The Way to God

A joy of the Christmas season is the reminder that God through Christ has provided a way for sinful man to return home. The Christmas message of the incarnation of Christ provides the backdrop for one of the greatest aspects of our salvation, namely reconciliation. The act of God whereby our separation from Him was overcome by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
 
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” 2Corinthians 5:18,19
 
John Walvoord wrote extensively on the subject of salvation. The article below is one he wrote on the topic of reconciliation. May it equip you in the truth of God as you desire to live for His glory. Pastor Chris 
 
 
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“Important Passages on Reconciliation

2 Corinthians 5:17-21. This central passage dealing with reconciliation introduces the concept that the believer reconciled to God is a new creation. The key phrase is found in verse 17 , “If any man is in Christ.” The new creation is in contrast to the former position in Adam, in which man was doomed to die and under hopeless condemnation (Rom 5:11-21). “The old things” are therefore said to be “passed away” in the sense that the believer in Christ has an entirely new position. He belongs to the new creation instead of the old, the Second Adam instead of the First Adam.

This total change is indicated by the word reconciliation in that God has reconciled the believer “to himself through Christ.” As Morris states: “First of all let us notice that the process the apostle has in mind is one which is wrought by God. ‘All things,’ he tells us, ‘are of God, who reconciled us’; ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself,’ ‘him…he made to be sin on our behalf.’ Though it is true that there is an aspect in which men may be exhorted to be reconciled to God, yet there is no question that Paul is thinking of something God has done for men, and not of some merely human activity.”1 God is the subject, man is the object, Christ is the means.

Because man is given the new standing of being reconciled to God, he also has “the ministry of reconciliation,” as defined in verse 19 , “to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses.” Here is the grand reason for man being reconciled to God, namely, that he is in Christ and in this position God has reconciled man unto himself. By the act of imputation He does not impute their sins to them, but instead imputed sin to Christ.

Of interest is the fact that “the world” (Gr. kosmos) is used, meaning something more than believers only. It is rather that Christ in His death made a forensic provision for the entire world and has provided reconciliation for all, not just the elect. It is this important point that makes emphatic the ministry of reconciliation as defined in the latter part of verses 19 and 20 : “…Having committed unto us the word of reconciliation. We are ambassadors therefore on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beseech you on behalf of Christ, be ye reconciled to God.” God, having a provision in the death of Christ for all sinners, now can present a “whosoever” gospel. The appeal is that God has already provided reconciliation for all, but it is effective only when received by the personal faith of the individual. The contrast is between provision and application. The provision is for all, the application is to those who believe. Those who are already reconciled to God are the ambassadors through whom the message is delivered to those who have not yet availed themselves of the mercy of God.

The recipient of the message of reconciliation must receive the reconciliation. As Taylor expresses it: “This passage is also of importance because it is complementary to the truth that it is God, and God alone, who can reconcile men to Himself. As we have already seen, although the verb, ‘to be reconciled,’ is passive, it denotes an active process of co-operation on man’s part. Man cannot accomplish his reconciliation with God, but he can refuse it….”2

Commentators have noted that up to verse 20 there is no direct connection of the doctrine of reconciliation with the death of Christ. Verse 21 , however, makes plain that the act of reconciliation did not arise in a divine fiat, but in the work of Christ upon the cross. Here it is stated: “Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” It was the act of Christ in becoming sin by the imputation of the sins of the whole world to Him (cf. 1 John 2:2) that made possible reconciliation of a sinner to God.

Morris brings this out: “For although in these verses the apostle does not specifically mention the death of the Lord, there is not the slightest doubt that he has it in mind. For it is only through this death that man’s trespasses are put away on Paul’s view, and thus the cross is vividly present to his mind in verses 19 and 21 .”3 Forsyth concurs with this interpretation: “The New Testament at least cannot sever Atonement from Reconciliation. The greatest passage which says that God was in Christ reconciling says in the same breath that it was by Christ being made sin for us. The reconciliation is attached to Christ’s death, and to that as an expiation.”4

The relationship of redemption, propitiation, and reconciliation, therefore, becomes clear. Christ by His death redeemed or paid the price for sin. This payment constituted a propitiation or satisfaction of God’s righteousness. This freed the love of God to act in grace toward the sinner in reconciling the sinner to Himself on the basis that Christ has died in his place. The believer who comes into the position of being in Christ through faith and through the baptism of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:13) thus is reconciled to God because God sees him in Christ. The whole act of reconciliation, therefore, is an act of God, a free gift to man, provided for all men, effective to those who believe. Those once estranged in Adam are now reconciled in Christ.

Romans 5:6-11. Considered by some to be just as important as the passage in 2 Corinthians, the presentation of the doctrine of reconciliation in Romans 5 is remarkable in many respects. It expounds, first of all, the fourfold need of man for reconciliation, presenting this in climactic order: (1) man’s inability, or lack of strength, i.e., “While we were yet weak” (v. 6 ); (2) man’s lack of merit: “ungodly” (v. 6 ); (3) man’s lack of righteousness, or his guilt before God: “sinners” (v. 8 ); (4) man’s lack of peace with God, being at enmity with God: “enemies” (v. 10 ). From this fourfold indictment, it is clear that man is without strength to accomplish his own reconciliation. He is without merit or a righteousness. He has in fact sinned against God and stands condemned for his disobedience. Finally, his moral depravity has placed an insurmountable wall between him and God, leaving him completely estranged from God’s love and mercy.

Certain theological conclusions also are presented forcibly in this passage. First, it may be observed that the death of Christ is mentioned in some way in each verse of the passage from verse 6 to verse 10 , in contrast to 2 Corinthians 5, where the death of Christ is only mentioned in the last verse . Here the emphasis is clearly on the means of reconciliation. Second, reconciliation is presented as something that man desperately needs which he has no right to expect, but apart from which he is utterly estranged from God.

Third, reconciliation is shown to be a work of God rather than a work of man for God, as also in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21. It is a work which is objectively toward man, in contrast to propitiation which is objectively toward God. This is stated in verse 10 : “For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” The verb forms are passive, indicating that God is the actor and man is the recipient. This conclusion is emphasized in verse 11 , where it is added, “And not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”

Fourth, reconciliation is presented in this passage as a ground for assurance. The logic is unanswerable. If Christ died for sinners who at that time were estranged from God, unable to reconcile themselves, and without any merit, if God by His mercy has reconciled sinners to Himself, how much more will He be merciful to those who are reconciled? In other words, if God can save a sinner, then the one who is already reconciled by the death of Christ shall certainly escape the wrath of God. The child of God is saved “in [or, by] His life.” The life of Christ mentioned here is the life which was given on Calvary which in resurrection continued to provide the basis for the believer’s intercession and advocacy.

Some confusion has arisen because in verse 9 mention is made of the wrath of God and of justification by the blood of Christ resulting in salvation from divine judgment. Some, therefore, have attempted to include this in the work of reconciliation. Morris, for instance, writes: “There is an objective aspect to reconciliation, and this may well be held to imply that there is a sense in which God can be said to be reconciled to man.”5 Morris ignores, however, that the Bible carefully avoids ever saying this. It is more accurate to express it as God being propitiated, and man being reconciled. All agree that there is a Godward aspect of the atonement; the question is whether the word reconciliation is properly used of this concept.

Reconciliation necessarily depends upon other aspects of the work of God in salvation, namely, the redemption provided in respect to sin and the propitiation provided in respect to the righteous demands of God toward the sinner. These having been accomplished, however, God is now free to reconcile a sinner to Himself by declaring him to be in Christ and justified by faith. Technically, we are not saved because God has been propitiated, which is true of all men, nor because mankind as a whole has been provisionally reconciled. The act of salvation is a personal one by which the individual on the basis of all these works of God is placed in Christ, declared righteous, and therefore reconciled to a holy God. Taken as a whole, the Romans passage brings out in bold relief how tremendous is the scope of divine reconciliation, and how intrinsic is the work of Christ on our behalf as providing a basis by which reconciliation can be effected.

