Standing – Against Our Own Sin

Dr. Steve Lawson – 2012 Ligonier West Coast Conference, Standing Firm:

The Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn once wrote: “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” As Christians, it is very easy to fall into the trap of seeing the enemy as “over there.” If we draw the lines clearly enough and build the walls high enough, we will be safe. Or so we think. We very easily forget that we war not only against the world and the devil, but also against our own sinful flesh.

Does Prayer Change God’s Mind?

magnifying-glass5Article: R. C. Sproul (original source here)

Does prayer make any difference? Does it really change anything? Someone once asked me that question, only in a slightly different manner: “Does prayer change God’s mind?” My answer brought storms of protest. I said simply, “No.” Now, if the person had asked me, “Does prayer change things?” I would have answered, “Of course!”

The Bible says there are certain things God has decreed from all eternity. Those things will inevitably come to pass. If you were to pray individually or if you and I were to join forces in prayer or if all the Christians of the world were to pray collectively, it “would not change what God, in His hidden counsel, has determined to do. If we decided to pray for Jesus not to return, He still would return. You might ask, though, “Doesn’t the Bible say that if two or three agree on anything, they’ll get it?” Yes, it does, but that passage is talking about church discipline, not prayer requests. So we must take all the biblical teaching on prayer into account and not isolate one passage from the rest. We must approach the matter in light of the whole of Scripture, resisting an atomistic reading. Again, you might ask, “Doesn’t the Bible say from time to time that God repents?” Yes, the Old Testament certainly says so. The book of Jonah tells us that God “repented of ” the judgment He had planned for the people of Nineveh (Jonah 3:10, KJV). In using the concept of repentance here, the Bible is describing God, who is Spirit, in what theologians call “anthropomorphic” language. Obviously the Bible does not mean that God repented in the way we would repent; otherwise, we could rightly assume that God had sinned and therefore would need a savior Himself. What it clearly means is that God removed the threat of judgment from the people. The Hebrew word nacham, translated “repent” in the King James Version, means “comforted” or “eased” in this case. God was comforted and felt at ease that the people “had turned from their sin, and therefore He revoked the sentence of judgment He had imposed.

When God hangs His sword of judgment over people’s heads, and they repent and He then withholds His judgment, has He really changed His mind? The mind of God does not change for God does not change. Things change, and they change according to His sovereign will, which He exercises through secondary means and secondary activities. The prayer of His people is one of the means He uses to bring things to pass in this world. So if you ask me whether prayer changes things, I answer with an unhesitating “Yes!”

It is impossible to know how much of human history reflects God’s immediate intervention and how much reveals God working through human agents. Calvin’s favorite example of this was the book of Job. The Sabeans and the Chaldeans had taken Job’s donkeys and camels. Why? Because Satan had stirred their hearts to do so. But why? Because Satan had received permission from God to test Job’s faithfulness in any way he so desired, short of taking Job’s life. Why had God agreed to such a thing? For three reasons: (1) to silence the slander of Satan; (2) to vindicate Himself; and (3) to vindicate Job from the slander of Satan. All of these reasons are perfectly righteous justifications for God’s actions.

By contrast, Satan’s purpose in stirring up these two groups was to cause Job to blaspheme God—an altogether wicked motive. But we notice that Satan did not do something supernatural to accomplish his ends. He chose human agents—the Sabeans and Chaldeans, who were evil by nature—to steal Job’s animals. The Sabeans and Chaldeans were known for their thievery and murderous way of life. Their will was involved, but there was no coercion; God’s purpose was accomplished through their wicked actions.

The Sabeans and Chaldeans were free to choose, but for them, as for us, freedom always means freedom within limits. We must not, however, confuse human freedom and human autonomy. There will always be a conflict between divine sovereignty and human autonomy. There is never a conflict between divine sovereignty and human freedom. The Bible says that man is free, but he is not an autonomous law unto himself.

Suppose the Sabeans and Chaldeans had prayed, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” I’m absolutely certain that Job’s animals still would have been stolen, but not necessarily by the Sabeans and Chaldeans. God might have chosen to”answer their prayer, but He would have used some other agent to steal Job’s animals. There is freedom within limits, and within those limits, our prayers can change things. The Scriptures tell us that Elijah, through prayer, kept the rain from falling. He was not dissuaded from praying by his understanding of divine sovereignty.

No human being has ever had a more profound understanding of divine sovereignty than Jesus. No man ever prayed more fiercely or more effectively. Even in Gethsemane, He requested an option, a different way. When the request was denied, He bowed to the Father’s will. The very reason we pray is because of God’s sovereignty, because we believe that God has it within His power to order things according to His purpose. That is what sovereignty is all about—ordering things according to God’s purpose. So then, does prayer change God’s mind? No. Does prayer change things? Yes, of course. The promise of the Scriptures is that “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). The problem is that we are not all that righteous. What prayer most often changes is the wickedness and the hardness of our own hearts. That alone would be reason enough to pray, even if none of the other reasons were valid or true.

In a sermon titled “The Most High, a Prayer-Hearing God,” Jonathan Edwards gave two reasons why God requires prayer:

With respect to God, prayer is but a sensible acknowledgement of our dependence on him to his glory. As he hath made all things for his own glory, so he will be glorified and acknowledged by his creatures; and it is fit that he should require this of those who would be subjects of his mercy . . . [it] is a suitable acknowledgement of our dependence on the power and mercy of God for that which we need, and but a suitable honor paid to the great Author and Fountain of all good.

With respect to ourselves, God requires prayer of us . . . Fervent prayer many ways tends to prepare the heart. Hereby is excited a sense of our need . . . whereby the mind is more prepared to prize [his mercy] . . . Our prayer to God may excite in us a suitable sense and consideration of our dependence on God for the mercy we ask, and a suitable exercise of faith in God’s sufficiency, so that we may be prepared to glorify his name when the mercy is received.
(The Works of Jonathan Edwards [Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974], 2:116)

All that God does is for His glory first and for our benefit second. We pray because God commands us to pray, because it glorifies Him, and because it benefits us.

Will Those Who Are Saved Be Few?

Overcoming the World: 2014 West Coast Conference

Post-Christian Christianity

When the surrounding culture changes, one approach that has been taken by many churches over the centuries is to capitulate to the new thought-forms and change the message of Christ to suit the world. This was true of nineteenth-century liberalism, and it is true in many churches today. In this session, Dr. R.C. Sproul explains the dangers of following the ever-shifting tides of contemporary culture and calls the church to walk in the ancient paths.

Theology Questions

Theology in Dialogue with R.C. Sproul and Derek Thomas

On Friday, January 15, 2016, Dr. Sproul was joined by Ligonier teaching fellow Dr. Derek Thomas for a relaxed and informative evening of theology and dialogue. These notable theologians and pastors answered questions submitted through social media and from a live audience at Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, FL. The topics addressed included God’s nature, Islam, finding a local church, Scripture, and more.

1. Does God choose not to lie, or does His nature dictate that He cannot lie? (02:58)
2. What’s the greatest challenge to biblical Christianity today? (03:19)
3. Can Christians truly have assurance of salvation? (03:51)
4. Were Adam and Eve saved? (04:31)
5. Why does the church argue against head coverings using first-century culture when Paul argues from Genesis? (05:06)
6. What is your favorite hymn and why? (07:13)
7. How did they determine approximate dates for various books in the Bible? (08:00)
8. Was the average Old Testament Jew able to gain a complete understanding of the Trinity? (10:35)
9. Do you believe that we are headed to a point in which the government will require churches to perform “same-sex” marriages? (13:10)
10. Why is wisdom personified as female? (16:10)
11. Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? (16:50)
12. Do you believe that Christians need to do a better job of defending their faith (especially as it relates to Islam)? (19:00)
13. Is there any support for complementarianism in the creation account prior to the fall? (20:23)
14. Did Jesus, during His earthly ministry, have the ability to sin? (22:40)
15. Does Scripture provide hope for a child who turns away from Christ as a young college student? (25:24)
16. If the reformers like Calvin and Luther didn’t state explicitly their end times views, what would be their presumed view in your eyes? (28:38)
17. Have either of you changed your eschatological views? (31:45)
18. If you had a moment with one of today’s prosperity preachers, what would you say? (32:40)
19. What doctrine in the Bible do you find the most difficult to accept and why? (33:31)
20. Are both of you hopeful for another awakening in our age? (35:36)
21 In Acts 2:38 it says that baptism is for the forgiveness of sins. What do you believe about this and why? (37:49)
22. What makes a church good and how do you find one? (39:36)
23. Does the incarnation mean that God has changed in space and time from that point on? If not, why and how do we respond to the question? (43:59)
24. Did the death of Jesus accomplish anything for the non-elect? (46:31)
25. What would you say to a Christian who doesn’t believe in the inerrancy of Scripture? (48:14)
26. What is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? (49:43)
27. Can good theology and sound doctrine become an idol? (52:53)
28. How have the truths from your series “Surprised by Suffering” been a comfort for you as you have dealt with health issues? (56:19)

Women Elders?

stormsArticle: Dr. Sam Storms (original source here)

Although some argue that there is no consistent pattern in the NT for local church government, I disagree. I believe the NT portrays for us a virtually air-tight case for governance by a plurality of Elders. However, it is important to realize that even if this is not the case we can still determine whether or not women should be appointed to positions of senior governmental authority.

When seeking to determine whether women should be elevated to a certain office in the local church, one should be less concerned with the title (whether “Elder” or “Bishop” or “Deacon” or “Pastor”) and more with the actual functional authority that each church/denomination invests in that position (which isn’t to say that being careful in our use of biblical terms is unimportant).

So today we will examine 10 things you should know about whether or not women should be Elders in the local church.

(1) We should first take note of the consistent portrayal in the NT of local churches being governed or led by Elders. Among these many texts we would include Acts 11:29-30; Acts 14:23; Acts 15:1-6; Acts 15:22-23; Acts 16:4; Acts 20:17; Acts 21:17-18; 1 Timothy 4:14; 1 Timothy 5:17; 1 Timothy 5:19; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1; and 1 Peter 5:5. I don’t find any indication that a local church was to be governed by a single elder or pastor. The consistent NT witness is that each church was under the oversight of a plurality of elders/bishops.

(2) The English word “elder” is the translation of the Greek presbuteros, from which we get “Presbyter” and “Presbyterian”. Our English word “bishop” comes from the Greek episkopos, from which we get the word “Episcopal” and “Episcopalian”. “Elder” and “Bishop” are interchangeable in the New Testament. What I mean is that they are two different words that describe the same office or authoritative function. “Elder” focuses on the dignity and gravity of the person who serves while “Bishop” focuses on the practical function of the office (literally, one who exercises oversight).

Why do I believe they are interchangeable? First, according to Acts 20:17 Paul called for the elders of the church to come to him. But later in v. 28, in referring to these same elders, he says that God has made them overseers (ESV) or bishops in the church. Second, Paul left Titus in Crete to appoint elders in every town (Titus 1:5). When Paul then turns to list the qualifications for this office he says, “For an overseer (i.e., bishop or episkopon) . . . must be above approach,” etc. Clearly these two terms refer to the same office.

Third, “in 1 Timothy 3:1 Paul says, ‘If any one aspires to the office of bishop/overseer, he desires a noble task.’ Then he gives the qualifications for the overseer/bishop in verses 2-7. Unlike the deacons, the overseer must be ‘able to teach’ (v. 2), and in v. 5 he is said to be one whose management of his own household fits him to care for God’s church. These two functions are ascribed to elders in the fifth chapter of this same book (1 Timothy 5:17) – teaching and governing. So it is very likely that in Paul’s mind the bishops/overseers of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 are the same as the elders of 5:17” (John Piper).

Fourth, 1 Timothy 3:1-13 clearly indicates that there are two primary offices in the NT: Elder and Deacon. Yet in Philippians 1:1 Paul directs his epistle “to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers (episkopoi) and deacons.” Since Paul’s practice was to appoint elders in every church (Acts 14:23) it seems reasonable that the overseers/bishops in Philippians 1:1 is a reference to the elders in that city.

The Greek word (poimen) translated “pastor” is used only once in the NT in Ephesians 4:11. The related verb form (poimaino) has the meaning “to shepherd” or “to feed” with the idea of nurturing and sustaining the flock of God. When I put together Ephesians 4:11, 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:9, Acts 20:28, and 1 Peter 5:1-2, it would appear reasonable to conclude that all elders exercised pastoral responsibilities.

My conclusion is that the local church is to be governed by a plurality of individuals who are described in the New Testament as elders, insofar as they hold an office of great dignity and importance (perhaps even with an allusion to age or at least spiritual maturity), or bishops, insofar as they exercise oversight of the body of Christ, or pastors, insofar as they spiritually feed, care for, and exercise guardianship over the flock of God.

(3) There are several reasons why I believe that this ruling or governmental office is restricted to men. First, I appeal to the NT two-fold description of the function of elders. (a) They are those who govern or rule the church (1 Tim. 3:4-5; 5:17; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2; 1 Thess. 5:12; Heb. 13:17). (b) They are those who are primarily responsible for teaching the body of Christ (Eph. 4:11 [assuming the words “pastor” and “teacher” refer to one function or office of “pastor-teacher”; the best grammatical analysis would indicate this is true]; 1 Tim. 3:2; 5:17; Titus 1:9). Since I believe that Paul in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 restricted teaching and exercising authority to men, it follows that the office of Elder or Bishop is restricted to men.

(4) A second reason looks to the qualifications for the office of Elder that are found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. An Elder must be “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2 and Titus 1:6; need I say more?). Note also that an elder “must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:4-5).

(5) There is no reference anywhere in the New Testament to a female elder. You may wish to object by pointing out that this is an argument from silence. Yes, it is. But it is a deafening silence, especially when taken in conjunction with the two previous points. The bottom line is that we simply have no biblical precedent for female elders nor anything in the text that describes their nature, function, and qualifications that would lead us to believe that this could ever be a possibility.

I agree that women can serve as deacons (1 Tim. 3:8-13; Rom. 16:1-2; although this is disputed by others), that they can assist and support, as “co-workers”, someone such as the apostle Paul (Phil. 4:2-3), that they can evangelize, and that they can possess and exercise in biblically appropriate ways every spiritual gift (except that of “apostle,” although I’m not persuaded “apostleship” is a spiritual gift). I believe that women can serve and minister in virtually every capacity aside from what I have called “senior governmental authority”.

(6) Some egalitarians have argued that since Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3) were “co-workers” with Paul, women were in positions of leadership and should thus be considered as viable candidates for the office of Elder. But the Greek word sunergos (“co-worker” or “fellow-worker”) is used of numerous individuals (e.g., Rom. 16:9; Phil. 2:25; Col. 4:10-11; Philemon 24; etc.), as well as anyone who supports traveling missionaries (3 John 8). But this in no way implies that such people exercised ruling authority in the local church. Whereas all Elders would certainly qualify as “co-workers,” not all “co-workers” would qualify as Elders. Their “work” in support of the gospel, whether as those who provide financial aid, or those who evangelize, or those who intercede in prayer, or those who serve in any number of capacities, does not in and of itself indicate they were invested with governmental authority or were even qualified to serve in such a capacity (cf. Rom. 16:1-2). Continue reading

The Bible Tells Me So

almost-littlecatArticle: For the Bible Tells Me So: Biblical Authority Denied … Again by Dr. Al Mohler – Original source here

“Jesus loves me — this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” This is a childish error?

Evangelical Christianity has a big problem, says Andy Stanley, and that problem is a reliance on the Bible that is both unwarranted and unhelpful. In a recent message delivered at North Point Community Church and posted online, Stanley identifies the evangelical impulse to turn to the Bible in our defense and presentation of Christianity as a huge blunder that must be corrected.

Some years ago, in light of another message Stanley preached at North Point, I argued that his apologetic ambition was, as we saw with Protestant liberalism a century ago, a road that will lead to disaster. No doubt, many Christians might be surprised to see an apologetic ambition identified as an entry point for theological liberalism, but this has held constant since Friedrich Schleiermacher, the father of modern theological liberalism, issued his book, On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers in 1799.
In the wake of the Enlightenment, Schleiermacher understood that the intellectual elites in Germany were already turning a skeptical eye to Christianity, if not dismissing it altogether. The Enlightenment worldview was hostile to supernatural claims, suspicious of any claims to absolute truth beyond empirical science, and dismissive of any verbal form of divine revelation. Continue reading

The Love of God in 4D

Text: Ephesians 3:14-19

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians here reveals the central passion of the Apostle for the people – that they may be strengthened by a deep, abiding comprehension of the love of Christ for them. Once convinced of this reality, every Christian will be a forever changed person.

The Action of Seeking

seeking-godArticle: Good Intentions Gone Bad by R.C. Sproul (original source here)

The adage tells us that there is a destination, the road to which is paved with good intentions. It is the destination that we would prefer not to reach. Good intentions can have disastrous results and consequences. When we look at the revolution of worship in America today, I see a dangerous road that is built with such intentions. The good purposes that have transformed worship in America have as their goal to reach a lost world—a world that is marked by baby boomers and Generation Xers who have in many ways rejected traditional forms and styles of worship. Many have found the life of the church to be irrelevant and boring, and so an effort to meet the needs of these people has driven some radical changes in how we worship God.

Perhaps the most evident model developed over the last half century is that model defined as the “seeker-sensitive model.” Seekers are defined as those people who are unbelievers and are outside of the church but who are searching for meaning and significance to their lives. The good intention of reaching such people with evangelistic techniques that include the reshaping of Sunday morning worship fails to understand some significant truths set forth in Scripture.

In Romans 3, Paul makes abundantly clear that unconverted people do not seek after God. Thomas Aquinas understood this and maintained that to the naked eye it may seem that unbelievers are searching for God or seeking for the kingdom of God, while they are in fact fleeing from God with all of their might. What Aquinas observed was that people who are unconverted seek the “benefits” that only God can give them, such as ultimate meaning and purpose in their lives, relief from guilt, the presence of joy and happiness, and things of this nature. These are benefits the Christian recognizes can only come through a vital, saving relationship with Christ. The gratuitous leap of logic comes when church leaders think that because people are searching for benefits only God can give them, they must therefore be searching after God. No, they want the benefits without the Giver of the benefits. And so structuring worship to accommodate unbelievers is misguided because these unbelievers are not seeking after God. Seeking after God begins at conversion, and if we are to structure our worship with a view to seekers, then we must structure it for believers, since only believers are seekers.

When we look at the early church, we see that the Christians of the first century gathered on the Lord’s day, devoting themselves to the study of the apostles’ doctrine, to fellowship, to prayer, and to the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42). This was not an assembly of unbelievers. It was an assembling together of believers. Of course, as our Lord warned, there are always present among believers people who have made false professions of faith. There are always the tares that grow alongside of the wheat (Matt. 13:36-43). But one does not structure the church to meet the felt needs and desires of the tares. The purpose of corporate assembly, which has its roots in the Old Testament, is for the people of God to come together corporately to offer their sacrifices of praise and worship to God. So the first rule of worship is that it be designed for believers to worship God in a way that pleases God.

The Old Testament has manifold examples of His severe displeasure that was provoked when the people decided to structure worship according to what they wanted rather than to that which God commanded. Perhaps the most vivid illustration of that is found in Leviticus 10, in the narrative account of the sudden execution of the sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, for their attempts at offering strange fire upon the altar. These young priests “experimented” in a manner that was displeasing to God, and God’s response that He spoke to Aaron through Moses was this: “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified” (Lev. 10:3). Corporate worship is not the place to celebrate the profane or the secular. It may be more attractive to Generation Xers to turn Sunday morning worship into an imitation of Starbucks, but it hardly can be thought to be pleasing to God.

Another erroneous assumption made in the attempt to restructure the nature of worship is that the modern generation has been so changed by cultural and contextual influences—such as the impact of the electronic age upon their lives—that they are no longer susceptible to traditional attempts of being reached by expository preaching. Early in the twentieth century, the liberal preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick pointed out that people were no longer interested in coming to church to hear what some apostle or prophet wrote a couple thousand years ago. Such words and messages were completely irrelevant according to Fosdick, and so the focus of preaching has moved in many cases away from an exposition of the Word of God. We assume this alteration is necessary if we’re to reach the people who have been trapped within the changes of our current culture. The erroneous assumption is that in the last fifty years, the constituent nature of humanity has changed, as if the heart can no longer be reached via the mind. It also assumes that the power of the Word of God has lost its potency, so that we must look elsewhere if we are to find powerful and moving experiences of worship in our church. Though the intentions may be marvelous, the results, I believe, are and will continue to be catastrophic.

Eschatology – The Big Picture

Eschatology – the study of last things, is a subject that has divided Bible believers throughout the centuries. Sadly, respect and maturity in handling these differences are not the normal experience in Christian circles. So, when it comes to what the Bible teaches, there is a great amount of information that is both clear and certain. This is our starting point in this important series.