Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

A Relevant Statement by Packer on the “Christmas Spirit”

“We talk glibly of the ‘Christmas spirit,’ rarely meaning more by this than sentimental jollity on a family basis. But what we have said [pertaining to Jesus' incarnation] makes it clear that the phrase should in fact carry tremendous weight of meaning. It ought to mean the reproducing in human lives of the temper of him who for our sakes became poor at the first Christmas. And the Christmas spirit itself ought to be the mark of every Christian all the year round.

“It is our shame and disgrace today that so many Christians – I will be more specific: so many of the soundest and most orthodox Christians – go through this world in the spirit of the priest and the Levite in our Lord’s parable, seeing human needs all around them, but (after pious wish, and perhaps a prayer, that God might meet those needs) averting their eyes and passing by on the other side. That is not the Christmas spirit. Nor is [the Christmas spirit] the spirit of those Christians – alas, they are many – whose ambition in life seems limited to building a nice middle-class Christian home, and making nice middle-class Christian friends, and bringing up their children in nice middle-class Christian ways, and who leave the submiddle-class sections of the community, Christian and non-Christian, to get on by themselves.

“The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob. For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor – spending and being spent – to enrich their fellow humans, giving time, trouble, care and concern, to do good to others – and not just to their own friends – in whatever way there seems need.

“There are not as many who show this spirit as there should be. If God in mercy revives us, one of the things he will do will be to work more of this spirit in our hearts and lives. If we desire spiritual quickening for ourselves individually, one step we should take is to seek to cultivate this spirit. ‘You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich’ (2 Cor 8:9). ‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus’ (Phil 2:5). ‘I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart‘ (Ps 119:32 KJV).”

-From Knowing God, by J.I. Packer

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Happy Reformation Day! Celebrate by Reading Luther’s 95 Theses

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DISPUTATION OF DOCTOR MARTIN LUTHER ON THE POWER AND EFFICACY OF INDULGENCES

OCTOBER 31, 1517

Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and duly appointed Lecturer on these subjects at that place. He requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter.

In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said “Repent”, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.

2. This word cannot be understood to mean the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.

3. Yet it does not mean inward repentance only; for there is no inward repentance that does not produce outwardly various mortifications of the flesh.

4. The penalty [of sin], therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

5. The pope has neither the will nor the power to remit any penalties other than those which he has imposed either by his own authority or by that of canon law.

6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring that it has been remitted by God and by assenting to God’s remission; though, to be sure, he may grant remission in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in such cases were despised, the guilt would remain entirely unforgiven.

7. God remits guilt to no one whom He does not, at the same time, humble in all things and bring into subjection to His representative, the priest.

8. The penitential canons apply only to the living, and, according to them, none applies to the dead.

9. Therefore the Holy Spirit acting in the person of the pope manifests grace to us, because in his [the pope’s] decrees he always excludes the dead and cases of hardship.

10. Ignorant and wicked are the actions of those priests who impose canonical penances on the dead in purgatory.

11. This changing of the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory is quite evidently one of the tares that were sown while the bishops slept.

12. In former times the canonical penalties were imposed not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.

13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties; they are already dead to canonical rules, and have a right to be released from them.

14. The imperfect piety and love of the dying brings with it, of necessity, great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater is the fear.

15. This fear and horror is sufficient in itself alone (to say nothing of other things) to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.

16. There seems to be the same difference between hell, purgatory, and heaven as there are between despair, almost-despair, and the assurance of safety.

17. The horror of souls in purgatory should grow less and love ought to increase.

18. It seems unproven, either by reason or Scripture, that they are outside the state of merit, that is to say, of increasing love.

19. Again, it seems unproven that they, or at least that all of them, are certain or assured of their own salvation, though we may be quite certain of it.

20. Therefore by “full remission of all penalties” the pope means not actually “of all,” but only of those imposed by himself.

