Election Empowers Evangelism- Mark Dever on God’s Sovereignty and Soul-Winning

June 19, 2009

I love unconditional election.  I love evangelism.  At this point, I have now confused about 80% of Southern Baptists.  Thanks to the years of ignorance taught through sermons by revered Southern Baptist leaders most of the SBC pew sitters only know of election (no need of calling it unconditional since conditional election is clearly not what Scripture teaches) as ‘that doctrine that says we can’t do anything.’  Honestly, I have trouble finding Southern Baptist’s who both (1) disagree with election, and (2) know what the doctrine of unconditional election says in accord with the whole of Calvinist soteriology– and that is a problem.  (Note: see here for Grudem’s handling of the misunderstandings.)

With this in mind, I want to turn to a quote from Mark Dever in his excellent book The Gospel & Personal Evangelism to deal with the question, Are a zeal for election and a zeal for evangelism mutually exclusive?

Have you heard it said that the doctrine of God’s choosing some for salvation (the doctrine of election) undercuts evangelism?  It didn’t in Paul’s life.  As he . . . wrote to Timothy, “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ jesus, with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2.10).  Romans 10 contains Paul’s clearest and most impassioned plea for Christians to send out people to preach the gospel because it is the only way people are saved; but this impassioned plea comes after what many consider Paul’s plainest teaching about the doctrine of election in Romans 9.  He didn’t see any inconsistency that a sovereign God is also a saving God.

Somehow, Paul found the doctrine of God’s sovereignty an encouragement in his evangelism.  Do we need to recover this confidence in a day of increasing opposition to the public preaching of the gospel?  I think we do.  I fear that much of today’s evangelism will soon end.  As evangelism becomes more and more unpopular, I fear that some Christians will simply dilute it, water it down, alter it, or even stop sharing the good news altogether.  I think a better understanding of the Bible’s teaching on God’s election would help them.  I think it would give them confidence and joy in their evangelism. (pp.104-105)

Interesting.  He calls the doctrine of election a thing which can give “confidence” to our evangelism.  What could that ever mean?  Well, elsewhere Dever notes how when Paul was in Corinth, he became so frustrated in his gospel preaching with some who “opposed and reviled him” to the point that he “shook out his garments” and left them (Acts 18.6).  However, that night the Lord came to Paul in a dream and said to him,

Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people” (vv.9-10)

This in turn encouraged Paul and empowered him to spend the next 18 months sharing the gospel message with the Corinthians (v.11).

Yep, the knowledge that God had elected “many in [Corinth as his] people” really sent Paul packing didn’t it?  He just threw up his hands and said, “Well, if God’s chosen them then there’s no need for me to preach,” didn’t he?  No!  This charged him.  He knew that God had chosen people to be saved and that he would be faithful to save them through the preaching of his word.  Paul understood that this meant, regardless of the opposition, God had fruit that he was going to bring forth.

In fact, without an understanding of election, there is no confidence!  If it’s all on you then there is no hope that your preaching is not in vain.  How could there be?  If God cannot awaken men’s hearts to repentance and faith, if it is solely up to them to choose faith in Christ, then nothing is guaranteed and all of your labor in the fields of evangelism might be useless.  It is only this promise that God already “[has] many . . . who are [his] people” and that he is powerful enough to “[cause them] to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1.3) that we can have any hope whatsoever in our evangelism!

Cynicism and The Sinner’s Prayer- Paul’s Testimony

June 12, 2009

Jesus said, ‘You may ask Me for anything in my name, and I will do it.’ (John 14.14)

Therefore, if you pray sincerely, asking Him this:

“Lord Jesus, please come into my life
and be my Savior and Lord.
Please forgive my sins,
and give me the gift of eternal life.”

– He will do it now.”

(The Bridge to Life tract, by The Navigators)

Yesterday we looked at the instruction given by Peter in the book of Acts as it pertains to the receiving of salvation and found no Scriptural evidence for the use of The Sinner’s Prayer as a means to laying hold of Jesus’ promise so that one might gain forgiveness of his sins or the redemption of his soul.  Today we will look at what Paul has to bring to the discussion.

