Tuesday, January 31, 2006

All Nations Under God

The Doctrine of
Christ’s Victorious Atonement:
Defined, Defended and Applied
9781935358039_covLRGIn 2001 I began working on a manuscript that would become the first of three books written to date. This first work, entitled The First Institution, addresses the important subjects of marriage and child training. The second, The Epistle of Diotrephes, was written out of my concern over the modern church’s unrelenting appetite to merge with the world’s ever changing culture. Both of these subjects are (I believe) of profound importance to all believers, and yet despite the significance of these issues, I felt compelled to withhold these from distribution for now in order to publish the last of the three works: All Nations Under God (Jan. 2006). To some extent I almost feel like Jude who sought to write on the noble subject of our common salvation, and yet he felt compelled to set this aside in order to write to the church concerning the dangerous doctrines that were being spread by men who turned the grace of God into licentiousness (Jude 3-4). In a similar manner All Nations Under God came into being, and this is why:

In recent years there has been a rise in literature which seeks to attack several truths concerning God’s sovereignty. The foci of such works are many, and yet there is one subject that has received the lion’s share of attention, and that is the precious matter of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Many of the advocates of Arminian doctrine have turned up the heat on this subject and have slanderously attacked the truths of sovereign grace, calling them a "dreadful doctrine” whose fruit is idolatry and "the false God of Augustinianism and Calvinism." Many such Arminian publications have infiltrated the church today and have fueled much in the way of disunity, graceless attitudes, church splits and even the ejection of pastors who dared to preach the whole counsel of God. The end result of such warfare is that many believers have become ensnared by this contention, without really understanding the biblical debate at all. It is with this reality in view that I wrote All Nations Under God. This book is designed to offer encouragement and hope to all believers. As well, it will help sovereign grace believers to think about how they can encourage brethren who are of the Arminian persuasion, but without entering into needless contention. Thus, it avoids entering into contests concerning specific theologians - either in the present or from church history. Overall, the focus of this book is a positive one which looks to herald the immutable work of the Lamb of God, and this is the reason for the book’s subtitle, which is - “The Doctrine of Christ’s Victorious Atonement: Defined, Defended and Applied.” The primary text that guides All Nations Under God is found in Revelation chapter 5:

Revelation 5:9-10: 9 And they *sang a new song, saying, “Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 10 “And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”

This song of the Lamb, in Revelation 5, is not a dirge, nor is it a lament. Instead, it is a victory song which heralds the triumph of Christ (Rev. 5:5) - a triumph that was established for His sheep from before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). Someday in glory, we will sing this song of victory to our precious Savior who shed His blood for our sin, therefore, in a way you can think of All Nations Under God as a form of choir rehearsal for that eternal choral.

The book’s appendix contains a survey of some of the most hotly contested verses that relate to the question of the atonement. These verses are carefully examined, using diagrammatical analysis, so that the reader can graphically see the clear meaning of such texts.

From the book cover: All Nations Under God, The Doctrine of Christ's Victorious Atonement: Defined, Defended and Applied.

The church of Jesus Christ presently faces many battles and challenges, for the enemies of the Gospel continue relentlessly to oppose and contest the central message of the Scriptures: Christ and Him crucified. But there is another battle that has been gaining momentum - this one is arising from within the ranks of the visible church. It is a battle that is draining the church of her vitality and joy. Worse than that, it is a battle that is robbing Christ of His glory as the victorious Lamb of God. But the church must refute such contention and reclaim the joy, motivation and power of the Gospel ministry by looking intently at the One who calls Himself the eternal Victor: The Lord Jesus Christ. All Nations Under God looks to restore the true hope and joy of the church by reclaiming the Biblical vision of the Lamb of God who was slain for our sin.


POST 1920: Of Dainty Morsels And Manly Rebukes

~Gleaning Light from the Luminaries of the Past~

Proverbs 19:20: Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future (ESV).

It cannot be said of Charles Spurgeon that he did not name names when rebuking the error of his day. He certainly did name names, and sometimes with a very sharp rebuke, but when he did this he was neither flippant nor careless. Spurgeon was very measured in such matters and this was because he was a man of principle. He understood that if a rebuke was ever to be rendered against an erring brother, then such communication would need to be purposeful rather than recreational. Spurgeon’s description of this principle is clearly laid out in his Morning and Evening devotion for November 29th.

“Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people ... Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.” — Leviticus 19:16, 17

Tale-bearing emits a threefold poison; for it injures the teller, the hearer, and the person concerning whom the tale is told. Whether the report be true or false, we are by this precept of God’s Word forbidden to spread it. The reputations of the Lord’s people should be very precious in our sight, and we should count it shame to help the devil to dishonour the Church and the name of the Lord. Some tongues need a bridle rather than a spur. Many glory in pulling down their brethren, as if thereby they raised themselves. Noah’s wise sons cast a mantle over their father, and he who exposed him earned a fearful curse. We may ourselves one of these dark days need forbearance and silence from our brethren, let us render it cheerfully to those who require it now. Be this our family rule, and our personal bond—Speak evil of no man.

The Holy Spirit, however, permits us to censure sin, and prescribes the way in which we are to do it. It must be done by rebuking our brother to his face, not by railing behind his back. This course is manly, brotherly, Christlike, and under God’s blessing will be useful. Does the flesh shrink from it? Then we must lay the greater stress upon our conscience, and keep ourselves to the work, lest by suffering sin upon our friend we become ourselves partakers of it. Hundreds have been saved from gross sins by the timely, wise, affectionate warnings of faithful ministers and brethren. Our Lord Jesus has set us a gracious example of how to deal with erring friends in his warning given to Peter, the prayer with which he preceded it, and the gentle way in which he bore with Peter’s boastful denial that he needed such a caution.

Such a deliberate and purposeful attitude concerning the rebuke of an errant brother is indeed manly, brotherly, Christlike and under God’s blessing. Such manliness must always be preferred to the dainty morsels of the talebearer.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Windmills of Modern Science

I remember my senior year of college, when I was completing a B.S. degree in physics. In that year I sensed the Lord’s calling in my life to enter into pastoral ministry. It was a unique time because while I was completing my Analytical Mechanics and Quantum Mechanics classes, I was also taking a New Testament course on the book of Romans at a local seminary just to get a jump start on my studies at the Master’s Seminary in the fall. During that time, I often wondered how the Lord might use my love for science in the ministry; particularly my studies in physics. Well, much to my surprise, I have been able to incorporate some of my studies in my teachings, when appropriate. After all, the Lord’s invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, thus I have always viewed the science of physics as being an empirical investigation of God’s glorious handiwork of Creation. In fact, I would submit to you that this is the truest definition of scientific study - using empirical analysis in order to view God’s glory in all that He has made. Such “study” is certainly biblical, and truly scientific:

Isaiah 40:26: 26 Lift up your eyes on high And see who has created these stars, The One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, Not one of them is missing.

The Lord uses His creation to teach us important principles; He even commands us to lift up our eyes in order to see His glory in all that He has made. I submit to you that this is the best of all science - it is empirical science, that is, a science which requires our direct observation and analysis, rooted and grounded in the truth of His Word. I keep repeating the word empirical for an important reason. True science is empirical by nature, meaning that it is a body of information that can be verified based upon direct observation. If you open any introductory science book, they will affirm that this is the crucial foundation for all scientific study.

Thus, if you can’t test something in reality, then you are only dealing with a theory.