21. Therefore those preachers of indulgences who say that by the pope’s indulgences a man is freed from every penalty and saved are in error;

22. Indeed he cannot pass on to souls in purgatory any penalty which canon law declares should be paid in this life.

23. If it is at all possible to grant to anyone the remission of all penalties whatsoever, it is certain that this remission could be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to very few.

24. Therefore it must be the case that the greater part of the people are deceived by that indiscriminate and highsounding promise of release from penalty.

25. The power which the pope has, in general, over purgatory, is just like the power which any bishop or curate has, in particular, within his own diocese or parish.

26. The pope does well when he grants remission to souls [in purgatory], not by the power of the keys (which he does not possess), but by way of intercession.

27. There is no divine authority for preaching that so soon as the penny jingles into the money-box, the soul flies out [of purgatory].

28. It is certain that when the penny jingles into the money-box, gain and avarice can be increased, but the result of the intercession of the Church is in the power of God alone.

29. Who knows whether all the souls in purgatory wish to be bought out of it, as in the legend of Sts. Severinus and Paschal.*

[*This legend tells of two saints who were willing to remain in torment in purgatory to suffer for others.]

30. No one is sure that his own contrition is sincere; much less that he has attained full remission.

31. The man who sincerely buys indulgences is as rare as the man that is truly penitent; that is, such men are most rare.

32. They will be condemned eternally, together with their teachers, who believe themselves sure of their salvation because they have letters of pardon.

33. Men must be on their guard against those who say that the pope’s pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to Him;

34. For these “graces of pardon” concern only the penalties of sacramental satisfaction, and these are appointed by man.

35. It is not according to Christian doctrine to preach and teach that contrition is not necessary for those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessional licenses.

36. Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of pardon.

37. Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in all the blessings of Christ and the Church; and this is granted him by God, even without letters of pardon.

38. Nevertheless, the remission and participation [in the blessings of the Church] which are granted by the pope are in no way to be despised, for as I have said, they are the declaration of divine remission.

39. It is most difficult, even for the very best theologians, to commend to the people the abundance of pardons while at the same time encouraging true contrition.

40. True contrition seeks and loves penalties, but generous pardons only relax penalties and cause them to be hated, or at least, furnish an occasion [for hating them].

41. Papal pardons should be preached with caution, lest people falsely think they are preferable to other good works of love.

42. Christians should be taught that the pope does not intend the purchase of pardons to be compared in any way to works of mercy.

43. Christians should be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better work than buying pardons;

44. Because love grows by works of love, and a man becomes a better man; but by pardons he does not grow better, only escapes penalty.

45. Christians should be taught that he who sees a person in need, and passes him by, and then purchases pardons, purchases not the indulgences of the pope, but the indignation of God.

46. Christians should be taught that unless they have more than they need, they are bound to keep what is necessary for their own families, and should by no means squander it on pardons.

47. Christians are to be taught that the buying of pardons is a voluntary matter, and not a legal requirement.

48. Christians should be taught that in granting pardons the pope needs and desires their devout prayer for him more than the money they bring.

49. Christians are to be taught that the pope’s pardons are useful only if they do not put their trust in them; but altogether harmful, if they lose their fear of God because of them.

50. Christians should be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the pardon-preachers, he would rather that St. Peter’s church be reduced to ashes than be built up with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep.

51. Christians should be taught that it would be the pope’s wish, as it is his duty, to give of his own money, even though the church of St. Peter might have to be sold, to many of those from whom certain hawkers of pardons cajole money.

52. The assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is useless, even though the commissary, or indeed even though the pope himself, were to stake his soul upon it.

53. They are enemies of Christ and of the pope, who forbid the Word of God to be preached at all in some Churches, in order that pardons may be preached in others.

54. Injury is done the word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or a longer time is spent on pardons than on this word.

55. It must be the intention of the pope that if pardons, which are a very small thing, are celebrated with one bell, with single processions and ceremonies, then the Gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.

