Friday, August 28, 2015

Images & the 2nd Commandment: Heidelberg Catechism~ Lord's Day 35

Our church started reciting the Heidelberg Catechism in worship this year. It has been a great way to introduce reformed theology to our congregation. Doing this year after year will give our folks good foundation of basic Biblical teaching. This Sunday in our worship we will recite Lord's Day 35 from the Heidelberg Catechism, which addresses the 2nd Commandment. Here is the 2nd Commandment:
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments (Exodus 20:4-6).
Here are the three questions from the Heidelberg Catechism on the 2nd Commandment:
Q 96. What is God's will for us in the second commandment.
A. That we in no way make any image of God nor worship him in any other way than has been commanded in God's Word.
Q 97. May we then not make any image at all?
A. God cannot and may not be visibly portrayed in any way. Although creatures may be portrayed, yet God forbids making or having such images if one's intention is to worship them or to serve God through them.
Q 98. But may not images be permitted in churches in place of books for the unlearned?
A. No, we should not try to be wiser than God. God wants the Christian community instructed by the living preaching of his Word—not by idols that cannot even talk. 
There several things to note from these questions and answers.

First, this is not just about images though images of God are forbidden. It is also about worshiping according to God's Word. There is a lot of debate about what the Word teaches concerning the particulars of worship especially how to apply the Regulative Principle of Worship. However, at the very least, Question 96 says our worship practices must be rooted in Scripture and not the tradition or imaginations of men.

Second, images of creatures are not forbidden. Some extreme Christian traditions have rejected all art. The Heidelberg Catechism leaves room for art of all kinds, as long as it does not become worship of any kind.

Third, the Heidelberg Catechism rightly says that images set up to worship are dumb idols. God's people cannot be taught by dead images. They are to be taught by the lively preaching of the word. One of the  key recoveries of the Reformation was the priority of the preached word in worship.

Are pictures of Jesus forbidden? This is often debated. G.I. Williamson says that pictures of Christ are forbidden because Jesus is God. I believe this was the majority report in the Reformed tradition, but is currently in the minority. Kevin DeYoung says pictures of Jesus are fine, but he urges caution, which would probably be my stance. I did not watch The Passion of the Christ because I did not want the movie running through my mind when I read the crucifixion accounts. Also there are so many bad pictures of Jesus it might be worthwhile to ban them just so Christians will stop embarrassing themselves. Pictures like the one below do not help our cause.

What specifically is forbidden by this commandment? Artwork of any kind that depicts the invisible God and yes that means the Sistine Chapel is a violation of the 2nd Commandment. Any images, statues, paintings, pictures, carvings and/or stained glass of any creatures, but especially Jesus, Bible scenes, Mary, the saints, and the cross, that are kissed, prayed to, bowed down to, meditated on, venerated, considered a pathway to God, considered sacred, or thought of as something that brings us into communion with God are forbidden.  This does not mean there can be no statues of Mary. But it does mean when people bow before it, kiss its feet, pray to it, expect to get closer to God because it is there, or surround the statue like a shrine it has become an idol. Also any other practices that are contrary to the Bible's teaching on how to worship God are forbidden.

