Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Learning about Mystical Union from a Leadership Book

The staff is reading a book called A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, by Friedman . It's a leadership book.

But I read this today, "In any age, concept of leadership must square with the latest understanding of the relationship between brain and body…Recent findings suggest that to a large extent we have a liquid nervous system. The brain turns out to function like a gland. It is the largest organ of secretion, communicating simultaneously with various parts of the body, both near and far, through the reciprocal transmission of substances known as neurotransmitters. In other words, the head is present in the body!” - Friedman

You better believe that's showin up in my discussion of our mystical union with Christ. One of the metaphors Paul uses to describe this union most often is that of the body. We are members of the body united to Christ our head.

While it's clear the head is distinct from the body (and remains Lord over the body), the life of the head pulsates through the body. "The head is present in the body."

So awesome.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mother Kirk 4

Last week I said I'd continue this stream on the church and the importance of the visible church. This will be the last post in this till I round the bend and begin to think about how baptism relates to the visible church and how all this connects to the issue of apostasy.

Two main points became clear in my last post (at least to me). First, God has given us the church, the visible church, and all her ministries because we absolutely need them. We need preaching. We need discipline. We need the church as an anchor for our doctrine. We need the spiritual food we receive at the Table. Without them, there is little hope we'll survive in the faith. Second, Paul threatens those who persist in error - whether teaching lies or living in persistent sin - with excommunication. This is cutting off from the people of God, the visible church, is tantamount to 'handing them over to Satan'. The Church is Christ's spiritual kingdom. For the time being, the world outside is Satan's realm.

I want to push this discussion in a slightly different direction - a more Christocentric one. So far, I've argued the church is necessary for us. But I think there's more to it.

Nevin approaches the necessity of the visible church differently. He writes, “The life of Christ in the Church, is in the first place inward and invisible. But to be real, it must also become outward…the Church must be visible as well as invisible. In no other way can the idea become real.” He draws a parallel between man and the church: a man’s body is not the sum total of the man – there is a soul to be considered also; yet, without a body there is no real man. “Humanity,” writes Nevin, “is not a corpse on the one hand, nor a phantom on the other.” So, the inward life of the church and the outward form must go hand in hand – “Religion must have forms, as well as an inward living force.”  Nevin contends that the church outwardly manifests the inward life of Christ which animates her, and apart from this outward manifestation, no life can truly be said to exist. The invisible church, argued Nevin, can have no proper existence apart from the visible. DG Hart explains, The church, in other words, was the manifestation in the natural world of the resurrected Christ, literally and supernaturally the body of Christ.”

Our first, knee-jerk response may be that Nevin is pushing the body image too far. I don't think so. Schweitzer writes, "Thy Mystical Body of Christ is for Paul not a pictorial expression  nor a conception which has arisen out of symbolical and ethical reflections, but an actual entity." Certainly the body image with all its members is metaphor, but it's metaphor based on an ontological reality - Christ's life manifested outwardly in the church.

What does this mean to us practically?

First, to cut oneself off from the visible church is to cut oneself off from the church, from the people of God. As members of the body, we are connected to the life that flows from our head ONLY by being connected to the body. Self amputation is not a good idea.

Second, we ought to consider carefully the easy abandonment of one body in favor of another. Calvin writes convincingly (and convictingly - is that a word?), "there is no excuse for him who spontaneously abandons the external communion of a church in which the Word is preached and the sacraments are administered." Among these non-excuses he included minor doctrinal differences (though, when the gospel is destroyed a church ceases to exist), hypocrisy, and sin in the church (even by large portions of the church). Those things don't mean the church ceases to exist or isn't still worthy of our reverence. Only when those doctrines that are central to the gospel are perverted.  How radical does this sound to us who live in a church culture where people leave because they were offended by a joke, don't like the song selection, find a better kids thing somewhere, etc.

In summary, the visible church matters - on so many levels, for so many reasons, it matters. But who belongs to the visible church? That's where we're going next in the upcoming posts about baptism.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Disciples Casting Out Demons

I've run into a lot of weird stuff in ministry - including vampires! Yep.