56. The “treasures of the Church,” out of which the pope grants indulgences, are not sufficiently spoken of or known among the people of Christ.

57. That they are not temporal treasures is certainly evident, for many of the vendors do not grant such treasures freely, but only collect them.

58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the Saints, for even without the pope, these always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outward man.

59. St. Lawrence said that the treasures of the Church were the Church’s poor, but he used the term in accordance with the custom of his own time.

60. Without rashness we say that the keys of the Church are that treasure, given by Christ’s merit;

61. For it is clear that the power of the pope is of itself sufficient for the remission of penalties and of reserved cases,

62. The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.

63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last.

64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.

65. Therefore the treasures of the Gospel are nets with which they formerly desired to fish for men of wealth.

66. Now, the treasures of the indulgences are nets with which they fish for the wealth of men.

67. The indulgences which the preachers cry as the “greatest graces” are in fact truly such only when they promote financial gain.

68. Yet they are in truth the very smallest graces compared with the grace of God and the piety of the Cross.

69. Bishops and curates are bound to receive the commissaries of papal pardons, with all reverence.

70. But they are under greater obligation to watch closely and listen carefully lest these men preach their own imaginings instead of the commission of the pope.

71. He who speaks against the validity of apostolic pardons, let him be anathema and accursed!

72. But he who guards against the lust and license of the pardon-preachers, let him be blessed!

73. The pope justly thunders against those who, by any means, contrive the injury of the traffic in pardons.

74. But much more does he intend to thunder against those who use the pretext of pardons to contrive the injury of holy love and truth.

75. It is folly to think that the papal pardons are so powerful that they could absolve a man even if he had committed an impossible sin and violated the Mother of God.

76. We say, on the contrary, that the papal pardons are not able to remove the very least of venial sins, so far as its guilt is concerned.

77. It is said that even St. Peter, if he were now Pope, could not bestow greater graces; this is blasphemy against St. Peter and against the pope.

78. We say, on the contrary, that even the present pope, and any pope at all, has greater graces at his disposal; specifically, the Gospel, powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written in 1 Corinthians 12.

79. To say that the cross emblazoned with the papal arms, which is set up [by the preachers of indulgences], is of equal worth with the Cross of Christ, is blasphemy.

80. The bishops, curates and theologians who permit such assertions to be spread among the people will be held accountable for it.

81. This unbridled preaching of pardons makes it difficult even for learned men to defend the respect due the pope from false accusations, or even from the astute criticisms of the laity;

82. For example: — “Why does not the pope empty purgatory, for the sake of holy love and of the dire need of the souls that are there, if he can redeem an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a Church? The former reasons would be most just; the latter is most trivial.”

83. Again: — “Why do funeral and anniversary masses for the dead continue to be said? Why does the pope not return or permit the repayment of the endowments founded on their behalf, since it is wrong to pray for those now redeemed?”

84. Again: — “What is this new piety of God and the pope, that for money they allow an impious man who is their enemy to buy out of purgatory the devout soul of a friend of God, when they do not allow that pious and beloved soul to be redeemed without payment for pure love’s sake or because of its need of redemption?”

85. Again: — “Why are the penitential canon laws long, which in actual fact and practice are long obsolete and dead, now satisfied by the granting of indulgences, as though they were still alive and in effect?”

86. Again: — “Why does not the pope, whose wealth is today greater than the wealthiest of the wealthy, build just this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of poor believers?”

87. Again: — “What is it that the pope dispenses to people, and what participation does he grant, to those who have a right to full remission and participation because of their perfect repentance?”

88. Again: — “What greater blessing could come to the Church than if the pope were to do a hundred times a day what he now does only once, and bestow on every believer these remissions and participations?”

89. “Since the pope seeks the salvation of souls rather than money by his pardons, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons granted before now, since these have equal efficacy?”

90. To repress these arguments and scruples of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the Church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies, and to make Christians unhappy.

