Tuesday, October 31, 2006

October 31st, 1517

By Darrell Brooker

The best treatment of the Reformation and all the personalities involved in this great work of God, is without a doubt, J. H. Merle D’Aubigne’s The History of the Reformation in five volumes. This has been rarely, if ever, out of print since it was finished in 1853. (For more on D’Aubigne see this post). It would be a daunting task for anyone to wade through the entire work from beginning to end, but as a reference to this period it is indispensible. But D’Aubigne wanted his work to be accessible to, and readable by, all who had an interest in the subject. So to accomodate this desire, he wrote a one volume summary of his work as a narrative entitled The Story of the Reformation, which saw several editions of its own. This work can still be found on the second-hand market today.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that no where in his writings does Luther speak of nailing the theses to the church door at Wittenberg. We only know this through an account of the story given by his friend, Philip Melancthon, after Luther’s death. Certain 20th century Catholic scholars have tried to detail that this event never actually happened at all, supposedly to lessen the impact of Luther’s legacy. Be that as it may, Luther exposed the Papacy and their system of indulgences for the ungodly circus that it was, and still is. Also note, considering the recent discussions on Halloween, the reason why Luther chose to post his theses on All Saints Day: it was because this day highlighted the wickedness and debauchery that had infiltrated the church, and that he very much opposed. The irony should not be lost on us.

The following excerpt is longer than I like to usually post. It is taken from this work by D’Aubigne mentioned above and describes the effects of Luther’s action on October 31st, 1517. It is well worth the time to read.


95wittenberg.jpgLet us now return to the field of actual history, and see what the evening of the same day [October 31st] produced at Wittenberg.

Luther’s words had produced little effect. Tetzel continued his traffic and his impious discourses with utter indifference. Shall Luther submit to these flagrant abuses, and look on in silence? His resolution is taken.

It is not the Church or the Pope he thinks of attacking. Far from contemplating a revolution which shall overthrow the Roman primacy, Luther believes that he has the Pope and Catholicism on his side against some impudent monks. He has given his warnings as a pastor and preacher: it now remains that he should address himself to those who are, like himself, doctors of the Word of God.

All Saints day was an important occasion for Wittenberg, and above all for the Church which the Elector had built there and filled with relics. These were carried out on that day, adorned with gold, silver, and precious stones; and exhibited to the eyes of the people, amazed and dazzled by such magnificence. Whoever that day visited the church of Wittenberg, and confessed there, obtained a rich indulgence. Pilgrims therefore flocked in crowds to Wittenberg.

Luther, already decided, boldly makes his way on the evening of the 31st of October, 1517, towards the church, whither thousands of superstitious pilgrims were hastening, and fastens to the doors ninety-five theses, or propositions against the doctrine of indulgences. Neither the Elector, nor Staupitz, nor Spalatin, nor any even of his closest friends, had received intimation of his purpose.

In this document Luther declares, in a sort of preamble, that he has written these theses in a truly charitable spirit, and with the express desire of bringing the truth fully to light. He expresses his readiness to defend them the next day at the university, in the presence of and against anyone. Everybody reads and repeats them; in a short time the pilgrims, the university, and the whole city, are full of them.

Luther had boldly drawn the sword of the Word: he had done this with faith in the power of truth. Doubtless, after having fastened his theses to the church door, he retired to his quiet cell, filled with that peace and joy which flow from an action done in the name of the Lord, and for the sake of eternal truth.

Whatever daring may be conspicuous in these propositions, they plainly show that the monk does not admit a doubt as to the authority of the see of Rome. But in attacking the doctrine of indulgences, Luther had, without perceiving it, stumbled upon many errors, the exposure of which could not be agreeable to the Pope, seeing that sooner or later it must lead to the question of his supremacy. Luther did not then see so far; yet he felt the boldness of the step he had taken, and thought that it was his duty to temper its audacity as much as he could consistently with the respect due to the truth. He therefore set forth his theses merely as doubtful propositions, on which he solicited the information of the learned; and he added to them, according to established usage, a solemn protestation, declaring that he did not desire to affirm anything that was not founded on holy Scripture, the Fathers of the Church, and the rights and decretals of the see of Rome.

Often, in aftertimes, as Luther contemplated the immense and unexpected consequences of this bold attack, he was astonished at himself, and could not comprehend how he ventured to make it. It was because an invisible hand, mightier than his, held the reins, and guided the herald of truth into a path yet hidden from him, and from the difficulties of which he would perhaps have recoiled, had he known them, and had he advanced alone, or of himself. “I entered on this dispute,” he said, “without any fixed purpose, without knowing or intending it; I have been taken quite unprepared. For this I call God to witness, who sounds all hearts.”

…On the same day that Luther put up his theses, he wrote to Albert a most candid but respectful letter. “Great God!” he says, in the course of this letter, “the souls committed to your care, most excellent father, are instructed, not for life, but for death. The just and exact account which will be demanded of you for this is swelling every day. I have found it impossible to keep silence any longer. No! man is not saved by the work or by the office of his bishop. Why, then, do the indulgence-preachers lull the people into a carnal security with their empty fables?…I entreat your Highness, by the Lord Jesus Christ, to bend a look of paternal vigilance on this affair, and to command the preachers to speak in a different manner to the people. Unless you do so, dread that you will one day hear some voice lifted up to confute these preachers, to the great shame of your most serene Highness.”

Along with this letter Luther sent his theses to the Archbishop. But all was unavailing. The youthful Albert, full of his pleasures and his ambitious projects, made no reply to so solemn an appeal. The Bishop of Brandenburg, Luther’s diocesan, a learned and pious man, to whom he also sent his theses, replied that he was attacking the power of the Church, that he would draw down much trouble and sorrow upon himself, that the affair was beyond his strength, and that he (the Bishop) strongly advised him to remain quiet. The princes of the Church closed their ears; they would not understand the signs of the times; they were struck with that blindness which has occasioned the downfall of so many powers and dignities.

No one appeared at the university the next day to oppose Luther’s propositions. Tetzel’s traffic was in too much disgrace, and too shameful, for any one but himself to take up the gauntlet. But these theses were destined to resound elsewhere than under the roof of an academic hall. Hardly had they been nailed to the church door, when the feeble taps of that hammer were followed throughout all Germany by a blow that reached the very foundations of haughty Rome, threatening sudden ruin to the walls, gates, and pillars of popery, stunning and terrifying its heroes, and waking many thousands of men from the sleep of error.

These theses were diffused with the rapidity of lightning. A month had not elapsed before they were actually in Rome. “In fifteen days,” says a contemporary historian, “they were spread over the whole of Germany, and in four weeks they had overrun almost all Christendom, as if the angels themselves had been their messengers, and had borne them to the eyes of all men. No one would believe the noise they made.” They were afterwards translated into Dutch and Spanish, and a traveller sold them in Jerusalem.

A portion of the pilgrims who had flocked from all quarters to Wittenberg for the feast of All Saints, carried back with them, instead of indulgences, those famous theses of the Augustinian monk, and so contributed to their propagation. Every one read them, meditated and commented on them. They were the subject of conversation in all the convents and in all the universities. All the pious monks who entered the convent to save their souls, all upright and conscientious men, rejoiced in this simple and striking confession of the truth, and wished with all their hearts that Luther would continue the work he had begun.

Luther’s great rival, Erasmus, a man very worthy of credit, said: “I observe that the purer a man’s morals are, and the more evangelical his piety, the less opposed he is to Luther. His life is praised even by those who cannot tolerate his faith. The world was tired of a doctrine in which there were so many puerile fables and human ordinances, and it thirsted for this living, pure, and hidden water which flows from the veins of the Evangelists and Apostles.”

We must follow these theses wherever they made their way,—into the closet of the learned, the monk’s cell, and the princely palace, if we would form some idea of the various and prodigious effects they produced in Germany.

Reuchlin received them, and exclaimed, “Thanks be to God for this! They have now found a man who will give them so much to do, that they will be obliged to leave me to pass my old age in peace.”

The prudent Erasmus inwardly rejoiced at seeing his secret desires for the redress of evils, so courageously expressed. He signified his approval to their author, only exhorting him to more moderation and prudence. “God,” he said, “has given men a physician who thus cuts deep into the flesh, because without him the disease would have become incurable.”

Doctor Fleck, had for some time ceased to read mass, but had told no one the real cause. One day he found Luther’s theses hung up in the refectory of his convent; he read them, and had only run his eye over a few of them, when he cried out, “Oho! here is the man at last that we have been so long looking for, and who will make you monks open your eyes!” He wrote to the Doctor to continue this glorious war with courage. Luther calls him a man full of joy and consolation.

