godrock

Secular Prophets

One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true.  Titus 1:12-13

Even as there were secular prophets in Paul’s day who had their finger on the pulse of a generation, whose testimony was true, so we have secular prophets today to whom we should pay attention.  Much secular prophecy today is put to music.  The three greatest rock songs of the 20th century give us prophetic insight into the desires and the discouragements of overlapping generations.  I was listening to a countdown of the 100 greatest rock songs of the 20th century and the top three songs have a very interesting story to tell.

The greatest rock song of the 20th century is “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones.  The lyrics are telling.  The singer is on a quest for satisfaction, fulfillment, contentment – but this proves to be an illusive goal.  It doesn’t matter if he’s driving in his car, trying to pick up girls, or what – he can’t get no satisfaction.  He tries and he tries and he tries and he tries, but he can’t get no.  That great British theologian, Mick Jagger, has captured the frustration of overlapping generations in three stanzas and a chorus.  And surprisingly, what comes through is a thoroughly Biblical doctrine – the flesh does not, cannot, will not satisfy – no matter how hard you try (and try and try).

The song in the #2 slot is Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.”  All Aretha is looking for is a little respect when she gets home – just a little bit will do.  She’s giving her man kisses and money and all she wants in return is a little respect when she gets home.  There is an ache in her heart that pleasure and money can’t fill.  She wants to be more than a sex object and a money maker – she desires to be seen as a person, in her home, by her man.  Is that too much to ask?  He can even sock-it-to-her.   The lyrics go on to say that she gets tired, but she’s going to keep on trying.

Mick desires a satisfaction that he’s not finding and Aretha is asking for a respect that’s being withheld from her.  What’s a person to do?  I know – escape this stingy world and buy a “Stairway to Heaven.”

And that’s exactly what Led Zeppelin did in the #3 rock song of all time.  Read the opening lyrics:

There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold

And she’s buying a stairway to heaven

When she gets there she knows if the stores are all closed

With a word she can get what she came for

The reality is that there is no satisfaction or real respect to be found here in this life and so let’s escape to a place where even if the stores are closed and the doors are locked and no one is opening to us, we can, with a word, get what we came for.  Let’s travel to a place where we don’t have to depend upon the good will of others to experience satisfaction and feel respect.  It wouldn’t surprise me to discover that LSD was the stairway to heaven where everything became possible and available – at least for a while.

Mick is frustrated, Aretha is rejected, and so thoughts turn heavenward.  And why not?  Isn’t this, too, a Biblical theme?  We weren’t created for this life, but for the life to come.  We are pilgrims, not settlers.  I just learned this last week that the full title of Bunyan’s book, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” is actually “Pilgrim’s Progress From This World to That Which is to Come.”  These secular prophets unwittingly reveal they are on the same journey, albeit, taking a much different path that will not lead them where their hearts yearn to be.  We know that Christ is the path which leads from this world to that which is to come.

These ‘three greatest rock songs of the 20th century’ are not so just because of their musicality – their rhythm and beat.  Lyrically, they resonate with the thoughts, dreams, and desires of overlapping generations.  In these songs we find a backhanded recognition of Biblical truth – we are created for a different world and this world cannot scratch our deepest itches, this world cannot reach our deepest places.  Secular prophecy has much to teach us about the desires and doubts of this generation, while at the same time it has much to teach those who author it about their own hearts.  May this generation listen to their hearts, because if they really do, they will be in a place to hear the voice of God.

 

“I Love Jesus But Not the Church”

There was a recent Youtube video by a guy out of the state of Washington who talks about his hate of religion but his love for Jesus. There have been countless replies and I guess mine is no different except for one… I love the Church.

You see whenever people lop in religion, church, Christianity, politics, etc. they always arrive at the final destination that we are all Pharisees and that Jesus came to rebuke them. Anybody who has studied the Bible for more than five minutes knows that it is not only false but the exact opposite… Jesus didn’t come to rebuke the religious but instead point out their errors in hopes of seeing them repent (which in the end many of them did).

The church, or religion as they like to call it, is the Bride of Christ and it has a special place in God’s heart. You only have to read Revelation 19 to see that Marriage Supper of the Lamb is to the church, and most specifically the New Testament church. Jesus cares for and nurtures his Bride like any man would who is engaged to someone he loves.

We could point out a lot of flaws in the church but if we truly believe that God is sovereign and all knowing then we have to believe that when He created the church he knew it would be a place for perfectly flawed people. I, as a pastor, am comfortable with that. I love nothing more than seeing seriously broken people come into the church and be restored. That is what God designed it for and it is the only place it happens.

Let’s address some of the issues. The first knock is that the church doesn’t feed the hungry. Hmmmm, I don’t know about your town but in Lompoc the church is the ONLY group that does feed them and I am sure that is true in most cities. To say that feeding the poor should be the main focus, which is asserted by it reference, it shortsighted. No one ever has come to Christ because of a bowl of soup, but because the Holy Spirit was working through the church in their service to Him to move on the heart of the people.

Second, Christians don’t vote Republican because that is the Christian thing to do. They vote against the liberal, progressive, freedom-stealing policies of those politicians who usually happen to fall into the Democratic camp. Sadly the younger generation see politics from a social justice perspective where as older generations see politics from a personal freedom perspective. I grew up in a family that voted for Democrats by default and we rejoiced when Jimmy Carter was elected. What a train wreck! Now thirty-six years later he is seen as a knight in shining armor.

Finally you could say that you love Jesus but hate religion but if you profess to be a Christian then you would essentially be saying that you hate yourself. As a Christian you are part of the church (religion) and thus the Bride of Christ. And Christ laid down his life for you, the church, and all those Pharisees.

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Seeking that Still Small Voice

I have to admit that I am in a transitional season in my life. Newly transplanted in the Pacific Northwest, transitioning into the Senior Pastor position at Crossroads Community Church, changes are everywhere. I have moved from young, small churches to a very large and established church. New surroundings and experiences. New challenges and events. But truly the biggest change that is happening is in my own heart. God is doing something in me.

I have realized in a new and profound way how loud our world has gotten. I have always been a fan of technology. I have always been an early adopter. But whether it is the Twittesphere, the blogosphere, the new Facebook crazes, viral YouTube videos, so much of it is just straight up noise. For some time I have been noticing how most of the internet chatter is just a regurgitation of a few profoundly gifted people. I find myself waking up and checking the phone first off, Twitter, Facebook, email, texts. All noise I tell you. I have no less than three noise devises on my person at any given time. How many of us find ourselves staring at our devises while people, true and living images of God, are right in front of us being ignored? How many of us hide behind our emails or computers while there is a vast and lost world needing to be connected with in Jesus’ name?

