Confronting Falsehood in the Church

falseIt is striking how often Jesus’ apostles warn the church about false teachers and divisive persons. In the Pastoral Epistles Paul calls Titus and Timothy to beware of false teachers in Crete and Ephesus, respectively. But it’s not just these two pastors who are to address falsehood, the entire New Testament calls out the darkness resident in the church. Because of the cosmic conflict between Christ’s church and Satan’s hordes, false doctrine and false living are regular threats to Christ’s kingdom.

Since many churches face such internal and internecine threats, we need to steel our minds with God’s Word so that we might boldly address the darkness around us. Continue reading

Singing the TULIP from the Baptist Hymnal

baptist

One of the saddest effects of the Calvinism debate among Southern Baptists has been the way the discussion about predestination, etc. has moved from the realm of praise to that of polemics. Truly, the faith we hold must be defended. Christians are a people who are called to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Nevertheless, when we find election in the Bible it is often  a source of praise (Ephesians 1:4–6), a motivation for missions (John 10:16, 26; Acts 18:9–10), and a reason for comfort and assurance (Romans 8:29–39). Rarely, if ever, is election up for debate in the Scripture.

For this reason, discussions about “the TULIP,” which only swim in the pond of argument and persuasion, miss the genre and the goal of biblical election. While I cannot speak for all Calvinists, I can say the ones I know are far more interested in worship and winning the lost than winning the debate about “Calvinism.” For those who hold to the doctrines of grace, the doctrines of grace increase our affections for God and his mission to reach the world for Christ.

For Calvinists, unconditional election is a source of sheer amazement that God would set his love on such a worm as me. Limited atonement becomes a risk-empowering confidence that the cross will accomplish the salvation of all God’s sheep. And irresistible grace is the power God employs to free sinners, so that they can freely follow him.

To be sure, each of these points need sub-points, but the doctrines of grace—to those who delight in them—are not mere theological shibboleths; they are invitations to worship the omni-benevolent and all-powerful God. With this in mind, it is not surprising to find that the Baptist Hymnal (the old one) is filled with songs that not only touch on the TULIP, but praise God for the very doctrines espoused in that acronym.

Now, maybe you’ve never noticed just how many (not all) hymns are written by Calvinists. Once you begin to learn the backdrop to the Baptist Hymnal, however, it is hard to miss the rich hymnody produced by the likes of Isaac Watts, John Newton, William Cowper, and others who affirmed the TULIP. It is my hope that by drawing attention to the following songs, you might see the doctrines of grace in their native habitat—the praise and worship of the church. My prayer is that God may open your eyes to behold the beauty of his multi-faceted grace, what sometimes goes under the acronym TULIP. Continue reading

From Performing in the Flesh to Panting for the Spirit

vinePerforming in the flesh is shorthand for doing work unto the Lord in your own strength, by your own wisdom, and with your own will power. In short, it is service without spiritual grace, and Satan loves to seduce you with it. Such Spirit-less service may be outwardly beautiful, relationally effective, or even successful, but because it is done without faith, it displeases God (Rom 14:23; Heb 11:6) and bears no lasting fruit. Sadly because our hearts are deceitful we may even call such unbelieving service good, when God does not. For that reason, it is always right to return to the Word and ask: What does God say?

What service does God find pleasing? What counterfeit performances originate in unbelief? And how can we tell the difference? Continue reading

The Lord’s Supper: A Messy Meal for Messy People

traySilver trays, clean hands, fresh bread, sterile cups, and a well-ordered room may be just a few of the things that keep us from seeing how messy the Lord’s Supper is. And how the Lord’s Supper is for messy people.

Think about it. The cross of Christ was invented to be the most horrendous bodily experience known to man. It is reported that spectators sometimes vomited as they watched the crucifixion. One account describes the physical effects of the cross this way.

Naked and embarrassed, the victims would often use their remaining strength to seek revenge on the crowd of mockers who had gathered to jeer them. They would curse at their tormenters while urinating and spitting on them. Some victims would become so overwhelmed with pain that they would become incontinent, and a pool of sweat, blood, urine, and feces would gather at the base of their cross (Death by Love, 25).

In Jesus’ case, we know he did not use his remaining hours to malign his accusers. Rather, he prayed for those who killed him; he granted pardon to the thief next to him; he cared for the mother who had once caressed him; and he prayed to the God who was abandoning him. In all of these ways, Jesus’ death was wholly other. And yet, his body beaten and bleeding, lacerated and lashed to the cross, was a mess.

From what we know of crucifixions at the time, Jesus’ “cross was likely already covered in the blood of other men. Timber was so expensive that crosses were recycled; therefore, Jesus’ blood mixed with the layers of blood, sweat, and tears of countless other men who had walked that same path before him” (ibid.). All in all, Christ’s crucifixion was anything but a sanitary affair.