Lorenz von Bibra, the bishop of Wurtzburg, read the theses in his palace with delight, and publicly declared his approval of Luther. He afterwards wrote to the Elector Frederick: “Do not let the pious Doctor, Martin Luther, go, for they do him wrong.”

The Emperor Maximilian, predecessor of Charles V., himself read the monk of Wittenberg’s theses with admiration. “Take good care,” he sent word to the Elector, “of the monk Luther, for the time may come when there will be need of him.”

At Rome even, and in the Vatican, the theses were not so ill received as might be supposed. Leo X. judged of them as a man of letters, rather than as a pope. The entertainment they afforded him made him forget the severe truths they contained. “This brother, Martin Luther,” he observed, “is a man of very fine genius, and all that is said against him is but monkish jealousy.”

There were few men on whom Luther’s theses exerted more influence than on the scholar of Annaberg, whom Tetzel had so heartlessly repulsed. Myconius had entered a monastery. Myconius, like Luther, longing after holiness, devoted himself in the convent to watchings, fastings, mortifications, and all the works invented by men; but, at last, he despaired of ever arriving at the object of his desires. He gave up his studies, and occupied himself sometimes in binding books, sometimes in turning, or at some other manual work. Still, this outward activity could not appease his troubled conscience. God had spoken to him, and he could not fall back into his slumber. This painful state lasted several years.

No doubt there were others for whom Luther’s theses were the signal of life; they kindled a new light in many cells, cottages, and palaces. “Whilst those,” says Mathesius, “who had entered the convents to seek a good table, an idle life, or consideration and honour, heaped Luther’s name with abuse; those monks who lived in prayer, fasting, and mortification, gave thanks to God as soon as they heard the cry of that eagle which John huss had foretold a century before.”

And 489 years later, we should too.

Reflecting On Reformation Day

By Rey of the Bible Archive

Traditionally, on October 31st, 1517 Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg—I guess that was his blog. The document is concerned with the authority of the pope in regard to indulgences and most of us Protestant Children of the Reformation would look back at the thing with a quizzical raised eyebrow—it means little to us today. I and countless believers who hold to the traditions shouted from barrack-tops are grateful for the unearthed truths and even repeat the Sola-statements: By Grace Alone, by Faith Alone, by Scripture Alone, by Christ alone, Glory to only God. But do we remember the price?

That day was the first step towards a series of discussions that would rediscover truths long covered while violently tearing the visible church asunder, lead to several schisms and battles within the Christian community and be a horrid testimony to the world spanning several decades if not centuries.

Ah the pity of it all that Christians, convicted of these rediscovered truths, would stand behind authorities and with clenched swords ready to spread the truths of God in manner inconsistent with Christ’s own words (Matt 26:52, John 18:11), recorded in Scripture, by the grace and power of God and to be relied on by Faith. God fearing men would discover truth and freedom and yet when believers came that rejoiced in the freedoms given in Scripture, they would subsequently be persecuted

The Catholic Church would persecute Reformers and Reformers in turn would persecute the Anabaptists. Eventually some of the Anabaptists would take over a city and declared a king and the cycle continued. The Anabaptists were eventually crushed and scattered, The Reformers

It’s easy to forget through the tinted glass of time and prosperity and unfortunately its something that we believers can get into right now, today—tearing down our brothers and sisters with our tongues instead of swords, devouring each other in our disagreements and in some cases outright condemning believers as anathema.

So I am grateful for the Reformation; but I rejoice in the Lord who alone is perfect in Truth and Love. I look at my printed Bible with joy back at the period with sorrow. As I sing in the Lord’s Supper I exult in Christ but as I look across the street at brothers and sisters meeting in a different denomination, I realize what fallen Man can so easily do to God’s Word. Lastly, I stand convinced of truth yet yearn for the day when God will show that His Kingdom is not like these of men—it is firm, unshakeable and will not fade away.

Reformation History Links: Timeline, Reformation Timeline, Catholics on the Reformation, Catholics on Anabaptists, Anabaptists, Anabaptists Wiki, Lutheran Wiki, Gunpowder Plot, European Reformation, Counter Reformation, Wars of Religion, More on the Wars of Religion, Tim Challies Reformation Day posts.

Max McLean's dramatic presentation of Martin Luther's famous "Here I Stand" speech. Max gives a nice summary of events leading up to this decisive moment - that alone is worth the listen.

Happy Reformation Day, have some “Diet of Worms cake”

A few resources for your enjoyment:

  1. What is it and why?
  2. Don’t miss the Reformation Polka (to the tune of”Supercalifragilistic-expialidocious”)
  3. John Piper’s lecture notes and audio on the life of Martin Luther
  4. Everything Martin Luther
  5. Lutheran Mad Libs
  6. Martin Luther warp game
  7. Wacky ideas to get the party started:
  • Make a “Diet of Worms Cake” and bring it to your office or school.
  • Have a “Baptismal Apple Dunk”
  • Run a “Law and Gospel Shuffle Relay”
  • Create a “Fishers of Men” Fishing Pond
  • Do a “Defeat the Devil Ball Toss”
  • Play “Pin the 95 Theses on the Wittenberg Door”
  • Run a “Throw Indulgences in the Trash” relay

WJDW: How do you know if you are a parrot?

Posted by Scott Zeller at Foolishblog

Piper begins What Jesus Demands from the World (WJDW) with the capstone verse of the book, Jesus’ command to “Make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). He then makes the following observation which I want to spend this post considering,

You can teach a parrot all of Jesus’ commandments. But you cannot teach a parrot to observe them. Parrots will not repent, and worship Jesus, and lay up treasures in heaven, and love their enemies, and go out like sheep in the midst of wolves to herald the kingdom of God. (p. 18)

This simple comment immediately made me ask a simple question of myself, “Am I a parrot?” I have been studying God’s word for years (in the middle of my sixth year in theological higher education), am I observing the commandments I know so well or do I simply parrot them back to those interested in hearing such things? “No, no Scott, you are a quite the observer,” is my minds immediate thought. “You go to church, you love people, you do plenty of commandmentish stuff!” But do I really? As someone who wants to be a missionary, am as I passionate about observing all Jesus commanded of me as I am about going and making disciples?

Not wanting to be a parrot - one who can repeat things back but not actually do them, I came up with a couple questions to ask myself to reveal the parrot inside that needs to be rejected:

1. When you receive God’s truth (for example in a sermon or in your own personal bible reading), how much time do you spend considering what action this truth is demanding in your life?

I need to actively combat my parrot-tendencies at the front lines by not letting truth enter my mind without asking whether or not that truth demands an action on my part. How many times have I heard a sermon on God’s love without taking the time to consider how I could better reflect that characteristic of in my own life?

2. Do I spend more time talking (teaching, preaching, blogging, conversating, counseling) then I do living?

Ezra 7:10 tells us of the Godly lifestyle of that man saying, “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” That verse should haunt me every time I go to teach, every time I go to blog, every time I go to counsel someone else about their junk. If I do not first live it, if I do not first observe, then whatever teaching I do is parroting. It is not real or genuine, it is parrot talk.

3. Do I actively pursue the insights of my Christian friends on whether or not I am a parrot?

I don’t dare attempt to try and assess my own life in isolation (especially on this topic!). With planks of pride in my eyes, how can I go there alone? I need the honest perspectives of others into my life if I am going to adequately pursue not only knowing the commands of Jesus but also observing them in my daily life.

I’m sure there are many more and better questions to ask to guard against the tendency to be Jesus Parrots (if you’ve got some ideas, share them in the comments!). However, I think the principle is that we had better be aware that there is a big difference between knowing what Jesus says and living what he commands!

Piper closes the Introduction saying,
[Jesus’] aim is God-glorifying obedience to all that he commanded. The kind of obedience that glorifies God is free and joyful, not constrained and cowering. Even when the cost is supreme, the joy is triumphant, because the cause of Jesus cannot fail. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matt. 5:11-12). It is a costly mission, but a joyful one. (p. 27)

It is a costly mission, but a joyful one. Jesus equated the mission of observing his commands to taking up a cross… daily. But there is no more worthwhile pursuit in all of life. Let us press on to observe with all our strength and encourage that pursuit in each other.