One thing I haven't run into, at least to my knowledge, is clear cut demon possession - not of the kind that Jesus' disciples encountered when he sent them out.


I've always attributed it to the fact that we are not (I am not) as attune to the spiritual realities as the disciples were (and there's certainly something to that). I'm not saying it's correct, but we've come to rely on scientific/medical explanations for what may be demonic.  

Jonathan Edwards raises another possibility in a sermon from 1736. It's a sermon he preached for a young pastors ordination based on the passage in Luke 10:17-18, "17 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven."

In his explanation of the passage (Puritan sermons were often broken into three parts: Explanation, Doctrine, and Uses or Application) Edwards comments, "In those days when Christ was on the earth, there were multitudes in the land possessed with devils, which seems to have been so ordered to prepare the way for a glorious triumph of Christ over the powers of darkness in casting them out."

When you look at the Old Testament you see no clear examples of demonic possession. The troubling spirit sent to assault Saul may be the lone exception (1 Sam 16:14). During the intertestamental period we do have accounts of Jewish exorcists, especially from within the Essenes sect and also in other pagan religions. Then, all of the sudden, a flurry of activity around Jesus' ministry, continuing on to some degree in the early stages of the church (though not with nearly the frequency in Acts as you see in the gospels).

Edwards point makes sense to me on two levels. First, Satan knew of the coming Messiah and his attacks and activity were intensified in the period around Jesus' coming. Second, this was according to God's plan so that Christ might display his power and the inbreaking of the kingdom in awe inspiring ways. Standing there watching possessed pigs run off a cliff you couldn't miss a) demons destroy,  b) they fear Jesus, and c) he could destroy them any time he wants. 

Conquering King indeed!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Fear Thou Not," Jenny and Tyler

I don't have much to say about this song other than I love it. Reading now through the book of Revelation with the boys at night and being a part of the miniseries at Connexion on the same book, this song seems to capture the essence of it - Fear Not, I am with Thee. Wonderful lyrics, great tune. Well done! You can get this song and more from their new album at Noisetrade.

Fear Thou Not by Jenny & Tyler on Grooveshark

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Church, Relevancy, and Race

Last week I read a depressing post my Marc5Solas "Top 10 Reasons our Kids Leave Church." I made reference to Reason #10 in my sermon this Sunday, namely, "The Church is Too Relevant."  I encourage you to read the whole post when you have time (especially if you've got kids/teens in the church). I think he points to something important, yet difficult. What do we mean by 'relevant'. If you mean 'understandable' or 'applicable', then of course I think we should be relevant. We shouldn't speak in King James speak, or hide our light under the bushel of inaccessible theological jargon. And we shouldn't leave these wonderful truths unapplied to the real life concerns of people. So 'relevant' in that way is fine. But, the word 'relevant' is often code speak for 'cool' or 'my style'. That's a problem.

The author of the post asks us to consider what this 'posing' and 'fawning' does to our children. If we're trying to make our faith 'cool', but they soon realize it isn't, will it drive them to leave the church? I agree with the author, trying to interest or re-interest our kids in church by making it cool is a colossal mistake.

There's another angle to take on this. Consider what our desire to be relevant will mean for the church as America continues to fragment into more and more subgroups like crazy.  Think about music for a minute. How confusing are the genre selections on Slacker Radio (which I love)?  Not just Rock, Pop, Country, R&B, Hip Hop, Blues, etc.  Under Alternative (my genre of choice) you've got Alternative, Adult Alternative, Classic Alternative, Alternative Hard Rock, Alternative Chill, Punk and Classic Punk, to name a few). No longer is the youth culture broken down into the jocks, nerds and dirtbags (the taxonomy from my high school days). Now there's all kinds of subgroups ... most I have no idea what they mean (yep, I'm out of touch).

