Friday, April 29, 2011

Lutheran Pastors

With honor and respect for Rich, my Lutheran pastor friend...

Oh, and I had to add this one too:

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Catechism #96-98

For some reason, God is trying to drive this home for me this week. Not only was the second commandment the focus of our family devotions but also of my reading in Calvin's Institutes (Book 1, ch. 11).

Question #96
: What is God's will for us in the second commandment?

Answer: That we in no way make any image of God nor worship him in any other way than he has commanded in his Word (Deut. 4:15-19; Isa. 40:18-25; Acts 17:29; Rom. 1:22-23; Lev. 10:1-7; 1 Sam. 15:22-23; John 4:23-24).

Question #97: May we then not make any image at all?

Answer: God can not and may not be visibly portrayed in any way. Although creatures may be portrayed, yet God forbids making or having such images if one's intention is to worship them or to serve God through them (Ex. 34:13-14, 17; 2 Kings 18:4-5)

Question #98: But may not images be permitted in the churches as teaching aids for the unlearned?

Answer: No, we shouldn't try to be wiser than God. He wants his people instructed by the living preaching of his Word—not by idols that cannot even talk (Rom. 10:14-15, 17; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:19; Jer. 10:8; Hab. 2:18-20)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Cosmic Gospel that Speaks to Individual Sinners

How big is the gospel? Recently, more emphasis has been placed on the cosmic and corporate natures of the gospel. God is saving or redeeming all things in Christ. God has a cosmic plan to undo all the damning effects of sin. The good news spreads grace 'as far as the curse is found'. Yes, yes and Amen. In my upbringing, this great truth wasn't emphasized much, and I really appreciate the bigness of it.

But... Does the gospel have anything to say about how I, as a wretched sinner, will find a place in God's new world? With the emphasis on the bigness and cosmic nature of redemption, I feel we can go too far in that direction and end up overlooking and undervaluing the individual nature of gospel salvation.

The beauty of the new heavens and new earth is that sin and evil are obliterated, all of God's enemies are destroyed, nothing impure or unholy is permitted entrance. Wonderful. Oh, but wait, we're all sinners (Rom. 3:23), we're by nature God's enemies (Rom. 5:10; Eph. 2:3), and unholy (Rom. 3:10; Rom. 5:6).

A gospel that doesn't address the question of how an individual sinner is reconciled to a holy God is not gospel at all. The full gospel includes the good news that God is redeeming all things, undoing the effects of the curse, and has by grace through faith in Christ reckoned sinners to be saints and included them in his redemptive purposes.

For a great discussion of this, see DA Carson's article 'What is the Gospel? - Revisited' (especially the subheading 'The Gospel in Its Wide and Narrow Senses' starting on pg. 159). This essay appears in the book For the Fame of God's Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper.

Sojourn Music New Album

The new CD from Sojourn Music came out yesterday: The Water and The Blood !!!!

Sojourn music is far and away my favorite worship music being produced right now (Red Mountain Church Music is next on the list). For artistry, they get five stars. For theological content of the music, five stars. This CD is a collection of Isaac Watts hymns (Watts, not Newton). Ok, for singability, I can only give it three stars. I'm sure they've gotten used to it as a congregation.

I have loved all five of the cd's I've purchased from them and encourage you to give them a listen.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Song of the Week

Not sure if I love this song or hate it. Certainly, not in my 'sweet spot' musically, but diversity is good, right?! First heard this on the Heineken commercial.

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour, "Golden Age"

Friday, April 22, 2011

Why don't we have a lot of details?

Jon Bloom writes, "One astonishing thing about the Gospel accounts of the death of Jesus is that they include almost no detail. They all simply say some form of 'they crucified him.'"

Why the sparse details? Read here.

It's Friday...but Sunday's coming

This is wonderful. There's a video you could watch on YouTube that combines this sermon excerpt with images from the Passion. I would, however, recommend not watching, but closing your eyes and just listening to this excerpt from S.M. Lockridge. It came across my feed from Justin Taylor's blog.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Putting to Rest Several Strawwomen

Mary Kassian has a great article that I stumbled upon through another blog. She seeks to set to rest “'Dora the Doormat' and other Scary Straw Women of Complementarity." As a complementarian, I appreciated the effort to clear up misrepresentations of the position.