Deep within my heart there is a longing for the simplicity of the still small voice of God. The voice that doesn’t pander to celebrity or the winds of culture. The voice that speaks of love, community, hope and redemption. It’s that voice that doesn’t live in our superficial divides over theology or ministry style. It’s the voice that is deeply Biblical without being legalistic or superficial. It has nothing to do with the proclivities of modern evangelicals and the various camps. That voice has everything to do with love and truth. The voice that wants to help us help others see God’s grace at work in their lives and circumstances.

I have also realized that that still small voice is terrifying renegade. We come seeking one thing and we get another thing. We have wants/desires/hopes/dreams and we get God’s alternative and deeply perplexing agenda. We want to do and God says don’t do. We want reward when God says decrease. We want American dreams spiritually fulfilled and instead we get our status quo called into question and new and terrifying horizon energized.

I cannot speak for you. But for me, I am seeking that still small voice.

Soteriology Graphic 1

Soteriology in the Middle (Part III)

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

 

In this post, my third and final post on soteriology, I wanted to think about the atonement.  Along with the resurgence of Calvinism and the dawning of what some call Neo-Calvinism in recent years, there has been an accompanying resurgence of a debate that has been going on amongst Christians for hundreds of years- the extent of the atonement.

Wayne Grudem defines the atonement this way:

“The atonement is the work Christ did in his life and death to earn our salvation.  This definition indicates that we are using the word atonement in a broader sense than it is sometimes used.  Sometimes it is used to refer only to Jesus’ dying and paying for our sins on the cross.  But…since saving benefits come to us from Christ’s life, we have included that in our definition as well.”[1]

Norman Geisler defines the atonement as “the substitutionary death of Jesus on behalf of our sins, whereby the just died for the unjust in order that God’s justice may be satisfied and His mercy justify the unjust.”[2]

 The idea of the atonement as articulated by the above theologians reflects the biblical teaching of the doctrine of atonement well.  The Bible tells us that God created human beings to know Him and to be known by Him in a relationship of peace, unity, and love.[3]  But our first human parents disobeyed the commands of God which were given to protect mankind and preserve the relationship with God they’d been graciously given.[4]  As a result all human beings are sinners from their core.  All humans break the law and heart of God in their actions, desires, and imagination on a daily basis.  This is the case because having a sin nature we are bound by natural inclination toward sin.  This is the result of inheriting a corrupt nature from Adam and Eve, sort of like human children that contract deadly diseases from parents who have engaged in sinful activities which have compromised their own health.[5]

Because of mankind’s sinful nature and sinful actions all humans deserve to experience the judgment of God.[6]  When someone breaks the law in human society it is common knowledge to us all that the guilty deserve to experience the consequences of breaking the law.  The Bible tells us that breaking God’s holy law carries with it the death penalty.[7]  This includes the experience of physical death upon which our soul separates from our bodies,[8] spiritual death in which our souls are separated from relational peace with God,[9] and the second death which is the experience of eternal conscious torment of body and soul in hell.[10]

 The good news for humanity in spite of our sinful condition and guilt before God is that the atonement is real, and its benefits are available to us through faith in Jesus.  Jesus lived a perfect life for us where we could not.  Though sinless,[11] He died in our place for our sins[12] on the cross experiencing and satisfying the penalty we deserved to undergo as spiritual criminals who have broken God’s holy law.[13]  In doing so He soaked up the wrath of God due us like a sponge absorbs water.[14]  He rose again from the dead conquering Satan, sin, demons, death, and hell on our behalf.[15]  Those who recognize their need for His penal substitutionary death accomplished in their place, and trust that it was sufficient to provide for their forgiveness and acceptance by God apart from any ritualistic, religious, or moral works performed by them are indeed forgiven, and experience the gift of new birth (regeneration).[16]

 

THE DEBATE

All Christians agree that the benefits experienced by those who have the atonement of Christ applied to them through trusting in Jesus are truly blessed with undeserved amazing grace.  They agree that only those who believe in the biblical gospel get to experience the merits of Christ’s atonement. The debate amongst Christians is in regard to the extent of Christ’s atonement.  Who does Jesus actually intend and desire to experience the merits of His atonement made on the cross?  When He voluntarily died on the cross did He intend to provide atonement for all individual sinners, or only the elect?

Some would affirm the doctrine of Limited Atonement or Particular Redemption which declares that Jesus died in a saving (atoning) way for the elect only.  Others would say that Jesus’ atonement is intended for and sufficient to save all individual sinners, but it is only efficient for those who respond to the gospel in faith.  This is what we would call the Universal Atonement view.  This latter view is not to be confused with Universalism which is a heretical view that has seen a recent rise in popularity in America due to the teaching of certain influential pastors.  Universalism basically teaches that since Jesus died for all people, all people will ultimately be saved and make it into heaven.  All biblical and gospel believing Christians reject such a view as heretical and demeaning to Jesus and the justice of God.  This being the case, Universalism will not be discussed in the rest of this post in detail.

 

Calvinism on the Atonement

On the Limited Atonement side of this debate are theologians such as John Owen.  He expressed the common reasoning behind Calvinist thinking on the atonement this way:

The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for, either: (1) All the sins of all men, (2) all the sins of some men, or (3) some of the sins of all men. In which case it may be said: That if the last be true, all men have some sins to answer for, and so, none are saved.  That if the second be true, then Christ, in their stead suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth.  But if the first be the case, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins?  You answer, “Because of unbelief.”  I ask, Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it be, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died? If He did not, He did not die for all their sins!”[17]

 Similarly, John Piper articulates his belief in Limited Atonement this way:

“Christ died for all the sins of some men.  That is, he died for the unbelief of the elect so that God’s punitive wrath is appeased toward them and His grace is free to draw them irresistibly out of darkness into His marvelous light.”[18]

 

Neo-Calvinism on the Atonement

 Though by his own admission he doesn’t appreciate the title, Mark Driscoll is held up by many as the poster-child for what is being called New Calvinism or Neo-Calvinism, and his view on the atonement which he terms Unlimited-Limited Atonement is increasingly becoming a predominant view of the atonement held by young Reformed Christians.  In explaining Unlimited-Limited Atonement Driscoll writes:

“At first glance, Unlimited and Limited Atonement are in opposition. But, that dilemma is resolved by noting two things. First, the two categories are not mutually exclusive; since Jesus died for the sins of everyone that means that He also died for the sins of the elect. Second, Jesus’ death for all people does not accomplish the same thing as His death for the elect. This point is complicated, but is in fact taught in Scripture (1 Tim. 4:10; 2 Peter 2:1).