Unlike with Peter who it is hard to pin down quite when he was saved, the book of Acts gives us a clear telling of Paul’s conversion from sinner damned by God to saint redeemed in Christ.  Picking it up in Acts 9, we find the unbelieving Saul wandering down the Damascus road on his way to persecute himself some Christians, when all of a sudden “a light from heaven flashed around him” and he fell to the ground (v.3ff).  At this point the risen Christ begins to speak to him, saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (v.4), to which Saul replies, “Who are you, Lord?” (v.5).  Jesus then instructs Paul what to do, where to go, and Saul, now blinded, responds in obedience to this direction.

From here the Lord goes to a disciple named Ananias and instructs him to go to Saul and restore his vision so that he may go forth from there to perform as Christ’s “chosen instrument . . . to carry [his] name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (v.15).  So Ananias does this, coming to Saul and saying, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (v.17).

Now, if at any place we might find evidence for using The Sinner’s Prayer, this seems like it would be it, but alas, nothing!  Ananias could easily have said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.  So now, if you will just follow me in this simple prayer you to can have eternal life.”   But he doesn’t.  Instead what we read is that following Ananias’ words, “immediately something like scales fell from [Saul's] eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized” (v.18).  Thus, Saul is now counted among the redeemed, and not a Sinner’s Prayer in sight.

This is not all however, as the remainder of the book of Acts provides us with two more accounts of Paul’s conversion, in chapters 22 and 26, each time as a part of Paul’s testimony while presenting the gospel message.  Do either of these allude to him needing to pray a special prayer for redemption?  Not at all.  In fact, the language Paul uses comes down even more heavily in favor of my own reformed convictions about soteriology.  Acts 22.14-16 gives a second telling of Ananias’ instruction to Paul, saying, “The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.”  Wow!  There is not even a call to response here, it’s just, “God chose to save you.  You are now saved.  Get in the water!”  Then in chapter 26 we once more hear from Paul, this time recalling Christ’s words to him as, “Rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you” (v.16).  Again, no call to response, no “if you prayer this prayer sincerely then I will appoint you.”  Christ comes in, has a purpose in saving Paul, and its’ done.  Now, of course Paul responds in obedience through faith (cf. 26.19ff), but never do we hear of a prayer or of claiming any promise for himself as being the means of Paul’s being granted eternal life.

So, analyzing the testimony concerning Paul’s conversion as it is presented in Acts 9, 22, and 26, we still have not found any evidence supporting the use of The Sinner’s Prayer for gaining entrance into God’s heavenly kingdom.  The next place we will look is through Paul’s teachings in the epistles of the New Testament.

Cynicism and The Sinner’s Prayer- Peter’s Instruction in Acts

June 11, 2009

Jesus said, ‘You may ask Me for anything in my name, and I will do it.’ (John 14.14)

Therefore, if you pray sincerely, asking Him this:

“Lord Jesus, please come into my life
and be my Savior and Lord.
Please forgive my sins,
and give me the gift of eternal life.”

– He will do it now.”

(The Bridge to Life tract, by The Navigators)

As we begin our look into the New Testament teachings on salvation we will first go to the apostle Peter and his words on the day of Pentecost to see if he provides any enlightenment on whether or not The Sinner’s Prayer has any place in the conversion of lost peoples.

In Acts 2 we find the 120 gathered in one place when the Spirit with “a sound like a mighty rushing wind” fell upon them and filled them with it’s power (v.2ff).  As a result the early church spills out into Jerusalem, teaching in tongues to the Jews celebrating the Pentecost.  This is all capped off with Peter and his sermon presenting the Jews with their guilt and the gospel of the good news of redemption in Christ.  Finally in verse 37 we are told that the people “were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’”  To which Peter replies, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v.38).

Repent and be baptized.

Is that all?  Yep.