From the conclusion:
Are there people who would like nothing better than to turn Dora into a doormat, Danielle into a dipstick, trap Kathy in the kitchen, insist that Bertha pop out more babies, and repress Rita? Yes, sadly there are. And I am the first in line to call them to account. But to say that these caricatures accurately represent the views of complementarians is like saying the Unabomber accurately represents the views of environmentalists. So please stop doing it!
Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Marriage isn't eternal, so it doesn't matter!

What? Who would say that?! Not me, but that is a line of reasoning that I am picking up on from a lot in the evangelical world. The argument goes, if it isn't eternal, it must not be valuable or worthwhile. The corollary, to make work and cultural endeavors valuable we must make them, in our theologies, eternal - get them in, somehow, to the new heavens and the new earth. Well, I'm pretty sure that Jesus said marriage isn't eternal (Matthew 22:30), but I'm pretty sure it still matters. There is no marriage in the new heavens and new earth, the age to come, but we are still to cherish it and treat it as incredibly significant. Ask Paul. Just ask my wife.

It seems to me there are two extremes in thinking about the relationship between eternity and culture (used in the broadest sense possible to include family, work, high culture and low pop culture - in other words, everything humans do). I want to propose a third way. I'm certainly not claiming to be the first to propose it - I've never had an original thought in my life, at least not one I'd want to share publicly.

On the one hand there are some who have asked, "Why polish the brass on a sinking ship?" Popular theologian and radio host J. Vernon McGee use that expression to explain why the church shouldn't be overly concerned with improving this world. For many in this camp, the only vocations deemed worthy were those of pastor or missionary (maybe housewife?). Youth were sent off to Bible colleges and the emphasis was on saving souls. Nothing else mattered. Your job was a mission field and worthwhile/valuable only in that it brought you into contact with unbelievers with whom you could share the gospel. There certainly were groups that refused to polish the brass on the sinking ship.

[As an aside, I don't think this view was as widespread or characteristic of evangelicalism or even fundamentalism as we have been led to believe. It has become a popular caricature but one that applies to a very small group. It's supposed to apply to the old style fundamentalists, but really, they were deeply engaged in culture (though not in the way their detractors would like!). The old fundi's were active in working with the poor through inner city rescue missions, were active in politics (especially after Roe v. Wade), were the leading proponents of temperance and prohibition, served their neighbors, served their country, etc. They were involved, but again, not in the ways their detractors would wish.]

On the other extreme, there are those who would argue that while the ship is in bad shape, it's not sinking. The Master of the Shipyard will restore it, and if we've polished our brass in a truly Christian way, our polished brass will find a place on the restored ship. This is the camp of, say, NT Wright or Anthony Hoekema, and oddly probably Rob Bell and Brian McLaren too. Some may say it slightly differently, like the ship is sinking, but the brass that has been polished in a truly Christian manner will be carried onto the next ship. Still, the implication seems to be that our work and culture building in this world matters only because God will use them as building blocks for the world to come.

Again, I'd like to suggest a third way. I believe the ship is sinking - this earth will pass away. Peter actually uses the word 'dissolve' to describe the perishing of the old heavens and earth (2 Peter 3:10-13). Jesus speaks of the close of this age using cataclysmic language - the sun being darkened, the moon ceasing to shine, stars falling from their places (Mark 13:24-27; Matthew 24:19-21). Also, John, in his Revelation, speaks of the end of Babylon (this present world order) and the passing away of it's cultural endeavors, including politics, commerce, the arts (music and craftsmanship), and family (Rev. 18). These are cultural endeavors Christians pursue alongside the world at large, and they perish. The only point of continuity, the only thing that survives the old earth and exists in the new earth, is us - believers. That may be overstating it, but I think only slightly.

The ship is sinking. But, we should polish the brass anyway. Why? Because we live here! Not permanently. We will be taken away when we die and return to a new earth after Christ returns. But even though we don't live here permanently, we do live here for a while...and our kids for a while after us...and their kids...till the end of all things! Lynn and I knew when we bought our first home that we weren't going to live there forever. Not even that long - four or five years. But, we took care of it. We fixed it, we painted it, we planted trees and bushes and flowers. Why? It made living their better and it served our neighbors. They didn't want an eye sore in the neighborhood.

