Saturday, June 14, 2008
The "Aha" Moment: Why It's Right to Be Reformed (Part III)
Another defining mark of Reformed theology is its view of the Church of Jesus Christ. With the recent debate over the statements made by the likes of
Jeremiah Wright and Father Michael Pfleger and the renewed interest in black liberation theology; it is of paramount importance that the biblical definition of the "church" be clearly understood. It is here, as with all of its distinctives, that Reformed theology is more scripturally attuned and intolerant of deviation than any other system of theology.
The first thing that must be made clear is that the church is Jesus' church. Therefore as a matter of biblical fact there is no Baptist church, no Methodist church, no Pentacostal church, no "my" church and no "your" church. There certainly is no "black" church or no "white" church. At best (or worst, depending on your perspective) these adjectives can only be justly applied to traditions; which ironically Jesus said make void the word of God and cause men to leave the commandment of God. The church is the exclusive possession of Jesus Christ, it is His standards which determine what a true church is and not ours. So what does He say, through Scripture, are the marks of a true church? What does reformed theology demand?
1. The preaching of the Gospel
2. The Biblical administration of the sacraments
3. The faithful exercise of Biblical discipline
There are longer lists but if these three are missing none of the rest matter. This is the viewpoint that was an integral part of the Protestant Reformation. The very event that Reformed theology is founded upon and (truth be told) in which each of the previously mentioned "traditions" and more are rooted.
"The protestant Reformation presented people with many serious issues . . . Both Rome and Protestants claimed to be the true church, each denouncing the other as a false church. Additionally, there were Anabaptists and other sects which condemned both Rome and Protestant congregations as false churches. Today, the problem is exacerbated by a myriad of religious assemblies, all claiming the title of Christ's church . . . In a most practical manner, these marks provide the believer with a measure by which to evaluate a local congregation before joining it. If the marks are conspicuous, we may join with a clear conscience, knowing it to be a genuine Christian congregation. If these three marks are not plainly manifest, we should look elsewhere; we are not obligated to join an assembly which does not exhibit the marks of a true church" (Kevin Reed, "The Marks of the Church").
What marks the "popular" church today? The preaching of the Gospel is inconspicuous by its abscence. Instead we have the prosperity gospel, which is no gospel at all. We have "seeker-sensitive churches" which cater to those who only can seek fleshy desires and not the Jesus of Scripture. For Scripture states clearly that "There is none who seeks after God" (Romans 3:11b). We have a plethora of female pastors, bishops and even apostles when the Bible clearly states: "Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor" (I Timothy 2:11-14). We have "church" leaders sitting down to meet with unrepentant homosexual "christians" in order to gain "understanding". The Bible, however, clearly commands that we are " . . . not to associate with sexually immoral people . . . I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one". We still have "churches" asking the spiritually dead to make a "decision" for Christ, when Scripture plainly teaches that: "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (I Corinthians 2:14). They expect the unregenerate to use his "free will" when the Scriptures proclaims, " . . . it depends NOT on human will or exertion, but on GOD, who has mercy" (Romans 9:16). "CEO's have replaced pastors, psychology has replaced theology and marketing has replaced evangelism" (Os Guiness, Prophetic Untimeliness)
Church discipline has all but gone out of the window in today's "church". Sheer size alone allows grievous sins to go unchecked. Couples living together outside of wedlock, unrepentant homosexuals and adulterers share in the Lord's Supper without fear of reprisal. While the "leadership" does little more than comically chide the guilty from the pulpit, they carry on searing their hearts against the truth.
In the Church that is Reformed, the sermon is not complete that does not end up at the cross of Jesus Christ. The person and work of Jesus Christ is the focus of all Reformed teaching. Man's sinfullness is never neglected or shoved under the rug. The reformed realize that it is only against the backdrop of man's utter guilt and rebellion against a just and Holy God that the glory of the Gospel burns brightest.
The "popular" church "finds the preaching of 'repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ'(Acts 20:21) too simple a remedy to be effective against the ills of the world, Christ insists that . . . such preaching will produce a result far out of proportion to the means employed" (Joel R. Beeke, How the Kingdom Comes, Tabletalk vol. 32, #6, p.39).
Reformed theology is by its very definition a return to the biblical foundation of the church. Its concern with sound doctrine and faithfulness to the apostolic teaching find it more consistent with these marks than any other theology. The knock against this throughout time has been that this insistence on theological precision has made reformed christians cold and unfeeling; "the Frozen Chosen". Certainly, there have been those who have given evidence for this stereotype. However, those who have allowed the lofty truths of the reformed perspective to "freeze" them have only themselves to blame. It has been my experience that the biblical understanding of the love displayed by a holy and just God whom I have brazenly offended and yet has planned my redemption before the world began; motivates me to joy beyond my ability to explain.
Be Like the Bereans, Baby!!!(Acts 17:11)
For greater depth on the marks of a true church please view this article from A Puritan's Mind: "Is Your Church a Biblical Church?"