Scott Zeller is a brother, a son, a friend, a future husband (accepting applications), a reader, an amateur musician, a film aficionado, a meat-eater, a blogger, a closet activist, a world traveler, and a coffee adict. He loves reading books that he doesn’t agree with, has tuberculosis, his idea of paradise is going without a shower for six weeks in darkest Africa, he is a terrible driver and a worse ping-pong player (but delights in both), and his life goal is to write the book for adolescents. But before all that Scott is a Christian, saved by grace through Christ Jesus from a miserable life lived in selfishness and eternity apart from God. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Theology from The Master’s College and is currently attending Dallas Theological Seminary pursuing an M.A. in Cross-Cultural Ministry. Scott is actively involved in foreign missions work, particularly with East African orphans and abandoned children. He attends and is actively involved in the ministry of Grace Bible Church. You may also be interested in Scott’s personal blog, which can be found at www.scottzeller.com.

How To Prevent A Church Split, Part 5

By Thabiti Anyabwile

In this last post of the series, it seems appropriate to end where we began: with the importance of the pastor in preventing church splits.

The most natural thing in the world is for a congregation to appreciate and respect its main preaching pastor. It happens without much effort in many cases, as the pastor opens the Word of God to the people of God Sunday after Sunday. That act of teaching is an act of love. And the longer one does it with a congregation--the people and the pastor growing in intimate knowledge of one another--the more the affections grow.

On the whole, I think this is as God intends it. If you can look out onto a people hoping to hear the Word of God fed to them by you, and not grow in fatherly affection for them, something is terribly wrong. Something essential is missing in the heart of the preacher. For after all, preaching is not merely or primarily an intellectual exercise. It is primarily an exercise of the heart… the preacher pouring His into the Word of God, then pouring out into the people, and the people opening theirs to be filled with the glorious riches of God in the preaching moment. If love is missing, the heart is defective.

And so it’s also natural that the primary preacher accrues a certain kind of authority in the eyes of the congregation as well. Loving authority stemming from loving teaching and preaching seems to be the plan of God.

But the human heart is also an idol factory. Without Spirit-filled thinking, men and women may easily begin to “worship” the pastor. No one will use that word to describe their affections and allegiance, but their hearts and actions will be fairly close to “worship.” At the least, there is such a thing as being overly devoted or loyal to a pastor. The problem affected Corinth and it affects many churches today.

If we are to prevent church splits one thing we must do is make sure that the natural affections and authority that accrue to the teaching office is dispersed among the leadership of the church. We must find obvious, subtle, and effective ways to attach the allegiance of the people to the church and the leadership as a whole. Four things come to mind. I’m sure there are others and welcome the feedback.

One practical thing we can do is make sure that other gifted men in the leadership and the body have an opportunity to exercise their teaching gifts. We certainly should use such men in Sunday school and small group settings. But we should also provide them opportunity in the more public meetings of the church: Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings (if you have them), and mid-week Bible study.

Men don’t have to be seasoned, professional preachers. They should be clear communicators or the meetings won’t be edifying. But taking a “risk” on a younger man or a man with little preaching experience is a perfectly fine thing to do. A couple of churches I know use the Sunday evening service in part with this purpose in mind, and they often find new teaching gifts in the body and are able to help hone those gifts.

As the congregation grows more accustomed to hearing more of their leaders love them through teaching, we help to inoculate the body against one chief cause of church splits: disproportionate attachment to one leader. And as a rule, the more charismatic a leader you are, the more important this sharing of teaching authority becomes.

If we’re the main preaching/teaching elder, the other way we can spread authority and esteem for the entire body and leadership is to make specific, edifying comments about other leaders in the body.

I don’t mean we need to flatter our leaders. Our words should be true and proportionate to the situation or quality we’re commenting on. And they should be specific enough in detail to model for the congregation how to give godly encouragement and why they should be thankful for their leadership.

And our comments to the wider church should always underscore, not undermine, the leadership of the church. Wherever there may be disagreements or discontent among leaders it should be expressed and resolved in meetings with the other leaders. The surest path to wider congregational discontent will be for leaders to act, comment, or react in ways that suggest fraction and division among the leaders. When members stumble on issues that divide the leadership, or issues that the leaders are currently weighing, we should politely and with positive tone invite their continued prayers for the leaders as the discussions continue. We must cultivate a culture and discipline in our churches that “makes every effort to maintain unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3), and this culture must begin with and be modeled by the leadership. Our public comments go a long way in spreading authority, supporting that authority, and preventing or amplifying tensions that lead to division.

I have served as an elder in two churches prior to being given the gift and privilege of serving as senior pastor at FBC. Both of those pastors, Peter Rochelle and Mark Dever, were good models of submission to the elders as a whole. They were “first among equals,” but they did not abuse that position and authority. They accepted counsel, they listened, they contributed, and they were longsuffering with those of us who disagreed and in many cases knew less about an issue than they. They were willing, despite better biblical and theological knowledge and greater wisdom from experience, to submit to the direction of the entire group. That was humble submission.

That’s not to say there weren’t times when they were strongly convicted about an issue and would hold the line. There were times of disagreement, sometimes strong disagreement. In those times, the group of elders needed to be humble and to submit. We needed to determine more precisely (a) what questions needed to be answered, (b) what decision criteria were operative, (c) what mutual goals should govern us, and (d) what exact timeline for making a decision was necessary or wise. In those situations, by God’s grace, mutual submission, trusting that all who shepherd have the same goal—the glory of God revealed in His bride the church—provides much needed unity in the leadership. This can take time to build, but toiling for it is necessary for protecting the church from splits. We must war against our sense of “entitlement” as pastors or elders, and against the conceit that whispers to us that we see more clearly or more learnedly than our brothers who lead with us, and give ourselves to cultivating godly humility that submits.

Lastly, leaders must lead. Pastors must lead. There is a danger of being overly passive in the face of situations and decisions that require clear thinking and charting a course. In those cases we must lead.

And we can’t be afraid to lead. There may be 1,000 things we must be sensitive to, but we must resist the paralysis that comes from over-analyzing and tea leaf reading. Leadership is as much an act of faith as prayer. We must trust that God is at work in our leadership of the church, and that He will providentially rule in our prayerful efforts.

And we must not be afraid to lead the church toward a split in order to prevent a split.

This may sound counter-intuitive. After all, the entire series of posts is about preventing splits.

I’m convinced that merely showing up and being yourself will be a “splitting” factor for some people. We can not give in to fear of man and seek to please people. It is required of stewards that they be faithful. And sometimes being faithful requires upsetting some apple carts. You don’t necessarily start out to do so, but in the course of applying God’s Word and pursuing faithful church practice some disgruntlement is bound to happen. When it does… we must keep leading. For some, this will have the feel of “forcing” an ever so gradual “split” of sorts, as people who are opposed to biblical faithfulness peel away and leave.

If this is necessary, then hopefully that’s a one-by-one peeling, with people leaving in positive rather than disruptive ways. But if we’re being faithful, we must remember that we’re building deeper foundations that hopefully the church can rest upon in strength for generations to come. We must not let the short-term struggles that arise over this or that issue to upset the long-term goal of preserving the unity and growing the entire body into full maturity in Christ.

Shall We Reason Together? Part Seven: Probability and the Limits of Logic

In The Nick of TimeI have been arguing against a philosophical theory that denigrates reason by stating that inferences drawn from Scripture are always lower in authority than the straightforward declarations of Scripture. I have attempted to show that this theory is bad philosophy, bad exegesis, and bad theology. Necessary inferences drawn from Scripture are just as authoritative as the Scriptures themselves.

Now it is time to back up and to discuss certain conditions that necessarily limit the usefulness of logic when understanding the Scriptures. Within those limits, logic is necessary, useful, and in at least some instances, unerring. Outside of those limits, logic can become a tool with which we deceive ourselves and others. It is important for us to know where those limits are.

The first condition has to do with the distinction between deductive and inductive reasoning. In deductive logic, the conclusions arise necessarily from the premises. When a deductive syllogism is valid and the premises are true, the conclusion must without exception be true. Inferences that are drawn by strict induction (a valid syllogism) from biblical propositions (true premises) are always true and must be just as authoritative as the Scriptures themselves.

For example, Scripture nowhere teaches the doctrine of the Trinity in so many words. What the Bible teaches in various places is that God is One; that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each are God; and that these three are somehow distinct from each other. When we reason deductively from these truths, we derive the doctrine of one God in three divine persons.

The same is true of the hypostatic union. The formula of Chalcedon is not found in the New Testament. Rather, the New Testament shows in one place that Jesus is truly God; in another place that He is truly Human; in yet another place that He is one person. It is by reasoning from these truths deductively that we define the two-natures-one-person dogma.