Ephesians 2:16. According to this passage, it was God’s purpose to reconcile Jew and Gentile in the present age and form from them “one new man” (Eph 2:15), “so making peace.” As Taylor expresses it: “…St. Paul is not thinking only of the reconciliation of individuals to God, but also of the creation of a new divine community, the Church of God, in which His work of conciliation in Christ is to find its perfect embodiment.”6 The reconciliation which is afforded the believer in Christ not only reconciled Jew and Gentile in the body of Christ, but reconciled both unto God in the one body referring to the church as a living organism. Reconciliation, therefore, is effective between men as well as between man and God. Hence it may be regarded as horizontal as well as perpendicular.

Colossians 1:20-22. This passage confirms and expands the universal extent of reconciliation, declaring that reconciliation extends to all things, but especially toward sinful man: “And through him to reconcile all things unto himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; through him, I say, whether things upon the earth, or things in the heavens. And you, being in time past alienated and enemies in your mind in your evil works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and without blemish and unreprovable, before him.”

The truth, as it is unfolded in this important passage, treats both the provision and application of reconciliation. All things are provisionally reconciled to God; this new relationship of peace has been made possible through the blood of the cross; it extends to all things, both in heaven and in earth provisionally; its application is specifically to sinners saved by grace who once were alienated and enemies through evil works, but now reconciled and presented holy, without blemish, and unreprovable before God. It should be clear from this passage, as well as from the others, that the act of reconciliation in the death of Christ does not in itself affect reconciliation for the individual, but rather that it is provisional and makes possible the reconciliation of the individual. The natural state of the unsaved continues unchanged even after the death of Christ until such time that the reconciling work is made effective in him when he believes. Having believed, however, and coming into a new relationship in Christ, he is considered by God as holy and without blemish and unreprovable, even though his actual state may be far from perfection. This passage again clearly indicates that it is the position of believer before God rather than his spiritual state which is in view. Even now the believer in this act of divine reckoning can be presented before a holy God.

The Extent of Reconciliation

Reconciliation provided for all. Reconciliation in its provision is intended for all men, and theologians who differ on this subject usually do so by definition of terms. As Shedd writes in connection with his discussion of the vicarious atonement of Christ: “In answering the question as to the ‘extent’ of Christ’s atonement, it must first be settled whether ‘extent’ means its intended application, or its intrinsic value; whether the active or the passive signification of the word is in the mind of the inquirer. If the word means value, then the atonement is unlimited; if it means extending, that is, applying, then the atonement is limited.”7 Properly understood then, the question of the extent of the atonement does not give basis for the universalist who would teach that all men are saved, for the Bible truly contradicts his concept. And, on the other hand, it does not support the adherent of limited atonement who would try to make the provision of reconciliation limited to the elect. A proper orthodox point of view is that reconciliation is provided for all, but applied only to the elect.

The main issue in the question of the extent of reconciliation is that of the design of the atonement. If the strict Calvinist is correct, God’s essential purpose was to save the elect, and necessarily the death of Christ was directed primarily to this end. A more tenable position, however, is reflected in moderate Calvinistic, Lutheran, and Arminian theologians. They, in some cases, retained the essential features of Calvinism but held that God’s purpose in the death of Christ, while including the salvation of the elect, was a broader purpose to render the whole world savable or reconciled in the provisional sense.

The concept of reconciling the whole world has been given the term unlimited atonement, whereas the more strict Calvinistic, position is that of limited atonement. Many moderate Calvinists, while going along with the main tenets of Calvinism, nevertheless hold to unlimited atonement. The question is somewhat theoretical, as most theologians, even the strict Calvinists, agree that the death of Christ forensically was sufficient for all. The question is a technical one of God’s purpose in the death of Christ. The best solution, however, is to be found in what Christ actually did. Here the broad statement of 2 Corinthians 5, where God is said to reconcile the “world,” should be determinative. Just as redemption and propitiation were for all men (1 John 2:2), but are applicable only to those who believe, so also is the work of reconciliation.

This concept of the universality of the provision of reconciliation is borne out in the context in which reconciliation is discussed. In 2 Corinthians 5:14, emphasis is given to the fact that all were dead spiritually. The three instances of “all” in 2 Corinthians 2:14-15 seem to be universal. This is followed by the limited application indicated in the phrase “they which live.” Hence, the passage reads: “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that one died for all [universal], therefore all [universal] died; and he died for all [universal], that they that live [restricted to elect] shall no longer live unto themselves, but unto him who for their sakes died and rose again” (2 Cor 5:14-15). The word “all” is used, then, in a universal sense in this passage, followed by the restricted application indicated in the phrase, “they which live.” This is reinforced by the use of the word “world,” referring to all men, in verse 19 .

Reconciliation applied to the elect when they believe. The reconciling work of Christ for all men does not become effective even for the elect until that moment of faith in Christ in which they pass from death unto life. Ephesians 2:1, referring to the Ephesian Christians, plainly indicates that even though they were elect prior to their salvation, they were “dead through…trespasses and sins.” Because of this, they lived according to the pattern of the world and “were by nature children of wrath even as the rest” (Eph 2:1-3). What is true of the Ephesian Christians is true today. Though the death of Christ occurred centuries ago, even the elect are not saved in any sense until reconciliation is applied. It is for this reason that the responsibility of carrying the message of reconciliation is pressed upon those who have already believed, and they are exhorted to carry the message to others.

Reconciliation in relation to the nonelect. The question may fairly be asked what benefit is the death of Christ to those who have not received Him as Savior. An unbeliever goes on to his eternal doom in much the same manner as if Christ had not died. If God has provisionally reconciled the whole world to Himself, how does this affect the unsaved, if at all?

The answer seems to be that the basis for his condemnation and judgment has been essentially changed. Apart from the death of Christ, a sinner would have been committed to his eternal punishment regardless of what he had done. Even if he had placed faith in God, he would still be in Adam, and there would be no provision of reconciliation or salvation for him. The provision having been made, however, the whole world is placed in an entirely different light. A person now proceeds to eternal punishment not because God has failed to provide, or because the love of God has been ineffective, but rather because he has rejected that which God has provided. This is set forth plainly in John 3:18: “He that believeth on him is not judged: he that believeth not hath been judged already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God.” The condemnation of the sinner now is not simply because he is a sinner, but because he has rejected God’s provision to care for his sin. Though he is still judged according to his works, his eternal punishment has a new character of being that which he chose in rejecting the love and grace of God in Christ.

Reconciliation in relation to the universe. One of the reasons why the death of Christ needed to extend to the entire world, not just to the elect, is the fact that the curse of sin inflicted on the universe by Adam had an effect far beyond the bounds of the human race. According to Romans 8:22, “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” The whole universe is laboring under the curse of God, which is manifested in many ways in nature as well as in man. It is for this reason that Colossians 1:20 speaks of reconciling “all things unto himself,” and specifically extends this reference to “things upon the earth, or things in the heavens.” The question may be raised, however, as to what extent reconciliation actually extends to the earth. Grace, seemingly, is unknown to the angels, except as they observe it in the relationship of God to man. The fallen angels have no offer of salvation and, having once sinned, are doomed. The physical universe, however, having been cursed by the sin of Adam is destined to have this curse relieved in the future millennial reign of Christ, when the desert will once again blossom as a rose, and satanic power will be inactive. Ultimately, God will destroy the present physical universe and replace it with a holy universe which stems from the reconciling work of Christ.