Each time we try to make the church cool, we have to pick a subgroup to be cool for: a genre of worship, a style, a look, an ambiance. Well, what's cool for a jock who likes hard rock will be a turn off for a John Deere driving bumpkin from the country who likes Travis Tritt. Going emo probably won't attract all those baby-boomers out there who like their music light and poppy. Etc. etc.

Just being a little Chicken-Littleish? I don't know, consider what being relevant has done to the church racially (what follows is an edited post I wrote in 2010).

The way we do church in America is bound to continue the strong racial divide in our churches and offers little hope of overcoming it. With few exceptions, the divide is profound and troubling. The authors of Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America cite a study by Lincold and Mamiya:
"Seven major black denominations account for more than 80 percent of black religious affiliation in the United States...Moreover, the remaining 15-20 percent of black Christians are scattered among numerous small black sects, the Roman Catholic Church and the mainline white Protestant denominations. The overwhelming majority of the latter are in predominately black congregations, despite denominational affiliation with white communions." (16).

Why are we still so racially segregated on Sunday mornings? Certainly the tensions of the past has something to do with that (and that will come up in my second point). However, I think it probably has more to do with the approach to church and ministry that has been adopted in evangelical community. Going back at least to the 19th century and the revivals referred to as the Second Great Awakening, and even more so in the ministries of men like DL Moody, there were attempts to make church less 'churchy' and more appealing to the non-religious. Sermons were more entertaining (so Billy Sunday might jump up on a pulpit to keep peoples attention), songs were more common (Ira Sankey's tunes), etc. That trend continued, and intensified, in the 'seeker sensitive' movements of the 80-90s (and today). Now, drama's video clips, and contemporary secular music became regular part of Sunday morning worship. Rick Warren describes how he went door to door asking people what they wanted in a church service before planting Saddleback.

Do you see the problem here? Black and White America have very different tastes when it comes to entertainment. It becomes virtually impossible to appeal to both segments of American society through entertainment. Musical expressions are quite different. TV watching trends are also stunningly different. The authors point out that during the 95-96 viewing season, only two of the top twenty shows watched by black viewers cracked the top twenty shows watched by white viewers - Monday Night Football and ER (which as 20 on the list for black viewers and number one among white viewers). The top three shows among black viewers weren't on the radar of white viewers, coming in at 122nd and tied for 124th. What does that mean for the church? Unless someone is willing to set aside their tastes, preferences, etc., an integrated worship experience isn't going to happen. And, unfortunately, nobody seems very willing to do so - witness the worship wars in which one generation of white church goer was/is unwilling to set aside their preference for hymns or praise and worship for the other.

What's the solution? I don't know. Reading the book, however, I am embarrassed by the churches unwillingness to think deeply about it. Maybe the solution is a return to more historic, liturgical, otherworldly forms of worship that would make blacks and white equally uncomfortable. The feel in many churches today is that of a night club or concert arena. In other words, it feels very much a part of 'this world'. Maybe the solution is to embrace the other worldliness of worship, the heavenliness of it. Certainly that would feel foreign to us, to everyone. But is that a bad thing?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Mother Kirk Part 3

I concluded the last post in this series quoting from the Westminster Confession of Faith, which states, "The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation" (Chapter XXV, Article 2).

I want to follow up on that, arguing that fellowship in the visible church is absolutely necessary for the believer. I'll let Calvin articulate what I plan to defend, "But as it is now our purpose to discourse of the visible Church, let us learn, from her single title Mother, how useful, nay, how necessary the knowledge of her is...Beyond the pale of the Church no forgiveness of sins, no salvation, can be hoped for" (Institutes 4.1.4).

How can the Westminster Divines claim that outside the church there no hope of salvation? Is Calvin on crack?

Saying you can't be saved outside the church is like a sailor in a lifeboat shouting to a person treading water in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean - "Get in the lifeboat. Out there in the water there's no hope you'll survive."  God, knowing how weak we are, how frail our faith is, and how Satan prowls around like a lion hellbent on destroying has given us the ministry of the church to preserve us in our faith. Because of our weakness, we need the external helps which God has seen fit to deposit in the Church, in "accommodation to our infirmity."

