Category Archives: Ecclesiology

Justified by Grace to Serve Not to Judge

It is the struggle of natural human beings for self-justification. They find it only by comparing themselves with others, by condemning and judging others.  Self-justification and judging belong together in the same way that justification by grace and serving belong together….

serve

It is certain that the spirit of self-justification can only be overcome by the spirit of grace… It must be a decisive rule of all Christian community life that each individual is prohibited from talking about another Christian…

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12)

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)

Where this discipline of the tongue is practiced right from the start, individuals will make an amazing discovery. They will be able to stop constantly keeping an eye on others, judging them, condemning them, and putting them in their places and thus doing violence to them. They can now allow other Christians to live freely, just as God has brought them face to face with each other. The view of such persons expands and, to their amazement, they recognize for the first time the richness of God’s creative glory shining over their brothers and sisters. God did not make others as I would have made them. God did not give them to me so that I could dominate and control them, but so that I might find the Creator by means of them. Now other people, in the freedom with which they were created, become an occasion for me to rejoice, whereas before they were only a nuisance and trouble for me. God does not want me to mold others into the image that seems good to me, that is, into my own image. Instead, in their freedom from me God made other people in God’s own image. I can never know in advance how God’s image should appear in others. That image always takes on a completely new and unique form whose origin is found solely in God’s free and sovereign act of creation. To me that form may seem strange, even ungodly. But God creates every person in the image of God’s Son, the Crucified, and this image, likewise, certainly looked strange and ungodly to me before I grasped it.

Strong and weak, wise or foolish, talented or untalented, pious or less pious, the complete diversity of individuals in the community is no longer a reason to talk and judge and condemn, and therefore no longer a pretext for self-justification. Rather this diversity is a reason for rejoicing in one another and serving one another. Even in this new situation all the members of the community are given their special place; this is no longer the place, however, in which they can most successfully promote themselves, but the place where they can best carry out their service. In a Christian community, everything depends on whether each individual is an indispensable link in a chain. The chain is unbreakable only when even the smallest link holds tightly with the others. A community, which permits within itself members who do nothing, will be destroyed by them. Thus it is a good idea that all members receive a definite task to perform for the community, so that they may know in times of doubt that they too are not useless and incapable of doing anything. Every Christian community must know that not only do the weak need the strong, but also that the strong cannot exist without the weak.  The elimination of the weak is the death of the community.

The Christian community should not be governed by self-justification, which violates others, but by justification by grace, which serves others.  Once individuals have experienced the mercy of God in their lives, from then on they desire only to serve.

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-45), Life Together, 94-6.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Applied Theology, Character, Christian Living, Christian Thinking, Christology, Commentary, Ecclesiology, God, Gospel, Grace, Justification, Theology

Law and Grace in Giving

offering-plate

I have mixed feelings on tithing. I detest legalism. I certainly don’t want to pour new wine into old wineskins, imposing superseded first covenant restrictions on Christians. However, the fact is that every New Testament example of giving goes beyond the tithe. This means that none falls short of it. The strongest arguments made against tithing today are “law versus grace.” But does being under grace mean we should stop doing all that was done under the law?

I’m a strong believer in the new covenant’s superiority over the old (Romans 7; 2 Corinthians 3; Hebrews 8). On the other hand, I believe there’s ongoing value to certain aspects of the old covenant. The model of paying back to God the firstfruits (tithing) and giving freewill offerings beyond that is among those. Because we are never told that tithing has been superseded, and because Jesus directly affirmed it (Matthew 23:23) and prominent church fathers taught it as a requirement for Christian living, it seems to me the burden of proof falls on those who say tithing is no longer a minimum standard for God’s people. The question is not whether tithing is the whole of Christian giving or even at the center of it. Clearly it is not. Many people associate the command to tithe with the command to keep the Sabbath. New Testament Christians are not obligated to keep the Sabbath with all its legislated rules under the Mosaic covenant (Colossians 2:16). However, a weekly day of rest based on God’s pattern of creation was instituted before the Law (Genesis 2:2-3). It’s a principle never revoked in the New Testament. The special day of observance changed to Sunday, “the Lord’s day,” yet the principle of one special day set aside for worship remained intact.