Neither the Trinity nor the hypostatic union is stated in so many words anywhere in the Bible. Nonetheless, for orthodox Christians these doctrines are as authoritative as any biblical statement. They are rightly regarded as fundamentals of the faith. One reason that they are so authoritative is that they are necessary inferences, conclusions that are unavoidable in the light of biblical revelation.

Most theological and ethical arguments, however, are inductive rather than deductive. They may even alternate between the two methods. In an inductive argument, we draw inferences that are not necessary. They are merely probable. Their degree of probability limits the extent to which we ought to press their authority.

In my opinion, the Bible teaches premillennialism, but not with deductive certainty. The premillennial theory is, at best, probable (I think quite probable, given the way that I view the evidence—but still only probable). Pretribulationism, while still probable (in my opinion), is less certain than premillennialism. The identity of the sons of God in Genesis 6 is only marginally probable—and on that point I am not even revealing my own view!

One must not confuse certainty with authority. God’s Word teaches exactly one view of the nature of the millennium, the timing of the rapture, and the identity of the sons. Whichever view is taught in Scripture is absolutely authoritative. Our problem, however, is that we are only relatively sure which view the Bible teaches.

What are the consequences of this uncertainty? When our conclusions are merely probable, we must hold ourselves ready to reexamine them in the light of new information or new perspectives. We should be conscious of (and willing to state) the conditions under which our minds could be changed. We should advocate our conclusions, but only with the force that their probability warrants. We should be willing to recognize the strength of the evidence that counts against our own conclusions. We should be fair with those who disagree with us—in fact, we should be able to state their position as well as they themselves do. We ought to exhibit charity toward those who disagree with us, displaying evenness in our responses. In short, we must manifest a spirit of genuine humility while advocating the conclusions that we believe are reasonable in light of the evidence.

Of course, most of these attitudes should characterize the work of the mind under all circumstances. Docility (teachability) is a virtue that we must never outgrow. Furthermore, the key difference between instruction and indoctrination is the willingness to tell the whole story, i.e., to expose ourselves and others to conclusions that we think are incorrect, and to appreciate the evidence that supports those conclusions—even at the risk of changing our minds.

Most of the ethical and theological conclusions that we draw from the Scriptures are inductive, and consequently they are probable in nature. We should recognize our lack of certainty about these inferences. Lacking certainty, we should hold our conclusions humbly. That does not imply, however, that we should become timid about drawing inductive inferences.

Some individuals are reluctant to reach a conclusion unless they can hold it with certainty. In the absence of overwhelming evidence, they defer judgment indefinitely. Such timidity is as great an error as arrogance. God would not speak to an issue if He did not intend to communicate something to us, and He would not communicate if He did not expect us to understand. We must try to reach some conclusion, even when Scripture is not as clear as we would like.

Furthermore, as long as we advance them humbly, we do not need to be afraid to advocate such conclusions. Indeed, we must: the truth is authoritative, even if we grasp it only imperfectly. God’s sovereignty obligates us to believe and to practice what we believe God has said, and Christian charity obligates us to seek to convince our brethren of whatever we think is true. The same is true of our brethren, and we should not take offense when we find them seeking to convince us of what they believe to be true. Rather, we should be grateful for such a demonstration of their brotherly love.

Necessary inferences drawn from biblical premises are just as authoritative as the text of Scripture itself. A necessary inference is one that is drawn through valid arguments from true premises. Conclusions drawn inductively rather than deductively are probable rather than necessary. Probable inferences should generally be advanced with greater caution. They should be advocated only as strongly as the probability that they are true.

This rule of thumb prompts a question. Are there any instances in which inductive inferences could and should be advocated as strongly as deductive ones? This is an important question, and it concerns some of the core of the Christian faith. Therefore, I want to take a brief detour to answer it. Afterwards, I shall address the second condition that limits the usefulness of logic as a tool for drawing conclusions from Scripture.


George Herbert)

My God, the poor expressions of my Love
Which warm these lines, and serve them up to thee
Are so, as for the present, I did move
Or rather as thou movedst me.

But what shall issue, whither these my words
Shall help another, but my judgment be;
As a burst fouling-piece doth save the birds
But kill the man, is seal’d with thee.

For who can tell, though thou hast died to win
And wed my soul in glorious paradise;
Whether my many crimes and use of sin
May yet forbid the banes and bliss.

Only my soul hangs on thy promises
With face and hands clinging unto thy breast,
Clinging and crying, crying without cease
Thou art my rock, thou art my rest.Kevin Bauder
This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses. In The Nick of Time is also archived here

Monday, October 30, 2006

New Purpose Driven Phone Company--Inspirational Mobile Service

By Ingrid Schlueter

Relating to my post below about the merchandising of Christ, I received this press release this morning about a purpose-driven (isn't that term trade marked yet?) mobile phone company. (Never open your email before breakfast. You'll lose your appetite.) Here's an excerpt:

FaithFone Wireless(TM) a Phoenix based purpose driven Christian Mobile Phone Company is proud to announce today the launch of its Ministry Partners program. FaithFone Wireless has entered into a media delivery and content distribution partnership with Jireh Mobile to provide Churches personalized mobile content and messaging services. FaithFone Wireless recently launched the first ever faith-based branded mobile phone service to offer Daily Devotionals, Bible passages, Prayer Of The Day, Life Advice, and like-minded entertainment content via (SMS) Text on a branded mobile phone handsets.

FaithFone has developed a Ministry Partners program, providing Churches and other Faith-based organizations a unique business opportunity and wireless services. FaithFone Wireless products and services are design to facilitate ministry growth, member retention, contribution consistency, and stimulate community outreach and development though partnerships with local ministries. FaithFone offers Ministry Partners a personalized mobile content card with music, sermons, branded ringtones, and daily devotionals produced by the Church that can be loaded on the member's cell phones using an IVR system (Interactive Voice Response). In addition FaithFone provides Ministry Partners leading edge solutions including a (CTMS) Congregational Text messaging system, FaithFone Dealership, Mobile Banking Deposit account, revenue sharing, monthly residuals, individual members Mobile Banking VISA Debit card accounts, member retention and ministry mobilization solutions.

Jireh Mobile has developed a delivery platform that provides FaithFone's Ministry Partners a Branded SMS Text messaging solution to send daily congregational communications to its Church members. The (CTMS) solution will distribute event notification, weekly sermon sound bites, daily devotionals, bible passages, Prayer Of The Day, and news alerts to the members cell phones.

The Ministry Partners program is a focal point for our company's growth and success. The Jireh Mobile solution enables our Ministry Partners to utilize the FaithFone as a tool for mobilizing entire ministries on a moments notice say Larry Witherspoon Managing Director of FaithFone Wireless Media. The FaithFone becomes an optimum congregational communications tool that extends the reach of the Faith-Based community beyond the walls of the Church and keeps members connected to the small, medium, large and Mega Church 24 / 7.

FaithFone is currently finalizing agreements with several Churches, Ministries, Faith-Based organizations, and Christian owned businesses in the U.S. and abroad. For more information about becoming a Ministry Partner go to www.faithfonewireless.com or call (888) 313- FONE.

Jireh Mobile is a division of Jireh Business Development, offering mobile content distribution and SMS and Premium SMS solutions for businesses and ministries worldwide. For more info go to www.jirehmobile.info.


Trick or Tract: Satan, Jack Chick, and Other Halloween Horrors

From the Evangelical Outpost

Every autumn Christians throughout North America engage in hand-wringing disputes over what to do about Halloween. The discussions tend to reflect in microcosm how we interact with overtly secular aspects on a larger scale. Should we separate and stand apart, becoming a witness by or disengagement or do we participate and attempt to redeem the event by acts of hospitality and neighborly love?

Last year my friend Bonnie from Intellectuelle adds a thoughtful contribution to the discussion, one in which I must confess to be in almost total disagreement with. But one section in particular caught my attention:

I think it could be wishful thinking to say that we can ?redeem? Halloween by trick-or-treating in good will. It may not be expressive of good will toward those who do not understand the truth of spiritual matters. Again, aren?t we endorsing the holiday itself by participating in it? The only alternative to non-participation is to hand out leaflets containing the history of Halloween (with appropriate verses of Scripture, plus a candy bar) or tracts to trick-or-treaters...but whether or not that is neighborly is a debate in itself. [emphasis added]

Reading that sentence about handing "tracts to trick-or-treaters" sent chills down my spine and reminded me of the most frightful man ever to be associated with Halloween: Jack Chick.