91. If, therefore, pardons were preached according to the spirit and mind of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved; indeed, they would cease to exist.

92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” where there is no peace!

93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “the cross, the cross,” where there is no cross!

94. Christians are to be exhorted that they be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hell;

95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven rather through many tribulations, than through the assurance of peace.

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Sermon Notes – Exodus 20.3

You shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20.3, ESV

In the prologue to the Ten Commandments, God sets the stage for the giving of his law. He reminds Israel of his name, his nature, their relationship to him, and his work to redeem them from Egypt. In short, the prologue announces that God has the right to give laws to his people, even laws that demand absolute loyalty as does the first commandment. Yahweh rightly commanded Israel to honor him and him alone as God.

As Israel journeyed through the wilderness and into the promised land, they would be tempted to violate this first commandment numerous times. In the coming years they would face, Baals, Asherahs, Ashtoreth, Milcom, Moloch, Dagon, Chemosh, and likely many other false gods who remain unnamed in Scripture. In addition to these named idols, we see that Israel is held accountable by God for treating money, power, politics, and self as gods to be served. In short, anything (a named idol, an object, an idea, a relationship, etc.) could be exalted in such a way that as to violate the first commandment by bringing another god before Yahweh.

When the various violations and potential violations are all brought together, we can organize the violations of the first commandment into four categories:

1) Denying the existence or attributes of Yahweh;

2) Ascribing to any false god other those attributes which belong uniquely to Yahweh;

3) Ascribing to any false god the works which belong uniquely to Yahweh; and

4) Seeking from any false god the fulfillment of the promises given by Yahweh.

The New Testament, unsurprisingly, presents a similarly broad understanding of what  it means to have a false god, or be an idolator. The New Testament adds to the list of abstract gods already mentioned – possessions, pleasure and entertainment, and food. In addition, we see that Jesus is God, and he must be worshipped as God. Therefore, the four categories of idolatry apply to our thinking about Jesus as well. So, to seek the promises secured for us by Christ (promises of forgiveness, hope, security, inheritance, identity, righteousness, etc.) in any place other than Christ, whether a named idol or a speck of dust, is to violate the first commandment.

At this point, if we are honest, we find ourselves guilty of violating the first commandment in numerous ways; therefore, lest we end in despair, let us recall the work of Christ. Recall that the Father sent the Son in order that in Christ “the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8.4, ESV). We see this fulfillment clearly in the temptation of Christ. When Satan tempted Jesus with finding his comfort in the world, Jesus resisted Satan saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4.4, ESV). When Satan attempted to get Jesus to presume upon God’s protection, thereby exalting himself above his Father and making God his servant, Jesus resisted Satan saying, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matthew 4.7, ESV). When Satan commanded Jesus to bow down before him, Jesus rebuked Satan saying, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matthew 4.10, ESV). From these verses, and other like them, we see clearly why the author of Hebrews wrote, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4.15, ESV). As Paul reminds us, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5.21, ESV). Christ perfectly obeyed the law then suffered a sinner’s death in order that we sinners for whom Christ died might be accepted by God as if we had perfectly obeyed his law.

The first commandment unveils our idolatrous heart and drives us to Christ where we find the One who obeyed in our place and bore our sin on the cross.

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Sermon Notes – Exodus 20.1-2

“And God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery’” (Exodus 20.1-2, ESV).

In the ancient near east many covenants between a sovereign and his subjects had a common form consisting of four parts: 1) the introduction of the sovereign; 2) a brief rehearsal of the history of the sovereign acting on behalf of his subjects; 3) the stipulations of the agreement; and 4) the consequences, blessings or curses, for obedience and disobedience to the covenant. Not surprisingly, a similar structure is found in the biblical covenants such as the Mosaic Covenant recorded in Exodus 20.