Consider Ephesians 4:11-14:
"And he [Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes."
Calvin comments on this passage, "God, who might perfect his people in a moment, chooses not to bring them to manhood in any other way than by the education of the Church" (Institutes 4.1.5).

Consider for a moment what neglecting the ministry of the church says about God. It says, "God, you went to the trouble of establishing the church and instituting her ministries. You think I need to hear the word preached by your ministers. You think I need the sacraments. I disagree. I think I can do it alone, without the helps you have given me in the church." Bold. Foolhardy.

What Paul says in Ephesians 4 is reflected in his words to Timothy as well. In Ephesians 4 Paul says the through the ministry of the church brings us to maturity so that we won't be tossed about by every wind of doctrine, human cunning, or deceit. In 1 Timothy Paul says, "I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth " (1 Tim 3:15). The church is a pillar and buttress of the truth. It's to keep us from being blown around.

If we do not take advantage of these helps, we have no chance of persevering. Calvin again writes, "For our weakness does not permit us to leave the school until we have spent our whole lives as scholars." And, "The paternal favor of God and the special evidence of spiritual life are confined to his peculiar people, and hence the abandonment of the Church is always fatal." One more, "All who reject the spiritual food of the soul divinely offered to them by the hands of the Church, deserve to perish of hunger and famine."

Consider two other passages similar to one another. In 1 Timothy 1:20 Paul says that, "By rejecting this [faith and good conscience], some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme."  Similarly, to the church at Corinth Paul says, "For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing [slept with his fathers wife]. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord." (1 Cor. 5:5).

The 1 Corinthians passage makes clear that the person was to be excommunicated - put outside the church. This Paul equates with handing over to Satan.  The world is Satan's kingdom. The church is the outpost of the Kingdom of God. The immoral person is put outside as a remedial action, so his carnal/fleshly self may be destroyed through the ordeal of being put out and likely by physical suffering. Having been chastised he will ultimately find salvation and after suffering be restored to the church (2 Cor 2:5-8 - though this person restored is probably the leader of the anti-Paul movement and not the sexual immoral person, the same principle holds).

I will continue this stream of though in the next post, picking up a slightly different tributary and thinking through the ramifications for those who willingly leave the visible church. Fun, fun.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Mother Kirk Redux

Maybe I should quite posting and just embed his videos. Great teaching, if it a bit hyper.


 No, I'll keep posting - but I love this.

Mother Kirk Part 2

In the last post I contended that the church isn't a voluntary society like the Rotary Club. I also introduced the taxonomy of "invisible church" and "the visible church".  Here I want to offer biblical support for these categories.

Before that though, a short definition of 'church' may be helpful. The word church (or Kirk or Kirche) come from the Greek word κυριακός (kuriakos) meaning "belonging to the Lord". The word only shows up twice in Scripture: once in 1 Cor. 11:20 where it refers to the Lord's Supper and once in Rev. 1:10 where it refers to the Lord's Day. The word became the customary word to designate the place where Christians worshiped as they conceived of themselves as the spiritual house belonging to the Lord. This word church eventually became the translators preference when translating the Greek word ἐκκλησία (ekklessia), which literally means 'gathering' and need not carry religious overtones. Robert Reymond asserts, "Because of this, English translations have lost a rich nuance of Scripture regarding the people of God." (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 805).

What does he mean? The best, simplest definition of 'the church' is the community of God's people through all time. This includes the OT people of God who were redeemed by grace through faith. It includes the living and the dead who have been saved by the cross work of Christ.  This fact is obscured somewhat by the [necessary]  translation process.

The word ekklessia is used in several places in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT) to refer to "the assembly of the Lord" in the OT. For example, Deuteronomy 23:1-3 lists people who shall not enter "the assembly of the Lord". In the Septuagint, the Hebrew is translated ekklesia, the same word we now translate church (similarly, see Deut 4:10, Josh 8:35, 1 Chron 29:10, etc.).  In Acts 7:38 Stephen uses the word ekklessia to refer to the assembly of Israel in the wilderness.

The point of this word study is to emphasize the unity of the covenant people of God, the church, through the ages. (See also James' defense of the mission to the Gentiles in Acts 15 where he connects the building of the church & the incorporation of Gentiles with the promise recorded by Amos that God would "rebuild the tents of David that have fallen").

But what of the distinction between the visible and the invisible church? First a clarification. The visible and invisible churches are not two separate churches, but the same church considered differently - one from God's perspective, the other from our earthly one.

References to the visible church are everywhere in the NT.Many uses demand to be taken in reference to the visible church. I think Matthew 18:17 is certainly one - you tell the visible church of your brothers sin against you. Virtually all the uses in Acts refer to the visible church (Acts 8:1, 11:22, 14:23,27, etc). Its obvious that references throughout the NT to the 'church that meets in' so-and-so's house is the visible church (Rom 16:5, Philemon 2, Col 4:15). Moreover, the passages that speak of sin not being tolerated or church discipline in the church must be references tot he visible church (1 Cor 5:12, 6:4, etc.). I'm sure there's more. But, I think its clear that in these visible communities there were unbelievers as well as believers. Both make up the visible church, only the true believers comprise the invisible church.

Does Scripture make this distinction?

Yes, I think it does, often within the context of apostasy (which we'll consider in depth later). So, for example, Jesus can warn or wolves in sheep's clothing (Matt 7:15-16, see also Matt 7:21-23, 1 John 2:19-20, 2 Peter 2:20-22). They come into the church, are a part of the visible church, but seek to destroy it, proving they aren't a part of the invisible church (as God sees it). Likewise, Paul warns that there will be those who swerve from the faith, but reminds Timothy that while he may not be able to tell in advance who those will be, "The Lord knows those who are his" (2 Tim 2:19).

More positively, you can look to John 17. Here Jesus is praying for the invisible church - the elect who are presently in the world and those elect yet to be born. Also, when the author of Hebrews speaks of "the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven" he is speaking of the invisible church (Hebrews 13:23).

So which matters most? Both! Both are essential. The visible church, not just the invisible church "is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation" (Westminster Confession of Faith, XXV.2).

We'll explore that more in the next post.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Mother Kirk, Part 1

Really, what is the church?

If you take your cues from the contemporary evangelical world, it's a voluntary society - like the Kiwanis or Rotary club, like the Gideons or YMCA. Apparently we've learned our ecclessiology from John Locke. Locke wrote,
"A church, then, I take to be a voluntary society of men, joining themselves together of their own accord in order to the public worshipping of God in such manner as they judge acceptable to Him, and effectual to the salvation of their souls. I say it is a free and voluntary society. Nobody is born a member of any church; ...everyone joins himself voluntarily to that society in which he believes he has found that profession and worship which is truly acceptable to God. The hope of salvation, as it was the only cause of his entrance into that communion, so it can be the only reason of his stay there. For if afterwards he discover anything either erroneous in the doctrine or incongruous in the worship of that society to which he has joined himself, why should it not be as free for him to go out as it was to enter? A church, then, is a society of members voluntarily uniting to that end" (emphasis added).
That's different than another John I know. Calvin wrote,
"When we say that the pure ministry of the word and pure celebration of the sacraments is a fit pledge and earnest, so that we may safely recognize a church in every society in which both exist, our meaning is, that we are never to discard it so long as these remain, though it may otherwise teen with numerous faults. Nay, even in the administration of word and sacraments defects may creep in which ought not to alienate us from its communion...we are not on account of every minute difference to abandon a church, provided it retain sound and unimpaired that doctrine in which the safety of piety consists, and keep the use of the sacraments instituted by the Lord" (Institutes, 4.1.11).
Calvin has spoken. It's not a voluntary association to be thrown away lightly on account of any little disagreement. But what does Scripture say? What is the church?

