arms of sorts for the elect, to cleave to the Word alone and to Christ alone, in faith, in the face of what is to come, remembering the scale of what has been crafted for our benefit (and to His glory).

It makes it clear to me that the biblical basics will be the only armour in the times of difficulty (tribulation) ahead of His appearance.

Now, let’s pause a moment to blunt a related argument. If the Lord did as Mark clearly both implies and states, then there has to be an elect. And if Heh chose that elect as the verses state, then there has to be a non-elect. Otherwise Mark’s use of those terms makes no sense.

Beloved, let us, in faith, cling to Him alone and to the Word alone, until the fullness of His plan is revealed.

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Hell or just not so nice?

Sunday, March 11th, 2007

Have you heard the word Hell or some equivalent in church recently (or even not so recently)? No? Well you don’t appear to be alone. So the question is – What’s up with that?

Similarly, have you heard the word Heaven much, and if so, in what context? You likely have heard it now and then, but not with any great emphasis in the presentation of the Gospel. So again, the question is – What’s up with that?

This doesn’t mean that you haven’t heard some form of the Gospel message, and it doesn’t mean that Salvation is not passionately recommended and preached (though it may not be). But it does say something about the completeness of the message being delivered. And, contrary to what some might propose, completeness here does matter.

The Gospel message is, of course, overwhelmingly one of redemption. But, and it is a big but, the alternative is eternal separation from God and eternity in Hell after death. That is complete message.

When the message is presented, as it often may be today, with just the present needs as motivation to turn to the Lord (that is, you are a sinner and need the Lord in your life now), possibly including any indirect appeal about the benefits of Heaven, but without a clear statement of the eternal consequences of not being saved being layed out, then the entire message is watered down. If the entire picture is not painted, then the wonder of and priority of what is being offered is partially lost.

Is this therefor advocating the weekly preaching of classic fire and brimstone, ad nauseum? Not at all. That would be accentuating the downside of the message, which would be similarly inappropriate. The positive side, to me, should almost always have precedence. However, there must be some balance, and the consequential side must be clearly layed out. If it was not to be included, then the Lord would not have stated it so clearly and repeatedly. And He did emphasize it in Scripture.

The usual justification today for not including anything negative in a presentation of the Gospel is that potential converts or itinerant listeners might be offended. They might be confronted by something that they would find either too negative or disturbing.

In this age of correctness, presenting something negative that might offend some people is unacceptable, especially if you are trying to sell them on or even attract them to something. The key here is that we are not trying to convince anyone of anything. We are not trying to covnince them and we are not trying to convert them. That is not within our mandate from the Lord. That is the sole mandate of the Spirit. Our mandate is to present, completely and honestly.

The other side of the Gospel message should be disturbing. When it is not, then there is something amiss. Part of the message is the reality of the eterenal consequences. Arguably that may not be the most important part, but it is significant.

Let us look at the eventuality of a negative effect on the listener who is faced with the complete message. The reality is that some people will likely be turned off or alienated by a balanced presentation of the clear, complete message. Since there are those who will not be among those who will come to the Lord, that is to be expected. Scripture states that their hearts are hardened to the message. But it is not the presentation of the complete message that hardens their hearts! It is the Spirit that does it, at the bidding of our Father.

As to those who are predestined to be His (Ephesians 1:5), the effectual calling of the Spirit is sovereign and can not be resisted (Romans 8:29-30). The presentation of the complete message in this case is exactly what is needed. Not to say that an over the top or ham-handed delivery might not shock them back momentarily, but that is not what we are considering here. Even then, however, the Spirit can not be resisted since He is acting out God’s sovereign will.

So, let us present the Gospel message in totality. In this, with its presentation of both salvation and the consequences of judgement, is the glory of the Lord’s creative plan displayed as intended. Without Hell, the message of Heaven does not present the glaring difference in destiny that is the reality, and which must be grasped by the listener.

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TULIP – Much more than a flower

Sunday, March 4th, 2007

It’s all about control! Who is in control, that is.

A discussion concerning Reformed Faith and Calvinism stimulated me to put pen to paper about this (actually fingers to keyboard but it sounds so much less poetic).

Before we start let me point out that I am an unapologetic Calvinist. Not a hyper-Calvinist, mind you, just a plain old 5 point, TULIP sniffing believer. I might even be a 4.8 point guy according to Eric Svendsen but that does not affect the present discussion. Along with this position comes belief in the complete Sovereignty of God. Again, total Sovereignty, plain and simple. And the corollary of that Sovereignty is the conviction that God is in Sovereign control, not just in theory but in daily practice. (For those unfamiliar with these terms, here is a link to a primer on Calvinism).

In the above mentioned group discussion we were talking about the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism. There were the usual arguments on both sides, and no real resolution, as is often the case. Later, I was musing about how unsatisfying I had found it, and why. Sure, we didn’t agree, and yes, I would like to be agreed with, but that wasn’t the whole story. There was something more fundamental that bothered me.

