Posts belonging to Category Church Life



It’ll turn you on your head.


The Second Adam and the New Birth by M.F. Sadler

This book finished the job blowing my former paradigms of baptism away. It is solid in its handling of Scripture and assembles an impressive arsenal against the view that baptism is merely symbolic. It is neither Roman Catholic nor baptistic in its view of baptism; rather it treats the doctrine biblically without falling into any particular ditch. My only caveat is that it gives away too much regarding the doctrine of eternal election, which the author states that he believes wholeheartedly.

Those things that remain

A world is dying. That’s how it feels at least. Recently I spoke to an elderly friend in central Europe whose local church was shut down by the state. The reason: the church was not making a profit. The church is small and mostly an elderly congregation and facing liberalizing tendencies within its leadership. It is indirectly controlled by the state and, while it could make ends meet, didn’t bring in enough to the coffers of the larger denomination.

The church now sits vacant, with a “For sale” sign in front. “It isn’t just our church,” my friend said, “churches are closing down right and left.” “The Roman Catholics are worse off than we are. They are closing many many churches in the area. It’s not just in Europe. One very old church in my area, less than five years removed from building a new building in a nice area, closed its doors. I don’t know the story but I could guess: internal problems that no one could/would deal with.

It’s discouraging to hear of such situations. Long-established churches are closing in Europe at a rapid clip. Many conservative congregations that remain open have been under siege for decades by liberal theology and can only find pastors that support heretical liberalism.

Despite the temptation to melancholy, hope remains. That is in the resurrection of Christ. I remember N.T. Wright quoting Leslie Newbegin when responding to the question as to whether he was an optimist or a pessimist, “I am neither. Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.” I’m not saying it’s time to hold up in our enclaves and wait for death. I mean resurrection power remains.

The Spirit of God is alive and well within the body of Christ. The problem is that He is not working like we might wish or expect. We have been used to patterns in the past and He is not working in such a way now. What should we expect, He is a creator after all, not an imitator. He loves to show death and resurrection over and over, but it does not look the same. The patterns in the Bible continue (exile and return, creation and new creation, death and resurrection, etc.) but there are always tweaks. To use a poor metaphor, it’s like a football coach with a specific number of offensive plays, but he runs them from so many formations, sets, and motions that it’s impossible to guess what he will do next.

I can struggle at times because being a Christian today looks so different than it did twenty or thirty years earlier. Satan’s assaults are coming from different directions. The reliable forts that existed in my grandmother’s generation (strong family bonds, neighborhood involvement, community-wide church involvement) are being removed.

So what is there to do? As our Lord said to the church at Sardis, “strengthen those things than remain.” There is much to fight for. Marriage is not dead; we must continue to fight for it. The blood of millions of aborted babies cries out. Will we continue to pray and give and work to end the slaughter? Our children must be raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord lest they fall into the hands of the enemy. There is evangelism and discipleship that must take place.

We don’t know how the Lord will accomplish His will, but we know it will be done. The fact that the battlefield terrain is different is no reason to become discouraged. God always preserves His remnant through judgment.  The question is, “Will I be a faithful servant until the end or will I remain in discouraged paralysis like the fearful servant?”

Biblical wisdom for pastors

The Country Parson: His Character and Rule of Holy Life (1842)The Country Parson: His Character and Rule of Holy Life by George Herbert

This is an excellent advice book for young ministers. Written for pastors in the Anglican church, some details may not apply to other denominations, but on the whole, it is full of wisdom. It describes areas from preaching and counseling, to a minister’s humor and how he should govern his household. I plan on reading this many times in the future.

I hit the mother lode!

I developed an appreciation for Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones after hearing so many of my long-distance mentors (Doug Wilson, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, etc.) speak highly of him. He was a great preacher but for a long time the availability of his sermons was severely limited, as in one sermon a week made available and the previous week’s sermon removed.

I recently checked again and found that all of his sermons are now online for free from the Martyn Lloyd-Jones Trust. This is a blessing I plan on taking advantage of.

In good company

William Cowper struggled throughout his life with depression. It wasn’t nearly as well-understood then as it is now. Yet this man, who didn’t take medication for his condition, was a gifted poet. Throughout his hard life, he remained faithful to God and his struggles deepened his poetic gifts.

One of his poems that always encourages me is “God moves in a mysterious way.” It is neither stoic nor fretful, but displays submission and thankfulness to God for trials of all sorts. I recently came back to this poem and it blessed me yet again.

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

If you’ve ever faced trials and wondered what God was doing, you’re in good company with this godly man. But keep trusting Him; in time He will work it together for good.

He knew what it’s like

“Many pastors keep themselves clean in their bodies

But they are cumbered with covetousness, they cannot drive it from them.”

– Piers Plowman, Passus 1

Greek Heroes vs. Hebrew Heroes

These are the notes I made for a presentation to a theological discussion group. They’re raw, but I think you will get the point.