The results of reconciliation. In its broadest sense, the work of reconciliation extends to the total work of God on the behalf of the believer, while redemption is active toward the payment of the price for sin, and propitiation is directed to satisfaction of the righteousness of God. Reconciliation, then, deals with man’s total need and total restoration. Certain aspects, however, can be mentioned specifically. (1) The baptism of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:13) is the work of God by which the believer is united to the body of Christ and comes into his new position “in Christ.” This, of course, is the key to the whole reconciling work of God. (2) In regeneration, the believer becomes a new creation, having received the very eternal life of God. Just as Adam became a natural man by having breathed into his body the breath of life, so the unregenerated man at the moment of salvation in Christ has breathed into his spiritually dead body the eternal life of God. As such, he is a new creature with a new nature and a new destiny. (3) By justification, the believer is declared righteous before God, because he is now in Christ. In this position there is imputed to him the righteousness of Christ and he is accepted as perfect in the presence of God. (4) The new position in Christ and His justification assures the believer’s positional sanctification in which he is set apart as holy to God. (5) In his new position, as reconciled to God, the believer has the possibility of intimate fellowship assisted by the indwelling presence of the Triune God and the transformation of his character through the new birth. Reconciliation, while essentially positional, has an experiential aspect as the believer walks in fellowship with God. (6) Ultimate sanctification is also assured the one who is thus reconciled to God, in which the believer’s spiritual state is elevated to his high position. (7) The final state of reconciliation is that of glorification in the presence of God in which the last evidences of sin are destroyed and the believer stands perfect and complete, sharing the very glory of Christ in heaven.”



The Grace of God Revealed in Jesus Christ

Charles Ryrie in “So Great a Salvation” explored the subject of salvation. In that exploration, he provided a personal illustration of grace. Grace is a difficult concept to understand. I hope his illustration about it will provide you with a renewed understanding of God’s grace and with it, a greater appreciation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Pastor Chris
 
 
GRACE
 
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“Grace is a difficult , perhaps impossible, concept to understand.

In seminary days I had a job working with underprivileged junior-high and high-school kids at the downtown YMCA. On what was then the outskirts of the city was a camp we used every Friday night when weather permitted. We would load a bus with forty to fifty kids, head for the camp, and enjoy an evening cookout and games. On special occasions we would sleep there overnight and return Saturday afternoon. Overnight camping trips were usually rewards given to those who had successfully passed certain requirements in our weekly Bible clubs. So the kids who stayed overnight after the others went home were rather special.

One Friday night—or, more accurately, early one Saturday morning—I awoke, startled by some unexplained noise. Soon I discovered that a few of my leaders had sneaked out of the dorm, gone down to the lake, launched one of the boats, and were having a great time far out from the shore. Not only was this against every rule in the book, but it was dangerous. When the kids knew I knew where they were, they came immediately into shore. Like dogs with tails between their legs, they meekly went back to bed, wondering what punishment awaited them in the morning.

For me, sleep was now impossible. Then night before I had talked to these Christian young people about forgiving one another. So as I paced the grounds in those early-morning hours deliberating their fate, my own words from the night before kept coming back to me . . . and back to me . . .and back to me.

If I don’t give them some punishment, I argued with myself, they will never be impressed with the seriousness of what they did. I have a responsibility to the YMCA to enforce their rules and punish the violators.

But the more I debated with myself, talked to the Lord, thought about a number of relevant Bible verses (I discovered again that night that you can prove almost anything with a Bible verse), the more Ephesians 4:32 grew larger and larger in my thinking: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” But Lord, I can’t forgive them; they don’t deserve it. Neither did I. But Lord, I have to enforce the rules. I’m glad, Lord, You didn’t. But Lord, if I’m too kind, the kids will think I’m weak. I never thought You were weak, only loving. But Lord, first I’ll make them promise never to do something like this again, and then I’ll forgive them. It’s a good thing You didn’t require that of me, or I never would have been forgiven.…just as God forgave me. How was that? No conditions or promises ahead of time. No works at the time. No remembrance afterward. But Lord, You’re God—You can do anything. “You’re My child,” He said. “Imitate Me.” 

So with great reluctance and with very little faith, I told the Lord I would. And then, in the morning, I told the kids. “You did a terrible thing. It could have had disastrous consequences for yourselves, your families, for the YMCA, and for me. But I forgive you unconditionally and completely.” “You’re kidding,” they said. “There’s got to be a catch somewhere.” “No,” I insisted, “you are fully forgiven.” And then I told them what the Lord had been saying to me that night about His grace, and how I wanted them to have another taste of that grace.

I didn’t even make them do the cleaning up that day. I did it myself because I didn’t want them to think they could earn even a little bit of that forgiveness.The sequel? As long as those particular kids were in my clubs they were the epitome (as much as kids that age can be) of goodness, helpfulness, and usefulness. They never presumed on that grace.Grace is indeed a difficult, perhaps impossible, concept to understand.

If it was difficult for those kids to understand an act of grace that forgave one sin on one night, how much more difficult for us to comprehend God’s grace that forgives all our sins of every day and night, without preconditions, without works, and without remembrance? We can learn some important matters about grace from this experience.

First, grace is unmerited favor. As a concise definition of grace, this serves well. More elaborate definitions have their place; but simply stated, grace is unmerited favor. It is undeserved on the part of the recipient. It is unearned and unearnable. Those kids had no claim on my grace. They were in a state of total demerit. Anything I might do could not be in response to any merit they had (for they had none at that point) nor as a reward for anything they had done (they only deserved to be punished). My grace that night was pure unmerited favor.

Second, grace is not cheap. Grace is expensive. It is free to the recipient but costly to the donor. The only way one may say that grace is not very costly is if the particular benefit costs the donor very little. My forgiveness that night cost those kids nothing. It cost me a lot of agonizing and soul-searching, which is nothing in comparison with what grace cost our Lord. But to use the word cheap in the same breath with the grace of God in salvation seems almost blasphemous. It cost our Lord Jesus His life. Some may insult grace, reject it, trample on it, or disgrace it, but that does not lower its infinite value.

Third, it is not easy to believe someone who offers grace. Those kids were dumbfounded when I announced the verdict of grace. They could not believe what they were hearing. And why should they? From day one they were reared (and so are we all) in a merit system, in which acceptance is based on performance. “Do this and you will be rewarded. Fail to do this and you will be punished.” This kind of merit system permeates all of life and most religion. It is not easy to believe someone who says that he or she will do something good for us that we do not deserve.

Human works are like termites in God’s structure of grace. They start small, but if unchecked, they can bring down the entire structure. And what are such works? Anything I can do to gain any amount of merit, little or much. Water baptism could be one such work if I view it not as an important or even necessary result of being saved, but as a requisite to be saved. It is a work even if I insist that it is God who gives me the desire to want to be baptized that I might be saved.

The same is true for surrender. If surrender is something I must do as a part of believing, then it is a work, and grace has been diluted to the extent to which I actually do surrender.

Fourth, grace that is received changes one’s life and behavior. Those kids, though really not bad before that night, showed a number of changes in their lives. Their bond to me personally was much stronger. They followed me around like puppy dogs anxious to do whatever they could to please me. And they had new insight into the love of their Savior for them.

The Gospel is the good news of the grace of God to give forgiveness and eternal life. Let’s keep that Gospel so full of grace that there is no room for anything else to be added to dilute or pollute the true grace of God.”

 
 


WAITING

Waiting is hard for Americans. Whether it is in a store, a drive-through, or on the phone, we seem to have little patience for any sort of delay. The Christian, living in America then, is sometimes faced with the difficult task of waiting on a God, who seems to work in a different realm of time. The Christmas season reminds us how God values waiting for His time. The post below from Slice of Infinity. May it provide you with renewed patiences as wait faithfully for Him. Pastor Chris 

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Breaking In

““As for me,” said American writer E.B. White, “I en­joy liv­ing among ped­es­tri­ans who have an in­stinct­ive and ha­bitu­al real­iz­a­tion that there is more to a jour­ney than the mere fact of ar­rival.”

