Archive for ‘Gospel’

03/01/2017

The Five SOLAS Five Hundred Years Later

 

At our church we have a questionnaire that anyone who desires to be an elder has to fill out.  One of the questions is – “What are the five solas of the Reformation and would you be willing to be burned alive at the stake for holding these?”  We strongly believe that these rallying cries of the Reformation are still just as needed today as they were 500 years ago.

 

Before returning to Germany and facing his eventual martyrdom at the hands of the Nazis, theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived for a time in the United States.  His assessment of the religious scene here was – “Protestantism without Reformation.”  This critique still largely holds true.  We may not be Roman Catholic, but might some of the same problems that precipitated the Reformation in 16th Century Europe be present in 21st Century Evangelicalism?  I am afraid so.

 

The Five Solas provide a helpful grid for assessing the American church’s current spiritual climate and guide us in how to pray and work for revival.

 

Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) – I think that there are many churches who say that they believe the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant, authoritative, sufficient Word of God on paper, but in practice you cannot tell.  Scripture does not saturate their worship services.  The sermon is cut short and full of stories and tips instead of exposition and proclamation of the whole counsel of God.  The Word is not trusted to grow the church, but rather we look to and lean on techniques and tricks.  Science is respected over Scripture, psychology prized over theology, experience trusted over exegesis.  And many church-goers today are as biblically illiterate as they were in the Middle Ages.

 

Sola Fide (faith alone) – If we gave Southern Baptist church-goers a test with a True or False question – “People get into heaven by doing good” – I imagine a majority would know enough to say FALSE.  But that doesn’t mean they could pass an essay question on what justification by faith entails.  We may have simply lowered the bar or tried to lighten the law, but we still are preaching a form of works-righteousness when we major on what people need to do… to end sex-trafficking, get out of debt, have healthy families… instead of what Christ has done to free us from sin, forgive us our debts, and adopt us into his family.  The truth is that you actually have to be perfect to get into heaven, and thus our only hope is having Jesus’ perfect record given to us as a gift, received by faith.

 

Sola Gratia (grace alone) – We like grace… when it is seen as an assist for our slam dunk.  The polls are heart-rending which show the number of Christians who think that the quote – “God helps those who help themselves” – comes from the Bible.  Do we really believe our salvation is wholly of grace?  If so, then we could never allow our Christianity to be a badge of pride that makes us feel superior to or live in fear of the big, bad world.

 

Solus Christus (Christ alone) – We may say that we believe Jesus is the only way to God, but do our actions back that up?  We live in a highly pluralistic society.  Do we really believe that the nice Hindu family living down the street is destined for hell apart from faith in Christ?  Do we believe it enough to lovingly and sacrificially share the gospel with them of what Christ has uniquely done?  Our lack of evangelism betrays our lack of belief in the exclusivity of Christ.  Furthermore, so much of our faith talk is vague spirituality that does not really need the virgin birth, perfect life, substitutionary death, victorious resurrection, and imminent return of the historical God-man Jesus Christ.  We spout meaningless Oprah-esque mumbo-jumbo and it is no wonder that our kids start to think Christianity is not that distinct from the other religions and philosophies of their friends.

 

Soli Deo Gloria (the glory of God alone) – Ministry can so easily become about our name or brand.  We like to take the credit for our successes.  Plus, there is a pervasive man-centeredness among our culture which has seeped into our churches.  We are not in awe of God, but obsessed with our felt needs.  Therefore, we fundamentally view God as there to serve us instead of the other way around.  We have not been struck by the utter weightiness of the Triune God, but are pathetically shallow and flit about from this to that fad so easily.

 

In our consumeristic context where everyone is bombarded with endless options all the time, the solas can at first seem like a straightjacket.  But they truly represent our only hope.  We are in desperate need of a fresh vision of God’s glory, in the face of Jesus Christ, as a result of his grace, perceived by faith, in the pages of the Bible!

This article appeared in the February 27th issue of the Illinois Baptist.  It can also be found here.