Christ fulfilled the entire Old Testament, but he didn’t render it irrelevant. Old Testament legislation demonstrated how to love my neighbor. Although the specific regulations don’t all apply, the principles certainly do, and many of the guidelines are still as helpful as ever. Consider the command to build a roof with a parapet to protect people from falling off (Deuteronomy 22:8). When it comes to the Old Testament, we must be careful not to throw out the baby (ongoing principles intended for everyone) with the bathwater (detailed regulations intended only for ancient Israel).

We don’t offer sacrifices anymore, so why should we tithe? Because sacrifices are specifically rescinded in the New Testament. As the book of Hebrews demonstrates, Christ has rendered inoperative the whole sacrificial system. But where in the New Testament does it indicate that tithing is no longer valid? There is no such passage. With a single statement, God could have easily singled out tithing like he did sacrifices and the Sabbath. But he didn’t.

Some argue against tithing by saying, “The New Testament advocates voluntary offerings.” Yes, but as we’ve seen, so does the Old Testament. Voluntary giving is not a new concept. Having a minimum standard of giving has never been incompatible with giving above and beyond that standard. If both mandatory and voluntary giving coexisted under the old covenant, why not the new? It’s not a matter of either tithing or voluntary offering. The two have always been fully compatible.

The disciples gave all that they had because “much grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33). It was obvious from the beginning that being under grace didn’t mean that New Testament Christians would give less than their Old Testament brethren. On the contrary, it meant they would give more.

Being under grace does not mean living by lower standards than the law. Christ systematically addressed such issues as murder, adultery, and the taking of oaths and made it clear that his standards were much higher than those of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:17-48). He never lowered the bar. He always raised it. But he also empowers us by his grace to jump higher than the law demanded.

Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity, Chapter 12.

Leave a comment

Filed under Applied Theology, Bible, Christian Living, Christian Thinking, Ecclesiology, God, Gospel, Grace, Law, Obedience, Theology, Worship

Scripture-Speaking Saints

Imagine this with me:

It’s Sunday morning.  You walk into the sanctuary and are greeted by a friend and fellow church member with these words: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus, who has blessed us  in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…” (Eh. 1:3).  You struggle to smile, perplexed about your friend’s greeting, and walk away quickly.  Another person approaches and says, “I am sure of this, that he who began a work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). Ok, now things seem to be getting weird.  You think that maybe you missed something.  Maybe an encouragement from the pastor to begin memorizing Scripture and people are walking up to you trying to practice.  Or, maybe there was something you missed in the Sunday School lesson.  Still confused, you hurry to your seat. Then a third person walks up just before the music begins and, shaking your hand, proclaims, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).  That’s it!  You ask uncomfortably, “What’s going on here?  Why is everyone speaking Scripture to me?”  With that, everyone just turns and looks at you equally confused, and one answers, “Well, we love you, what better could we say?”

While clearly hypothetical, how would you respond?  What would you think?  If that scenario sounds strange, why?

While the scenario above may sound strange, the biblical precedent for such behavior is bountiful.  The Bible has much to say concerning our communication in general, and, in particular, it has much to say about believers’ speech to one another.  We are called to “exhort one another daily” (Heb. 3:14), to only speak that which “is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29), to always speak words that are “gracious, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6), to be “speaking truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), to always be “giving thanks” (Eph. 5:4, 20), and much more.  On the negative side, we are commanded “to speak evil of no one” and “to avoid quarreling” (Titus 3:2), to have “no corrupting talk come out” of our mouths (Eph. 4:29), to have “no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking” among the saints (Eph. 5:4), to not speak of “the unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph. 5:11-12), and to put away all “slander, and obscene talk” and lying (Col. 3:8-9), and so much more.