Under typical circumstances, the beloved author of Charlotte’s Web would not have presented me with much pause here. The pause of agreement, yes, for this is normally the kind of thought with which I resonate, even though the word ‘journey’ may be overused and prone to sentimentalisms. I think it’s true that we lamentably fail to see the great gift of the collective whole, perhaps particularly in the segments of life where we are comfortable with our divided realms—where the end triumphs over the means, destination over the journey, and heaven is divided from earth, the spiritual from the physical, the present from the eternal. White’s words fit aptly upon any soapbox addressing the paradox of a king who is both present and coming—a mystery Jesus championed again and again, in his storytelling, his living, and his dying. In the kingdom he espoused, the journey is not simply a matter of arriving one distant day at the gates of pearl, but rather in finding the pearl of great price in our midst even now and seizing it with all that is in us. Under typical circumstances, I would have enlisted E.B. White’s voice in one of my favorite sermons.

But I read this quote as I watched the live coverage of 33 Chilean miners emerging from a two-month journey of being trapped beneath the earth. For them, the journey was indeed astounding, but the arrival was everything.

Over seventy years ago from a pulpit in London during the season of Advent, Dietrich Bonhoeffer described the image of a man trapped after a mining disaster: Deep in the earth, dark as night, the man is cut off and alone. The supply of oxygen is frighteningly limited. Food, water, and options are scarce; silence and fear are not. He knows his situation, and he can do nothing but wait. “He knows that up there, the people are moving about, the women and children are crying—but the way to them is blocked. There is no hope.” But what if just then, in the distance, the sounds of tapping are heard—the sound of knocking, the sound of friends, the sound of evidence that your cries have been heard, that your lament had not been silenced? This, said Bonhoeffer in December of 1933, is the hope of the Christian Advent: the coming of one who knows, the drawing near of a human rescuer to humankind, the arrival of Christ for those laboring to breathe. Like the Chilean miners, elated at the arrival of Manuel Gonzalez, the rescuer sent 2,040 feet underground to coordinate the procedure, Christ’s arrival into this dark world matters most profoundly.

Even so, his arrival is not the end of our waiting. It is not the end of our journey.

Advent teaches us how to wait wherever it finds us. “Can and should there be anything else more important for us than the hammers and blows of Jesus Christ coming into our lives?” In our waiting, we are given assent to cry out as the first believers did, 

Come, Lord Jesus! This is the ancient cry of palpable hope—Maranatha!—Lord, come quickly!—which is at times as much a cry of lament and dire need as it is a cry of hope. Advent teaches us to wait and watch, and to live expectantly regardless, though we sit in the dark, though we find ourselves scared or exhausted and struggling for air. “When these things begin to take place,” instructs Christ, “stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).

The angel’s repeated instruction to “Fear not” beckons the sound of hope drawing near, the sounds of God’s human arrival in dark and unexpected places. There are also the sounds of saints who have gone before and proclaim their rescuer even in death. There are sounds of the heartrending promise: “Because I live, you shall live also” (John 14:19).

The world is still dark. But in it every day a quiet voice breaks in, “I stand at the door and knock.” Christ has come. Christ is here. Christ will come again.”



A Healthy Congregation

Last summer, Pastor Jon and I, taught on the topic of a healthy congregation. We outlined several areas that we can use to gauge the health of our fellowship. First, are we a nourished body? Do we feast on biblical theology, expository preaching, and expository listening? Next, are we a growing body? Are we advancing in our Gospel witness and Christ-centered discipleship? Finally, are we a functioning body? Do we cultivate the next generation of servant-leaders? Do we faithfully carry out our obligations to one another?
 
Tim Challis posted an article that relates to the topic of a functioning body. The focus of the article is on how we fulfill Hebrews 10:24&25. May your grip on grace be stronger as you consider how the body of Christ functions at Bethany. Pastor Chris
 
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“Reality Check (V)

The day’s second teaching session was taken by Jeff Noblit who preached a message about the duties of church membership. He said “If you do not get this, you do not get anything. And if you get this, you have about everything.” He spoke of our duty to the bride of Christ. We live at a time when church membership means almost nothing. It’s a disgraceful thing almost to challenge people as to their duties to the church. The church is the centerpiece, the foundation of God’s work in the world and He has no plan b.

 

He spoke from Hebrews 10:24-25 which reads “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

There were three main points: The exhortation to be about your duty to the church, the motivation as to why we need to be about this duty; the culmination—the end of this duty to the church.

The exhortation to be about your duty to the church

 – There are two chief words for this point—consider and stimulate. “Consider” means to have your mind
attentatively
fixed on something. In other words, you must choose to fix your mind on the bride of Christ. You’ll choose to focus here. This is your calling and your responsibility. The word “how” indicates a studying aspect, that you would study the ways you can better serve them. How many of us study our churches so we may know how to serve others? “Stimulate” means to provoke or encourage. The root of this word is the same as “vinegar”—you are to be like a splash of vinegar to these people. The health of the body of Christ and the glory of God depends on people going to church with this intentionality. We are to purpose that we will be a vinegar-like stimulating effect on others mostly through our lives, but also through our mouths when necessary.

The motivation as to why we need to be about this duty

 – We are to consider how we are to stimulate one another. The Bible is primarily written to churches and not to individuals. Even when it addresses individuals, it is primarily to teach how you can serve within that church family. You need to either accept that and glory in
that, or just get right out of the way. We are to focus on the “one anothers”—those of us who are spiritually
, miraculously the same through God’s grace. There’s a negative side to this—things that must not occur within the body of Christ. Our motivation must never be to dishonor a brother or sister in Christ; we must never harbor dishonoring thoughts or attitudes towards others. We must always be walking in love. The motivation, then, is that we are all part of one another other as members of the same body.

The culmination—the end of this duty to the church

 – The author culminates this in the text by saying that we are to do all of this so that God’s love will produce love and good deeds. Love is the primary grace that we should provoke in each other. Sometimes we need others to stir up this love. God has meant for us to be dependent upon other Christians to walk in love and good works. You are not Superman—you must have brothers and sisters in Christ to be the Christian God wants you to be. This should make us want to pray for them and for ourselves. The chief thing that happens is that we should now see the love that God has put in us flowing out of us. This word love indicates a kind of rest—a great rest. Through the merits of Jesus Christ, God is greatly at rest with us—he loves us. The one who apart from Christ would arouse God’s wrath, but through
Christ
he is at great rest. 

We used to bear the image of the earthly and so we loved the earthly. But now we bear the image of the heavenly and so we love the heavenly. There is now a miraculous and even mysterious love for other Christians. All Christians are marked by the image of the heavenly and it draws us together.

There are four marks of this love:

  1. This love is unique to Christians and no one else has it
  2. This love is a delight to God. It delights Him to see this love shared and lived out among us
  3. This love makes us most like God
  4. The love is a fruitful mother. All other graces and all other spiritual works, duties or deeds flow from this love. If it’s not from this love, it’s not of God. 

In the final analysis, this love is what most glorifies God. The challenge is to rededicate your life to the bride of Christ, to give yourself to her, and to seek to bring glory to God in this way. You must find a true church and give your life to it.”



Creating a Culture of Evangelism

Recently I read an article from Mike McKinley in a 9Marks Journal. The topic for that journal was evangelism. This particular article addressed the issue of creating a culture in the church that conveys the importance of evangelism in the local church. May the article encourage your faith as it did mine. Pastor Chris
 
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“Three Ingredients for an Evangelistic Church Culture

I’m convinced it’s better for your church to have an evangelistic culture than just a series of evangelistic programs.

In a church with a program-driven approach to evangelism, sharing the gospel can become something mostly for certain people at certain times, like when the evangelism team goes out visiting.

