Eastern Orthodoxy

Eastern Orthodoxy: A tradition in Christianity that claims to represent the one true Church of Christ. Though many would see the Eastern Orthodox church as simply “Catholicism without a Pope,” the Orthodox would reject such a simplified identification. Not only do they not have a living infallible authority, such as a Pope, they approach theology from a more mystical, and less rationalistic perspective. Their theology primarily comes from the first seven ecumenical councils as, according to the Orthodox, these councils represent a perfect representation of the Christian faith.

The seven ecumenical councils are:

(1) The Council of Nicea (325 AD) – which affirmed the full deity of Christ in opposition to the heretic Arius. It is this council that produced the Nicene Creed.

(2) The Council of Constantinople (381 AD) – which affirmed the full deity of the Holy Spirit articulated at Nicea) and went further in terms of the doctrine of the Trinity: God is one in essence and three in person. Continue reading

Two Spurgeon Quotes

“I am content to live and die as the mean repeater of scriptural teaching, as a person who invented nothing, as one who never thought invention to be any part of his calling, but who concluded that he was to take the message from the lips of God to the best of his ability and simply to be a mouth for God to the people, mourning that anything of his own should come between, but never thinking that he was somehow to refine that message, to adapt it to the brilliance of this wonderful century, and then to hand it out as being so much his own that he might take some share of the glory of it.” – C. H. Spurgeon, as quoted in H. M. S. Richards, Feed My Sheep (Review and Herald, 1958), 38

“I have found, in my own spiritual life, that the more rules I lay down for myself, the more sins I commit. The habit of regular morning and evening prayer is one which is indispensable to a believer’s life, but the prescribing of the length of prayer, and the constrained remembrance of so many persons and subjects, may gender unto bondage, and strangle prayer rather than assist it.

To say I will humble myself at such a time, and rejoice at such another season, is nearly as much an affectation as when the preacher wrote in the margin of his sermon, “Cry here,” “Smile here.” Why, if the man preached from his heart, he would be sure to cry in the right place, and to smile at a suitable moment; and when the spiritual life is sound, it produces prayer at the right time, and humiliation of soul and sacred joy spring forth spontaneously, apart from rules and vows.

The kind of religion which makes itself to order by the Almanack, and turns out its emotions like bricks from a machine, weeping on Good Friday, and rejoicing two days afterwards, measuring its motions by the moon, is too artificial to be worthy of my imitation.

Self-examination is a very great blessing, but I have known self-examination carried on in a most unbelieving, legal, and self-righteous manner; in fact, I have so carried it on myself. Time was when I used to think a vast deal more of marks, and signs, and evidences, for my own comfort, than I do now, for I find that I cannot be a match for the devil when I begin dealing in these things. I am obliged to go day by day with this cry,—

“I, the chief of sinners am,
But Jesus died for me.”

While I can believe the promise of God, because it is His promise, and because He is my God, and while I can trust my Saviour because He is God, and therefore mighty to save, all goes well with me; but I do find, when I begin questioning myself about this and that perplexity, thus taking my eye off Christ, that all the virtue of my life seems oozing out at every pore.

Any practice that detracts from faith is an evil practice, but especially that kind of self-examination which would take us away from the cross-foot, proceeds in a wrong direction.” C.H. Spurgeon, Autobiography, Vol. 1, pp. 161:

Intro to Reformed Theology: A Calvinist Survival Guide (eBook)

If you enjoy in depth Bible study and the eBook experience, Historical, and Christ-Centered by Nathan Pitchford
The Reformed Faith by Loraine Boettner
God Glorified in Man’s Dependence by Jonathan Edwards
The Plan of Salvation by B. B. Warfield

Part II: Calvinism in General

A Defence of Calvinism by C. H. Spurgeon
The Five Points of Calvinism by R. L. Dabney
Calvinism Today by B. B. Warfield
More Than a Calvinist by John Newton

Part III: The Sovereignty of God

God’s Sovereignty in the Salvation of Men by Jonathan Edwards
The Sole Consideration, that God Is God by Jonathan Edwards
The Sovereignty of God by John Murray
The Doctrine of the Sovereignty of God John Macleod
God’s Sovereignty Defined and Objections Answered by A. W. Pink
A Testimony to God’s Free and Sovereign Grace by C. H. Spurgeon
Continue reading

Handling an objection

Someone (whom I will not name) wrote to me today the following:

I’m a Cessationist all the way, John. I think it’s a very slippery slope once a person starts down that Charismatic path. And I see tremendous arrogance in the Reformed Charismatic camp. I believe this comes from the piety that results from thinking that one is a “super Christian” with a special blessing, and deeper connection to God, that others don’t have. Piety, piety, piety… It’s just another mystical encounter, and serves only to (1) get people hooked into getting their little mystical “hit” (instead of perhaps studying Scripture?) and (2) it promotes the aforementioned self-focused and sinful pietism.

There’s a good deal I could write in the way of a response, but here was my brief reply:

If you were to allow for a response I would point to the fact that reformed cessationist people have an equally repulsive reputation in the church world when it comes to pride – pride lurks in all of us. Yet it is poor argumentation to just say that because there are elements of pride in a camp, their arguments are invalid. That is a logical fallacy. A math teacher can be very prideful, even when he correctly tells people 2 + 2 = 4. So where does this leave us? where should we go? To the law and to the testimony (Isaiah 8:20) – to the God breathed Scriptures.

Then I would point out that you are ASSUMING a non-cessationist approach to 1 Cor 12-14 and yet, IF you were to put yourself in time of the first century when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians (when you believe the gifts were still functioning) and allow for continued use, ALL the arguments you make against contemporary reformed charismatics could be said of the Corinthian Church people too. In fact the Apostle Paul wrote about the issues better than you or I ever could, and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Corinthians were arrogant, carnal, self focused and far from piety.

Paul’s very reason for writing to the Corinthians was to STOP the focus on self and to exhort them to “pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts” (1 Cor 14:1). Your arguments against reformed charismatics in our time amount to the very same things Paul sought to eliminate at Corinth. We have the exact same issues to deal with in our day because the human heart has not changed in 2,000 years – such is our depravity, and such is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in addressing it.

However, lets remember, even though he was fully aware of the abuse of the gifts, Paul did not stop their use. Instead, he stopped the abuse and then directed their use. As he wrote elsewhere, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thess 5:19-21) I for one am not prepared to class Paul’s apostolic instruction as putting the saints on some sort of “slippery slope.”

Friday Round Up

(1) Nothing short of Miraculous: Thank you to all who have been praying for my friend Jim. He was dead for a full 18 minutes last month after a heart attack (before being revived) and is due to leave the recovery care facility to come home in the next few days. We give thanks to God for prolonging Jim’s life (not many people have come back from such a condition) and yet we do covet your prayers for the remaining health issues to be resolved.

(2) India Outreach: I’ve been encouraged to repost this (below) to keep people aware of both the vision and the current need. I do so here as it is a very exciting project.

Romans 10: 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Its taken three weeks for my good friend, Indian Pastor Pappy Daniel to find the best possible deal, but as promised, here’s an update on the Gospel tract printing costs.

You may remember we provided 10,000 copies of the Gospel tract I wrote “The Thief on the Cross” in the Malayalam language which were handed out to people in the state of Kerala at Easter time. The response and feedback to this very clear gospel presentation has been so encouraging that we made a tentative inquiry to find out how much it would cost for 100,000 tracts to be printed.

Whereas the cost for 10,000 tracts was approximately $400 USA Dollars, the cost for 100,000 tracts will be $2,600.00. This is the full cost, which includes paper, printing, shipping and distribution handling costs. As you can see, there is a substantial savings (per tract) when there is a larger quantity being printed.

Perhaps this Gospel outreach is something you or your church might like to get behind and support. If so, just write to me and I will give you further details. I will keep this article updated to show the amount that has come in for this specific venture (below).

Goal: $2,600.00

Amount received (as of 7/29/11): $200.00

(3) Ligonier has some great deals today on some excellent material in this week’s $5 Friday sale starting at 8 am EST here. I especially recommend Dr. Sproul’s book “The Prayer of the Lord” in hardcover at the $5 price. Some might even think about ordering multiple copies to give away.

Remember, if you decide to purchase material, you can claim a further 10% discount on these and on ALL Ligonier products as a reader of this blog by using the coupon code: EGRACE10

(4) Reformed charismatic? After pointing people towards one of my articles, someone wrote, “Personally, I think “Reformed Charismatic” is an oxymoron, something akin to “Jumbo Shrimp” or “Virtual Reality.”

I responded, “If Romans 9-11 and 1 Cor 12-14 are anything to go by, the Apostle Paul, speaking anachronistically and using today’s lingo, would have been considered a reformed charismatic. He believed in God’s sovereignty and he believed in the gifts of the Spirit – right? You happen to believe 1 Cor 12-14 no longer applies as all the gifts ceased some time back (and I would disagree, of course) but its fair to say that at least in his lifetime, Paul certainly saw no conflict between the two concepts.”

Something to think about at least.

For more of a discussion of these issues, you might wish to check out the pneumatology section of the site here.

(5) Concerning Creeds and Statements of Faith:

The Cambridge Declaration

THE CAMBRIDGE DECLARATION of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals – April 20, 1996

Evangelical churches today are increasingly dominated by the spirit of this age rather than by the Spirit of Christ. As evangelicals, we call ourselves to repent of this sin and to recover the historic Christian faith.

In the course of history words change. In our day this has happened to the word “evangelical.” In the past it served as a bond of unity between Christians from a wide diversity of church traditions. Historic evangelicalism was confessional. It embraced the essential truths of Christianity as those were defined by the great ecumenical councils of the church. In addition, evangelicals also shared a common heritage in the “solas” of the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation.

Today the light of the Reformation has been significantly dimmed. The consequence is that the word “evangelical” has become so inclusive as to have lost its meaning. We face the peril of losing the unity it has taken centuries to achieve. Because of this crisis and because of our love of Christ, his gospel and his church, we endeavor to assert anew our commitment to the central truths of the Reformation and of historic evangelicalism. These truths we affirm not because of their role in our traditions, but because we believe that they are central to the Bible.

Sola Scriptura: The Erosion Of Authority
Scripture alone is the inerrant rule of the church’s life, but the evangelical church today has separated Scripture from its authoritative function. In practice, the church is guided, far too often, by the culture. Therapeutic technique, marketing strategies, and the beat of the entertainment world often have far more to say about what the church wants, how it functions and what it offers, than does the Word of God. Pastors have neglected their rightful oversight of worship, including the doctrinal content of the music. As biblical authority has been abandoned in practice, as its truths have faded from Christian consciousness, and as its doctrines have lost their saliency, the church has been increasingly emptied of its integrity, moral authority and direction.

Rather than adapting Christian faith to satisfy the felt needs of consumers, we must proclaim the law as the only measure of true righteousness and the gospel as the only announcement of saving truth. Biblical truth is indispensable to the church’s understanding, nurture and discipline.

Scripture must take us beyond our perceived needs to our real needs and liberate us from seeing ourselves through the seductive images, cliche’s, promises. and priorities of mass culture. It is only in the light of God’s truth that we understand ourselves aright and see God’s provision for our need. The Bible, therefore, must be taught and preached in the church. Sermons must be expositions of the Bible and its teachings, not expressions of the preachers opinions or the ideas of the age. We must settle for nothing less than what God has given.

The work of the Holy Spirit in personal experience cannot be disengaged from Scripture. The Spirit does not speak in ways that are independent of Scripture. Apart from Scripture we would never have known of God’s grace in Christ. The biblical Word, rather than spiritual experience, is the test of truth. Continue reading

In Memory of John Stott (1921-2011)

Dr. John Stott died earlier today at the age of 90. His preaching, teaching and writing ministry was hugely influential. He has left us a lasting legacy.

Warren Wiersbe is reported to have said, “if John Stott wrote a grocery list, I would buy it.” That is something of the measure of Stott’s gifting. He wrote more than 50 books, three of which have had a great impact on me: “Basic Christianity” which he wrote at the age of 37 and which has sold over 2.5 million copies, “the Cross of Christ,” about which J. I. Packer says, “No other treatment of this supreme subject says so much, so truly and so well” and his remarkable book on preaching, “Between Two Worlds.”

Regarding preaching, here is one of his quotes, ““It requires much study, as we shall see later, not only of God’s Word but of man’s nature and of the world in which he lives. The expository preacher is a bridge builder, seeking to span the gulf between the Word of God and the mind of man. He must do his utmost to interpret the Scripture so accurately and plainly, and to apply it so forcefully, that the truth crosses the bridge” (The Preacher’s Portrait, 28).

Its fair to say that I do lament Stott’s view on eternal punishment, yet today, I pause to say “thank you, Lord, for the life and legacy of John R. W. Stott – man of God and bridge builder.”

Questions and Answers with David Murray

(1) “Why does God seem so different in the Old Testament than He does in the New Testament?”
(2) “Do Christians today have the obey the Old Testament laws?”
(3) “How does God’s sovereignty work with our free will?”
(4) “Is Christianity responsible for the Crusades?”
(5) “Is it ok to let my children have facebook pages?”

In these very short videos below, starting with:

(1) “Why does God seem so different in the Old Testament than He does in the New Testament?”

(2) “Do Christians today have the obey the Old Testament laws?”

(3) “How does God’s sovereignty work with our free will?” Continue reading

Harmful habits to avoid for weight loss

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.”

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over repeatedly and expecting different results.”