Simply, by dying for everyone, Jesus purchased everyone as His possession and He then applies His forgiveness to the elect by grace and applies His wrath to the non-elect. Objectively, Jesus’ death was sufficient to save anyone, and, subjectively, only efficient to save those who repent of their sin and trust in Him. This position is called Unlimited Limited Atonement or Modified Calvinism.

Therefore, Modified Calvinists like the Mars Hill elders do not believe anything different than Arminians; we simply believe what they believe and more. Lastly, perhaps the Old Testament sacrificial system provides the best illustration of this both/and position. The High Priest would offer a sacrifice for the sins of the whole nation on the Day of Atonement; this is, in effect, unlimited atonement. Then, each worshipper would repent of their own sins as demonstrated by the giving of their own sacrifices for their sins; this is, in effect, limited atonement.”[19]

 

The Bible on the Atonement

Personally, I think the Unlimited-Limited Atonement position has far more to commend it biblically than the traditional view of Limited Atonement.  My differences with Driscoll’s view aren’t in regard to the extent of the atonement but are over the means of the application of the atonement.  While Driscoll affirms a version of Universal Atonement he also affirms the classic Reformed understanding of Irresistible Grace which, in my opinion, wrongly teaches that regeneration precedes faith (see Part II of this series of posts on www.crossconnection.net for discussion of this).  I would part ways with him on that point.  But in regard to the biblical witness on the extent of the atonement I believe Driscoll is right on, and that his Calvinist comrades have real challenges in squaring the intricate details of their Limited Atonement view with some clear statements of scripture on the issue.

 

Compelling Verses

As a formerly committed Five Point Calvinist let me give you some of the verses I found compelling (or troubling) as I began to shift to a universal understanding of the intent of the atonement.

1 John 2:2- “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”

 John is addressing believers in these verses.  This is clear from the phrase “my little children” as well as the context of the entire book of First John.  Here he clearly says that Jesus’ death was not just for those who were believers already, but for those of “the whole world” also.  The common explanation of John’s meaning offered by those who believe in Limited Atonement is that he didn’t mean every individual person when he used the term “world.”  Instead they say he meant the believers to whom he was writing and all the other believers in Christ living in different parts of the world.  One of the glaring problems with this interpretation is that in the context of his book John tells us that the “world” does not represent God’s people, but in fact represents the realm, influences, and practitioners of evil throughout the globe.  Later in this same chapter John tells exactly what the “world” is to him:

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that [is] in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour.”[20]

 According to John the “world” for whom Christ died is the entire world of evil influence, antichrists (non Christians), and the sinful impulses common to every member of the human race.  It is strange that some would try to designate the concept of the “world” in verse two as other believers living in places different from the audience to whom John was writing when John describes the world in such depraved, sinful, and unregenerate terms.

 

2 Peter 2:1- “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, [and] bring on themselves swift destruction.”  

 Here the apostle Peter is beginning a long section of Scripture detailing the marks, work, and fate of false teachers.  He will go on to explain that because they’ve led many astray from the truth of God that they will ultimately “utterly perish in their own corruption.”[21]  The thing we need to notice here is that these false teachers who are destined to utterly perish according to Peter were apparently “denying the Lord who bought them” by teaching a false gospel and denying Christ.  When Peter uses the term bought he is employing the language of redemption in reference to false teachers he believed would ultimately experience the eternal judgment of God!

If everyone for whom Christ died will ultimately be saved, how is it that these false teachers will utterly perish even though they were purchased by Christ?  Clearly this is a challenge for advocates of Limited Atonement which is sometimes called Effectual Atonement because this system conveys the idea that all for whom Christ died will effectually be drawn to Him for salvation.  Apparently that was not the case for these false teachers who were bought by Christ.

In response some Calvinists say that the false teachers weren’t really bought by Christ on the cross.  Instead, in an effort to find a way to cling to their doctrinal system in the face of such clear teaching, they insist that what Peter meant is that they were identified with those bought by Christ merely because they associated themselves with God’s people.  The problem with that idea is that it is not what the verse says.  Scripture says the Lord “bought them.”  It doesn’t say they were merely associated with those who were actually bought.

 

John 3:16- “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

This is a favorite verse of advocates of Universal Atonement.  To them it affirms undeniably that Jesus was given to the death of the cross for the sins of all individuals in the world.  It affirms that Jesus’ death was atoning and intended for the entire human race, but that only those who believe out of the human race actually receive the benefits of the atonement applied to them for salvation.  In response, adherents of Limited Atonement say that what John meant was that God gave His Son for the elect scattered throughout the entire world, and not every individual sinner in the world.   

J.C Ryle ably refutes the interpretation of this verse offered by advocates of Limited Atonement in his commentary on John.  Since Ryle makes the case for the universal meaning of John 3:16 so clearly, allow me to quote him extensively on this point.

“Some think…that the word ‘world’ here means God’s elect out of every nation, whether Jews or Gentiles, and that the ‘love’ which God is said to love them is that eternal love with which the elect were loved before creation began, and by which their calling, justification, preservation and final salvation are completely secured.  –This view, though supported by many great divines, does not appear to me to be our Lord’s meaning.  For one thing, it seems to me a violent straining of language to confine the word ‘world’ to the elect. ‘The world’ is undoubtedly a name sometimes given to the ‘wicked’ exclusively.  But I cannot see that it is a name ever given to the saints.—For another thing, to interpret the word ‘world’ of the elect only is to ignore the distinction which, to my eyes, is plainly drawn in the text between the whole of mankind and those out of mankind who ‘believe.’  If the ‘world’ means only the believing portion of mankind, it would have been quite enough to say, ‘God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that the world should not perish.’  But our Lord does not say so.  He says, ‘that whosoever believeth, i.e., that whosoever out of the world believeth.’ –Lastly, to confine God’s love to the elect, is taking a harsh and narrow view of God’s character, and fairly lays Christianity open to the modern charges brought against it as cruel and unjust to the ungodly.  If God takes no thought for any but His elect, and cares for none besides, how shall God judge the world?”[22]

 

1 Timothy 4:10- “…the living God…is the Savior of all men, especially those who believe.”

Paul teaches the same thing here that John does in John 3:16.  Though God is especially the Savior of believers (the elect) because the merits of the atonement are actually applied to them through faith, He is also the Savior of all individuals because His atonement was sufficient for their salvation as well.  The difference between those Jesus is “especially” the Savior of and those He’s not especially the Savior of isn’t about who His atonement was intended for; it’s about who believes the gospel so that the atonement may be applied to them.

 

What About Verses that Teach Jesus’ Death was Specifically for Christians?