What about Acts 10, when Peter goes to Cornelius and the Gentiles?  He preaches to them once more declaring the good news, saying at last, “To [Jesus] all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (v.43).  We are then told that, “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word” (v.44).   Does that mean they had received salvation?  Apparently so since Peter declares, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (v.47).  Later he also tells the church at Jerusalem that God had given to the Gentiles “the same gift . . . he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ” (11.17), which they recognize as meaning that “to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life” (11.18).  Yet, what once again is conspicuous by it’s absence?  That’s right, any sign that the apostle had instructed the new believers to petition God for salvation through prayer.

In fact, if we look back to Acts 10 and 11 once more, we see that the believers don’t even appear to be the primary actors in their salvation.  We are told that “the Holy Spirit fell on” them (10.44) and that “God . . . granted [them] repentance” (11.18).  The Trinity is doing the work.  No one is praying a prayer, no one is “naming it and claiming it.”  All we see is God working mightily through the faithful proclamation of the gospel.

Therefore, after considering our first subject, the apostle Peter, I do not believe we have any evidence in favor of The Sinner’s Prayer as a necessary or effective means to salvation.  Tomorrow, we will begin a look at the ministry of Paul to see what he has to contribute to this endeavor.

Am I Not Called to (Ad)Minister?- John Piper on Avoiding Sacred Substitutes

April 27, 2009

Having just concluded my reading of John Piper’s excellent book on pastoral ministry, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, I thought that I would share one more thought from it that was very convicting to me.

In the chapter entitled, “Brothers, Beware of Sacred Substitutes,” Dr. Piper develops an idea of how the Christian minister is to allot his time based around the text of Acts 6.2-4, 

And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

The life of the Christian minister is full of starts and stops, interruptions and diversions away from the biblical calling to “preach the word” and to “shepherd the flock of God” that is among them (2 Timothy 4.2, 1 Peter 5.2).  Expanding on this, John Piper notes that “most of [the interruptions to our spiritual growth] and most of our busyness is ministry-related, not ‘worldly’.”  By this he means that most of the distraction comes not in the form of sinful diversion but disguised as good, seemingly essential, administerial and care related ministries.  Such was the case with the elders in Jerusalem who were being side-tracked by the dispersion of meals and other provisions to the widows in their fellowship.  This is undoubtedly a good thing, and yet its goodness does not make it superior to the elders call “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (v.4).  Looking to contemporary examples, Piper remarks,

And what opposes the pastor’s life of prayer [and thus his whole calling] more than anything?  The ministry.  It is not shopping or car repairs or sickness or yard work that squeezes our prayers into hurried corners of the day.  It is budget development and staff meetings and visitation and counseling and answering mail and writing reports and reading journals and answering the phone and preparing messages. (p.61)

Honestly, even though I am not yet officially “in the ministry,” I understand this difficulty quite well.  As a servant in the church and one who wants to contribute as much as I can currently within the scope of the ministry that I have, I often find that I simply spread myself too thin by assuming that every responsibility that comes up which seems remotely related to what I’m doing is a dire task that I personally need to respond to.  Thus I find myself committed to meeting people at 5 different locations and 4 different times, while simultaneously calling businesses trying to schedule events or place merchandise orders, which undoubtedly pushes my day out in both directions, shortening my mornings and my nights, making me feel more pressed to pray than I am comfortable with, and so I just short-change it and resolve to be in prayer “the way I should be” the following day.  I let my desire to be everything to everyone in my public ministry interfere with my devotion to God and reliance on him in my private ministry.  This is precisely what the psalmist is speaking to when he says, 

It is in vain that you rise up early
     and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
     for he gives to his beloved sleep
. (Psalm 127.2)

God bless John Piper and his wise insights into the trappings of the Christian pastorate; how I have benefited from them as much as any writer outside of God’s inspired word.  Again, if you are or plan to be involved in the pastoral ministry and you have not already read Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, you need to obtain a copy and immediately bump it up to the top of your reading list.

