Monday, December 28, 2009

"Negotiable Matters of Indifference"

I read this in a sampling of a new book, Risking the Truth, edited by Martin Downes. In this chapter, Martin Downes interviews Carl Trueman, Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Downes: Why have evangelicals reduced the great Protestant confessions down to minimal statements?

Trueman: Because evangelicalism, as a transdenominational, parachurch movement, needs to sideline great swathes of the faith in order to hold the alliance together.

That is a blatantly honest statement. It's true. I've been saying it for awhile, but it hasn't been asked or answered anywhere else that I have read. Can you imagine sidelining great swathes of the faith to hold an alliance together? Does this please God? Is this about God? Is this what God had in mind about unity? Evangelicalism and much of fundamentalism thinks so. Later Trueman continues:

Popular front evangelicalism only becomes a problem when, with its minimal doctrinal basis, it comes to be normative for how we actually understand Christianity and thus to impact how we understand the church. Then we find ourselves in a situation where tail wags dog, so to speak, where the identity of the church is shaped not by her own confession but by the exigencies of the evangelical world, where key theological issues such as divine sovereignty, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper are marginalized. Wherever we come down on these issues, Scripture does teach about them; and we have no right to make them merely negotiable matters of indifference in the church.

Unfortunately, this minimal doctrinal basis is becoming how men actually understand Christianity today. The church is being shaped by the exigencies of the evangelical world. Certain doctrines are being made negotiable matters of indifference.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Important Thoughts for Human Beings part one

Here's an important thought for all human beings. You can judge God. But it's not going to matter. He's God. What's important for you is, listen up, how God judges you. And because of that, the vital ingredient in all of this is the truth. Human beings, get this: be concerned about what the truth is. For instance, you may push the eject button on God because the American Indians got treated bad, but that is only going to hurt you, and it will. You also may be really upset that in this world in which we live, children suffer. It could also be that you don't think that God should have allowed your dad to be a drunk or for you to be abused as a child. He's still God though. And as God, He makes all the rules. You can protest that. But it won't change anything.

You also may, like plenty of atheists, think that in a world created by God no religious wars should have ever been fought. And if they have, well, that religion is the cause of it, and so God is the cause of it, and so you're making some kind of a big statement about God because you reject Him. News for you too---He's still God. You also may not like God's plan of salvation. You may feel that you are on some kind of moral high ground because you reject crucifixion as a means of cleansing or removing sin. That stand you take won't get you anywhere. You may not like it, but, again, you don't make the rules. He does. And so He's always right.

You're only alternative is that this is all an accident. And if that's the case, you really don't have any basis for judging anyone or anything as wrong. Accidents are accidents. And chemicals and electronic charges and such shouldn't be held responsible for firing or charging or spilling or burping at a time that you didn't want it to. In your view that's exactly how you got here, so you can't be upset when the spillage or voltage or fizzing isn't like you like it to be. And you can't very well say that it is wrong. It just happened. Nothing controlled it.

You may try to embarrass people who believe in God that they are believing something that isn't very intelligent. If you believe a lie, that's what's really stupid. It may be a smart sounding lie, but it is still a lie. You might be able to make it sound really, really smart, but it isn't smart if it isn't the truth. I will only be embarrassed if I get sucked into your lie. I understand why it sounds intelligent. It isn't very smart. It just sounds like it. A lot of lies do. In the end, you've waited a long time in a line for a ride that is closed. You're ride is closed. You may think it is a better ride, but it isn't open. Worse than that, the truth is that you will get on your ride and it will end in a crash.

You can try to block out God in your mind or through your lame explanations, but it won't make God disappear. It is very much like the ostrich with its head in the sand. You, me fellow human being, are just putting your head in the sand. You can ignore God, but it really is at your own peril.

