Thursday, July 31, 2014

Genuine Submission

Here is a wonderful quote from Stephen Clark's book Man and Woman in Christ: 
Christians are often tempted by a selective submission [to God's Word]. Some scriptural teaching is very attractive to them, and they find in themselves an admiration and a willingness to submit to it. Modern Christians usually  find it easier to be enthusiastic about Christian teaching on God's fatherhood or about love of others. Some scriptural teaching, however, contradicts their desires. Some may even repulse them. To be sure, often the difficulty is genuine uncertainty about how to respond to some part of scripture. Often a person may know that the scripture is saying something on a given subject, but can be uncertain how to understand or apply what is said. Despite some uncertainties, for most Christians there remains much scriptural teaching that is sufficiently clear, or could become sufficiently clear with more investigation, but which they find themselves unwilling to submit to. The genuineness of submission is tested precisely at these points. They prove their submission is genuine, and not a mere pretense, when they submit to the Lord in something which is personally difficult and which may lose them the respect of the world around him. (Emphasis mine)

A Declaration of Insanity

It is odd that a book that is usually the cornerstone of a doctrine of sinless perfection begins with an extended section on the nature of sin, which removes any doubt that we are sinners. I just finished preaching I John 1:5-2:2. Here are some thoughts from this great passage.

God's character restricts who he fellowships with. God cannot have communion with darkness therefore we must be light (Ephesians 5:8) if we are to be in fellowship with God.

A man cannot be a Christian and live a life dominated by sin.

People can claim to be Christians and yet be lying. They are shown to be liars by their actions (walking in darkness) or by their theology (I am sinless). There is such a thing as a false profession.

When we have fellowship with God by walking in his ways we also have fellowship with other Christians. We cannot claim fellowship with God and live in bitterness and antagonism towards our fellow believers. Yet this does not mean that everyone who claims to be a Christian we must be in fellowship with. See point above.

A claim to be without sin is a declaration of insanity. Any man who believes this about himself is living in a fantasy land.

Few of us will say we are sinless. However, many of us function as if we are not sinners. When we are confronted with our sin our mouths drop open and we say, "Impossible!" So while theologically we may not claim to be sinless, practically we live as if we are.

The truth and God's Word are equivalent (See also John 17:17). Notice this pattern
I John 1:6 We lie and do not practice the truth
I John 1:8 We deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us
I John 1:10 We make him a liar and his word is not in us

Truth is not just a person, Jesus Christ, nor simply a set of beliefs, though it is both of those. Truth is something we practice or do. True grasp of the truth produces actions formed by that truth.

Regular confession of sin is the antidote to an elevated view of our own holiness.

I John 1:9 is not an excuse to keep on sinning. Anyone who uses God's mercy in forgiving sins as excuse to keep on sinning does not understand God's mercy. (See also Psalm 130:4).

One goal of Christ's death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and sending of His Spirit is so we might not sin. Jesus, John, Paul, and Peter all believe we can make substantial progress in holiness in this life. We can never be perfect. We just begin to obey in this life, but it is real Spirit fueled obedience that is conforming us to the image of Christ.

Jesus' blood is the key to our forgiveness and cleansing. It is easy, much easier than we would like to admit, to forget the cross.

God is faithful to his promises to forgive our sins and make us clean. He has shown this faithfulness in the death of His Son.

Christ is our propitiation, a covering our for sins that turns God's wrath away from us. Trying to remove God's wrath from the equation is a compromise.

Jesus Christ is our ever present intercessor. This means we always need intercession. There is never a day when we don't need Christ pleading before the Father on our behalf.

Our Intercessor is righteous. We can put complete faithfulness in our High Priest. He will never do us wrong.

I John 2:2 does not teach that Christ's death on the cross was a covering for all the sins of all the men who ever lived. But it does teach that he covered our sins at the cross.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Execution and Banishment: The Key to a Small Prison Population

It in interesting to note that Geneva's prison
Did not house any long-term prisoners. Imprisonment for long periods of time was simply not a punishment used in sixteenth-century Geneva. Even people sentenced to life in prison as the result of criminal trial were usually released within a few months, often paroled to the custody of relatives. Most prison sentences lasted only a few days (Witte and Kingdon, p. 69).
There were several reasons for this, but two of the major ones were:

Geneva executed for a lot more crimes than we do. Witte and Kingdon note that
Criminal punishments would a degree we would find appalling, capital punishment by a town executioner hired by the city for the purpose. There were a number of rather gruesome ways in which capital punishment was administered. Traitors might be beheaded, thieves hanged, notorious adulteresses drowned, heretics or witches burned. Every city of the period maintained an execution ground, usually with several rotting corpses of executed criminals on display, to let visitors know that this community maintained law and order. 
It is important to note that the Consistory, which I discussed in an earlier blog post, did not have the power of the sword. They could only recommend the civil court look into something and the civil court would decide the appropriate punishment. The Consistory could neither decide someone should be executed nor carry it out, although there was interaction between the civil courts and the pastors of Geneva. 