So, we see what the character of our speech to one another (truthful, gracious, loving, edifying, etc.) is, but what is the content of our speech to be that it may meet such characteristics?  Colossians 3:16-17 sums up well:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Paul is telling the believers (the church) at Colossae that the content of their speech is to be the word of Christ, the Word of God.  They (we) are to be speaking Scripture to one another and in doing so they (we) will be teaching and admonishing one another.  This is the natural result of the word of Christ dwelling in us richly.  This is the whole principle of G.I.G.O from a biblical perspective.  The bible says that because there is garbage in us (our sinful hearts), garbage comes out (Matt. 12:33-37, 15:18-20).  In other words, the fruit reveals the root.  But through our union with Christ in salvation through faith, we are given new hearts and made clean and now as God’s Word goes into our hearts, we will have a well to draw from that God’s Word may pour out in our speech (Prov. 4:23).

Speaking Scripture to one another makes sense when we understand our great need for the Word.  It is by the Word that we are born again (1 Peter 1:23), that we come to faith (Rom. 10:17), that we are sanctified (John 17:17), that we mature in the faith (Col. 1:28), that we are taught, reproved, corrected, trained in righteousness, and equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17), that we abide in Christ and he in us until the end (John 8:31), that we come to know God, his will, and the gospel (Heb. 1:1-4; 2 Peter 1), and on and on.  We need the Word of God from beginning to end.

Not only does speaking Scripture to one another make sense because of our need for the Word, but even more so when we understand the nature of the Word.  Just consider Psalm 19:7-11:

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

God’s word, from Genesis to Revelation, is perfect, sure, right, clean, true and righteous, more desirable than gold (or iPhones and iPads), sweeter than honey (or Starbucks), and protective.  It is able to revive the soul, make wise the simple, rejoice the heart, enlighten the eyes, endure, warn, and reward.  Why would you want to speak anything else to someone you’ve been united together to in Christ?  What could be more loving than to speak that which we all need most?

In his classic work,  Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer connects the Christian’s need for the Word, the nature of the Word, and Christians need for one another.  After establishing the Christian community (the church gathered) as a community solely through and in Jesus Christ, formed by him and for him, he writes:

Christians live entirely by the truth of God’s Word in Jesus Christ.  If they are asked “where is your salvation, your blessedness, and your righteousness?,” they can never point to themselves. Instead, they point to the Word of God in Jesus Christ that grants them salvation, blessedness, and righteousness.  They watch for this Word wherever they can.  Because they daily hunger and thirst for righteousness, they long for the redeeming Word again and again.  It can only come from the outside.  In themselves they are destitute and dead. Help must come from the outside; and it has come and comes daily and anew in the Word of Jesus Christ, bringing us redemption, righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. But God put this Word into the mouth of human beings so that it may be passed on to others. When people are deeply affected by the Word, they tell it to other people.  God has willed that we should seek and find God’s living Word in the testimony of other Christians, in the mouths of human beings.  Therefore, Christians need other Christians who speak God’s word to them.  They need them again and again when they become uncertain and disheartened because, living by their own resources, they cannot help themselves without cheating themselves out of the truth.  They need other Christians as bearers and proclaimers of the divine word of salvation.  They need them solely for the sake of Jesus Christ…. [The] goal of all Christian community is to encounter one another as bringers of the message of salvation. (32, italics mine)

We need Christ.  We need the Word. We need one another.  Christ has come.  He has given us his Word.  He has united us together in fellowship around the Word.  We partake of that community when we begin to bring God’s Word to each other in word and in deed.  All who are in Christ are “bearers and proclaimers of the divine word of salvation” – we are either rightly bearing and proclaiming the divine word or misrepresenting it in our words and walk.  The weight of the matter is this: “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matt. 12:36).  Our words matter for eternity and, by the grace of God, we can speak as Christ spoke, “the words that the Father had given him.”

  • What would it look like if Christians began to speak Scripture to one another?
  • What hindrances keep you from speaking Scripture to others?
  • What would change in the Christian community if we began to think and speak according to Scripture?
  • What are the benefits that would come from speaking Scripture to one another?
  • Would you say God is pleased with and glorified by your speech now?