So I get back to the truth. What's the truth? If the truth is that there is a God, then you would do better to accept that. And that is the truth. That's where I'm going to stop with this particular lesson, but it is one that will be eternally worth it to you. I'll give you a hint on the next lesson, but it is that God reveals Himself to us in a Book, the Bible, Old and New Testaments. However, just to start, the truth is that there is one God, He did create everyone and He sustains everything. Not only is that the truth, but you can know it to be true. That may not be what you want to be the truth, but it is the truth nevertheless.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas in the Apocalypse

At the end of Revelation 11, we see the seventh trumpet of judgment blown. Heaven rejoices. Earth rages. God judges. But we don't get the actual content of the trumpet until Revelation 15. Revelation 12 to 14 relate the Satanic view of the tribulation period on earth. The rest of the book shifts back and forth from one perspective to another---earth, heaven, Satan, God, earth again, heaven again---all the way to the end. The first few verses of Revelation 12 take a step back to elaborate on the conflict of the ages, the long war between God and Satan culminating with the events recorded by John in the Apocalypse. We get a big picture of what is occurring through the introduction of the main characters in this drama. John identifies his manner of communication as symbolism, and then he reveals the players in cryptic fashion---one of them is a woman (vv. 1-2), another a dragon (vv. 3-4), and a third, a child (vv. 5-6).

Here's what we learn. The dragon, who is Satan, has it out for the woman and her child. He wants to destroy her and her baby. The woman is Israel and the child is Jesus. The Devil was ready to devour the Christ child as soon as he was born. Ever since Satan was cast from heaven, dragging one third of all the angels with him, he has worked at foiling God's plan of redemption. History tells the story.

Cain kills Abel, the godly line (cf. 1 John 3:12). Pharoah massacres Hebrew baby boys. Enemies surround Israel, hoping to exterminate the Jews. Only the infant son Joash survived the genocidal rampage of Athaliah (2 Chronicles 21-22). The ten northern tribes mingle with the two southern to save the nation whole when Assyria obliterates Israel. Haman threatens the existence of the Jewish race, defeated by God with Mordecai and Esther. Herod kills all the infant sons in Bethlehem. Satan tempts Jesus to throw Himself off the pinnacle of the temple. Residents of the Lord's hometown march him to a cliff to push him over, but He passes through their midst. The Roman Catholic inquisition murders Jews by the tens of thousands. Russian pogroms. Hitlers' holocaust. The Antichrist sends the woman into the wilderness, the time of Jacob's trouble.

Jesus has already struck the death blow to Satan, bruising the head of the serpent (cf. Gen 3:15). Guaranteed the ultimate loser, the devil persists his opposition to the plan of God, orchestrating his multi-millions of demons in his lying and murderous ways against Jesus, Israel, and the church. Only the protection of God thwarts his success.

When you see distractions from the Incarnation message at Christmas, know that Satan, the prince of this world, commanderes his demonic fiends to conceal the saving gospel. Jesus will rule all nations with a rod of iron (Rev 12:5). The dragon would relegate the Lord to whimsy and decoration, blended with Santa, elves, Scrooge, Rudolph, Frosty, the Grinch, snowflakes, and sleigh rides. With gladness Satan obstructs most of the good news a lost world needs in the festive and bright packaging of holiday cheer. Even churches cooperate with the garish productions they use to lure a crowd year after year in the month of December. In his own way and for all intents and purposes, to most men the prince of darkness does devour the Christ Child. As it relates to Satan's strategy, it is very merry Christmas indeed.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

"Not Given to Much Wine" and Abstaining from Alcohol

More controversy seems to exist than ever in churches over the drinking of alcoholic beverages. If I say it isn't a difficult subject, I'll be castigated, but I'm going to say it: "I don't think it is a difficult subject"---at least not until recently. We've got more permissible drinkers than ever in evangelical churches. I did a five part series on it not that long ago here at WIT, so what has me thinking about it again? I check in at the blogroll of a popular evangelical website, one of the 5 or 10 websites I check every day, mainly to look at the front page posting. I also look at the topics of the blogroll postings to see if anything interests me. I like to read. With that being said, I listened to most of this sermon by one of the preachers on that blogroll. At one point in his sermon, he referred to 1 Timothy 3 and this particular qualification of deacons: "not given to much wine." He didn't say much about the text, except that it was "ridiculous" that anyone would think that it wasn't permissible to drink "wine" in moderation, and all through this sermon he is referring to wine as alcoholic, essentially the one wine view, that "wine" is only alcoholic in Scripture.