This important axiom is rapidly being buried by many “scientists” in our modern day. Particularly in the areas of cosmology and biology, the golden key of empiricism is being buried six feet under in the lock box of modern science. And why is this so? Because a great deal of empirical data is actually contradicting much of the theoretical “science” of our modern era. Particularly with the unsupportable theories of evolution, and the origin of the universe, we find that many “scientists” are perfectly content to throw out any empiricism that challenges those theories that have become the idols of our present day. This truth was darkly illustrated for us all late last year in the debate over “Intelligent Design”:

U.S. District Judge John Jones ruled that teaching "intelligent design" would violate the Constitutional separation of church and state. [he said] “We have concluded that it is not [science], and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents...To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions." U.S. District Judge John Jones. [from CNN API New Report]

Did Judge Jones say the word untestable? Absolutely he did. Now that’s interesting. Of course, the man is not a scientist, but at least he understands something about empiricism, which demands that any theory should be tested by direct observation.

O.K., great. I think the man is a genius...well, sort of.

Based upon his brilliant observation here we should also reject the untestable hypothesis of evolution and the big bang too. After all, exactly what empiricism is there to prove the existence of the supposed “transitional” forms between apes and men? Or where is that rock solid, observational data that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that matter has always existed; or that it came into existence through a “rupture” in our present dimension of space? Oh yes, I’m all for empiricism. If only the “scientists” of our modern era could be honest advocates of it too.

Brethren, when a so-called “scientist” confidently asserts to you that men evolved from apes, or that the Universe self-evolved through a cosmic big-bang - feel free to ignore it all. This is not science. Of course, when we consult the Scriptures we see that man was uniquely created by the hand of God out of the dust of the earth; and that the present heavens and earth were created in six days - ex hihilo (out of nothing) by the powerful Word of the Lord (Genesis 1, Psalm 33). But should we endeavor to conduct any scientific research concerning the origins of man, and the universe, then we would find a host of problems. You see, our best attempts to empirically study our world are greatly hampered by the very fundamental problem of the lack of empiricism, and here’s why: when a scientist conducts empirical analysis, he must be able to establish the differential of his data. For example, if you wish to investigate the properties of a substance that is heated to150 degrees Fahrenheit, then you must make two measurements of the substance - 1. the initial temperature and then 2. the terminal temperature determined to be 150 degrees Fahrenheit. The time and energy required to take this substance from one state to another then becomes a part of your empirical evaluation. This same concept of empiricism is essential if one wishes to “scientifically” examine the origins of man and Creation. In such a study we would need an initial state and a final state of analysis if we wish to do “real” science. But there is a great problem here:

Job 38:4: 4 "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding,”

The Lord’s question given to Job is really the question. I like to think of this as the Lord’s science quiz for Job: “Where were you when everything began?” Answer: he was nowhere, except in the mind of God.

So much for empirical science here.

But it gets worse. When we consider our need for initial states, in order to have a proper scientific evaluation, then we find that our study of the origins of the earth, and man, are severely challenged. You see, the Universe, along with mankind, does not have one initial state, but rather two because of the fall. And even the earth itself has not one initial state, but three:

U(Universe); M(Mankind); E(Earth)

The third initial state for the earth was established by the deluge (a future post will provide more detail). Thus, when we consider our need for direct observation (via initial states), we see that we are left with precious little for scientific research. Not only were we not there at the initial creation (Job 38:4), but we were not there (observationally) at the fall, nor at the deluge of the earth. Every one of these initial states has an impact on what we may try to observe in the present heavens and earth. Just imagine trying to do bomb damage assesment on the first of 40 nuclear bombs dropped at one site - the damage of the subsequent 39 bombs would all but obliterate the evidence of the first; again, we have the problem of observing initial states. All in all, it is enough to say that much of what is presented as science in the present day is nothing more than an imaginary battle with windmills.

As always, and to no surprise, God’s Word is all that we need in order to learn about these important events of which no one personally observed but God Himself, His angels and (later) those who perished in the flood.

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Friday, January 27, 2006

Interpreting the Message of Homosexuality, Part III - A World of Effeminate Men

By addressing the subject of homosexuality, I have sought to avoid the extremes of over-emphasizing particular sins (at the expense of universal sin) or overemphasizing ontological depravity (at the expense of identifying particular sins). There are many particular sins listed in the Bible, but no matter what a man has on his list - all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

At the same time, in identifying these truths, we must uncompromisingly assert the truth that the Word of God is remarkably clear about the sin of homosexuality; in fact, it nearly seems that Paul came just three pen strokes short of drawing a picture for us when he said:

“Romans 1:25-28: 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. 28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper...”

Men who exchange the natural function of the woman, who commit indecent acts with other men etc... the Apostle is about as graphic as one could get, thus, the clarity of Romans chapter 1 is quite profound. But in addition to this text, we have another crucial teaching given to us by Paul when he wrote to the church at Corinth:

1 Corinthians 6:9-10: 9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.

Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that all sin receives the condemnation of God, and those whose lives are dedicated to these things, rather than to Christ, will receive their just judgment. The above text then brings us to what I believe is an important branch to this discussion regarding homosexuality - that is, the subject of effeminate men. What exactly does this mean? Paul says: oute malakoi oute arsenokoitai. This construction lets us know that the two groups mentioned (effeminate and homosexuals) are not necessarily identical; they may have some overlap to them (as in the case of those who are thieves and those who are covetous), but they are not identical. In the case of the effeminate and homosexuals, the clearest of the two terms is arsenokoitai (homosexuals). I don’t know of any legitimate lexical work that fails to identify this term as being that which Paul nearly diagrammed for us in Romans 1:27. But it is this former term malakoi that is a bit more vague(though not any less important). In its primitive form it refers to something that is soft or dainty as opposed to something that is coarse or strong. Thus, the LXX employs the term to denote “dainty morsels” of gossip (Proverbs 25:15, 26:22) - words spoken gently, but that carry great corruption within. Thus, the NASB, KJV, ASV and Young’s Literal translation use the word effeminate and the Bible in Plain English uses the word unmanly. At the very least, we might conclude that this term speaks of that which is contrary to the nature of masculinity - that is, true masculinity. When we consider the English word effeminate, we find that the Oxford English Dictionary (unabridged) defines this as one who is: “womanish, unmanly, enervated, feeble.” This term seems to be rather broad and even distinguishable from that of homosexuality. Calvin notes this when he concludes his analysis of the four terms - fornicators, adulterers, effeminate and homosexuals:

“By effeminate persons I understand those who, although they do not openly abandon themselves to impurity, discover, nevertheless, their unchastity by blandishments of speech, by lightness of gesture and apparel, and other allurements. The fourth description of crime is the most abominable of all - that monstrous pollution which was but too prevalent in Greece.” [Calvin’s Commentaries, 1 Cor. 6:9]

Calvin clearly distinguishes between the sexual act of sodomy (which he calls a monstrous pollution) versus men who conduct themselves in an unmanly way. Such a general concept of unmanliness seems to be consistant with Justin Martyr’s description of the Greek gods, where he says:

...ye Greeks, your gods are convicted of intemperance, and your heroes are effeminate, as the histories on which your dramas are founded have declared, such as the curse of Atreus, the bed of Thyestes...[Justin Martyr, A.D. 110-165; Dialogue of Justin, Chapter III].

In this reference, Justin illustrates his concept of effeminate by first refering to the heterosexual impropriety of Thyestes who seduced the wife of his brother Atreus. Obviously, Justin is not referring to homosexuality in this reference, nor to a professional prostitute, rather, he refers to one whose life defies genuine masculinity; that is, he is speaking of unmanliness. I would suggest to you that the words effeminate or unmanly are the best possible translation choices for 1 Corinthians 6:9. Such concepts depict a man who is guilty of being unmanly to such an extent that he abandons his God ordained calling as a man - by any means. Such a deviation of masculinity may include sexual vice, but I don’t believe that the term is necessarily that narrow in meaning. Along with these observations, I believe that the context of this warning is significant since the Apostle later exhorted the same company of men at Corinth to “act like men” (1 Corinthians 16:13) rather than behaving with the weakness and passivity of Eve in the garden (2 Corinthians 11:1-4).