The NT describes us as believers as sojourners, pilgrims, and exiles. In this we are like the sojourners and pilgrims of the OT - Abraham and the patriarchs. They dug wells, entered into agreements with foreign kings, herded cattle, bought, sold, worked for Pharaoh, made coats of many colors, etc. Like them, we should work to make our world better, though we are just passing through. Likewise, when Israel went into exile they were commanded to "seek the welfare of the city" in which they lived (Jeremiah 29:5-9). He specifically tells the people, through Jeremiah, that 1) you'll be here in exile only temporarily, and 2) its going to be a while, so prosper while you are there. In the end, the homes they build, the crops they planted, etc. had to be left behind when they returned to Israel. But that fact wasn't to keep them from planting and building and working and marrying and seeking the welfare of a city that wasn't their true home. Like Israel in exile, we aren't taking our cultural products with us when our exile is ended, but we work for the good of our city/neighbor nonetheless.

So, though the ship is sinking and the city in which we live isn't our permanent home (mixing metaphors, I know), we still polish the brass - pursue the welfare and work for the good of our cities, our neighbors, the world. Luther quipped, "God doe not need your good works, your neighbor does." He doesn't need our cultural work, our labor, our good works to build his new earth. No, but our neighbor needs them now - and so, in love, we pursue all of these things. And they matter, not because they carry over into eternity, but because they bring glory to God here, serve our neighbor here, express love and compassion here, and maybe win some souls for eternity. That is enough for me.

So, pass the Brasso and lets get to work!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Catechism #92-95

Question #92: What does the Lord say in his law?

Answer: God spoke all these words:

"The First Commandment"
I am the Lord your God,who brought you out of Egypt,out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.

"The Second Commandment"
You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

"The Third Commandment"
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

"The Fourth Commandment"
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.
For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

"The Fifth Commandment"
Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

"The Sixth Commandment"
You shall not murder.

"The Seventh Commandment"
You shall not commit adultery.

"The Eighth Commandment"
You shall not steal.

"The Ninth Commandment"
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

"The Tenth Commandment"
You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

(Ex. 20:1-17; Deut. 5:6-21)

Question #93: How are these commandments divided?

Answer: Into two tables. The first has four commandments, teaching us what our relation to God should be. The second has six commandments, teaching us what we owe our neighbor (Matt. 22:37-39)

Question #94: What does the Lord require
in the first commandment?

Answer: That I, not wanting to endanger my very salvation, avoid and shun all idolatry,^1 magic, superstitious rites, and prayer to saints or to other creatures. That I sincerely acknowledge the only true God, trust him alone, look to him for every good thing humbly and patiently, love him, fear him, and honor him with all my heart. In short, that I give up anything rather than go against his will in any way (1 Cor. 6:9-10; 10:5-14; 1 John 5:21; Lev. 19:31; Deut. 18:9-12; Matt. 4:10; Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9; John 17:3; Jer. 17:5, 7; Ps. 104:27-28; James 1:17; 1 Pet. 5:5-6; Col. 1:11; Heb. 10:36; Matt. 22:37 (Deut. 6:5); Prov. 9:10; 1 Pet. 1:17; Matt. 4:10 (Deut. 6:13); Matt. 5:29-30; 10:37-39)/

Question #95: What is idolatry?

Answer: Idolatry is having or inventing something in which one trusts in place of or alongside of the only true God, who has revealed himself in his Word (1 Chron. 16:26; Gal. 4:8-9; Eph. 5:5; Phil. 3:19).

Song of the Week

This song is certainly appropriate for Holy Week, and the fourth verse ties in neatly with the discussion on regeneration preceding faith. Not sure about the line 'emptied himself of all but love', but will allow for some poetic license.

Covenant Life Church, "And Can it Be"

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Catechism #90-91

I wish I had been familiar with Q91 last year before my debate with Dan Barker!

Question #90: What is the coming-to-life of the new self?