Whatever Happened to Acts 4?- Ministers Feed into the Fear of Speaking Jesus’ Name

March 2, 2009

When I need to know what is going on in the world that should concern me as a Christian, one person I always trust to inform me on this is Al Mohler.  President of Southern seminary and respected cultural commentator, Dr. Mohler runs a regular blog and daily radio show, which promises to offer “intelligent Christian conversation about the issues that matter.”  Often times his posts are stunning as to the amount of depravity that they reveal in all of humanity, but his most recent article was so disturbing to me that I felt I had to comment on it.

Friday Dr. Mohler posted a piece entitled, “This Prayer Approved by the White House?,” in which he approaches the topic of the newly elected adminstrations odd policy of approving the wording of the invocations given at public events prior to their being cleared to be delivered.  As we all know, the cries to remove prayer from all facets of the public square have been sounding out for many years, but this has never done much to stop the practice of the invocation.  With President Obama taking office, though, new teeth have been given to an old dog.  However, it would be one thing to end invocations, a sad decision undoubtedly, but livable; it is a complete other thing to vet the prayers being offered and marking them as “fit for use.”  This type of 1984-esque intereference (yes, I went there) with what many would expect to be an improvised, personal offering is just plain weird, and is probably not what anyone expected, either conservative prayer warriors or liberal secular activists.

What is most disturbing, however, is the seeming compliance of Christian ministers in this action.  Two such are mentioned in the post, one from Indiana who gives the gist of the process, and one from Florida who offers a small, but sad soundbite.  The minister from Indiana, one Ryan Culp, lets us in on how his invocation went from written, to presented over the phone to a White House Public Liason, to approved, and then delivered at an Obama town hall meeting.  It makes mention of the handshake he received from Obama afterwards, which makes me wonder if that was his sole motivation in following this all along.

The minister from Florida, a pastor of a black Baptist congregation in Ft. Myers named James Bing, was also one of those mentioned who had been vetted prior to his prayer for an Obama event.  What he revealed was even more freightening than the phone approval process Mr. Culp described.  The pastor, in explaining why his prayer “carefully avoided mentioning Jesus” said, “For some strange reason, the word Jesus is like pouring gasoline on fire for some people in this country . . . .  You learn how to work around that.”


I’m sorry.  I think I just threw up in my mouth!

How could any person claim at one and the same time to believe this and to be a Christian minister?!?  I have enough trouble seeing how one could allow their prayer to be censored by the White House.  I can’t even imagine volitionally not speaking the name of Christ in fear it would offend people.  

It’s supposed to offend people!

Do these guys preach in churches that don’t have Acts 4?

But when they had commanded [Peter and John] to leave the council, [the Sanhedrin] conferred with one another, saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4.15-20)

How have we come so far?  Why was it so important for the apostles to stand up to the Sanhedrin and preach Jesus’ name yet now it is more important to “work around” even saying it and to get a handshake from the President?  What happened to there being “no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4.12)?  There is to be submission to the authorities placed over us, but as Dr. Mohler says, “If the Christian cannot pray in the name of Jesus, let someone else deliver the prayer.”  How could this have ever happened?

We must see an end to this garbage.  The gospel message cannot be proclaimed with all of these dead, non-fruit bearing branches cluttering the vineyard.  I pray that soon God will see fit to gather them for the fire so the fruit of his redeeming love can grow freely once again!

The entirety of Dr. Mohler’s post may be viewed here.

What We Believe- Article VII, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (part 1)

February 28, 2009

This week we are hitting the seventh article of the BF&M and the article which defines us most as a denomination (along with last weeks statements about the local church being autonomous), that being the one on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  In this post we will look at what the BF&M has to say about Baptism in particular, tomorrow we will focus on Communion.  To begin, the article says,

VII. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.

As we go on, there seem to be very few statements in the Baptist Faith & Message that I would not handle with a little care as to exactly what they say, but on this paragraph concerning baptism I have to admit that I am completely in agreement with what has been written.