Some claim there is biblical support for Limited Atonement in verses that specifically describe Jesus’ atonement as being accomplished for His people without reference to unbelievers.  An example of such a verse would be Acts 20:28: “…shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”

Advocates of Limited Atonement point out that this verse says Jesus (God) purchased “the church” with His own blood, and not all individuals.  While it is true that it says Jesus purchased His church with His blood, it is also true that it doesn’t say that Jesus didn’t purchase those who don’t come to faith in Him.  In light of the universal language of other clear passages of Scripture it would be perfectly reasonable to affirm that Paul has in mind those who actually benefit from Christ’s redeeming work on the cross through faith, while not denying that He also died for those who don’t come to faith as well (such as the false teachers in 2 Peter 2:1).  It is an inference to say that since Paul affirms that Jesus died for His church that he is also saying Jesus didn’t die for anyone else.  We use language like this every day in communicating with one another.  For instance, when I say “I love my wife and work to provide a livelihood for her.” it doesn’t follow that I don’t love my daughter and also provide a livelihood for her through my work.

 

Answering the Big Question

When you get into a discussion on the extent of the atonement the proponents of Limited Atonement almost always fall back on the same question.  This question was popularized by Calvinist theologian John Owen and was noted earlier in this post.  To quote Owen again, he asked, “…why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins?  You answer, ‘Because of unbelief.’  I ask, Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it be, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died? If He did not, He did not die for all their sins!”[23]

While at first glance this question might seem to pin the believer in Universal Atonement with a logical problem from which they cannot escape without becoming particular redemptionists, this is not the case.  Two things need to be pointed out in response to Owens’ famous logic problem.  First of all, whether or not the teaching of Scripture is easily graspable within the confines of what we consider human logic isn’t the issue.  The question of the truth of a doctrine isn’t resolved by whether or not it is logical to us, but whether or not it is actually taught in Scripture whether it makes sense to us or not.  The truth is that the Bible affirms that there are infinite spiritual realities that are true, and to which we are subject that we cannot understand in our finiteness.[24] For example, consider the reality of the Trinity.  The Bible affirms that the Father is God, the Son is God, the Spirit is God, there’s only One God, and that the Father, Son, and Spirit are not each other.  Is that beyond human logic?  Absolutely!  Is it true and affirmed by all biblical Christians?  Yes!  Why should we not approach understanding and explaining the biblical data on the extent of the atonement with the same humility and trust in the Scriptures?

Secondly, the question is based on a faulty view of the application of redemption.  It muddies the water and places the provision and the application of redemption as occurring simultaneously at the cross.  If this is true, the elect were forgiven for their sins at the moment the atonement was made for them when Jesus died on the cross. On the contrary, the Bible seems to teach that though the provision was secured for our forgiveness through the atonement at the moment it was accomplished on the cross, the application of the provision isn’t granted until we believe the gospel during the course of our lives.[25]

As far as the sin of unbelief itself is concerned, to be sure, it is a sin for which we stand deserving of judgment like every other sin.  But “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.”[26] And when faith is enabled through the power of God’s Word and a sinner repents of the sin of unbelief, the merits of the atonement are applied to them and they are forgiven for their prior unbelief as well as every other sin they’d committed to that point, or will commit in the future.  The promoters of Limited Atonement are the ones who want to make unbelief a special category of sin.  If we distinguish rightly between the time that the provision of atonement is made for all sins (the cross) and the time that the application of the provision is granted (faith and conversion) we come out biblical and without conflict and confusion.  But whether it feels logical to us or not the Bible is clear that those who experience God’s judgment do not do so because atonement was not made for them, but because they refuse to believe that it has.

“Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? Hebrews 10:29


[1] Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Page 568.

[2] Geisler, Norman. Systematic Theology: Vol. III Sin & Salvation. Page 254.

[3] Colossians 1:16

[4] Genesis 3

[5] Genesis 6:5; Romans 5:11-14

[6] Romans 3:19-20

[7] Romans 6:23

[8] Genesis 2:17

[9] Romans 5:1; 1 Corinthians 6:17

[10] Revelation 21:8

[11] Hebrews 4:15

[12] 1 Corinthians 15:3

[13] 1 Peter 3:18

[14] Romans 5:1; 9

[15] 1 Corinthians 15:4; John 16:7-11

[16] Ephesians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 15:1-2; Galatians 2:16; 3:13-14

[17] Owen, John. The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.

[18] Piper, John. What we Believe about the Five Points of Calvinism.

[19] Driscoll, Mark. http://cdn.marshill.com/files/2005/11/20/20051120_unlimited-limited-atonement_document_9143.pdf

[20] 1 John 2:15-18 NKJV (Emphasis added)

[21] 2 Peter 2:12c NKJV

[22] Ryle, J.C. Expository Thoughts on the Gospels. Vol. III. Page 154.

[23] Ibid

[24] Deuteronomy 29:29; Romans 11:33-36

[25] Ephesians 1:13; 2:8-9

[26] Romans 1-:17b NKJV

Idolatry

Ministry Idolatry

Our hearts are idol factories. We all know this to be true. Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve, humanity has been doing its best to value itself outside of God and for its own purposes. Martin Luther was correct in his assessment that if a person gets the first commandment right (having no other gods before Him) then they would not ever transgress the rest of the commandments. All of our sins are rooted in our heart’s predisposition towards idolatry.

This can become increasingly a problem for people who have been called into ministry. Because the human heart is always looking for a way to justify itself outside of Jesus, it is very easy for us to try and find our standing before God in our service. Let me say from the outset, there is a fine line between walking out our callings and having ministry idolatry. Only God knows the intricacies of the human heart. So please do not think that I think that I know the motivations of another’s heart. I do not and realize (more and more each day) that before his own master a servant stands or falls. There are too many people writing in the comments sections of internet sites that think that they can speak about the motivations of another’s heart. I do not wish to add myself to that cacophonous chorus. But I do want to address a very present struggle that is at work within the heart’s of every minister.

For many of us, we struggle with finding our full identity in Christ alone. There is something glorious about being used by God to bless the world in the name of Jesus. But it is very easy to find our identity in our ministry rather than in Jesus alone. I believe that this is why so many cannot imagine their spiritual lives outside of the work that they do for Jesus. I often ask myself, “How would I do if God asked me to leave the pastoral ministry? Would I be bored? Would I like going to church? Would I feel a void?” By asking these questions, I have found that my heart finds its value in a million things other than Jesus. Looking back over my past as a Christian, I have found my heart exalting “being a Christian”, “being on the worship team”, “being an elder”, being an assistant pastor”, “being a church planter”, “being a part of a specific movement”, “being a conference speaker”, “being an author”, and on and on ad nauseum. Do you see how this goes?