 

Recently I was reading an essay by a historian who said the following, “The Greeks invented hero-based history.” That is to say, to study history by studying great leaders was invented by Herodotus, Plutarch, and Thucydides. That statement floored me. As I am studying through Judges, I wanted to show that Yahweh invented the study of history, and if we’re talking about civilizations, the Greeks likely gained what they learned about this historical method from the Jews.

The book of Judges is a book of heroes; the term “judge” can mean leader in more than a judicial sense. These heroes are great leaders but none can truly lead reformation in Israel (because Reformation begins in the house of God, a.k.a. the Levites).

The word “hero” comes from the Greek word “heros” which means “great warrior, defender, or protector.” The historian Thomas Carlyle developed an entire theory of heroes, saying that great men move events in history. He published a book, On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History, that listed six types of heroes: The hero as divine, the hero as prophet, the hero as poet, the hero as priest, man of letters, and king. Another book, entitled The Hero: A Study in Tradition, Myth, and Drama, by Lord Ragland, listed 22 elements of a hero in ancient literature. Our own good teacher, Dr. Leithart published a book on the subject entitled Heroes in the City of Man, a study in Greek literary heroes.

The main difference I see between the Greek view of heroes and the Hebraic view (if you could even call it a view) is the Greeks view heroes as the makers of their history, whereas the people of Yahweh understand that Yahweh providentially guides history while raising up men and in some cases women to complete His work.  Most of the Greek heroes are men whose strength and power to perform bold exploits. Men like Hercules, Theseus, Achilles, and Odysseus all were warriors, most of whom defeated terrible enemies and protected their people. Alexander the Great held Achilles as one of his primary examples. The Greek heroes are ends in themselves, that is they accomplish their work and things go back to normal. The Hebraic view of heroes is that they work toward the fulfillment of Yahweh’s purposes. There are similarities in the two civilization’s views of heroes, but they are not working toward the same ends. All the heroes in the Old Testament are shadows of the one true warrior and protector of God’s people: Jesus the Messiah. (more…)

A vaccination against Roman Catholicism

 

I’ve noticed several changes in my thinking over the past year, having officially left my Baptist roots and become a moderately high-church Presbyterian. One of the most notable is a growing aversion to Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theology, particularly with regards to justification, the atonement, and worship.

When my family moved away my senior year in college, I was forced to come to some more substantial beliefs. My first major flirtation was with Roman Catholicism. I attended worship there and was impressed by the earnestness and reverence with which they worshiped. Earlier in my life I appreciated charismatic theology and their appreciation for the ministry of the Holy Spirit. All of that to say I’ve studied several branches of Christendom, in addition to the different Baptist denominations. But as I moved closer to liturgical worship, I joined what is the most simple form of worship I’d ever been a part of: the Primitive Baptists (PB’s). It was an odd union in some senses, but they were the only Calvinistic Baptists in our county. I began preaching in the church early on, but continued learning from the same authors I had been learning from before (most of whom were Reformed, a few of whom were Baptists).

I came with an appreciation of liturgy (1). I didn’t know how different I was from Primitive Baptists, and I didn’t fully understand the sectarian nature of Primitive Baptists, i.e. closed communion and landmarkism. I thought that since each church was independent, each church could do it’s own thing. To a large extent we did, for a Primitive Baptist church, but I still struggled. I am not intending to complain about the Primitive Baptists. Those I knew best were godly, Bible-saturated, and wholesome people. But they were also true to their beliefs and I differed with those beliefs in the areas of closed-communion, rebaptism for all outsiders, and liturgical structure.

During the time I was the co-pastor of a PB church, I was forced to acknowledge that I was different than most of the congregation in liturgical beliefs. Those differences became too big to ignore when my beliefs on covenant theology and paedobaptism became concrete. There were many other issues in the church that led to my resignation and my difference in belief was not the most important one. However, after my family and I joined Trinity Presbyterian in Birmingham, something else came into focus. (more…)

Not the way to stop a nosebleed

“To throw away the reality [of penal substitution] because you don’t like the caricature is like cutting our the patient’s heart to stop a nosebleed.” – N.T. Wright, quoted in a blog post by Derek Rishmawy

If God Had Not Been On Our Side

If God Had Not Been On Our Side – Martin Luther

If God had not been on our side
And had not come to aid us,
The foes with all their power and pride
Would surely have dismayed us;
For we, His flock, would have to fear
The threat of men both far and near
Who rise in might against us.

Their furious wrath, did God permit,
Would surely have consumed us
And as a deep and yawning pit
With life and limb entombed us.
Like men o’er whom dark waters roll
Their wrath would have engulfed our soul
And, like a flood, o’erwhelmed us.

Blest be the Lord, who foiled their threat
That they could not devour us;
Our souls, like birds, escaped their net,
They could not overpower us.
The snare is broken—we are free!
Our help is ever, Lord, in Thee,
Who madest earth and Heaven.