A Biblical Case for Church Membership

This morning, I had the privilege, 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, here is a clarion call to Biblical faithfulness, knowing we pay a very high price for doing so.

Objections to Sovereign Election

Chris Arnzen’s recent interview with me on Iron Sharpens Iron focused on handling objections to Sovereign Election and is now posted online at this link.

George Whitefield Bio

and appears not to have prospered in business; at any rate, she never seems to have been able to do anything for her son’s advancement in life. Whitefield’s early life, according to his own account, was anything but religious; though, like many boys, he had occasional prickings of conscience and spasmodic fits of devout feeling. He confesses that he was ‘addicted to lying, filthy talking, and foolish jesting’, and that he was a ‘Sabbath-breaker, a theatre-goer, a card-player, and a romance reader’. All this, he says, went on till he was fifteen years old.

Poor as he was, his residence at Gloucester procured him the advantage of a good education at the Free Grammar School of that city. Here he was a day-scholar until he was fifteen. The only known fact about his schooldays is this curious one, that even then he was remarkable for his good elocution and memory, and was selected to recite speeches before the Corporation of Gloucester at their annual visitation of the Grammar School.

At the age of fifteen Whitefield appears to have left school, and to have given up Latin and Greek for a season. In all probability, his mother’s straitened circumstances made it absolutely necessary for him to do something to assist her in business and to get his own living. He began, therefore, to help her in the daily work of the Bell Inn. ‘At length’, he says, ‘I put on my blue apron, washed cups, cleaned rooms, and, in one word, became a professed common drawer for nigh a year and a half.’ This, however, did not last long. His mother’s business at the Bell did not flourish, and she finally retired from it altogether.

An old school-fellow revived in his mind the idea of going to Oxford, and he went back to the Grammar School and renewed his studies. At length, after several providential circumstances had smoothed the way, he entered Oxford as a servitor at Pembroke at the age of eighteen. Whitefield’s residence at Oxford was the great turning-point in his life. For two or three years before he went to the University his journal tells us that he had not been without religious convictions, But from the time of his entering Pembroke College these convictions fast ripened into decided Christianity. He diligently attended all means of grace within his reach. He spent his leisure time in visiting the city prison, reading to the prisoners, and trying to do good. He became acquainted with the famous John Wesley and his brother Charles, and a little band of like-minded young men. These were the devoted party to whom the name ‘Methodists’ was first applied, on account of their strict ‘method’ of living.

At one time he seems to have been in danger of becoming a semi-papist, an ascetic, or a mystic, and of placing the whole of religion in self-denial. He says in his Journal, ‘I always chose the worst sort of food. I fasted twice a week. My apparel was mean. I thought it unbecoming a penitent to have his hair powdered. I wore woollen gloves, a patched gown, and dirty shoes; and though I was convinced that the kingdom of God did not consist in meat and drink, yet I resolutely persisted in these voluntary acts of self-denial, because I found in them great promotion of the spiritual life.’

Out of all this darkness he was gradually delivered, partly by the advice of one or two experienced Christians, and partly by reading such books as Scougal’s Life of God in the Soul of Man, Law’s Serious Call, Baxter’s Call to the Unconverted, Alleine’s Alarm to Unconverted Sinners, and Matthew Henry’s Commentary. ‘Above all’, he says, ‘my mind being now more opened and enlarged, I began to read the Holy Scriptures upon my knees, laying aside all other books, and praying over, if possible, every line and word. This proved meat indeed and drink indeed to my soul. I daily received fresh life, light, and power from above. I got more true knowledge from reading the Book of God in one month than I could ever have acquired from all the writings of men.’

Once taught to understand the glorious liberty of Christ’s gospel, Whitefield never turned again to asceticism, legalism, mysticism, or strange views of Christian perfection. The experience received by bitter conflict was most valuable to him. The doctrines of free grace, once thoroughly grasped, took deep root in his heart, and became, as it were, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. Of all the little band of Oxford Methodists, none seem to have got hold so soon of clear views of Christ’s gospel as he did, and none kept it so unwaveringly to the end. Continue reading

The Gospel Is For Christians Too

Text: Galatians 1:1-10

Are you constantly hounded by a troubled conscience, even as a Christian? Is it hard to remember the last time you had a full night of sleep? Even since your conversion, do the things you have done continue to bother you? The remedy for this is a thorough understanding of the one true and radical, biblical gospel. Jesus work did not merely make you savable or release you from jail but put you on probation. Christian, hear the good news of Jesus Christ!

Reflections from an AME Prayer Vigil

richardphillips-03Pastor Rick Phillips has written a short piece entitled “Reflections from an AME Prayer Vigil.” It is well worth the read.

Last evening I was greatly blessed, together with many members of the congregation I serve, to participate in a prayer vigil for the nine victims of the racist attack on Emmanuel AME in Charleston. The service was held at Allen Temple AME Church about a half mile from our church in Greenville, SC. I hope and believe that our presence played a positive role in ministering to our aggrieved fellow Christians. I know that we were spiritually uplifted and encouraged both by our reception and by the service itself. Nothing that happened in this service surprised me, since I have long held a high opinion of the spiritual vitality of gospel-centered black churches. But it occurred to me that others may not have had many experiences of this kind, and that readers might be informed and encouraged by the following reflections:

1. The importance and value of crossing boundaries that separate Christians from one another. I have not had much interaction with AME churches and my many connections with African American Christians are mainly limited to those who share my commitment to Reformed theology. I live in a part of the South in which blacks and whites generally get along but seldom interact, in part because of the distrust that African Americans have with good reason developed towards whites. Sincere invitations to the African American community to attend our events have met little success, which has taught me that the burden is on white Christians to reach out personally across the racial divide. Our attendance at the AME prayer vigil thus resulted from my driving over to their church on Friday morning to personally express love and sympathy and to inform them of our prayers. The result was a warm, brotherly conversation with a pastor from the AME church, who expressed his thanks and offered to call me to confirm the prayer vigil’s timing. I had missed a service the previous day – the morning after the murders – which had been terminated by an anonymous bomb threat. Lamentable as that was, it did provide me with an opportunity to attend the rescheduled event last night. I came, along with some members of our church, simply to join in worship and prayer. What I did not expect was an invitation for me to speak and pray at the service. What a blessing and reward I received for the simple act of personally driving over to extend Christian love, and how eager my fellow believers were to receive it! Continue reading

Monica’s Prayers

In an article entitled “Monica: A Model of Prayer and Piety” Dr. Sam Storms perhaps even with tears, do you continually intercede on their behalf? Has their rebellion driven you to despair? Have you simply quit, giving up all hope that God might yet bring them to saving faith? If you are tempted to, don’t. If you already have, renew again your prayers for them.

I can think of no one who was more devoted to praying for the salvation of a cold-hearted idolatrous child than Monica, the mother of the famous Saint Augustine. Monica consecrated her life to interceding for the salvation of her wayward and immoral son. She eventually sought out the help of a respected bishop, imploring him to meet with Augustine to address his spiritual plight. He declined. Here is how Augustine tells the story in his Confessions:

“She pleaded all the more insistently and with free-flowing tears that he would consent to see me and discuss matters with me. A little vexed, he answered, ‘Go away now; but hold on to this: it is inconceivable that he should perish, a son of tears like yours.’ In her conversations with me later she often recalled that she had taken these words to be an oracle from heaven” (The Confessions, translated by Maria Boulding [Vintage Books, 1997] 53).

He later would add his own word of affirmation to his mother’s belief that her son would eventually come to Christ:

“Could you, then, whose grace had made her what she was, disdain those tears and rebuff her plea for your aid, when what she tearfully begged from you was not gold or silver, not some insecure, ephemeral advantage, but the salvation of her son? No, Lord, that would have been unthinkable; rather you were present, you heard her, and you acted: it was done as you had predestined that it should be. Could you have deceived her in those visions and assurances you had given her, those I have already recorded and others not mentioned, to which she held fast in her faithful heart and which she regularly in prayer presented for your attention, as pledges bearing your own signature? Perish the thought! Though you forgive us all our debts, you deign by your promises to make yourself our debtor, for you merciful love abides forever” (88).

In the Confessions Augustine describes at great length his mother’s dream which she interpreted as God’s promise that he would eventually bring her son to saving faith. This was not an isolated experience for her, which led Augustine to say this concerning how she discerned the difference between God’s voice and her own desires:

“She claimed that by something akin to the sense of taste, a faculty she could not explain in words, she was able to distinguish between your revelations to her and the fantasies of her own dreaming soul” (117).