Exodus 20.1 announces to the people of Israel that it was God who spoke his Law. Moses had not gone up on the mountain, scratched a few rules in some stone tablets, and brought them back. Rather, God had revealed himself to Moses on Mount Sinai by way of giving the law. The divine origin of the law is important to keep in mind. If the Law is indeed from God, then we do not have the freedom to treat the Law as if it is not from God. Of course, the critic may say, “Well, if I was going to try and subdue a people with my own made up law, I would tell them that it came from God as well.” However, the critic’s objection is addressed by the Law itself, for the Law is introduced by a preamble that announces both who God is and what he has done for his people in recent history. In other words, the Law is announced in such a way that its divine authorship can be verified.

The preamble to many covenants in the ancient near east include an introduction of the sovereign and a rehearsal of his action toward his people, and Exodus 20.2 includes both of these covenantal elements. The phrase, “I am the Lord your God,” introduces the sovereign by announcing 1) the name of the sovereign – “the Lord” or Yahweh, 2) the nature of the sovereign – “God”, and 3) the relationship of the sovereign to the subjects – “your God”. The qualifying clauses, “who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,” recount Yahweh’s recent history with his people. He was not only the Israelite’s God, but their God who had heard their cries for help and delivered the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. It is on the grounds of both who God is and what he has done for his people that he expects obedience to his Law. The people of Israel could not treat the Law, delivered to them by Moses, with anything less than the utmost gravity, by introducing his Law with this preamble, the Lord had not left that option open.

As we come to God’s Law, we also must remember that it is in fact God’s Law, not man’s. Therefore, like Israel, we must come to God’s Law as God’s Word directs us. First, we come to God’s Law as God’s Word. Too often, we effectively approach the Law off as if it is simply the invention of the more scrupulous religious people. Second, we don’t seek from God’s Law what it was not intended to provide. In Scripture we find that the Law has three purposes. 1) The Law shows us our sin, thereby driving us to Christ under the conviction wrought by the Holy Spirit that we might find mercy. Romans 5.20 states, “The law came in to increase the trespass…” 2) The Law restrains (it does not eliminate) sin many by fear of punishment. Paul writes to Timothy, “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1.9-10, ESV). 3) The Law, with all of God’s Word, for the one who has been united to Christ and so justified before God – that is to say, by God’s free grace pardoned for all sin and accepted as righteous in God’s sight, only because the righteousness of Christ, which is received by faith alone, has been credited to his account (see Westminster Shorter Catechism #33) – is the rule for holy living. 2 Timothy 3.16-17 state, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, or reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

With the rest of God’s Word, the Law of God announces to us “what man is believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man” (WSC #3). Though separated by many years and cultural considerations, the Law is still valuable for the people of God when appropriated according to his Word.

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Doctrine and Life

How doctrine relates to life is a topic of much debate. It is not hard to find Christians who doubt, or even deny, the value of sound theology at all, much less the relevance of doctrine for everyday life. For those who question its relevance, “doctrine” is one of the lengthier four letter words. Likewise, there are some for whom theology is merely pedantic. For those who treat theology as only an academic endeavor, theologizing is simply fun. These two positions seem miles apart, but neither camp is particularly concerned with theology as something vital. Church history provides a different perspective as it is rife with evidence that doctrine is neither properly left in the ivory tower nor properly decried as a fool’s errand. The martyrs of the church knew what they believed, and they stood in their beliefs to the very death of their mortal bodies.

When we do enter into the discussion of how doctrine relates to life, we often jump immediately to the “big issues,” the life-and-death issues. We speak in extremes and hypotheticals, and while these situations can be helpful in setting boundaries and dealing with outlier situations, our success in transferring what we learn in hard cases to common cases is often paltry, making room for various inconsistencies.