Answer: It is wholehearted joy in God through Christ and a delight to do every kind of good as God wants us to (Ps. 51:8, 12; Isa.57:15; Rom. 5:1; 14:17; Rom. 6:10-11; Gal. 2:20).

Question #91: What do we do that is good?

Answer: Only that which arises out of true faith, conforms to God's law, and is done for his glory; and not that which is based on what we think is right or on established human tradition (John 15:5; Heb. 11:6; Lev. 18:4; 1 Sam. 15:22; Eph. 2:10; 1 Cor. 10:31; Deut. 12:32; Isa. 29:13; Ezek. 20:18-19; Matt. 15:7-9).

Why do I think it's important to put faith after rebirth?

After my last post, Mark asked why it's important to put faith after rebirth. Is it practically important or just systematic theology gone awry? I think it's important for two reasons (feel free to add more).

First, it reminds us that it's God who saves. He takes the initiative. He follows through. He completes it. He doesn't just make salvation possible, he saves. He takes the first step towards us and enables every step we take toward him. Again, this is so we don't get the credit or the glory. It doesn't depend on us, but on God. Understanding this keeps us from putting trust in our faith. Mark commented that he doesn't see to many people proud of their faith. I agree. Kinda. Here's what I see - I see people who put their faith in their faith, as though it were saving without reference to the object of their faith. Some ask questions like, "Why would God save me and not someone like Gandhi. Is it really just because I said a prayer at church camp one summer?" In essence, this person is putting trust in their confession of faith, as though it was a salvific work. That comes out of a very recent conversation...but I've had dozens like it in the past. Sometimes it's spoken out of doubt - "really, just because I believe, I'm saved?" Sometimes it's false security, "I'm good cause I signed a card at a Cru meeting a couple years ago" or "I went forward at church back when I was a kid".

Different expressions of the same confusion - treating faith as though it was the basis of our salvation rather than the instrument of salvation. It is a form of works righteousness, that says, "Christ lived and died for us. Good. Now all that's needed is my faith and we've got a saving combo!". Understanding faith as a gift given and enabled by the Spirit (through regeneration) keeps us from viewing it as something we've done that contributes to our salvation.

The second reason I think putting regeneration before faith does have to do with evangelism. As I see it, if the Spirit has opened someone's heart, there's nothing I'm going to do to persuade them to repent and believe. It's just not possible to move someone across that decision line, truly, apart from the Spirit's work. So, the pressure is off. On the other hand, if the Spirit is quickening a person, they will respond to the gospel call, and by God's grace, I might have the privilege of being a part of that! So it keeps evangelism in perspective. It gives us hope, even when we don't have persuasive words. It also keeps us from beating ourselves up if someone isn't responding like we want. Finally, it should spur us on to prayer - asking the Spirit to do his work and prepare our friends, neighbors, family members, congregants, etc. to hear the word and enabling them to respond in faith.

Those are my rambling thoughts.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Does One Need Faith to be Born Again?

Does one need faith to be born again? No. Absolutely not.

Has Rob Bell gotten to me? Hell no! (Couldn't resist).

I say no, we don't need faith to be born again because faith is the result of being born again, not the cause. Scripture speaks of regeneration (being born again) as the completely sovereign work of God in which we are entirely passive. Just as we did not choose to be born physically, so we do not choose to be born again...

John 1:12-13, "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."

Speaking of this same regenerative work, God declared through the prophet Ezekiel, "And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules" (Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV).

Jesus, in his conversation with Nicodemus makes this clear too, "Nicodemus said to him, 'How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?' Jesus answered, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.'"(John 3:4-8 ESV).

Peter writes, " Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3 ESV).

Maybe even more telling are the passages that speak of our inability to respond appropriately to God prior to a regenerative work by God.

Jesus says that no one can come to him unless "it is granted him by the Father" (John 6:65). Luke describes this in the life of Lydia as God, writing that "The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul" (Acts 16:14).

In addition, Paul tells us, "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" (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV). How does one become a spiritual person rather than a natural person? It is the sovereign work of God - the wind blows where it wills.

Likewise, Paul says in Ephesians 2:4-9, "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." See also Colossians 2:13.