These two well worn cliche’s have much truth to them, over time. For instance, skipping breakfast adds to our weight, as does drinking diet sodas.

For those seeking to lose weight, here’s an article listing 20 such habits that should be avoided.

(By the way, I don’t think I like number 16 – though I understand the point. It could lead to a kind of elitism that can end up hurting people… but otherwise, some very good recommendations in this article).

Indulgences – Alive and Well in the Roman Catholic Church

In this short blog post, I simply wish to show that indulgences are not a mere historical novelty but a very present and up to date doctrine and practice of the Roman Catholic Church.

From the archives at his website, Dr. Al Mohler writes:

Looking to Christianity’s third millennium, Pope John Paul II has declared “The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000?—and indulgences from punishment for sin are a centerpiece of the jubilee celebration. The practice which brought Luther to his break with Rome is once again front and center in Catholic practice as the new millennium approaches.

In “Incarnationis Mysterium,” his bull declaring the jubilee year, the Pope has reopened one of the most difficult issues separating evangelicals and Roman Catholics, spawning a “Y2K” crisis of immense theological significance.

Pope Clement VI was the first to declare that the Roman church possessed a “Treasury of Merit” stored up by the merits of the saints and available at the disposal of the Church. Clement’s 1343 papal bull declaring a jubilee year opened the door for the offer of indulgences, which became a widespread practice within just a few years. Indeed, the medieval church largely financed its expanding operations through the sale of indulgences and masses for the dead. In the 16th century, Pope Julius II sought to finance the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome through the sale of indulgences—a practice which soon burned indignation into the heart of a young Augustinian monk named Martin Luther.

It was the appearance of Johannes Tetzel, a Dominican monk, selling indulgences for the building of St. Peter’s that so offended Martin Luther. The more Luther heard of Tetzel’s preaching, the more he saw the evil of the practice. The famous “Ninety-Five Theses” Luther nailed to the Wittenberg church door opened with an attack on the theological heart of the indulgences issue. His words still thunder through the centuries: “Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers” [Thesis 32]. “Any truly repentant Christian has a rich right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters” [Thesis 36].

Later, Luther was to decry the “shameful outrage and idolatry of indulgences,” which he had come to see as a slander to the atoning work of Christ and a denial of justification by faith. The Reformation revealed the great divide between the Reformers and the Catholic church on issues as central as grace, law, justification, faith, and authority in the church, but it was the practice of granting indulgences which sparked the explosion.

John Paul II’s recent declaration did not come as a shot out of the blue. In fact, indulgences were affirmed by the Council of Trent, called in the 16th century to answer the Reformation. As recently as 1967 Pope Paul VI released an encyclical defining an indulgence as “the remission in the sight of God of the temporal punishment due to sins which have already been blotted out as far as guilt is concerned; the Christian believer who is properly disposed gains it on certain conditions with the help of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, authoritatively dispenses and applies the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.” He also extended this to the dead, whose punishment in purgatory can be relieved through the intercession of the living.

Extending the matter even further, in 1985 John Paul II allowed indulgences to be granted to those watching a service by television, who otherwise met the requirements of those physically present. In his jubilee bull, the Pope listed a wide range of acts which could earn an indulgence, ranging from a sacred pilgrimage to Rome, the Holy Land, or to the cathedral or other stipulated church in their area, or by acts of service to others, by even one day of abstaining from “unnecessary consumption” (including alcohol or tobacco), or by donations to the poor.

Evangelicals shocked by the Pope’s new statement should be reminded that the Roman Catholic church has never repudiated indulgences, though it did seek to reform the practice, and to clarify that the indulgence removes punishment but not guilt. As in the 16th century, the practice of granting indulgences clarifies the continuing gulf between evangelical and Catholic conviction on central doctrines.

While admiring the Pope’s brave fight in defense of human life and human rights, his courageous confrontation with modernity, and his stalwart insistence on the objective reality of truth, evangelicals must insist that the church has no power to forgive sin, that the work of Christ is complete, and that the entire complex of purgatory, indulgences, penance, and the treasury of merit is utterly without biblical foundation.

There is but one “only true indulgence,” insisted Luther, and that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Or, as the Apostle Paul wrote the church in Rome: “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” [Romans 5:9].”

Bringing this issue up to date, the present Pope Benedict XVI places great importance on indulgences. Evidence of this is found in the following articles:

one from the BBC here

and another from the New York Times here.

In contrast, the Scripture says, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)

Semper Reformanda.

P.S. For further discussion concerning the Roman Catholic doctrine of indulgences, see the article “The power is not in Joseph’s pants.”