Take for example the case of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakastani girl who survived being shot for seeking an education, and a recent slideshow on The Log Cabin Democrat website titled, “Booked’s Most Memorable Mugs,” an online slideshow of mugshots of those arrested in Faulkner County that someone deemed “memorable” (of course this begs any number of other questions regarding Booked). For American Christians (if we are honest about how we think about the situation), Yousafzai is an outlier case to which we rightly apply doctrine of the imago dei to decry this injustice on the basis that, by virtue of being image bearers of the most high, all people should be afforded a basic dignity that is often withheld from women in certain cultures. Yet, when we come home, we are perfectly happy getting a laugh at the expense of those who face the unfortunate situation of having their photo taken at one of the lowest points of their life. Obviously, there are many ways in which the gravity of these two cases cannot be compared, but on the most basic level, the issues at play are the same, leaving us asking, “What happened to our commitment to human dignity?”

Doctrine is vital. Theology matters. Let us sit with one another and the Word of God and work out what we believe. As the people of God, let’s do theology. Let’s struggle, and as we struggle, let us bring what we believe to bear on life with one another and the world around us. Let us be precise with truth and with how we live in light of that truth. Let us know God and glorify him as such that the world may see our good deeds and give glory to our Father in heaven.

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White Only? Doesn’t that Exclude Jesus? And Don’t We Kind of Want Him There?

This evening, I have seen a few friends mention an article about a “whites only” pastor’s conference which apparently is going on right now. I can’t say I am sad I am missing it. Two of my friends summed up the problems with this conference very well. Phil Fletcher, director of CoHO said, “Here’s a conference Jesus couldn’t attend!” He’s exactly right. Jesus was not white; therefore, he would not be welcome at this particular pastor’s conference. Elizabeth Harper, an English professor at UCA and member of Christ Church said, “Let me be very clear that this is NOT Christianity.” She’s exactly right. Of course, these two points are related. If your conference would by definition exclude Jesus, the Christ, then it is no use calling it a Christian conference. It is not a Christian conference; it is something else, something unbiblical, something evil.

Racism is a hard issue to deal with for a number of reasons. However, one of the reasons is not that the Bible is unclear on the issue. Go back to the beginning, and we see that we descend from a common ancestor, Adam (Genesis 1-2). Step forward a few generations, and we see that, due to sin, humanity is again reduced to a common ancestor, Noah (Genesis 6-9). Turn the page, and we see that many of the cultural differences (or the basis for them at least) we find so troubling were put in place by God (Genesis 10). Again sin played a fairly major role in what was going on. Continuing through Genesis we find the Abrahamic Covenant, in which we read, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12). So, in the first twelve chapters of the Bible we have common ancestor A and B, divinely appointed cultural (racial?) differences, and a promise to bless all the families of the earth through the seed of Abraham, who is Jesus (who can’t come to a particular conference). God set up cultural and racial differences for his glory. God conquers cultural and racial differences for his glory (see Acts 2). God has promised to redeem people from all sorts of races through the seed of Abraham for his glory.

As we read through the Law and the Prophets, the biblical stance against racism only comes into sharper focus. There are provisions for bringing the sojourner to be part of the Passover. There is the potential for any race to bear the sign of the covenant. Finally, there is the promise in Deuteronomy 30 which says, “[God] will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.” Of course, here the Hebrews are in mind (they’re not white people by the way), but that is not the full meaning, for God says through Isaiah, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49). We also have John’s explanation of the words of Caiaphas, “He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (John 12). Bear in mind that the Greek words behind “gather” and “scattered” used in John 12 are the same Greek words behind “gather” and “scattered” in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, which would have likely been in use by John. John’s point is clear, God’s plan of a gracious salvation, promised to the people of Israel in the Law, was not intended only for Israel in the nations to which they had been scattered but also for the nations into which Israel had been scattered.

When we get into the New Testament, we see several important things at work that teach us to guard our hearts against racism. Matthew records these well known words of Jesus, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28). Paul says things like, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3). Again Paul writes, For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3). Finally, John writes in his Revelation, speaking of Jesus, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5).