I should clarify - I believe those who are regenerated by the Spirit will respond to the gospel call in faith. There's a whole bunch more posts possible on the notions of 'irresistible grace' and 'effectual calling'. Moreover, saying regeneration precedes faith isn't so much a statement of chronology as it is logic. From our perspective this work of God in regenerating sinners, calling them effectually, them responding in repentance and faith and being justified may seem to all come together. However, logically, our responses are possible only because of God's initiative.

Augustine referred to regeneration as 'prevenient grace' - the grace that precedes our outgoing of heart toward God (Packer, Concise Theology, 158). Why the emphasis on regeneration or rebirth preceding faith? Going back to the passage in Ephesians, Paul explains that God made us alive when we were dead and did it solely by grace "so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus". If faith becomes something we do on our own, there is the danger of viewing it in a meritorious way - as though our faith saves us. That's dangerous. if it's our faith that saves us, the object of our faith wouldn't really matter, as long as our faith was strong and/or sincere. But it isn't our faith that saves us - we are saved by grace through faith in Christ. Christ, the object of our faith, saves us. God's grace enables this faith so that no one will boast, no one who is saved can credit themselves, and God gets all the glory.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Song of the Week

I had forgotten about the Foo Fighters until last week when I picked up their greatest hits album from Amazon. And I didn't know about David Grohl's connection with Nirvana till I say the commercial for the VH1 Rock Doc on the Foo Fighers (he was the drummer until Cobain's death).

Foo Fighters, "The Pretender"

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fun Science Experiment

Caleb and a few classmates had to put together a science experiment on lithium. For extra credit, they wanted to do an experiment. I remembered lithium reacts with water, but the hard part was getting my hands on some lithium. Ah, take apart a lithium battery! Here's some picks of the fun:

Taking apart the battery with pliers took over an hour - maybe even two. These things aren't meant to be taken apart - they're built like mini-fortresses.

Watch out, if you take this on, the fumes are strong and not at all good for you. Do it outside.

Also, the battery will likely short on you and get very hot. Could even catch on fire. If it gets hot, put it down for a while to make sure it doesn't catch!

This is what you're after - the battery core. After taking it apart, pull the core out, then unroll it. The lithium is in there with some paper (stinky) and aluminum foil.

Here's a video to show you step by step.

Then, drop a piece in the water. Really, it's not all that impressive. It's kinda like AlkaSelzer. Fizzzzz.

But then get a little more imaginative!

Lite it Up!

Yeah, like pyrotechnics. Sparks. Incredibly bright burn. It was awesome.

The finale!

Before throwing a big piece in the water, light a match and have it ready. When you throw the piece in, hold the match over the fizzing metal. It's letting off hydrogen gas. Great, bright, red, long burning...

the boys weren't disappointed!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Catechism #88-89

Question #88: What is involved in genuine repentance or conversion?

Answer: Two things: the dying-away of the old self, and the coming-to-life of the new (Rom. 6:1-11; 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:5-10).

Question #89: What is the dying-away of the old self?

Answer: It is to be genuinely sorry for sin, to hate it more and more, and to run away from it (Ps. 51:3-4, 17; Joel 2:12-13; Rom. 8:12-13; 2 Cor. 7:10).

Calvin On The Supper

Book Fourth, Chapter 17.2:

Pious souls can derive great confidence and delight from this sacrament, as being a testimony that they form one body with Christ, so that everything which is his they may call their own. Hence it follows, that we can confidently assure ourselves, that eternal life, of which he himself is the heir, is ours, and that the kingdom of heaven, into which he has entered, can no more be taken from us than from him; on the other hand,that we cannot be condemned for our sins, from the guilt of which he absolves us, seeing he has been pleased that these should be imputed to himself as if they were his own. This is the wondrous exchange made by his boundless goodness. Having become with us the Son of Man, he has made us with himself sons of God. By his own descent to the earth he has prepared our ascent to heaven. Having received our mortality, he has bestowed on us his immortality. Having undertaken our weakness, he has made us strong in his strength Having, submitted to our poverty, he has transferred to us his riches. Having taken upon himself the burden of unrighteousness with which we were oppressed, he has clothed us with his righteousness.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

The Supper, part 4

The next point will probably sound the most foreign to contemporary evangelicals, sounding almost Roman Catholic. But the early reformers insisted that the bread and wine were signs of something present, not something absent - Christ was really spiritually present in the sacraments.