Additionally, let’s consult a profitable illustration which comes to us from Christ, when He used this term (malakoi) as a part of a contrast between the resolute masculinity of John the Baptist versus the soft and effeminate leaders of their day:

Luke 7:24-28: 24 When the messengers of John had left, He began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 “But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who are splendidly clothed and live in luxury are found in royal palaces! 26 “But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is more than a prophet. 27 “This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, Who will prepare Your way before You.’ 28 “I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John...”

Unlike the soft and frail leaders of the day, John the Baptist was a man. He was a man who stood for principle, rather than cowering in the face of opposition. His manliness was patterned after the masculinity of Christ Himself who was the greatest manifestation of manliness this world has ever seen, as Spurgeon has said:

“There is nothing effeminate in our Beloved. He is the manliest of men. Bold as a lion, laborious as an ox, swift as an eagle.”

I would suggest to you that Christ’s statement in Luke 7 is an implicit rebuke against Herod the tetrarch who had the Baptist imprisoned and eventually beheaded out of fear and weakness. Thus, John’s godliness and true masculinity was a stark contrast to that weak and effeminately adorned king (v. 25 A man dressed in soft clothing) who greatly feared John (Mark 6:20), the crowds (Matthew 14:5) as well as Herodius and her daughter (Mark 6:26). Apart from his sexual improprieties, Herod the tetrarc was a godless man whose corruption was manifested clearly by his fear, weakness and his overall unmanliness. Herod was an illustration of what a man looks like when he spends his days in an ungodly departure from biblical masculinity. I believe that the exemple of Herod is a picture of what Paul had in mind when he referred to effeminate men. By mentioning the word effeminate in this context, I believe that Paul offers us a term which speaks of men whose lives manifest a continual abandonment of true, biblical masculinity. Therefore, the digression seems to be natural, since homosexuality earmarks the fullest extent to which a man could abandon his calling as a man.

So what does this have to do with homosexuality? I believe a great deal.

We are often very quick to identify the sin of homosexuality as being an obvious corruption of nature (and it certainly is), and yet, are we nearly as repulsed when we see men who abandon their wives and their families for sinful pursuits (whether sexual or not)? I believe that our present culture is filled with unmanly men; that is, men who are biologically male, but who are weak, effeminate and unmanly in every other sense - and this is no small problem. Young men (and women), who grow up and become entangled in the homosexual lifestyle, do so (in part) by the absence of a biblical pedagogy which establishes a true standard of masculinity and feminity. I say “in part” because (obviously), the sin of homosexuality is chargeable to the sinner himself - not his parents; and without conversion, and new life in Christ, there are no real barriers in place to keep our youth from such things. But having said this, I am convinced that the rising culture of homosexuality in our world is the unfortunate inheritance of generations of men and women who have been perfecting the practice of forsaking God’s calling for men and women. But this isn’t anything new either; the corruptions of unmanliness and feminism have been around ever since the fall of man, and the sins that have been spawned by these corruptions are multifaceted. In our culture today, there are many concepts of manliness that are quite askew: the man who drives a truck, watches football and can talk rough with the guys may think that he is manly - he may even believe that he is light years away from being effeminate, but how many such men in our world are abandoning their real calling as men, husbands, and fathers through their failure to stand for truth, lead their homes with the authority of God’s word, and nurture their children in the teaching and admonition of the Lord? I would submit to you that there are many “men” in our world who are quite unmanly. You see, cultural masculinity is quite different from biblical masculinity, and clearly, only the believing man will be the one to evidence the latter instead of the former. Thus, the principles of application should be quite clear for the children of God:

  • Fathers: As fathers, we must realize that our children watch our actions no less than they hear our words. How essential it is for a man to act like a man in the presence of his daughters and sons so that they may see the godliness and manliness of Christ being manifest in their home. Particularly for our sons - they must comprehend what leadership and servitude truly is, for in our culture, servitude is perceived as a weakness, and leadership in the home is often perceived as a harsh dictatorship. Our sons are watching us carefully - may they grow up to be godly men in their homes, patterned after the godly leadership of Christ Himself.
  • Mothers: A wife’s gentle spirit and submission to her husband is a beautiful imitation of the church which submitts to the leadership of Christ. Additionally, such loving submission is patterned Christ Himself who submitted Himself to the Father’s will with joy. Submission is not weakness - it is a great strength manifested in the form of servitude. The teachings of feminism have attacked such truths for many centuries.
  • Churches: The programs and ministries of the local church must labor in order to strengthen the biblical standards for men and women. Thus, the ministries of men and women in the church must be carefully considered in view of the important impact it has for the glory of God, to the training of children and concerning our witness to the lost. But when women are advanced to positions and ministries that are contrary to Scripture, then the local church’s testimony is supplanted. Children need the godly role models of their parents, and other godly parents, in order develop as godly young men and women. They need to see this, not only in the home, but in the local church as well.
  • Witnessing: When a Christian home manifests the godly leadership of the husband along with the tender submission of the wife, then you have an environment which offers the sweet fragrance of the Gospel itself - after all, the marriage union itself is a type of Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:22-33). When you have non-believers into your home and they ask you why you aren’t like the families on all the television shows, then that becomes a rich opportunity to explain to them why you are different. It is not by your own wisdom or strength that you are different, rather it is by God’s regenerative grace and wisdom that you are not like the world. I submit to you that a godly home is a witness for Christ who laid down His life for the church.

With all this in mind, I do believe that we must be careful as we look at these branches of sin - the effeminate and homosexuals. If anything, a man should take heed unto himself and consider if his life is being patterned after the godliness and manliness of Christ, or if it is being softened by the corruptions of this world.

Indeed, the people of this world watch us very carefully - may God grant us continued grace to demonstrate what the will of the Lord is; that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Signs & Wonders Part I: A Search for The Treasury of Christ’s Gifts - An Introduction

Some of the recent discussions concerning cessationism and continuationism have strengthened my determination to offer a contribution, because I believe that this is a very important subject. Seven years ago, out of a great need within my own pastoral ministry, I preached through a series dealing with this important subject. At the end of it all, I had enough material to warrant writing a small book on the subject. In fact, I intended to compile and publish this work, but in the Lord’s providence I was led to complete other works instead - the first of which was recently completed on the subject of Christ’s atoning work on the cross (a post on this will be forthcoming). So, in a sense, I am returning to something that I have left on the editorial back-burner for some time. Over the next several weeks and months, I will lay out (in summary form) the basic contents of this series, with the understanding that I may eventually formulate this into a small booklet. By posting it on The Armoury, I will be able to further the development of this series, rather than allowing it to collect more dust. This post is simply an introduction to what will follow in the series:

A Search for The Treasury of Christ’s Gifts

  • Is the Question of Cessationism/Continuationism Worth a Discussion?
  • The Absolute Sufficiency of God’s Word.
  • God’s Providence in History: A Punctuation of the Miraculous.
  • And He Gave Gifts: An Evaluation of Ephesians 4.
  • Understanding 1 Corinthians 12-14: The Fruit of the Spirit is Love.
  • Arguments of Omission and NT Revelation.
  • A Brief Comment About Church History.
  • Conclusion.

As the series progresses, I will decide how many posts will be necessary for each “chapter” in the series. To help you keep track of where we are each time, I will reproduce the above index with each post so that you can have a road map along the way...