Beginning to end, the Bible leaves no room for racism. God’s grace indeed extends to all kinds of people, and not inviting some to our conference does not change that.

With that said, I want to respond to something specific from the article I read at The Huffington Post. The article contained the following paragraph,

When confronted by a reporter with Bible verses on equality of all races, Rev. Mel Lewis, the founder of Christian Identity Ministries, the event’s co-sponsor, got defensive:

“Well, you’ve picked out some wonderful verses out of context and out of the direction of Scripture. All you’re doing is making a mockery of God’s Word,” said Lewis, according to WFSA. “You’re absolutely abusing the Scripture.”

Let me be clear. Rev. Mel Lewis is dead wrong. It is not those who have challenged his and others’ racism who are “absolutely abusing the Scripture.” Mel’s argument is a type of ad hominem (against the person) argument that I refer to as the Pee Wee Herman argument which goes like this, “I know you are, but what am I.” Mel was challenged and had no answer, so he turned the accusation around and accused his accuser of the same thing. I do not say this to run Mel Lewis down, though that is hard to believe when I have just compared him to Pee Wee Herman, but to remind us that what Mel made to sound like an authoritative statement holds no water. Don’t be fooled by such foolishness. The teaching of Scripture demands that we repent of our racism, which is only a type of pride, and believe in Jesus, who died for people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. To say so is not to abuse the Scriptures but to uphold them.

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One of My Favorite Paragraphs

“The ‘law’ given to the first Adam, the first son of God, was broken, and mankind was thrown out of the garden into the wilderness. The law given to Israel, the son of God, was broken, and the nation was thrown out of its promised land into the wilderness of exile. A last Adam came as the truly obedient covenant partner of God, signifying his identification with a people that desperately needed this help. We can almost hear heaven’s sigh of relief, ‘At last! A true son of God.’ ‘You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased’ is God’s word of approval. Then this true Adam, this true Israel, goes out into our wilderness to be tempted and to be victorious, so that he might make for us a way back into the garden of God.”

-from Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture.

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Omnicompetent: You and I Are Not

Here is a great paragraph from Michael Horton regarding why church tradition is not all bad, the larger Christian conversation can be very helpful, and the banal mantra, “No creed  but Christ; no book but the Bible,” is not all that helpful.

“Creeds, confessions, a good systematic theology can all help us to see the limitations of our own narrow range of ideas, presuppositions, experiences, and longings. We must rid ourselves of the notion that it matters little what others have said in their reading of Scripture through the ages, since we are just reading the Bible. So, too, of course, were those others who have gone before us. The choice is not between following ‘mere men’ and Scripture directly; it’s a choice between interpreting Scripture with the larger church rather than thinking of ourselves as omnicompetent. It is a sign of humility when we are able to conclude that we, like the Ethiopian eunuch, are hampered by our own blind spots. ‘So Philip ran to him [the Ethiopian], and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him… Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture [Isa. 53:7-8], preached Jesus to him’ (Acts 8:30-31, 35 NKJV). Instead of pretending to start from scratch, join the conversation already in progress since Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” From Michael Horton, A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship.

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How does the Christian relate to the Law?

Coming out of our Wednesday School study there were a number of questions being asked that can be summarized as follows, “How does the Christian relate to the Law?”

There are essentially three answers:

1. Legalism – We keep the law to gain some favor from God. This favor can be construed as justification or as some temporal blessing in this life. The former is saying, “Because I am good, God saves me.” This is patently false. No one is justified by works of the law. The latter is saying, “Because I am good, God blesses me” (makes me rich or successful or happy or whatever). This is also patently false. We simply cannot earn God’s favor either eternally in the form justification or temporally in the form of “blessing”.

2. Antinomianism – We need not keep the law at all. We have been freed from the Law in Christ, and it therefore has nothing to say to us. This is antinomianism and fails to make sense of either Scripture or life. It is clear in Scripture that murder is wrong for all people, even those in Christ. This is a law. You should keep it and not reject it. Antinomians take statements in which Paul is dealing with pursuing justification through the law (most often from books like Romans and Galatians), and applies them too broadly.