I realized that what bothered me was that all the difficulties that had been expressed with the Calvinist position implicitly reflected some level of rejection of the absolute Sovereignty of God.

There were great, sensible, laudible reasons that the Arminian position made sense from a human perspective, and it clearly made many things more practical on the surface. But that is totally irrelevant.

The absolute Sovereignty of God is not something of mere lip service. Either he is or he isn’t Sovereign. If he is, then the entire Arminian position on man’s will and its effects falls away. Man does not get to select or create any aspect of his position concerning salvation.

Any rejection of the absolute in absolute Sovereignty immediately begs the question of how much sovereignty and who has it. If man becomes an active agent for his salvation in any degree, then he is in effective control of the paradigm. That makes Natural man by implication a co-creator with God (of the future). As such he is then vested with some sovereignty. If God is a Sovereign God, that is utter nonsense.

To follow that thread just for a moment, man would be responsible for himself to at least some degree. Since the natural man by Scriptural definition in the realm of Satan and thereby predisposed to that paradigm, he is helpless to act outside of it and is incapable of motivating himself in the direction of salvation. He can not be other than who he is. If God is not the sole active agent and the requires man’s co-operation, then he can not and will not act in the direction of salvation. In today’s parlance, man is ‘toast’.

Further, even assuming that there was salvation by this means, then if it was up to the naturual man, with his wordly disposition, whether his salvation continued, his nature would cause him to fail in an instant. None of the saints would perservere.

I have no interest (nor the academic letters and apologetics expertise) in exhaustively expounding the Doctrines of Grace in this forum. My real interest is in the implied ‘control issue’ mentioned at the beginning.

As natural men (and women), we are bound into the paradigm of control. By that is meant assumed self-control and self-determination. This reflects the message of the natural, not the heavenly, realm into which we are born and is thus fundamentally Satanic in nature. Specifically, it assumes that man is under his own control, is able to pull himself up by his bootstraps as needed to accept salvation, and thereby by implication creates his own destiny in Heaven. This assumption is not usually stated this brazenly, but that is the heart of it. It may even be surrounded by niceties about looking to God, but the act and impetus of seeking and accepting salvation as an act of will is still being ascribed to man. As such, it vests the control (sovereignty) to man and not to the Sovereign control of the Lord.

The Sovereign control of God is absolute, or it isn’t sovereign. If even a bit is vested in man, then God is not in control any longer and the implications roll out quickly and widely into chaos and the future unkown.

God has unequivically stated in Scripture that He is absolutely sovereign, and acts at the pleasure of His will (alone). As such, everything is His, everything is controlled by Him and everything is at his disposal. No matter how it might appear from our myopic viewpoint, this means that we can only be called to Him by Him. There can be nothing of us in it in an independent sense, for it is against our nature and outside our sphere of ability as natural men. We are His, and He calls us to Himself, to glorify Himself. If we had an independent role, we would be glorified in the decision, and that is completely outside the stated purpose of creation. It was from the beginning for His glory.

It is always very seductive for natural man to want to give himself an edge in his destiny. It is part of our natural makeup. and is quite understandable. However, though the Father, our Lord, and the Scriptures speak volumes about the Sovereignty of God, they are complete silent on any sovereignty of man. It simply isn’t there, folks, except by interpretational implication – which is man made and even then appears to be a stretch.

This certainly won’t put the discussion to rest, but the helplessness of man and the resultant need that he be called by God into repentance and salvation, seems to me to flow directly from the absolute Sovereignty of God. He alone calls, He alone causes us to come since we are natural men and as such are totally unable to do so, and His sovereign decision can not be changed by us (nor by Him due to His nature as God).

So there you have it. TULIP, what flower could be sweeter…

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Redeemed, How I love to proclaim it!

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007

“Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it!
Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;
Redeemed through His infinite mercy,
His child and forever I am.
”

At the end of a recent conversation with a brother I said “The Elect are elect, period.” He responded “Now that in itself is scary.”

Surely not! For the believer, the place of rest is surely in the safety of Perseverance of the Saints. There we rest in the certainty that we are His and have been since before the beginning of time (Ephesians 1:4), and that no-one shall be able to pluck us from His hand (John 10:28-29).

For those taking the opposite view, what is there? If our calling and continued assurance of salvation was dependant in any way whatsoever upon our natural, worldy selves, then any realistic appraisal of the situation would leave one in constant anxiety and fear. What a nightmare.

What of those who walk away, some might ask? Did our Lord not warn us that some of the sheep would not really be sheep, and that there would be tares among the wheat?

But let us not dwell on that which is not of us, nor upon erroneous and fearful views that the world would use to tempt us to worry and fear. Let us sing the wonderful refrain above from Fanny Crosby, and rest in the assurance of Scripture and the joy of His grasp.

