Monday, June 18, 2007
I suppose I had better mention the rules for those whom I tag:
1. Those Tagged will share 5 things they dig about Jesus.
2. Those tagged will tag 5 other bloggers.
3. Those tagged will provide a link in the comments section here of their meme so that others can read them.
What I dig about Jesus is:
1. He is God incarnate!
2. He is Father!
3. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
4. He is eternal Saviour of my brethren and I, making us family!
5. He is due all honor and glory!
The more I read, and think about what is happening in the church scene, the more I'm convinced that we live in one of the most dangerous, if not the most dangerous times in the history of the church.
We have so much knowledge, so much scholarship, so much professionalism, that we have become proud, and the simple truths of the Gospel have been squashed under the weight of what we have decided that Christianity should be, and that according to our historical or cultural attachments.
On the one hand we see the authoritarian, and legalistic regimes in many churches, especially those claiming to hold to conservative Reformation orthodoxy, who lump together those they label as liberal, apostate, fallen, etc., even including those who hold to the same soteriology, but whose ecclesiology may slightly differ. In them we see a profession of belief in the great Solas of the Reformation, but their view of salvation by grace alone includes absolute obedience to, not only the laws of God, but obedience to the laws of the church, obeyed to the letter.
On the other hand, and I think, often in response to the forgoing, we have a situation which interprets "saved by grace alone" as "saved without any responsibility or accountability towards God or fellow believers". Cheap grace which has no value for the law as our signpost of what dishonors God.
Somehow in this, both views end up intimating, if not expressing, the view that there are, at least, two types of Christian;
1.The ordinary Christian, saved "by the skin of their teeth", most likely including you and I; and,
2. The "better" Christian, who by the appearance of their lives, their time consuming, life consuming busy activity, their frowning disapproval of things which offend their "piety", their application of themselves to obeying laws, their consistent "ministering" to what they perceive as the needs of others, look as if they are more worthy of God's special love.
What they don't seem to realize is that this is truly blasphemous, because it is, in reality, adding something to the finished work of Calvary, which they proclaim, but fail to understand.
As much as I would not attach this thought to a particular person, I have to wonder some times whether they really are Christians.
They seem to have embraced the Roman Catholic Theology of salvation which requires works of some sort or another, in addition to what Christ said was finished, which is, along with their magisterial idea of leadership, why I label what they practice as Neo-Catholicism. They are more Roman Catholic than Protestant.
Luther likened the R.C. theology of salvation to a pile of dung, which by baptism, becomes pure and undefiled snow, which can fall from grace and turn back into a pile of dung. So, to effect a cure, the Roman Church, has its, so-called, sacraments by which grace is again dispensed so that those who fall from grace, the born again dung, will again become snow.
Not a bad trick, but without the endorsement of God in His Word.
Much of the orthodox conservative Protestant church, which claims to be rooted in the Reformation, has retraced their steps to the heresy from which they were retrieved, where the Christian life has become a caricature of what the Scriptures teach, a never ending conveyor belt of the performance of satisfying legal requirements, which were satisfied in Christ, and trying through sheer effort of pretense, to be the snow, which Christ alone can be. How long before they start to introduce confession, penance and their appendages?
As much as they would strenuously deny the fact, they appear to believe that salvation comes about by us working our own righteousness and not Christ alone, or at least, us assisting Christ, our merit plus His.
This is Roman Catholicism by stealth, or if you like, gradualism. With this kind of thinking being produced in those who proudly place themselves in the order of the Reformers and their theology, why would we wonder at such men leaving Protestantism and embracing the heresy they once professed to have eschewed?
An Anglican, David Ould, has placed his finger squarely on the problem:
”I don't know about you, but the idea that I should, somehow, have to contribute myself to my eternal status is a terrifying thought. Luther tried it and it drove him to despair. It is the common complaint of those who view the Christian life as one of constant work - no wonder Roman Catholics speak of guilt. And the notion of "saints" who have done more than the rest of us and so gain more love from God is thus appalling. We are all saints if we trust Christ and what He has done for us, not what He enables and empowers us to do for ourselves - as though there were something we could add to His majestic and finished work.”
“Luther's great realisation and the thrust of the Reformation was to see that what happens upon conversion is that the person remains the dung that they are (and it is a stinkier and smellier dung that the Roman Church would acknowledge). The thing that changes is that they are viewed as snow, even though they are not. He coined the phrase "simul justus et peccator" to describe this - "at the same time righteous and a sinner".
This is what the theologians call a "forensic" righteousness. It is not that we ourselves are actually in our selves righteous but that we are treated as righteous by the Father on account of Jesus' righteousness which is now imputed (or "symbolically attached") to us. The Roman Church taught that we were actually infused with grace/righteousness, an actual change in our being. The Reformers understood the Bible to say otherwise.”
I am thankful to God for the fact that it is in Christ, and in Him alone, on account of His life and finished work alone, a forensic (legal) work was done on my behalf. I have been accounted (reckoned) as righteous. This righteousness is not mine, but has been imputed to me by His Holy Spirit’s work in me, which He alone has accomplished. Legally, according to God’s law, I was condemned for eternity, but now through His work alone, I am reckoned as being totally righteous in Christ, acquitted of any legal consequences. Even though reckoned as righteous, I am still dung in transition, becoming like snow in a process, which will take the rest of my life, looking forward to the day, when Christ returns, when I shall be like Him, as pure, righteous and holy as I am already reckoned to be.