3. Biblical Christianity – The New Testament takes a more nuanced approach to the law that says you cannot earn God’s favor by keeping the law, but you can glorify him by loving him and obeying his commands. You cannot be one of God’s people by keeping the law, but because you are one of God’s people by grace through faith in Christ, obey. Paul says in Ephesians 2.8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (ESV). We are all familiar with this. Paul then goes on to say in Ephesians 2.10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” So, clearly there is some concept in Christianity of a “good work”, and God has defined them. So, what are they? Are they not just keeping the law. Well, yes and no. Historically, we have distinguished between the moral, the civil, and the ceremonial laws of the Mosaic Covenant. In one sense, the civil and ceremonial laws are particular applications of the moral law for the people of Israel as the existed as this ancient theocracy. Therefore, while these particular applications don’t make sense for us today, the moral law that underlies the civil and ceremonial and is summed up in the ten commandments still serves as a guide for holy living, what Calvin called the third use of the law. This is why Jesus expounds the ten commandments in the Sermon on the Mount and God tells Peter to eat unclean food in Acts 10.

If you are interested in further reading on this issue I recommend this article by Rev. Richard Phillips and this article by Dr. Richard Alderson. If you are interested in a lengthier treatment of the ten commandments and the Christian life, I recommend, The Law of Perfect Freedom by Michael Horton and How Jesus Transforms the Ten Commandments by Ed Clowney.

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The Bible as One Story

Here is an exerpt from an article by Vern Poythress that relates to our Wed night study.
You can read the full article here  Overview of the Bible :A Survey of the History of Salvation

Covenants
The promises of God in the OT come in the context
not only of God’s commitment to his people but also of
instruction about the people’s commitment and
obligations to God. Noah, Abraham, and others whom God
meets and addresses are called on to respond not only
with trust in God’s promises but with lives that begin to
bear fruit from their fellowship with God. The relation of
God to his people is summed up in various covenants that
God makes with people. A covenant between two human
beings is a binding commitment obliging them to deal
faithfully with one another (as with Jacob and Laban in
Gen. 31:44). When God makes a covenant with man, God
is the sovereign, so he specifies the obligations on both
sides. “I will be their God” is the fundamental obligation
on God’s side, while “they shall be my people” is the fundamental
obligation on the human side. But then there are variations in the details.
For example, when God first calls Abram he says, “Go
from your country and your kindred and your father’s
house to the land that I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). This
commandment specifies an obligation on the part of
Abram, an obligation on the human side. God also indicates
what he will do on his part: “And I will make of you
a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name
great, so that you will be a blessing” (Gen. 12:2). God’s
commitment takes the form of promises, blessings, and
curses. The promises and blessings point forward to Christ,
who is the fulfillment of the promises and the source of
final blessings. The curses point forward to Christ both in
his bearing the curse and in his execution of judgment and
curse against sin, especially at the second coming.
The obligations on the human side of the covenants
are also related to Christ. Christ is fully man as well as
fully God. As a man, he stands with his people on the human side.
He fulfilled the obligations of God’s covenants
through his perfect obedience (Heb. 5:8). He received the
reward of obedience in his resurrection and ascension (see
Phil. 2:9–10). The OT covenants on their human side thus
point forward to his achievement.
By dealing with the wrath of God against sin, Christ
changed a situation of alienation from God to a situation of peace.
He reconciled believers to God (2 Cor.
5:18–21; Rom. 5:6–11). He brought personal intimacy
with God, and the privilege of being children of God
(Rom. 8:14–17). This intimacy is what all the
OT covenants anticipated. In Isaiah, God even declares that his
servant, the Messiah, will be the covenant for the people
(see Isa. 42:6; 49:8).


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