Also Geneva banished serious offenders from the city. Throughout the book Witte and Kingdon note that often those who would not receive instruction or committed serious sins or crimes were to get out of the city or be whipped and some cases executed. One example they cite is a man and wife who ran a brothel. They were given seven days to get out of Geneva. If they ever came back they would be whipped and then driven out again. 

The prison population was small and the terms short because serious crimes were dealt with by execution or banishment. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Power of the Consistory in John Calvin's Geneva

In 1538 John Calvin was exiled from Geneva. For the next few years he lived in Strasbourg where he learned from Martin Bucer and preached. In 1541 the city of Geneva asked him to return. One of the demands he made if they wanted him back was the creation of a institution to oversee the Christian discipline of the population of Geneva. Calvin's request led to the creation of the Consistory, a church court that oversaw the discipline of the citizens of Geneva. The Consistory became the primary ecclesiastical tool to deal with the sins of the people.

The Consistory was made up of around 2 dozen men, which included pastors, elected officials, and Calvin,the moderator. It met every week on Thursday with sessions that could last for several hours. The Consistory had spiritual authority, but no civil authority. It could and often did recommend that the civil authorities look into a situation.

John Witte and Robert Kingdon note that before Geneva "most early Protestant regimes...refused to give their churches a general power of excommunication." Calvin and other pastors fought for this right and eventually obtained it. Here is the authors' comment on the power of the Consistory:
A crucial new weapon won in this political battle was the Consistory's unequivocal power to enforce its spiritual discipline by using either the ban (temporary preclusion from communion) or excommunication (exclusion from the church altogether, which often also entailed banishment from the city as well). An important statute of 1560 confirmed victory by urging the use of admonition and simple bans in routine cases, and the use of excommunication in serious cases. The ban became a regular tool of discipline hereafter, but excommunication remained rare. Between 1560 and 1564 the Consistory banned nearly forty persons for every one it excommunicated. The Consistory had no further spiritual powers-and no formal legal power. If it decided that a case needed further investigation and further punishment, it had to refer it to the Small Council [a civil court]. 
Being banned from the Lord's Supper does not sound serious to 21st century Christians. However:
If the Consistory found someone guilty of particularly offensive behavior or particularly stubborn in resisting correction, it could ban the accused sinner from communion in the next one of the four communion services offered to the entire population each year. The ban from communion was a far more serious punishment then than it is now. People saw it as preventing them from receiving a sacrament that was sign of God's grace and formerly, in Catholic times, a necessity for salvation. It was also a social humiliation that could interrupt normal social routines and business. Banned sinners could not act as godparents, an important honor, or marry, or be assured of poor relief and access to the hospital. (Witte and Kingdon, p. 67)
Here are a couple of other notes from Witte and Kingdon on the Consistory. When a person came before the Consistory they,
Were not allowed to bring a lawyer or adviser, but had to handle questions entirely on their own. Sometimes they submitted affidavits, petitions, contracts, certificates, or other documents for the Consistory's review. The Consistory often questioned the parties about these documents, and summoned witnesses to validate their authenticity. The Consistory also had wide subpoena power to compel witnesses to appear. 
You could get in trouble for failing to appear when called. The most common "punishment" the Consistory gave was an "admonition," which was an exhortation to the person to stop sinning. Besides addressing more grievous sins, such as adultery, they would exhort former Catholics to stop praying to Mary, encourage a man to attend the sermon, order someone to pay an agreed upon price for marriage, or tell someone to stop gambling. The Consistory would often set a date for the individual to check back in. They would also work to bring reconciliation between two estranged parties, such as husband and wife who were fighting or two business partners who were at odds. This could lead to a private "ceremony of reconciliation" and if the case had "achieved general notoriety, a public ceremony of reconciliation might be held in a parish church." (This book is a chronicle of Consistory's records from 1542-1544.)
The Consistory could also order individuals to perform a public reparation. People so sentenced had to appear at a main Sunday sermon, get down on their knees, confess the errors of their ways, and beg for forgiveness. 
The Consistory was a remarkably intrusive institution. Six to seven percent of the entire adult population was called before it every year. The Consistory was also a remarkably effective institution. The combination of scoldings, public reparations, bans, excommunications, and referrals to the legal system seems to have worked. John Knox remarked that while they had found true doctrine rightly preached in other communities, they had never before found Christian life so rightly lived as in Geneva. If people did not like this lifestyle or the Consistory's presence or pressure, they could always leave Geneva.
The Consistory did not limit itself to sex, marriage, and family life. In its early years, it spent a good deal of time trying to root out surviving Catholic religious practices. In later years years it spent time in trying to root out sharp business practices and disrespect for the leaders of government and church. But a clear majority of the Consistory's cases involved sexual and marital issues (emphasis mine). 
Some things never change.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Structure of I John 1:5-2:2