 

Advertisements
01/24/2017

Pastors at Trump’s Inauguration

A sad example of bad hermeneutics and the dangers of civil religion:

On Inauguration Day, Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist in Dallas, delivered the sermon at the private prayer service prior to the swearing-in ceremony. He titled the sermon, “When God Chooses a Leader,” taking the message from Nehemiah 1:11.

“When I think of you,” Jeffress said to Trump, “I am reminded of another great leader God chose thousands of years ago in Israel. The nation had been in bondage for decades, the infrastructure of the country was in shambles, and God raised up a powerful leader to restore the nation. And the man God chose was neither a politician nor a priest. Instead, God chose a builder whose name was Nehemiah.”

He noted the first step God instructed Nehemiah to take in rebuilding the nation was building a wall around Jerusalem to protect is citizens. “You see, God is not against building walls,” Jeffress shared. Jeffress recalled sitting with Trump on a jet, eating Wendy’s cheeseburgers, and talking about the challenges facing the USA. Jeffress was an early supporter of Trump.

He told the incoming President and Vice President to look to God for strength and guidance: “…the challenges facing our nation are so great that it will take more than natural ability to meet them. We need God’s supernatural power.

“The good news is that the same God who empowered Nehemiah nearly 2,500 years ago is available to every one of us today who is willing to humble himself and ask for His help.”

Hmmm…  I thought the Good News is that God sent his Son to live the perfect life we should but never could, and die the death we deserve in our place so that all those who repent of their sin and put their faith in Christ alone could have his righteousness given to them by grace so they could be part of God’s eternal kingdom.  I thought SBC pastors knew that…

 

https://ib2news.org/2017/01/23/sbc-well-represented-at-trump-inauguration/

 

Addendum (from an email to someone asking for clarification):

I think it’s great for people to pray to God and ask for his help!  But it’s sad when a pastor will let the Christian message be understood as simply that – God is there to give you a boost with your plans.  If you read the whole text of that “sermon” it makes no mention of Jesus, sin, the cross….  It’s just really confusing to apply Nehemiah and the OT nation of Israel to Trump and the United States of America.  The book of Nehemiah has more to say today about the Church – the NT people of God – maintaining its distinctiveness from the world (i.e. staying true to the Gospel!) than it does about border security for the U.S.  I just want the Church to be the Church in the midst of it all and keep the gospel clear and call people to repentance and entrance into the eternal kingdom of God and not get sidetracked to the Right OR to the Left.

 

11/08/2016

White Christianity-ism

In Free At Last?: The Gospel in the African-American Experience (Downers Grove: IVP, 1983/96) Carl Ellis makes a helpful distinction between Christianity and an imposter religion that tries to go by the same name in this country.

Christianity The gospel* applied in a cultural context, involving both its expression and the response of its adherents.  These cultural manifestations do not contradict or undercut the gospel itself.  On the contrary, a properly functioning cultural Christianity can bring out insights on the gospel not seen in other cultural contexts.

Christianity-ism; “Christianity”  This ugly term is most fitting, because of its ugliness, to refer to negative or unchristian religious practices expressed in the language of Christianity.*  Christianity-ism consists of making Christianity itself the object of faith* rather than an expression of faith in God’s solution to the problem of human unrighteousness and God’s revealed wrath on humankind.  In essence Christianity-ism is a subtle form of idol worship – the idol being institutional Christianity, and the form often being associated with racism.

This election cycle has shown that we have a lot of work to do in order to make clear the difference between authentic Christianity and White Christianity-ism.

10/31/2016

NPR on the Protestant Reformation

Today marks the 499th anniversary of when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg, sparking what is known now as the Protestant Reformation.  Recently, I listened to a piece on NPR trying to explain the Reformation and reporting on recent ecumenical efforts to see Protestants and Catholics come back together.

Pope Francis now praises Martin Luther as an “intelligent man” who rightly protested many abuses at the time.  He maintains that we have much in common and should work together on social issues like caring for the poor, immigration, and persecution of Christians.

