One Assembly: A Biblical View of Gathering

worms eye view of spiral stained glass decors through the roof

This Sunday our church is making plans to go outside to hold one service in our parking lot. Last year, from May until November, we took up this practice in order to meet under Covid guidelines. Along the way, a strange (read: providential) thing happened: We saw in practice what we held to be true in theory, namely that the single gathering of God’s church is God’s good design for his local church.

Since our church entered its building in 2005, we have had two Sunday services. But over the last year, we have grown dissatisfied with this practice. We believe Scripture calls the church to assemble as one body, and we are now planning (in the present) and praying (for the future) for ways to assemble as one.

On our church blog, I explain some of the history that resulted in multiple services, but for this post, I want to consider a biblical argument for gathering as one assembly. In particular, I want to offer three reasons for a local church to hold one service, not multiple services, on the Lord’s Day—one from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament, and one from our contemporary non-application of Scripture. These three arguments do not exhaust the subject, but they do give us a place to begin thinking about how our decisions about assembling the church are not inconsequential. Just the opposite, how we gather says something about what we believe about God and his purposes in the world. To that end, let’s consider three reasons for gathering as one.

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On Reading Leviticus: Four Reading Strategies for This Glorious Book

Jesus washing the feet of Saint Peter on Maundy Thursday

With a new month (March) comes a new book in the Via Emmaus Reading Plan. This year I am reading Track 1 and listening to Track 3. And for those who are reading along this plan, or for those who are interested in reading Leviticus—“The Most Exciting Book You’ve (N)Ever Read”—I offer this reading strategy with resources.

This year, we have read Genesis and Exodus, and now we come to Leviticus, which is arguably the centerpiece of the whole Pentateuch. As I have taught in this Bible Study, borrowing from the work of Michael Morales (Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?) who cites many others, the book of Leviticus is the literary center and high point of the Pentateuch. Thematically, we might capture it this way:

Genesis begins in Eden, the Garden of God and ends in Egypt, a place of exile and death;

Exodus moves from Egypt through the wilderness to Sinai;

Leviticus is entirely written at Sinai;

Numbers moves from Sinai through the wilderness to the Promised Land (i.e., Israel sits poised to enter the land at the end of the book);

Deuteronomy prepares the people to move from exile in the wilderness into the Garden of God, the land of Canaan.

From this locational/thematic chiasm (and there are other literary clues that indicate an intentional shaping of the Pentateuch), we see that Leviticus is not a book we must “get through.” In the Pentateuch, it is the book we must “get to.”

We need Leviticus, so that we might learn what it takes to dwell near to God. This month, as we read Leviticus, we need to consider how this book gives us more than a detailed list of instructions for the priests of Israel. It invites us to approach a holy God and to do so through the finished work of Christ—the One who fulfills all the requirements of the Levitical system of sacrifice. In what follows I will offer a handful of resources to help you read this book, starting with four reading strategies for Leviticus. Continue reading

The Story of God’s Glory: A Wide Angle View of Salvation from 1 Peter 1:10–12

glory to god book

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
— 1 Peter 1:10–12 —

In his commentary on 1 Peter, the late biblical theologian, Edmund Clowney, observes that “Glory is the goal of the Old Testament promises” (56). Indeed, glory is the goal of creation, salvation, and really everything God does in his world. And in 1 Peter 1:10–12, the apostle of Jesus widens his view of salvation to include all the Spirit of Christ revealed to the Old Testament prophets about the coming messiah, from his sufferings and his subsequent glories to the gospel of grace that came from Christ to the elect exiles in Asia Minor.

For us, who read 1 Peter, it is worth our time to ponder all that God has done in redemptive history also. Such a meditation solidifies the foundation on which we stand in Christ and secures us further in times of trial. Indeed, salvation, which comes by faith alone in Jesus Christ, depends upon understanding the Christ of Scripture and not the christ of our sentimental imaginings. With that in mind, we should constantly be rehearsing the high points of the biblical storyline to better know who Christ is and what he did. Continue reading

True Religion Consists in Holy Affections: Jonathan Edwards’ Reflections on 1 Peter 1:8

peter-lewis-D1kher2Zx2U-unsplashTrue religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.
— Jonathan Edwards —

In his classic treatise on nature of the Christian experience, Jonathan Edwards begins Religious Affections with a brief and fruitful examination of 1 Peter 1:8. As this verse stands in the middle of this Sunday’s sermon, I share the opening pages from the abridged and updated version.  As many have experienced, Edwards writing is challenging, but his vision of God is glorious. Thus, it is always worth wrestling with words. Here, however, we find in language more accessible to modern readers an explanation of the way trials purify believers and enlarge our love for Christ and our joy in Christ. The section is not long and I share it as an introduction to Edwards, Religious Affections, and some of the themes we will see on Sunday.