Pure and holy? Absolutely!

Clean and sterile? Hardly! Continue reading

The Story of God’s Glory: Celebrating Christmas Year Round

gloryIn a few days, our family will take down all our Christmas decorations. I am sure you will do the same. There is a sadness that comes with the end of Christmas season. Thankfully, for those who know Christ as the Incarnate Lord, Christmas as a holiday on the calendar is trumped by Christmas as a yearlong testimony to the everlasting incarnation of God the Son.

Therefore, while it is right to take down the tinsel and wreaths, we can continue to celebrate and rejoice in the fact that God became a man. Immanuel. God is with us. And with that never ending reality in mind, I share a Christmas thought that I shared with our church a few weeks ago.

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Christmas songs tell the wonderful story of Christ’s glorious birth. Think of how many speak of Jesus’s coming in terms of his glory. (Hymn numbers taken from The Baptist Hymnal [1991]).

Hark, the herald angels, “Glory to the newborn King.” (“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” 88)

Angels, from the realms of glory, Wing your flight o’er all the earth; Ye who sang creation’s story, Now proclaim Messiah’s birth. (“Angels, from the Realms of Glory,” 94)

Son of God, of humble birth, Beautiful the story;
Praise His name in all the earth, Hail the King of glory. (“Gentle Mary Laid Her Child,” 101)

See, to us a Child is born—Glory breaks on Christmas morn!
Now to us a Son is giv’n—Praise to God in highest heav’n! (“See, to Us a Child is Born,” 104)

Add to these lines the choruses praising God’s light breaking into the darkness and his splendor coming to earth, and we come to understand why our Christmas hymnody is some of the most sublime in all our hymnals.

But what is the glory of God? And what does it mean to give God glory? Continue reading

Dramatizing the Gospel: Church Membership

bodyIn recent years, the human body has been reshaped and sometimes reengineered. Whereas gender was once biologically determined, today society invites children to choose their own gender. And for some, when their body doesn’t match their gender preference, they are invited to trade their parts for new ones.

Fortunately, Christians know that our bodies are not plastic figurines. We believe our bodies gifts from God, even if we might humbly protest their size, shape, or strength. Sadly, the same cannot be said about the body of Christ.

Christians who decry modern manipulations of gender often ignore the manifold ways Christ’s body has been misshapen. By ignoring what Scripture says about the church (a subject known as “ecclesiology”), evangelical churches have willingly retooled, repackaged, and recreated what churches look like—often with mantras like, “we do church differently,” or “we’re not your ordinary church.”

Such sloganeering reminds us how far the church is willing to bend with this principle in place: As long as we don’t change the message, it doesn’t matter how we do church. The problem with such a view is that it fundamentally ignores the Bible, especially how the NT speaks about membership in Christ’s body. Continue reading

Thanksgiving According to the Psalms

thanksgivingWhile some of us may still be eating leftover turkey, most of us have moved from Thanksgiving to Christmas. This is understandable, as calendars and commitments require us to live in the present, not the past. But let us not forget that giving thanks goes beyond thanksgiving.

Indeed, in all Paul’s epistles minus Galatians—oh, those foolish Galatians!—he begins by giving thanks to God for the people he is addressing. Throughout the Bible thanksgiving is a normal and necessary part of saving faith. And so it ought to be a normal and necessary part of our daily living—not just a holiday season in November. Still, what does thanksgiving look like on a regular basis? And how can we grow in our expressions of thanksgiving?

Let’s go to the Psalms to answer that question. Continue reading

What Does Revival Look Like?

fireWhen the First Great Awakening occurred in the 1730s and 1740s, Americans experienced a great outpouring of the Spirit of God. Many cried out in terror from a deep awareness of their sins. Many more wept for joy as they experienced genuine forgiveness and the power of the Spirit giving them new life.

Concurrent with these works of God, many false professions were also reported. While the Spirit “awoke” many from their spiritual tombs, Satan also manifested himself as an angel of light by deceiving many into believing they had experienced God when, in fact, they had not (cf. 2 Cor 11:14). As pastors of the era observed, many reported having heavenly visions while others heard God speak sweet words to them. Yet, what made these experiences prove false was the way that such people showed no corresponding change in behavior (i.e., holiness towards God and love towards others), nor was there explicit trust in Christ’s death and resurrection.

What does revival look like?

This was the question being asked in that era. And today, we ask it from another angle: How would we know revival if it came? Would it merely increase religiosity in our culture? Would it mean less crime, better families, or improved race relations? Or is there something more Christ-centered, even cross-centered, that must be seen? These are vital questions when considering revival and perhaps the best answer can be found from the Great Awakening itself. Continue reading

What is Evangelical Feminism? And Where Did It Come From?

rolesEach week, I write a bulletin insert for our church. The topics have ranged from the structure of Genesis 1–11 to assisted suicide to discerning types in the Bible. They usually relate to the sermon or a hot topic in the culture. And though they do not exhaust the biblical, theological, or ethical considerations of any subject, they do help our church members “think Christianly” about many matters of faith.