Roman Catholic Teaching on the 2nd Commandment
Compare the Heidelberg with the statements made in the Roman Catholic Catechism sections 2129-2132. (By the way the Roman Catholics consider this part of the 1st Commandment.)
The divine injunction included the prohibition of every representation of God by the hand of man. Deuteronomy explains: "Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves, in the form of any figure...."It is the absolutely transcendent God who revealed himself to Israel. "He is the all," but at the same time "he is greater than all his works." He is "the author of beauty."
So far so good.
Nevertheless, already in the Old Testament, God ordained or permitted the making of images that pointed symbolically toward salvation by the incarnate Word: so it was with the bronze serpent, the ark of the covenant, and the cherubim.
Ah, but then comes that pesky "nevertheless."  Three points why this does not prove that we can make images in the New Covenant. First, God commanded these Old Testament images to be made. Where in the NT are we commanded to make images of any kind? If there is no command from God to make images of Mary, Jesus, or the cross as part of our worship then we should refrain. Second, the bronze serpent shows the danger of even God ordained images. It became an idol that was worshiped (II Kings 18:4) and had to be destroyed. If an image commanded by God can become an idol how much more is that the case with images that are not commanded by Him. Third, there is no indication that any of these images were objects of worship, veneration, prayer, etc. They were symbols of God's activity and presence. But even the ark of the covenant where God actually dwelt is not the object of worship. Were the cherubim woven into the Tabernacle curtains ever prayed to? Did they bow before the lamp stand?  Did God command them to kiss the show bread? Again if images and types commanded by God were not worshiped how much more should we avoid doing so with images that are not ordained by God.
Basing itself on the mystery of the incarnate Word, the seventh ecumenical council at Nicaea (787) justified against the iconoclasts the veneration of icons - of Christ, but also of the Mother of God, the angels, and all the saints. By becoming incarnate, the Son of God introduced a new "economy" of images.
Not sure what a "new 'economy' of images is? Here is the text from the 2nd Council of Nicaea in 787. It would be nice to see a NT text that proves this idea is Biblical. But hey, when you have tradition, who needs the Bible. Obviously the invisible God became visible through Jesus Christ. I am not sure how that gives us the freedom to make images of angels, Mary, saints, or even Jesus and use them in our worship or to try to get to God through them.  
The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, "the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype," and "whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it." The honor paid to sacred images is a "respectful veneration," not the adoration due to God alone: Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate. the movement toward the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends toward that whose image it is.
Here is where the Reformers understood the human heart better than Roman Catholics. Is there really that much difference between adoration, worship, veneration, etc.? But even if you try to create different levels of worship in print, in real life men like to worship things even God ordained things like the bronze serpent. They want to walk by sight not by faith. Therefore this attempt is doomed from the start. People pray to/through these images, meditate on these images, find a spiritual connection in these images, kiss these images, ascend to heaven through these images, get to "God incarnate" through these images, and yet somehow they do not worship them? Somehow this looks like idol worship in every way and yet isn't? This distinction between the image and the thing the image represents and the various types of worship is splitting hairs and pastorally dangerous.

Images of God are forbidden. Images of other creatures can be made,  perhaps even Christ, but they must not be worshiped in any way. Human hearts are prone to idol worship therefore worship should be carefully guarded to prevent even the appearance of worshiping an image. There are no Biblical commands or inferences that allow us to set up images in worship or to use them to aid our worship. The key way we get to know God and His Son Christ is when the Spirit works through the preached Word while in fellowship with other living saints.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Interacting with Professing Christians on Homosexuality

With all the focus on abortion, it is easy to forget that just a few weeks ago the highest court in the land ruled that every state must approve of same sex marriage. This issue may prove to more divisive in churches over the next few years than abortion. How do we approach professing Christians who disagree with us on sodomy/same sex marriage? I want to give some guidelines for how to navigate these disagreements.

Shepherd or Sheep? 
The Bible teaches that those in authority will be held to a higher standard than those who are being taught by them. James 3:1 is the classic statement on this point.
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
In the Bible shepherds are rebuked for their failures to care for the sheep by teaching them truth. Israel was in danger because her shepherds were hirelings (John 10:13). The New Testament writers warned their readers over and over again about false teachers. The first question to ask when a person is soft on sodomy or is gently gliding towards "God approves of same sex marriage" is are they shepherd or sheep? We should treat shepherds and sheep differently. A false teacher must be rebuked and often with strong admonitions.  These rebukes should involve solid arguments and proof from Scripture of their errors. But eventually a true shepherd will warn the sheep to avoid these men and women (I Timothy 1:20, II Timothy 2:17-18, Titus 3:10, II John 1:10-11).

In our culture, it is not easy to separate shepherd from sheep. In the old days, it was difficult to get any traction if you did not have some type of official authority. You had to be ordained or work at a seminary or something like that. But now all you need is a keyboard and wi-fi and you too can become a teacher. It is possible for a lay person through the power of the internet to actually have more power over people than a pastor. Some examples of teachers in our culture are: pastors, elders, professors at colleges and seminaries, bloggers, writers of books, magazine articles, etc. 