I will finish preaching I John 1:5-2:2 this Lord's Day. Here is the structure for those verses, which form one unit of thought. John give us three different if-then statements that expose a false claim. All three are followed by the correction to that false claim, as well as pointing us to Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross. In these verses John expresses some glorious gospel truths with a wonderful literary structure. I end each section with a paraphrase.

False Claim #1 (I John 1:6-7)
If we say that we have fellowship with God, but walk in darkness
     We lie and do not do the truth

We cannot live a life dominated by sin and still claim to be saved. 

Truth #1
If we walk in the light as he is in the light. 
      We have fellowship with one another
      Jesus cleanses us from all sin.

A life dominated by righteousness will be seen by our fellowship with one another and with Christ. 
False Claim #2 (I John 1:8-9)
If we say that we do not have sin 
     We deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us

A claim to be without sin (or possibly without a sin nature) will cause us to live in a fantasy land. We will be living a lie. 

Truth #2
If we confess our sins 
     He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness
Regular confession of sin is one of the antidotes to believing ourselves sinless. We can confess our sins with confidence because God has promised to forgive us. 

False Claim #3 (I John 1:10-2:2)
If we say that we have not sinned
      We make him a liar and his word is not in us.

A claim to be without sin blasphemes God and shows that his word does not live in us. 

Truth #3
These things I write so you might not sin
If anyone might sin
         We have an advocate with the Father Jesus Christ the righteous 
         and He is the propitiation for our sins and the sins of the whole world. 

We are to strive to be without sin. The previous verses (I John 1:5-10) are not meant to encourage loose living. However, we will sin and when we do we have a present righteous intercessor whose past blood-sacrifice covers all of our sins. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

What Does It Mean to Be Saved?

John loves to use simple, everyday words to get across grand truths. Words like light, darkness, bread, know, walk, all have deep meaning within John's writings. Here are the different ways John describes our salvation in his first epistle. I did not try to list all the ways John writes of our salvation. Nor do I list all Scripture references for each concept. Many of these he mentions several times. I also understand that some of these are causes of our salvation and others are effects of our salvation. We often view our salvation in a narrow way. The different ways John describes our salvation can help open our eyes to what it means to be saved. Rather than comment on them I am going to list them to show the variety he uses.

Being saved means we have eternal life and have passed from death to life (I John 1:2, 2:25, 3:14, 5:11, 13).

Being saved means we have fellowship with the apostles, with the Father and the Son, and with each other (I John 1:3,7).

Being saved means we walk in the light (I John 1:7, 2:10).

Being saved means that by the blood of Jesus our sins are cleansed and forgiven (I John 1:7, 9).

Being saved means that Christ is the propitiation for our sins (I John 2:2).

Being saved means we know God and know the truth (I John 2:3, 21).

Being saved means we keep the commandments of God (I John 2:3-4).

Being saved means we abide/remain in God and abide/remain in the light (I John 2:6, 10).

Being saved means that God abides/remains is us (I John 4:4, 13).

Being saved means we are anointed (I John 2:20, 27).

Being saved means we are children of God, have been born of God, and God's seed remains in us (I John 3:1, 9).

Being saved means we believe on the name of Christ (I John 3:23, 5:13).

Being saved means we love God and the brothers (I John 3:17, 4:7, 19).

Being saved means we have the Spirit (I John 4:13).

