Pastor, this is what we need on Sundays

Jared C. Wilson is the Director of Content Strategy for Midwestern Seminary, managing editor of For The Church, and author of more than ten books, including Gospel Wakefulness, The Pastor’s Justification, and The Prodigal Church.

He writes: A word to my pastor friends, who every week labor in preparing to teach the Bible in the weekend gathering while the dark cloud of the new cultural downgrade hangs over them:

Brothers, don’t go about your weekly sermon preparation and personal discipleship in sackcloth and ashes. Get into the vineyard of God’s Word, get some holy sweat worked up, whistling while you work, lifting your hearts in worship. Get into the kitchen of study and prep and start putting together the banquet. And come Sunday, spread the feast out rich and sumptuous for us, beckoning us to taste and see that the Lord is good. We don’t need your doomsdaying or dimbulbing. Still less do we need your shallow pick-me-ups and spit-polished legalism. Like our brother Wesley, set yourselves on fire with gospel truth that your church family might come watch you burn.

And when you gather Sunday with the flock, shepherd us to repentance and sincerity, reminding us of the holy God who welcomes us with sin-forgetting forgiveness. When we enter the worship gathering, let us not look back to the ruins lest we all become the wrong kind of salt. Let us look forward to the new Jerusalem, where our citizenship is secured even today and evermore. Get your wits about you and take heart, for our Lord has overcome the world. Yesterday, today, Sunday, and forever. Frighten the kings of the world and shake the kingdom of the devil with how resolute you are in abandoning yourselves to the mighty God.

Your churches… need your deep, abiding, all-conquering, sin-despairing gospel joy. This and this alone is the hope of the world.

When it comes to women teaching men, how far is too far?

questionmarkredstandingDr. Sam Storms introduces the following article on his blog with these words: “This article by Mary Kassian is one of the best treatments of this thorny question as I’ve ever read. I encourage you to study it closely and in its entirety. It is a model of careful and judicious reasoning in an effort to answer questions not explicitly addressed in Scripture.”

Women Teaching Men — How Far Is Too Far? by Mary A. Kassian (original source here)

Where is the line when it comes to women teaching men? May women preach on Sunday mornings? Teach a Sunday school class? Lead a small group? Instruct a seminary course? Speak at a conference? At a couples retreat? Or on the radio?

May women ever teach from Scripture when men are in the audience? Should men even be reading this article? How far is too far?

It’s a question being asked by scores of women who want to be faithful to the Bible and want to exercise their spiritual gift of teaching in a way that honors God’s pattern of male headship in the church.

The discussion surrounding the boundary reminds me of another how-far-is-too-far issue: How physically affectionate should a couple be prior to marriage? Should they hold hands? Kiss? Kiss for five seconds, but not fifteen? Lip kiss but not French kiss? How far is too far?
Well, the Bible doesn’t exactly specify.

Trying to put together a list of rules about permitted behaviors would be both misleading and ridiculous. But we’re not left without a rudder. The Bible does provide a clear boundary. Sexual intercourse prior to marriage crosses the line.

God reveals for us the principle of purity, gives a clear this-goes-over-the-line boundary, and to help us figure out the rest, provides us with the gift of his indwelling Spirit in the community of the saints. And thankfully when we mess up, he stands ready to extend his lavish and costly forgiveness and grace.

Asking the Right Question

Pre-marital sexual intercourse crosses the line. But let me ask you this: Can a couple physically honor the boundary and still violate the principle of purity? Of course they can.
So a woman who only considers the boundary and asks, “How far is too far?” is really asking the wrong question. A better question would be, “Do I love what God loves?” “Do I treasure what he treasures?” “Does what I do with my body indicate that I treasure purity?” And, “How can I best honor Christ in how I physically interact with my boyfriend?”

By now you may be muttering, “I thought she was going to talk about women teaching men in the church.”

I am. But I think the question of how I — as a woman with a spiritual gift of teaching — ought to honor male headship in the church has many similarities with the question of how a young woman ought to honor the principle of purity. In the former situation as well as the latter, God hasn’t given us a detailed how-far-is-too-far list. He’s given us a broad principle, a clear this-goes-over-the-line boundary, and the gift of his indwelling Holy Spirit to help us figure out the rest in the wisdom of community.

Loving What God Loves

God wants us to honor his divine design by honoring the principle of male headship in our homes and church families. The church is God’s family and household (1 Timothy 3:15, Hebrews 3:6, Galatians 6:10). Continue reading

Calvinism Among Early American Baptists

OUR OLD CONFESSION OF FAITH

“The Baptists as a denomination have always regarded the Bible as being amply sufficient for the purposes of faith and practice. But knowing that many persons holding wild and visionary notions about religious subjects, often use the same language and say that they too make the Bible their standard; and knowing that Baptist views and practices are often misunderstood and often misrepresented, our brethren have felt it important to get up certain briefs, or compendiums of their faith, so that their adoption of the Bible in general terms, might not seem to be a sort of shield for heterodox opinions, and that there might be a oneness of doctrine and practice amongst ourselves. These summaries of faith have generally been taken from the Old Confession, published in England, first in 1643, and subsequently in 1689; adopted in America by the Philadelphia Association of Baptists in 1742 and by the Charleston Association in 1767.

Now it has been a question in our mind why we regular Baptists, throughout this whole country, might not adopt this “Confession”, and by so doing, have the articles of faith in every association exactly alike? For certainly, this venerable little book does contain the doctrines, systematically arranged, which are held by the old-fashioned Calvinistic Baptists the world over. Why may we not, then, have a cheap edition of this most excellent compendium, numerous enough to furnish every family in America with a copy?

That our brethren and friends and the world (for we are not ashamed of our faith) may see that this good old “Confession” is, we propose to give, from time to time the successive chapters, together with such remarks as we may have time and ability to make. After this cause shall have been completed, we hope our brethren will express their views in relation to the above suggestion. We commence with Chapter One, “On the Holy Scriptures’.”

THE CHRISTIAN INDEX
Washington, Georgia
1839

[THE CHRISTIAN INDEX of Georgia was the first state newspaper among Baptists in the South. (It was not until 1845 that Baptists in the South united to become the “Southern Baptist Convention”.) The above article was the first in a series on the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. It ran for many months while Jesse Mercer was the Editor. The stated purpose in reprinting the “old Confession” in a handy newspaper format was to promote “oneness of doctrine and practice among ourselves”. Sadly, Baptists in the South and around the world have lost their doctrinal bearings inherited from their founding fathers in the faith. Those wishing to study the history and theology of Baptists should note: Thomas Nettles, BY HIS GRACE AND FOR HIS GLORY (Founders Press); Thomas Nettles, BAPTISTS & THE DOCTRINES OF GRACE (DVD from Founders Ministries); Thomas Nettles and Russ Bush, BAPTISTS AND THE BIBLE (Moody Press); Gregory Wills, DEMOCRATIC RELIGION: Freedom, Authority & Church Discipline in the Baptist South, 1785-1900 (Oxford University Press); and Brandon F. Smith and Kurt M. Smith, THE GOSPEL HERITAGE OF GEORGIA BAPTISTS (1772-1830) (Solid Ground Christian Books).]

The Supremacy of Scripture: Yesterday, Today and Forever

Dr James White: The Inerrancy of Scripture (part 1) 06/05/2016 Cape Town

Dr James White: The Inerrancy of Scripture (part 2) 07/05/2016 Cape Town

Dr. James White: Scripture and the LGBT agenda 07/05/2016 Cape Town

Dr. James White: Scripture and Modern Day “Prophets and Apostles”. 7 May 2016 Cape Town

Dr James White: Scripture and the exclusivity of Christ. 07/05/2016 Cape Town

God’s Righteousness – A Safe Place To Sleep

Psalm 4:1-8

David approached God with confidence knowing that He would answer his cry for help. How and why could he do so? The answer to that question is the glorious inheritance of all God’s people.

Is Predestination A Hindrance?

Pastor Jim McClarty – A brief response to a recent email he received about the doctrine of predestination and whether it could hinder someone who was willing to come to Christ, but saw predestination as a hindrance:

Why/Why Not – a Calvinist

May 20, 2016: Dr. Michael Brown lays out the basic reasons why he is not a Calvinist:

May 21, 2016: Dr. James White responds – why I am a Calvinist:

Man’s Natural Inability

Article: Luther, God’s Law and Uncle Rico Syndrome by Aaron Denlinger (original source here)

In 1524 Desiderius Erasmus, who until then had proven reluctant to challenge Martin Luther publically, finally caved to pressure from Rome to employ his literary talent against the impudent German Reformer who had caused, and was still causing, the institutional church of his day such problems. Erasmus chose to attack Luther where he believed the Reformer to be most vulnerable; he chose, that is, to challenge Luther’s assertion that sinful man was wholly unable to contribute anything to his own salvation, and for such required not only Christ’s atoning work on his behalf, but also the Holy Spirit’s work of enabling him to believe in Christ and so appropriate Christ and his benefits.