Remember: We all fail when it comes to our speech (James 3:1-12), but there was One whose tongue uttered no error, no evil, nor enmity and it is He who came to live, die, and be raised in our place that the sins of our mouth and heart would be paid for and our tongues cleansed to go from speaking curses to praises forevermore.  Repent and praise him!

Leave a comment

Filed under Applied Theology, Bible, Christian Living, Christian Thinking, Church Membership, Dependence, Ecclesiology, God, Gospel, Sanctification, Theology, Unity, Worldview

The Wild Boar Who Turned the World Upside Down

Nearly five hundred years ago Pope Leo X issued a papal bull, calling for a single monk to recant of his writings or face excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church, which was essentially a threat of eternal condemnation.  The opening words of this bulla entitled Exsurge Domine read, “Arise, O Lord, and judge Your cause.  A wild boar has invaded Your vineyard.”  Upon its arrival in Wittenburg, Germany, this same monk announced that he would publicly burn the pope’s bull. Following through on December 10, 1520 before a crowd of his students and citizens of the city, he ignited a fire of reform that set the whole empire ablaze.

The monk was Martin Luther and this was not his first encounter with controversy nor would it be his last.  With the nailing of his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg on October 31, 1517, as was customary of those seeking debate, Luther sparked what is now called the Protestant Reformation.  Initially desiring only to debate the validity of indulgences (a certificate of pardon issued by the papacy, transferring the merits of saints to sinners in Purgatory, releasing them from temporal penalties and hastening their souls to heaven), not to separate from the Roman Catholic Church, the German monk had no idea what he would soon be involved in or the lasting influence and effects that his actions would have on us today.  Much could be and has been written concerning the historical events that surround this wild boar and the birth of the Reformation but our focus will be upon the fruit, which sprang up with Luther and came to maturity with the formation of Protestant theology.  In other words, what did Luther, as well as others before and after him, recover that is the bedrock of our faith today?

The Primacy of Scripture 

For over a thousand years before Luther, the Roman Catholic Church was considered the final authority on all things concerning life and godliness, including the interpretation of Scripture.  Only the Catholic Church could say what the Word of God said and how it was to be understood and applied.  Popes, councils, theological tradition, and the history of the Church as recorded by its officials were seen and upheld as infallible, authoritative, and untouchable.  Further control by the Church was made possible as the only official copies of the Scriptures were in Latin, as well as in Greek and Hebrew, leaving the vast majority of people without the ability to even read the Word of God for themselves.

Martin Luther, following in the footsteps of others before him (John Wycliffe and John Hus), sought to recover the primacy of Scripture.  This emphasis can be seen in several events of Luther’s life.  Under God’s providential hand he became professor of Biblical Studies at Wittenburg (1512), which forced him into the Word, lecturing on the Psalms, Romans, Galatians and Hebrews for the next several years.  Not only was he a professor but he became the pastor of the Castle Church (1514), preaching several times a week, furthering his exposure to the Scriptures.  The more he studied and meditated upon the Word the more his soul was vexed.  In 1517 he posted two sets of theses on the door of the Castle Church.  The first, the 97 Theses against Scholastic Theology, received little attention.  Then, in response to the selling and abuses of indulgences, Martin Luther posted the well-known 95 Theses on the church door on October 31, 1517.  The basis of his theses was the Word of God.  A few are as follows:

1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” [Matt. 4:17], He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

27. There is no divine authority for preaching that the soul flies out of the purgatory immediately the money clinks in the bottom of the chest.

35. It is not in accordance with Christian doctrines to preach and teach that those who buy off souls, or purchase confessional licenses, have no need to repent of their own sins.

53. Those are enemies of Christ and the pope who forbid the word of God to be preached at all in some churches, in order that indulgences may be preached in others.

54. The word of God suffers injury if, in the same sermon, an equal or longer time is devoted to indulgences than to that word.