I was preparing to write on it again, because of his "ridiculous" argument, argument by calling any other position but his own as "ridiculous." You've got to have a very sympathetic crowd to believe that level of argumentation. I wrote about it already, so I'm just going to link to my answer here. I don't think "ridiculous" should be tolerated by anyone as a suitable argument. Someone may say that he didn't have enough time to deal with all the passages sufficiency, and so "ridiculous" needed to suffice since it was such a no-brainer. I don't think so. Read my post on the subject. And you would do well to read all of them (number 1, number 2, number 3, number 4 too).

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Flock Teaching

God uses metaphors in Scripture as a figure of speech to communicate His truth. In some prominent passages, New Testament authors use the "flock" analogy as one of these pictures to portray a particular theological concept. "Flock," of course, starts with an agrarian reality with actual sheep, as seen in the nativity text in Luke 2:8, "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night." To convey doctrine using a metaphor, we start with the reality, the actual flock led by a real shepherd in a tangible field.

We determine what "flock" means by its usage. In a metaphorical way, the word "flock" (poimnion) is used six times (Mt 26:31; Lk 12:32; Acts 20:28-29; 1 Pet 5:2-3). In each case, like a real flock of sheep, "flock" is a visible group in one locale under a shepherd. It does not illustrate anything universal at all. If someone wanted to communicate a universal concept, he would not use "flock" to do so.

In Matthew 26:31, Jesus speaks to His disciples about the night of His betrayal and quotes Zechariah 13:7 to connect this event as a fulfillment of prophecy. The Shepherd, Jesus, would be smitten, and the sheep, the disciples gathered there, would be scattered. They were an assembled group that would become unassembled. Even if we were to look at this Matthew reference as somewhat ambiguous, which it does not seem to be, we have other references to help us understand how the New Testament uses and how we should understand "flock."

Next, in the gospels one more time, Luke 10:32, Jesus again addresses His disciples as "little flock." Again we see gathered, visible, and local. We have the Shepherd, Jesus, and His flock with Him there in one place. It has all the aspects fitting of the metaphor.

In Acts 20:28-29 we are beginning to become as clear as ever. There Paul is speaking to individual pastors leading an individual church. These were not men in charge of all believers in the world. They were men who were shepherding in one location the believers that assembled there. The wolves would enter into their individual flock, and hurt the sheep that were gathered with them. They did not pastor all the sheep in the world, just the ones in their flock. A flock is again a separate church.

Acts 20:28-29, unambiguous, plain, matches up with 1 Peter 5:2-3, the final usage of "flock" in the New Testament. Peter commands pastors to "feed the flock which is among you." This is to say that there are several flocks. Each pastor is responsible for his own particular flock, not all believers in some universal, invisible, mystical flock. Flocks are separate gatherings of believers that are led by their individual pastors.

In every context of the word "flock," the metaphor speaks of an individual church, a gathering of believers. The concept of the "flock" does not back up the concept of a universal, unassembled entity at all. A flock is a church.

Taking that understanding of flock and then looking at a parallel passage, John 10, will help us to understand what Jesus talks about there. In John 10:27-29, when Jesus mentions "His sheep," who hear "His voice and follow Him," we would assume that His sheep would be a part of His flock. The term "flock" is not used in John 10, but from the other usages of "flock" in the New Testament, we would know that the way His sheep follow Him is through one of His flocks. Those outside of a church are not following Christ. They would not be His sheep. This is not to say that we are saved through church membership. It is to say that saved people will identify with Christ through baptism and by joining a "flock." There may be those who claim to be His sheep, but 1 John 2:19 says that we should not consider those not with an assembly to be "of" that assembly, that is, they would not be regarded as saved people. There is no category of unchurched saint or unflocked sheep in the New Testament.

Jesus' sheep would have a shepherd as seen in Acts 20:28-29 and 1 Peter 5:2-3. The church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim 3:15), so it is the place of Jesus' voice. Those following Christ would be hearing His voice in the flock that He started, which is local and visible.

We can understand the unity of the flock from John 10. It comes from the voice of the Shepherd, that is, unity comes from the all the Words of the Lord Jesus Christ. We live by all the Words that proceed from the Lord's mouth (Mt 4:4). His followers as a whole, even as seen in the plural pronoun "ye" in Matthew 28:18-20, observe all the things that Jesus said. Just like Jesus came to keep all the things that the Father told Him, so do His followers. We are sanctified like Jesus was (John 17:17-19), which is by all that was commanded. Jesus said the same in John 14, when He said that those who love Him are those who keep everything that He said. The unifying factor of a church is the teaching and then practice of that church. This teaching and practice is also what separates that church from the world and from other entities or organizations with a different belief and conduct.

Those who attempt to read into the concept of "flock" a universal entity are doing just that—reading into Scripture. Instead of taking the plain meaning, they start with an ecclesiology concocted by state churchism and then try to find it in the Bible. To do so, they must pervert the doctrine of "the flock," one based upon its actual usage in God's Word. You will not find a universal church in the usage of flock in the New Testament. In one sense, if there were a universal flock, it is perpetually scattered, not at all within the Biblical understanding of a church.

In John 10:16 we read a related word, "fold." In the context, the fold is Israel. Jesus will lead His sheep out of that fold. Of course, His sheep will join His flock, but what is His flock? His flock is local and visible. That flock is made up of His sheep for sure. The New Testament teaches a regenerate membership. Churches are made up of sheep. We try to keep the wolves out (Acts 20:28-29) even though that takes the skill and labor of the pastor to do so. Gentiles would come into that flock, His church. Each of His churches is His church. Gentiles would be included in the same churches as Jews, therefore, would too be a part of His fold. That whole idea doesn't change the understanding of His flock and how it is used in the New Testament. It fits into the concept that we see also in Ephesians 2 when Paul says that the barrier had been erased between Jews and Gentiles in the church. Both would follow the Lord through His flock.

Unity is found in the flock of Christ. That flock is local and visible. It has a shepherd appointed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28). The flock is unified by the Word of Christ.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Since Jesus Sang In the Church, Well....

I don't think that Jay Adams believes that the church started until Pentecost, like most Protestants as himself, so how did Jesus sing in the church, as seen in Hebrews 2:12? Jay Adams uses an example of Jesus singing. OK. He sang in the church. If Jesus sang in the church, then the church was existent when He gathered with His disciples during His lifetime. If we are looking to get our doctrine only from Scripture, sole Scriptura, then the church must have begun during Jesus' lifetime before Pentecost. Let's not make this more difficult than it is.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Expecting Pastors to Pastor

Evangelicals and fundamentalists still judge success by size of congregation, even most young fundamentalists who grew up with and are critical of the Hyles movement. Their favorites pastor large churches and/or publish books. They are not evaluated mainly by whether or not they obey Scripture. Specifically, they are not judged based upon the pastoral epistles, where we learn what a pastor should do.

Do the popular evangelicals and fundamentalists submit to the teaching of the pastoral epistles in their pastoring? One would think this might be a good basis for success as a pastor. If not, then what is missing?

What do the pastor epistles instruct a pastor to do that is not the practice of many popular evangelical and fundamentalists pastors? They are often rewarded in their lack of obedience to the pastoral epistles with popularity. Others want to be like them. They got big, so they must be a success.

Have you noticed that Jesus didn't get big? He got more unpopular, despite His ability to perform jaw-dropping miracles. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:20-21:

For I have no man like-minded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's.

And what about these words in 2 Timothy 1:15:

This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me.

From what we read, Paul wasn't getting bigger either. We know that many conversions could occur. We see that in Acts. However, Paul made clear that it didn't come from human ability (1 Cor 3). More ability doesn't equal more conversions.

Is it possible that the popularity and size of the most well-known evangelicals and fundamentalists happened and continued because they have not followed the pattern of pastoring that Paul has written in his pastoral epistles? They are often men with either great intellect or speaking ability or both. People like to listen to them. They're interesting. The size of their audience could parallel the size of the audience of a popular television show or sporting franchise. People join their audience because of the entertainment value. It's fun to be a part of a winning team. And then this type of "success" breeds more audience and popularity---a bandwagon effect.

We have no reason to oppose great ability, someone who can speak well or communicate difficult concepts in an interesting way. However, there is more to pastoring than that. Even if you are a talented speaker, you could become unpopular if you did what Paul did. Paul protected the church---not just by writing. He did write about it. He wrote a big chunk of the New Testament. But what he wrote about, he did. He wanted all pastors to do the same.