It is not a simple question, or not a question that one can answer simply. The Bible piles up the metaphors to describe the church: body, building, bride, temple, family, etc. Sometimes the Scriptures seem to speak of the church in its ideal state, other times in the very real, impure state we experience it in now.  The distinction between the invisible church and the visible church is incredibly important and helpful when held together.

Calvin acknowledges both aspects, writing, "I have observed that the Scriptures speak of the church in two ways. Sometimes when they speak of the the Church they mean the Church as it really is before God - the Church into which none are admitted but those who by the gift of adoption are sons of God, and by the sanctification of the Spirit true members of Christ"

In this case, the church is comprised of all the elect scattered across the globe and all the saints who have ever lived. This is the invisible church. But Calvin recognizes the visible church and it's indispensability too,

"Often, too, by the name of Church is designated the whole body of mankind scattered throughout the world, who profess to worship one God and Christ, who by baptism are initiated into the faith; by partaking of the Lord's Supper profess unity in true doctrine and charity, agree in holding the word of the Lord and observe the ministry which Christ has appointed for the preaching of it"

Before jumping all over the part about baptism, notice the very visible nature of it. This isn't a subjective thing, but very objective. Do you confess the faith of the Church? Have you been baptized? Do you partake? Do you go to church? Then you are a part of the church.

Calvin could be mistakenly taken to mean here that the church is the simply the collection of individual believers. It is that, but it's more - it's the Mother and her children, the institution and the members of it. He speaks of the Church "into whose bosom God is pleased to collect his children, not only that by her aid and ministry they may be nourished so long as they are babes and children, but also be guided by her maternal care until they grow up into manhood, and finally attain to the perfection of faith"

Interestingly, Calvin felt he needed to qualify his statement, saying that when he speaks of the church, he doesn't JUST mean the visible church, but all the elect. Today, I think he'd qualify in the opposite way - I don't JUST mean the invisible church.

Again, the emphasis is on the objective, not our subjective evaluation of our (or someone else's) faith. When speaking of the invisible church, it's based on the objective decree of God in election. When speaking of the visible church, it's based on the objective confession, baptism, and participation in the church.

Well, long post and not a single verse of Scripture. We shall have to remedy that next post.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Baptism, the Church, and Apostasy

Here begins a series on baptism, it's function in the church, and apostasy. Don't see the correlation? Stick with me, I think you will. All of this is flowing out of my study on the believers union with Christ (which has been faith changing!), a study I've been doing amidst increasing conviction that us evangelicals lack a robust doctrine of the church.

Like most series I start, it's for me - I get more clarity as I write. On this, I am really looking for dialogue partners. Some of my convictions are shared widely by other Reformed writers. Other don't seem to be. TI feel like I'm out on a limb by my lonesome. Maybe for reason, so I invite push back.

Here's a basic outline:
1. The church can be talked about in terms of the invisible church and the visible church, or the church militant and the church triumphant. Both are helpful. As evangelicals, I think we way overemphasize the invisible church and way underemphasize the visible church. Not sure we even think about the difference between the church militant and the church triumphant.

2. Membership in the church invisible (and triumphant) is based on God's eternal decree. The number of this church cannot be added to or diminished by a single person. But what is the basis for membership in the church visible, the church militant? I believe it's baptism. It is by our baptism that we are grafted into the church and become members of the covenant community. As circumcision was the initiatory rite that introduced children into the covenant community of Israel, so baptism marks the entrance of people into the new covenant community called the church.

3. This understanding goes a long way in helping me understand the warnings against apostasy in the book of Hebrews, and elsewhere. I don't believe it's just a hypothetical situation. Nor do I think we should say they weren't real Christians. Baptism is what identifies someone as a Christian in the objective sense - the baptized takes the name of Christ in their baptism, being baptized in his name and in the name of the covenant God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This does not mean that they were a part of the elect and lost their election. That is impossible. But they were a part of the visible church, a part of the church militant. They were a part of the new covenant community and party to the terms - faith brings blessing, unfaithfulness brings curse.  They are unfaithful to the terms of the covenant, but they are at least under the terms of the covenant (as opposed to those who bear no mark of the covenant and live outside of it).