Especially in the debates that followed, Luther stood firm, amazing his opponents with his knowledge of and use of the Word of God.

The next event that highlighted Luther’s recovery of the primacy of the Scriptures is his summons and hearing at the Diet of Worms in 1521.  Standing before the Holy Roman emperor, Charles V, several Catholic officials, princes, and fellow Germans, Martin Luther was asked to recant of his writings or face condemnation as a heretic, subsequently placing a bounty on his head.  The next day, April 18, Luther gave his response founded upon the authority of the Scriptures.  He said:

Unless I am refuted and convicted by testimonies of Scripture or by clear reason – since I believe neither the popes nor the councils themselves, for it is clear that they have often erred and contradicted themselves – I am conquered by the holy Scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  I cannot and will not withdraw anything, since it is neither safe nor right to do anything against one’s conscience.  Here I stand. God help me. Amen.

Already excommunicated, Luther would now be condemned as a heretic before the diet and become and outlaw.

After leaving Worms, Fredrick the Wise, Luther’s prince, ushered him away to the Wartburg castle in Eisenbach for 11 months to protect him.  There he completed his German translation of the New Testament (1522) and in 1534, he would go on to finish translating the whole Bible into the language of the people, furthering the emphasis of the primacy of Scripture.  This principle of the ultimate authority of the Word alone, Sola Scriptura, became the battle cry of the Protestant Reformation and all their theological heirs.  While not ignoring the importance of doctrinal writings and biblical commentaries, the Reformation solely elevated the Word of God to the highest position, judging all other sources.  All who can open up a Bible and read the Word or hear a sermon in their language are indebted to this wild boar.

Justification by Faith Alone through Grace Alone in Christ Alone

Flowing out of Luther’s emphasis on the primacy of Scripture is the recovery of the gospel from the traditions and rites of the Catholic Church.  From the beginning of his monkery, Martin Luther was haunted by the righteousness of God.  He saw this righteousness as that active righteousness by which God brings justice and wrath upon sinners.  But through his study of the Scripture and with the help of his friend, Philip Melanchthon, he began to understand how it was that a sinful man could be made right before a holy God.  His focus was on Romans 1:17: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”  In 1519, Luther had his famous “tower experience” while studying this verse.  This is what he wrote of that experience:

I hated that word, “justice of God,” which, by the use and custom of all my teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically as referring to formal or active justice, as they call it, i.e., that justice by which God is just and by which he punishes sinners and the unjust.

But I, blameless monk that I was, felt that before God I was a sinner with an extremely troubled conscience. I couldn’t be sure that God was appeased by my satisfaction. I did not love, no, rather I hated the just God who punishes sinners. In silence, if I did not blaspheme, then certainly I grumbled vehemently and got angry at God. I said, “Isn’t it enough that we miserable sinners, lost for all eternity because of original sin, are oppressed by every kind of calamity through the Ten Commandments? Why does God heap sorrow upon sorrow through the Gospel and through the Gospel threaten us with his justice and his wrath?” This was how I was raging with wild and disturbed conscience. I constantly badgered St. Paul about that spot in Romans 1 and anxiously wanted to know what he meant.

I meditated night and day on those words until at last, by the mercy of God, I paid attention to their context: “The justice of God is revealed in it, as it is written: ‘The just person lives by faith.'” I began to understand that in this verse the justice of God is that by which the just person lives by a gift of God, that is by faith. I began to understand that this verse means that the justice of God is revealed through the Gospel, but it is a passive justice, i.e. that by which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written: “The just person lives by faith.” All at once I felt that I had been born again and entered into paradise itself through open gates. Immediately I saw the whole of Scripture in a different light. I ran through the Scriptures from memory and found that other terms had analogous meanings, e.g., the work of God, that is, what God works in us; the power of God, by which he makes us powerful; the wisdom of God, by which he makes us wise; the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God.

Luther rediscovered the Gospel that had been covered for so long by the commandments of men.  He saw in the Scripture that sinful man is made right (just) before God not on the basis of man’s work but only on the basis of Christ’s work in the atonement.  Our righteousness before God is an alien righteousness, being that is not our own but Christ’s, and we are partakers of His righteousness by faith alone, not by any work or merit.  All this comes to us only by the grace of God.  Hence, the other slogans of the Protestant Reformation became Sola Fide (faith alone), Sola Gratia (grace alone), and Sola Christus (Christ alone), summarizing the glorious gospel of God.

Theology of Vocation

In 1525 Luther abandoned his monastic life and married a former nun, Katherine Von Bora.  No longer a monk, how could Luther serve God as well as he did before?  This question arises from the common thought imbedded in the formation of the Catholic hierarchy in Rome.  The thought was that you could become holier and serve God better as a monk or Church official than you could as a husband, a wife, a miner, or anything else common to man.  The concept of vocatio (vocation), a calling from God to serve Him, was seen as exclusive to those dedicated to the work of the Church.  Luther, with his emphasis on the primacy of the Scriptures and a renewed understanding of the Gospel declared that all saints (believers) of all professions and roles have a calling. This calling was to glorify God in all that you do (1 Corinthians 10:31).  This last cry of the Protestant Reformation, seen here in Luther, is Soli Deo Gloria (the glory of God alone).

We have much to thank Martin Luther for.  To ignore his accomplishments and the accomplishments of other Reformers like him, for whatever the reason, is not merely to refuse to recognize the work of men, but it is a refusal to acknowledge the hand of God faithfully at work, keeping, building, and strengthening His people, the church.  And while we rightly honor the men  God used to recover the Scriptures and the Gospel itself, we must not neglect honoring God for his faithfulness.  Luther sets for us an example as he seeks glory not for himself but for God and His Word, declaring, “I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing.  And while I slept…the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such loses upon it.  I did nothing; the Word did everything.”

Soli Deo Gloria & Happy Reformation Day!

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible, Church History, Ecclesiology, God, Gospel, Reformation, Romans, Soteriology, Theology

The Thermopylae of Christendom

Charles Spurgeon became pastor of Park Street Chapel in London before he was 20. His following grew to be so substantial that the 6000-seat Metropolitan Tabernacle was built for his preaching ministry. There he served from 1861 to 1891. He was three years into his seven-year pastorate at Park Street when he spoke the following words from “The Poor Have the Gospel Preached to Them.”  By that time, the crowds were so great that he was forced into larger venues—in this case the music hall at Royal Surrey Gardens.

Spurgeon compares the pulpit to Thermopylae, the narrow pass where 300 Spartan warriors stood their ground unto death against a force of 200,000 Persians. Though all these Spartan lives were lost, they purchased precious time for their Greek allies to prepare for ultimate victory. Similarly, the pulpit may seem small, but it can make the critical difference in rescuing a people from ruin.

By “dignity,” Spurgeon meant the high status and fruitfulness of the pulpit, not stuffiness. Indeed, he was criticized for his plain, accessible speech. But he defended clarity and color as necessary for communicating the gospel:1

The pulpit has become dishonored; it is esteemed as being of very little worth and of no esteem. Ah! we must always maintain the dignity of the pulpit. I hold that it is the Thermopylae of Christendom; it is here that the battle must be fought between right and wrong; not so much with the pen, valuable as that is as an assistant, as with the living voice of earnest men, “contending earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints.” In some churches the pulpit is put away; there is a prominent altar, but the pulpit is omitted. Now, the most prominent thing under the gospel dispensation is not the altar, which belonged to the Jewish dispensation, but the pulpit. “We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle;” that altar is Christ; but Christ has been pleased to exalt “the foolishness of preaching” to the most prominent position in his house of prayer. We must take heed that we always maintain preaching. It is this that God will bless; it is this that he has promised to crown with success. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” We must not expect to see great changes nor any great progress of the gospel, until there is greater esteem for the pulpit—more said of it and thought of it. “Well,” some may reply, “you speak of the dignity of the pulpit; I take it, you lower it yourself, sir, by speaking in such a style to your hearers.” Ah! no doubt you think so. Some pulpits die of dignity. I take it, the greatest dignity in the world is the dignity of converts—that the glory of the pulpit is, if I may use such a metaphor, to have captives at its chariot-wheels, to see converts following it, and where there are such, and those from the very worst of men; there is a dignity in the pulpit beyond any dignity which a fine mouthing of words and a grand selection of fantastic language could ever give to it.  “The poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matthew 11:5). 2

Cited from a Karios Journal article.

2 “Preaching for the Poor,” in Spurgeon’s Sermons, 2nd ed. (New York: Sheldon & Company, 1861), 157-158. Preached January 25, 1857, on Matthew 11:5.

1 Comment

Filed under Applied Theology, Bible, Christian Thinking, Church History, Ecclesiology, Gospel, Preaching, Theology, Worldview

To Which City Does Your Heart Belong: Of God or Of Man?

Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, “Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of mine head” (Psalm 3:3).  In the one, the princes and the nations it subdues are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love, the latter obeying, while the former take thought for all. The one delights in its own strength, represented in the persons of its rulers; the other says to its God, “I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength” (Psalm 18:1). And therefore the wise men of the one city, living according to man, have sought for profit to their own bodies or souls, or both, and those who have known God “glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened; professing themselves to be wise,”—that is, glorying in their own wisdom, and being possessed by pride,—“they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.” For they were either leaders or followers of the people in adoring images, “and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever” (Romans 1:21-25). But in the other city there is no human wisdom, but only godliness, which offers due worship to the true God, and looks for its reward in the society of the saints, of holy angels as well as holy men, “that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).

Augustine (354-430), The City of God, Book XIV, 28.

Leave a comment

Filed under Anthropology, Bible, Christian Thinking, Church History, Classics, Early Church Fathers, Ecclesiology, God, Soteriology, Theology, Worldview, Worship

O Unity, Where Art Thou?

Game 5 of the first round of the 2012 NBA playoffs: the Memphis Grizzlies (1) down two wins against the L.A. Clippers (3).  The fourth quarter was the typical anxiety attack for Griz fans as the strong lead from the half seemingly faded into oblivion.  Looking around the arena all you could see was white and gold, as nearly all the attendees donned white shirts in support of their home team (Memphis) and waved golden towels in the air.  This was the last chance of the season for the Memphis team and everyone there knew it.  With only a few minutes left, the crowd stood to its feet with hopes of mystically strengthening the players. As the buzzer sounded the place erupted in adulation.  The underdog had pulled out another victory.  Strangers were high-fiving, hugging, and pouring out praise for the Grizzlies to one another in celebration.  It was as if we were all one big family, united in joy, victory, and hope for the future.

For Christians, unity seems illusive.  Well, when it comes to unity within the church it does.  Why is that?  Why is it that thousands of people who have never met and may never meet again can be so unified at a sporting event, a political convention, or even at an Occupy demonstration, while Christians can’t seem to find unity with a few?

I think the answer lies in this: there is a worldly unity which is radically different from the unity the church is called to in Christ.  You see, worldly unity is centered on self, more particularly on your own self.  When thousands of people gather in a unified manner, whatever the occasion (sports, politics, anarchy, etc.), they are seeking something for themselves.  Be it entertainment, empowerment, or a venue of personal expression, unity around worldly things is self-centered.  At the root, you are not unified for the sake of another but that you might gain something (validation, the sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself, vent frustration, fellowship with others of like interests, identity, and on and on).  This is radically different from Christian unity.

The unity that Christians are called to in Christ is other(s)-centered.  There’s the problem – why unity seems so illusive.  This type of true unity is not natural to us in our fallen state.  We are naturally self-centered, seeking good for ourselves, even when we are being philanthropic.  This explains the apparent ease of unity around worldly things – it comes naturally.  So there is a clash of desires when it comes to the church gathered – selfish desires vs the desire of others.  The church is not merely a gathering of people with similar backgrounds, likes, dislikes, status (economic or otherwise), ethnicity, and goals, or at least in shouldn’t be.  Rather, the church gathered should reflect the church universal – people from all tribes, tongues, peoples, and nations with different likes, dislikes, backgrounds, social and economic standing, ages, and the like, all called out and gathered together by the grace of God poured out into their hearts through Christ Jesus.  So there is naturally differences but differences within the church ought not to entail disunity but rather beautiful diversity.  It is not uniformity to preferences and non-doctrinal issues but a celebration of who God has made each individual in His image.  This unity in the midst of great diversity can and does exist when we are other(s)-centered as opposed to self-centered.

Philippians 2 addresses the issue of unity amongst diversity.  Paul begins with an encouragement towards unity, writing, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (v 1-2).  He is saying “if” these things are true of the Philippian believers (encouragement, love, participation of the Spirit, sympathy – all in Christ) then they will actively seek unity amongst diversity.  This is true of all Christians.  If we profess to know Christ, experience His encouragement, are comforted by God’s love, have been given the Spirit, and have affection and sympathy towards one another then we, personally and corporately, must pursue unity in the church.  To not seek unity denies the very essence of salvation, unity with Christ, as well as the Holy Spirit that indwells His own, and is therefore a great reason to examine one’s self in light of God’s word.  This applies to those who cause division in any church through any means as well.

Next, Paul moves from encouraging unity to commanding the other(s)-centeredness of unity in Christ (cf. Eph. 4:1f). “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (v 3-4). Worldly unity centers on self, whereas Christian unity centers on actively placing others before yourself.

How are we to pursue and maintain unity within the church?  Whether amongst the church gathered or about our daily work, Christians are called to die to self (Luke 9:23), to put to death the flesh (Col. 3:5) as well as its desires (Gal. 5:24).  Our only entitlement before God is His just wrath, so to demand or pursue something selfishly betrays your redeemer.  You are His.  You have been bought with a price – the blood of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 6:19-20) and you are therefore not your own. Why is unity illusive?  James 4:1-3 declares, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”

If we understand our right status before God is wholly due to the righteousness of another with no contribution of our own we will not be quick to promote self but will follow after Christ in His mission not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).  Sin is the great equalizer before God and one another for we all are either humbled or will be humbled before God.  We deserve nothing but wrath but been given all in Christ.  How can we who have been given all by another not consider others more important than ourself?  It is clear that unity is not found in self-centeredness but in an other(s)-centeredness, focusing on God in Christ first and secondly, those whom God has providentially placed in our lives through the church gathered.

Philippians 2 not only encourages us and gives us commands toward unity, lastly, Paul reveals the source of unity.  He writes:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (v 5-8).

Why can we pursue true unity?  How can we do that which is contrary to our fallen nature?  Paul tells us we are to “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”  What mind is that?  The mind of Christ revealed in the way He put His own before Himself, denying Himself the prerogative of divinity, took on flesh to be born like one of us so that He could humble Himself to the point of the crucifixion.  We can have this mind because we have been united to Christ through faith by His death and resurrection.  We can put to death our selfish flesh because we have died with Christ and risen to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6).  He is our Lord, our Savior, and our example.

From Christ’s example we come to understand that unity requires death and nothing less.  If we are to have unity in our churches we must die.  We must put to death the promotion of our preferences.  We must put to death our desire for self-exaltation.  We must put to death our desire for comfort.  We must put to death our desire to be seen, heard, commended, apologized to, served, and on and on.  Unity begins first with yourself.  Have the mind of Christ.  Follow his example in service and sacrifice.  Be willing to lay down your life and your desires for the brethren.

We ask “O Unity, where art thou in the midst of our churches?” but should be asking, “Why are we not willing to follow in our Lord’s way and die?”

Leave a comment

Filed under Applied Theology, Bible, Christian Living, Christian Thinking, Division, Ecclesiology, Philippians, Theology, Unity