A pastor might be able to explain the pastoral epistles very well. But does he do them? In other words, does he pastor? Pastoring is what we see in the pastoral epistles.

I believe that many popular pastors are popular because they don't pastor. If they pastored, their popularity would diminish. Men known this. They know what obedience to the pastoral epistles would mean to their popularity. Their popularity doesn't diminish because it is more important to them than obedience to the pastoral epistles.

The popularity of the non-pastoring of the popular evangelicals and fundamentalists perpetuates the lack of pastoring of churches. Many churches have removed the idea of pastoring from the office of the pastor by calling the pastor the "teaching pastor." You might be a teacher, but you aren't a pastor if you don't obey the pastoral epistles. The desire for the office of the bishop (1 Tim 3:1) is a desire for what the pastoral epistles instruct. You aren't fulfilling the office that your title of pastor suggests if you do not follow the teaching of the pastoral epistles.

Size of the church is absent as a concern in the pastoral epistles. The priority of the pastorals is the purity of the church. We know that Jesus loves the church and wants to present it pure and spotless in the day of redemption. He wants quality in his church. Scripture is sufficient to accomplish purity, but the pastoral epistles must be obeyed.

You might think, "Well, these popular evangelical preachers and teachers do write books to help the church with its purity." The pastoral epistles do not call for book writing for church purity. I talked about this in the previous post with John MacArthur, who many across the country wish to emulate as the way to accomplish pastoring. MacArthur writes books about wrong positions on doctrine and how that belief and practice are being corrupted. Meanwhile, his own church takes up the very trendy, "purpose-driven," church-growth techniques. He needs to pastor his own church. That isn't just preparing sermons, teaching them, and having them played all over the world on radio and now television.

Paul started out his teaching to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1,

I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine.

What did Paul begin with? Clean up the church you're pastoring. Charge some in your own church that they teach no other doctrine. He didn't say a thing to Timothy about making sure everyone else in the world did it a certain way.

MacArthur writes a lengthy essay against the Manhattan Doctrine. Meanwhile, that doesn't change his fellowship with those who signed the document. Paul said in Galatians, "Let them be accursed." Actually doing something about it results in unpopularity. Everybody is impressed with the civility, but how important is protecting the gospel? If you don't separate, then you aren't doing what the passages actually teach. The same goes with John Piper and his continued relations with the open theists. A well-known conservative Baptist like Mark Dever won't separate over infant sprinkling. These men write against false doctrine, but they don't do what the pastoral epistles require a pastor to do.

With everything that was important for the church to believe and do, it was to be enforced with pastoral authority. Paul writes Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:3-5:

If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness. . . . from such withdraw thyself.

Then in verses 11 and 14:

But thou, O man of God, flee these things. . . . keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We see much more in 2 Timothy about the purity of the church.

2:5: If a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.

2:21: If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work.

And then in Titus:

1:5: For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting.

1:10, 11, 13: For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, . . . whose mouths must be stopped, . . . . Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.

2:15: These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority.

3:10: A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject.

These three epistles direct a pastor to protect the purity of the church. Would that yield an evangelistic outcome? Yes, a genuine one, one that keeps in focus a true gospel and conduct becoming it.

The grace that brings salvation, Paul writes Titus, teaches "us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world" (Titus 2:12). Paul wants genuine conversion, not the cheap grace that manifests the worldliness rampant in the popular, even conservative, evangelical churches.

I believe we have men who would be as popular and big as MacArthur and Piper if they compromised like these men and if they weren't separatists, like these popular evangelical figures. Those faithful men have endeavored to pastor their churches, that is, maintain the purity of those churches by confronting the worldliness and corruption of them. Some of those men have intellect, talent, and ability matching or surpassing that of the popular evangelicals and fundamentalists. However, they believed early on that they would be pastors, men who would take responsibility for the purity of their churches by obeying the pastoral epistles for the greater glory of Jesus Christ. We should be judging the success of pastoring based on the criteria that God's Word provides in the three New Testament books especially for that purpose.