Many times these people will claim to not be teachers. "I am just a blogger thinking out loud." Or "I am just a professor doing some research. I am not making any dogmatic claims." Or "I am not ordained. I am just a Christian trying to help other Christians." That is a smokescreen, a ruse to avoid real accountability. You can't write or speak exerting influence over people and trying to persuade them and then claim not to be a teacher.

Teachers who are soft on sodomy, talk in "nuance," refuse to take a stand on the issue, refuse to call those involved to repentance, or actively promote homosexuality need to be called out publicly. And no, you don't have to send them a private email first. They are teachers. They are destroying souls. They are wolves who need a true shepherd to drive them out. Shepherds, such as pastors, elders, and seminary professors are the primary ones responsible for rebuking these false teachers (Acts 20:29-30). 

Four Groups
Shepherds need to be called out and rebuked. But what about the sheep, the professing Christian sitting in the pew? Here are four different groups of professing Christians you might meet, their views/relationship to sodomy and how we should interact with them. 

First, is the apologist for sodomy. This is a professing Christian who thinks sodomy is a legitimate expression of the Christian faith and they promote this idea. This person does not have to be a homosexual nor do they have to be mean.  They are often gentle and kind. They are not always militant. But they are trying to persuade people that Jesus approves of same sex relationships. This person is a predator and should be dealt with quickly and decisively. You should not associate with this person, except to evangelize and/or rebuke them. In many ways this person is like the shepherd above. They are promoting a practice that sends people to Hell. They obviously should not be a part of your church. Bad company corrupts good morals (I Cor. 15:33). People who are proselytizing for sodomy are dangerous. 

Second, is a professing Christian who approves of sodomy but does not push the idea.  The difference between this person and the first one is the second does not promote homosexuality even though they think it is fine and may practice it. They will usually have a live and let live mentality. This person is probably not a threat to you or your family, but you still should be wary of the influence their lifestyle might have.  Many well meaning Christians have flipped on sodomy because they became friends with a homosexual and found out they were nice. You wouldn't want this second person to be a close friend. This person should not be a member of your church either. A person who approves of sodomy, even if they do not practice it, is in danger of Hell. But as long they are not ramming things down your throat you can maintain a relationship and look for opportunities to encourage them to repent of their sodomy (if they are practicing homosexuals) or to correct their thinking.

These first two groups are not Christians in any meaningful sense of the word. Paul is clear that sodomites will not inherit the kingdom of God (I Cor. 6:9). 

Third, is the Christian who is genuinely confused by the issue. They have some sympathy for homosexuals. They do not want to be thought of as mean or unloving. But they also have reservations. They are not sure what the Scriptures teach. They know that sodomy was considered a great sin throughout most of church history. This person needs careful, patient, and clear teaching on what the Scriptures say about homosexuality. The difference between this person and the second is the firmness of their convictions. The first and second person are convinced that sodomy is fine for Christians. This third person is wavering. 

Finally, you have Christians who are refugees from the homosexual world. These might be actual homosexuals/lesbians who have left the lifestyle or folks who had bought into the lie and now are trying to get back to what the Scriptures teach. This group will swell over the next couple of decades. Churches should be prepared for a steady influx of those who are disillusioned with or broken by sodomy and the lies surrounding it. Depending upon the situation these people will need a heavy dose of Jesus, particularly the forgiveness of sins, help in overcoming bad habits, otherwise known as sanctification, lots of love, and good solid teaching over a long period of time.

A person who belongs to any of these four groups should not be a teacher or leader in the church or the church community, including the online community. Obviously, the first and second person are disqualified from teaching God's people because they believe something contrary to the Scriptures. They are false teachers. The third person is confused. There are some issues it is okay for a shepherd to say, "I am not sure about that." This is not one of them. A person who is confused about sodomy should not be teaching God's people. The fourth person could eventually become a teacher of God's people, but they would need to grow in sanctification and their understanding of God's Word before they would be qualified. It is possible they will never be qualified depending upon the circumstances.

The church needs protection from the first group.

The first and second group both need to be evangelized.

The third group needs patient teaching.

