Thursday, March 30, 2006

An Ecumenical Nightmare

Several years ago I remember being alerted about a book that was written by a Catholic apologist, Peter Kreeft. The book was entitled: Ecumenical Jihad, Ecumenism and the Culture War (Ignatius Press, San Francisco 1996). In this book, Kreeft calls for a very broad form of ecumenism - that is, moralistic ecumenism. After advocating Christian and Jewish-Christian ecumenism, Kreeft says:

"...even here, an 'ecumenical jihad' is possible and is called for, for the simple and strong reason that Muslims and Christians preach and practice the same First Commandment: islam, total surrender, submission of the human will to the divine will. We fight side by side not only because we face a common enemy but above all because we serve and worship the same divine Commander...even atheists and agnostics, if they are of good will and intellectual honesty and still believe in objective truth and objective morality, are on our side in the war against the powers of darkness. Perhaps they can be called 'anonymous Christians.'"

Writings such as these remind us that the seeds of corruption found in Genesis 11 are here with us today. I was reminded of Kreeft’s work when I saw that Ingrid Schlueter, from Slice of Laodicea, had posted an article which exposes yet another modern prophet of universal ecumenism. Below is an excerpt from the CT article “A Wind that Swirls Everywhere” regarding Dr. Yong’s background and teaching:

At a time when Pentecostals are stereotyped as insular and anti-intellectual, Amos Yong may seem like a fresh wind.

Beyond Common Grace: Yong, who last year left Bethel College in Minnesota to help establish the Ph.D. program in renewal studies at Regent University School of Divinity in Virginia, distinguishes classical, primarily Western "Pentecostalism" from the "pentecostalism" that is the largest and fastest-growing branch of Christianity in the world. He is a product of both.

[Dr. Yong]: "My studies at a Wesleyan Holiness seminary [Western Evangelical Seminary] raised the intra-Christian ecumenical question for me with great force, challenging me to confront the very sectarian and exclusive form of Christian self-understanding which characterized the Chinese American Pentecostal churches of my upbringing, " he later wrote. "Further graduate studies expanded the ecumenical question: If it was possible that those whom I considered before as outside the pale of Christianity (e.g., Catholics, Orthodox, even Lutherans) did indeed have a saving relationship with God, what about others also categorized as pagan, heathen, or non-Christian?"

[CT]: Where most Pentecostals see the devil's work, Yong sees the Spirit's. Concretely, that means Christians should be open to learning from and being enriched by the Spirit's work in world religions. Dialogue must take place alongside evangelism, he argues, so that all the religions - including Christianity - can learn from each other what the Spirit is doing.

This even goes beyond the pale of Peter Kreeft's book. What is distinct about what Yong is proposing is that he is arguing that ecumenism is the direct work of God, rather than it merely being a moralistic strategy of men (Kreeft). This is disturbing - but it needs to be exposed.

This should also serve as a warning to believers not to confound the subject of God’s sovereign providence. While it is true that all events in history are directed by God’s sovereignty, this does not mean that He is to be blamed for sin, heresy and blasphemy - such things are the culpability of sinful men, not the holy God of the universe.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Religions of Violence

It grieves me deeply when I hear people pontificate that Islam is a peaceful religion - because - this simply is not true. I would suggest to you that when people make such confident assertions that they could be doing so as a result of personal ignorance, intellectual denial, or perhaps because of a blatant attempt to deceive others. No matter what the reason, it is important to understand that Islam’s history and doctrine speaks for itself. In recent days we have been watching the dreadful story of Mr. Rahman who converted from Islam to Christ, and for that, he was slated for a trial and execution (under Islamic law, that’s simply the way it goes). Now we have learned that Mr. Rahman has been released from custody, but only to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. Perhaps they are doing this to prove once and for all that Christian’s are indeed fools for Christ (1 Corinthians 1:23). As it stands, he is still faces the mob of obedient Muslims who are quite ready and eager to tear him to shreds:

Senior Muslim clerics are demanding that an Afghan man on trial for converting from Islam to Christianity be executed, warning that if the government caves in to Western pressure and frees him, they will incite people to "pull him into pieces." His trial has fired passions in this conservative Muslim nation and highlighted a conflict of values between Afghanistan and its Western backers.

"Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not allow God to be humiliated. This man must die," said cleric Abdul Raoulf, who is considered a moderate and was jailed three times for opposing the Taliban before the hard-line regime was ousted in 2001. [AP News, via CNN]

Sadly, many believers suffer throughout the world in nations that do not supply the same freedoms that we enjoy here in America. What is happening to Mr. Rahman is not an isolated incident; but there should be no surprise that such a conversion should be treated in this manner - without a doubt, the Qur'an advocates fighting and violence against infidels (unbelievers). Here are just a few texts which support such violence:

Women: 74-76: 74. Let those fight in the cause of Allah Who sell the life of this world for the hereafter. To him who fighteth in the cause of Allah -whether he is slain or gets victory -Soon shall We give him a reward of great (value). 75. And why should ye not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)? - Men, women, and children, whose cry is: “Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from thee one who will protect; and raise for us from thee one who will help!” 76. Those who believe fight in the cause of Allah, and those who reject Faith Fight in the cause of Evil: So fight ye against the friends of Satan: [Ali, A. Y. (2004). The meaning of the Holy Qur'an (Electronic version.) (Surah, Women, 4:76)].