4. The Real Spiritual Presence of Christ. All of the words in that phrase are important. Christ is really present, if by real we mean 'true' or 'truly'. Calvin shied away from the word, though he did use it on occasion, because he was aware of the baggage it was loaded with. He denied that the bread became the body and the wine became the blood in a literal, physical way. The signs to not become the thing signified. Moreover, since Christ is in heaven he denied that he was locally present at the Table. But saying that Christ isn't locally present and that the signs don't become the thing signified does not mean that Christ is not truly present in an objective way. He is not only present in remembrance or sentiment, but truly present. The signs are not just bare symbols; there is a union ('sacramental union') between the sign and the thing signified.

How is Christ present when he remains bodily in heaven? Through the power of the Spirit. That is, I believe, what Calvin meant when he wrote about the spiritual presence of Christ. Saying that Christ is spiritually present can easily lead to misunderstanding. Calvin didn't mean that Christ is present only in the sense that the Spirit is present as his representative. The Spirit and Christ, while united in the Trinity, are separate persons and distinct from one another. Moreover, Calvin does not mean that Christ is present only in his divine nature. We communion with the person of Christ in the fullness of his divine nature and the fullness of his human nature. Calvin writes, "I am not satisfied with the view of those who while acknowledging that we have some kind of communion with Christ, only make us partakers of the Spirit, omitting all mention of flesh and blood."

So what does Calvin mean when he says Christ is spiritually present? He means he is made present through the power of the Spirit. While we are separated by a great distance from the person of Christ in his flesh and blood, the Spirit bridges that gap in a miraculous work. Calvin writes, "though it seems an incredible thing that the flesh of Christ, while at such a distance from us in respect of place, should be food to us, let us remember how far the secret virtue of the the Holy Spirit surpasses all our conceptions, and how foolish it is to wish to measure its immensity by our feeble capacity. Therefore what our mind does not comprehend let faith conceive - viz. that the Spirit truly unites things separated by space."

For Calvin to say that Christ is spiritually present doesn't mean he denies Christ is present in his flesh and in his blood, but that he is present in his flesh and blood through the Spirit. Thus, what Paul says in 1 Cor. 10:16, "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation [koinonia] in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation [koinonia]in the body of Christ?" (ESV).

So, just as we really partake of the bread and cup, so we also really partake of Christ. The bread and the cup are taken by the mouth, Christ is taken by faith, being the "mouth and stomach of the soul." John Williamson Nevin explains,
“Here Christ communicates himself to his Church; not simply a right to the grace that resides in his person, or an interest by outward grant in the benefits of his life and death; but his person itself…Christ first, then his benefits"

“[The Reformed position] allows the presence of Christ's person in the sacrament, including even his flesh and blood, so far as the actual participation of the believer is concerned … A real presence, in opposition to the notion that Christ's flesh and blood are not made present to the communicant in any way. A spiritual real presence, in opposition to the idea that Christ's body is in the elements in a local or corporal manner. Not real simply, and not spiritual simply; but real, and yet spiritual at the same time. The body of Christ is in heaven, the believer on earth; but by the power of the Holy Ghost, nevertheless, the obstacle of such vast local distance is fully overcome, so that in the sacramental act, while the outward symbols are received in an outward way, the very body and blood of Christ are at the same time inwardly and supernaturally communicated to the worthy receiver, for the real nourishment of his new life. Not that the material particles of Christ's body are supposed to be carried over, by this supernatural process, into the believer’s person. The communion is spiritual, not material. It is a participation of the Saviour's life.”

5. This brings me to the last word I need to sum up the Reformed view as articulated by Calvin - 'miraculous'. Nevin points out that in the Calvinistic view, the communion of the believer with Christ in the Supper is beyond that experienced in common worship. Believer’s commune with Christ in the Supper in a unique way that is available in no other place. It is a mystery and indeed an actual miracle.Unfortunately, many modern approaches to the Meal empty it of its supernatural element, eliminating the mysterious and miraculous.