But in a church with an evangelistic culture, each member is encouraged to play a role within the larger church’s effort to reach the people around them with the message of salvation in Jesus. It becomes a part of every believer’s life.

THREE INGREDIENTS OF AN EVANGELISTIC CULTURE

If you are looking to create an evangelistic culture in your local church, here are three ingredients that may help.

1. The Gospel: the Fuel for an Evangelistic Culture

The gospel message is the fuel that feeds an evangelistic culture in a church. We all naturally share the things that excite our hearts. If the Philadelphia Eagles ever won the Super Bowl (I know…), you wouldn’t have much luck shutting me up about it. In the same way, if we want to create cultures in our churches where it’s natural for members to talk to about the gospel message with non-Christians, then we need to help our members fall deeply in love with the gospel.

That means they must understand the gospel message. It also means that the beauty of the gospel message must be put on display week in and week out in our churches. When Christians truly grasp the depth of their sin, the wonderful holiness of God, the perfection of Christ and the depth of his suffering for them, the power of his resurrection and the gift of eternal life for all who repent and believe, our affections for Christ will grow.

The gospel message also frees Christians from motivations that might lead them to dislike evangelism. The gospel says that we don’t have to evangelize in order to earn God’s love. Our position in God’s family isn’t dependent on how often or how well we share the gospel. Instead we can be certain of God’s love, which frees us from the overwhelming concern for the opinions of people around us that makes us afraid to speak up about Jesus.

2. Prayer: the Power of an Evangelistic Culture

Second, a church that is sharing the gospel must be committed to prayer. Evangelism seems a hopeless task. We are calling spiritually dead people to embrace life. How are we going to equip and encourage people for that work? It seems utterly futile.

That’s why an evangelistic culture must begin with a culture of prayer. In prayer, Christians go to the Lord with a confession of their insufficiency for the task of evangelism and his sufficient strength. God alone can make the seeds that we sow spring up to eternal life in our hearers, and so we must begin with prayer.

In our church, this particularly happens on Sunday evenings. We gather together as a congregation to pray that the Lord would spread his gospel through us. People share gospel conversations that they’ve had during the previous week, or opportunities that they hope to have in the coming week.

This prayer time serves a few purposes. First, it commits these things to the Lord, who normally has us ask before we receive in these matters (James 4:2).

Second, it involves the whole church in the work of sharing the gospel. It’s not a burden or a project that we undertake alone, but we have brothers and sisters to pray and encourage us.

Third, this sharing makes it clear that evangelism is the work of “normal” Christians. The people asking for prayer aren’t usually pastors or elders or gifted evangelists. They are just believers who have embraced their calling to share the good news with the people around them.

Finally, this prayer time gives people a good place to begin reaching out to their neighbors and co-workers. If people are nervous or uncertain about sharing the good news, we encourage them to begin with prayer. They can pray that the Lord would give them opportunities, and that he would bring people who need the gospel to their attention. That’s a much less intimidating first step than rushing out with a tract in hand.

3. Training: the Blueprint for an Evangelistic Culture

A third ingredient is training, the blueprint for an evangelistic culture. Remember that the goal is for our churches to have evangelistic cultures rather than merely evangelistic programs. But that doesn’t mean that there is no place for church leaders to organize and equip people to share the gospel. In fact, a love for the gospel and prayer may not be enough to motivate Christians to a lifestyle of evangelism.

While evangelism will come naturally to some people in your congregation, there will be many people who love the gospel and pray faithfully but still need to be equipped to share the gospel. Here are a few ways church leaders can equip the congregation:

Recommend good books on the topic. J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God and Mack Stiles’ Speaking of Jesus are two of my favorites. Read these books with the people you are discipling, give them away to people who will read them, or make them available through you church library.

Bring people with you when you have a chance to share the gospel. When I am invited to give an evangelistic talk, I bring a younger person from the church with me. It’s a good opportunity to model for them how to share the good news.

Address unbelievers in your sermons. Your people will grow from listening to you engage people who don’t know Jesus with the claims of the gospel. Take time to thoughtfully consider the questions or objections that an unbeliever might have to your sermon’s message, and then speak to those issues.

Run evangelistic meetings where people can bring friends and get help sharing the gospel. If your church can host an evangelistic coffee house meeting or a program like Christianity Explored, you will give opportunities for your people to invite their friends and observe how they can share the gospel as well.

BETTER THAN THE BEST PROGRAM

There is no program that can create an evangelistic culture in your church. Instead, it will require church leaders to teach, model, and pray until members of the church realize that sharing the gospel is their privilege and responsibility. A church with such a culture will be far more fruitful and effective than a church with even the most effective programs and strategies.”



Congregation Killers

Recently I read an article by Todd Gaddis on attitudes and actions within a congregation that can harm its health. It is reprinted below in its entirety so that you may be encouraged by it also. Our health as a local fellowship is predicated on our commitment to follow the precepts of Jesus expressed in the New Testament Letters. May His Spirit empower us to be faithful in both our attitudes and actions. Pastor Chris
 
 

“10 Poisons That Will Kill Any Church

Brown Church Steeple Background

I read recently that thousands of churches close their doors every year. Who knows how many others are on life support? We live in a time when churches need revitalization and renewal. The eternal destiny of people depend on the faithful witness of local churches.

As I think about churches dying, I’m reminded there are certain poisons that are causes of death. I call them poisons because they are deadly, but they are avoidable. The churches that die from them do so by their own hand.

Here are ten poisons that will kill any church.

Performance without participation

Like concerts, movies, and athletic events, much of our worship has become spectator-oriented. A handful of well-trained (perhaps paid) musicians perform for the masses. Too often, we enjoy entertainment without experiencing engagement.

Information without inspiration

With advancement in technology and a multitude of media sources, we are drowning in information. Clearly, this phenomenon has spilled over into the church. Sermons, conferences, seminars, and Bibles studies are good, but some have sat and soaked so long that they’ve soured.

Mirrors without windows

Too many churches stare at themselves in the mirror, primping and preparing for the home town fans. Instead, we should be peering out windows, looking for local needs and global opportunities.

Attachment without commitment

Those who used to attend two or three times a month are now coming once or twice. Most people I run across claim an affiliation with a congregation, yet too many lack affection for its mission. They want to be included on the roll without taking a role.

Ritual without spontaneity

When a young man was asked why he didn’t go to church, he replied, “I’ve been.” Church services are too often boring, irrelevant, and predictable. We speak a different language on Sunday than the rest of the week. We’re saying the same things, singing the same songs, and voicing the same prayers.

Prosperity without generosity

Most congregants are employed and making decent money, yet this good fortune isn’t spilling over into the offering plate. Tithers are dying and tippers are taking their place. “Donations are on course to drop by 70 percent within twenty-five to thirty years—due to the deaths of the most generous generations,” says John Dickerson in
The Great Evangelical Recession.                       

Addition without reproduction

Much of what we call church growth is actually sheep swapping. We play musical pews, as Christians hop from church to church. Some churches may be adding to their membership, yet how many of these constitute a net gain for the Kingdom?

Birth without growth

It’s wonderful when the nursery is full of newborns, yet not so good when they make up a sizable portion of the congregation each Sunday. If your first grade child or grandchild made an A on a test of one-digit addition and subtraction problems, you’d beam with pride. However, would you feel the same way if your high school calculus student aced that same set of problems?

Membership without conversion

According to Christian author and researcher George Barna “half of all adults who attend Protestant churches on a typical Sunday morning are not Christian.” Having spent 14 years as an unsaved church member, I’m especially sensitive to this sad situation. A name on the church roll doesn’t forward to the Lamb’s book of life.

Duty without love

Too many 21stcentury congregations are modeling the first century church at Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7). Calendars are full but hearts are empty. Love for Jesus, fellow saints, and one another is growing cold in these later days (Matthew 24:12).

