A Credible Profession of Faith

church-membershipIn an article entitled “Helpful Questions for Discerning a Credible Profession of Faith” Jeffery Smith writes:

Ebenezer Morris was a powerful preacher in Wales, little known about today. He lived and preached during times of great revivals there and went home to be with the Lord at the age of 56 on Monday, August 15th, 1825. There’s a whole chapter devoted to his life in Volume Two of The Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales, (reprint 1897, trans. John Aaron 2008 [Carlise, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2008]).

A couple of days before his death two young preachers came to him seeking his advice. What he told them included a very important caution. Before I quote it let me explain that the term “seiat” was the Welsh term for a Welsh Calvinist society meeting. These were organized societies of converts gathered for prayer, teaching and mutual exhortation. They were really, in essence, local churches, operating outside of the established Anglican church of the time. Morris told these two young preachers:

“If you two are allowed to live long then no doubt you will see a period for religion when hardly any new convert joins the seiat. At that time, do not drag unexercised men into the church but wait for God, and seek him, who in his own good time will succeed the work. God gave a promise to Abraham of a son, but Sarai felt the time was long and despaired that she would ever have the privilege of becoming a mother, and so she gave Hagar to Abraham, and Ishmael was born. He was not the son of the promise and this brought much sorrow to Sarai afterwards. So also, you must wait for God’s promise, and not go after the flesh, unto the children of the promise are found for the Church.”

This is very wise counsel, counsel much needed by many of us who are pastors. It speaks to the necessity of requiring a credible profession of faith before receiving a person into the membership of the church. In our church we have what we call a membership interview with any one asking to become member, as do many of you. Below I give a sample list of suggested questions that can be helpful in charitably discerning the credibility of a person’s profession insofar as we are able and required to do so as men who cannot see the heart. In fact, we have actually sometimes given these questions to younger converts and asked them to take them home and write out brief answers to bring back to us in a subsequent meeting. I’m not suggesting that all of these questions should be asked in a membership interview or that all, or any, of them should be handed out to take home to write out answers. I just mention these to give some ideas of the kinds of questions that might be asked. Good, carefully thought out, questions can go a long way in helping us discern where a person is and in guarding the church from the danger Ebenezer Morris spoke of in the quote above. Perhaps, pastors reading this blog might find these helpful. Some of these have been picked up from the suggestions of others. In cases where we actually hand out a document with these questions for a person to take home, at the top is the following introductory paragraph:

Please take the time to think carefully over these questions and answer them in your own words. These are not trick questions so don’t be nervous or worried. We simply desire to know about your understanding of the gospel and what God has done and is doing in your life and to encourage you to think about these things. This will also help facilitate profitable interaction in our membership interview.

Here are the questions that follow:

Are you a sinner? What makes a person a sinner?

Have you ever felt that you deserve God’s wrath and punishment because of your sins? If so why do you think that?

Besides outward sins what are some sins in your heart that you’ve been guilty of that God has shown you?

When Jesus died on the cross what was he doing that has to do with the salvation of sinners?

Can God just forgive sinners or was it necessary for Christ to die on the cross for God to do that? If so why was it necessary?

Are there any good works that you have done that you believe make it right for God to receive you as his child and take you to heaven? If not what are you trusting in for acceptance with God?

What are some verses of scripture that give you hope and comfort when you think about your sins and your relationship to God?

Do you ever pray and read your bible? If so how often?

What are some ways God has changed, or is changing, your attitudes and behavior?

What are some things God has been teaching you lately?

Do you desire, with God’s help, to follow and obey Christ in everything with no exceptions?

When God convicts you that you have sinned in some way what do you do?

Are there any problems you have in your relationship to any of the members of the church?

Do you ever get anything out of the sermons? If so could you give an example of a sermon, or of something in a sermon, lately that has helped you? If so how did it help you?

Faith & Suffering – Divine Gifts of Grace

Philippians 1:29 “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…” ESV

Here we see two elements of the Christian life many flatly deny in our day:

1. Faith is a gift from God (they think they can believe all by themselves). It is something that has to be granted.

2. Suffering is a gift from God (they think God would never choose suffering for one of His beloved children). God will often ordain hardship and pain to mold His precious saint towards His ultimate goal of Christ-likeness.

The truth is that God is FAR more Sovereign than most Christians believe. The Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Can you say “Hallelujah”?

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The New Testament on Church Membership

Hour 1: Returning to guest host on this Dividing Line broadcast I was able to walk through numerous New Testament texts which only make sense in the light of formal Church membership.

Hour 2: Having previously established that formal Church Membership is a biblical mandate and requirement, I then discussed what it entails as God’s intended blessing for disciples of Christ.

Hour 3: The Guardrail of the Creeds: While never rising to the same authority as sacred Scripture (which alone is the word of God), the ancient creeds and confessions of the Church have served the people of God through the ages as concise and precise summaries of what the Bible teaches on very vital matters. These include, amongst others, the doctrine of God, the person and work of Christ, how a man is justified in God’s sight as well as the doctrine of last things (eschatology). On this Dividing Line, I taught on the practical value of the ancient Creeds and Confessions of the Church.

Before I was Reformed

I wonder if you can relate to much of this…. Les Lanphere, in an article entitled “10 Things I didn’t understand before I was Reformed” writes:

I, like so many others in my generation, was a Christian for a long time before being confronted with the doctrines of grace. Why does this matter? What difference do these doctrines make in the Christian life?

There is a solid Christianity that has been fought for, that people have died for. There have been Church councils and controversial men who stood up to revolt against corrupt practices and unbiblical doctrines. We aren’t left in the dark to figure Christianity out all over again. The truth has been opened and passed down to us by Saints past.

Not only has reformed theology opened my eyes to new things, it’s cleared up so many things that I already believed but failed to understand.

10. MY SIN

I knew I was a sinner. I knew I needed to be forgiven. But just how much of a sinner, I had no idea. Sometimes I would say, “Wow, I didn’t sin much this week.”

Now I know that it’s quite possible that I have never, for a second, obeyed the command “Love the Lord, your God, with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength.”. I never took seriously Jesus’ words that looking at a woman with lust is to commit adultery, or that hating a man in your heart is murder. I ignored the fact that Jesus said “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” -Matthew 5:48

I finally understand that I sin every day, every hour… on some level I sin every moment of my life. This is how sinful I am. But God! Oh, how merciful He is to such a sinner.

9. GOD WORKS ALL THINGS FOR MY GOOD

This seemed like a nice idea – God works stuff out in the end. I don’t need to worry too much, because God can clean up the messes and put it back together.

But once I understood sovereignty, it all changed. God doesn’t just react to what people are doing or the messes that pop up in life. He is “working all things” for the good of His people. Because He orchestrates everything, my life isn’t left to chance for a split second. Nothing surprises Him, not because He knows it all but because He’s actually in control.

8. WHY WE PRAY FOR THE LOST

This is something everyone does. We pray for our family and friends to be saved. We say things like “soften their hearts” or “reveal yourself to them”. It’s not something I ever thought about as incosistent with my beliefs, but now I see how strange it really was.

If God couldn’t override people’s free will, how could He save them? How could He do anything different than the 100% He was already giving everyone, waiting fo them to make their decision. What does it mean to “soften a heart” other than “do more than You are doing to change their mind”?

Now I can pray fervently for God to override a family member’s sinful will, because I know that this is their only hope. If God can’t touch our wills, we all go to Hell. God, destroy their will, and MAKE them love You, so they can be saved from Hell! Continue reading

Theories of the Atonement

Theories of the Atonement: What Happened on the Cross? by Mike Riccardi

Throughout church history, there have been various views and theories that conceptualize the nature of Christ’s work on the cross. Because the atonement runs to the very heart of the Gospel, it’s important for us to know how people throughout the history of the church have understood the work of Christ, and to be able to test each by Scripture. Today, I want to briefly survey and evaluate some of the main theories of the atonement.