Being saved means we confess that Jesus is the Son of God (I John 4:15).

Being saved means we have overcome the world (I John 5:5).

Being saved means we believe the witness/testimony of God (I John 5:9-11).

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

10 Quotes from What's Best Next

This book was not perfect, but I did enjoy it and learned from it. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book. Most of these are in the first two sections, which I found to be the most helpful. All formatting is the author's unless otherwise noted.
While efficiency is important, it works only when we make it secondary, not primary. It doesn't matter how efficient you are if you are doing the wrong things in the first place. More important than efficiency is effectiveness-getting the right things done. In other words, productivity is not first about getting more things done faster. It's about getting the the right things done. 
Simply speeding up doesn't help if you aren't going in the right direction in the first place.
The quest for efficiency often undermines the true source of effectiveness in any organization-the people.
To be productive, in fact, glorifies God because when we are productive we are not only obeying him but imitating him.
Knowing how to get things done-how to be personally effective, leading and managing ourselves well-is indeed biblical, spiritual, and honoring to the Lord. It is not unspiritual to think about the concrete details of how things get done; rather this is a significant component of Christian wisdom. 
To be productive is to be fruitful in good works...What is a good work? Anything that does good and is done in faith.
We can not only say that the gospel makes us productive, but we can also go a step further: the gospel makes us eager to be productive.
It is of the essence of Christlike character to always be thinking of the guiding principle of our productivity.
Here is the core principle of productivity: know what is most important and put it first.
One of the biggest obstacles to doing first things first is what I call "the trap of the small stuff." We easily fall prey to the idea that before we can get to the big things, we need to get these small things clamoring for our attention out of the way. Resist this inclination; it's a trick.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Review: What's Best Next

What's Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things DoneWhat's Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An excellent book on productivity from a Christian perspective. He does a great job of grounding our work in the gospel and in serving others. Productivity is not a way to get more of what I want (money, time), but rather a way to serve others better. He wisely defines productivity as being effective, not efficient. He focuses on making sure we get the right things, not just more things done. Parts 1& 2 are the meat of the book and will redefine how you view the relationship between your walk with Christ, the gospel, and getting things done. The book is filled with helpful tools and tips. It is well-organized and therefore can be easily referenced. His focus at the end on institutions was helpful, though it also had its drawbacks (see below). Anyone can benefit from this book even if all he says is not applicable to each person. Managers, pastors, executives, etc. will find it very helpful.

There were a few areas I would criticize. The emphasis in the book is on people who make their own decisions, executive type situations. But it would have been nice if he had included more discussion of how to apply some of his principles when you are lower down the totem pole. What about the guy is who told how his day will go and is at a job he doesn't like? Perman focused on a more ideal scenario without bring some less than ideal situations into the discussion.

Also, I felt he emphasized the great too much. Most of us will never be William Wilberforce. The most impact most of us will have on world missions is by attending our local missions conference, giving to missions at the local church level, and praying for missionaries. Part of me needs the great vision that we can all do mighty things and should strive to do great things. But the reality is most of my life will be pretty normal and average. He hinted at this in certain sections (p. 320-321), yet it seemed that the overall tone of the book was focused on doing great things. What about the farmer, carpenter, auto mechanic, and plumber? I understand that was not the focus of his book, but even a short blurb on how these men could do what's best next would have been helpful.

Despite these critiques, I found the book excellent and well worth the time. I have already started implementing portions of the book and will continue to do so over the coming weeks.

View all my reviews

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Love and Obedience in John's Writings

The relationship between love and obedience has a checkered history in the life of God’s people. On one side are those curmudgeons who furrow their brow and yell "Obedience." On the other side are those soft men who whimper, "All we need is love." In between are most Christians who spend their days bouncing between love and obedience. In this post I want to show how John weaves together these two ideas,which we so often pit against one another. At the end I will draw some conclusions from these texts.

I focus on where John uses the word “command/commandments,” which is ἐντολή in the Greek.

We don't begin with our obedience, but with the obedience of our Lord. Jesus obeyed the commands of the Father because he loved the Father.  In John 10:17-18 Jesus says that he lays down his life according to the Father’s command (charge in the ESV). Because he lays down his life the Father loves him.  In John 12:44-50 Jesus says he speaks whatever the Father commands him to speak. He also says that the Father’s command is “everlasting life.” Finally in John 15:10, Jesus says that he has kept the commandments of the Father and therefore he abides in the Father’s love.