The final group need a loving church that preaches Jesus, models Jesus, and will help the person grow into Christ's likeness.

Being able to distinguish between shepherd and sheep and between these four groups will help us to effectively minister to people involved in, approving of, practicing, or coming out of homosexuality. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Ten Quotes: On Being a Pastor by Derek Prime and Alistair Begg

Here are ten of my favorite quotes from the excellent book on ministry, On Being a Pastor
Service, not dominion is a minister's calling. 
When our tongues let us down, it is because we have not first watched over our hearts and thoughts.
As shepherds and teachers we should stand out as those who love what is good (Titus 1:8). Our approach to life is to be essentially positive. We know that we live in God's world, and that all his gifts are good; it is man's abuse of God's gifts that is the problem, not the gifts themselves. Whether it is a matter of sport, or what is on television, we are to love what is good and to set an example in this respect.
A principle temptation in the ministry is to be carried along by its sheer busyness to the neglect of prayer.
The principal part of our pastoral care [prayer] is unseen by those who benefit from it, since it is exercised in secret
Throughout the book the authors emphasize that prayer is the primary form of pastoral care we exercise over the flock.
The mark of a good teacher is that what is difficult and complicated becomes simple to understand.
After expounding truth, it is vital to apply is so that the hearers go away with an awareness of what the verse or passage has to say to them in their immediate situation and how they may be doers of God's Word.
All for whom we care should be aware that we are in the same battle, and that we speak not as professional Christians but as members with them of God's family. Just as it is of immeasurable comfort to know that our Great High Priest was tested in every way as we are-although He, uniquely without sin-it is an encouragement to the flock to know that undershepherds are made of the same stuff as themselves. 
We all need something of interest, totally distinct from our work, to which we can turn our minds for rest and relaxation.
This last quote comes from their chapter titled Family and Leisure.  It was a well-balanced and helpful section of the book. I found it interesting that Derek Prime, who ministered in England, got four consecutive weeks of vacation or as they call it over there "holiday."
We [pastors] should be outstanding for conveying our convictions without heat or animosity.
And one:
The trials of ministry require two virtues in particular: patience and self-control. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Parents as Idol Worshippers

This is a post from 2012 that I thought was worth reposting.

Paul Tripp in his excellent book  Age of Opportunity lists several idols that parents have.  He notes that these idols often keep them from effectively parenting their teens. Here is the list of idols with a brief explanation from Mr. Tripp.

Idol 1: Comfort
"Secretly in our hearts, many of us want life to be a resort. A resort is a place where you are the one who is served...I am afraid that many of us live for comfort and bring this entitlement mentality to our parenting...Scripture warns us that life is far from being a resort. Life is war."

Idol 2: Respect
"Is respect a good thing? Of course! Is it something that parents should seek to instill in their children? Yes! But it must not be the thing that controls my heart or I will personalize what is not personal, I will lose sight of my role as God's representative, and I will fight and demand what only God can produce."

Idol 3: Appreciation
"Children should appreciate their parents. Yet being appreciated cannot be our goal.  When it becomes the thing we live for, we will unwittingly look with hyper-vigilant eyes for appreciation in every situation...If parents have forgotten their own vertical relationship with God as they've ministered to their teens, if they think of it all as an 'I serve, you appreciate' contract between parent and child, they will struggle with lots of discouragement and anger during the teen years."

Idol 4: Success
"We tend to approach parenting with a sense of ownership, that these are our children and their obedience is our right...We begin to need them to be what they should be so that we can feel a sense of achievement and success.  We begin to look at our children as our trophies rather than God's creatures...When they fail to live to our expectations, we find ourselves not grieving for them and fighting with them, but angry at them, fighting against them, and, in fact, grieving for ourselves and our loss."

Idol 5: Control
"The goal of parenting is not to retain tight-fisted control over our children in an attempt to guarantee their safety and our sanity. Only God is able to exercise that kind of control.  The goal is to be used of him to instill in our children an ever-maturing self-control through the principles of the Word and to allow them to exercise ever-widening circles of choice, control, and independence."

Friday, August 21, 2015

Book Review: On Being a Pastor

On Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and WorkOn Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and Work by Derek J. Prime
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I almost gave this five stars. It is one of the best introductions to ministry in the 21st Century that I have read. Several things set this book apart from others.

First, you have two men from two different eras giving practical advice on shepherding. You get a lot of "I did it this way." Followed by the other man saying, "But I did this way." By setting the book up this way the reader gets a lot of specifics, but none of them are presented as "this is the way it has to be done." The reader is thus left to sift, sort, and apply what he can to his own situation. Tons of practical suggestions without setting down a bunch of laws.

Second, they cover a lot of ground. There are your typical chapters on preaching and prayer. But there are also chapters on leadership, delegation, family, two chapters on pastoral care, and a wonderful closing chapter on the perils of ministry. The delegation chapter was one of the most practical in the book with a lot of food for thought on a subject commonly ignored in books on ministry.

Third, the entire book focuses on the holiness of the minister. From how to handle interaction with women to mistakes to Bible reading to prayer to visitation the reader is reminded that pastors must be holy.

The only weak chapter was the one on worship. The best chapter was the one on prayer.

I would highly recommend this book for all ministers, elders, and ministers in training.

View all my reviews

Do All Infants Who Die Go to Heaven?

In light of the millions of babies that have been killed by abortion since 1973 Pastor Sam Storms asks the question, "Do All Infants Who Die Go to Heaven?"  He is tentative with his argument, but still believes that "all who die in infancy...are among the elect of God."

He gives eight arguments to prove his point, which I summarize below. All Scripture references are his.

1. Romans 1:20 says that all who are exposed to general revelation are without excuse. Since infants are not "recipients of general revelation" then they have an excuse and are therefore "not accountable to God or subject to wrath."

2. There are passages that assert that infants do not know good from evil (Deut. 1:39).

3. The story of David's son dying after David's adultery with Bathsheba. David says he will go to his son, which would indicate that his son with God.

4. There is the consistent testimony of Scripture that we will be judged according to our works (II Cor. 5:10, I Cor. 6:9-10, Rev. 20:11-12).

5. An infant sent to Hell would know pain and suffering, but would not know why he was there. He would be conscious of his suffering, but not conscious of his sin.

6. Some infants are clearly regenerate in the womb (Jeremiah 1:5, Luke 1:15).

7.  Honestly, I am not sure what he is arguing with his 7th point. He talks about Matthew 19:13-15. But what he is trying to prove or disprove from the passage is unclear. If someone can explain his point to me, please do.

8. Here is a direct quote from his 8th point, "Given our understanding of God's character as presented in Scripture, does he appear as the kind of God who would eternally condemn infants on no other ground than that of Adam's transgression? Again, this is a subjective (and perhaps sentimental) question. But it deserves an answer nonetheless."

Storms believes "the first, third, fourth, fifth, and eighth points sufficiently convincing" to prove "the salvation of those dying in infancy."

Let's walk through his points one by one.

Number 1 only works with babies in the womb and maybe not even then. Infants as soon as they are born (conceived?) receive and respond to general revelation. Do they understand it all? Well no, but many adults don't either. As a soon as someone exists in the world they are exposed to general revelation.  A baby in the womb is a human being. He is a person. This is essentially a maturity argument. Storms is saying a baby is not mature enough to receive and respond to general revelation therefore they are excused. The question, which naturally follows is when do they become "without excuse?" At what point does a child move from "not receiving or responding to general revelation" to doing so? To put it in more familiar terms, what is the age of accountability? This argument does not work because there is no indication in  Scripture of a particular point in a child's life when they all of the sudden become "without excuse."

Deuteronomy 1:39 is the passage cited in number 2. There Moses recites the failure of Israel to enter the land and God's subsequent punishment of making them wander for forty years in the wilderness.   This passage does indicate a higher level of responsibility for adults for certain sins than for children. But there are numerous problems with using this to prove the salvation of all infants. First, you are dealing with covenant children. Second, the age of those who were not punished for Israel's failure to enter the land was twenty and under, not just infants. Third, this passage does not seem to be saying that children cannot sin, but rather that they are innocent of the specific sin of failing to enter the land. This is similar to David's comment that he is righteous (Psalm 18:20, 24).  David is not saying he never sins. He is saying that in this particular circumstance he is righteous. Finally, the parents used their children as an excuse for not entering the land (Number 14:3).  God preserving the young was an appropriate punishment for the parents who did not trust God to preserve the young.

Numbers 3 and 6 are the same argument: Some children in the womb are clearly elect. But like the Deuteronomy passage this is undermined by the fact that all the infants involved are covenant children. They are children of believers. Storms is a Baptist so his failure to understand this is not surprising. But God does not treat the children of believers the same way he treats the children of pagans (I Cor. 7:14).  Storms must prove that all infants, including those of pagans, are elect, not just covenant children.

Numbers 4, 5, and 8 are the same argument coming from different directions. The assumption is that the only reason God would send someone to Hell is because they have willfully rejected divine revelation, not because they were born sinners. Original sin is not enough for God's eternal wrath to justly rest upon an individual. My first point below addresses this.

None of these arguments are good enough to assert what Pastor Storms does. I understand why he wants to say this. We all do. We want to say all babies who die are in Heaven. But the Bible, not our feelings must guide us. Here are my counter arguments that will lead to my final position.

First, Storms wants to say that God would not condemn people who do not willfully sin against divine revelation therefore infant cannot be justly judge. But God already has condemned them. Every child is conceived and born in sin (Psalm 51:5). Why? Because Adam sinned. No one chooses to be born under the wrath of God (Eph. 2:3). God has determined that for them. God has already condemned the entire human race, infants included, for a sin they did not willfully commit. Why would it be wrong to send them to Hell when they did not willfully choose to sin?

The second point builds on the first. All men are sinners from the moment of conception. There are no exceptions to this. Storms agrees with this. They must be cleansed by the blood of Christ to enter everlasting life. What in the Bible indicates that children of pagans are automatically covered in Christ's blood? Nothing.

Third, here is where the covenant is so helpful. God separates children of Christians from those who are outside the covenant (I Cor 7:14, Psalm 22:9). Children conceived by one parent who believes in Jesus belong to Christ.  If they die in the womb or while young a minister can say with confidence based on Scripture that the child belongs to God. There is no such confidence for non-believing children. God specifically commands the destruction of non-covenant infants in passages such as Deuteronomy 20:16-17 and Joshua 6. Many, many infants would have died in the flood, which God brought with his own hand. He also blesses those who destroy pagan infants in passages such as Psalm 137:8-9 and Isaiah 13:16-18. The flip side of I Cor. 7:14 is that if there is no Christian parent the child is not holy.

Based on Scripture here is what I would say.

Infants and those in the womb who die where one parent is a Christian can be assured the child will be ushered into the presence of God. The Synod of Dordt says it well:
Since we are to judge of the will of God from his Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they, together with the parents, are comprehended, godly parents have no reason to doubt of the election and salvation of their children, whom it pleases God to call out of this life in their infancy.(1st Head of Doctrine, Article 17)
For Christian parents the covenant brings great comfort during the loss of a child by miscarriage or some other tragedy. Our children are set apart. Not because of us. But because of God's mercy. We will see them again.

For infants outside of the covenant there is no such assurance. God might show them mercy, but he has given no promises to. Scripture does not give guidance on this point. If anything the Scriptures point the other direction. Nothing in the Bible indicates he will save the children of pagans simply because they have not willfully sinned against him.

For more on this you can read Mark Jones' (no relation) excellent article over at Reformation 21.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Martin Bucer on Caring for the Poor

I really enjoyed reading Martin Bucer's book Concerning the True Care of Souls. It is pastoral theology at its best. His first three chapters are excellent as he discusses what is the Church and how Christ rules in the Church. Here is his definition of the Church from the first chapter:

"The church of Christ is the assembly and fellowship of those who are gathered from the world and united to Christ our Lord through his Spirit and word, to be a body and members of one another, each having his office and work for the general good of the whole body and all its members."

He then goes on discuss this definition in more detail.  Here are the last four points Martin Bucer makes in his opening chapter.  He says that Christians should be sharing their possessions and then gives some rules for that sharing. I thought this was helpful in thinking about how to address needs in the body.  His points are in italics and my notes follow.