While you may not recognize the name, if you've ever used the restroom of a truck stop then you've probably seen his work. Chick produces tracts and comics that look like work that R. Crumb would have produced had he attended Bob Jones University. For over twenty years the tracts have been used to spread such Christian messages as Catholics are going to hell and that the Holocaust was a Jesuit-led inquisition against the Jews.

To me, though, Chick is not just another anti-Catholic bigot. When I was a kid Jack Chick was the man who was responsible for more nightmares than the Twilight Zone and Kolchak: The Nightstalker combined. Chick not only scared the hell out of me, he made me afraid that hell was all around me.

While his comic books are less well known than his tracts, they were a primary source of literature around my fundamentalist church. In a typical display of twisted '70s fundie logic, our congregation believed that comics about Satan and the occult were more wholesome than reading about Spiderman or Archie and Jughead.

exorcists.bmpOne comic that still gives me the creeps is "Exorcists", a tale of young boy who prays to Satan and becomes possessed after falling asleep. Being a Christian I knew that I didn't have to fear about demons taking over my body. But I wasn't so sure about some of my heathen friends. Anyone who was sleeping over my house was quickly sent home for so much as mentioning a Ouija board or humming Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven."

It's been twenty years since Chick tracts damaged my fragile psyche but it appears that some otherwise well-meaning Christians are willing to subject a whole new generation to this horror. The Chick Publications website even has a list of "unique ways you can use Chick tracts this Halloween" such as:

When Trick-or-Treaters parade to your door this Halloween, drop a couple of Chick tracts in their bag, along with some candy. Or, to really get them excited, stock a tray with several different Chick tracts. (See suggested tracts.) When children arrive, place the tray in front of them and let them pick any two tracts. (Be sure to give them candy too.) Kids love receiving unique gifts, like cartoon tracts. And they love picking the ones they want. Your home could be their favorite stop of the night. With Chick tracts, you can witness to every child who comes to your door. Plus, they'll take the tracts home, where their parents will read them too!

Having to take a evangelism track in order to get a bite-size Snickers bar normally wouldn't be such a bad tradeoff. But let's take a look at one of the "suggested tracks" and what is being offered to impressionable children.

boo_01.gifBoo tells the story of students from Salem High who rent a cabin in the woods for their class Halloween party. Fortunately for them, thirteen people were murdered the previous Halloween so they get the place at a cheaper rate.


A surprise? A keg of beer? A couple of fifths of whiskey? Some bottles of cheap wine? Nah, it's not that kind of party. The kids at Salem High are into the newest trend:


...sacrificing animals to Satan! Oh, and the dude with the pumpkin and the snake on a rope? That's Lucifer himself. Why the devil needs a chainsaw, Chick never makes clear. I mean he's got a snake on a rope. Isn't that enough to do the trick?


It appears Satan found his chainsaw after all. So now we have a high school kid ready to sacrifice a kitty while a pumpkin-headed demon reenacts the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Let me just say that if anybody were to drop this tract into my kid's candy bag I'd be paying that house a return visit. And I'd be bringing my own snake on a rope.

The story takes a weird twist when Satan goes down to a village church. His chainsaw must have run out of gas because instead of trying to chop up a young kid, he simply "Yaaaaaah" at him.



Satan sure has some mouth on him, don't he? Anyway, the next day the kid asks his pastor about Halloween. Oddly enough he forgets to mention that he went toe-to-toe with Lucifer the night before. The preacher gives the kid a brief intro to demonology before explaining the origin of Halloween.




None of this, of course, is true. Halloween is the holiday equivalent of Wicca -- a 20th century invention that pretends to have ancient pagan roots. Halloween has nothing to do with Samhain, a Celtic agricultural festival that marked the beginning of winter. There is also no evidence that Samhain was a celebration devoted to the dead or to ancestor worship, much less to kidnapping, human sacrifice, playing with chainsaws, or walking with snakes on a rope.



I think it's safe to say that if the Lord hates Halloween then he must despise Chick tracts. When a well-intentioned but overzealous Christian gives these "comics" to a child it must be, as Chick would say, a "slap in the face." If you are the type of person who does this on Halloween I only have one word to say to you: repent.

Irrational fear is an overrated motivational tool, especially when you're trying to win the hearts and minds of children. Just look at my example. Twenty years later I'm still creeped out by the thought of the Chick comics. While they might have had the intended impact -- to scare the living hell out of me -- they did so by appealing to an unncessary fear of Satan. If a Christian really wants to show a child the light of God's grace then they should do so by showing them God's love rather than by giving them the hateful, disgusting, and demonically-inspired work of Jack Chick.

Some Thoughts On Musical Style As It Relates To Worship And Hymns (Revised)

Rev. Kevin Twit, November, 2002

1. There is long history of doing worship music in indigenous and folk styles.

For example,

  • Foote writes in “Three Centuries Of American Hymnody (Harvard Press 1940) about the tune “Old Hundreth” (known to most as the doxology tune) that it was “given shape by Louis Bourgeois, although the first line is taken from a secular chanson. When it was taken over in the English Psalter the notation of the last line was slightly altered from the Genevan form. It immediately became popular and our forefathers liked it because it was a “jocound and lively” air! We think of it as solemn and stately, rather than as lively, because we are familiar with the form in which it emerged in the 18th century usage. When sung, however, in the early form and in fairly quick time it reveals the almost gay character which made it a fitting setting for the words… It was the vigor and liveliness of a number of these Genevan Psalm tunes that led critics to dub them “Geneva jigs.” …To a writer of a century ago it seemed “strange, indeed, that the very tunes that send us to sleep caused our forefathers to dance.” But he was unaware that between the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 19th century the Psalm tunes were deliberately lengthened out by giving their notes equal length, and singing was slowed down in the supposed interest of solemnity.” (pg. 15)
  • Foote also says “There is a striking similarity between the ballad-like character of the English metrical psalms and the literary form of the earliest surviving hymns of the Roman church, by St. Ambrose and his followers in the 4th and 5th centuries. The Ambrosian hymns broke away from the old classical meters, and were written in the simpler form of prosody based on accent rather than on quantity, which had long been in use in the songs of the people. Ambrose thus established the form of Latin liturgical hymnody after the model of current folk songs, very much as the metrical psalms of the 16th century followed the pattern of the popular folk ballads. Our familiar long meter is practically that of the Ambrosian hymn, in English dress.” (he cites C.S. Philips “Hymnody Past And Present” NY 1937 pg. 53-55)
  • Speaking of the tunes used in the Methodist movement in the 18th century, Adam Fox declares “And then as to the tunes. The most important fact about them is that they did not differ much from the popular tunes of the day.” (English Hymns & Hymnwriters pg. 29)
  • In an important but rare work “The Music of The French Psalter of 1562″ (Columbia Univ. Press 1939), Waldo Pratt writes about Protestant Reformation music, both French and German, that “The plan of structure of both verse and music was largely derived from that found in the popular songs of the period.” (pg. 6)

2. The dichotomy between high art and pop art is, at best, both unhelpful and musically and historically rather naïve.

Actually the historical basis of this is a rather racist argument. This distinction is really only about 150 years old, emerges during the 19th century as people try to separate themselves from the massive influx of Eastern European immigrants, and falls prey to a classic logical fallacy: just because something is popular does not mean it is of inferior quality! It may mean that it is of great quality and has connected with a large number of people for really good reasons! In addition, the attempt to make a big distinction between folk art and pop art fails to understand how popular art functions. (see William Romanowski’s recent book “Eyes Wide Open” pg. 72-75 for a wonderful discussion of this issue! Or if you want to study this even more in depth, track down Lawrence Levine’s “Highbrow, Lowbrow: The Emergence Of Cultural Hierarchy In America”)

3. There is no Biblical argument to be made that Western classical music is inherently better than styles like folk, rock, jazz, and blues.

Attempts to argue for an absolute music aesthetic derived ala natural theology from the natural harmonic series (like that of Leonard Payton) are absurd. What sounds “in tune” to our ears is a result of cultural conditioning. The “blue note” can’t be found on a piano keyboard yet it is part of the natural harmonic series. Furthermore, our pianos are not really “in tune” in a scientific sense, rather we follow “tempered tuning” which is a compromise so that a piano is sort of in tune for all keys. The music to which the Psalms were originally set, would in all probability sound very strange to our ears. Even a minor key doesn’t sound sad in all cultures (for example, much joyful Israeli folk music is in a minor key!)