There is much more that could be said. But here we see the link between the love of the Father and the Son and the obedience of the Son to the Father. In the relationship between God the Father and God the Son there is both love and obedience. There is a love between Father and Son that fuels obedience and an obedience from Son to Father which fuels love.  Therefore we should not be surprised that John emphasizes these same ideas in our relationship to the Father and Son and in our relationships with each other.

Jesus tells us that if we love him we will keep his commandments. If we love Jesus and show that love by keeping his commandments we will also be loved by the Father (John 14:15, 21).  He goes on to say in John 15:9-10 that if we keep his (Jesus’) commandments we will abide in his love, just as He abides in the love of the Father. (See also I John 3:24).  If we keep the commandments of God we abide in the Father.  I John 2:3-4 adds another layer by equating knowing God with keeping his commandments.  We see here that loving God and Jesus means keeping the commands that they have given to us. By keeping his commands we abide in them and in their love. By keeping his commands we know that we know God. Three of John’s favorite words, loving, abiding, and knowing, are linked here with keeping the commandments of God.

Her are some other verses which show the interplay between love and obedience in John's writings.

Several verses tell us exactly what it means to obey the commands of God. 
1. Love one another (John 13:34, 15:12, I John 3:23, I John 4:21, II John 5).
2. Love God (I John 4:21).
3. Believe on the name of Jesus Christ (I John 5:23).
4. Walk in the truth (II John 1:4, implied).

We can also see that love is consistently defined as keeping the commandments.
1. How do we know we love the children of God? We love God and keep his commandments (I John 5:2)
2. The love of God is that we keep his commandments (I John 5:3)
3. Love is walking according to His commandments. (II John 1:6)

Here are a few other verses that expand on the nature of the commandments we have been given. 
1. Just like Jesus we have received commands from the Father. This is everywhere implied, but explicitly stated in I John 3:23, 4:21 and II John 1:4.
2. The commands of God are not burdensome (I John 5:3).
3. The commandments of God are linked to what pleases him (I John 3:22).

The upshot of all this is that loving the Father, the Son, and our neighbor is linked with obedience to the commands of both of the Father and Son.  Love and obedience are virtual synonyms in John’s world. Paul says something similar in Galatians 5:14 where he says the law is fulfilled by loving our neighbor.

Here are some points to draw from these texts.
First, love for and obedience to Jesus go together. In the life of Jesus love for the Father led to the obedience of the Son. So as imitators of Christ our love leads to obedience as well.  I would add here that there is a fake obedience, which does not flow from love. There is also a fake love, which never leads to obedience. Hopefully, I will expand on this in the future. 

Second, the love God has for us implants in us a love for Jesus, which ultimately leads to a desire for and growth in obedience to God’s commands. My point here is that God's love for us precedes our love for God (I John 4:7-10). Our obedience is a gift of love given by God. We do not earn God's love in any ultimate sense by obeying Him. We love because we are born of God. We obey because we are born of God. We do not obey to be born of God. 

Third, obedience to God includes believing in him, loving one another, and walking in the truth. Obedience includes doctrine, relationships, and ethics. 

Fourth, we cannot love our neighbor without first loving God. We cannot claim to love God without also loving one another. Jesus' love for God led to his sacrificial love for us. In the same way, our love for Jesus leads us to sacrificial love for one another. If there is no love for our brothers then there is no love for God. If there is no love for our brothers there is no obedience to God.

Finally, love begins in the heart and mind, but does not remain there. Love for God and neighbor will lead to a life that shaped more and more in concrete, practical ways by the Word of God. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Priests as Prophets

Richard Pratt notes that prophets have a huge role in I and II Chronicles. They are mentioned almost forty times. One way the Chronicler emphasizes the role of the prophet in Israel is by calling the Levites prophets. Here is what Pratt says:
The Chronicler highlighted the importance of prophecy by assigning a prophetic role to many Levites. On a number of occasions he designated Levites as "prophets" and "seers" (I Chr. 25:1-5, 2 Chr. 20:14, 24:20, 29:30, 35:15). This identification appears in Chronicles more clearly than any other portion of the Old Testament. It probably reflects the conviction that the Levites, especially the musical Levites, had a prophetic role in the post-exilic community. 
Let the saints be joyful in glory, let them sing aloud on their beds, let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind the kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron. Psalm 149:5-8