This blog post is no different. It broaches a subject that requires far more historical, cultural, and ecclesial attention than I am able to give here. But it is a start. Addressing the matter of evangelical feminism is meant to remind us that none of live in a cultural vacuum, and that even most stalwart “bliblicist” inhabits a world where feminism is the norm.

As Robert Samuelson noted this week in the Washington Post, birth control pills, radical feminism as advocated by Betty Friedan (The Feminist Mystique, 1963), and no-fault divorce have changed the way Americans think about marriage. Family life has been radically altered by these three phenomena, and in many ways they have each contributed to the other. Therefore, witnesses for Christ must be aware of how their thinking has been (explicitly and/or implicitly) shaped by feminism and from where those presuppositions originate.

What is evangelical feminism? And where did it come from?

Feminism can be defined as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” Evangelical feminism is the related belief that men and women can and should exercise the same offices in the church (e.g., pastor, preaching) and that husbands and wives should mutually submit to one another in the home. Such a view is common among Christians today, but it wasn’t always that way. (This view has been defended in the book Discovering Biblical Equality; it is has been opposed by Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth). Continue reading

You Are What You Eat: A Lord’s Supper Meditation

lordsupper“You are what you eat,” couldn’t be more true than when talking about the Lord’s Supper. When we come to the Lord’s Table we are declaring our confidence in Jesus’s body and blood as our singular hope for salvation. At the same time, we are receiving through a complex and simple sugars a taste of who we are—redeemed sinners adopted into the family of God.

Identifying the New Covenant Meal

When Jesus transformed his last supper into the Lord’s Supper, he took bread and broke it saying, “This is my body, which is given for you.” Then he took the cup saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:17–19). In his words and actions, Jesus was passing down a tradition that would forever recall the meaning of his death.

Jesus’s death revealed God’s judgment upon human sin, but because Jesus died for the sins of his covenant people, his death substituted for the punishment of his covenant people. Jesus spoke of his death and the Lord’s Supper in covenantal terms, because his blood inaugurated a new kind of relationship between heaven and earth.

Speaking specifically about the promises of the new covenant, Hebrews 8 teaches the believer what God has done for them in Christ. First, the new covenant moves me to delight in the law that is written on their heart. Second, it gives me saving knowledge of God through Christ. Third, it invites me into a personal relationship with God. And finally, it forgives me for all of my sins. In short, what the law could not do, weak as it was; the new covenant does by means of Christ’s perfect obedience and the Spirit he sent to us as he sat down at God’s right hand.

For this reason, we do well to take the Lord’s Supper often. Even more, when we take it we need to remember what Jesus Christ did for us and what his death says about our new-found identity in him. Indeed, the Lord’s Supper is a meal that defines a people. Since only those who have trusted in Christ are permitted to the table, it makes a visible distinction between those who partake and those who don’t.

A Meal that Identifies Us

For those who don’t partake, it is a reminder that they remain outside of the covenant blessings of God. Like Gentiles in Ephesians 2:11–13, those who do not take the Lord’s Supper are strangers and aliens to the promises of God; they are without God and without hope in this world. Consequently, the Lord’s Supper invites unbelievers (children or adult) to consider their own need for grace. In a visible way, it shows them they are outside the gates of Christ, but that the invitation remains to come to dine at the table if they will but trust Christ and turn from sin.

At the same time, the covenant meal also marks out the believer. While the world defines us by our skin color, social standing, education, sexual orientation, or working profession, the Lord’s Supper defines us as blood-bought children of God. It identifies us as the Lord’s covenant people, and it calls us to stop identifying ourselves by our past history, our personal problems, or our sinful living.

Like the food eaten in any temple the Lord’s Supper offers food that identifies us with Christ. Of course, we don’t believe that the bread and juice become are the body and blood of Jesus (as in the Catholic view of transubstantiation). However, we do believe that eating the meal identifies us with Christ, and more than that it defines our own identity.

In this way, we are what we eat. And when we take the Lord’s Supper, we are once again identified as his beloved children. Simultaneously, we are called to examine our hearts to consider whether our lives affirm or deny this identify. As an identify-shaping meal, it is vital we take the Lord’s Supper with regularity and that when we take it we understand what we are doing, and what it is doing to us!

Holy Father,
You sent your Son to identify with us,
now let us identify with him.
Forgive us for feeding on the food of this world;
Feed us on your faithfulness,
on the grace and truth found in your gospel.

 As we put bread and cup to our mouths,
may our hearts be close to you and not just our lips.
Incline our hearts to identify ourselves with you,
And may this Lord’s Supper further impress on us
A sense of your presence, your holiness, and your grace.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss