My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

27 February 2008

Just once more

To conclude my part of this discussion, here are some quotes from John Calvin in the Institutes, book four, chapters five and six. Some quick notes: if this is getting old, I'm sorry and I'm almost done. If this discussion feels off-balanced by not addressing the preacher's responsibility, I agree and hope to write more about that soon. Finally, these quotes from Calvin are meant to inform the idea and are not aimed at anyone in particular.

On Ephesians 4:10-13: We see how God, who could in a moment perfect his own, nevertheless desires them to grow up into manhood solely under the education of the church. We see the way set for it: the preaching of the heavenly doctrine has been enjoined upon the pastors. We see that all are brought under the same regulation, that with a gentle and teachable spirit they may allow themselves to be governed by teachers appointed to this function.

On God's giving interpeters to His people (Mal. 2:7): This is doubly useful. On the one hand, he proves our obedience by a very good test when we hear his ministers speaking just as if he himself spoke. On the other, he also provides for our weakness in that he prefers to address us in human fashion through interpreters in order to draw us to himself, rather than to thunder at us and drive us away.

To those who think the authority of the Word is belittled when handled with authority by men: For, although God's power is not bound to outward means, he has nonetheless bound us to this ordinary manner of teaching. Fanatical men, refusing to hold fast to it, entangle themselves in many deadly snares. Many are led either by pride, dislike, or rivalry to the conviction that they can profit enough from private reading and meditation; hence they despise public assemblies and deem preaching superfluous...In order, then, that pure simplicity of faith may flourish among us, let us not be reluctant to use this exercise of religion which God, by ordaining it, has shown us to be necessary and highly approved.

What follows in chapter six is a great portion discussing the balance of believing the primacy of preaching yet giving full credit to God who "claims for himself alone both the beginnings of faith and its entire course."

26 February 2008

More on the primacy of preaching

I do want to continue the discussion from the last post. Not having much time to write, let me point your attention to this article from Keith Mathison, critiquing the doctrine of solo Scriptura (vs. the reformed doctrine of sola Scriptura). Those on the other side of the debate are holding to a form of this, not the full-blown solo Scriptura, but a form of it, and thus ought to wrestle with Mathison's conclusion. (thanks to Jeff for the link)

Not only has solo scriptura contributed heavily to this division and sectarianism, it can offer no possible solution. Solo scriptura is the ecclesiastical equivalent of a nation with a constitution but no court of law to interpret that constitution. Both can lead to chaos. At best solo scriptura can offer an abstract doctrinal statement to the effect that “Scripture” is the sole authority. But using Scripture alone, it cannot tell us what “Scripture” is or what it means. It simply cannot resolve differences of interpretation, and the result is more and more division and schism. The resolution of theological differences requires the possibility of authoritatively defining the propositional doctrinal content of Christianity, and it requires the possibility of an authoritative ecclesiastical “Supreme Court." Since neither of these possibilities are allowed within the framework of solo scriptura, there can be no possibility of solution.

Solo scriptura also undermines the legitimate ecclesiastical authority established by Christ. It negates the duty to submit to those who rule over you, because it removes the possibility of an authoritative teaching office in the Church. To place any kind of real hermeneutical authority in an elder or teacher undermines the doctrine of solo scriptura. Those adherents of solo scriptura who do have pastors and teachers to whom they look for leadership do so under the stipulation that the individual is to evaluate the leader’s teaching by Scripture first. What this means in practice is that the individual is to measure his teacher’s interpretation of Scripture against his own interpretation of Scripture. The playing field is leveled when neither the ecumenical creeds nor the Church has any more authority than the individual believer, but Christ did not establish a level playing field. He did not establish a democracy. He established a Church in which men and women are given different gifts, some of which involve a special gift of teaching and leading. These elders have responsibility for the flock and a certain authority over it. Scripture would not call us to submit to those who had no real authority over us (Heb. 13:17; Acts 20:28). [emphasis mine]

Elsewhere in the article, Mathison points out that those who appeal to the Bereans of Acts 17 as Scriptural evidence of the primacy of the individual over the preached Word ought to realize that Acts 17 comes after Acts 15, where the council of the church decided what the Scriptures taught regarding circumcision and handed their decision down as authoritative. Again, the Scriptures lead us to seek balance. Real authority, the primacy of preaching yet maintaining the practice of submissive discernment.

20 February 2008

Especially Preaching

The shorter catechism (#89) says that the Spirit of God makes "the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation." What follows is an attempt to justify the idea of "especially" in the catechism.

Please know that I do not mean to lessen the importance of private and family worship, but to rescue the importance of corporate worship and the preaching of the Word from the depths to which it has sunk.

First, some Biblical thoughts:

Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:11 that Jesus gave pastors and teachers (or, more literally, pastor-teachers) to His people. Why? V. 14 - so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. In other words, Jesus gave pastor-teachers because we need them. Because on our own, we would be blown every which way and would not reach maturity in Christ. The fact that Jesus gives preachers - and that we didn't come up with this idea on our own - means that our responsibility to the preaching we receive on Sunday mornings is a responsibility we have to Jesus, the giver of the gift. Contrary to popular thought, it was Jesus' opinion that we do need preachers to understand the Word of God. Not as mediators, but as teachers. And not that we are ignorant on our own, but that we won't normally achieve the maturity and protection Jesus has planned for us apart from the church's preaching and teaching.

In Acts 17:11 we see the Bereans searching the Scriptures for themselves. But the Bereans aren't solitary Christians deciding for themselves and by themselves what the Scriptures say. They are searching the Scriptures for a purpose: to make sure what they heard from the preachers was true. What prompted their searching was their receiving the Word with joy and their hope to find these things to be true. In other words, this isn't a picture of individualized Christianity, reading and living the Bible on their own. What set these Jews apart, what made them "more noble than those in Thessalonica" was the eagerness with which they received the Word, eagerness proved by their devotion to understand and double-check what they were about to obey. I would argue these Jews did exactly what I exhorted our congregation to do: watch how you hear! (Luke 8:18) Along the same lines, note the testimony of the Thessalonican church (1 Thess. 4:5), the Colossian church (Col. 1:5)

Many of the promises we have regarding the Word of God come in relation to the Word of God proclaimed and preached. See Romans 10:10-15 - justification comes by faith (10) and faith comes by hearing the Word preached (14).

Also helpful here is Paul's instructions to Timothy regarding his preaching. 2 Timothy 4:2 is well-known by every preacher: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. Why such a strong instruction? Because the "time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions." In other words, because we are sinners, we can't be trusted to read, study, understand and obey God's Word entirely on our own. Personal study shouldn't be neglected, but the noetic effects of sin - sin's ongoing brain damage - necessitate the giving of authoritative teaching. Not infallible, but authoritative. "But" some will say,"don't preachers have the same problems I do?" Yes, which is why the Bereans' discernment was totally warranted and why the painful process of ordination is so vital. This isn't a call to turn off our minds and consciences, but a call to joyful, expectant submission.

Yes, pastors are imperfect people; just ask my friends. Yes, we make mistakes. Two weeks ago I found myself repenting of something I had said from the pulpit. This is why we have sessions overseeing the pulpit, guarding the people from the preacher's mistakes. But at root here is the attitude we bring to worship: do we come to worship with an expectation of hearing God's Word from the preacher and obeying what we hear or do we come with great reservation? Do we recognize worship as the highlight of our union with Christ or as a possibly helpful time of encouragement? Do we view our preacher-in-his-preaching primarily as one more imperfect man or as Jesus' gift to me?

This post is too long to continue. I hope to write again about the historical nature of this question and my own testimony regarding it.

*note: this post was edited on Feb. 25 to reflect some of the ways the discussion in the comments have helped clarify my thinking. None of the edits were changes to my central arguments.

**Thanks for all the comments. For now, I've decided to hide them all, because we seemed to reach the end of what was helpful. If you have a question about this, feel free to email or call. -Jared

18 February 2008

Watch How You Hear

Yesterday I preached on the parbable of the sower and the seeds from Luke 8. The only command in the passage is Jesus' admonition to "take care how you hear" or, more literally, "watch how you hear." My exhortation to the congregation was the same: take a look at how you hear sermons. Do some evaluation.

Toward that end, I'd like to offer some evaluation questions to use as a mirror. I really don't think faithfully hearing sermons means being able to answer all of these questions, but they should give a good idea of how we're doing. These questions are designed to lead to living Scripture; this is on purpose, because Jesus wants us to be those who hear God's Word and do it. (Luke 8:21)
  • What passage was the sermon from?
  • What was the story or main thought of the passage?
  • What was the main point of the sermon?
  • What subpoints, illustrations, exhortations struck me most?
  • What applications did the preacher draw from the text?
  • Is there any reason to think this application is a bad idea or somehow unbiblical?
  • If not, what is my plan for implementing this application? How will I know when I've done it or at least in process of doing it?
  • How can our church family live out this application together?
  • What other applications should I draw from the sermon? What is my plan?
  • How should this part of Scripture change the way I pray?
  • How can I use the sermon and its applications in discipling my children this week?
  • How will living out what I've heard change how I treat my wife, husband, children, friends, parents, etc.?
These questions would be a nice outline for discussion over Sunday dinner or a good way to spend some of your private and family worship through the week.

Would you add any questions to this list?

07 February 2008

Down in my heart

#1: We're going to go to heaven when we die, aren't we?

Me: Yup. 'Cause we belong to God and trust in Jesus.

#1: We're all going to die, aren't we?

Me: Yup.

#1: But I won't die, because I've got lots of schoolwork to do. In my heart.

05 February 2008

God 1, Jared 0

One year

Sunday was Immanuel RPC's first anniversary as an organized congregation. During our evening service, we spent time giving thanks to God for His many mercies toward us over the past year. Some highlights include a wonderful sense of unity, great ministry from families to families, financial blessings, fifty-two weeks of sitting together under God's Word in worship, some good evangelism and outreach events, the mom's group and the grad fellowship group.

Near the top of my list for thanksgiving is the servant attitude of so many people at Immanuel. Especially the young men and women. Our junior high and senior high men are always willing and excited to serve; they find ways to help on Sundays. And our young ladies have been incredible encouragements to those of us with young children!

Glory be to God! May He give us another year of worshipping and serving Jesus Christ, who is God with us.

04 February 2008

Toward a theology of geese

Since the post a little ways down generated some feeling, I thought we might have a fruitful discussion about a Biblical view of animals. It's really a fascinating topic. Toward this end, here are some theorems, thoughts and ideas I have about the topic and how I think Scripture supports them. Please comment - do you agree, disagree? Are there other points to add?

[Note: once more, let me say that the whole goose-kicking thing was fairly serious but written for a laugh. For those who laughed, grand. For those who didn't, please know I don't chase down animals just to kick them. I'm pretty sure it was going to bite me.]

Sorry for the bullet points. It's probably harder to read, but it helps me think more clearly. Here we go:
  • Animals aren't people. Man and woman are made in the image of God, birds, beasts and fish aren't. (Gen. 1:26-27) Therefore, the idea of "humane" treatment is somewhat oxymoronic. They have value, clearly. But it isn't even on the same continuum of the value of human life.
    • If there is ever a choice to be made, we go with human life rather than animal. Always. Risking a car accident to avoid hitting a squirrel is unbiblical.
  • Animals aren't plants. Obvious, yes, but worth pointing out. (Gen. 1:11, 20) Though we may eat meat, God told Noah not to eat meat with the blood still in it, because the life is in the blood. Plants have no blood, therefore no life, in the Biblical sense.
  • Animals are part of the creation over which humanity is given dominion and stewardship. (Gen. 1:26) Animals exist for mankind, not mankind for animals. So there should be no talk about humanity serving animals. (Gen. 2:20)
    • Along the same lines, check out Genesis 9:5 where God tells us that animals are held responsible for their actions toward humanity. If one kills a human, God decrees its life should be taken. But it doesn't flow the other way - we aren't responsible to pay in any way for the spilled blood of animals. Also see Exodus 19:13 where God promises punishment for both men and animals who might touch the mountain.
    • After the flood, God clearly and specifically gave animals to humanity to eat (Gen. 9:3). Perhaps because the curse of the fall (i.e., how hard it would be to farm), perhaps as a measure of kindness and mercy. Either way, animals belong to man (in a stewardship sense, see below).
  • If you're like me, Proverbs 12:10 comes to mind in this discussion: Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel. Some thoughts:
    • The word regard is the very general Hebrew word "to know." So "regard" simply means "to be aware of", not necessarily to have a great passion about or even to value highly, but simply to be aware of. So I take the verse to mean "the righteous person has an awareness of his animals' lives, and seeks to provide for them based on that awareness."
    • Deuteronomy 25:4 is a good example, that oxen shouldn't be muzzled when they're treading grain. Why? Because it would be cruel. Because being full is better than starving and animals should share in the fruit of their work if at all possible.
    • Cruelty to animals for fun or spite is unrighteous.
    • A theory: because modern Americans are (1) often pet owners and (2) often very removed from the animals which they eat, we may be quite off-balance in what it means to "regard" animals. It doesn't mean treat them like pets.
  • I think the overriding rule is that of stewardship. We are stewards of the animals. Stewards don't own that which they care for, but are responsible for it. Humanity will have to answer for how we cared for creation, including animals.
    • Therefore, species' extinction is a bad thing. Interestingly, Darwinian evolution cannot account for why extinction is bad. Yet macro-evolutionists are more passionate about this than most Christians.
    • Conversely, refusing to control animal population is also bad. See modern India for an example of how religious beliefs lead to a refusal to take animal life which leads to economic and health problems.
  • For Christmas, we bought our family this great series on nature/creation. It's astoundingly beautiful. The great variety and beauty among God's animals reveal His beauty and majesty. So a fully Christian ethic of animals must include delight in their beauty and diversity.
Well, surely I'm missing something. What would you add? Or disagree with?