1. Christians have their fellowship not only in spiritual matters, but also in temporal ones. (Acts 4:32, 34, 35) His point here is a vital one. We often think of sharing in Scripture and prayer, which are of course important, but material possessions matter. Our love for the Church must be expressed in tangible, physical ways.

2. Christians dedicate themselves and their possessions to the help of the poor and the promotion of godliness. (II Corinthians 8:1-5)  Here Bucer puts up some fences around our aid. First, it must actually help the poor. Second it must promote godliness. Our aid cannot be such that it promotes ungodliness.  It is unbiblical to give money to subsidize laziness or drunkenness or any other form of sin.

3. The sharing of Christians takes place in such a way that those in need are helped and the others not burdened. (II Corinthians 8:13-15) Bucer's point here is not that our giving shouldn't cost us. Our giving must be sacrificial and that means it should hurt. His point is that by giving we shouldn't make ourselves poor or others poor. It does no good to replace one poor person with another.

4. Anyone among the Christians who does not want to work and is a burden to the other people is not only not to be fed by the congregation, but also to be cast out as one whose life is disorderly. (II Thessalonians 3:11-13)  Bucer puts up one final fence around our giving. A man who is a financial burden to the Church, yet refuses to work should be kicked out of the Church. Of course, Bucer is assuming the man is physically capable of working.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Book Review: Planting, Watering, Growing

Planting, Watering, Growing: Planting Confessionally Reformed Churches in the 21st CenturyPlanting, Watering, Growing: Planting Confessionally Reformed Churches in the 21st Century by Daniel R. Hyde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very helpful book for those who want to plant ordinary means of grace churches, churches that are centered around worship, sacraments, preaching, teaching, hospitality, long term covenantal growth, and evangelism. There is a lot of good advice in the book on how to start church plant and when not to, how a church plant should interact with the mother church and the denomination, the priority of doctrine and preaching, how to properly contextualize, how to make the church plant welcoming, what should be looked for in a church planter, etc.

They are also willing to recommend books outside the reformed tradition, such as those from the Acts29 Network or those from more seeker sensitive models.

There are of course, places I disagree. My main disagreement was the need to go over the confessions before membership.The sample list of questions for new members (p. 185-86) is daunting. My view is that a person professes faith in Christ, is baptized, and then can become a member. After that there should be systematic teaching in whatever confession the church plant adheres to. I do not think there needs to be a long process for membership. But even here the writers reminded me of the need for systematic instruction of the saints in doctrine. I would just do it post-membership.

Though my church plant is eight years old and on solid ground there are still many ideas from this book that I will try to implement at some point in the future. The book is a worthwhile read for all in the reformed tradition who want to plant churches or want to be involved in churches that are evangelical, reformed, and Biblically sensitive to the surrounding culture.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Shepherds or Lords?

Word studies can be dangerous. D.A. Carson notes many of the problems with them in his book Exegetical Fallacies. However, rightly done they can open up Scripture for us. Take for example the phrase "lording it over" in I Peter 5:3. In I Peter 5:1-4 the Apostle Peter gives pastors and elders an exhortation on how to shepherd the flock. He begins by saying we are to shepherd the flock as overseers (I Peter 5:2). This is an overall description of the office. Then he give three sets of opposites to describe how we are to fulfill this calling. All translations are mine.

Not by compulsion/force, but willingly

Not greedy/eager for gain, but with readiness

Not as being lords/lording it over the lot, but by being an example

All of these deserve attention from ministers and elders. Peter's description is different from Paul's in I Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, and Luke's in Acts 20:28-30. All of these are adverbs or adverbial participles, which describe how the shepherd is supposed to his job. Unlike I Timothy 3:1-7, which focuses on the character qualities of the elder, Peter focuses on the how of the job. What is the attitude elders and pastors should carry as they exercises their office?