Muhammad: 1. Those who reject Allah and hinder (men) from the Path of Allah - their deeds will Allah render astray (from their mark). 2. But those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, and believe in the (Revelation) sent down to Muhammad - for it is the Truth from their Lord - He will remove from them their ills and improve their condition. 3. This because those who reject Allah follow vanities, while those who believe follow the Truth from their Lord: Thus does Allah set forth for men their lessons by similitudes. 4. Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers, smite at their necks; At length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them): thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom: Until the war lays down its burdens. Thus (are ye commanded): but if it had been Allah’s Will, He could certainly have exacted retribution from them (Himself); but (He lets you fight) in order to test you, some with others. But those who are slain in the Way of Allah—He will never let their deeds be lost. [Ali, A. Y. (2004). The meaning of the Holy Qur'an (Electronic version.) (Surah 47, Muhammad, 47:4)].

Strangely, there are those who wish to hold out for a better hope: that Islam will someday render a new doctrine of peace, despite the religion’s violent progenitor (Muhammad) and its “sacred scriptures” that clearly proclaim a message of hatred and revenge. Perhaps such optimists are hoping that the religion of Islam will be overrun by some Arabic version of postmodernism, thus degrading it into a rabid form of liberalism (a guy can have his dreams can’t he?). Those who believe that true Muslims will someday become infidels to their own religion, by political means, are holding on to a mere dream. Political diplomacy may offer a temporary restraining order on such violence - but this will not last.

Of course, we have only been speaking of physical violence here. Spiritually speaking, we must remember that no religion of mankind can supply true and lasting peace - ultimately, all such religions are violent because they are not founded upon the only source of peace in this world:

Ephesians 2:14-15: 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace [NASB].

It is the Lord Jesus Christ alone who establishes peace between God and man; and between Jew and Gentile. Without Him - there is no peace. The Apostle’s indicative expression - “He is our peace” is a clear reference to the body of Christ - the church. The church is a unique creation that has been brought together in the genuine peace of Christ, thus, the true church possesses a present and real peace with God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Such peace is not the present and indicative possession of the world - the only way in which the children of wrath (Eph. 2:3) can taste this peace is by trusting the Savior for His finished work on the cross. Until then, men remain at enmity with God (John 3:36, Romans 5:9-10) as the active enemies of the cross (Philippians 3:18-19).

Thus, no religion of man can be called “peaceful” in the truest sense. Because of this, calling Islam a religion of peace is no small error - it is erroneous by several orders of magnitude. But let us hope and pray for genuine peace. Let us pray for Mr. Rahman; for those around the world who are watching his witness for Christ; and let us pray that the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) will bring about a great awakening of souls throughout the world through the message of the Gospel of Peace (Ephesians 6:15).

Soli Deo Gloria

Saturday, March 25, 2006

I Can At Least Respect an Honest Liberal

Some men are covert about their leaven of error, while others are more open in their display of Scriptural defection. In this latter class of “theologian” we find the grandfather of modern liberalism: Harry Emerson Fosdick. I can at least respect such a man for his openness and honesty - if for nothing else. One doesn’t have to search very hard to find his denials of sound doctrine - his books are dripping with such denials. In All Nations Under God, I mention Fosdick because the seeds of his error remain with us today:

“Harry Emerson Fosdick’s grandmother once told him that if he couldn’t believe in the story of Jonah, and the fish that swallowed him, then he might as well surrender all of his Bible and his religion...

Harry should have listened to his grandmother. the root of his error was the exaltation of man centered thinking - in its worst form. Even the man centerdness of his hymn ‘God of Grace and God of Glory’ is clearly revealed in those words ‘Let the search for thy salvation, by our glory evermore.’ That’s quite an admission: man’s search for salvation is his glory evermore! This should serve as a reminder to us all that church history is filled with many theological potholes and detours. Because of this, one must be careful when journeying through it, in order to avoid any serious collisions.” [All Nations Under God, Christ’s Triumph over Tradition: There are Foolish Men on Both Sides of the Argument, pp. 132-33].

Sadly, Fosdick’s man-centered thinking remains with us today. He was a remarkably skilled redactor of truth, but at least he was fairly open about it. Of course, this doesn’t mean that he didn’t resort to the traditional liberal doublespeak that confused some people:

“My adversaries, and even my friends, have sometimes had difficulty in defining just what my theological position is, and I think I know why. I have never been able to be either a theological reactionary or a theological radical. I could not be a theological reactionary because, so it seemed to me, the fact that astronomies change while stars abide is a true analogy of every realm of human life and thought, religion not least of all.” [Harry Emerson Fosdick, The Living of These Days, An Autobiography, pp. 229-30]

Beyond his occasional vagueries, Fosdick was generally overt about his convictions. For this reason I say that despite his corrupt doctrine, you can at least respect the fact that he kept very little in the closet. Fosdick was proud of his theological innovations. Rather than preaching the ancient truth of God’s Word, Harry was glad to offer a new generation new truths and ideas; he continues in his autobiography:

No existent theology can be a final formulation of spiritual truth. Concerning every human experience theories of explanation and interpretation are essential, but however confidently they may be held, their probable insufficiency must be assumed and their displacement by more adequate ways of thinking positively hoped for. Cosmic theories and theologies are meant to change. Static orthodoxies, therefore, are a menace to the Christian cause. If the day ever comes when men care so little for the basic Christian experiences and revelations of truth that they cease trying to rethink them in more adequate terms, see them in the light of freshly acquired knowledge, and interpret them anew for new days, then Christianity will be finished.” [Ibid., p. 230].

Classic liberalism will often herald the incompleteness of human knowledge in order to forsake any form of Biblical dogmatics. It is as if the Liberal’s mantra is: “There is only one thing that a person can be certain of concerning his or her theology: it is wrong.” Credalism such as this is thought to release a person from the constraint of doctrine, thus allowing him to run freely in the fields of human speculation - and Fosdick was an expert at it. Fosdick has many spiritual descendents today - at least in terms of his core beliefs. Many today are proclaiming that we need to adjust our thinking to the times. However, there are those who do it much more covertly - such that when you confront their error, they retreat into their closet of denial and double-speak. Others, like Fosdick, stand for their liberalism without batting an eye. I can at least respect the honesty of the latter, even though the doctrine isn’t any less deplorable.

The most dangerous brand of such teaching comes from those who spread their leaven covertly, rather than overtly - as did Fosdick. Much of modern Liberalism has gone underground by adorning itself with double-speak and words that might appear to represent orthodox Christianity. Because of this, the church must be on guard lest such errors might creep in unnoticed. Like the generations before us, the church needs biblical discernment in order to resist all error - whether it attempts to come in through the front door, or the back.

Friday, March 24, 2006

POST 1920: J.C. Ryle and The Leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees

~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 is often the case that when we read the works of godly men in the past, that we will feel as though the struggles of their day are remarkably similar to our own. This is because the cycles of human history are like a bad roller coaster ride - though there are several ups and downs along the way, we keep riding along the same track; over, and over again. One day, humanity will get off this twisted, fallen ride; but until then - be advised to tighten your safety harnesses, and keep your arms inside at all times.

To retain the metaphor, the Word of God is our safety harness in life - ultimately, the Apostle Paul calls it the belt/girdle of truth (Ephesians 6:14). It keeps us from falling off into the deep end of false doctrine and corrupt living. It shows us the glory of what lies at the end by reminding us that this Vanity-Fair carnival ride will end someday, and then we will be with king Jesus for all eternity. And like a belt, we must put it on daily for our own sanctification, growth and Gospel witness. Without it, our souls will be in danger of the destructive influences that lie all around us. The days are evil, therefore we must take heed unto ourselves and put on the whole armour of God, beginning with this belt of truth.

What is true for today was also true of yesteryear. Consider, for example, J. C. Ryle. When you read his work Warnings to the Churches - one can’t help but to feel as though the world that he described was very much like our own. Ryle was concerned about the corruption of sound doctrine and clear Gospel preaching in his day by means of the incremental degradation of truth - one little jot and tittle at a time. It is the problem of incremental error that the church often ignores. For many in the modern day, it is as though error must be the size of a Mack truck in order for it to be worth resisting - but this is the very form of thought that Satan desires that we embrace. The Savior taught His disciples that leaven, by its nature, comes in very small packages; and that we should be on guard against the slightest hints of corruption and error. J. C. Ryle warns us all in view of Christ’s teaching in Matthew 16:6:

"False doctrine does not meet men face to face, and proclaim that it is false. It does not blow a trumpet before it, and endeavor openly to turn us away from the truth as it is in Jesus. It does not come before men in broad day, and summon them to surrender. It approaches us secretly, quietly, insidiously, plausibly, and in such a way as to disarm man's suspicion, and throw him off his guard. It is the wolf in sheep's clothing, and Satan in the garb of an angel of light, who have always proved the most dangerous foes of the Church of Christ." [Warnings to the Churches, Beware of the Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, Matthew 16:6, pp. 56-57].

With this, if one were to say to the late Bishop: "but Bishop Ryle, it is only a little leaven!" - his response would most likely resemble this one: "Exactly!" But in the modern day, men often scoff at the kind of preaching and exegesis which seeks to honor every jot and tittle of God’s word. To them, textual wrecklessness is justifiable just so long as one has “good” intentions. The problem with such thinking is that no one is good but God alone and therefore our intentions are always suspect, and will never establish a basis for authority or truth. To be faithful to the Chief Shepherd, we must seek to proclaim His Word for His glory:

John 10:27 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me."

Men who value their traditions and opinions will gladly inject their own “truth” with the absolute truth of God, believing all the while that such an exercise is spiritually profitable. However, contrary to this, we must remember that Christ’s sheep will respond to His voice, and not a stranger (John 10:4-5); therefore it is crucial that we employ the plain language of the Savior, rather than our own, lest we painfully find that those in our ministry are the lost goats of Satan, who are more content to follow the wisdom of men rather than the words of the Chief Shepherd.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Introducing the SeekErgent Movement: Part II

In the previous post (Welcome to the Latest Movement in Church Ministry: The SeekErgent Movement) we examined two fundamental problems that the seeker and emergent movements have in common:

1. There is a failure to correctly understand the nature and doctrine of the church which leads to...

2. A corruption of doctrine concerning the church's relationship with and ministry to the world.

There we looked at the very nature of the church, considering the important fact that the bride of Jesus Christ should be seen in view of His shed blood; thus, we represented the church with the color red; the dark ways of the world with the color black (Ephesians 5:1-14) and the compromised church of Laodicea as a repugnant mixture of the two - I referred to it as "skubala" brown (Phil 3:8):

In this post I will offer some brief thoughts about the church's relationship with, and ministry to the world. The main focus here will be concerning the biblical model for Gospel outreach.

But before I begin here, allow me to offer a few preliminary thoughts, especially in view of the last post: I am amazed to see the kinds of reactions that came about as a result of the first post. It would seem as though the new, enlightened, and "modern" approach to things would be to refrain from reproving error and engage in a friendly "conversation" in order to gain better understanding - of course, this approach isn't a new idea either (2 Corinthians 11:1-4). But rather than having such conversational chit-chats, I am convinced that there is a need for godly and measured rebukes, much like what we see in the strong language used by Christ and the Apostles when they dealt with error. For example, to the compromised church at Laodicea, the Lord said that He wanted to spew (literally, vomit) them out because of the detestable nature of their courtship with the world. To the Philippians, who were in danger of infusing the error that was being advanced in their midst, Paul said: "beware of the dogs, beware of the evil-doers, beware of the false circumcision" (Phil 3:2). And as if these labels weren't enough to grab their attention, Paul then likened fleshly wisdom and works to that of skubala - that is, fecal material (Phil 3:8).


I just wonder how Christ and the Apostles would be treated in this modern era that so often exalts gentility over truth. Let me say immediately that no preacher should ever be cruel or wreckless when rendering a rebuke; but with this it must also be said that no genuine preacher should ever shrink back from declaring the whole counsel of God which clearly upholds truth while rejecting error; that reveals the glory of Christ versus the world's shame; that discloses the church's true mission versus the ways of the world and clearly teaches the uniqueness of Christian fellowship versus the world's rebellious confederacy against the Lord and His anointed (Psalm 2). I am personally grieved over the phone calls and e-mails that I receive from people who are starving for the biblical preaching and fellowship that they should have in a church - my heart aches for them. Many of these saints are being offered the emaciating mechanisms of manmade wisdom along with the veritable dog & pony show of many progressive churches today, and yet there will be those who will say: "Oh, just leave these movements and their leaders alone!" Writing in a confrontational manner is no mere hobby here at The Armoury. When I do it, it is because I am compelled to do so for the glory of the Savior who shed His precious blood for the church. This is no game - this is a very serious matter. The bride of Christ, and her mission, are essential matters to explore and understand - thus, let us being with the subject of the church's relationship with, and ministry to the world:

When considering the Savior's prayer for His disciples, it is evident that He desired that we would go out into the world in order to preach the Gospel of peace, after His own example:

John 17:15-18: 15 "I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16 "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 "As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.

Literally, Christ's disciples are to go out into the world just as [kathos] Christ did. This comparative particle [kathos] establishes an important correspondence between Christ's pattern of outreach and our outreach. This is a crucial and oftentimes lost challenge concerning the church's genuine mission: as Christ went out into the communities at large, He did so with His disciples while taking the message of reconciliation to a lost and dying world. The pattern of His life and conversation is our model: With a woman steeped in sin, Christ transformed a common conversation about physical water into the message of living water (John 4:1-29) and remained for two days with the dejected Samaritans in order to preach the word to them; the Savior turned the people's selfish pursuit for bread into an opportunity to speak of the Bread of Life that alone gives eternal life (John 5-6); and like Christ, we see Paul ascending Mars Hill in order to teach the philosophers concerning that which they did not understand about the unknown God (Acts 17). This principle of going out into the world in order to engage it with the Gospel is crucial, for it reminds us that we have been created for good works (Ephesians 2:10) in order to manifest Christ's glory in every aspect of our lives - in the workplace, the marketplace, in the public assembly, with our relatives, in our neighborhoods - even when we are grabbing a bite to eat at a restaurant. This is the outreach ministry of the church: ego apesteila autous eis ton kosmon – to be sent out [apo + stello] into the world. An emphasis such as this highlights our need to take the Gospel to the world, rather than emphasizing this matter of taking the world into the church.

I am constantly challenged by the precious examples of the Savior (in the Gospels) and the Apostles (in Acts). Such an emphasis on outreach in no way eliminates the fact that evangelism takes place within the local church (1 Corinthians 14:23-24), but what it does emphasize is that which is often de-emphasized in the modern church: believers need to get off their pews and go out to the people of this world with the Gospel message, rather than re-inventing church in order to better suit the world, as in the case of Laodicea:

The study of the church at Laodicea is an important one. At some point, the spiritual walls of Laodicea came tumbling down, such that there became little to no discernable distinction between those in the church versus those outside of the church - contrary to the standard of God's word (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). Thus, whatever Gospel witness that this church had to begin with became buried beneath the worldliness that crept in over time. But in direct opposition to this dreadful example, the church is to be that unique place in the world where Christ's sheep are discipled (1 Peter 5:1-4), fed (John 21:12-17), nurtured (Ephesians 4:1-14) and lovingly disciplined for their restoration (Matthew 18 & 1 Corinthians 5). Truly, the church must never be a place where an unbeliever is turned away from hearing the word of God simply because he is an unbeliever, however, the church must never change her God-ordained priorities of ministry in order to accommodate the people or the philosophies of this world. Christ firmly commanded Peter to feed and tend His sheep (John 21:12-17, 1 Peter 5:1-4) - and such a command as this must not be trifled with. If shepherds are to love Christ, then they must feed Christ's sheep with His word and nothing else. By this shepherding ministry, the Savior's sheep are to be built up in the word in order to do the work of service (Ephesians 4:12) which includes this important matter of going out to this lost and dying world with the Gospel of Peace (Ephesians 6:15). But when the church's ministry of discipleship is cooled in order to accommodate the world, then Christ's sheep become weakened, and the Gospel's radiance is diminished.

The precious examples of Christ and the Apostles render a continual reminder to my own soul concerning my own need to go out and engage the world for Christ, remembering that the outreach of all believers is to occur whenever we engage the lost at work; at school; on the ball field; at the gym; in the grocery store; at a restaurant and especially - especially - in our own neighborhoods. For myself, it has been through a recent Bible study for several of my neighbors; and just the other day, it was the opportunity that I had to talk to the gentleman who gave me a shuttle ride while my car was being repaired. I truly believe that we all need to consider how we can do more in terms of going out into the world with the Gospel of peace for the glory of Christ. What the people of this world truly need, more than attending a church service, is to hear the glorious message of redemption and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ! And they need to see Christianity displayed in real time, where they live - not just on a stage in a church building. Clearly, Christ didn't setup a tent in Judea for several years, inviting unbelievers to become a part of His "community" – rather He and the disciples went out into the world and called unbelievers to follow Him.

Sadly, many of the movements found in modern "Evangelicalism" have actually weakened Gospel evangelism through a model of ministry that is eerily similar to the defections found at Laodicea. As a pastor, I am continually warned in my own heart by these things. As a friend of many brethren who are scattered abroad, I am saddened by their struggle to find a church that is committed to feeding Christ's sheep and sending them out with the Gospel. As a child of God, I petition the Lord for renewal in our land, by the revival of His church and the spiritual awakening of the lost. Living now in the "Bible belt" I see many churches capitulating to the popular methodologies of our day. Many of these ministries have adopted a very loose concept of the church, thereby producing a breeding ground for those who are willing to believe that they need only have a positive interest in Christ in order to be a part of the "church community." As I talk with people who are in such "ministries" they speak much about what activities they do, their baptism, their membership, their "potlucks," their knowledge, their books or their discussion groups - but how sad it is to hear them say nothing about Christ. Unfortunately, too many of these people will someday discover that Christ demands so much more than a token partnership with the true church (Psalm 2:12), especially when He will declare to them: "I never knew you; depart from Me…" (Matt. 7:21-23). What the lost really need to understand is that they are not a part of this unique community called the church – and they will never be, unless they repent of their sin and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ who laid down His life in sinner's stead.

Finally, let us remember that salvation is the work of God alone, and not man. As well, the Lord will call His people using the imperfect men, women and ministries throughout the world. As an imperfect vessel myself, I can affirm, with Paul, the reality of this truth (Phil. 3:12-13). However, the reality of our frailty should never become an excuse for the corruption of sound doctrine in the church - our sin will never change His standards. Therefore, may the Lord grant us His grace to do His will for His glory alone. And may the church return to the simplicity of devotion that we find so clearly displayed amidst that newly born church at Jerusalem, where the brethren were together continually, being regularly devoted to the Apostles' doctrine, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to corporate prayer. The holiness, purity, and beauty of that Spirit filled community of Christians had such an impact on the neighborhood around it that the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Welcome to the Latest Movement in Church Ministry: The SeekErgent Movement

Yes - here it is ladies and gentlement. Allow me to introduce to you the never-before-seen - SeekErgent™ Movement (or SEM™). It’s a new, authentic-marketing approach to church ministry.

Perhaps I should apply for the trademark now before it actually does become the next “new” thing!

Alright, I confess that this isn’t a new movement, but all the discussion concerning the seeker and emergent movements of late has made me wonder what will be the next fashionable thing in the American church. Right now it is the “Emergent Movement” with the “Seeker Sensitive Movement” now passing into ancient history. Amidst all the present discussion concerning these issues, it is important to remember that while there are practical differences that distinguish these movements, it is more important to comprehend their philosophical roots, rather than investing too much time cataloguing their distinctions. At the end of the day, these movements come from the same fundamental defections:

1. There is a failure to correctly understand the nature and doctrine of the church which leads to...

2. A corruption of doctrine concerning the church’s relationship with and ministry to the world.

I will address these defections in two brief posts, beginning with the first matter concerning the nature of the church:

The Nature of the Church: There are many today, especially those in the emergent movement (EM), who believe that unbelievers can become a part of the “Christian community” simply by their interaction with believers, or by their involvement with the activities of the church. The philosophy behind this form of thinking is one which ultimately minimizes, and even nullifies, the distinction between the church and the world. To say that unbelievers become a part of the Christian community simply by their interactions with Christians is a dangerous error. The danger is twofold: 1. It leaves the unbeliever with the false impression that one can become a part of the “Christian community” apart from faith in the Savior Himself, and 2. It fosters the false notion within the church that such a “Christian community” should be comprised of something other than believers in Christ. It is this latter point that is tantamount to justifying just a little leaven into the bread of Christ’s church. It is important to correctly identify the source of such a philosophy in order to reveal what is at the heart of the seeker and emergent movements:

“Let the church become infused with and conformed to the world - then it will be effective in reaching the world.”

The problem with this form of thinking is multifaceted such that we could spend hours nitpicking the details of the emergent and seeker philosophies, dissecting their particulars; but I believe that it is much more important to identify the fundamental nature of this popular philosophy and thereby make haste to pursue the solution - emphasizing it above all else. At the heart of it all is the failure to see the word church in the color red; and by this I mean that we should think of the precious blood of the Savior when we think of Christ’s bride (Ephesians 5:23-27), for without the fountain of His blood - there would be no church.

The church is not the creation or propriety of men. It is the creation and propriety of Christ by the sacrifice of Himself:

Ephesians 2:13-16: 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.

Christ created [ktizo] this “one new man” which Paul clearly identifies as the church [Ephesians 2:17-22]. This one new man, comprised of God’s elect among the Jews and the nations of the world (the Gentiles), was formed and fashioned by the hands of the crucified One, therefore we cannot forget that this “one new man” is covered from head to toe by the blood of Christ. Therefore, when we think of the church, we must think of the flowing blood of the Savior.

POINT: There is only one way to become a part of this community - and it is not by the institutions or programs of man; it is solely by the priceless blood of Jesus Christ.

To suggest that there is another way to become a part of this one new man is dangerous at best. In like manner, to redefine the nature of the church trifles with the priceless blood of the Lamb. The church is not a social club which defines its “community” by an arbitrary set of standards; and it must never be a place which communicates to the world that the lost can become a part of this special “community” by any other means than through redemption in Christ. It is a community that is unique, alien and lives out the Gospel to such an extent that the world can clearly see that there is a difference:

Acts 5:11-14: 11 And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things. 12 At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico. 13 But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. 14 And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number,

I can just imagine a conversation between a 1st century believer and a modern “evangelical”:

1STCC: “What happened at your church today?”

MOD-E: “Oh, we had impressionistic dance, a dramatic presentation, a puppet show and a short message. What happened at your church?”

1STCC: “Two people were judged by God when they lied about their giving; the whole church has been overcome with awe over the wonder of God’s holy and powerful work in our midst; and while the community around us has been gripped with much fear over these things, still the Lord is constantly adding to our number... but uh, no puppet shows...& what’s ‘impressionistic dance?’”

The saints of the past would barely recognize what many refer to as the church today. The glory of Christ is unique, and is incomparable to the world’s “glory.” In like manner, the Savior’s glory in the church is unique, and is clearly diminished when the world is allowed to influence her privilege of worship. Like the church at Laodicea, those who choose to mix the dark ways of this world with the Savior’s church, concoct nothing but a rejectable mixture of truth and error:

The color of Christ’s church is regal-red and is not to be mixed with the dark and corrupt philosophies of this world (Ephesians 2:1-3). Thus, in the worst of all cases, those who dabble in such admixtures produce a ministry that would be likened to a kind of skubala-brown - which truly speaks for itself.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Is the Earth at the Center of the Universe?

The created Universe is so far beyond our ability to grasp that we can only speak of it in terms of speculative numbers, while having no experiential grasp of its enormity. When scientists train their most powerful telescopes on the farthest reaches of the Universe they find that space is populated with an incomprehensible assembly of billions of galaxies, each containing billions of stars themselves. With each and every discovery of this fathomless Universe, many have further deduced the absence of God. It is common for the secular mind to conclude that the miracle of life on earth is relatively inconsequential; but though God's Universe is vast, beyond understanding, this does not mean that mankind is distant from God's care, plan and purpose. To understand God's purposes in creating the vast heavens and all that is in them, we must begin with the book of Genesis, the book of beginnings. The word Genesis itself comes from the Greek work gignesthai which means to be born or begotten. It is no wonder that this book of beginnings brings us immediately to the scene of all beginnings whereby in the beginning, God created. And this was no strenuous event for the omnipotent God, requiring vast epochs of time, rather "…by the word of the Lord the heavens were made, And by the breath of His mouth all their host." On the first day of Creation we see the Lord creating, out of nothing, all the heavens and the Earth as a kind of cosmic sermon that continually declares the vast wisdom and glory of God: "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands." What God made on the first day was vast and incomprehensible, and yet it exists subordinately for the glory of God and for the habitation of man.

It is a temptation within our human nature to see the expanse of the Heavens and then to conclude that man is irrelevant and insignificant: but such thinking must be corrected with the truth of God. Consider the reflections of the psalmist David in Psalm 8:3-4 as he considers the significance of man in the eyes of God: "When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, The moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him?" When David considered the vastness of space itself, he felt small and insignificant. Compared to the Universe we are small and insignificant! But there is a more important consideration than man's physical stature in Creation. Mankind was created as a unique spiritual being, uniquely designed to serve and worship the Creator. These truths from the first few pages of the book of Genesis recalibrated David's contemplation in Psalm 8: "5 Yet Thou hast made him a little lower than God, and dost crown him with glory and majesty! 6 Thou dost make him to rule over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet…." This passage gives us a very important point: As miniscule as man is, he is at the center of a cosmological stage upon which the eternal God is displaying the magnitude of His wisdom, mercy and grace. Though mankind is inestimably miniscule in the vast cosmos, he is the very centerpiece of all that God has made. This understanding of man's centrality in God's created order has clashed much with modern philosophies and sciences and as a result, many in our society truly believe that the Bible has nothing helpful to say about man or the Universe.

With this in view, there has been an interesting debate among creationists concerning whether the Earth is at the physical center of the known Universe or not. Almost all contemporary versions of geocentricity deal with the question of the physical center of the overall universe, rather than with our Solar system (as in the Ptolemaic system of thought, i.e. the Earth is the center of the solar system). This debate may never be resolved as long as our studies of the Universe remain limited by the imperfections of scientific observation. But to resolve the question of the earth's physical centrality is ultimately non-essential since we know that the Earth is at the spiritual dead center of all that God has made. And with all of the displaced mass of stars and planets in the Heavens, there is only one important stage whereby God's Providence and redemption are being manifest.

But for the very few who have ever maintained the myth of the Greek philosophers: that the Earth is at the center of our solar system, they still have the difficult task and burden of having to justify their views by means of Scripture, rather than by ancient philosophy. Historically, those who have presented such views have typically advanced their arguments based upon just a few texts of Scripture:

1 Chronicles 16:30 Tremble before Him, all the earth; Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved.

Psalm 93:1 The Lord reigns, He is clothed with majesty; The Lord has clothed and girded Himself with strength; Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved.

Psalm 96:10 Say among the nations, "The Lord reigns; Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved; He will judge the peoples with equity."

The repeated expression in each: "the Earth shall not be moved" comes from the Hebrew construction bal timot which means that it [the Earth] will not falter or fail. It is the same expression used of the Psalmist to speak of the believer's security in the Lord: "He will not allow your foot to slip [be moved], He who keeps you will not slumber." The idea is not that of absolute immobility (the Psalmist is not saying that his feet are locked in cement), rather it carries the idea of beneficence and security. The thoughts expressed in the former verses have to do with the fact that the Earth will last as long as God has ordained that it will - it will not falter or perish one day sooner because it is established by His decree. And yet, it will be "moved" with great violence someday - Matthew 5:18 "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished"

All this should point out the problem of taking the Scriptures beyond their proper interpretation. In addition to this, just because the Bible refers to Jerusalem as being at the "center of the nations" (Ezekiel 5:5), should it then be assumed that Jerusalem is actually in the center of the earth rather than being located on the surface of the Earth at latitude 32° , longitude 35°? Texts such as these remind us that there is a difference between the physical and spiritual centrality of anything, and context and careful exegesis should guide our thinking rather than the faulty traditions men.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

POST 1920: Charles Spurgeon & Biblical Science

~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).

The past several centuries have yielded no small amount of controversy when it comes to discussions about the Bible and science. More recently, the onslaught of Darwinian evolution has effectively steam rolled many into the belief that only secular science can provide the needed answers concerning the origin and destiny of mankind. As a result of this the prevailing view of our secular culture has evolved remarkably, such that most will assume that the Bible has nothing important to say about the Universe in which we live, or that the book of Genesis has little to offer concerning the creation of the cosmos. And yet this view can be traced even further back, before the days of Charles Darwin. The history of this epistemological downgrade takes us back to the days of that Italian astronomer by the name of Galileo Galilei. The story of Galileo is one of the most celebrated Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were createdones in secular science, heralded as being that moment when science was declared the victor over the Word of God. But what is so often misunderstood regarding this oft repeated tale, is that the Roman Catholic church never successfully introduced a Scriptural argument against the Italian astronomer! Rather, their opposition to him was grounded in the philosophical writings of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274):

"According to Ptolemy the heavenly luminaries are not fixed in the spheres, but have their own movement distinct from the movement of the spheres. Wherefore Chrysostom says (Hom. vi in Gen.) that He is said to have set them in the firmament, not because He fixed them there immovably, but because He bade them to be there, even as He placed man in Paradise, to be there. In the opinion of Aristotle, however, the stars are fixed in their orbits, and in reality have no other movement but that of the spheres; and yet our senses perceive the movement of the luminaries and not that of the spheres (De Coel. ii, text. 43)."

When Galileo presented his observations he found himself confronted by a religious system that had long before committed itself to the exaltation of human reason over Scripture. Therefore, the principal arguments of the Roman Catholic religious system had very little to do with the Bible, and was much more associated with Greek philosophy: like that of Ptolemy and Aristotle. What is most unfortunate about this great legend of secular science is that it presents more myth than reality, for Galileo's scientific observations did not oppose the true church, nor did he contradict the clear teachings of Scripture, rather his scientific observations stood in opposition to ancient Greek philosophy. However, despite this mammoth sized misunderstanding, the story of Galileo is the repeated battle cry of all those who would have the Bible removed forever from any and all scientific discussion.

But the believer's response to these events should never take any form of retreat. While many have capitulated to human reason throughout history, this does not alter the Christian's responsibility to proclaim the truth of God's glory in Creation without hesitation - now and forevermore:

Revelation 4:9-11: 9 And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 "Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created."

By the authority of Scripture alone, the truth of God's absolute sovereignty is to be proclaimed without question. And the importance of this message cannot be missed, for only God has authority over all things for He is the author (Latin - auctor; Creator) of all that exists. This Latin word is the foundation of our English words authority, author and authorship. When we say that God has authority, we are acknowledging His office as the Creator and governor of all things. The implications of this truth are vast. When we speak of any authority we must recognize that God alone is the ultimate authority of all things.

How often do we hear from scientific authorities concerning the origin of the Universe, or of the origin of mankind. And yet the Scriptures begin with that most important presentation concerning God's own authority over all as the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth: Genesis 1:1 "In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth." Within the Creation account in the book of Genesis we have a clear declaration of God's authority over all things: the Universe, all governing authorities, all powers, dominions and Earthly institutions. By His singular act of creation the Lord instantaneously displayed His wisdom, power and authority over all things through what had been made. And yet despite the Lord's authority clearly revealed in His word, many have capitulated to the pressures of secular science, believing that such human philosophy offers legitimate answers to life's most important questions.

This same pressure existed especially in the late Nineteenth century in the days of Charles Darwin and C. H. Spurgeon, both of whom were contemporaries of each other. Spurgeon was often pained to have to witness professing Evangelicals as they capitulated to the false teachings of evolutionary theory, whether theistic or otherwise. His godly disdain for such heresy was no hidden matter:

"If anyone wishes to know where the tadpole of Darwinism was hatched, we could point him to the pew of the old chapel in High Street, Shrewsbury, where Mr. Darwin, his father, and we believe his father's father, received their religious training."

The ferocity in which modern ideologies stormed the culture in Spurgeon's day was like a whirlwind, and there were few voices which stood against the amalgamation of human philosophy and Biblical truth; but Spurgeon continued to stand by God’s unchanging truth:

If you were to try to think over this matter and imagine for a minute that the gospel really did shift and change with the times, it would be very extraordinary. See, here is the gospel for the first century; make a mark, and note how far it goes. Then there is a gospel for the second century; make another mark, but then remember that you must change the color to another shade. Either these people must have altered, or else a very different effect must have been produced in the same kind of minds. In eternity, when they all get to heaven by these nineteen gospels, in the nineteen centuries, there will be nineteen sets of people, and they will sing nineteen different songs—depend upon it—and their music will not blend. Some will sing of “free grace and dying love,” while others will sing of “evolution.” What a discord it would be, and what a heaven it would be, too! I should decline to be a candidate for such a place. No, let me go where they praise Jesus Christ and him alone, singing, “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” That is what the first–century saints sing; ay, and it is what the saints of every century will sing, without any exception; and there will be no change in this song forever. The same results will flow from the same gospel till heaven and earth shall pass away, for Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.”[The Unchangeable Christ, On Thursday Evening, February 23, 1888].

It is indeed the challenge for every generation to embrace the unchanging truths of God’s Word amidst the shifting sands of human wisdom. The errors committed in Spurgeon's day are no different than those in the days of Thomas Aquinas, Galileo or even today. The key lesson stands true throughout all generations: The disciples of Christ must herald God's Word and not human reason.

Additionally, Darrin Brooker (Running Well) left this interesting link concerning Spurgeon’s battle with evolution: Spurgeon Vindicated. Thanks Darrin.

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Friday, March 03, 2006

Signs & Wonders: The Absolute Sufficiency of God’s Word

I am very eager to get into the texts which are normally found in the midst of the cessationism/continuationism debate. Partly because they truly get to the point of the controversy, but mostly because I have been so blessed through my studies in them, and am eager to share their riches. However, because the cessationism/continuationism discussion has often descended too quickly into a debate over a select number of verses, I decided to begin the series with the broader question concerning the importance of the debate. Thus, if it could be argued that this is a non-issue, or that it does not effect important matters of life and ministry, then it would be our responsibility to drop the matter right away and move on to something else; but in light of the Apostle’s clear association of the Savior’s sacrifice, with the gifts that He gave to the church (Ephesians 4:1-11), we should conclude to drop nothing, but instead proceed with an even greater appreciation for the importance of this discussion. In this particular post, The Absolute Sufficiency of God’s Word, we will address the relative purpose of God’s signs, wonders and miraculous gifts.

Last time we laid out at least four different purposes of God in His signs and wonders, and they are:

  • To disclose God’s glory and power to this world of men, without exception (Psalm 19:1-2, Romans 1:20).
  • To render a clear confirmation of His divine revelation (Joel 2:30-32, Luke 21:25-26).
  • To affirm His uniquely appointed messengers (Romans 15:18-19, 2 Corinthians 12:12).
  • To disclose His glory for all eternity (Revelation 15:1-4).

Concerning points two and three, we should remember that the Lord’s signs and wonders can either serve God’s redemptive purposes (John 4:43-54), or His purposes of judging the wicked (John 12:37-40). Overall, it is significant to affirm that the signs and wonders of God have been given for subordinate purposes. As in the list above, God gives His signs and wonders subordinately in order to disclose His glory among men; to confirm His Word; to affirm His messengers and to display His glory forever. That is what a sign does - it serves a subordinate role of pointing to something that is greater than itself. Like the sign that you see on the freeway which designates a city’s name and location, so too are God’s signs and wonders. When one sees a freeway signpost, he doesn’t climb the sign thinking that he has thus arrived at his destination - me genetai (may it never be!). Road signs are designed to lead us to a particular destination, but they are not the destination themselves. This principle of subordination (the subordinate nature of God’s signs and wonders) is one that is repeated throughout the Scriptures. There are many examples that we could consult, however we will take one very important sample - one that we will re-visit again in the future; Hebrews 2:1-4:

2:1 For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? which was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, 4 God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.

The author of Hebrews wants his readers to pay very close attention to all that God has revealed in His Word:

1:1 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.

His thoughts in chapter two are essentially a continuation of what he had to say about the life giving revelation of God in chapter one: what God has revealed in Jesus Christ, and through His appointed messengers, is the very message of salvation which we must not neglect. One of the significant aspects of chapter two is the manner in which the author of Hebrews explains how it is that God confirmed His revelation. There is a lot that is going on between verses 3b-4, however, much is clarified when we seek out the central (governing) verb amidst it all:

The revelation that God had given was not to be neglected because it had been clearly confirmed. There are three descriptions that are given concerning the confirmation of God’s revelation: 1. It was confirmed to us”; 2. It was confirmed by those who heard and 3. It was confirmed by a very important witness. From this third point, we see that 1. God Himself was the witness; 2. He was a witness with those who heard in their day; 3. He was a witness by means of signs, wonders, miracles and gifts; and 4. He was a witness according to His own will:

This generation of believers witnessed many great things indeed. What is crucial to understand is that what they witnessed was entirely given for a subordinate purpose, and that is the confirmation of God’s revelation concerning the salvation that is in His Son alone:

As previously stated, there are many texts which affirm this principle of the subordinate purposes of God’s signs and wonders, but Hebrews 2 is a good start. This premise is key, for it helps us to understand God’s purposes in using signs and wonders. What the author does for us here is to underscore the sufficiency of God’s message of salvation: God has sufficiently revealed Himself and He has sufficiently confirmed His revelation to all. What is clearly seen in the diagram above is the grammatical subordination of the signs, wonders, miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Such signs and wonders were uniquely given by God as the instrumental means to confirm His spoken Word. This important point will be a central guide to our continued discussion: God’s Word is sufficient. It is sufficient in all that it supplies concerning the knowledge which leads to salvation in Christ. It is sufficient in its authority, for there is no greater authority on earth than God’s own special revelation. It is sufficient in that it has already been confirmed by God Himself who served as a witness to His own message and messengers. Thus, when discussing the subject of God’s signs and wonders we must remember that if we miss the important message concerning the sufficiency of God’s Word - then we have missed too much, and may fall into the trap of seeking to exalt the Lord’s signs and wonders over the revelation of His Word.

The next post will continue this discussion concerning the sufficiency of God’s Word; this part of the series will constitute several posts. In fact, there is much more that needs to be said concerning the tense of our primary verb “confirmed” in the text above, but that will be reserved for next time.