And now for the rules - yes rules. After observing some of the internet debates that have been generated over this subject, I have concluded that I need to treat this material like a pulpit series; which means that I won’t be stopping mid-sermon in order to ask people what they think. I would encourage brethren to favor the idea of using e-mail if you have a comment or a genuine question about what I have posted, but beyond this, I intend to restrict the commentary on this series in order to encourage the readers to give the full presentation a careful hearing (James 1:19).

If I appear to be a bit of a dictator by this standard, just remember this: at least I am a benevolent dictator here at The Armoury.

What I don’t want to foster here is a kind of knee-jerk reaction to a series that has not yet been fully developed. Besides, if there is one thing that I don’t like about the weblog forum, it is that it fosters an environment of reactionism rather than contemplation. It certainly doesn’t have to be that way, but I am sometimes amazed by the tendency that some folks have to speak their minds long before they have come to understand the construct of an argument (of course, we all have that tendency). I would encourage that the brethren who read this series carefully consider its contents, with much prayer and enthusiastic examination of the Scriptures. The development of this series will principally be a ministry to our flock and I will fit it in as time allows, but I cannot guarantee the time in which this series will be completed. As a pastor, I have a great need to measure the time that I will give to this - much of it will be from material already completed several years ago - other portions will be brand new.

Finally, in keeping with Ephesians 4:7-13, I have decided to call the series, “Signs & Wonders: A Search for the Treasury of Christ’s Gifts.” This text and title will serve as an anchor for our thinking throughout this discussion, because when we follow the trail of God’s signs and wonders in the Bible, we are led to the authoritative message of Scripture, and ultimately to the gift Giver Himself - the Lord Jesus Christ. If we miss the centrality of the Savior in this discussion, then we miss everything.

Soli Deo Gloria

Monday, January 23, 2006

Post 1920: On Being Conformed to Christ’s Death

~Gleaning Light from the Luminaries of the Past~

Proverbs 19:20: Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future (ESV).

“Lord! Open the king of England’s eyes.”

William Tyndale, A.D. 1536

This prayer of William Tyndale’s may not seem terribly unusual, especially in light of the fact that all Christians are called to pray for their leaders - that is, for kings and those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-6). However, I can assure you that the above petition is one that is profound, for it reflects the great glory of the Savior in many ways; especially the glory of His suffering and death. As well, it calls to mind that crucial statement given to us by the Apostle Paul when he wrote to the church at Philippi about his own suffering for the sake of the Gospel - consider the following parallel between Paul and Tyndale:

When Paul wrote his epistle to the Philippians, he sought to encourage them, while he himself was imprisoned for preaching the Gospel. Rather than writing to the brethren at Philippi in order to complain about the bad food, the poor living conditions, or even the horrors of being bound in chains, the Apostle instead rejoiced greatly in the Lord’s providential advancement of the Gospel message in Rome - especially as it had advanced to Caesar’s own household (Phil 4:22). We certainly admire Paul’s godliness greatly because he imitated the Savior intensely. You see, Paul wanted to be like Christ not only in his life, but also in his suffering and death. Thus, Paul desired to know Christ in every possible way:

Philippians 3:10 that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;

His statements here are wonderfully deep and profound. Paul desired to know Christ intimately, which included what it means to bear the cross of Christ in this wretched world. By this we clearly see that Paul comprehended that being a disciple of Christ means facing persecution in a world that is hostile to God’s Word:

2 Timothy 3:12 And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

What the Apostle expressed in 2 Timothy 3:12 was not some theoretical concept. Paul had tasted the hostility of men many times over in the face of proclaiming the Gospel; but what he desired amidst such persecution was to be found as one who reflected the godliness of the Savior in His suffering and death: Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing

1 Peter 2:21-24: 21 ...Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness...

Peter’s call to imitate Christ reflects much of what Paul desired. Paul wanted to know the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings; even being conformed to His death. Much of this would include his dying with the dignity that was Christ’s when He gave up His own life on the cross. Christ did not revile those who reviled Him; He uttered no threats, nor was there any deceit found in His mouth. Indeed, Christ went to the cross with a holy disdain for sin, but also with a petition of mercy for sinners:

Luke 23:34 But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

Comparatively, Stephen came to know the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, and was himself conformed to the likeness of the Savior’s death:

Acts 7:60 And falling on his knees, he [Stephen] cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” And having said this, he fell asleep.

My mention of Stephen here is somewhat ironic, since Paul (who was known as Saul then, before his conversion) was standing there in hearty agreement over his murder when that martyr uttered those precious words of mercy and compassion. I believe that this was, in large part, what Paul had in mind when he expressed his desire to know the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, being conformed to His death. Paul, who once persecuted the church, had been transformed by God’s grace such that he desired to live, and die, after the pattern of men like Stephen, and ultimately Christ Himself. Thus, Paul wanted to endure to the end with a holy hatred of sin, but with a heart of compassion and mercy for the lost - just as Christ did (Luke 23:39-43).

It was this same godly desire of the Apostle’s that was found in the bosom of William Tyndale, whose sound teaching and faithful translation work afforded him nothing but years of affliction and persecution, the culmination of which was his execution based upon the trumped up charge of “heresy.” We read of his execution in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs:

“At last, after much reasoning, when no reason would serve, although he deserved no death, he was condemned by virtue of the emperor’s decree, made in the assembly at Augsburg. Brought fourth to the place of execution, he was tied to the stake, strangled by the hangman, and afterwards consumed with fire, at the town of Vilvorde, A.D. 1536; crying at the stake with a fervent zeal, and a loud voice, ’Lord! open the king of England’s eyes.’

Here is a precious and faithful imitation of Christ Himself by our beloved brother William Tyndale. In his final moments, he remained true to God’s Word; disdaining heresy, but praying a prayer of mercy and compassion at the same time. Here in America, these stories seem all to distant and removed, for what we might be willing to call “suffering for the cause of Christ” is a faint flicker in the face of the fierce flames of persecution endured by many other saints around the world and throughout history. But our hearts ought not to be indifferent to such things - the Lord may call us to endure trials of the same nature within our own lifetime. We cannot know for certain what the Lord may bring our way, but this much we must understand, that if we are in Christ, then we too must seek to know Christ, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, so that through our lives and even through our own death, Jesus Christ may be praised.

O for grace to trust Him more!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The News Lineup @ The Armoury

  • It never ceases to amaze me how the world values that which is valueless: For sale: William Shatner’s kidney stone.
  • With all that goes on in the world, only CNN could herald the death of a mere animal above real news. The check marks denote significant news items in contrast to their “NEWS ALERT” in the red banner on top. As the Lord said to Peter: “kill and eat!” Acts 10:9-13.
  • We lived in Minnesota for nearly 6 years and witnessed the phenomenal election of governor Jesse Ventura. Take it from me, in that state, anything can happen: will the next Minnesota Governor be a “vampire.
  • Just what planet earth needs: green glow in the dark pigs. - yes, you read that correctly.
  • Gathering ideas about church buildings - from Vader’s grotesque at the Washington National Cathedral - in a word: grotesque.
  • Gathering more ideas about church buildings:

Welcome to the Lego-church...

There they are - the Lego-ites; not a very popular movement in America. I may have preached at this place before...

Comes complete with a Lego pulpit and Lego-ite preacher...

  • A politically partisan joke (not exactly news, but it is funny - thanks Ronna):

A woman in a hot air balloon realized she was lost. She lowered altitude and spotted a man in a boat below. She shouted to him, "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don't know where I am!" The man consulted his portable GPS and replied, "You're in a hot air balloon approximately 30 feet above sea level. You are 31 degrees, 14.97 minutes north latitude and 100 degrees, 49.09 minutes west longitude."

She rolled her eyes and said, "You must be a Republican.""I am," replied the man. "How did you guess?" "Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and I'm still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help to me."