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God’s Sovereignty in Grace

Sunday, January 7th, 2007

I recently heard an opinion about Grace which gave me concern as I thought about it. It concerned the responsibility of the believer to extend the Grace which they had received on to others. It proposed that failure to do so would likely make the Father unhappy, and would possibly engender some sort of correction. I have no fundamental problem so far.

It further proposed that the extension of Grace telegraphs from believer to believer, with the action of each believer being required so that Grace can pass to others. In illustration, it was suggested to see a string running from believer to believer, joining the body. Grace would telegraph through this chain, extending outward and reaching those downstream. Should the Grace not be relayed by a link, the string would be cut, the Grace would stop there, and those downstream would not receive the intended Grace.

Although I would certainly agree that it is stated biblically that it is the responsibility of believers to extended Grace to others, and that failure to do so may be credited to their heavenly account, the implications made of mans’ position in the distribution of Grace are in error.

The extension of Grace is a sovereign matter. It is of God and not of man. Though we can extend Grace, as it was extended to us, that extension is for our benefit and has no effect on the actual Grace that the Lord has deemed will be extended to another. To posit otherwise is to deny a key part of Devine Sovereignty and make ‘works’ a key part of salvation (and thereby evangelism). This to me is a serious error indeed.

As a sovereign act, the distribution of Grace will occur, no matter what any or all believers should do. It is, again, all of God and not of man. My, or your, actions in extending Grace may be part of our development under the hand of the Spirit, and may make life in the Body a little more pleasant, but it will not play a part in the action of Grace being received by another, or not.

Think of it this way. If Grace flows via a string, that string goes to each of the elect from the Lord. Maybe the agency of that direct link is you and I, but the link is to the Lord. Our actions are for our development within His plan for us, and maybe for another, but the actual action is always from Him.

Since Grace flows from the Father, by means of the Spirit, the actions of one believer have no real relevance upon another in that respect. To propose that extension of Grace is dependent in any way upon the activity of men means that it can be thwarted by those actions. That is to deny God’s absolute sovereignty therein.

So why split hairs over a simple view of Grace? Viewed from a perspective of absolute faith in the Sovereignty of the Lord in this matter, one may draw the correct conclusions. If that is not the case, however, and if the listener (as was likely the case in the situation under review) has a shaky base in the Sovereignty of God and other tenants of the Reformed faith and/or they have an underlying base of ‘works’ theology, then the message here is fraught with possible misinterpretation and seriously wrong conclusions.

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A Tales of Two Johns

Wednesday, December 27th, 2006

John Calvin and John Wesley, of course!

Continuing on Spiritual Warfare, let us now turn to responsibility and consequences. With the outworking of life as a reflection of that warfare, and active actualization of the battle between principalities and saints, where does personal outcomes as a result of individual actions fit in?

The Reformed premise of saving grace is that it is not of us: ” For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” Ephesians 2:8 (NASB). We can not save ourselves, even a little bit, so what implication does this have in living in the world after He has called us to Himself?

We have already seen that we are actively involved in the divine struggle. Looking at the principalities involved, and our human affinity for the world of Natural Man, if we do not subscribe to the Perserverance of the Saints (the P in TULIP), we are in big trouble indeed.

Those who know that salvation is not of ourselves, but of the Lord, also know from Scripture that “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand;” John 10:27-28 (NASB). Thus they can rest in the knowledge that in the ongoing battle they are safe in His arms for eternity, worldly outworking notwithstanding.

For those who take the Wesleyan view, and see a human role in salvation, and more importantly a human role in maintaining that state, there are big worries and loads of jepardy.

Since we are born to sin, and for all intents and purposes can not help ourselves in this regard, requiring His quickening in order to consider the promise of salvation other than foolishness, then even once we are His how could we maintain that state if any of the responsibility was ours? Clearly we could not, and we would be in constant danger if the end should approach at the wrong moment.

Thankfully, it is all of Him alone (Solus Christus), through His Grace alone (Sola Gracia). Since His will can not be thwarted, we as believers shall perserver into Glory.

Now, does the fact that the Wesleyan does not believe this mean that he, once saved, is in any actual jepardy? An interesting question.

And assuming that there is a fight to be undertaken through our participation, how do we as believers proceed?

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Theology lite?

Wednesday, December 27th, 2006

Why theology?

First it is a primary interest. I want to explore certain issues that related mostly to Reformed Theology and it’s presentation (or not) within the church. Since this related more to the theology itself, it seems to fit in a separate thread from the Life in the Body or How then shall we live, which are more situationally specific.

Why lite?

Well, because in the theology area I am not a heavy hitter. If you need a more academic and recognized treatment, then a visit to Real Clear Theology with Eric Svendsen or In the Beginning with William Ramey is in order. I certainly do not hold the credentials to claim to be authoritative on, nor have an academically exhaustive knowledge of the issues at hand.

Nonetheless, I feel called to explore and writing on these issues as they present themselves.

So fasten your seat belts please…

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