4. In particular attempt to commend jazz as a high culture form while denouncing rock, (its first cousin since both derive from the blues), makes no sense to people who actually play these styles.

I find that the attempt to delineate between jazz, rock, folk, and pop is doomed to failure because these styles are all so inter-related. It may make sense in theory to some who are really only superficially aware of these styles but to those who actually study the music the real differences are very slight, musically speaking. The argument that the rock beat is evil in any form is preposterous. No studies have conclusively proven that a certain beat can affect you independently of the cultural baggage surrounding that music. The beat itself is neither good or bad, to believe otherwise is to fall prey to the heresy of Manicheism. (See William Edgar’s article “The Message Of Rock Music” in Dean and Porter’s “Art In Question” or his review of Ken Myers’ “All God’s Children And Blue Suede Shoes” in the Westminster Theological Journal)

5. Style is not neutral, all styles have cultural baggage because music derives its meaning as a cultural symbol.

But there is no pure style, and there is no style that is irredeemable! Anything made by humans after the Fall is flawed and nothing made by even by fallen humans can avoid reflecting God’s image as creator. Music is one way that we extract all of the God-glorifying potential out of the creation, it is a way that we take dominion over the creation and till the Garden.

6. So, rather than get bogged down in arguments pitting one style versus another, let us look to commend what we can in all types of music.

There will always be something to commend and things to critique. There is a lot of great music around the world, (even people and cultures who have rejected the true God can make great music) and we should beware of the idea that all the great music is found in the Western classical genre. Attempts to compare Bach with say Jimi Hendrix are rather pointless. There are lots of great things about Bach’s music. But there is a lot that he did not explore, like groove and how to bring interest and tension and release within the limits of a 12 bar blues form. Too often we take a set of criteria derived from examining Western classical music, trying to discover how it works, and then apply that criteria to other types of music that work very differently. This is really unfair and culturally elitist. Having worked in recording studios with pop musicians I have seen how much care and thought goes into the hundreds and thousands of decisions needed to produce a 4 minute song. It takes great skill to do something fresh within a genre that has such tight limits as to song length and form and those who do this well should be commended.

7. The purpose of art is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. There are lots of ways that this can be done which we can call sub-purposes.

For example, art can tell the truth, it can show beauty, but it can also (and must if it is to tell the truth after the Fall) speak of great ugliness. Art can communicate and it can entertain. Art can make us remember and mourn for the past and it can help us imagine a still unseen future. And all of these are ways to glorify God! The problem with most Christian books on the arts is that they try to make one of these sub-purposes the over-arching purpose and thus leave out a lot of great work that should be seen as art.

8. The idea that art must be received rather than merely used (C.S. Lewis, Ken Myers) seems to reflect a Platonic view that art is only helpful as a springboard to “spiritual” thoughts.

Remember, the purpose of art is to glorify God and the Book of Ecclesiastes (from which the phrase “the chief end of man is to glorify God” comes), insists that we are to find joy even in our frustrating lives in the ordinary things of life. This creation, including art, is not merely a catalyst for more “spiritual” thought.

9. We should encourage people to praise God in their own culturally honest way.

The days are long past when people are trying to do worship music in a rock style just to reach the masses. The issue in our day is should musicians adopt a foreign musical style in which to praise God? Is there a “Holy Ghost” musical style (like people used to think of Koine Greek as a unique “Holy Ghost Greek”? Of course not! Calvin seems to have attempted to invent a particular church style of music but in fact the music of the Genevan Psalter reflected the popular styles of the 16th century because you can’t make music in a cultural vacuum. Nor should we even try! At the end of Revelation we see the kings of the earth bringing their splendor, the fruit of their culture, to the Lord as an act of worship. This is what we should be doing now! If the church is made up of every race, tribe, and tongue then shouldn’t our worship (including our music) reflect this? We should do music that is culturally honest to who we are.

10. But, we must also do music that reflects that the Church is bigger than just our own narrow demographic.

The church is multi-cultural and extends through the ages and our music should reflect this! I love Marva Dawn’s comment that if the church is truly the church and includes greater variety than just me and other people like me, then everyone is going to have to sing some songs they don’t like! The older people should invite the young to teach their own music and the young should be respectful and learn the music enjoyed by the older people, all for God’s glory!

11. Just because we shouldn’t make absolute statements about one genre being inherently better than another, does not mean we can make no judgments about particular pieces of music and their appropriateness.

But each piece should be evaluated by how well it “fits” the words and by how it measures up to other songs within the same genre. In other words, is this song trite within this genre or is it a creative use of this form. Remember, all styles have baggage, and some are more easily used to convey words of substance than others. Folk music for instance, which is what we consider the style of the Indelible Grace recordings, has a long history of conveying words of substance and power.

12. Don’t let superficial differences fool you in making judgments about music.

Musically, a melody like the one Sandra McCracken wrote for “Thy Mercy My God” is no different than the melody for “Immortal Invisible.” The difference in sound has more to do with the block chord harmonization we are used to hearing when “Immortal Invisible” is played “hymn style.” But analyzed as far as melody, rhythm, and harmony is concerned and they are very similar.

13. Indelible Grace Music is not out to deconstruct church music!

Actually hymnals, with their metrical index, are designed for us to try alternate tunes for the hymns! We are trying to encourage musicians to use their gifts to set the great hymns of the faith to music that is authentic to who we are culturally, and which will help us hear and feel the deep emotion of the text. (For further discussion of these issues see my “Criteria For Judging Rock Music”)

14. Controversy over setting new tunes to older texts is nothing new!

Consider the objections to new tunes catalogued by Thomas Symmes in 1723 (writing in New England responding to those who objected to singing the psalms to new tunes).

1. It is a new way, an unknown tongue.
2. It is not so melodious as the usual way.
3. There are so many new tunes, we shall never have done learning them.
4. The practice creates disturbances and causes people to behave indecently and disorderly.
5. It is Quakerish and Popish and introductive of instrumental music.
6. The names given to the notes are bawdy, even blasphemous.
7. It is a needless way, since our fathers got to heaven without it.
8. It is a contrivance to get money.
9. People spend too much time learning it, they tarry out nights’ disorderly.
10. They are a company of young upstarts that fall in with this way, and some of them are lewd and loose persons.

15. Why not set words written for the poor to music invented by the poor?

Many hymnwriters (Watts, Cowper, Newton for example) deliberately wrote words for the poorer classes – condescending to their level of education. The musical style of Indelible Grace is rooted in the musical styles of the poor (blues, jazz, folk, bluegrass.) Seems fitting to put words written for poor people to music invented by poor people. John Newton wouldn’t let Handel’s Messiah be sung in his church because he thought it too worldly (though he did preach a sermon series on the text!)

Bonar on the Reformation

By Darren Brooker

In light of tomorrow being Reformation Day, and Monday’s space usually reserved for something from the pen of Horatius Bonar, this week’s post from Bonar deals with the importance of the Reformation and the doctrine that God caused to be re-illumined after centuries of darkness: justification by faith alone. (It’s no wonder Geneva’s motto is Post Tenebras…Lux, After Darkness…Light). The same simple truth that brought reformation and revival in the 16th century is the same simple truth that could do likewise in our day; if only men would put off the foolishness that passes for gospel doctrine that seems so prevalent. You will also see from the following passage, and if you know anything about Bonar at all, that he was cut more from the mold of the Reformers than the Puritans, although he did at times combine the best of both!


hbframe1.jpgThe Reformation went back to the simplicities of apostolic truth. This was the secret of its strength. By this it won its victories. Away from “the wisdom of this world,” from the mystic dreams of the cloister, from the subtleties of the schoolmen, from the contradictions of the fathers, it went back to the Epistle to the Romans, and, above the mists of ages, lifted up to view “the righteousness of God without the law” (Romans 3:21), “the righteousness of faith” (Romans 4:13), the righteousness in which the sinner stands complete before God. Human pride, self-righteousness, philosophy, priestly pretensions to pardon, all opposed these divine simplicities of justification,—preferring something more elaborate and complex; something that would not settle the question of acceptance so easily and speedily. But to the aching hearts and heavy-laden spirits of that age the simplicity of the divine message constituted its excellence. It adjusted the whole matter at once, between God and the sinner, by setting aside human goodness as a justifying element, and resting forgiveness entirely upon THE FINISHED SUBSTITUTION of the Son of God. Divine perfection came in the room of human imperfection, presenting every man who accepted that perfection complete before God. The tattered and defiled raiment of human goodness was exchanged for the fine linen, pure and white, “the best robe” in the Father’s house.