The man smiled and responded, "You must be a Democrat." "I am," replied the balloonist. "How did you know?" "Well" said the man, "You don't know where you are or where you're going. You've risen to where you are, due to a large quantity of hot air. You've made a promise that you have no idea how to keep, and you expect ME to solve your problem. You're in EXACTLY the same position you were in before we met, but somehow, now it's MY fault."

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Interpreting the Message of Homosexuality, Part II - Our View of Sin

In the last post I mentioned that two more articles would follow concerning our view of sin and our privilege of evangelism because it is one thing to point out the sin of homosexuality - it is quite another to resolve how we should respond to it. Here, we will evaluate what our view of this sin should be. To some extent we did this in the last post. There we saw that homosexuality was a sign of extensive corruption in a society. Particularly in Romans chapter 1 we found that homosexuality is one of several sins listed which indicate that a society is being utterly abandoned by God (Jason Robertson at FideO has an excellent post dealing with the homosexual agenda in this world.). Thus, God gives sinful and rebellious men (Romans 1:18-22) over to further forms of corruption and depravity as an act of judgment (Romans 1:24-31). In that post I mentioned that such an observation should not be taken too far, particularly in the matter of identifying particular sins. Ultimately, all men are corrupt and sinful, no matter what their particular sins are (Romans 3:23) and the wages of man’s sin yield one simple return: death (Romans 6:23). This qualification is important because the dangers of overemphasizing particular sins have produced a number of aberations, not the least of which is that deplorable group at Westboro Baptist Church [www.godhatesfags.com] who publicly mock and berate homosexuals - yes, even attending the funerals of deceased homosexuals to do so (When discovering this I had to resist the temptation of purchasing the domain name www.youblindguides.com and setting up a website that rubuked their endeavors. Of course, the domain name is still available). Ultimately, the act of identifying the rise of homosexuality helps us to understand the extent of corruption in our society. What this observation does not do is:

  • Change our message to this lost world: Our message is Christ and Him crucified (this will never change, no matter what happens in our culture) Ephesians 6:19b.
  • Modify the sufficiency of our armour for the war that we are in, Ephesians 6:11.
  • Alter our battle tactics of ministry - in any way, Ephesians 6:12.

Unlike the amoebic tendencies of the Emergent Church movement (let me claim an invention here: the Amoebic Church), the Scriptures call us to continue in the same ancient battle, using the same ancient message, adorned with the same ancient armour, while employing the same ancient battle tactics of prayer and proclamation (Ephesians 6:19). In other words, the dynamism of worldliness does nothing to change our immoveable calling to be Christ’s messengers in this world (John 13:20); and with this, we must remember that homosexual people need Christ just like unsaved religious people.

So why bother to identify the particular sins of homosexuality and sexual perversion? The answer is (at least twofold): 1. Because the word of God does so (Romans 1:18-31, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 1 Timothy 1:8-11); and 2. Because it should strengthen our resolve to be more vigilant as the the soldiers of Christ:

Ephesians 5:15-16: 15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil.

Paul’s instructions here offer a stern warning, and in the overall context of Ephesians 5, they give us the reminder that we have a great need to walk as children of light, rather than carousing about in the darkness of worldliness. What the Apostle emphasizes for us in this text is a reminder that we all need to walk carefully - using God’s wisdom to see where our every step lands. It would be as if someone were to say: “you are entering into a mine-field - measure your every step as you go!” His emphasis on our need for intense spiritual insight and discernment must not be missed:


The primary verb is nearly lost in most translations: “...be careful how you walk...” While this translation isn’t bad, per se, it fails to magnify the governing verb in the clause. Paul commands us to look(!) where it is that we walk, emphasizing the truth that as the children of light (Ephesians 5:8) we have no reason to be deceived by darkness (Ephesians 5:6-7). Contextually, Paul’s command is one which calls us to look with biblical vision as we carefully place each step forward in this dark and dismall world. And why must we do this? Because the days are evil.

We were once darkness (Ephesians 5:8a), but now we are the children of light (Ephesians 5:8b). We have nothing to boast in this, save our boasting in the Lord alone. Our view of particular sins is calibrated by these truths in many ways. 1. We recognize that the world’s darkness ought to strengthen our resolve to be more vigilent; 2. We remember that we too were darkness, and therefore we magnify Christ and His grace, having no reason to be prideful - because all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory; 3. We should be reminded that our battle armour and strategy has not changed and thus we must press on with the boldness of the Spirit rather than shrinking back in disgust or timidity (2 Timothy 1:7). My last post on this subject will focus on evangelism and homosexuality.

Ephesians 5:15-16 often makes me think of Christian’s journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death (in Pilgrim’s Progress). There he was engulfed in darkness, being surrounded by a quagmire on one side and a deep ditch on the other. This overwhelming environment of treachery caused him to be far more careful in his walk along the narrow way towards the Celestial City. But in addition to this, Christian found himself nearly falling into the ditch in his attempt to avoid the quagmire; as well, he nearly fell into the quagmire when trying to avoid the ditch. In other words, he had to avoid extremes in his attempt to avoid worldly treachery. In many ways, we are like Christian in his journey. We have a great need to recognize the darkness of the world around us so that we might take greater care concerning our walk in life. As well, we need to avoid extremes when avoiding the wickedness in this world - we don’t want to shrink back from proclaiming God’s truth, but as we do proclaim His Word, we must do so with humility and with the centrality of the Gospel rather than the peculiar message of “godhatesfags.com.” Overall, we need to apply the mandates of Ephesians 5:15-16 in order to walk along the King’s highway - rather than retreating; falling to the left or to the right, or stepping into the wickedness that is so pervasive in this world. Thanks be to God for His truth and His grace, without which, we would be lost in the dark valley of this life. (I have decided to have two final posts in this series - Part III will deal with the subject of “effeminate” men as it relates to the subject of homosexuality and then Part IV will address the matter of evangelism).

(1) The Greek word pos is an adverbial modifier which connects (subordinately) the concept of walking to that of seeing. In other words, we must first look carefully before we can walk successfully. I am sure that we all have an experimental understanding of that truth!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Interpreting the Message of Homosexuality, Part I

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men...American culture has been undergoing a spiritual and moral downgrade over the last 35 years that has been nothing less than a dramatic free-fall into the pit. The rapidity of this downgrade has been shocking, and the fruit that it has yielded is of such a rotten nature that it all eerily resembles those ancient “civilizations” like Sodom and Gomorrah. Contrary to the ideals of some of our better American forefathers, the new deity in our land is not the God of Holy Writ, but it is our freedom to do whatever makes us happy. It is this diety of human freedom that many Americans serve and adore today. Sadly, the illustrations of this truth are too numerous to count. We could certainly make the attempt of going through a specific list of America’s symptomatic problems, but I believe that we only need to look at a few plain indicators of societal corruption; but first, we’ll look at God’s Word in order to calibrate our thinking about our culture:

2 Timothy 3:1-4: 1 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God...

Romans 1:24-27: 24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

Both of these passages are significant because they tell us what depraved and abandoned societies look like. In many respects, the specific manifestations of human depravity are like road signs which tell us a great deal about the spiritual reality behind it all. Like a thermometer on a wall, if you want to know the temperature of the room that you are in, just read the thermometer. Sin in the culture is like that thermometer - if you want to know the spiritual temperature of your world, then just take a gander at what is going on in the culture around you.

