Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Kickin' It With the Canucks

No, I haven't become extremely lazy. I'm across the northern border in Montreal, Canada doing more training for the job. So I won't be posting until after July 6. I'll miss you guys! See you when I get back!!!

Viva la reformation!!!

Be Like the Bereans, Baby!!!

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?"

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The "Aha" Moment: Why It's Right to Be Reformed (Part II)

Before I dive into Part II here I would like to clear up something from my last post. From my description of us believers as "wretches" and "worms", some might get the impression that Christians have to be miserable and haters of themselves in order to be pleasing to God. Nothing can be further from the truth. What we do have to realize and admit about ourselves is the condition we were in before God the Holy Spirit regenerated us from spiritual death. Let's face it before we are born again we may think that we are fine, upstanding and beautiful people. We think that if there is a "God" he sure ought to be impressed with us because, we're good enough, we're smart enough and gosh darn it people like us! The truth is; however, prior to rebirth we are vile creatures in God's eyes. We are covenant-breaking, God-hating, rebellious sinners. After being saved and honestly looking back at who we truly were should cause to understand that were worse than "wretches" and "worms". But God . . .

What we need is God's view of us. We, as his children, are now certainly precious in His sight. But we must acknowledge (and therefore tell the unbeliever) that prior to salvation we are abhorrent things and nothing short of the saving grace of God is able to change that. The truth is also; however, that we still have a bent toward that. Without the restraining power of the Holy Spirit, even in our regenerated condition we still sin. That capacity to still sin is still vile in God's sight. The Puritans put it this way:

"O Fountain of All Good,
Destroy in me every lofty thought,Break pride to pieces and scatter it to the winds,
Annihilate each clinging shred of self-righteousness,
Implant in me true lowliness of spirit,
Abase me to self-loathing and self-abhorrence,
Open in me a fount of penitential tears,
Break me, then bind me up;
Thus will my heart be a prepared dwelling for my God;
Then can the Father take up His abode in me,
Then can the blessed Jesus come with healing in His touch,
Then can the Holy Spirit descend in sanctifying grace . . ."
(The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett, p.8)

This is the type of submitted contrition that comes from the Reformed perspective.

Now on with part deux . . .

Why is it right to be Reformed? Because of Reformed theology's relentless submission to the authority of Scripture. For the Reformed, the Holy Bible is without exception the final rule for his faith and practice. The reformed person bows his knees to Holy Writ no matter how much his personal situation may beg him to do otherwise. The reformed believer filters every suggestion, idea, impulse, teaching, action, thought, word, dream, etc. through a biblical grid. In other words the Reformed believer maintains a biblical worldview (for the easily offended: I realize that no one does this perfectly).

Here is an excellent distillation of the Reformed view of Holy Scripture from the Westminster Confession of Faith(chapter 1, section 1):

" Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God's revealing His will unto His people being now ceased"

Now it's not my intention here to go into the proofs for the veracity of Scripture or to define the proper method of biblical interpretation. What I want to submit for your consideration is one perspective on the Bible that I have found to be foundational to the Reformed perspective. And that is . . . the Bible is not about us. The Bible is God's book, God's HIStory, God's historic plan of redemption for His fallen creation.

As I alluded to in my last post, the normal conceptions of the Bible are inadequate. It is not just a "good book" of the "instruction manual for life". These perspectives necessarily place mankind in the spotlight of Scripture. No perspective could be more wrong. Jesus Christ and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is carefully crafted into every page of Scripture; and if you do not find Him . . . you ain't readin' it right!!! If there was movie poster for the Bible, top billing would be given to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Man would not be found until you read the scribble at the bottom of the poster!

Of course, this runs contrary to our "it's all about me", "gotta get my needs met" mentality. Well, we either get over that or we live far short of glorifying God. "Choose this day whom you will serve . . ." For the Reformed, to compromise Scripture is to violate God. Therefore the commitment to the study of Scripture and to rightly divide the Word of Truth is right up there with breathing. The Reformed believer is never embarrassed by the wrath of God nor over-reaching in the love of God because he allows Scripture to tell him who God is not modern psychology. He stands in awe of the God who deigns to reveal Himself in the words of Holy, infallible and inerrant Writ.

Many might say, this view of Scripture is held by all Christians. I'll close with one final statement. Have you watched TBN, lately?

Be Like the Bereans, Baby!!!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The "Aha" Moment: Why It's Right to Be Reformed (Part I)

Many great men of far far greater theological acumen than myself have attempted to explain Reformed Theology. In fact, I have absolutely nothing to add that can improve on what has already been done. My hope, however, is to exacerbate that faint notion that someone out there may be having that something just isn't right. That peace-robbing drip in the back of someone's brain that is saying there's something missing in their current walk with God. I'm hoping there is somebody out there who has experienced the fulfilling of the "prophecy", they have seen their debt miraculously removed and they've witnessed the healing from the deadly disease; but they still are not satisfied. I'm praying that these next few posts find their way into the hands of someone who has experienced great victories and yet still feels like something is missing. I'm asking the Lord to allow these weak little seeds to be the seeds of someone's "Aha" moment.

What do I mean by an "Aha" moment? I think the best description that I have heard of it comes from a new book by Rev. Richard D. Phillips entitled, "What's So Great About the Doctrines of Grace". In this passage he is addressing the doctrines of grace specifically; but I believe his words can be applied to Reformed theology as a whole . . .