However, NPR reported, there are three remaining areas of doctrinal division:

(1) The question of the universal church and papal primacy

(2) The priesthood, which includes women in the Lutheran Church

(3) The nature of the Eucharist or Holy Communion

Why do we continue to miss the point?  Is it simply ignorance?  Or is there a willful denial?  Until people recognize that the main issue in Luther’s theology… in fact the biggest question in all of life is – How can I be right before a holy God? – then they cannot understand the Reformation and there cannot be unity between true Protestants and Catholics.

09/21/2016

Words at a Grave

Rosemary Ellen Carter

Graveside Committal Service

New London Friends Cemetery

9/20/16

 grandma-carter

We come now to this place where so many of our ancestors have been laid to rest in order to commend the soul of our sister, sister-in-law, mom, mother-in-law, grandma, great-grandma, and friend to Almighty God as we commit her body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

 

The reason why we have profound sadness in our hearts right now is because we know it wasn’t meant to be this way.  Tragically, sin entered our world, and death through sin (Rom. 5:12).

 

But the great reality that gives hope is that God has entered this world, in the person of Jesus Christ.  He took on our flesh; and then took on the sin of all those who are united to him by faith and graciously paid the penalty for that sin in his death on the cross.  He was buried.  And then three days later his body came back to life never to die again.  He ascended into heaven and has promised to come again one day to finally put everything right.

 

Grandma repented of her sin and put her trust in Christ as her Savior, therefore we can have assurance that though her soul is absent from her body, it is present with the Lord at this moment (2Cor. 5:8).  And one day at Christ’s return her soul will be reunited to this body and she will rise to live forever in a new creation with God where he shall wipe away all tears and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things will have passed away (Rev. 21:4).  Therefore, we do not have to sorrow as others who have no hope (1Thess. 4:13).

 

Grandma wanted Jesus’ words from John 14 to be read on this occasion.  It was a favorite passage of hers that perfectly puts this scenario into perspective for all of us.  Jesus said to his disciples:

 

Let not your hearts be troubled: believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also.  And where I go you know, and the way you know.  Thomas said unto him, Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?  Jesus said unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no one comes unto the Father, but by me.

 

God has told us very clearly the way to be with him forever.  Praise God for this!

 

Let us pray:

 

Into thy hands, O merciful Savior, we commend thy servant Rosemary Ellen Carter.  Acknowledge, we humbly beseech thee, a sheep of thine own fold, a lamb of thine own flock, a sinner of thine own redeeming.  Receive her into the arms of thy mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.  Amen.

08/14/2016

God’s Desire To Be Honored

From the Gospel Transformation Bible notes to 1 Samuel 2:12-36:

God’s desire to be honored, or glorified, may on a shallow reading seem vainglorious.  But that God should require his creatures to honor him, to give him weight, is no more vainglorious than that the law of gravity requires to be acknowledged.  Simply put, God has weight!  To neglect this fact is to lose one’s own center of gravity.  Giving God the center is at the heart of accepting the gospel.  Every line of the prayer Jesus taught his followers to pray manifestly gives weight and centrality to God (Matt. 6:9-13).  As our hearts are gripped with the magnitude of what God has done for his people in the gospel of grace, we are compelled to gladly ascribe all honor and glory to God alone.

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.

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.

03/23/2016

Queen Elizabeth vs. King Jesus

In A.W. Pink’s book The Seven Sayings of the Savior on the Cross (Baker, 1984 [1958]) he references another book on Christ’s last words by Dr. Anderson-Berry in which he “makes use of an illustration from history which by its striking antithesis shows up the meaning and glory of the Finished Work of Christ.”

Elizabeth, Queen of England, the idol of society and the leader of European fashion, when on her death-bed turned to her lady in waiting, and said: “O my God!  It is over.  I have come to the end of it – the end, the end.  To have only one life, and to have done with it!  To have lived, and loved, and triumphed; and now to know it is over!  One may defy everything else but this.”  And as the listener sat watching, in a few moment more the face whose slightest smile had brought her courtiers to their feet, turned into a mask of lifeless clay, and returned the anxious gaze of her servant with nothing more than a vacant stare.  Such was the end of one whose meteoric course had been the envy of half the world.  It could not be said that she had “finished” anything, for with her all was “vanity and vexation of spirit.”  How different with the end of the Saviour! – “I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.”

(p. 110)