On this note, we observe that Hollywood continues to be one of the leaders in the parade of self love and self exaltation. Just yesterday, the Golden Globe Awards led that parade by championing a series of recent movies which glorify homosexuality and vilify heterosexuality. Just a cursory examination of the top winners for the night reminds us all that the powerful leaders in Hollywood have an agenda, and it is of the spirit which is anti-Christ:

It was a triumphant night for films dealing with homosexuality and transsexuality. Along with the victories for "Brokeback Mountain," acting honors went to Felicity Huffman in a gender-bending role as a man preparing for sex-change surgery in "Transamerica" and Philip Seymour Hoffman as gay author Truman Capote in "Capote." [By Todd Leopold CNN Tuesday, January 17, 2006; Posted: 12:33 p.m]

The awards ceremony itself bore a stark resemblance to the gay pride parades that we often hear about (whether we want to or not) where some of the most extreme forms of sexual perversion are paraded about as if they were something to celebrate (Isaiah 5:18-20). But of course, all this is in keeping with the principle of self love, self worship and self exaltation. Hollywood’s praise of sexual perversion is a plain indication that its leaders delight in heralding some of the most debauched manifestations of sin possible.

Having said this, we must all remember that all men have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) - and that any standard that is against the truth of God is worthy of eternal judgment. Failure to recognize this is dangerous and could lead to too great a focus on particular sins rather than mankind’s natural condition of sin. This said, it is still significant to understand that the sin of homosexuality is presented in Scripture as being one of the plainest indicators of a society that has been given over to extreme corruption and abandonment [Romans 1]. Yes, all sin is sinful, and worthy of condemnation, however when a society becomes dominated by effeminate men and homosexuals; or when sexual perversion and self love is exalted as being some of the highest forms of human virtues, then you know that God is giving them over to their own selfishness and self-exaltation. Thus, cultures that are effeminate and perverse in this manner are those that are heavily populated with men who have abandoned their role as leader and protector of the family; it is also a place where women have resisted their role as a helper and worker in the home by means of nurturing a family for the glory of God. It is in this sense that America has been made pink with effeminate and perverse men who have forsaken their calling before Almighty God, and this sensitive issue will only continue to become more controversial in American culture, especially if the “hate crimes” definitions continue to be advanced after the pattern of recent history.

Men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another...These issues are important for many reasons, to include our view of sin and our privilege of evangelism. I will cover these important matters in a few posts to be submitted in the future; but for now, this moment in history is worth looking at in order to identify it for what it is: it is yet another plain indication of our nation’s spiritual and moral downgrade. It is a reminder to us all that while many people may never claim to be religious, a good deal of them do worship the “god” of personal liberty, selfishness and self exaltation. The credo of this religion is well rehearsed in our society: “...we must all endeavor be true to ourselves.” In other words, whatever we want, desire or fantasize over must be our pursuit in life, lest we be guilty of hypocrisy. It was this same credo that was advanced last night by Felicity Huffman who won the best drama actress award for “Transamerica”:

"I know as actors our job is usually to shed our skins, but I think as people our job is to become who we really are and so I would like to salute the men and women who brave ostracism, alienation and a life lived on the margins to become who they really are."

Here is the modern mantra of our world: to become more of what we really are. The problem is that what we really are is detestable in the sight of God. Mankind is not called to become more of what he already is, but to be transformed through a new life that is only found in the Lord Jesus Christ; that we may be covered in His righteousness through faith in Him; and that we may be conformed to His image through His sovereign and sufficient grace working in our lives. By this work of His, we will become less of what we are and become more like Him. This is our message to the world, even though the world parades its wickedness in a proud display of defiance against the very God who mercifully preserves their lives on a day to day basis. But we must see the parade for what it is and respond with the powerful message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, all the while being careful concerning our own walk in this fallen world:

Ephesians 5:15-16: 15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise,16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil.

In the posts that will follow this one, I will discuss (as already mentioned) the way in which this discussion relates to our view of sin and our privilege of evangelism. This is crucial, I believe, especially since a degrading culture can affect and influence our view of sin, and even our evangelism with others, to a detriment. We therefore have a great need to be vigilant and ready to do the Lord’s bidding and not our own. May God grant us the grace to do so, and may He be at work in the hearts of men and women such that they may be drawn to the Savior for His glory.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Post 1920: The Value of Christ and His Kingdom

~Gleaning Light from the Luminaries of the Past~

Proverbs 19:20: Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future (ESV).

In our last Post 1920 article, we reviewed that moment in The Pilgrim’s Progress where Christian encountered the two men who sought to defect from the King’s highway, that they might return to the City of Destruction. It was from here that Christian, with his sword drawn, proceeded into the darkness before him - the very darkness which led to the flight of those two false witnesses. In that post we examined the following purposes for trials: 1. To strengthen and purify the children of God by them, and 2. To separate out the chaff of worldly men from the true wheat of Christ’s church. Of course there are other great purposes that God has in sending His children through the difficult valleys of life. One very important reason is so that we would better comprehend God’s goodness as well as surpassing glory of His kingdom. This is yet another important lesson that was set before Christian, when he approached the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Overall, the Valley of the Shadow of Death represents all forms of trials, tribulations and stumbling blocks present in this world, and when Christian came to this dark valley, he made this very simple but important confession: “...this is my way to the desired haven.”

Chr. But what have you seen? said Christian.

Men. Seen! why the valley itself, which is as dark as pitch: we also saw there the hobgoblins, satyrs, and dragons of the pit: we heard also in that valley a continual howling and yelling, as of a people under unutterable misery, who there sat bound in affliction and irons: and over that valley hang the discouraging clouds of confusion: Death also doth always spread his wings over it. In a word, it is every whit dreadful, being utterly without order. Job 3:5; 10:22.

Chr. Then, said Christian, I perceive not yet, by what you have said, but that this is my way to the desired haven. Psalm 44:18,19; Jer. 2:6.

Men. Be it thy way; we will not choose it for ours.

Bunyan, who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress from the Bedford county jail, was no stranger to the truth that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). He wholly embraced the truth that all of the children of God must hold dear: that Christ and His kingdom are of far greater worth than any trials that we might face in this life.

It is very much a part of our natural weakness to focus on difficulties and trials when they come, rather than considering the the loving purposes of God in it all (Hebrews 12) or even the riches of Christ that await us in future glory. Yes, this is our tendency, however the antidote is to be so convinced of the goodness of what awaits us in future glory, that we are convinced that earthly trials cannot even compare:

Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Every time that I read this verse, I must confess that the saying of such words is much easier than their application. The Apostle’s language is quite profound. He said that he did consider [logizomai - to think carefully or reason] that future glory was so wonderful, so glorious and so incalculable that the act of comparing it to present sufferings is - simply not worth it. It is as if Paul had said (paraphrastically): “I won’t even waste my time trying to compare the two.” His emphatic negation of the value of present suffering is made clear when he says ouk axia [without value]. The primitive concept of the word axios is that of weighing something so as to determine its value. In a sense, Paul tells us this: “don’t bother getting out the scales.” Obviously his point is not that we should forsake our contemplation of the precious value of Christ and His kingdom (may it never be), but what he is saying is that our present suffering in this world is so relatively small that it would be like placing a feather on one end of the scale in opposition to an M1 tank on the other.

In other words, don’t bother.

His statement wonderfully illustrates for us the truth that our precious Savior; His eternal love; His riches; His redemption and His eternal kingdom are of such surpassing value that nothing that this world can throw at us is even worthy to be compared to our Lord and His kingdom. We cannot know what trials await us as the disciples of Jesus Christ. We will all face the Valley of the Shadow of Death to varying degrees in life because “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” But in it all, let this be our clear resolve through it all: this is our way to the desired haven.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The News Lineup @ The Armoury

Odd, strange and disturbing news is everywhere. As the weeks go by, I find myself collecting a series of news items and internet tidbits that are odd, strange or simply out of line. Hence, I will periodically offer them up in posts called “The News Lineup @ The Armoury.” By the way, in the picture above, the soldier has passed out as a result of being in formation for some time. If his condition were actually serious, I wouldn’t have used the picture - it’s a good thing that they wear those heavy duty, fury helmets!