"There are moments in life you never forget: the first time you kiss your spouse, the birth of your first child, your favorite baseball team finally winning the World Series. For many of us, the awakening of our minds to the sovereignty of God is one of these unforgettable moments. “It's like being born again, again,” many Christians remark after their faith is renewed by an understanding of the doctrines of grace. Everything changes. It is not that they begin to trust God—all believers must trust God—but that they see the truth about the God they trust" (pg.1).

In my conversations with friends who have received the Reformed faith, "Aha" moments are certainly more the norm than the exception. Over the next few posts, I would like to share with you my "Aha" moment and then from there attempt to explain why receiving the Reformed faith necessarily leads to such a response.

If you have been reading In Submission to Sovereignty for any length of time, you probably know that I am formerly a member of New Birth Miss. Baptist Church(1990-2001). The circumstances of my joining and my leaving New Birth are not truly germane to this topic so I won't venture down that trail for now. Suffice it to say, that a preponderance of events culminating in a farce of a fundraising ploy really let me know that it was time to go. But go where and to what? Everything I knew at that time would lead me back to a church cut from the same cloth.

By God's design, at this same time I had recently been hired (2000) by my current employer (Mesaba Airlines) as a pilot. I was based in Detroit, MI so my wife and I were considering a move north. After my first winter up there, I decided that there was no way on earth I was going to endure those winters so we resolved that we would continue to live in Georgia and that I would commute to work. Commuting to work in Detroit meant long waits in airports and frequent overnights away from home. It was during this ordeal that I discovered books. They were cheap, you didn't need special equipment to operate them and heck, time really flies when you read 'em!

I can't exactly recall how I decided to read it; but, the first book on reformed theology that I read was "Back to Basics: Rediscovering the Richness of the Reformed Faith" by Douglas J. Wilson, et al. That was followed by "Knowing God" by J. I. Packer. And the trifecta was completed by R. C. Sproul's "Grace Unknown" (now retitled-"What is Reformed Theology") What each of these three books consistently teach is the sovereignty of God in ALL things and His rightful place at the epicenter of the Christian faith. They also constantly drove me back to Scripture.

I know many would say that all Christians recognize the sovereignty of God and keep Him at the center of their faith. I would slightly adjust that to all true Christians do exactly that. What these books helped me to realize was that like many professing Christians, I had been primarily interested in the benefits of Jesus Christ rather than Jesus Christ Himself.

While obeying Paul's admonition to examine myself (II Corinthians 13:5), I found that like many professing Christians I had been paying lip-service to the notion than man is a fallen creature; therefore I, too, am fallen. I discovered that God's purpose in all things is primarily His glory; not my happiness. I learned that although the Bible is a "good book" and that it contains "the instructions"; it is God's self-revelation. The Bible is God's story, God's record of His historical plan for the redemption of a mass of fallen creatures all for the purpose of His glory.

Now, to my old way of thinking this information would cause me to recoil from God in horror and disgust. This was because it made God seem like some kind of narcissistic glory hog . . . like us. But what these books also made clear was that as the utterly holy, utterly good and utterly perfect being that he is; God is utterly worthy of all the glory the universe can muster and then some . . . unlike us. They made it clear that there can be no narcissism or glory hogging where God is concerned, because He is worthy. He is all that, the bag, the chips, the t-shirt, the way, the truth and the life! And the realization of this caused my knees to bend and to worship Him in spirit and truth as I never had before.

That was the "Aha"! That God is so so much much more more than guaranteed health, wealth and security. That His glory is the reason for my life. That my sin is no minor indiscretion, mistake or faux pas; it is cosmic treason and rebellion against a Holy God who by all rights demands my death. Yet in a glorious display of mercy, grace and love poured out His just wrath on His sinless Son INSTEAD OF ME! And now sees me as if I had never sinned! And He put a cherry on the top by making me, a guilty sinner, a co-heir with that same sinless Son!!! What kind of God is this?! How do I ever find myself not worshiping Him?

I have observed that our society in this country makes it very hard to admit these things of God. We put men on the moon, we have the Internet, we were personally offended when the USA Men's basketball team was defeated in the world games. Even the Christians among us; do we really believe the "wretch" part when we sing "Amazing Grace" or that "such a worm as I" stuff. Do we not in our heart of hearts ever say, "yeah, but as far as worms go I'm a pretty darn good worm"! What my "Aha" moment revealed to me is that judging by the things that go through my mind when even the most average of young ladies cross my path or the things I sometimes think about doing to my wife when she makes me angry; calling me a worm is an insult to worms.

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:4-10).

I leave you with these words by Terry L. Johnson from his great book, "When Grace Comes Home":

" . . . I hadn't really dealt with God except to treat Him as a personal asset. He was there for me. Of course, this is how so much of today's Bible teaching makes it seem. God is portrayed as the Ultimate Helper in dealing with self-image, anger, decision-making, fear, relationships, finances, etc. When I realized that He had saved me and that I was in His sovereign hand, it reordered my perspective. I came to realize both that He was far beyond the little boxes I had constructed for Him and that I was there for Him, not Him for me. It made me bow in adoration before the God who I was made to glorify" (pg.19-20).

Be Like the Bereans, Baby!!! (Acts 17:11)

If you have had an "Aha" moment with Reformed theology, please feel free to share it with us in the comments section. I look forward to reading about them!