Our prayer is, that God would raise up evangelists for [every nation] in numbers proportioned to your country’s need; men of faith, and, therefore, sure of success.

Yet numbers are, after all, but secondary. One whole-hearted evangelist, preaching simply the good news of God’s free love, would do more than a hundred half-hearted cumberers of the ground. One holy, self-denying teacher, filled with the Holy Spirit, is worth a host of preachers who have never tasted for themselves the glad tidings which they profess to declare. “Nobody can withstand him,” was said of Calvin, “when he has the Bible in his hand.” And of Luther it was written, “Every word of thine was a thunderbolt.” Such are the men whom [our] country needs at this hour; and, with even a few such, what might not be done! “One would chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight.”

-Taken from Does God Care For Our Great Cities? 1882, as found on The Life and Works of Horatius Bonar CD-Rom


The problem of Scripture-less worship

“Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13).

Why is it that churches that seem to despise the Bible most are also the ones who read it the most in their liturgies and services? On the other hand, why are churches which get blue in the face over the authority of Scripture the ones who rarely read from extensive portions of it? To the first group I ask, “Why bother?” and to the second group I ask, “Why the hypocrisy?” Johnson and Duncan have rightly noted, “One of the striking things about evangelical corporate worship in our times is the evident paucity of Scripture” (Give Praise to God, 140). How many times have we seen the preacher say “open your Bibles to…” only to watch him run away from the text as fast as he can? Thankfully there has been a growing awareness against this putrid trend of Scripture-less services but many go on in the name of Christ every Sunday without a Word from Christ.

One gets the feeling that if Ezra and his crew were to lead services today they would not be asked to come back the following week (cf. Neh. 8:3). If possible, would Jesus even be allotted a spot in today’s typical service so that He could read from the scroll of Isaiah and proclaim its fulfillment (cf. Luke 4:17)? I constantly hear pastors bemoan the fact that their average church member is illiterate when it comes to the Scriptures. However when I ask a simple question, “do you give a dedicated place for the Scripture to be read in your worship service?” you would think I had asked them to give a detailed analysis of the hypostatic union of Christ.

Brothers, read the Scripture to and for your people so that they might hear God’s voice and be changed. The means of evangelism and the continued sanctification of God’s people is the reading and proclamation of His Word. The Church has the distinct privilege to be the pillar and support of what God says and ministers have the unique opportunity to insure that a steady diet of Truth is administered into the ears of the congregation. The only time some will hear the Psalms read (or sung) will be on Sunday mornings. The only time some will ever dive into the dark continent of the “older testament” will be when they hear it read or preached by a Christian minister. The only time many will hear The Gospel (outside of a tract) will be when it is read from one of the four Evangelists.

Do whatever you have to do to make it happen. Cut short the announcements or bump Sister Susie’s solo but heed the words of J. R. Miller who wrote that “The reading of the word of God ought to be an event.” Hear again the words of David Wells,

“This Word of God is the means by which God accomplishes his saving work in his people, and this is a work that no evangelist and no preacher can do. This is why the dearth of serious, sustained biblical preaching in the Church today is a serious matter. When the Church loses the Word of God it loses the very means by which God does his work. In its absence, therefore, a script is being written, however unwittingly, for the Church’s undoing, not in one cataclysmic moment, but in a slow, inexorable slide made up of piece by tiny piece of daily dereliction.” (David Wells, Above All Earthly Pow’rs , 9).

Update: thanks to Matt and Chris who reminded us of Daniel Block’s stirring quote from a paper he delivered at ETS and subsequently published in Giving the Sense, 435):

“Evangelicals must rediscover that in the reading of the Scriptures worshipers hear the voice of God. Despite our lofty creedal statements and our affirmations of the inerrancy, infallibility, and authority of the Scriptures, the relative absence of the Scriptures is one of the marks of contemporary evangelical worship. At best the Scriptures are read piecemeal and impatiently so that we might get on with the sermon, which suggests to the congregation that our interpretation of Scripture is much more important for them than the sacred word of God itself. At worst we do not open the Scriptures at all. In our efforts to be contemporary and relevant, we dismiss the reading of the Scriptures as a fossil whose vitality and usefulness has died long ago. . . .In the process we displace the voice of God with the foolish babbling of mortals, and the possibility of true worship is foreclosed. And then we wonder why there is such a famine for the word of God in the land (Amos 8:11-14).”

Being the Body: How to Forge Real Community, Part 3

By Dan Edelen

In this fourth installment of the series "Being the Body," we'll look at the major conceit of most of us in the Western Church. I believe this fallacy prevents us from becoming the real community of Jesus Christ on Earth. If we can get over this lie we've believed, great things will happen in our midst.

The Scriptures say this:

The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein….
—Psalms 24:1 ESV

[King David praising God before the assembly of Israel:] "But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you…."
—1 Chronicles 29:14 ESV

"The silver is mine, and the gold is mine," declares the LORD of hosts.
—Haggai 2:8 ESV

"Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine…."
—Ezekiel 18:4a ESV

"For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.
—Romans 14:7-8 ESV

"You are not your own, for you were bought with a price….."
—1 Corinthians 6:19b-20a ESV

Here's the short summation: you and I own nothing. We don't even own ourselves. It's all the Lord's.

But do we Evangelicals, so enamored of our supposed political and economic power, truly believe that? The way we live would suggest otherwise. Yet for us to embody the fullness of Christ as His Body, we need to realize an important truth:

#6 - Real community can only come about when we understand that everything God has given us must be in play for others at all times, especially for those within the community of faith.

If we truly believe the Scriptures above are true, then we have no right to ever withhold needful things from others. Sort of explodes our fallacious notion of "mine," doesn't it?

If our current church culture is any indication, no lie from hell can outdo our allegiance to "mine." We may talk about original sin and point to the lies children tell as proof, but a sixteen-month-old child whose first words consist of "mine" is just as convincing a proof of original sin as lying. Unfortunately, though we discourage the lying, we smirk at the grab for what's mine. "Isn't that cute, hon? He's destined to be a corporate raider some day!"

As we know, "mine" knows no boundaries. It doesn't stop at the expensive items like cars or houses. Our love for what we convince ourselves is ours extends down to the most insignificant things.

The Bible says this:

He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.
—Ecclesiastes 5:10-12 ESV

We can't stop accumulating wealth can we? Fifteen years ago, everything I owned in the world could fit into the back of a Honda Civic Hatchback. If it all got stolen, I wouldn't miss it.

A self-examination: If you're reading this and are married, isn't it amazing how much more stuff you've picked up since saying, "I do"? It costs money to insure all that accumulation, too, because we all worry what might happen to it. Not so much that we would lose it, but that once it was all gone, people would treat us differently. We wouldn't be as affluent. People might actually think we were—God forbid—poor!

How many of us reading this sleep a little less comfortably at night than we did when we owned nothing? That sleep largely suffers for one enormous reason. Few of us, deep down inside, can rest assured that our church communities would draw alongside us should we suffer financial ruin. We fear that our churches are not convinced of the following:

"If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit."
—Leviticus 25:35-37 ESV

God did NOT say that He Himself would rain down food, shelter, or clothing, but that this help should come from the community of faith! The act of true fear of God within a believing community is that we cover the needs of our brothers and sisters.

Just this weekend I heard from yet another brother in dire financial straits. (We've never met face-to-face, but I know him from his online writings.) Helping handThe broken-record response from his church? "Sorry, we won't help you." They have the financial resources, so they could help; they just won't. They love money more than they love this brother or their own community.

I have one word for that: sickening. Are there any churches left that fear the Lord?

We watch faithful brothers and sisters in Christ go through bankruptcies and other financial disasters without lifting a finger to help, then we excoriate them for it. There's not a person reading this right now who doesn't have a decent, hard-working family in his or her church enduring financial hell. What are we doing for them? Anything? Or are we blaming them instead, trying to find a reason for their ruin much the same way the Pharisees sought to find a reason for the original blindness of the man Jesus healed?

Do we know that it's for the glory of God that we help our brothers and sisters in their time of need?

Folks, if the rest of the world around us still wants to cling to "mine," it means that those of us who understand that it's all the Lord's are even harder pressed to pick up their slack. We have to decide that we value Christ more—and subsequently the ones He died to save—than we value material wealth. We must desire to live like this:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
—Acts 2:42-47 ESV

If it means we do without a 60" plasma TV so we have funds to help a family who can't pay their electric bill, then we do without.