Ok, I know I've bitten off more than I can chew on that. I'll be posting on each soon.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Funniest video ever

Thanks Brian for recommending this. My life will never be the same again.


Monday, February 04, 2013

Means of Grace in the Church

Some ideas are challenging because they are difficult and new. Sometimes ideas are challenging because they have been poorly communicated. On Sunday I made an idea that was challenging because it's new to many more difficult because I poorly communicated it. Usually I don't go back and reexplain myself here on my blog, but I didn't have time to clear it up in the ACG I was teaching and I don't want to leave it un-addressed.

In the ACG I was teaching on the Lord's Supper as a sacrament and introduced the notion that the Supper is a means of grace for the believer. Several were uncomfortable with this phrase because, as they understood it, it seems to suggest that if you do these things, God will give you grace. A friend challenged, "It sound like you're saying 'If you obey, you get more grace'?" And I affirmed that's what I meant - you come to the Lord's table, partake as you are commanded to do, and you receive grace. That didn't sit well in the class, and later, as I reflected on it, I think I understand why.

As I explained it, I may have made it sound like our obedience earns grace. That isn't at all what I meant. In fact, earned grace is an impossibility, it's a contradiction in terms. You can not earn a free gift. If it's earned, it ceases to be free. But, being a free gift doesn't mean that you don't have to do something to access it. If I call to my children and say, "Come down boys, its Christmas! Come get your gifts!", the boys have to do something to get their gifts (get out of bed and come to the tree downstairs. Yet I don't think anyone would say that this takes away from the free nature of the gift - the boys certainly didn't earn it. Or, if I call them to dinner it doesn't mean that I've set up a works based system - you must obey or you don't eat. I'm simply inviting them to where the food is.

That seems to me a pretty good analogy (patting myself on the back a little) for what happens at the Supper. The Supper is a spiritual feast. Our souls are fed as we partake of the body and the blood of Christ. We truly receive grace in this feast - grace that sustains us, helps us persevere, helps us grow in Christ-likeness. We must heed the summons to come to the feast, to come and receive the gift. We don't earn the gift or the banquet, but we come obediently and expectantly ready to receive.

A few more quick points may clarify even more.

First, we don't just need grace once. We need it constantly. You could draw the distinction, maybe, between saving grace (justifying) and sanctifying grace, but I don't know that's necessary or wise. It's all saving grace. Remember: we've been saved, are being saved, and will be saved. Salvation isn't just justification, it includes our sanctification and our glorification in eternity also - all in union with Christ!

Second, while grace can (and certainly does) come to the sinner in surprising and unique ways, it more typically comes through God ordained means. At the individual level, these include the reading of the Word, prayer, the ministry of fellow believers. But there is a special role for the church. Berkhoff writes, "While the Spirit can and does in some respects operate immediately on the soul of the sinner, He has seen fit to bind Himself largely to the use of certain means in the communication of divine grace...The Church may be represented as the great means of grace which Christ, working through the Holy Spirit, uses for the gathering of the elect, the edification of the saints, and the building up of His spiritual body. He qualifies her for this great task by endowing her with all kinds of spiritual gifts, and by the institution of the offices for the administration of the Word and sacraments, which are all means to lead the elect to their eternal destiny." - Louis Berkhoff, Systematic Theology , 604.

Third, I think its always good to remember that our obedience isn't something that earns grace because it's grace based obedience. In other words,"it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13). Every act of obedience draws on God's grace, so rather than earning something from God by our obedience, we go deeper in dept to God's grace as we obey. Amazing Grace indeed! If you want to think more on this, I highly recommend John Piper's Future Grace: The Purifying Power of the Promises of God (you can hear his speak on it it here).