In case I haven't made this clear, Calvin's view is my own. In his teaching on the Supper, I believe he has done justice to Scripture and historic teaching of the church. It stretches our abilities to comprehend, and many have rejected his view for that reason. But that's no reason at all, much of what we affirm by faith stretches our ability to comprehend. We affirm, we don't always completely understand.

The Supper, in my view, is essential to the faith and life of the Christian. It is neglected only at great peril to both. It is to be observed in faith, with joy, thanksgiving and anticipation.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Rob Bell Not The Same as Lewis

A lot of fans of Bell's Love Wins have suggested that he is simply articulating Lewis' position on hell for a new generation. Wilson discusses this misunderstanding of Lewis.

Rob Bell no C.S. Lewis from Canon Wired on Vimeo.

The Supper, part 3

In my last post on the Lord's Supper, I explained what it means to say the the Supper is a sacrament and a sign and seal. A few more important phrases need to be introduced.

3. The sacraments are genuine means of grace. God, in the act of eating and drinking, confers grace to the worthy recipient. There is something objective that takes place, not merely subjective (ie. us remembering in our minds or feeling in our hearts). The Supper offers, and makes good on its offer to the one who participates by faith, or as Calvin puts it, "[the sacraments] offer and set forth Christ to us, and in him the treasure of heavenly grace.” This isn't an automatic thing - it's not just the bread and cup that contain grace. First, to properly be considered the Supper means not just that we eat the bread and drink the cup, but that this act is accompanied by the words of institution. Those words, along with the act of eating and drinking, together comprise the sacrament. Second, the worthy recipient must partake by faith. Calvin, while emphasizing the objective nature of the Supper did not accept the notion that the the receiving of grace was automatic - no ex opera operato. The Westminster standards clarify,
WCF, 27.3: " The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments, rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither doth the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that doth administer it, but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers."

SC, Q.91: "How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation? The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them; but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them."

LC, Q.161: "How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation? The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not by any power in themselves, or any virtue derived from the piety or intention of him by whom they are administered, but only by the working of the Holy Ghost, and the blessing of Christ, by whom they are instituted"
Again, it's not just going through the motions that makes them efficacious. God makes them effective through faith, not the thing in itself.

Some may balk at the language of the sacraments being 'means of salvation'. But, Calvin, drawing on Augustine, understood the sacraments as 'visible words'. Thus, what we say of the word can be said of the sacraments also. Generally speaking sacraments accomplish that which the word accomplishes, being a different means to same end. After all, the word and the sacraments have same author (God), same content (the gospel), same power (the Holy Spirit). Therefore, it can be said that, just as the word is efficacious in bringing about salvation, so are the sacraments. But, again, this is only true when someone participates by faith.

It is not automatic. Just as the word must be met with faith to be salvific, so the sacraments. Only when someone truly believes the message embedded in the sacrament (remember, the sacrament includes the words of institution as well as the act as well) do they become efficacious. So, Peter can say, "Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him." It's not the outward thing that makes it effective. Only when someone believes the message it represents does it become so. This has helped me make sense of the language of the Nicene Creed also, which refers to the "baptism for the forgiveness of sins." Baptism contains the promise of forgiveness of sins. It's a sign of that, and a sign it contains also the thing signified. The Spirit, in baptism and in the Lords Supper, transmits the outwards signs and words to our soul.

Next post, I'll explore the real presence of Christ in the sacraments, something I referred to, but didn't elaborate too much on, in the sermon Sunday (4/3/11).

Monday, April 04, 2011

I'm going with this...

Again, I'm sorry for the confusion regarding this blog. There were serious bugs with the blogger site last week, so I began keeping the same blog over on wordpress. Blogger has since fixed the bugs, so I'm going to keep posting here on I've been using this for seven years, don't want to jump ship over a few pesky bugs! If you subscribed to the feed at the wordpress site, unsubscribe - it'll be lying dormant from here on out. You can subscribe to the posts or the comments to this site tot he right.

Song of the Week

It's a Metallica kind of day - ya know, Ride the Lightning kinda stuff. Well, this isn't going that far back, its off the last album.

Metallica, "Broken, Beaten, Scared"