Erasmus’s defense of human free will — his defense, that is, of man’s innate ability to cooperate with God in his own salvation — employed a well-worn Pelagian argument. The humanist scholar argued that biblical commandments imply an ability on (sinful) man’s part to actually fulfill said commandments. So, for instance, appealing to Gen. 30:19 (“I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live”), Erasmus commented: “What could be put more plainly? God shows what is good, [and] what is evil, shows the different rewards of life and death, [and] leaves man free to choose. It would be ridiculous to say, ‘Choose,’ if the power of turning one way or the other were not present, as though one should say to a man standing at a crossroad: ‘You see these two roads, take which you like’ … when only one was open to him!”

To be sure, Erasmus’s argument has a certain logic to it. One would hardly excuse me as a parent if I ordered my three year old daughter Geneva to change the oil in the family car and then punished her when she failed to fulfill the required task(s). Commandments to fulfill impossible tasks, and subsequent consequences for failure to deliver, do seem cruel. Surely, then, God would not order man to “choose life” if such a choice genuinely lay beyond man’s ability.

Luther’s response in his 1525 Bondage of the Will takes cognizance of how high Scripture actually sets the bar for man’s moral conduct (“You must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect,” Matt. 5.48) as well as rather clear biblical statements that reflect man’s spiritual depravity and (hence) inability to clear that bar (“Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin,” John 8.34). The Reformer’s response also, however, employs a very careful explanation for why God apparently commands sinful man to do things that sinful man has no ability to do.

That explanation begins with recognition that one critical component of natural man’s perverse disposition and enslavement to sin is natural man’s deluded perception of his own freedom and, if not moral achievements, at least ability to produce such achievements should he put his mind and energies to the task. “Man,” Luther notes, “is not only bound, wretched, captive, sick, and dead, but in addition to his other miseries is afflicted, through the agency of Satan his prince, with this misery of blindness, so that he believes himself to be free, happy, unfettered, able, well, and alive. […] Accordingly, it is Satan’s work to prevent men from recognizing their plight and to keep them presuming that they can do everything they are told.”

In Luther’s estimation man suffers from a spiritual version of Uncle Rico Syndrome. Uncle Rico, a character in the 2004 film Napoleon Dynamite, is a man utterly convinced of both his past and present abilities on the football field. In one memorable speech delivered in the film, Uncle Rico affirms his ability in earlier days to “throw a pigskin a quarter mile.” After subsequently demonstrating his skills by hurling an overcooked steak at his bike-riding nephew Napoleon’s head, Uncle Rico looks wistfully at the mountain range several miles distant and asks: “How much you wanna make a bet I can throw a football over them mountains?”

Rico is seriously deluded about his own abilities. But how might one best go about disabusing Rico of his delusion? One could, of course, reason with him about the actual distance of those mountains, the average distance that even professional quarterbacks can throw a ball, etc. A much quicker solution, however, would be to simply hand Rico a football and issue him a command: “Do it.”

This, according to Luther, is essentially how God deals with natural man’s delusion regarding his freedom and abilities in Scripture. Faced with sinful man’s persuasion that he can, at any time he chooses, perform the works necessary to merit eternal life, God essentially tells man: “Do it.” Luther explains: “Human nature is so blind that it does not know its own powers, or rather diseases, and so proud as to imagine that it knows and can do everything; and for this pride and blindness God has no readier remedy than the propounding of his law.” God’s command to “choose life,” then, implies no ability to do so. “By this and similar expressions man is warned of his impotence, which in his ignorance and pride, without these divine warnings, he would neither acknowledge nor be aware of.”

Thus Luther undermines Erasmus’s claim that commandments are somehow cruel if issued to persons incapable of fulfilling them. A commandment to Geneva to change the oil in the car, for instance, assumes a different character when one knows my daughter, a three year old possessed of more than her share of self-confidence. Geneva’s favorite words at present are “I can do it myself.” I have more than once in the last several weeks invited Geneva to do exactly what she claims herself capable of purely in the interest of disabusing her of her inflated confidence and guiding her towards the humble art of asking for (daddy’s) help. I’ve not, to be sure, asked her to change the oil in the car. But on the off chance she tells me tomorrow that she’s capable of doing so, I may very well invite her to do so, simply to rein in her perspective on her own innate abilities.
Similarly, divine commandments that are not actually matched by (fallen) man’s ability reflect no cruelty on God’s part. They are, rather, instances of divine kindness. It would be cruel for God to leave man in his state of delusion regarding his own freedom and abilities. It is kindness to lead man experientially to a knowledge of his inability and (hence) dire state, and so ultimately to lead man to seek salvation not in himself but in the work of Christ on his behalf. In Luther’s words: “The work of Moses or a lawgiver is … to make man’s plight plain to him by means of the law and thus to break and confound him by self-knowledge, so as to prepare him for grace and send him to Christ that he may be saved.” We’re all born with spiritual Uncle Rico syndrome, and to varying degrees we suffer from it until the day we die. One function of God’s law is to (kindly) disabuse us of our confidence in our ability to throw moral footballs over metaphorical mountains, and so to lead us to place our confidence and hope wholly in him who not only could but did

Baby Talk

This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.

The Precious Gift of Baby Talk by John Piper

john-piperHuman language is precious. It sets us off from the animals. It makes our most sophisticated scientific discoveries and our deepest emotions sharable. Above all, God chose to reveal Himself to us through human language in the Bible. In the fullness of time, He spoke to us by His Son (Heb. 1:1–2), and that Son spoke human language. In like manner, He sent His Spirit to lead His apostles into all truth so that they could tell the story of the Son in human language. Without this story in human language, we would not know the Son. Therefore, human language is immeasurably precious.

But it is also imperfect for capturing the fullness of God. In 1 Corinthians 13, there are four comparisons between this present time and the age to come after Christ returns.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love (vv. 8–13). Note the comparisons with this age (now) and the age to come (then):

Now: We know in part.
Then: When the perfect comes, the partial will pass away (vv. 9–10).

Now: I spoke and thought and reasoned like a child.
Then: When I became a man, I gave up childish ways (v. 11).

Now: We see in a mirror dimly.
Then: We will see face to face (v. 12).

Now: I know in part.
Then: I will know fully, even as I am fully known (v. 12).

In this context, we can see what Paul means when he writes, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.” He is saying that in this age, our human language and thought and reasoning are like baby talk compared to how we will speak, think, and reason in the age to come.

When Paul was caught up into heaven and given glimpses of heavenly realities, he said that he “heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Cor. 12:4). Our language is insufficient to carry the greatness of all that God is.

But what a blunder it would be to infer from this that we may despise language or treat it with contempt or carelessness. What a blunder, if we began to belittle true statements about God as cheap or unhelpful or false. What folly it would be if we scorned propositions, clauses, phrases, and words, as though they were not inexpressibly precious and essential to life.

The main reason this would be folly is that God chose to send His Son into our nursery and speak baby talk with us. Jesus Christ became a child with us. There was a time when Jesus Himself would have said, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child and thought like a child and reasoned like a child.” That is what the incarnation means. He accommodated Himself to our baby talk. He stammered with us in the nursery of human life in this age.

Jesus spoke baby talk. The Sermon on the Mount is our baby talk. His High Priestly Prayer in John 17 is baby talk. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) is baby talk—infinitely precious, true, glorious baby talk.

More than that, God inspired an entire Bible of baby talk. True baby talk. Baby talk with absolute authority and power. Baby talk that is sweeter than honey and more to be desired than gold. John Calvin said that “God, in so speaking, lisps with us as nurses are wont to do with little children” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.13.1). How precious is the baby talk of God. It is not like grass that withers or flowers that fade; it abides forever (Isa. 40:8).

There will be another language and thought and reasoning in the age to come. And we will see things that could not have been expressed in our present baby talk. But when God sent His Son into our human nursery, talking baby talk and dying for the toddlers, He shut the mouths of those who ridicule the possibilities of truth and beauty in the mouth of babes.

And when God inspired a book with baby talk as the infallible interpretation of Himself, what shall we say of the children who make light of the gift of human language as the medium of knowing God? Woe to those who despise, belittle, exploit, or manipulate this gift to the children of man. It is not a toy in the nursery. It is the breath of life. “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63).