Ministry idolatry is a way to allow our service of God to keep us from actually relating with God. We can be incredibly busy and effective but yet really not relate with God at all. We allow our service for Him to define us rather than allow Him to define us for us. Anything that we value ourselves by or whatever our allegiance is outside of the person and work of Jesus, that is idolatry. So let us ask the Spirit of God to expose our heart idolatry!

Soteriology Graphic 1

Soteriology in the Middle (Part II)

“…He saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.”[1]

 

In my last post I said that in following posts we’d be taking a look at what I’d call a “moderate” and more biblical perspective on Soteriology in contrast to the classic Calvinistic and Arminian systems of Soteriology.  Specifically in this post we will be talking about regeneration- the new birth.  The Bible is very clear that the person who is truly a child of God,[2] accepted and forgiven for their sins in light of the atonement of the cross of Christ being applied to them through faith is born-again.  The Holy Spirit has come to indwell them[3] and sealed them for the day of redemption.[4] He has made them a new person spiritually speaking.[5]

But how does the new birth come about in a person’s life?  That is really the question that is before us.  Do people have enough good left in them in their fallen state to simply make a decision to trust in Christ when presented with the gospel message apart from any divine enablement to do so as Pelagians teach?  Is a person born-again in a moment in time because by exercise of their own free-will they put their faith in Jesus’ work performed in their behalf on the cross as Arminians would contend?  Does God sovereignly make people born-again before they exercise or express faith in Jesus as Calvinists would say?  Or is there another way in the midst of these approaches to answering this question that gives the best account for the most biblical passages that deal with the issue at hand?

 

Arminianism and Calvinism on Depravity

Pelagianism is generally rejected by orthodox Christians. So we won’t specifically deal with that system of thought in this post other than to say up front that what is often flippantly termed “Arminianism” today is truly Pelagianism when you consider primary manuscripts written by the architects and proponents of these systems.  So let’s shift our focus to the Arminian and Calvinistic answers to our question.  We will start by stating the Arminian and Calvinistic views of the depravity of mankind.  The Arminian position (or Remonstrance if you like) was originally articulated by Jacobus Arminius (16th-17th Century).  Arminius taught in regard to human depravity that “In this [fallen] state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace.”

To be fare, I did not represent the Calvinists as well as I could have in my descriptions of some of the five points in my last post.  Some dear and close Calvinist friends pointed these spots out to me in regard to my last post and I want to remedy those mistakes here lest I inadvertently create a straw man to argue against in dealing with these subjects.  So in putting forth the Calvinistic view of the depravity of man (a view not drastically different from Arminius’ own view described above) allow me to quote from a classic Calvinist confession on the subject- the London Baptist Confession of 1689:

“As the consequence of his fall into a state of sin, man has lost all ability to will the performance of any of those works, spiritually good, that accompany salvation.  As a natural (unspiritual) man he is dead in sin and altogether opposed to that which is good.  Hence he is not able, by any strength of his own, to turn himself to God, or even to prepare himself to turn to God.”[6]

What both of the above views have in common is that they agree on what we would theologically call Total Inability.  The idea is that due to the fall of mankind human beings cannot, will not, and do not desire to trust in Jesus for their salvation apart from God liberating them from their bondage to sin and enabling them to do so.

 

Scriptural Affirmations of Total Inability

Both classic Arminianism and Classic Calvinism affirm Total Inability because Scripture itself does so.  Consider the following verses:

John 6:44- “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

 Romans 8:7-9: “Because the carnal mind [is] enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.”

 1 Corinthians 2:14: “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know [them], because they are spiritually discerned.”

 

God Must do Something

Most orthodox believers agree in light of verses like those above that there is a spiritual blinding[7] and/or deadness[8] that must be illuminated[9] or reversed through spiritual resurrection which must take place to enable a sinner to trust in Christ.  Again, the question is what is that work that God does to bring about the ability of a person to trust in Jesus and believe the biblical gospel?  Arminians believe God has universally granted the ability of all individuals to choose Christ by restoring their originally God-given free will through Prevenient Grace.  The doctrine of Prevenient Grace is defined well by the Church of the Nazarene:

“…through the fall of Adam they (Humans) became depraved so that they cannot now turn and prepare themselves by their own natural strength and works to faith and calling upon God. But we also believe that the grace of God through Jesus Christ is freely bestowed upon all people, enabling all who will to turn from sin to righteousness, believe on Jesus Christ for pardon and cleansing from sin, and follow good works pleasing and acceptable in His sight.”[10]

Calvinists have a different explanation of the work that God does to enable faith in the life of the sinner.  They infer from verses that teach Total Inability that the work God does to produce the possibility of faith in the elect is the work of new birth (regeneration), though in truth verses describing Total Inability do not explicitly say this is so or demand such a conclusion.  They contend that regeneration precedes faith.  This is a logical inference they term as a logical necessity based on their view of Total Depravity.  As noted in my last post on Soteriology R.C. Sproul states the Calvinist view that regeneration precedes faith this way: “We do not believe in order to be born-again.  We are born-again in order to believe.”[11]

Let us be clear that if a person is born-again before they exercise or express faith in Jesus that they are saved before they exercise or express faith in Jesus.  In saying they are “saved” I do not mean that they have experienced every dynamic of biblical salvation at the moment of regeneration.  For example I understand that glorification is part of the wider biblical theology of salvation and that no Calvinist would claim a person is glorified at the moment of regeneration.  None-the-less, God Himself equates the work of regeneration with being a literal work of salvation in the person who experiences the new birth.  Consider the following statement of God in Holy Scripture:

“…He saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.”[12]

Some Calvinists understanding of the weight of stating that a person is “saved” before they exercise or express faith in Jesus because of God’s secret work of regeneration in their hearts causes them to prefer that their position not be characterized this way.  But as shown from scripture above this would necessarily be the unavoidable reality if regeneration does indeed precede faith.  Even the great preacher and committed Calvinist C.H. Surgeon acknowledged that when people are regenerated they are saved.  In his sermon Warrant of Faith he conceded, “…man, being regenerated, is saved already, and it is an unnecessary and ridiculous thing for me to preach Christ to him, and bid him believe in order to be saved when he is saved already, being regenerate.”[13] But we are saved “thru regeneration” according to the Holy Spirit inspired Apostle Paul.  If advocates of the idea that regeneration precedes faith don’t like to be characterized as believing a person is saved before they exercise or express faith, it is their position that must be abandoned and not the characterization of their position by those who articulate it scripturally.