8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him,
you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,
— 1 Peter 1:8 —

With these words the apostle demonstrates the state of mind of the Christians to whom he wrote. In the two preceding verses, he speaks of their trials: *the trial of their faith*, their *being in heaviness through manifold temptations*. These trials benefit true faith in three ways.

First, above all else, trials like this have a tendency to distinguish between true faith and false, causing the difference between them to be evident. That is why in the verse immediately preceding the text, and in innumerable other places, they are called trials because they try the faith of people who profess to be Christians, just as apparent gold is tried in the fire to see whether it is true gold or not. When faith is tried this way and proved to be true, it is “found unto praise and honour and glory” (1 Pet. 1:7). Continue reading

On Reading Exodus: Four Approaches with Various Resources

sincerely-media-PH7TOStghPA-unsplashAs we move from Genesis to Exodus in Track 1 of the Via Emmaus Reading Plan, here are resources for the second book of Moses. If you missed the first month’s resources for Genesis, you can look here. Below is a recap on the Via Emmaus Reading Plan and a number of helps for reading Exodus.

The Via Emmaus Reading Plan

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Reading God’s Word and Seeing God’s World through the Lens of Two Biblical Ages

eyeglass with gold colored frames

For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.
Romans 13:11b 

Redemptive history has two overlapping ages. And unless you grasp how the new age brings the future into the present, without entirely swallowing up the old age—yet!—you will have a difficult time understanding how the Bible fits together and how God is working in the world. To say it differently, your doctrine, especially your eschatology, will shift off-center if you don’t consider both ages as described in Scripture. Either you will see too much of God’s kingdom present today, or you will withhold too much of the kingdom until some later time period. This approach to the kingdom of God is sometimes called inaugurated eschatology and I have discussed that here.

In what follows, I want to sketch out how necessary it is to see both ages and how the entirety of the Bible depends on rightly grasping this two-age perspective. First, we will consider how the Old Testament teaches us to look forward to a new age. And instead of considering this in the abstract, we will note at least twelve specific expectations given by the prophets, such that when the authors of the New Testament describe them as fulfilled in Christ, they are telegraphing the way that the new age has come. Continue reading

Strong and Courageous: Why Resisting Tyrants is an Act of Love

jon-tyson-UK61KZPnpyY-unsplashLast week, a few members of our church put on our masks, boarded planes, and traveled to the Founders Conference, where we heard from the likes of Voddie Baucham, James Dolezal, Tom Ascol, and the leaders of Just Thinking, Virgil Walker and Darrell Harrison. In short, the trip, drenched in warm Florida sun, was encouraging, and the messages, saturated with biblical truth, were edifying—especially with respect to the subject of standing for Christ in an age that has become increasingly hostile towards Christians.

Addressing that subject and the new religion of universal autonomy and equality, Tom Ascol and Jared Longshore have released a new book called Strong and Courageous: Following Jesus Amid the Rise of America’s New ReligionFalling in line with newer books like Glenn Sunshine’s Slaying Leviathan and Rod Dreher’s Live Not by Lies, as well as older books like Francis Schaeffer’s A Christian Manifesto, and even older books like Samuel Rutherford’s Lex Rex: The Law and the King and Junius Brutus’s Vindiciae Tyrannos: A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants, this new volume promises to bolster the church at a time when public silence and civil cowardice are spreading faster than COVID.

