07/12/2016

Justification by Faith Before the Reformation

I heard a great talk today on Sola Fide by Pastor Phill Howell.  He shared several examples from the early Christian writings that indicate this doctrine doesn’t originate in the 16th century.  Take a look for yourself:

1 Clement 32:3-4

All therefore, were glorified and magnified, not through themselves or their own works or the righteous actions that they did, but through his will. And so we, having been called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have done in holiness of heart; but through faith by which the Almighty God has justified all who have existed from the beginning; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” 

 

The Epistle to Diognetus 9:2­–5

When our unrighteousness was fulfilled, and it had been made perfectly clear that its wages—punishment and death—were to be expected, then the season arrived during which God had decided to reveal at last his goodness and power (oh, the surpassing kindness and love of God!). He did not hate us, or reject us, or bear a grudge against us; instead he was patient and forbearing; in his mercy he took upon himself our sins; he himself gave up his own Son as a ransom for us, the holy one for the lawless, the guiltless for the guilty, the just for the unjust, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal. For what else but his righteousness could have covered our sins? In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone? O the sweet exchange, O the incomprehensible work of God, O the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous person, while the righteousness of one should justify many sinners!

 

Odes of Solomon 29:5-6

He justified me by His grace.

For I believed in the Lord’s Messiah, and considered that He is the Lord.

 

Origen (See Thomas Oden’s “The Justification Reader, pg. 45)

Faith is the foundation of our justification, so that righteousness isn’t based on works of the law as seen in the thief on the cross.

 

Chrysostom 

He insists that justification can’t be given through works since God demands perfect obedience. Hence, the only way to be justified is through grace. (Schreiner, “Faith Alone”, pg. 32)

 

Ambrosiaster (Ambrose)

By faith alone one is freely forgiven of all sins and the believer is no longer burdened by the Law for meriting good works. Our works, however, are demonstrative of our faith and will determine whether we are ultimately justified. (Schreiner, “Faith Alone”, pg. 33)

07/10/2016

What I Said Before the Prayer Time During our Service Today

My family and I were gone all this last week on vacation, trying to be cut off from the world, but it was impossible not to hear about the latest flare up of the disease of racial injustice that plagues our society.  It was a uniquely eventful week.  And so I wanted to take some time to briefly address this and give some guidance on how we should respond.

What can we do?  Facebook posts can only do so much.  We must do more.  But we can’t change Dallas or Baton Rouge or Falcon Heights or our whole nation.  So what can we do?

We can pray.  And that is what we are about to do together in just a moment.  We can go to the only One who can ultimately help.  And he hears us.

In our prayers we can lament, grieve to God, pour out our sadness, mourn.  Beg him to move.

And in our prayers we can repent.  If we have hatred and unrighteous anger, we can confess that.  If we don’t care, we can confess our apathy, confess our lack of love for the Other and ask God to change us.  We can ask for forgiveness for ways that we have been complicit in the problem through sins of commission and/or omission, and ask God to give us the right heart.

And then in addition to praying, we can think biblically about these matters.  We must work hard to get the right biblical categories in our minds for how to approach matters of race and institutional sin.  We can’t let the world define our terms and shape our hearts and set our agendas, but the Word.

The Bible tells us that we all have different callings in the world.

Some of you may be called to contribute to the righting of wrongs through political or legal action – organizing, policy making, lobbying…

Some of you may be called to law enforcement in some way.  We’ve had a member of our church become a cop and we need more good cops who truly serve and protect.

Some of you may be called to educational reform.  We’ve had members working in CPS, which is a less than cushy school district, in order to seek the welfare of a city ravaged by racial inequalities.

Some of you may be called to economic investment.  We need more real jobs in neighborhoods that are racially segregated.  We need more felon-friendly jobs, so people have a way out.  This requires entrepreneurial risk and creative thinking from those who have capital.

There are tons of different ways to address the systemic and complicated issues that we’ve been reminded of again this week.  Some of you are called to do something about the problem in some of these ways.

But let me remind you what all of us are without a doubt called to do.  Every Christian is called to give him or herself to the local church.  That is the most important thing we can do in response to these events.  Government is not where our hope finally lies.  Education, the economy… God can work through those institutions in a general way, but the clearest location of God’s special, redeeming work in the world is the church.  Here is where God is reconciling people to himself and to each other for ever.  The church is a foretaste and preview of the coming New Creation where every tribe, language, and nation is gathered around the throne of God.

As we drove back into our neighborhood last night, after spending a week in parts of the country that are by and large oblivious to these sad realities, I was reminded of how exciting it is to be the church here in the UIC Area, with such diversity yet disparity.  What a place to do the long-term work of preaching the gospel and making disciples and living sacrificially for others.  It’s all right here within a few blocks of where we sit right now.  It’s all right here.  Let’s not miss it.

So with all the national news swirling that highlights the problems, let’s recommit ourselves to this specific church and our mission to this neighborhood.  What can we do?  Let’s be the church, be the people of God assembled under the Word of God, demonstrating to the world the supernatural power of the gospel to make enemies of God adopted sons and daughters of God and true brothers and sisters to each other through the cross.  Let’s help this body continue to reflect God’s kaleidoscopic kingdom.  Let’s dig in deeper to each other’s lives, loving one another deeply from the heart and seeking to bring our neighbors in on that.  We can, and must, all do at least this.

06/28/2016

Karl Barth and Carl Henry

Carl F.H. Henry recalls in his autobiography the time he engaged Karl Barth during a news conference:

Identifying myself as ‘Carl Henry, editor of Christianity Today,’ I continued: ‘The question, Dr. Barth, concerns the historical factuality of the resurrection of Jesus.’  I pointed to the press table and noted the presence of leading religion editors or reporters representing United Press, Religious News Services, Washington Post, Washington Star and other media.  If these journalists had their present duties in the time of Jesus, I asked, was the resurrection of such a nature that covering some aspect of it would have fallen into their area of responsibility?  ‘Was it news,’ I asked, ‘in the sense that the man in the street understands news?’

Barth became angry.  Pointing at me, and recalling my identification, he asked: ‘Did you say Christianity Today or Christianity Yesterday?’  The audience – largely nonevangelical professors and clergy – roared with delight.  When countered unexpectedly in this way, one often reaches for a Scripture verse.  So I replied, assuredly out of biblical context, ‘Yesterday, today and forever.’

Carl F. H. Henry, Confessions of a Theologian: An Autobiography (Waco: Word, 1986), 211.

06/23/2016

Reflections on My First SBC Annual Meeting

I did not grow up a Southern Baptist.  In fact, I only stumbled into the denomination 12 years ago.  But every year I become happier and happier to be associated with this great tradition and organization.  And this year’s Convention in St. Louis, MO, made me more pleased than ever before to be a Baptist.

 

Maybe I am set up for future disappointment.  I hear that these meetings are not always as eventful.  Attendance was up.  Emotions were high.  We gathered in the immediate wake of the worst mass shooting in our country’s history in Orlando.  We remembered the tragic shooting in Charleston one year earlier and acknowledged the racially charged atmosphere reflected in nearby Ferguson, MO.  Racism was explicitly addressed in a panel and in the controversial resolution on the Confederate battle flag.  ‘Election’ also loomed large.  The theological understanding of the term was a subtext for the hotly contested SBC presidential election.  And the upcoming U.S. presidential election was in everyone’s mind.

 

Yet it was not just the drama that made this meeting significant for me.  There was one critical theological concept lurking behind many of the memorable moments.  It lies at the heart of what it means to be Baptist.  I am referring to Religious Liberty – the belief that no religion should be established by the state, but all faiths should be free to win adherents through the power of persuasion and not the sword.

 

Amid the flurry of motions, one brother from Arkansas requested the removal of Southern Baptist officials or officers who support a right for Muslims in America to build mosques.  The next day after the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission Report, the same brother pressed Russell Moore on the issue, likening the defense of the right to construct mosques to Jesus endorsing the erection of temples for Baal in ancient Israel.

 

Dr. Moore’s response was sharp and received by the majority of messengers with applause.  He defended the principle of soul freedom for everyone and declared, “The answer to Islam is not government power.  The answer is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the new birth that comes from that.”

 

In our history, Baptists have been persecuted by the government for non-conformity.  We have seen the damage done by state churches to true religion.  We do not baptize babies, in part, because we believe you cannot be born a Christian.  Everyone must be genuinely converted without coercion.  This should compel us to a radical witness to our Muslim neighbors and refugees, not to seek political action against them.

 

In the New Testament era the church is an altogether different institution than the state, with distinct ends and means.  The two cannot be confused.  So today the proper analog to Baal altars in Israel is not Islamic Centers in Wheaton.  It is idolatry in the corporate worship of the Church.

 

Patriotism definitely has its place, but perhaps one appropriate application would be to examine whether nationalism has crept into our Christianity.  There are many forms of syncretism.  As James Merritt eloquently stated when he spoke to his amendment to the Confederate battle flag resolution – “Southern Baptists are not a people of any flag.  We march under the banner of the cross of Jesus and the grace of God.”  This is why I felt uneasy about the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag followed by praise and worship… but had no problem singing the national anthem at the Cardinals game later on.

 

As our culture continues to unravel and even the Bible Belt unbuckles, we must remember that our hope is in Christ, not country.  His kingdom is unshakeable.  And in many ways the dismantling of cultural Christianity that fused God and country is a good thing for the cause of the gospel.  We Baptists want real believers that worship Christ alone, even if they are persecuted by a secular state or Islamic State.

 

A version of this appeared in the Illinois Baptist newspaper and can be seen here.

06/02/2016

Why Complaining Is a Great Sin

I was discontent and anxious yesterday, worrying about many things and disappointed about certain circumstances.  Then, in God’s providence, an email from Crossway showed up in my inbox with the subject line: “Why Complaining Is a Great Sin.”  HA!

 

I opened it up and read a snippet of a short article by Phil Ryken that said:

We need to be honest about the fact that all of our dissatisfaction is discontent with God.  Usually we take out our frustrations on someone else.  But God knows that when we grumble, we are finding fault with him.  A complaining spirit indicates a problem in our relationship with God.

The irony, of course, is that God always gives us exactly what we need.  For the Israelites, this meant manna in the wilderness.  For us it means the true Bread of Life, Jesus Christ.

How true!

 

If you want to read the full article, it can be found here.

 

05/18/2016

Oaks not Mushrooms

Chapter 7 – “The Growth Chart of the Christian Life” – in Tony Reinke’s book Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015) came at just the right moment for me this week, when I’ve been discouraged and impatient.  There’s so much wisdom in this chapter!

It closes with this quote from Newton:

Remember, the growth of a believer is not like a mushroom, but like an oak, which increases slowly indeed but surely.  Many suns, showers, and frosts, pass upon it before it comes to perfection; and in winter, when it seems dead, it is gathering strength at the root.  Be humble, watchful, and diligent in the means, and endeavor to look through all, and fix you eye upon Jesus, and all shall be well.

And these words from Reinke:

In our impatient smartphone culture, this may be the most important takeaway from Newton’s three letters on the growth of grace in the Christian life.  Sync your spiritual expectations to the leisurely agricultural pace of God.  Live simply and live patiently, knowing that God is growing you for the ages.  Be patient and faithful in the ordinary means of grace.

Faithful pastor, don’t fuss over the imperceptible growth in your flock.  Let God’s timing recalibrate your expectations for what maturity will look like in them.  Although the progress is often unseen, and your pastoral labors never end, the Spirit-born fruit is growing.  Celebrate even the smallest evidences of maturity you see.  Christian, don’t fuss over your current mood as a gauge of your spiritual health, but keep two eyes focused daily on the Christ who hung on a tree (158-59).

04/21/2016

City on a Hill

Too often the road of evangelism and mission is one people attempt to travel alone.  But we need the encouragement, support, and accountability of community as we live on mission.

In Matthew 5, in what has been termed the ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ Jesus gave great metaphors for what mission could and should look like.  One of the specific ideas was comparing the idea of our mission and message to light.

You are the light of the world.  A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden.  No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matt. 5:14-16)

One of the keys to understanding this passage is to recognize that Jesus was addressing a community of people, and He illustrated the carrier of this great hope as a city.

There has never been a city that had a population of one.  One person on a hill does not qualify as a city no matter how hard he or she may try.  A city is a city because it has a large number of people who make up its population.  We are called to invite people into biblical community so they can experience the ‘city’ – the family of God.

People need to see the grace of God lived out among a group of people.  They need to see other believers repenting, confessing, rejoicing in God’s grace, and forgiving others.  They need to see the gospel applied to life.  People desperately desire to belong to something bigger than themselves, and despite being more connected than ever (social media), many people are incredibly lonely.

You are not meant simply to show off the light that you have as an individual, but rather you are meant to display the light of the gospel through a community of people who are unified in Jesus.  Biblical community is like a city on a hill that emits a great light to those who are wandering around in a dark, desolate desert.

Dustin Willis & Aaron Coe, Life On Mission: Joining the Everyday Mission of God (Chicago: Moody, 2014), 132-33.

04/18/2016

Some Should Go, Some Should Stay

Mark Dever’s recent little booklet entitled, Understanding the Great Commission, succinctly and successfully makes the case that the Great Commission is fulfilled by and results in CHURCHES.  It’s not an individual mandate to make individual converts.

But here is the section that stood out most to me (p. 53):

Just because a move might be costly doesn’t mean you should not go.  It has been costly for most of the saints who obeyed Jesus’ command to go.  And unless you live in Jerusalem, praise God that someone paid that cost and took the gospel to your nation and your city and your house so that you believe!

Is the point of this chapter to say that some of you should leave your churches?  Kind of.  Some should go to help struggling churches.  Some should plant new ones.  Some should go overseas.  And some should stay.

Of course people have to stay for any given congregation to remain a congregation.  Every church needs consistency in leadership, discipling, and long-term friendships.  In fact, staying in our culture is often the countercultural thing to do, especially among the younger generation.  With all the career or educational transitions that characterize modern urban life, the radical thing to do for some will be to stay in one place for decades.

Whatever you do, don’t make such decisions rashly.  And don’t make such decisions in isolation, but make them in prayer and conversation with your friends who know you well, and with at least one elder who knows you.

04/16/2016

Cooperation in Theological Unity

Here’s my latest article for the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

I often find myself at denominational functions looking around the room and wondering, “What is it that really brings us together here?”  Is our unity based simply on an expressed common desire to reach the lost?  Or do we gladly join together in mission because we have deeply shared doctrinal convictions?

 

Did you know that there is actually a lot to be found in the little books of the Bible?  One way to read 2 and 3 John (which combine for a total of just 28 verses) is to put them side-by-side as two crucial lessons in cooperation.

 

Here is the background to both books: a church planting movement is taking root in the Roman world furthered by traveling missionaries who depend upon support from other Christians, primarily in the form of food and lodging.

 

In 2 John the tone and feel is one of caution.  “Many deceivers have gone out into the world.”  “Watch yourselves.”  The emphasis is on getting the gospel right.  Specifically, some of these traveling missionaries “do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh” – what has been referred to as the “Gnostic heresy.”  John speaks soberly of remaining in Christ’s teaching and not going beyond it.  He then directs genuine believers – “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your home… for the one who says, ‘Welcome,’ to him shares in his evil works.”  In other words, don’t cooperate with everyone!

 

The tenor is different in 3 John.  Here John is commending a “dear friend” for his generosity to certain missionaries.  The emphasis in this mini-epistle is on getting the gospel out.  “You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God.”  These missionaries “set out for the sake of the Name” and trusted God to provide through his people.  “Therefore, we ought to support such men,” says John.  He even calls out a guy named Diotrephes for his independent spirit.  “He not only refuses to welcome the brothers himself, but he even stops those who want to do so.”  Don’t be like Diotrephes.  Don’t cooperate with no one!

 

2 John teaches us not to make our tent too big.  3 John encourages us not to draw our circle too small.  We need both messages.  Notice the disproportionate amount of times that the words truth and love occur in these two short letters.  We absolutely cannot disconnect them.  There are people who have great drive, but do not have good doctrine.  We have to be discerning about who we partner with.  On the other hand, there are Christians who are cranky and overly separatist.  We must be large-hearted and kingdom-minded.

 

Because of 2 John I know that the Apostle John would applaud the “Conservative Resurgence” in the SBC.  Is it not amazing that we have six top-notch seminaries that are committed to robust and orthodox theological training?

 

At the same time, based on 3 John I am pretty certain that the Apostle would thoroughly endorse the concept of the Cooperative Program and be thrilled with our North American and International Mission Boards.  It is wonderful that we have state and local associations.  And is it not telling that we have Directors of Mission and not District Superintendents?  We are the people who come up with campaigns like “Million More in ’54.”  And I love that I live in what was once a Strategic Focus City, now a SEND City.

 

However, we have not always gotten this balance right.  At times I have seen people approved for work in the SBC based on their passion without an examination of their doctrine.  And at other times I have seen people who were well qualified turned away because of a technicality.

 

In all of our missional zeal, may we will never fudge on doctrinal clarity.  And in making sure we are all on the same page about what the gospel is, may we make sure we are doing whatever it takes to get the gospel out.  If we are truly faithful to Scripture we will heed the lessons of both 2 and 3 John.  But there just might be something to the fact that 2 John comes before 3 John.

04/07/2016

No Desire to Lead

This quote could appear a little too mystical in some ways and we might think of Paul’s holy ambition (Rom. 15:10) and the trustworthy saying – “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task (1Tim. 3:1) – but there’s something convicting about Tozer’s words here:

A true and safe leader is likely to be one who has no desire to lead, but is forced into a position of leadership by the inward pressure of the Holy Spirit and the press of the external situation.  Such were Moses and David and the Old Testament prophets.  I think there was hardly a great leader from Paul to the present day but that was drafted by the Holy Spirit for the task, and commissioned by the Lord of the Church to fill a position he had little heart for.  I believe it might be accepted as a fairly reliable rule of thumb that the man who is ambitious to lead is disqualified as a leader.  The true leader will have no desire to lord it over God’s heritage, but will be humble, gentle, self-sacrificing, and altogether as ready to follow as to lead, when the Spirit makes it clear that a wiser and more gifted man than himself has appeared.

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