I wish I had simple solutions to these critical issues. It’ll take widespread revival to reverse these trends. In the meantime, while we pray for and anticipate such a move from God, we can strive to make sure the people we shepherd and churches we serve buck the trend.”



The Shift from Authority to Preference….

9Marks publishes a journal periodically. I find these journals to be beneficial on many levels. The latest journal focuses on the subject of authority. The article republished below is from Os Guinness. He explains with clarity and precision the subtle shift occurring in Christianity whereby authority is being replaced with preference. I hope this article will stimulate your thinking as you continue to grow in grace. Pastor Chris

 
The Shift from Authority to Preference—And Its Consequences for the Church

Article

09.30.2016

Our modern world has shifted us from a stance under authority to one of preference. Or, expressed more carefully, our modern world tends to undermine all forms of authority other than its own and replaces them with the sense that all responses are merely a matter of preference.

THE LORD AS AUTHORITY

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It goes without saying that authority is central and crucial to both the Jewish and Christian faiths. Unique among the gods believed in throughout history, the Lord is transcendent, so what he says is truth, binding truth, because it addresses us as authority. To dilute this authority is to dismiss the Lord himself.

For Christians, “Jesus is Lord” is the central conviction and confession of the Christian faith. In the words of the previously skeptical but then believing Thomas, we are followers of Jesus because we have reached the warranted conviction: “My Lord and my God” (Jn 20:28). Christians believe that Jesus Christ is fully God become fully human, the unique, sure, and sufficient revelation of the very being, character, and purposes of the transcendent God, beside whom there is no other god, and beside whom there is no other name by which we must be saved.

The follower of Jesus is therefore a person under authority, living before the transcendent majesty of God and unashamed to be so. What God tells us, we trust. And what God tells us to do, we obey. We therefore gladly acknowledge that we are not self-created, we are not self-sufficient, and we are not autonomous. No one in the world has a higher view and more solid notion of freedom than Jews and Christians. The Book of Common Prayer addresses God “whose service is perfect freedom.”

FREEDOM, NOT AUTONOMY

But this freedom has a threefold framework, so it is never viewed as autonomous. First, it is understood as a gift from God and not an achievement of our own. Second, it is always relational, and therefore it is experienced and it matures only in relationship with our Master, our brothers and sisters, and our fellow citizens. And third, it is always lived out within the framework of the teaching of Jesus and the Scriptures. Jewish and Christian freedom is freedom within the form of the truth of God’s way of life.

This means the Christian faith is a faith constituted by the authority of Jesus. Whatever Jesus himself commands, or whatever other authority is given, Jesus’ stamp of authority is the final word for Christians who would follow him faithfully. Jesus’ own teaching and his attitude toward the total truthfulness and supreme authority of the Bible make the Scriptures our final rule and authority. What the Scriptures say, God says, and what God says, we obey.

THE POWER OF PLURALIZATION

Critics dismiss this view of authority as quaint and rigid in the world of modernity. And modernity tends to render it unthinkable in a thousand ways, subtly and systematically. For a start, there’s the inescapable presence and power of

pluralization

—the process by which the proliferation of endless choice and incessant change increases at all levels of modern life. If “everyone is now everywhere,” then everyone is aware of “all those others” all the time, and with all the awareness of others comes the reminder of all the choices and changes that are open to us at any moment. And if there’s a wide array of choice today, tomorrow will bring even more.
To be sure, the dizzying array of choices is most obvious in a supermarket or a shopping mall, but the allure of choice has spread far beyond the walls of official consumerland. From breakfast cereals to restaurants and cuisines to sexual identities and temptations to possible sexual arrangements of all types to self-help techniques and philosophies of life, we are incessantly offered an infinite array of choices, and the focus is always on choice as

choosing rather than choice as the content

of what is chosen. Just choose. Simply choose. Experiment. Try it out for yourself. How else will you know unless you have tried it? After all, there are always others, there is always someone or something more, so unless you try them how are you to know whether you have missed the possible holiday, relationship, or philosophy that might really hit the jackpot?
“Love to one is only a barbarity,” Nietzsche wrote in

Beyond Good and Evil

, “for it is exercised at the expense of all others. Love to God also.”

There you have it. Even God is reduced to consumer choice, according to Nietzsche, and when truth is taken out of the equation, sticking to one choice is no longer a matter of intellectual conviction but a sign of timidity and folly.

Surely, the unspoken adspeak tells us, you should always be open-minded, for the genuine freethinker will always wish to choose and keep choosing, to experiment and keep on experimenting. Our freedom is the freedom to choose, regardless of whether our choice is right or wrong, wise or stupid. So long as we can choose, we are free. Choosing is all that matters. Truth, goodness, and authority are irrelevant to the central act and the main event: you are the sovereign chooser, and you are free to exercise your sovereign right to choose and choose and choose again in whatever way you like—until all choices seem the same and each one shrivels into insignificance.

FREEDOM OF CHOICE V. FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE

Anyone thinking along can immediately see why freedom of conscience and conscientious objection are routinely dismissed today. Freedom of choice and freedom of conscience are entirely different. Freedom of choice has become autonomous and a matter of entitlement, whereas freedom of conscience was never free. It was a duty and therefore duty-bound and not free. Conscience was once respected precisely because a person was duty-bound, or bound by the dictates of conscience—like Luther’s “Here I stand. I can do no other.” But in today’s world, freedom of conscience is confused with freedom of choice and therefore rendered dutiless and shorn of its rights.

The net effect of this concentration on choosing lies at the heart of our modern consumer society. Choice at the expense of the content of the choice elevates the sovereign chooser and devalues the content of the choice and reduces it to a preference.

Does it matter whether you choose Wheaties, Bircher Muesli, or Irish oatmeal as your breakfast, or football, baseball, or golf as your sport?

Does it matter whether you worship on Friday with the Muslims, Saturday with the Jews, Sunday with the Christians, or not at all? Or whether your sister-in-law is straight or lesbian, or your boss is a heterosexual womanizer, a homosexual, or was once a woman?

There are different strokes for different folks. We are all different and all our lifestyles and journeys are different, so who are we to judge when we haven’t walked in another person’s moccasins? This is my choice. That is yours. We are all free to choose differently, and our choices only amount to different preferences, so who is to say who is right? Or to care what anyone else chooses? And what business do any of us have to judge other people’s preferences?

Whatever.

THE RESULT OF FREE-CHOICE CONSUMERISM FOR THE CHURCH

When such autonomous, free-choice consumerism washes over society from the shopping mall to the bedroom, the office and the ballot box, the result is predictable. What will be the price of obedience to authority, and what will be the respect accorded to principled dissent? Choice—unbounded autonomous, subjective sovereign individual choice—is the playboy king of consumerland, and with comfort and convenience as his closest courtiers and cronies, he now rules much of life. Authority and obedience are therefore banished together. They are the unwelcome spoilsports whose entry might ruin the fantasy game of infinite choices. The result is no surprise—a grave crisis of authority within the church, and a rash of positions and interpretations that in any clearer thinking generation would be frankly seen as the rejection of the authority of Jesus and the Scriptures that they are.

Evangelicals are especially vulnerable to this distortion of choice because of the exaggerated place they give to choice in the call to conversion. It may even be their Achilles’ heel. Whereas the Jews are the

chosen people, so that their faith is their destiny, Evangelicals are a choosing people

, and their faith is often merely their decision.

The step of faith is of course a choice, the most important and fully responsible choice a person ever makes. But when the overwhelming emphasis is put on choice as an act of decision, choosing becomes everything, but it can then suffer the fate of many modern choices and shrink to being lightweight, changeable, and nonbinding. Choice and change are close companions, and those who decide for a faith because they choose to believe it can as easily defect from the faith when they choose not to.