In other words, this book comes at a time when Christians and especially pastors need courage. And this will be a book I hand to many pastors, as it provides bold and biblical arguments that stand against the online pablum that  undercuts biblical courage with Christian civility (read: niceness). Indeed, when a Christian’s best testimony to his neighbors is found in waiting patiently for governing officials to permit churches to gather again, thus denying Christ’s command to gather, we have a new instance of Corban—replacing the law of God with human traditions. But thankfully, some are seeing through this misguided application of Scripture and are providing solid food for God’s flock. And in Strong and Courageous, Ascol and Longshore do just that. Continue reading

A Little Help With Daniel 11:1–12:4: Three Aids for Reading This Challenging Chapter

bible 2Daniel 11 is a challenging passage of Scripture. Primarily, its difficulty rests in the fact that modern, Western readers do not know the history that stands between Daniel and Jesus. Such historical ignorance of about 550 years makes a crucial difference in knowing how to understand this long and complex passage. This is especially true with respect to Antiochus IV, who defiled the Jerusalem in 167 BC by offering unclean sacrifices on the altar, producing what Daniel calls the abomination of desolation. Both Daniel and Jesus speak of this event, and only when we understand how Daniel 11 points to this historical event, based upon God’s heavenly decrees (i.e., the book of truth in Dan. 10:21) can we rightly interpret this passage.

Indeed, Daniel’s prophecies are so precise, many scholars believe that Daniel must have been written after the fact.[1] Such a reading stands, however, on a commitment to explain away elements of predictive prophecy. By contrast, those who believe God inspired the Word of God have no little trouble letting the text speak. Scripture teaches us that God has declared the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10) and that nothing occurs by accident. Rather, God has decreed in eternity what will take place in time. In fact, Daniel 10:21 speaks to this very thing, when the angel of the Lord states, “But I will tell you what is inscribed in the book of truth . . .”

As stated, Daniel 11 is a small portion or reflection of God’s eternal and immutable decree. In answer to Daniel’s prayers and his longing to see the temple of God rebuilt, God sends a fourth and final vision in Daniel to strengthen him and show him what will come next. Daniel 11, therefore, is a history that begins in the days of Daniel (535 BC) and runs until the days of Christ and his resurrection. In fact, as I preached two Sundays ago, I believe that Daniel 12:1–3 is fulfilled (better: has begun to be fulfilled) in the resurrection of Christ. And thus, Daniel 11 gives us a vision of history that runs for more than 500 years and that has implications even to our own day, as the resurrected Christ continues to raise people from the dead.

Still, to understand Daniel 11 in context, we might need a little help. In what follows, I offer three such ‘helps.’ First, I offer a link to the sermon I preached on Daniel 11. Second, I share below an account of a make-believe prophet of America that might provide insight into how we should read Daniell 11. Third and last, I’ve included a PDF of the notes I gave to our church when I preached on Daniel 11. They give a play-by-play of the historical turns in Daniel 11:2–35. Then, drawing on the work of Mitchell Chase, they offer an attempt to read Daniel 11:21–35 as parallel to Daniel 11:36–12:3. I believe Mitch has found a number of key connections in the text which confirms this approach to the chapter. I outline these in the PDF as well. May these resources be a help to you. Continue reading

On Reading Genesis: Four Approaches with Many Resources

close up photo of bible

January 1, 2021. 

With the new year comes the chance to begin a new Bible reading plan (or to continue your reading plan from last year). If the new year leads you to Genesis, as the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan does, you might be looking for some resources to aid in your reading—especially, if your plan does not give you a day-by-day, play-by-play. To that end I am sharing four reading strategies, with some helpful resources to listen and read. Be sure to read to the end, as some of the most helpful resources come at the end. Continue reading

Reading for Scripture Saturation in 2021: (Re)Introducing the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan

Jesus washing the feet of Saint Peter on Maundy Thursday

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.
10  With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!
11  I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
12  Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes!
— Psalm 119:9–12 —

With 2020 ending and 2021 approaching, you may be thinking about how to read the Bible in the new year. I hope so. The Word of God is not a trifle; it is our very life (Deut. 32:47). Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4). With that in mind, we should aim to read the Bible and to read it often!

Truly, the Bible is not a book to read once, or even once a year. It is meant to be imbibed and inhabited, adored and adorned, studied and savored. Mastery of the Bible does not mean comprehensive understanding of Scripture; it means ever-increasing submission to the Master who speaks in Scripture. This is why in the closing days of the year, it’s good to consider how we can saturate ourselves with Scripture in the next year.

Personally though, I wonder if our daily reading plans help us with this idea of Scripture saturation. Often, such plans call for reading single chapters from various parts of the Bible. And the daily routine can invite checking the box without understanding the book. So my question has been: does such reading help us or hinder us in our Bible reading? Continue reading