  • Something like this could only happen in a litigation crazed society: Did Jesus Exist?

  • As always, men continue to invent something that is “novel” and “new” - but it’s the same old thing: the Devil’s in the denim?

  • This is a Picture from a 1954 Popular Mechanics Magazine which forcasted what a home computer would look like in the year 2004. Be sure to read the text below the picture (complete with a steering wheel). Finally, a computer that is inferior to the iMac ;-). (If you are a Mac owner - please be sure to note the smiley face...I don't like doing smiley faces, but for you I made one!).

  • This is a good link to consult whenever you receive an e-mail or read news that may seem to be out of line:www.truthorfiction.com.

  • Yet another contest over intelligent design, now this one is in California.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Post 1920: The Dangers of Hidden Apostasy

~Gleaning Light from the Luminaries of the Past~

Proverbs 19:20: Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future (ESV).

John Bunyan faced a great deal of opposition as a non-conformist preacher in 17th century England. His forthright opposition to the dead, organized church of his day afforded him no favor with the church of England; and his refusal to cease from preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ earned him 12 years of imprisonment in the Bedford County jail. It was during his imprisonment that he wrote the Pilgrim’s Progress (Complete Title: The Pilgrim’s Progress - From This World to That Which is to Come; Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream). Bunyan clearly understood the religious snares of the world, as he himself had suffered greatly under the hands of men who feigned servitude to Christ. For Bunyan, this was one of the greatest dangers that existed for the true church in his day: the unbelieving tares that were planted by the enemy in the Master’s own fields of wheat. In many ways, Bunyan’s world was much like our own - it was essentially a post-Christian culture that was buried in man-centered religion, offering very little light from God’s Word. Bunyan frequently addressed such problems in his works, and this is especially evident in Pilgrim’s Progress. Throughout this rich allegory, Bunyan unveiled the dangers of hidden apostasy. In fact, it is the main character in the story (Christian) who continually meets men who appear to be committed to the narrow way, but eventually drift away through their own lusts and lack of love for the Lord Himself. Every such encounter of Christian’s is a profitable learning experience and reminder to us all: we all will meet many people who claim to be followers of the Good Shepherd, but who refuse to heed His gracious call. In one such case, Pilgrim was approaching the Valley of the Shadow of Death when he met two men along the pathway:

I saw then in my dream, that when Christian was approaching the borders of the Shadow of Death, there he met two men who were the children of those who brought up an evil report of the good land Num.13:32 - these men beckoned Christian to go back...

Chr. Where are you going?

Men. They said, Back, back; and we would have you do so too, if either life or peace is prized by you.

Chr. Why, what’s the matter? said Christian.

Men. Matter! said they; we were going that way as you are going, and went as far as we dared: and indeed we were almost past coming back; for had we gone a little further, we would not have been here to bring the news to thee.

Chr. But what have you met with? said Christian.

Men. Why, we were almost in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but by good fortune we happened to look before us, and saw the danger before we came to it.

These men “beckoned Christian to go back” - back to where? All that was behind them was the City of Destruction, from which they all came. Bunyan described these two defectors of the Way as being the children of those who brought up an evil report of the good land. By this reference, we are instantly immersed into that dark picture of those corrupt witnesses who lied to the people about the inhabitants of Canaan in order to instill fear in them and thus encourage a retreat. Those men received their just due (Numbers 14:36-38), as did all of the people who grumbled against the Lord that day:

Numbers 14:1-4: That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. 2 All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, "If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! 3 Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn't it be better for us to go back to Egypt?" 4 And they said to each other, "We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt."

God’s judgment against that generation became an example and a warning for anyone who would ever lay claim to being a disciple and follower of the Lord (Hebrews 3:12-4:3a, 1 Corinthians 10:1-14). What was most grievous about the defection of these complainers in Numbers 14 is that they had forsaken the clear promise of God, which was the sure anchor for their souls (Hebrews 6:13-19):

Numbers 13:2: “Send out for yourself men so that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I am going to give to the sons of Israel.

Instead of trusting the Lord and His promises, many of the nation of Israel complained and were judged; and like the these faithless Jews who were planted alongside the pure wheat of God’s remnant, the two defectors in the Pilgrim’s highway had only the appearance of being in the narrow way; however, their fear of affliction, and love for their former habitation, outweighed any desire for the Precious Cornerstone who was to be found in the Celestial City. It is no wonder that Bunyan arranges his story so that the path to the Celestial City went directly through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, for this is the manner in which God purifies His church and strengthens His people:

Acts 14:22 "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God."

1 John 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us.

Bunyan’s warning about the reality of hidden apostasy is the same warning given to us by the Apostle John. As well, it also echoes the truth of Acts 14:22, that the children of God must go through; not around, but through many tribulations to the kingdom of God. This is the Lord’s loving pedagogy that He supplies for His children, for He disciplines us for our good (Hebrews 12:4-6). This is also the way in which the Lord makes evident those who are His versus those who only appear to be in the Pilgrim’s highway. By these truths, we are reminded that the trials of life serve the precious and loving purposes of our sovereign Lord. Like Christian, we must have our sword drawn at all times, being armed with His wisdom, and ready in the strength of His might, for whatever lies ahead. This we must do as we trust His promise, that by His sovereign grace alone He will bring His Pilgrims home.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Quest for Biblical Blogging, Part III - Humor, Sarcasm & Strong Language

In this last post for The Quest for Biblical Blogging I wish to address the very touchy subjects of humor, sarcasm and strong language; at least to the extent that I might be able to in a short weblog post! Let me say that with every post on The Armoury I continue to think about how deep these biblical subjects are and how they could all warrant a complete book, rather than a short post; thus, I fear that I will only graze the surface of what is a very deep subject, but something is better than nothing. I do think that this is another important spoke in the wheel of biblical communication, and it is especially needful in a culture that nearly worships comedy and entertainment. To get to this subject, I believe that I need to say a few preliminary things:

  • Prelim #1 - This is a Very Touchy Subject: For myself, I love a good laugh and can say that throughout my youth I have struggled greatly in the area of coarse jesting; and while the Lord has brought about much change in my life (in this area), I still must recognize and confess that this is a natural weakness of mine that must be guarded carefully. Ultimately, the counsel that I offer here is that which I myself continue to meditate on, and seek to glean for myself.
  • Prelim #2 - No Rules, Just a Few Principles: Whenever I find myself dealing with a subject matter that might be especially sensitive, I find it all the more necessary to emphasize principles rather than doling out what might be perceived as a set of arbitrary rules. I often think of the 39 Pharisaical rules that were enforced on the Sabbath day in the first century A.D. - I don’t want to be the one who creates the 40th rule. Besides, when it comes to the subject of humor it would seem that not everyone will agree entirely over what is legitimate and acceptable humor, therefore a good deal of charity is needful in a discussion like this. Having said this, let me address the subjects of humor, sarcasm and strong language with a very broad approach, focusing on our need for self control in view of the numerous texts which urge us to do so; after all, for every biblical justification that can be found for jesting and laughter, there are scores of other passages which warn us about the fleshly dangers that these activities can bring.

I believe that what is central to this discussion is the question regarding the source of our joy and laughter; that is to say, what is it that makes you laugh? Clearly, our joy and laughter can potentially be righteous, or unrighteous, depending on what it is that we are rejoicing in (1 Corinthians 13:6). It can be the result of that which bewilders us, or is perceptibly contradictory (Genesis 17:17, 18:12); or it can even be the corrupt product of a deceiver (Luke 6:25). Because of these realities, we must always measure our laughter objectively and subjectively. Objectively, we must consider what it is that we are laughing at, and subjectively, we must consider the intentions of our own heart whenever we find ourselves rejoicing or enjoying a chuckle. If we confess the truth of soli Deo gloria, then we should recognize that even our laughter ought to be something that glorifies God rather than that which satisfies our flesh. Laughter, as an ordained part of our lives (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4), must be considered with great care, for it can become an occasion for sinful hypocrisy with very little effort:

  • It might feed sinful appetites: Ephesians 5:3-4: 3 But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; 4 and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.
  • It can be the product of a casual attitude towards sin: Proverbs 14:9: 9 Fools mock at sin, But among the upright there is good will.
  • It can become a mask which hides our pain: Proverbs 14:13 Even in laughter the heart may be in pain, And the end of joy may be grief (for the full context of this verse, read Proverbs 14).
  • It can be a way of avoiding a serious discussion: Proverbs 29:9 When a wise man has a controversy with a foolish man, The foolish man either rages or laughs, and there is no rest.
  • It can be a covering for a double minded man: Proverbs 26:18-19: 18 Like a madman who throws Firebrands, arrows and death, 19 So is the man who deceives his neighbor, And says, “Was I not joking?”

By these verses we are reminded of the great need that we have to continually review the subjective and objective content of our humor. What we deem as humorous and what brings us joy are crucial considerations which deserve our constant attention. As already affirmed, our laughter can serve the purposes of God, or our flesh, depending on the circumstances -

Where we often go astray is in the areas of pointless sarcasm, coarse jesting and critical humor.

Thus, this observation then begs the question, “what exactly is appropriate?” To explore this question, let’s first look at the example of Elijah when he faced down the prophets of Baal on mount Carmel:

1 Kings 18:27 At noon Elijah began to make fun of them. “Pray louder!” he said. “If Baal really is a god, maybe he is thinking, or busy, or traveling! Maybe he is sleeping so you will have to wake him!” [NCV]

I enjoy a good belly laugh whenever I read this. Not only that, I rejoice in my heart that the Lord God in no way compares to the idols that Elijah mocks. Much more could be said about this verse, but it is sufficient to point out here that this is a rather pronounced moment of prophetic irony. Elijah taunted those godless prophets through ironic language, but for a very important purpose: he was making the clear point that their “god” was clearly no god at all. We see a similar form of this sardonic irony when Christ exposed the hypocrisy of the Pharisees:

Matthew 23:23-24: 23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. 24 “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” [NASB, bold mine].

The Lord’s sardonic statement at the end (strain out a gant and swallow a camel) is yet another example of ironic speech that is used in order to point out a contradiction - the extreme contradiction of the Pharisees. Even Paul lauded the Corinthians as if they were “distinguished,” whereas he and his co-laborers were “without honor”; and with the Galatians (as we mentioned in the last post), Paul employed the strong and ironic language suggesting that the Judaizers in their midst should “go the whole way and emasculate themselves.” These examples of strong and ironic speech are very important anchors for our thinking, for in a culture which exalts humor and knows very little of serious mindedness, these texts help us to moderate our thinking. Therefore, a few observations are in order here:

  • Their Purpose: In the above cases, the ironic language that was used was not an end in and of itself, but served a pedagogical purpose in every case. By their irony, Christ, Elijah, and Paul sought to teach their audiences an important lesson. If we miss the pedagogical purposes in their irony, then have we missed everything.
  • Their Godliness: By the life examples of Elijah, Paul and above all Christ, let no one say that these humble servants were professional court jesters. In an age which exalts entertainment and humor, their examples are sometimes used by some in order to justify a boundless degree of laughter and joking; but Christ spoke “as one having authority” (Matthew 7:29) - not as a standup comedian; and to the extent that Elijah and Paul reflected the godliness of Christ, they did so as the sober servants of God, whose moments of sardonic irony did not dismantle the seriousness of their overall ministry to others.
  • Their Object of Irony: Those who were chastened by these statements were remarkably worthy of the rebuke that they received. As a principle, we can see that these godly examples before us demonstrate that such rebukes were selectively used in the most needy moments; they had a clear pedagogical purpose, and they were presented in the context of a ministry of the Word that was of a serious mind. On the other hand, a person who continually dables in humor and irony will make it difficult for others to know if or when he is being serious: If people can no longer determine if you are being serious or not, then you ought to consider making some changes!

Elijah’s, Paul’s and especially Christ’s legacy of communication is not that of a standup comedian, but of great sobriety and serious mindedness. The reality of such godliness is reflected in that scene given to us by John Bunyan, in Pilgrim’s Progress, when Christian saw in Interpreter’s house the portrait of a godly pastor - seven key descriptions are supplied:

“Christian saw the picture a very grave person hang up against the wall; and this was the fashion of it: he had eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, the law of truth was written upon his lips, the world was behind his back; he stood as if he pleaded with men, and a crown of gold did hang over its head.” [John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress, bold formatting mine].

Let’s just hope that no modern translations of Pilgrim’s Progress will ever include the words: “...and he was a great stand-up comic.” Bunyan’s description of God’s messenger is very clear, the first description of which is most telling: this person was a very grave person. A person such as this would be one who speaks with great authority - like Christ Himself. Whatever we might want to remember about the most godly servants of the past, their seriousness and sobriety for God and His Word should be recognized as the most dominant feature of their Christ-like lives.

By pointing out these things, I have absolutely no intention of suggesting here that we ought to hang up our sense of humor in the closet - not at all. As already stated, laughter is very much a part of our lives - we’d be fools to deny it. But what I am doing here is advancing what I believe is a very clear truth: we need to measure our our laughter to the standards of Christ above all.

As I said earlier - no rules here, and no 40th rule to add to the Mishnah.

Finally, when I first posted “The Quest for Biblical Blogging” a number of other blogs linked to my article. In some cases, my article has been used to advance arguments that are not the focus of what I have written. In one case, my article was embeded in an article that is in the center of a discussion concerning cessationism at Pyromaniac. I sought to distance myself from some of these things by mentioning the following in the previous post - it is worth repeating:

On the subject of spiritual gifts, let me mention that Phil Johnson and Jonathan Moorehead will be submitting posts on the subject of cessationism & continuationism. Let me kindly say that these are important discussions, as noted by Paul’s example above. I can’t vouch for all the details of their views at this point, but I believe that the subject matter is a worthy one. Both series should be helpful, and it will be important for all contributors to make it a good, grace-filled, and Christ honoring discussion - rather than turning it into a war.

I only mentioned these discussions, because others were drawing my own posts into the debate. I’m not debating anyone here - I can assure you of that. In writing this series, it is crucial that people understand that I am addressing a very general discussion for the sake of a very broad audience of Christian internet users - even in their use of e-mail. Thus, let no one think that I am targeting a particular blog, because I am not. Ultimately, as a result of writing these posts, I feel that I have had the greatest profit of anyone. It has increased my own sense of caution concerning what I type and how I might write a critique of another man’s theology.

Finally, tiffany had asked this question: “In the case of reading a blog which professes the name of Christ but whose words aren't matching that profession, what is our responsibility?” Based upon Matthew 18, I would recommend that you write the person who is erring. If the response is not satisfactory, then you may want to move along or continue to pursue it further, depending on the gravity of the problem. The problem with the internet is that it is swelling with autonomy and it is therefore very difficult to foster the kind of accountability relationships that are needed among brethren - in other words, the internet isn’t the church. In the very worst of all cases, where there is a very clear offense, then you may want to contact the leadership of the church that this person attends - however, I would urge caution concerning this. All such decisions must be bathed in prayer and pursued with caution.

Soli Deo Gloria - in everything...