Contrast this modern casualness with the early church’s deep theology surrounding conversion. Choice today can always be casual, whereas the covenantal vow of faith is costly because we commit ourselves to Jesus and mortgage our very selves as we do so. We have chosen, and we are committed. We have picked up our crosses, and there is no turning back. We are no longer our own.

THE TEMPTATION TO TRIVIALIZE CHOICE

The modern temptation to trivialize choice is not new. It ultimately stems from our human fallenness as truth seekers who are always inevitably truth twisters, too. Instead of seeking to shape our desires according to the reality of God’s truth, we seek to shape reality according to our desires—and modern consumerism aids and abets us as never before.

St. Augustine addressed the problem in the fifth century, and his protest against the Manichaean distortions of the Scriptures could apply equally to those who attempt to rationalize their justification of homosexual marriage. Just so today, Christian advocates of homosexual and lesbian revisionism believe in themselves and in the sexual revolution rather than the gospel. They therefore twist the Scriptures to make reality fit their desires rather than making their desires fit the truths of Scripture. In Søren Kierkegaard’s stinging term, they are “kissing Judases” who betray Jesus with an interpretation.

Protestant liberalism has long sauntered down this road, brazenly repudiating the authority of Jesus for the successive authorities of the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment worldviews. To paraphrase George Canning’s description of those who were fellow travelers of the revolutionary Jacobins, liberal revisionists are “friends of every faith except their own.” In the process whole churches and entire denominations have effectively chased a mirage and committed spiritual and institutional suicide and rendered themselves as irrelevant as they are unfaithful.

The tragic story of extreme Protestant revisionism makes it all the harder to witness the pitiful attempts of evangelical revisionists to follow the Gadarene rush over the cliff. As I write, for example, the pastor of an evangelical church in San Francisco has announced that he regards the way of Jesus as “destructive” to human flourishing as it is now understood. He therefore proposes that it should be relaxed to allow for the more “compassionate” and contemporary lifestyle of homosexual marriage.

Sadly for him and his followers, he does not understand the lessons of the Bible and history—that he is courting spiritual and institutional suicide for himself and for those he is leading astray. Though to be fair, he and others like him are only reaping what others sowed with such fanfare a generation ago. For were we not solemnly sold a barrel of nonsense in the form of maxims that all good seeker-sensitive and audience-driven churches were to pursue? Here is one example from a well-known Christian marketing consultant: “It is also critical that we keep in mind a fundamental principle of Christian communication: the audience, not the message, is sovereign.”

The audience is sovereign? No! Let it be repeated a thousand times,

no

! When reaching out as the church of Jesus, the message of the gospel and Jesus the Lord of the message is alone sovereign—and never, never, never the audience, however needy, however attractive, however prestigious or well-heeled an audience may be. Yes, like the apostle Paul we are to be Jews to the Jews, Gentiles to the Gentiles, and all things to all our fellow humans, excluding no one in any age or any sphere or condition of life. That, of course, is one side of the truth of the seeker-sensitive approach. But the other side of the truth is that we are always and only to be all things to all people, not in order to join them but rather, like Paul, to bring them back to Jesus.

ARE WE CHANGING THE WORLD—OR BEING CHANGED BY IT?

All such evangelicals should search their hearts. For a generation now the air has been thick with talk of “changing the world,” but who is changing whom?

There is no question the world would like to change the church. In area after area only the church stands between the world and its success over issues such as sexuality. Unquestionably the world would like to change the church, but does the church still want to change the world, or is its only concern to change the church in the light of the world? Something is rotten in the state of evangelicalism, and all too often it is impossible to tell who is changing whom.

There are always essential questions to ask of anyone we hear or anything we read. What is being said? Is it true? And what of it? All three questions are discounted in our modern age of information, but as Christians we must never allow the truth question to be removed from its central place. To be sure, faithfulness is costly in the short term. It is upstream and against the flow, and the flow that was once politically correct can suddenly become a raging and life-threatening intolerance.

But costly though that stand may be, it is never as costly as the long-term price of rejecting the authority of Jesus and abandoning the way of life in the gospel. Our Lord warned of that very danger: “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:28).

Today’s evangelical revisionists should take sober note. Time and again I tremble when I hear or read their flimsy arguments. They may be lionized by the wider advocates of the sexual revolution for fifteen minutes because they are siding with that wider culture in undermining the clear teaching of Jesus and the Bible that stands in their way. For there is no question that Jesus, the Scriptures, and Christian tradition all stand resolutely in their way.

ROADKILL, NOT HEROES

But in truth, the sexual revolution has no real interest in such evangelicals, and they will be left as roadkill as the revolution blitzkrieg gathers speed. But that is nothing compared with the real tragedy of the revisionists. It is no light thing for anyone to set themselves above and against the authority of Jesus and his Scriptures. The apostle Peter betrayed Jesus and was restored, but Judas stands as the warning for all who betray Jesus for their personal, sexual, or political interests and condemn themselves for their disloyalty.

Both Jesus and the apostle Peter tell us to “remember Lot’s wife” (Lk 17:33), but our Christian revisionists should remember Lot himself. Having chosen the benefits and privileges of living in the well-watered garden country of Sodom, having married into their social circles, and having worked his way up into the inner leadership of the city, Lot was suddenly confronted by his moment of truth. He had been utterly naive and deluded in trusting the Sodomites. When the chips were down, they had no respect for his hospitality, no time for his different moral standards, and they threatened to deal with him as brutally as with his guests: “This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge; now we will treat you worse than them” (Gen 19:9).

Poor Lot had become a joke even to his in-laws. In spite of all his efforts and contrary to all that he imagined, he had still not arrived, and he was never accepted as he imagined. He was always the alien—as Abraham never forgot that he was and was respected for being. We of course should always be resident aliens as faithful Christians who are in the world but not of it—regardless of the world’s pressure on us to change with the times and line up with them on the so-called right side of history.

* * * * *

Editor’s Note:Taken from Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization

 by Os Guinness. Copyright (c) 2016 by Os Guinness. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL  60515-1426. www.ivpress.com.


Silence is Golden

“Silence is golden” is a proverbial saying that expresses the idea that saying nothing is better than speaking. Sometimes being silent is good. Silence gives room for the mind to think. Recently Ravi Zacharias in a “Slice of Infinity” wrote about the value of a contemplative life. It is reproduced below in its entirety. Pastor Chris
“One of the tragic casualties of our age has been that of the contemplative life—a life that thinks, a life thinks things through, and more particularly, thinks God’s thoughts. A person sitting at his or her desk staring out the window would never be assumed to be working. No! Thinking is not equated with work. Yet, had Newton under his tree, or Archimedes in his bathtub, bought into that prejudice, some natural laws would still be up in the air or buried under an immovable rock. Pascal’s Pensees, or “Thoughts,” a work that has inspired millions, would have never been penned.

What is even more destructive is the assumption that silence is inimical to life. The radio in the car, Muzak in the elevator, and the symphony entertaining callers “on hold” all add up as grave impediments to personal reflection. In effect, the mind is denied the privilege of living with itself even briefly and is crowded with outside impulses to cope with aloneness. Aldous Huxley’s indictment, “Most of one’s life… is one prolonged effort to prevent thinking,” seems frightfully true. Moreover, the price paid for this scenario has been devastating. As T.S. Eliot questioned:

Where is the life we have lost in the living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of heaven in twenty centuries

bring us farther from God and nearer to dust.

Is there a remedy? May I make some suggestions? Nothing ranks higher for mental discipline than a planned and systematic study of God’s Word, from whence life’s parameters and values are planted and Christ is made known. Paul, who loved his books and parchments, affirmed the priority of Scripture as the means to encountering Christ. And Psalm 119 promises that the God who speaks to us keeps us from being double-minded.

The average person today actually surrenders the intellect to the world, presuming Christianity to be bereft of intelligence. And many a pulpit has succumbed to the lie that anything intellectual cannot be spiritual or exciting.