Praying for God to Save the Lost

stormsDr. Sam Storms – Praying for God to Save the Lost (2002)

I want to introduce this article by taking us back some forty-one years to the initial publication of what soon became an evangelical classic: J. I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (IVP, 1961). The book was an expansion of the address Packer delivered to The London Inter-Faculty Christian Union (LIFCU) on October 24, 1959, at Westminster Chapel. What makes Packer’s book so instructive for us today is the utter incredulity on his part, in 1961, regarding a theological perspective that today, in 2002, is widespread and pervasive in its influence.

Packer begins his defense of divine sovereignty in salvation by appealing to what he believes is, or at least should be, an evangelical consensus on the practice of prayer. He appears to assume that no one who embraces a high view of Scripture could possibly think otherwise. It is more than simply that we pray, but also how and what we specifically ask God to do that Packer believes supports his understanding of the activity of God in saving a human soul. Here is what he says:

‘You pray for the conversion of others. In what terms, now, do you intercede for them? Do you limit yourself to asking that God will bring them to a point where they can save themselves, independently of Him? I do not think you do. I think that what you do is to pray in categorical terms that God will, quite simply and decisively, save them: that He will open the eyes of their understanding, soften their hard hearts, renew their natures, and move their wills to receive the Saviour. You ask God to work in them everything necessary for their salvation. You would not dream of making it a point in your prayer that you are not asking God actually to bring them to faith, because you recognize that that is something He cannot do. Nothing of the sort! When you pray for unconverted people, you do so on the assumption that it is in God’s power to bring them to faith. You entreat Him to do that very thing, and your confidence in asking rests upon the certainty that He is able to do what you ask. And so indeed He is: this conviction, which animates your intercessions, is God’s own truth, written on your heart by the Holy Spirit. In prayer, then (and the Christian is at his sanest and wisest when he prays), you know that it is God who saves men; you know that what makes men turn to God is God’s own gracious work of drawing them to Himself; and the content of your prayers is determined by this knowledge. Thus by your practice of intercession, no less than by giving thanks for your conversion, you acknowledge and confess the sovereignty of God’s grace. And so do all Christian people everywhere.’

He also appeals to what he believes is the underlying theological assumption for our gratitude. Why do you ‘thank’ God for your conversion, he asks? It is, he says, ‘because you know in your heart that God was entirely responsible for it.’ You thank God because ‘you do not attribute your repenting and believing to your own wisdom, or prudence, or sound judgment, or good sense.’ Packer believes he is speaking for all Christians when he says,

‘You have never for one moment supposed that the decisive contribution to your salvation was yours and not God’s. You have never told God that, while you are grateful for the means and opportunities of grace that He gave you, you realize that you have to thank, not Him, but yourself for the fact that you responded to His call. Your heart revolts at the very thought of talking to God in such terms. In fact, you thank Him no less sincerely for the gift of faith and repentance than for the gift of a Christ to trust and turn to.’

Of course, today there is an increasing number of professing evangelicals who happily do precisely what Packer contends they ‘would not dream’ of doing. Packer’s incredulous ‘Nothing of the sort!’ is today’s ‘orthodoxy’. What Packer claims you would never attribute to the human will is the very thing advocates of libertarian freedom insist upon. What Packer says we would never tell God, indeed, that thought at which our hearts would revolt, is being preached and published at a dizzying pace in 2002.

In all fairness to Packer, one must assume that such language is intentional hyperbole, a writer’s way of jolting his readers into thinking through what he believes are the unacceptable implications of the theological system he opposes. But the fact remains that what Packer argues most certainly cannot (or should not) be the conscious intent of any thinking Christian is precisely that for most, if not all, open theists. Given the latter’s insistence on libertarian free will, what Packer contends we would never ask of God is precisely what open theists applaud as the essence of intercessory prayer.

I have yet to read an open theist who does not make much of the argument from prayer. Some would even appear to have embraced this theological model in large part because it alone invests in intercessory prayer a value and efficacy that warrant its practice. One often hears open theists declare that classical theism, in its affirmation of exhaustive divine foreknowledge, destroys the foundations of prayer and transforms otherwise meaningful dialogue with God into a sham. Greg Boyd is typical of most open theists when he says: ‘My conviction is that many Christians do not pray as passionately as they could because they don’t see how it could make any significant difference.’ Again, he writes, ‘I do not see that any view of God captures the power and urgency of prayer as adequately as the Open view does, and, because the heart is influenced by the mind, I do not see that any view can inspire passionate and urgent prayer as powerfully as the Open view can.’ The same sentiment may be found in David Basinger’s treatment of prayer as part of a larger concern with the practical implications of the open view of God. Continue reading