As Luther said, "at the same time righteous and a sinner".
I wonder whether far too many of us identify ourselves and our theological position as that of the son who stayed at home with the father? If we do, maybe we need to remember Jesus words to Pharisees, "..go and learn what this means: "I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13).
It would do us all good, especially those in leadership, to remember the smell of the pig-pen which still stubbornly clings to every one of us, and the dry, taste of the husks of life, which is the experience of all who are apart from Christ.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
In our desire to see the community of believers grow, we sometimes drop our guard to the fact that all who call themselves "Christian" are not necessarily so. Sometimes we can present a way of salvation which is much broader than the narrow way of Jesus.
I commented on Alan's blog that I have been blessed to be used to bring several, who were members of a church, to know the saving grace to be found in Christ. I will relate the short account of one of these precious ones.
The son of a prominent church member, and deacon, he had now attained his mid-fifties. He had been 26 years a member of the church his father (who had passed away by this time) attended. He became a deacon, then church secretary, and a Sunday School teacher and leader of Boy's Brigade.
During those 26 years he was heavily involved in representing the church at regional meetings, preached regularly, and enjoyed prominence in the local community.
We began to disciple some with the hope that they in turn would disciple others. Learning to share their faith was a part of this.
Quite unexpectedly, I received a phone call from our friend, asking to come and speak to me about something important.
The conversation was also unexpected: "John! I have a confession to make. I have realized that I am not a Christian and have been living a lie for the last 26 years. I was taught the right words to say, the right things to believe, but it was all in my head and not in my heart. I became a Christian because my father expected me to follow in his footsteps, and to not profess to be a Christian would have brought my Father's displeasure upon me. I am still lost in my sin!"
The conversation followed on in this vein for some time, and with deep sobbing and tears of repentance, this tough guy, who worked with men of the world, confessed his sinfulness and deserving of the wrath of God, and his faith in the finished work of Christ, and desire to follow Him faithfully for the rest of his life.
The next Sunday morning, this man, who usually was full of confidence, humbly, and tearfully stood before this church in which he was so well known, and confessed the counterfeit life he had been living.
He resigned his positions in the church. The absolute change in his life was so amazing that all who knew him wondered what had happened, and he told them.
Only the Lord knows how many there are who have been put in this position by parents who take over from the Holy Spirit, because they want their children to be Christians, often for the wrong reason.
How many have been coerced into professing faith in Christ by slick tongued "evangelists" and church leaders who want to add notches to their guns, and build a reputation, without any real thought for the spiritual well-being of the people they persuade by good sales pitches.
Jesus said, “Go in through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is spacious that leads to destruction, and many people are entering by it." (Matt. 7:13 ISV)
I am convicted that the wide gate is the one which is being thrown wide in many communities.
In v.14 Jesus said, "How narrow is the gate and how constricted is the road that leads to life, and few are the people who find it!”
If it was an easy thing to believe and trust in Him, why did Jesus say, in Luke 13:24 (ISV)“Keep on struggling ( agonizomai = labor fervently, strive) to enter through the narrow door. For I tell you that many people will try to enter but won't be able to."
The sad thing is that the pretenders ( hupokrites = actors, hypocrites), like my dear brother above, deceive themselves as well as others.
I thank God that He brought him to Himself, because the last twenty years of his life were a struggle with Parkinson's disease, from which he died.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Our family has had a difficult couple of weeks. The eagerly anticipated first child of our son and daughter-in-law was still-born.
Of much lower level, during the last two weeks, my wife and I have traveled hundreds of kilometres to help our daughter move house, organizing and doing errands she was unable to attend to, whilst she settled into her new position as a bank manager in Brisbane. Never-the-less, very tiring on old bodies.
Yet, these things are so very minor compared to the struggles many brethren are suffering as evil people kill, torture, imprison and persecute them.
We, who live in such comfort and affluence, still complain bitterly about our light afflictions, and our suffering brethren keep on keeping on. We argue and fight about issues of such small consequence and forget the weightier matters.
Charles Spurgeon was spot on when he commented on Psalm 126:3 "The Lord has done great things for us, of which we are glad."
Some Christians are sadly prone to look on the dark side of everything, and to dwell more upon what they have gone through than upon what God has done for them. Ask for their impression of the Christian life, and they will describe their continual conflicts, their deep afflictions, their sad adversities, and the sinfulness of their hearts, yet with scarcely any allusion to the mercy and help which God has vouchsafed them. But a Christian whose soul is in a healthy state, will come forward joyously, and say, "I will speak, not about myself, but to the honour of my God. He hath brought me up out of an horrible pit, and out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings: and he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God. The Lord hath done great things for me, whereof I am glad." Such an abstract of experience as this is the very best that any child of God can present. It is true that we endure trials, but it is just as true that we are delivered out of them. It is true that we have our corruptions, and mournfully do we know this, but it is quite as true that we have an all-sufficient Saviour, who overcomes these corruptions, and delivers us from their dominion. In looking back, it would be wrong to deny that we have been in the Slough of Despond, and have crept along the Valley of Humiliation, but it would be equally wicked to forget that we have been through them safely and profitably; we have not remained in them, thanks to our Almighty Helper and Leader, who has brought us "out into a wealthy place." The deeper our troubles, the louder our thanks to God, who has led us through all, and preserved us until now. Our griefs cannot mar the melody of our praise, we reckon them to be the bass part of our life's song, "He hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad."