A Tale of Two Gospels

With this penetrating look at two gospels, we begin an in-depth examination of the doctrines of grace, commonly called Calvinism. Brian Borgman does a WONDERFUL job unfolding these rich doctrines, always with an eye towards exalting Christ Jesus.

As he works through these topics, do not be alarmed if you disagree with a minor point or two. Brother Brian does assert a couple of times that redeemed saints are depraved. I find this disconcerting as we have been made new creatures with a new nature – not without sin, but not unable or unwilling to do good in the sight of God. Depraved people are unable and unwilling.

Focus on the main things. Borgman’s entire series (I’ll post one audio file per week) is truly an excellent encouragement to those who are in Christ and a fearful provocation to those who merely think they are.

Listen to A Tale of Two Gospels.

The Church of the Future

2 Thessalonians 2:3, Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion (apostasy) comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction (ESV).

1 Timothy 4:1-2, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared (ESV).”

The apostle Paul provided us an insight into what the future would hold for the church. His warnings were not written because he had nothing better to do than to try and scare the believers of the 1st century. The church was in its infancy, yet the problems were already present. Just about every book revealed another aspect of what they faced, and the issues were real.

For example, in Romans, he reveals a great deal of doctrine, but he also pointed out the reality that sin in the life of the believer was real. It would not be eradicated in this life but we could be thankful that we, as believers, would not be found to be under any condemnation. Nothing would separate us from the love of God, who had adopted us into His everlasting family.

Could anything have prepared the early church for the events that transpired in Corinth? Despite the debauchery that was a part of the Roman Empire being found in the presence of brothers and sisters in Christ, Paul had to remind these precious believers that although many had participated in various sins, they were now clean. They had been washed in the blood of the Lamb and justified. Their accounts had been settled and they were no longer enslaved to the slimepits of the world in which they once loved to wallow.

The problems that were addressed were game-changers. As each scroll must have been unrolled, read, and shared, each local body of believers had to have rejoiced that their names were truly written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Paul picked up his quill though and continued to warn each group.

persecution-1stcentury

To the believers in Thessalonica, he lovingly encourages them by pointing out that the Lord had not yet returned. In fact, one of his greatest joys was the testimony that this local assembly had before the inhabitants of the city, and yes, even beyond the region in which they lived. This was a group that did not allow their testimony to wane. Were they perfect? Were they super pious? Did they live on some spiritual plateau where they had become free from the ensnarements of sin? No, no, and no! The Thessalonians were real people facing real threats from an empire that hated the God of the Bible first.

However, Paul then gets another parchment and writes to a young pastor named Timothy. This letter is different. He gives pastoral counsel and godly wisdom for how this young man can shepherd the flock of God carefully, biblically, prayerfully, and lovingly.

In the middle of this epistle though, Paul uses a phrase to show the importance of what he is about to share. “The Spirit expressly says…” We understand the inspiration of the entire Word of God, yet, under that inspiration, his words point out a solemn truth that was meant to be a word of warning to Timothy.

When I began teaching in a ministry capacity over 25 years ago, you would not have been able to convince me that the blood-bought church would be where it is at today. Were there cults to deal with? Yes, of course. Were books being written based on, at best, shady theology? Again, we affirm that there were such books.

However, had you told me that so many churches and even entire denominations would depart from the faith in such record numbers, I would have struggled to believe such a thing to be possible.

To have been told that the proliferation of local assemblies would involve being willing for many ministers to become a Judas and sell-out their testimony and the Word of God for the purposes of entertainment or for profit, I would have told you that you were crazy.

Believers have gone from a hunger for the Word of God to having itching ears. They want to hear nice platitudes that make them feel good about themselves. Churches no longer want to hear about sin, righteousness, and the coming judgment. Padded pews keep people comfortable while they learn how to have a higher level of self-esteem. We are now so full of ourselves in many churches today that there seems to be a self-imposed moratorium on the Holy Spirit’s working in our midst.

Today, an overwhelming number of pastors and churches are more interested in hearing “Judge not!” from each other than they are interested in hearing God say, “You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting. Judgment is coming!”

Above all else, we have smoothed sin over to the point where churches are looking for ways to embrace it, instead of calling sinners to repentance. Step on board a blogsite, Facebook post, Twitter feed, or whatever medium you choose and dare to speak out and proclaim the truth of God’s Word. It won’t take more than 4 or 5 minutes before people who have never spoken to you before arise from the dark mists of the internet to shout you down. “How dare you judge?” “Who do you think you are? God?” “We are called to just LURVE everybody without question!” Et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

And the words of the Spirit to the church at Ephesus rings out saying, “You have left your first love. You no longer hold Christ preeminent over all others and to the exclusion of all others.”

Sadly, the clarion call to repentance has mostly fallen on deaf ears and now we have truly become closer to the model of the Laodicean church, “You are neither cold, nor hot, but you are lukewarm. I will vomit you out of my mouth.” There is not one good word that is ever said about the church at Laodicea. They had passed the point where there was no turning back. The writing was on the wall.

21stcentury

Today, I look at the 21st century church and realize that the 1st century church would not recognize us today. They would probably wail with despair realizing that we are not prepared for persecution. From the pulpit to the pew has capitulated to the world so much that some may well be willing to sit in the arena looking down on those being sacrificed to the lions.

It is heart-breaking to realize that if and when persecution comes the words of warning will fall on mostly deaf ears. Brother will turn against brother, children against parents, parents against children, and so-called believers against true believers as they ignore the reality of the dangers that were there all along.

Dear believers, if you are not willing to stand for something, then you will fall for anything. We must seek forgiveness from our Lord and with humility dust off our armor. We need to prepare for the fight of our lives and become like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress when he was willing to face the dangers of Vanity Fair.

The world mocks our “standards” when they look just like the standards to which the world adheres. Why should they want what we claim to have that makes us special if we look the same on Sunday as we did while partying with the world on the Saturday before? If our music, words, actions, and attitudes look no different week after week, month after month, and year after years, then we cannot claim to worship and adore the only One Who has the power to make us a NEW creation in Christ.

God does not save us to leave us wallowing in our sins. That simply means that the world can change to accept all the wickedness it wants. Even, the so-called church can accept all the evils of the world and call evil to be good or good to be evil. However, the day will never come when it is acceptable to God.

To conclude, the 21st century church of the future is failing as the church for the present, and they are a far cry from the church of the past. Are there any who will mourn when our children reject biblical Christianity because of the hypocrisy they see from parents? Will any be willing to weep as did Nehemiah over the sin that surrounded him? Will those who are true believers recognize that while Paul recognized the sin within his own life that grace abounds so that we no longer have to live as slaves to sin anymore than he did?

My prayer remains that God will begin a work of revival within my own life and heart so that I will be conformed to the image of His Son Jesus Christ. Then, I want to see the Holy Spirit move in a way that helps other true believers realize that there are still 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal. The end result is that when those who come after us look back, I want them to say with full confidence that the church of the past left a testimony for the true Church of the Future!

Growing Old With Grace

When I was young, old age never bothered me. In fact, I would be hard pressed to even remember a time when I wondered for a fleeting moment what it would be like to grow old. It was other people that grew old – like grandparents. However, it is amazing what almost five decades will do to one’s perspective.

Yesterday, I was reminded again of the passing of years as someone I really did not know passed away and went to be with the Lord they loved. This individual was quite elderly and known to others I love. This brother in Christ had spent years sharing and teaching the Word of God. Despite being racked at times with pain, the main diseases that was eating him away was not what ultimately took him from this life of toil and pain. He closed his eyes in sleep as his heart gave out and woke up in a place where he would never sleep or be in pain again.

When I heard the news, I was reminded again that time is creeping up on us and flies back so quickly. James put it so succinctly when he said in James 4:14, “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

vapor

As I write this, it is a special day for another reason. Forty-four years ago today, in the cold, wind-swept, bone-chilling landscape of the country of Iceland, a healthy young boy was born. Almost from the first day my brother was brought home from the hospital, he was happy. He was the life of the party and often the clown. Yes, we had our ups and downs, but John David made the most of whatever oppositions got in his way.

In late 1995, John had just left the USAF with an honorable discharge and was making a home for himself in North Carolina. He had found a body of believers that he dearly loved and he had spent time with the men on a retreat where his heart was stirred to be more like the Lord Jesus Christ.

However, all of that changed when he went to work one cold November morning. I received a call that I should meet at the hospital. Arriving, I found out that my brother, who was less than 5 years younger than me had passed away at the young age of 22. He had acquired an infection in his heart and when his heart exploded, he was gone before he hit the floor.

That was 21 years ago. There are still times the pain and loneliness of not hearing his voice or the endless jokes is emotionally difficult. Even back then, we spoke of him lovingly at the funeral and afterwards, but old age was still a long ways off. I didn’t really dwell on the reality that it was still going to come for all who are left to face the world.

Far from this maddening world, my brother no longer has to walk the dark paths of these Shadowlands, as C.S. Lewis called them. John’s path led him to a promotion that is far better than anything he could have experienced in this life. In fact, the moment he crossed from death into life, the joys he would have known would have been crowned by meeting the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. That is not something that any true believer would want to take away from another believer. Yes, we miss those who have gone before us, and we can hope that others will miss us when it comes time for us to depart this life.

However, until it is time for us to close our eyes to sin, death, and the grave, we must focus on living our lives in such a way that we will hear, “Well done, you are a good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of the Lord!” We have no reason to fear the door of death. For the believer, the door is only the opening to the wonders of what eternity holds and the half can never be told this side of heaven.

To me, this world is not really my home. I grow tired of the pain and the struggles that assail the flesh and the heart. If I should be left another 10, 20, or 30 years, I struggle to accept that more illnesses and heartache may well be my lot in life as it has been for much of my life.

inheaven

Each year that passes, I strangely find that growing old is something that did not really sneak up on me. Each year was filled with memories that resonate in my mind and heart. Each memory, whether good or bad or indifferent or sad or happy, was created as I lived the path that God had ordained for me to walk. One day, those memories may be forgotten as I get even older, but it will not diminish what I have been allowed to do by a gracious God who has been more merciful and gracious to me than I have or will ever deserve.

We live from minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day, month to month, and year to year. The time is precious and should be spent without regrets before the Lord. I do not fear the age I have become, but I welcome it because it puts me closer to the day when I will see the saints who have gone before me. I will see my grandparents, my brother, and friends who loved the Lord as well.

Growing older does have both advantages and disadvantages, but knowing what comes next makes the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. As believers, we are called to endure this race. Whether we are called to go at a young age or at an elderly age, our race is being encouraged on the sidelines of heaven by the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us. Therefore, it behooves us to run the race while looking to Jesus Christ alone!

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1, 2

The Confession Alone: The 6th Sola

The Confession Alone: The 6th Sola

Confessions and formalized creeds have been an edifying edition to the Christian faith. Since the beginning of the New Covenant (and even further back since the dawn of teaching), mankind has formalized and rehearsed many sayings, creeds, idioms, and other phrases that have refreshed our minds about a how we ought to think or understand life. Within Christendom, there are certain flavors of creeds and confessions that we Reformed folks hold to very dearly. Assuming that you understand which confessions exist, I seek to make my point quickly. If you have never read a creed, confession, or catechism, I highly suggest you do some research and learn from them.

Having said all that, there is an authoritative flaw in our Reformed circles. I call it he Sixth Sola: Confession Alone. It is this idea that if it is not a part of your confession, it cannot (or in some cases should not) be taught or even considered as biblical. Or, practically speaking, although we do not verbally admit this, when we are discussing Scripture with someone, and the first thing that comes out of their mouth is “X confession says…” when making their case, it is making the confession the ultimate authority in the conversation (unless they are just using the confession as a springboard to talk about Scripture). I am aware that this last statement may have ruffled more feathers than the first, but understand what I am actually saying and do not misinterpret my words. If your first or final authoritative response in any discussion about theology or what the Bible teaches concerning what you believe and why is “the confession says” you have turned a guidepost into a destination.

Most, if not all, creeds, confession, and catechisms are reactive. That is, they are written and formed based off of some other creed or confession that is in opposition, and those forming it wish to distinguish themselves for the opposing party. It can be in response to false teaching (or perceived false teaching), or it can be simply trying to make a stand about a certain belief within a specific community that affirms X belief(s). As I already said, this is not inherently wrong. These are great ways to find out where your stand in your faith. i would argue that it is impossible to say anything without it being “creedle” in some way. But if you do not study the Scriptures and seek to understand why you believe what you believe, and whether or not you think you can agree with these confessions, you are placing the cart before horse. The confessions can point you in a specific direction (guidepost), but they are not the final authority (destination). Our first response in any discussion should be Sola Scriptura, not Sola Confessio (Latin check). Yet, time after time, when I dive into the Scriptures with particular pastors, preachers, and believers who ascribe heavily to confessions and creeds, whenever there are any disagreements or whenever I make my points from Scripture, I am faced with “but the Confession says…” How can this be within a Reformed world whose foundational mindset is supposed to be Scripture Alone?

There can be many reasons why one authoritatively appeals to the a confession more than Scripture. But I think I have narrowed them down to two main roots: Traditionalism and laziness. There is nothing wrong with tradition. Every denomination and person has them. It is when that tradition begins to have authority over Scripture that we have a huge problem. Some people find great joy in holding to the long standing tradition that some of our creeds and confessions teach. Nothing wrong with that if you understand what you believe and why. But it seems that this is not the case with many. By proxy, if you are a traditionalist in this area, you will quote the confession better than you can quote Scripture because you are relying on the confession to approve yourself before God (or men). Unless for whatever reason you don’t have any access to Scripture, or in some way you are only able to memorize Scripture by categorizing them via the confession, there should be no reason why you cannot study for yourself what the Bible teaches within the pages that the confessions are pointing to. Which brings me to my next point.

I find that it is easier to quote a saying, phrase, creed, etc., in place of actually making a verbal argument concerning what you actually believe and why. Nothing wrong with summarizing what you believe, or repeating a summarization of something you would affirm. But If I believe that the reason why man exists is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, why? Because the confession says so? Or because the Scripture quoted in the confessions says so? Have I looked at the listed Scriptures? Have I taken the time to study and reform my thinking in light of the Scriptures that a confession teaches? Will I be courageous to practice Semper Reformanda if I discover some nuance in the Scriptures? Or will I be taking the confession at face value because my community of believers/churches do? Or because the men before me were theological giants who were totally incapable of error even in the minutia? Laziness is what causes us to use the confessions as they were not meant to be used. These are guideposts, not destinations.

Notice, I am not challenging the confessions. Nor am I exhorting anyone to cast away the didactic luxury that they bring to our lives. I am challenging how we think concerning them. We all have a tendency to elevate anything good over God. That is evident in Scripture and in our daily lives. If we find ourselves running to the confessions and creeds as our primary authoritative source for understanding and assurance of our faith in Christ, and we can quote and explain a confession easier than we can explain Scripture and the gospel, we must immediately eject ourselves from the seat of traditionalism and laziness, and we must diligently seek God through the Scriptures for our assurance and understanding. This doesn’t mean we cannot use the confessions to help us in this direction. But once again, where does your affection, affirmation, and assurance of your faith lie? In Scripture Alone, or in the Confession Alone? Is it because the confession says so that you believe X, Y, Z, or is it because you have studied and affirmed that the Scriptures teach it?

One last time, I am not bashing any confession, or the use of them in discussion. But I am standing against any form of authoritative proclamation or behavior that insists that the confession is the first and final say so in any biblical discussion and practice. If your “go-to” argument and assurance of your belief is “the confession says,” you’ve lost all credibility. And if the confession is your main source for approving yourself before God, your credibility may not be the only thing that is lost.

-Until we go home

What Must I Do To Be Saved?

Soteriology is the doctrine of salvation – how does one get reconciled to God? It is my desire to show you how essential it is to grasp this doctrine rightly and how humbling and wonderful it is to comprehend what the Lord God has done in redeeming people. salvation

While there are many religions in this world, with myriad differences, they all have a few things in common and many differences. But no matter the religion, no matter the salvation, no matter the god, all systems of religion, including biblical Christianity, are based on salvation by works. All systems of religion are based on salvation by works. The differences lie beneath that truth. All but one system bases salvation on the works of those who need to be saved. The sole exception is based on men being saved by the finished work of another, a particular man who had no sin of His own to pay for. A man who is God and paid the price for others. The Lawgiver became the Law keeper for Law breakers. This exception, as I’m sure you already know, is our faith – biblical Christianity, based on the work of the God-man, Jesus.

Among professing Christian groups, many variants and shades exist, with most falling into self-saving works of the creature. These views are known as Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Arminianism, Universalism, etc. All of these are variations of synergistic modes of salvation – systems in which creator God is at best a co-pilot in redeeming people. The Scriptures, which are our only rule for truth and faith and godliness, depict God as the One Who created and sustains all things, directing the paths of kings and storm clouds, saints and Satan. Properly understood, the Word of God reveals a monergistic mode of salvation – children of God are born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God alone (John 1:13). Since Scripture cannot be broken, monergistic salvation and synergistic salvation cannot both be true. The passages that appear to contradict each other do not. Our understanding and comprehension are limited and twisted by sin – the Word of God is perfect and by it the Lord searches out our intentions and thoughts. To rightly understand this doctrine of how sinners are made right with holy God, we must humbly submit to the Word of God and cry out for wisdom from the Spirit of God.

This dispute over how a sinner is reconciled to Holy God has been raging among men since Cain’s offering was refused. In the early 17th century a protest was filed with the ruling church court in the Netherlands by activist disciples of Jacob Arminius. Here are the five articles contained in the protest presented to the Council of Dort:

  1. God elects or reproves on the basis of foreseen faith or unbelief.
  2. Christ died for all men and for every man, although only believers are saved.
  3. Man is so depraved that divine grace is necessary unto faith or any good deed.
  4. This grace may be resisted.
  5. Whether all who are truly regenerate will certainly persevere in the faith is a point which needs further investigation.

Only the third point reflects biblical truth and was later denied by many of this view. The bedrock of the Arminian objection to monergistic salvation is the notion that divine sovereignty is not compatible with human freedom and that ability limits obligation. This is complementary to the Pelagian view that God would never command man to do that which man was incapable of doing. However, the Scriptures are replete with commands from God to the creature to do that which nobody but God can do, such as be ye perfect, and love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. These commands are meant to drive self-righteousness from us and draw us to Christ. The Arminians claim God gives every human the ability to believe on Jesus, and that God will never refuse anyone who exercises that ability and comes to Him in the faith that God gives to everyone; but only some exercise it and are saved. If this is the case, who gets the credit for the sinner’s salvation? And what do we do with 2 Thess 3:2 which tells us not all men have this faith?

Most professing Christians hold to Arminianism, having never heard anything else because most churches do not teach the whole counsel of God’s Word. I personally believe that all Christians are born spiritually as Arminians because we are only accustomed to what our natural senses can discern. And when one is born again, the first thing he is aware of is that he chose Christ; without yet knowing that Christ first chose and first loved him. The Arminian system makes sense to the natural mind, confirmed by natural senses. It shows up in our language: when we say someone “accepted Christ” we imply the person needing salvation decided to get saved. But Scripture denies this. This is why it is of utmost importance that evangelism be firmly connected to and rooted in discipleship. A new-born child of God must be shown and taught the Bible – what he was before he was raised from the dead and what soil preparation the gardener performed to make the seed take root.

In understanding what it means for anyone to be redeemed, to have been reconciled to Holy God, to be made into a new creature, we must grab hold of the biblical reality of our union with Christ. Ephesians 1:3 tells us we were blessed with every spiritual blessing by God the Father – that these spiritual blessings are in the heavenly places and they are in Christ. We mortal sinners get no heavenly, spiritual blessings apart from being in union with Christ, in communion with Christ.

There are several terms that describe what happens when a person is raised from spiritual death, referred to as the order of salvation:

  1. Predestination: Rom. 8:29 & 30; Eph. 1:3-6 & 11-14
  2. Effectual Calling (Regeneration): John 1:12 & 13; 6:44, 63-65; Eph. 2:1-5
  3. Faith/Repentance:
    (Faith) – Eph. 2:8,9; Acts 13:48, 16:14
    (Repentance) – 2 Cor. 7:9 & 10
  4. Justification (Legal Declaration): Rom. 5:1 & 2; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 2:16
  5. Adoption: Rom. 8:15-17, 23-25; Gal. 4:4-7
  6. Definitive Sanctification: Rom. 6:1 & 2; I Cor. 1:2; 6:9-11
  7. Progressive Sanctification: Eph. 4:11-16; Phil 2:1-4, 13-15
    (Preservation of the Saints) – John 6:37-40; 10:27-30; Phil. 1:6
  8. Glorification: Matt 25:31-34; 2 Cor. 5:1-8; Phil. 1:21-23; 3:20 & 21

The first of these, predestination, took place before the foundation of the world. Ephesians 1:3-4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. Predestination is not a reaction to The Fall. God has no “Plan B”. Predestination is “Plan A”. The balance of the steps in this process take place in time, although regeneration, faith, repentance, and justification cannot be separated; we know that they happen in this order but are unable to plot them out, they are so tightly connected. But notice – regeneration comes before faith and repentance. That which is dead cannot develop root nor produce fruit. The soil must be prepared before the seed can sprout. If we do not properly understand this, we are vulnerable of being drawn aside into the Arminian camp, who claim that the spiritually dead sinner exercising faith in Christ causes regeneration. It is this level of attention that is required to discern between good and evil, as we are told in Hebrews 5:14 – But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. We have the same fine degree of difference with the Roman Catholic doctrine of “salvation”, wherein the sinner is infused with grace and thereby enabled to be holy and pleasing to God, but never arriving at any assurance of having been saved. The Scriptures teach that sinners are imputed the righteousness of Christ and are thereby justified by grace that is apprehended by the faith that was itself a gift to us – lest anyone boast in anything other than the cross of Christ! Nothing in my hand I bring, only to the cross I cling – this is how we all come to saving faith, no matter what our senses or churches tell us.

Kevin DeYoung, in Chap 7 of his book, The Hole in Our Holiness exhorts us: “… it’s appropriate … to talk about an “order of salvation”, whereby we are called by the Spirit of God, born again, moved to faith and repentance. Justified, adopted, sanctified, preserved, and glorified, we must never separate these benefits from the Benefactor. Every blessing in the order of salvation flows from our union with Christ.” John Murray is quoted as saying, “Union with Christ is really the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation, not only in its application but also in its once-for-all accomplishment in the finished work of Christ.” We often talk about gifts we get from God – provision in things of this world, for the most part – and need to remind ourselves to not confuse the gift with the Giver. So it is with this greatest gift of all; while we will not truly understand the depth and richness of God’s saving grace towards elect sinners, we must not get so fixed on that spiritual blessing that we lose sight of the One in Whom we have that blessing. If we be not in Christ, we are not His and we vainly imagine that the blessings of redemption and reconciliation are ours. Contrary to what the pope said, sincere belief in whatever god you have chosen is not going to reconcile any sinner to holy God. Responding to a list of questions published in a newspaper, Pope Francis wrote: “You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying – and this is the fundamental thing – that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience. Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.”

Sin is not the failure of a creature to obey his conscience! Sin is not a bad habit, a hurtful hangup, or “something less than God’s best” – as a couple of well-known preachers have called it (referring specifically to homosexuality). An inadequate understanding of sin necessarily results in an inadequate understanding of grace, redemption, reconciliation, and a number of other orthodox doctrines of the Christian faith. Sin is a moral act, word, or thought that contradicts the expressed will of God for human beings. In other words, it is a covenantal breach with the Divine covenant maker. It is not limited to the will, the intellect, or the emotion. Sin involves the whole person.

What is the practical aspect of getting this doctrine – how is one saved? – correct? There are many examples from church history, but this one is my favorite. If you have read any history of the church, you should be aware that the Church of England went through an extended period (after their separation from Rome) wherein they had difficulty finding regenerate pastors. Wesley and Whitefield and Spurgeon all rubbed up against this. In fact, both Wesley and Whitefield came to saving faith in college, after they each had spent themselves in trying to make themselves pleasing to God; following the doctrine of salvation of the Church of England. One pastor in the Church of England discovered this in a rather unique way.

William Haslam was an English country parson who was a hireling of the state, a warm body to fill the pulpit in small country church. One Sunday in 1851 following a period of deep conviction of sin, Haslam ascended into the pulpit with the intention of telling his congregation that he would not preach again to them until he was saved and to ask them to pray for his conversion.

He began to preach on the text ‘What think ye of Christ’ (Matt 22:42), taken from gospel passage handed down from the mother church. As he read about the Jewish leaders who did not see Christ as the Messiah, he saw himself as one of them – a Pharisee who did not recognize that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. Haslam said, “I do not remember all I said, but I felt a wonderful light and joy coming into my soul, and I was beginning to see what the Pharisees did not.” At that moment, the Holy Spirit breathed new life into him and the effect was so obvious and marked that a local preacher who was present stood up and shouted ‘the Parson is converted, the parson is converted! Hallelujah!’ and the people rejoiced loudly and with much commotion.