 

What Does God Do?

I am in the moderate middle on the exact work that God does to enable sinners to put their faith in Jesus for salvation.  I am not Pelagian because I believe in Total Inability.  I am not Classically Arminian because I do not believe that mankind is automatically and universally in a state of Prevenient Grace due to the merits of Christ on the cross and therefore able to make a free-will decision to trust in Jesus at any given time.  I am not a Five Point Calvinist because I don’t believe the work that must be done on behalf of sinners to enable them to come to faith is the work of regeneration.  I am somewhere in the midst of each of these views.

Stated positively, I believe that all people are totally depraved and as such are in a state of Total Inability when it comes to desiring or being able to actually choose to respond to the gospel message in faith.  I believe that God sovereignly works in the hearts of people to bring them to a place where they understand their need to trust in Christ and understand that Jesus is the solution to their sin.  I believe that upon bringing them to this place of understanding those who are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father”[14] are effectively brought to faith in the gospel and repentance through the convicting and enabling work of the Holy Spirit.[15] When the sinner enabled by God heeds the command of the gospel in faith they are regenerated through faith as scripture declares, and born-again.[16]

Soteriological Moderates (which I consider myself) are able to affirm verses on Total Inability while not twisting sequential verses which describe the order of events at salvation and demonstrate that faith is the vehicle that brings regeneration into a sinner’s life, not the result of regeneration.  A handful of verses that clearly demonstrate that faith precedes regeneration would include:

Ephesians 1:13-14: “In Him you also [trusted], after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.”

According to Paul the order of salvation goes like this: A person hears the gospel.  Next, they believe the gospel.  Lastly, having believed the gospel they heard they are sealed with the Holy Spirit.  They hear, they believe, they receive the sealing of the Spirit.  A Calvinist ordering of this might say they hear, they receive the Spirit, they believe.  That is not what the verse states.

Galatians 3:2; 14c: “This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?… we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

Again, reception of the Spirit is through faith.  Faith is not the result of involuntarily being born-again through a secret work of God in the heart.

John 20:30-31: “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”

The Apostle John, a teacher of Total Inability in John 6:44, found room in his understanding of Total Inability to believe that faith still precedes new life (regeneration).  He compiled the massive account of Jesus’ life and miracles found in the Gospel of John so that his readers might believe that Jesus is the “Christ, the Son of God,” and that “believing” they may have life in His name.  Note that new life through Jesus comes to a person after or through believing according to John.  Again, a Calvinist rendering of this would say something like, “I write of these works of Jesus that God might give you spiritual life so that you can believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”  Again, this is not what scripture says.

What I’ve chosen to call illumination (2 Cor. 4:6) must remove the hindrance of Total Inability so a person can put their faith in the gospel to be born-again.  Some kind of illumination must precede faith so that we can believe.  But these sequential verses demonstrate clearly, and I believe irrefutably, that faith precedes regeneration.  Such a picture is portrayed in Acts 16:14:

“Now a certain woman named Lydia heard [us]. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.”

At the moment of this woman’s conversion “the Lord opened her heart” to enable her to believe the gospel Paul was preaching.  Upon opening her heart she was able to “heed” or respond to the gospel Paul preached.

 

Nagging Questions

A defining moment in my position on the order of salvation came when I began to think about how Old Testament saints were saved, or counted righteous before God.  Most evangelicals believe that the gift of regeneration is a special work of God which He performs in His people during the New Testament age alone.  If the Calvinist is right and regeneration must occur in a person’s life before they can exercise saving faith in the gospel, how is it that Abraham “believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness” if he was never regenerated?[17]  To be clear, Scripture tells us that the thing Abraham “believed” (or put his faith in) so as to be accounted righteous before God is nothing less than the Gospel!

Galatians 3:8-9: And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, [saying], “In you all the nations shall be blessed. So then those who [are] of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.”

Indeed it is not only Abraham who was able to respond to God’s promises in faith apart from being regenerated, but Hebrews chapter eleven lists a mountain of Old Testament (and therefore unregenerate) saints who somehow were able to believe in the promises of God looking forward to the cross in a saving way.

So here’s the issue: I believe that Abraham was in a state of Total Inability.  I believe that I (in the New Testament age) am in a state of Total Inability.  God did something in Abraham that was effective and sufficient to enable him to have saving “faith” in the promises of God that was not regeneration!  And yet, though I am no more dead in my sin than Abraham, the Calvinist would tell me that I must be regenerated or I cannot exercise or express faith in the gospel.  Am I to conclude that Abraham was less bound by Total Inability than I am?  Or am I to conclude that I am dead spiritually to a more intense degree than Abraham?  This is inconsistent and contradictory and devastating to the idea that regeneration must precede faith.

When I’ve asked the question of how Old Testament saints were able to exercise faith apart from regeneration to advocates of the doctrine that regeneration precedes faith I have yet to see them answer how this can be.  They end up affirming the moderate position by saying things like, “Well clearly God had to do something even though it wasn’t regeneration.”  To which I say, ABSOLUTELY!  And I would contend that it is the same thing He does to enable people to come to saving faith today.  He works in us to enable the response of faith to the gospel.  Upon our response of faith to the gospel we are born-again.  Call that work of enablement what you will.  I’ve chosen to call it illumination.  What’s clear is that while a sovereign work of divine enablement must precede faith, faith most certainly precedes regeneration.  Until next time…


[1] Titus 3:5b NKJV

[2] Romans 8:14-17

[3] 1 Corinthians 6:19

[4] Ephesians 1:13

[5] 2 Corinthians 5:17

[6] A Faith to Confess: The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689

[7] 2 Corinthians 4:4-6

[8] Ephesians 2:1-3

[9] John 12:32; 16:7-11; Acts 16:14

[10] Nazarene Manual. 2005-2009

[11] Sproul, R.C. Chosen by God. Page 73.

[12] Titus 3:5b Emphasis Added

[13] Spurgeon, C.H. Warrant of Faith

[14] 1 Peter 1:2 NKJV

[15] John 16:7-11;

[16] Acts 16:14 NKJV

[17] Genesis 15 6 quoted in Galatians 3:6 NKJV


What-if_

What if…

I’ve been thinking a lot about this simple phrase.
To me it speaks of possibility.
It speaks of transformation.
It speaks of the ways and thoughts of God.

What if…

…we made the greatest commandment our greatest commitment?
…we remembered that you can’t fulfill the great commission by neglecting the greatest commandment?
…we lived out the reality of the resurrection?
…we really chose not to worry or fear?
…we were as committed to unity as those who tried to build the Tower of Babel?
…we were really servant leaders?
…we love our wives as Christ loves the church?
…we didn’t use the ministry to keep us from having to interact with God?
…we viewed the church as a disciple making organism and not as a business?
…we stopped thinking that we had the right to share our opinions and stopped judging another man’s servant?
…we really believed in Jesus’ power to reconcile?
…we were really overflowed by the Holy Spirit?
…older pastor really mentored younger pastors?
…those same older pastors allowed younger pastors to be who God made them to be?
…younger pastors realized that they don’t know what they don’t know?
…we truly prayed without ceasing?
…movements and denominations didn’t resist the continual reforming of the church?
…churches gave their savings to the work of the kingdom in the least reached countries in the world?
…we truly died to ourselves?
…we stopped defining ourselves by what we are against?
…we realized that men will know that we are his disciples by the love we have one for another?
…we only cared what God thought?
…the church stopped being trendy and started being timeless?
…we truly fed the poor?
…we were more Christian than American?
…we were concerned enough for people to actually really share the life-giving gospel with them?
…we stopped snuggling up to the proclivities of our culture?
…we talked to people in person rather than behind their backs?
…if we truly feared God?
…we became the servant of all instead of lording our position over people?
…loved the whole world as God does?
…we lived out the grace that we proclaimed?

directions

A Text – It’s Meaning and It’s Significance

As we are almost at the Christmas holiday, I have found myself teaching at a number of different places. I taught a midweek service at Cornerstone Napa (Bill Walden’s church). I taught this past Sunday at Crossroads in Vancouver, WA (Bill Ritchie, and soon to be me). Finally I will teach this Christmas at Calvary North Bay here in Mill Valley. What is fascinating is that I have taught the exact same text (Luke 2:1-7) all three times. But although teaching the same text, I have taught three different messages.

You may be saying, “How is that possible?”. Let me explain it to you. I have been highly enamored with what E.D. Hirsch described in his book “Validity in Interpretation” as the difference between the meaning of a text and its significance. The meaning of the text is what the original author wanted the original hearer to understand and was thus attempting to communicate. This speaks to the original intentionality of the author. The significance of a text would then be what the text means to the hearers in our present context. This is the Spirit’s intentionality in applying the text to a specific and local congregation. This drawing out of the significance for today is something that Eugene Peterson calls Contemplative Exegesis (on a side note, if you have never read Peterson’s books specifically on the pastoral ministry, boy are you missing out! He has 5 books specifically on pastoring and they are rich, searching and disarmingly personal). John Stott spoke of the same idea by saying “We need to find both what meaning of the text is and what it means for us today.”.

What I have been realizing is that Biblical exposition should be equal parts meaning and significance. We need to explain what the text meant from the author to the original hearers AND how these concepts speak prophetically into our current context. I have found a usual leaning in most Bible teachers to one or the other position. There are teachers who think that the only way to teach is to give the meaning (and unfortunately often malign those who focus more on the other position). They say that it is the Holy Spirit’s job to make application (which is true of course). Or there are those who only explain its significance for today (and never even think to do the socio-historical work to understand a text in its original context). I have sought to find that proper middle ground where each message is an explanation both of a text’s meaning and its significance.

So, now back to my three different messages on Luke 2:1-7. At Cornerstone in Napa, Luke 2:1-7 was explained both in its meaning (about the sovereignty of God (in getting Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem) and the humility of God (in the humble circumstances of Jesus’ birth). But its significance was about doing ministry in an incarnational way. Allowing the radical identification of Jesus with humanity to be an example for us on how we out to interact with those outside the church. At Crossroads in Washington, I explained the same meaning of the text. But that message was about ‘The Calvary Road to Bethlehem’ and how the circumstances of Jesus’ birth mirror our experiences as we travel the Calvary Road of discipleship. Each verse had its own application. My teaching at Calvary North Bay (which will be on Friday, December 23rd) will have the same explanation of meaning. But the significance will be different seeing that it will be my last teaching at the church before I move north. So the significance of that text at this moment for the precious folks at Calvary North Bay will be unique to our collective experience.

kaabah

Is Allah the One True God?

My city, outside of Afghanistan and refugee camps in Pakistan, hosts the third largest Afghan population in the world (30,000 – 40,000 depending on who you ask).  My home is a ½ mile from Little Kabul – an area of kabob restaurants and Afghan owned businesses.  Four doors down from the church is the Ibrahim Khalilallah (Abraham the Friend of God) Mosque.  The Lord has led CC Fremont into the ministry of Muslim evangelism.

Being involved in Muslim evangelism brings one face-to-face with certain questions.  One question I have always answered in the negative is: Is the God of Islam the one true God?  I have always thought myself justified in my negative response because some of the character descriptions of Allah in the Qur’an, its Unitarianism as opposed to Trinitarianism, and its lack of incarnational mission paint Allah in much different colors than Yahweh in His full Biblical portrayal.  But I think I am changing my mind – and here’s why.

Many who argue that the God of Islam is not the one true God go on to assert that the God of Judaism is the one true God.  And yet the God of Judaism seems closer to the God of Islam than to the God of Christianity.

  • Both Judaism and Islam are Unitarian, not Trinitarian.
  • Both deny that Jesus is the Son of God (and if our theology has a Christological lens, this is devastating).
  • Both deny the atonement.  Islam denies the crucifixion of Jesus whereas Judaism denies the resurrection of Jesus.  (Interestingly enough, Jesus holds a much higher pace within Islam than He does within Judaism).
  • Both deny justification by faith and assert salvation by self-effort.

I don’t see how the denial of Islam’s’ God would not force denial of Judaism’s God.  And if one asserts that Judaism worships the one true God, I don’t know how you could deny Muslims the same status.

Consider also Paul’s sermon to the Athenians on Mars Hill (Acts 17:23).  Upon noting the plurality of their gods, he says,

For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. NASB

Implicit in Paul’s announcement is that they worship the one true God!  They worship Him in ignorance, but He is the object of their worship.  Yet –

  • this does not mean that God is pleased with their worship.
  • this does not mean that this worship rightly relates them to the God they worship.
  • this does not mean that the worship of the one true God saves them.
  • this does not mean that their worship ennobles them.

In speaking with the Samaritan woman, Jesus says:

You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  John 4:22

Grammatical note: in both Acts 17:23 and John 4:22 the relative pronoun HOS is used.  It can be mean who or what depending on context.  It is interesting that, in the KJV, the translators used the word whom in Acts 17:23 and what in John 4:22, both referring to God.  I think it is safe to say that both rabbis, Jesus and Paul, think of God as a who and not a what.  Jesus doesn’t tell the Samaritan woman that she has the wrong God, but that she has a misguided worship.  Paul tells the Athenians that they worship the one true God in ignorance.  Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that she, and by implication the Samaritans, worship the one true God in ignorance.

Jesus said that no one comes to the Father but by Him.

  • Muslims fail to come to the Father for they do not come through the Son.
  • Jews fail to come to the Father for they do not some through the Son.
  • Worshippers of the unknown god fail to come to the Father for they do not come through the Son.
  • The Samaritans fail to come to the Father for they do not come through the Son.

The problem for the Athenians, the Jews, the Samaritans, and the Muslims isn’t the God they worship, but their worship of that God – it is an ignorant worship – not a false God.  Ultimately, their problem isn’t with the Father, but with the Son.

Coming to the provisional conclusion that Allah is the one true God has relieved me of a burden I didn’t know I was laboring under.  There has been in me a desire to speak with Muslims in a way that communicates (ever so subtly) that I have a profound disrespect for Allah.  To compare Allah of the Qur’an and Yahweh of the Bible will yield some interesting results, but will not result in a Muslim being impressed, let alone converted.  I see now that I don’t need to speak with a  Muslim about the misguided notions they hold about God, I just need to speak to them about Jesus!  Through Christ, God comes into focus.  Wow!  What a burden lifted.  When they look at God through a Christological lens, He will come into proper focus.  Any kind of apologetic or polemic that attempts to equate Allah with the Moon-God or any other derivation gets about as much traction as someone trying to convince us that Jesus is the mythical lovechild of Semiramis and Tammuz.  Since Islam knows nothing of God as Father, the focus on Christ is paramount because in and through Christ the Father is known.

That Muslims worship the one true God, albeit imperfectly, is a thesis that is making more and more sense to me.  What do you think?  If you disagree, just don’t write and tell me so, tell me why.  Who knows, you may win me over.  I welcome irenic discussion of this.  I am willing to yield to wisdom and good reason.

Finally, please pray for our outreach to Muslims.  So far, I don’t feel that we’re doing a good job.  Pray that the love of Christ would be seen in us and the power of the Holy Spirit would flow through us.

And please, always remember –  Muslims are not the enemy, they are victims of the enemy.

Discipleship 1

Making Missionary Christians

“Do you love Me?…Feed my sheep.”[1] – Jesus

“…the church exists for the edifying or the building up of the saints; to bring the saints into full maturity so that they might engage in the work of the ministry.”[2] – Chuck Smith

“Preach and teach the Word—the very life of the church depends on it! It has the power to save lives, change lives, and give life.”[3] – Brian Brodersen

When men who are called by God and empowered by the Spirit of God preach the gospel, people become new creations.  They come to spiritual life for the first time.  This is what happened on the day of Pentecost.  The Apostle Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and preached the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are told that upon hearing the gospel from the lips of this imperfect but Spirit-filled man who was chosen by Jesus, over three-thousand people believed in Jesus and became born again.[4]  We may not see three-thousand people come to Jesus when we preach, or maybe we will.  What we can be sure of is that if we are called to plant churches someone is going to come to Jesus from time to time when we preach the gospel.

 

The Vision of Jesus for His Church

The truth is that Jesus doesn’t just want people to be saved; He wants people to be discipled.  I like to think of a disciple as a spiritual apprentice.  Before Jesus ascended back into heaven He told the twelve: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age.”[5]

 

According to Jesus you need to do two things to become a disciple: First, you need to get baptized publically demonstrating that you have repented of your sin and trusted in His work on the cross for forgiveness and reconciliation with God.  Second, you need to begin learning to live by His commands as explained by the apostles and prophets to whom His commands were originally given.  The cool thing is that we have access to the commands of Jesus that were received by the apostles today in the pages of the Bible.  This means that people today can be born again through faith in the gospel message, and then become disciples by being baptized and beginning to learn to live by the teaching of Jesus that we find in the Bible.

 

Missionary Training Centers

Church planters need to see the local church communities that are gathered through their preaching as missionary training centers.  In fact, Jesus’ original intent for giving leaders to His church is that those leaders would teach His people, disciple His people, and train them in the Word that they might be able to serve Him effectively in their individual callings.  The Apostle Paul wrote of this in Ephesians four: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”[6]

 

Each type of Spirit-gifted man listed above has in common the fact that they are all communicators of God’s Word in one way or another.  Apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers all have their own version of a Bible communicating ministry.  According to Paul, Jesus gave men with these gifts to the church specifically that through their teaching the rest of the church would be equipped to serve God in their respective callings.  This is discipleship!  Gifted Bible teachers teaching Christians to obey Jesus’ commands for their lives is the picture in Ephesians four, and it is Jesus’ plan for how His command to make disciples is to be accomplished.

 

This means that churches that are merely evangelistic are only doing half of their job at best.  Jesus style churches don’t just get people saved by giving them the gospel; they equip and disciple them through teaching them the Bible.  The other side is true as well.  If a church is only focused on deep teaching and doesn’t charge the people to take what they learn in the Bible and put it into practice on mission in their personal lives, they are merely encouraging spiritualized consumerism.

 

Getting Our Priorities Straight

If you want to be a church planter, you must have this straight.  If you don’t set up systems for discipling new converts and training Christians in the Word you will never have a missionary church that is going into the world to do the work of the ministry.  You will have a bunch of unhappy baby Christians who are so hungry because of a lack of being fed the Word that they will eat each other, and you.  If you feed them the Word you will see the love of God in your church.  You will see Christians mature in their relationship with Jesus and start living like Jesus.  You will see them begin to share the gospel in their lives.  You will see them take care of one another.  And yes, you will see those who merely want to consume and never contribute hit the road.  But the result will be that you will have a vibrant local church that really is a missionary training center that is being used by Jesus to advance His kingdom.

 

I want to leave you with a biblical picture of the first local church that was birthed by the gospel, nurtured in a community of discipleship, and used to bring many other souls into the kingdom as a result.  This can be your church if you do it God’s way.

 

“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.  Then fear came upon every soul and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.  Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.

So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” [7]

 

Summary and Exhortation

That dynamic, Spirit-filled, loving, sharing, and kingdom spreading local church began as a group of newly saved Christians who, “continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine.”  Think about it.  Pray about it.  Do it.


[1] John 21:17a-c NKJV

[2] Smith, Chuck. The Philosophy of Ministry of Calvary Chapel. Page 3.

[3] Brodersen, Brian. Essentials in Ministry. Page 10.

[4] Acts 2:41

[5] Matthew 28:18-20 NKJV

[6] Ephesians 4:11-12 NKJV

[7] Acts 2:42-47 NKJV