The Ransom Theory

First, there is what is known as the ransom, or classic, theory of the atonement. Also termed Christus Victor, this theory regards Christ’s atonement as accomplishing a victory over the cosmic forces of sin, death, evil, and Satan. Proponents of the ransom view believe that in the cosmic struggle between good and evil and between God and Satan, Satan had held humanity captive to sin. Therefore, in order to rescue humanity, God had to ransom them from the power of Satan by delivering Jesus over to him as an exchange for the souls held captive. Proponents of the ransom theory often appeal to Jesus’ statement that He came to give His life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:28Open in Logos Bible Software (if available); Mark 10:45Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)).

Though Christ did give His life as a ransom for many, and though His death did indeed disarm the powers of darkness (Col 2:15Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)), rendering powerless the devil who had the power of death (Heb 2:14Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)), this view of the atonement affords more power to Satan than he actually has. Satan has never been in any position to make demands of God. Instead of this, Scripture makes it clear that Jesus paid the price on behalf of sinners to ransom them from the just punishment of God’s holy wrath (Rom 5:9Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)). In the deepest sense, Jesus saved us from God, not merely the power of sin and Satan. Continue reading

Why Dr. Packer Walked

stormsThis post was adapted from Packer on the Christian Life: Knowing God in Christ, Walking by the Spirit by Sam Storms, which is part of the Theologians on the Christian Life series.

“Why I Walked”

In 2002, the synod of the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster

authorized its bishop to produce a service for blessing same-sex unions, to be used in any parish of the diocese that requests it. A number of synod members walked out to protest the decision. They declared themselves out of communion with the bishop and the synod, and they appealed to the Archbishop of Canterbury and other Anglican primates and bishops for help. (1)

J. I. Packer was one of those who walked out.

When asked why he walked out, he answered, “Because this decision, taken in its context, falsifies the gospel of Christ, abandons the authority of Scripture, jeopardizes the salvation of fellow human beings, and betrays the church in its God-appointed role as the bastion and bulwark of divine truth.” In other words, it was Packer’s confidence in the functional, life-directing authority of Scripture that led to this decision.

“My primary authority,” wrote Packer, “is a Bible writer named Paul. For many decades now, I have asked myself at every turn of my theological road: Would Paul be with me in this? What would he say if he were in my shoes? I have never dared to offer a view on anything that I did not have good reason to think he would endorse.”

Here we see that, for Packer, affirming biblical authority is meant not merely to provoke a debate but to give ethical direction to life. Regardless of what personal preferences one might have, irrespective of the cultural trends in play at the time, the Bible is the ethical standard by which Christians such as Packer judge their responsibility.

What’s Really at Stake

Packer then proceeds to exegete Paul’s thought in 1 Corinthians 6:9–11 as justification for his decision to lodge this protest. There are only two ways in which we might miss Paul’s point and his directives. One is to embrace an artificial interpretation of the text in which Paul is conceived as speaking of something other than same-sex union. Continue reading

A Biblical Case for Church Membership

This morning, I had the privilege, once again, of guest hosting Dr. James White’s Dividing Line broadcast and taught for an hour on “A Biblical Case for Church Membership” walking through numerous New Testament texts which only make sense in the light of formal Church membership.

Did Jesus ever talk about homosexuality?

Voddie Baucham on the common claim by many non-christians (and many liberal, compromising christians) that Jesus never addressed the issue of homosexuality.

The Clash of the Worldviews

Matt 19:1-6

In light of the Supreme Court ruling this week, which re-defined marriage for all 50 states in the Union, here is a clarion call to Biblical faithfulness, knowing we pay a very high price for doing so.