Thankfully there are exceptions. When living in England, our family attended a church where preaching was taken quite seriously and one-hour sermons to packed auditoriums were the norm. Cambridge, being rife with skepticism, demanded a meticulous defense of each sermon text. When we were leaving Cambridge, our youngest child, who was nine years old, declared the preaching of this church to be one of his fondest memories. Even as a little boy he had learned that when the mind is rightly approached, it filters down to the heart. The matter I share here has far-reaching implications. We do a disservice to our youth by not crediting them with the capacity to think.

God places great value on the thought-life and its capacity to shape all of life. “As one thinks in his heart, so is he,” Solomon wrote. Jesus asserted that sin’s gravity lay at the level of the idea itself, not just the act. Paul admonished the church at Philippi to have the mind of Christ, and to the same people he wrote: “[W]hatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8). The follower of Christ must demonstrate to the world what it means not just to think, but to think justly. That is, in the words of aging David to his son Solomon, to “acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever” (1 Chronicles 28:9).

With hearts, minds, and bodies, we can follow the God of creation and the Son who stepped into it. After all, it is not that I think, therefore, I am, but rather, the great I Am has asked us to think, and therefore, we must.”



Community Missions

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Yesterday we studied from Acts 1:1-11, the missional call of the church. Several years ago Mark D. Roberts wrote on that topic, which is reproduced in its entirety. May it seal in your heart, a commitment to reach out with the Gospel together as a community of believers, who love and live for Jesus. Pastor Chris

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Gospel Polemics

Andy Naselli in a recent post shared this from Tim Keller. It is an excellent presentation on how to debate in our current age. Pastor Chris
 
Here’s what Tim Keller writes in an extended callout in 

Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City

 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 376–80:

GOSPEL POLEMICS

All Christian movements must be based on commonly held biblical truths, and yet they must be characterized by trust and a willingness to unite around central truths and accept differences on secondary matters that—in the view of ministry partners—do not negate our common belief in the biblical gospel. On the one hand, we must realize that if we are going to maintain a healthy movement over time, we have to engage in direct discussion about any doctrinal errors we perceive. On the other hand, we must engage in such a way that we show great respect for the other party and aim to persuade them, not just punish them.

How can this be done? I suggest the following principles for “polemics”—contending over doctrine—that is seasoned in tone and strategy by the gospel itself. As I’ve read a number of respected Christian authors over the years, I have distilled a few “rules of engagement” that I believe can keep us from either avoiding polemics or engaging in it in a spiritually destructive way.

1. Take full responsibility for even unwitting misrepresentation of others’ views. In our Internet age, we are quick to dash off a response because we think Mr. A promotes view X. And when someone points out that Mr. A didn’t mean

 X because over here he said Y, we simply apologize—or maybe we don’t even do that. Great care should be taken to be sure you really know what Mr. A believes and promotes before you publish. This leads to a related rule.

2. Never attribute an opinion to your opponents that they themselves do not own. Nineteenth-century Princeton theologian Archibald Alexander stated that we must not argue in such a way that it hardens opponents in their views. “Attribute to an antagonist no opinion he does not own, though it be a necessary consequence.” In other words, even if you believe that Mr. A’s belief X could or will lead others who hold that position to belief Y, do not accuse Mr. A of holding to belief Y himself if he disowns it. You may consider him inconsistent, but this is not the same as implying or insisting that he actually holds belief Y when he does not. A similar move happens when we imply or argue that if Mr. A quotes a particular author favorably at any point, then Mr. A must hold to all

 the views held by the author. If we, through guilt by association, hint or insist that Mr. A must hold other beliefs of that particular author, then we are not only alienating him or her; we are also misrepresenting our opponent.

3. Take your opponents’ views in their entirety, not selectively.

 A host of Christian doctrines have an “on the one hand/on the other hand” dimension about them—and without both emphases we can fall into heresy. What if we find Mr. A making what appears to be an unqualified statement that sounds very unbalanced? If that is all Mr. A ever said about the subject, it would be right to conclude something about his position. But what if Mr. A has been speaking or writing these statements to an audience that already believed certain things, and therefore he was assuming those points of doctrine without stating them? At minimum, we must realize that Mr. A simply can’t say everything he believes about a subject every time he speaks. We should not pull out certain statements by Mr. A while overlooking or actually concealing explanations, qualifications, or balancing statements he may have made elsewhere.

4. Represent and engage your opponents’ position in its very strongest form, not in a weak “straw man” form. This may be the most comprehensive rule of all in polemics, because, if you adhere to it, most of the other policies and principles will follow. Do all the work necessary until you can articulate the views of your opponent with such strength and clarity that he or she could say, “I couldn’t have said it better myself.” Then, and only then, will your polemics have integrity and

 actually have the possibility of being persuasive—which leads to our next point.

5. Seek to persuade, not antagonize—but watch your motives!

 John Calvin was a Reformer in Geneva, Switzerland. His comrade in this work was William Farel, who was outspoken and hotheaded by temperament. At one point, Calvin wrote Farel a letter in which he urged Farel to do more to “accommodate people”—i.e., to seek to persuade them, to win them over. Calvin then distinguished two very different motivations for seeking to be winsome and persuasive: “There are, as you know, two kinds of popularity: the one, when we seek favor from motives of ambition and the desire of pleasing; the other, when, by fairness and moderation, we gain their esteem so as to make them teachable by us.”

The Farels of the world believe any effort to be judicious and prudent is a cowardly sellout. But Calvin wisely recognized that his friend’s constant, intemperate denunciations often stemmed not from a selfless courage, but rather from the opposite—pride. Writing to Pierre Viret about Farel, Calvin said, “He cannot bear with patience those who do not comply with his wishes.”

In short, it is possible to seek to be winsome and persuasive out of self-centeredness rather than God-centeredness. We may be winsome in an attempt to be popular. It is just as possible to be bold and strongly polemical out of self-centeredness rather than God-centeredness. And therefore, looking very closely at our motives, we must take care that our polemics do not unnecessarily harden and antagonize our opponents. We should seek to win them, as Paul did Peter, not to be rid of them.

6. Remember the gospel and stick to criticizing the theology—because only God sees the heart. Much criticism today is filled with scorn, mockery, and sarcasm rather than marked by careful exegesis and reflection. Such an approach is not persuasive. No one has written more eloquently about this rule than John Newton in his well-known “Letter on Controversy

.”

Newton states that before you write a single word against your opponent “and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing.” This practice will stir up love for him, and “such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.” Later in the letter, Newton writes:

What will it profit a man if he gain his cause and silence his adversary, if, at the same time, he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made? … Be upon your guard against admitting anything personal into the debate. If you think you have been ill treated, you will have an opportunity of showing that you are a disciple of Jesus, who “when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not.”

Newton also reminds us that it is a great danger to “be content with showing your wit and gaining the laugh on your side,” to make your opponent look evil and ridiculous instead of engaging their views with “the compassion due to the souls of men.”

The fourth principle above is especially important. Compare what Keller says earlier in the book:

  • The first step in active contextualization is to understand and, as much as possible, identify with your listeners, the people you are seeking to reach. This begins with a diligent (and never-ending) effort to become as fluent in their social, linguistic, and cultural reality as possible. It involves learning to express people’s hopes, objections, fears, and beliefs so well that they feel as though they could not express them better themselves. (p. 120, emphasis added)
  • Directly address and welcome nonbelievers. Talk regularly to “those of you who aren’t sure you believe this or who aren’t sure just what you believe.” Give several asides, even trying to express the language of their hearts. Articulate their objections to Christian doctrine and life better than they can do it themselves. Express sincere sympathy for their difficulties, even as you challenge them directly for their selfishness and unbelief. (p. 308, emphasis added)