If one fails to see the dire consequences of sin, the hideous nature thereof; if he fails to see Holy God as the judge who weighs the universe in His hands; if he doesn’t see rightly the King of glory Who paid the price for sin that man could never pay – he will die in his sin and be lost forever.

The doctrine of soteriology is not a dry theological construct that has no relation to how we live. It is the very core of the identity we as Christians have – that of being found in Christ. The jailer asked, “What must I do to be saved?” So they (Paul and Silas) said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” It is simple in one aspect – believe on the Lord Jesus. But oh how deep and rich is the salvation we have in Christ Jesus! We are found by Him, secured in Him, preserved in Him, saved and sanctified in Him. We walk in Christ, labor in Christ, obey in Christ. We live and die in Christ; and we conquer and overcome death and hell in Christ!

The Apostle Paul fought against false doctrines that taught justification by any other means. It is an essential doctrine upon which our faith rests. All other systems of salvation rest on self-worth and deny the depth of man’s sin and the sufficiency of Christ’s finished work.

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. You are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  (1 Pete 1:3-5)

If Pelagius was right, Christ died for no purpose. If Scripture is right, and we were dead in our sins and trespasses, our life and worth depends on the death of Christ – in our place, to placate the wrath of God the Father.

Soteriology? It’s a matter of life and death.

Truth or Tradition?

Tevye, Jewish patriarch in Fiddler on the Roof… truth or tradition

It’s a very busy, tedious, hard-scratch life in Anatevka. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word!             Tradition!

Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years. Here in Anatevka, we have traditions for everything. How to sleep. How to eat. How to work. How to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered, and always wear a little prayer shawl. This shows our constant devotion to God.

You may ask, how did this tradition get started? I’ll tell you. I don’t know.

But it’s a tradition. And because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as,   As…  As a fiddler on the roof!

As his family responds to the various circumstances of life, they each tear apart Tevye’s sacred traditions bit by bit. His traditions were not transcendent; their foundation was uncertain.

What can we learn from this movie?

Most Baptists recognize that a major part of the errors embraced by Roman Catholicism are enshrined in extra-biblical traditions that are held up as church dogma. While it’s easy to see this in the Roman religion, do we carefully examine our own walk – as individuals and churches – to see if we are guilty as well? I am quite sure we all know the teaching of Scripture on this topic, as Christ quoted Isaiah in saying to the Jews, in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’  You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” Are we Baptist excluded from this rebuke? My personal experience indicates otherwise. I pray these things are not true of you!

When I was first called as a deacon, it took 6 months of discussion to agree that tithing was not a requirement of that office. I was thankful the other deacons were willing to study this topic rather than merely throw me out. When I was in a seeker sensitive church I was ridiculed because I questioned this teaching, not seeing evangelism as inviting lost people to church, as I studied the Bible.

Baptists have traditions and, like Tevye, we often do not know or care where they came from.

While in a 1689 LBC church, I saw how traditions were to be supported without question, and I was looked down upon for not taking these positions on blind faith. The Decalogue is God’s moral law – why would anyone ask where that is taught in Scripture? The “Christian Sabbath” is binding on all people – why would anyone ask where in the Bible this is found?

In the two years since moving to SE Oklahoma, I’ve been exposed to several local Baptist churches and been intrigued by the extra-biblical traditions they embrace. Just as the other groups of Baptists, they are tenacious in the blind faith they have in their sacred traditions. It’s as if, as one church-man said about his “altar call” – “It’s the most important part of the worship service!” And it’s nowhere found in God’s Holy Word. What’s more, there is no altar in the New Covenant church other than the Lord Jesus Himself. Similar attachments are tied to children’s church (unsaved people have their own worship service!) and children parading through the gathered saints, begging for money to put in an offering plate, being applauded by the adults. I couldn’t help but think of Matthew 6:1-4:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

In this passage we see that the praise of men is the only reward hypocrites have for their giving; it is not accepted by God as are the gifts from the saints on behalf of the saints (Philippians 4:14-18). The parading children played the part of the hypocrites in the passage cited above, with the adults playing the part of the “others” who praised the hypocrites. As with other acts of worship, giving as worship cannot be performed by those who are not clothed in the righteousness of Christ (Proverbs 21:27) and the money earned by sin should not be offered to God (Deuteronomy 23:18).

Celebration of birthdays and wedding anniversaries of all present in a worship service are the norm. Mothers and fathers are honored on those days so identified by the greeting card industry. Veterans and firemen, et al. are honored on Memorial Day as if these men are why we gather. I’ve seen the inside of a Baptist church building virtually clothed in American flags on July 4th weekend.

All of these practices displace the worship of God with lesser things, making man and his domain the focus of at least part of the time God’s people gather to supposedly worship Him.

The standard Baptist membership covenant from the 19th century requires members “abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drinks as a beverage.” The Bible forbids getting drunk and warns about “strong wine” but does not prohibit the sale or use of alcohol for any but a few, such as Nazarites (Numbers 6:1-7). At the end of the time of his vow, the Nazarite was permitted to drink wine (Numbers 6:13-20).

Baptists call the church building “the house of God,” forgetting one lesson from John 4 – that in the New Covenant there are no sacred spaces and that the Bible clearly declares we are the house of God! The church building is not a sanctuary, it is, as an Anglican from New Zealand put it, a rain shelter. Our sanctuary is in heaven where our altar is – Christ Jesus is our all in all!

Baptist churches have sole “pastors,” “senior pastors,” “administrative pastors,” “executive pastors,” “worship pastors,” and the list goes on. All the while the Bible shows a plurality and equality of elders (“Pastor” not being a title found anywhere in Scripture).  Having two or more men who preach and teach provides several benefits, in addition to aligning with the examples and teachings from Scripture (Acts 11:27-30; 14:21-23; 20:7; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; et al.). Two or more men can sharpen one another and hold each other accountable, while the church sees the true Shepherd more clearly when they see Him work through more than one man. The church will see strengths and weaknesses in each man and those men will have the opportunity to be examples of how to serve in unity without letting egos derail the ministry. As they seek to identify others and train them for this service, more men will have opportunity to serve the saints in myriad ways. This is part of life in the body of Christ that is vital and often ignored or undervalued.

Each of these groups, and I pray, none of us, are what I call “white space theologians,” people who build their doctrine and practice on the white spaces in the Bible rather than the words God put there.

Many of these local churches have no statement of faith declaring to their members and interested saints what they believe; they accumulate their traditions along the way and new members find out by experience what’s important. This can be like walking through an unmarked minefield, and just as deadly.

We who are not of Rome tend to cling to our traditions as tightly as do the Roman Catholics. How can we defend this while rightly decrying their practice? Oh how I wish that Baptists would see the danger of our own traditions that are not based on Scripture and cry out for repentance! We were, once upon a time, called “people of the Book” for our tenacious grip on the Word of God. That name cannot, in good conscience, be applied to Baptists at large.

We protest, “Our traditions are not as bad as following Baal!” Yet search the Scriptures and see if you find any commendation for drifting away from God’s instruction in favor of any teaching of man.

My prayer is that each of us here would recognize the need we have to examine ourselves and our traditions – to see if there be any wicked ways therein. If we worship God according to our personal preferences rather than asking how does Scripture advise us to do so, we are in danger of drifting towards the black hole of Charles Finney.

D’Aubigne, in his History of the Reformation, observed, “Nothing terrifies the defenders of human traditions so much as the word of God.” He further recorded a scene in which a Cambridge professor named Bilney in the 16th century was tormented about his salvation and took the advice of Roman Catholic priests – abasing himself in myriad ways to make himself pleasing to God. He grew weak and wondered if the priests were more interested in themselves than in his salvation. He found a copy of the newly available Greek New Testament; he took it up and read 1 Tim 1:15 – The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. He realized that Christ saves sinners and he was a great sinner who needed salvation. With joy in his soul he rose up from the Book and declared that Christ had cleansed and redeemed him, eliminating all doubt and despair. “I see it all,” said Bilney; “my vigils, my fasts, my pilgrimages, my purchase of masses and indulgences were destroying instead of saving me. All these efforts were, as St. Augustine says, a hasty running out of the right way.”

This is what traditions do, if they are not of God and are pressed down on people as if they are required in order to please Him or build up His people. It’s as Paul said, the letter kills but the Spirit gives life! Unhealthy traditions are a burden that many know not they carry; but they weigh down on them more and more until they lose sight of Christ all together, so consumed in seeing to it their sacred traditions are upheld.

God help us so this may NOT be said of us! Let us remember our Lord’s words: Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” (Jer 9:24 & 25)