If it means we don't go out of town on a vacation this year so we can pay the rent of a family hit by unemployment, then we don't go. (And our children learn a valuable lesson about what is important in God's eyes.)

If it means that we eat canned soup the rest of the week so we can make a weekly feast for all those in our church who can't even afford canned soup, then we eat canned soup the rest of the week.

If it means that we have to sell something of "ours" so that a family in our church can keep a roof over their heads, then we sell it.

Because we believe that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Because we believe that He died and rose again to forge a community of saints who will live forever in Paradise.

Because our reward is in Heaven, not in this life.

Because we know that unless we start living that way, we will never see revival in our churches or the kind of Christian community that brings healing, peace, unity, love, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. The kind of community that has the lost taking notice.

Putting what God has given us into play means more than handouts, too. It means we open our homes to others because those houses are God's. It means we give our time and effort to help others, because we don't own time and effort, either. It means we don't hold exclusive rights to our family members, making other families our family, too. When we finally realize that we own nothing, what we can give to others is magnified a thousandfold. And community is built.

We've believed the lie of "mine." But there is no "mine." It's all God's. And His command to us is that we give what He's given us to those in need, especially those in the community of faith. Because that's what the Body does, it looks after itself. If the heart is sick, the whole body is sick. All suffer together.

And when we look after each other, all rejoice together, too.


Other posts in this series:


Posted by Kirk M. Wellum

It was not very long ago that most people living in the western world did not know the meaning of "jihad". The word was not a part of our vocabularies, nor was it heard in normal conversation. But as in Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" a great evil is stirring in our world today; a restless, hellish evil that desires to plunge the world into moral and spiritual darkness. "Jihad" is its slogan and battle cry. Those who take the word upon their lips and who allow it to shape their lives will be cut down at the end of the age when the Lord Jesus Christ slays the wicked with the breath of his mouth and the glory of his appearing. But between now and then they are a threat to be reckoned with, a blight upon the world, people who are themselves enslaved by the beastly powers of one whose ancient method is to masquerade as an angel of light.

Jihad means "holy war". In many ways it is an oxymoron: a complete contradiction of terms. There is no such thing as a "holy war" when it is waged by the fallen sons and daughters of Adam. Wars that are fought by unholy people always share in their unholiness. They are marked by violence, bloodshed and destruction. In spite of the rhetoric of those who promote such folly, the legacy of such conflict is always sad beyond comprehension. It is one thing when atheistic madmen unleash their fury upon the world. It is even more tragic when a whirlwind of depravity is perpetrated in the name of God. If there is one thing that the only true holy book teaches, it is that "the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires" (James 1:20). It is absolutely impossible for sinful human beings to bring about the kingdom of God by means of guns or bombs or executions or repressive laws or marches or sermons or anything else.

There is only one "holy war" that has ever been fought. And it is the war between the descendant of the serpent and the descendant of the woman (Genesis 3:15). It is a holy war that has spanned the ages, holy because it has not been fought by one who is unholy but by one who is thrice holy. God himself, in the person of his own dear Son, has chosen to save out of the fallen mass of humanity, a people of his very own. At great cost to himself he sent his Son to do what only he could do to reconcile God to us and us to God. The great battle in this holy war took place more than two thousand years ago on a hill outside Jerusalem. There, with no human help or support, the Son of Man, fought the definitive battle with the powers of sin and Satan. On the cross, Jesus, the crucified one, did what all the armies of unholy warriors could never do. He paid the price for the sins of his people and he secured their deliverance from every foul spirit and power of oppression. Of course, there would have been no victory and we would have no way of knowing about it, had he not risen from the dead. But as the inspired Scriptures testify, and as as secular history cannot deny, he rose triumphantly from the grave. He is the holy warrior! And he has triumphed. And he will reign until he has put all of his enemies under his feet. His reign is gracious and glorious. He alone can bring lasting peace.

Jihad, as the word is used today, is always and in every place a monumental tragedy and disgrace. It is never pleasing to the true and living God. And it can never make the world a better place. There is only one holy warrior and one Savior of sinners. He is the only one that can deal with the real cause of human torment. Today, he continues to call people from all the nations to repent and follow him. Although he does not promise us an easy time in this life and we will never achieve total victory here and now, he does promise to be with us to the end, and when the eternal plan of the Father has been fulfilled in all of its details, he will unveil a new heavens and earth where righteousness will finally dwell forever. Yes, in the end righteousness will live on the earth; but we must never forget that it is a righteousness that has been secured for all who look for it, at the cross.

Forgiveness: The Fruit of Justification

This Great Salvation by C. J. Mahaney and Robin Boisvert. In the chapter on The Fruits of Justification, Boisvert retells this story:
The following story, recounted by Becky Pippert in her book Hope Has Its Reasons, shows the power of forgiveness in one woman’s life. It’s worth quoting at length:

“Several years ago after I had finished speaking at a conference, a lovely woman came to the platform. She obviously wanted to speak to me and the moment I turned to her, tears welled up in her eyes. We made our way to a room where we could talk privately. It was clear from looking at her that she was sensitive but tortured. She sobbed as she told me the following story.

“Years before, she and her fiance (to whom she was now married) had been the youth workers at a large conservative church. They were a well-known couple and had an extraordinary impact on the young people. Everyone looked up to them and admired them tremendously. A few months before they were to be married they began having sexual relations. That left them burdened enough with a sense of guilt and hypocrisy. But then she discovered she was pregnant. ‘You can’t imagine what the implications would have been of admitting this to our church,’ she said. ‘To confess that we were preaching one thing and living another would have been intolerable. The congregation was so conservative and had never been touched by any scandal. We felt they wouldn’t be able to handle knowing about our situation. Nor could we bear the humiliation.

‘So we made the most excruciating decision I have ever made. I had an abortion. My wedding day was the worst day of my entire life. Everyone in the church was smiling at me, thinking me a bride beaming in innocence. But do you know what was going through my head as I walked down the aisle? All I could think to myself was, ‘You’re a murderer. You were so proud that you couldn’t bear the shame and humiliation of being exposed for what you are. But I know what you are and so does God. You have murdered an innocent baby.’

“She was sobbing so deeply that she could not speak. As I put my arms around her a thought came to me very strongly. But I was afraid to say it. I knew if it was not from God that it could be very destructive. So I prayed silently for the wisdom to help her.

“She continued. ‘I just can’t believe that I could do something so horrible. How could I have murdered an innocent life? How is it possible I could do such a thing? I love my husband, we have four beautiful children. I know the Bible says that God forgives all of our sins. But I can’t forgive myself! I’ve confessed this sin a thousand times and I still feel such shame and sorrow. The thought that haunts me the most is how could I murder an innocent life?’

“I took a deep breath and said what I had been thinking. ‘I don’t know why you are so surprised. This isn’t the first time your sin has led to death, it’s the second.’ She looked at me in utter amazement. ‘My dear friend,’ I continued, ‘when you look at the Cross, all of us show up as crucifiers. Religious or nonreligious, good or bad, aborters or nonaborters—all of us are responsible for the death of the only innocent who ever lived. Jesus died for all of our sins—past, present, and future. Do you think there are any sins of yours that Jesus didn’t have to die for? The very sin of pride that caused you to destroy your child is what killed Christ as well. It does not matter that you weren’t there two thousand years ago. We all sent him there. Luther said that we carry his very nails in our pockets. So if you have done it before, then why couldn’t you do it again?’

“She stopped crying. She looked me straight in the eyes and said, ‘You’re absolutely right. I have done something even worse than killing my baby. My sin is what drove Jesus to the Cross. It doesn’t matter that I wasn’t there pounding in the nails, I’m still responsible for his death. Do you realize the significance of what you are telling me, Becky? I came to you saying I had done the worst thing imaginable. And you tell me I have done something even worse than that.’

“I grimaced because I knew this was true. (I am not sure that my approach would qualify as one of the great counseling techniques!) Then she said, ‘But, Becky, if the Cross shows me that I am far worse than I had ever imagined, it also shows me that my evil has been absorbed and forgiven. If the worst thing any human can do is to kill God’s son, and that can be forgiven, then how can anything else—even my abortion—not be forgiven?’

“I will never forget the look in her eyes as she sat back in awe and quietly said, ‘Talk about amazing grace.’ This time she wept not out of sorrow but from relief and gratitude. I saw a woman literally transformed by a proper understanding of the Cross.”