The verb translated "lording it over" is only used three times other times in the New Testament. Two of these will not surprise you.
Matthew 20:25 But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 
 Mark 10:42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 
But the third use outside of our passage is instructive. It happens to come in one of my favorite sections in Acts.
Acts 19:13-16 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, "I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims." Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?" And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 
The word "mastered" is the same word translated "lording it over" in I Peter 5:3. In I Peter 5:3 bad shepherds are those who wrestle their people to the ground and overpower them. Shepherds who control through manipulation, cruel words, wrongful shaming, and abuse of power. Shepherds who lord it over are like demon possessed men seeking to master their slaves. It reminds me of Ezekiel's rebuke of Israel's shepherds in Ezekiel 34:4.
The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. 
The second word "harshness" is used twice in Exodus 1:13-14 to describe the way the pharaohs enslaved and treated the Israelites.  The shepherds of Israel in Ezekiel's time had become like the pharaohs of Egypt. Peter reminds us that we are tempted to the same thing. We are tempted to control, power, and enslave our people.

But aren't shepherds supposed to protect the sheep and drive away wolves? How can we do this without controlling them? There are several answers to this given in Scripture, but the sum of it is our live and words must convince. Our job is not to overpower them. Our job is to exhort, persuade, convince, and plead with our lives and words.

Peter contrasts lording it over the sheep with being an example, a type to the flock. The primary method Peter encourages is a life of godliness, holiness, and devotion to the Lord.  Paul uses the exact same word in his exhortation to Timothy in I Timothy 4:12
Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 
Pastors and elders must be examples to the flock of love, holiness, prayer, faithfulness to Christ, loving the lost, love for Jesus, forgiveness of sins, repentance, joy, peace, and patience. Cruel shepherds place burdens on the sheep by requiring of them what God does not and by refusing to go ahead of the sheep. They sit back and command, but they do not lead. (See Matthew 23:4) They crush the sheep, overpowering them instead of guiding them gently into green pastures and quiet waters. 

The second way that shepherds lead and protect the sheep is through preaching and teaching God's Word with all patience and gentleness. Every word in that phrase is important. We teach and preach, not ourselves and our ideas, but the Word. And we must do this with all patience and gentleness. There are numerous verses from the Pastoral  Epistles which emphasize this aspect of the shepherd's job (I Tim 4:6, 11-16, I Tim. 6:3, 11-14, II Tim. 1:13, 2:2, 14-16, 4:2-5, Titus 1:9, 13, 2:1, 6, 15, 3:1). II Timothy 2:22-26 is one of the clearer passages in this regard:
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. 
Is there ever a time for strong words? Of course.  Do pastors and elders rebuke? Yes. Do pastors chase away wolves? I sure hope so. But if our normal pattern with our people is, "Listen to me or else." "Do what I say or I will make you pay by embarrassing you or shaming you."  If we rely upon our position and power to force the sheep to obey or if our regularly wrestle them to the ground, trying to control them, and make them do what we say then we are just like that demon possessed man in Acts 19. We have become lords instead of shepherds. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Six Barrier Beliefs

This little book contains several short essays outside of the main content on how the pastor theologian should conduct his ministry. Jason Hood, an Anglican pastor in Tanzania, has an essay on why the pastor should be an apologist in the pulpit. Often I view apologetics as what I do outside the pulpit. Hood reminded ministers that many sitting in the pew, even solid Christians, have questions about the faith or they have friends who ask questions about the faith. Therefore Sunday mornings should be used for defending the faith. He then gives six beliefs which dominate the post-Christian West that make Christianity difficult to believe. These beliefs are barriers to people coming to Christ. He encourages ministers to find ways to address these barriers in their preaching.

1. There cannot be on one true religion that falsifies all other views.

2. Evil and suffering make the powerful God of the Bible impossible.

3. Personal choice is sacred and cannot be violated by any religion or ideology that requires my submission to lordship.

4. The church's track record is dismal.

5. God's anger or wrath is unpalatable, perhaps even criminal.

6. The Bible is untrustworthy and socially regressive.

Hood says, "These barriers to Christian belief are not just found in New York: they are found everywhere, part of the cultural air."

If we are going to effectively minister to our congregations and our culture then we should be aware of these underlying beliefs that are obstacles for people coming to Christ. #1 and 3 are the most common I run in to. #3 is the most dominant worldview in America. Individual choice is god.
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