Augustine’s now-famous conversion experience was followed by Monica’s exuberant joy. Upon telling her of his new life in Christ,

“she was filled with triumphant delight and blessed you, who have power to do more than we ask or understand, for she saw that you had granted her much more in my regard than she had been wont to beg of you in her wretched, tearful groaning. Many years earlier you had shown her a vision of me standing on the rule of faith; and now indeed I stood there, no longer seeking a wife or entertaining any worldly hope, for you had converted me to yourself. In so doing you had also converted her grief into a joy far more abundant than she had desired, and much more tender and chaste than she could ever have looked to find in grandchildren from my flesh” (169).

With deep affection he referred to her as “that servant of yours who brought me forth from her flesh to birth into this temporal light, and from her heart to birth in light eternal” (183).

Monica’s prayers for her son were only one manifestation of her piety. She patiently endured multiple infidelities in her husband, whom she eventually led to Christ, as was also the case with her mother-in-law. According to Augustine, she would often serve “as peacemaker whenever she could if friction occurred between souls at variance” (186). Indeed, “she was the servant of your servants. Every one of them who knew her found ample reason to praise, honor and love you as he sensed your presence in her heart, attested by the fruits of her holy way of life” (187).

As the end of her earthly life approached she looked with anxious longing for heaven:

“For my part, my son, I find pleasure no longer in anything this life holds. What I am doing here still, or why I tarry, I do not know, for all worldly hope has withered away for me. One thing only there was for which I desired to linger awhile in this life: to see you a Catholic Christian before I died. And this my God has granted to me more lavishly than I could have hoped, letting me see you even spurning earthly happiness to be his servant. What now keeps me here?” (190).

Monica died at the age of 56. The fruit of her relentless prayer life lived on.

Baptism – The Testimony of the Early Church

J.Ryan Davidson, in an article entitled “Reflections on Baptism and the Early Church” baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before.” – Didache 7

The sentence in bold above is from the non-canonical early church writing called the Didache (“teaching”). There is much that could be said here on this quote, and of course, given its non-canonical nature, it is not binding on the church of Jesus Christ. However, the document’s value lies in its ability to give us a picture of what the very early church looked like, specifically, that the first generation after the Apostles (depending on which scholarly dating is accepted-likely late 1st/early 2nd century) utilized this document as a book of church order in a manner of speaking. A few quick observations/reflections from this text:

a). Baptism was taken seriously, and was accompanied by fasting. Not that we must mandate fasting, but do we take the sign of the covenant…the profession of faith made in the waters of baptism as seriously in our worship? Christ himself told us he would be with us as we baptize (Matthew 28:18-20), is this not a serious endeavor? Our day is full of quick baptisms, with all sorts of irreverent schemes. Ought we not to consider the gravity of this endeavor?

b). This implies that the persons baptized were old enough to fast. An argument could be made here for credobaptism. In fact, most will agree that the first reference (credible and rightly interpreted in context) to infant baptism found in any of the early church documents was not until the 200’s A.D. Why no instruction before that if paedobaptism was the/a standard practice? This brief post in no ways discusses all of the issue in this debate, however, this is just a simple observation.

c). Baptism was accompanied by an intensity in reflection on the part of the person baptize, the baptizer and the church (“and whoever else can”). We would do well to reflect on this example. It may be an anachronistic interpretation, but if we assume that baptism is a “means of grace”, then isn’t there benefit in taking the baptism of others seriously, for we too, as observers, are spiritually nourished as Christ is present among His people and the waters of baptism are stirred?

d). We notice that the baptism formula was the Triune name and that immersion was a regular, if not the regular mode (“living water”=stream, river, etc. and notice that going into this water is later contrasted with pouring as a mode, so it clearly means immersion here). I fall in the camp that says that immersion is the preferred mode, but I am not convinced that the mode validates or invalidates a baptism. However, these sentences show us some cohesion with the New Testament record. To be clear, the New Testament is all we need, but as a historian, it is beautiful to see historical documents reflecting biblical practice.

Most people may not even know about the document called the “Didache”. For me, while not inerrant, inspired, infallible Word, it is a wonderful historical window into our early forebears. May we take the sacrament of baptism as seriously in our day.

“Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit…and I am with you to the end of the age…”-Jesus, Matthew 28