From the beginning, they assert that Christian baptism is by immersion (as opposed to by sprinkling) which is the precedent we see in places such as with the baptism of Christ in Mark 1.9-11 and the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8.38, as well as by the linguistic analysis of the Greek word translated as ‘baptism,’ that being baptizō.  This is of first importance, not that it has any affect on the persons salvation, but to be in full obedience of the symbol which baptism is to hold (and to which we will speak in a moment).  

Secondly, it is “immersion of a believer,” hence us calling it “Believers baptism.”  Though I love my reformed Presbyterian brothers, this is where they get it totally wrong.  Baptism is not a perfect equivalent to circumcision the way they try and pursue it.  Baptism is for the believer who, after placing faith in Christ as Savior and Lord, partakes in it as “a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead.”  Look at the most controversial of the baptism verses, Acts 2.37-39:

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”  And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

What evidence does this give us that the baptism is for believers?  Because it says that the people were under convicttion from the Holy Spirit and were seeking to respond somehow (v.37).  So, Peter instructs them that, since they have been convicted (regenerated, no?) then they should repent of their sins and follow after the Lord in baptism.  The following after in baptism is done as a public testimony of faith, since it is something that a devout Jew (which reasonably we should assume these people were) would not be willing to participate in.  

Notice, that is all he says to them about baptism.  The next verse, which is where the Presbyterians go awry, deals with the promise of the Holy Spirit’s availability.  The Presbys interpret this as a promise of his actual gifting and how to receive it, that through baptism “[this] promise is [realized] . . . for your children.”  However, clearly, if nothing else, this neglects the remainder of v.39 about “all who are far off,” since we never see any hurry to baptize those people in the Presbyterian church, and so should immediately be rejected as the proper understanding of what Peter is saying. (Note: for comments on why this verse doesn’t teach baptismal regeneration, see my earlier words here.)

Next, we see that baptism is done in the full Trinitarian name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  This is Jesus’ clear command on what to do in the Great Commission, particularly Matthew 28.19.

Then we get to the crux of why we do it.  I think this is so crucial.  It seems to me that some people in the Southern Baptist church cling to baptism so strongly simply because it is one of our distinctives and so is what sets us apart from the other denominations, specifically from Catholics and Presbyterians.  As a whole, this is a crumby reason to be sold out on believers baptism by immersion.  The true reason, the biblical reason, why our holding up the symbol of baptism in this way should always be because of what it signifies.  Believers baptism by immersion is not just some form of Baptist hazing ritual.  If we don’t take to heart why we are doing it then we are no better than anyone else who corrupts this act.  At the end of the day, performing the correct mode and method of baptism are honestly unimportant if the symbol is still obscured.

That said, what does the BF&M say is the symbol of our baptism?  It says that baptism symbolizes “the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus.”  This can be easily justified in the biblical teachings on baptism found in Romans 6.3-5 and Colossians 2.12.

Finally, we see that baptism is a “prequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.”  This, as I have argued previously, is most clearly seen in the order of events for the first members into the church of Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.  It says in Acts 2.41, “So those who [first] received his word were [then] baptized, and [afterwards] there were added that day about three thousand souls,” where we should understand that the “three thousand souls” were added to the initial body of 120 (Acts 1.15) to make up what was the church at that time.  In tomorrow’s post on the Lord’s Supper we shall see a practical controversy which is arising out of the statement that baptism “is prerequisite . . . to the Lord’s Supper.”


Picture of the Past or Projection of the Future?- Recovering the Eschatological Church

January 29, 2009

Tell me if you have heard this: a sermon from Acts 2.42-47 proclaiming the wonderful, communal nature of the early believers and how, if we are to impact the culture today, we need to recover this same spirit of the true New Testament church?  I thought so.  Honestly, and not to be nasty or anything, but it has gotten to the point where, even if it’s a podcast I listen to religiously (haha!) I avoid the episode if I see it is a sermon over these 6 verses.

My question is, is this even the model we are to be looking at to set our bearings?  To start, we must fess up to the abuses of the “had all things in common” idea, since clearly, reading ahead into chapter 5, we see that this does not mean the type of new monasticism which many emergent types want so badly for it to endorse.  It would surely be better for us to understand their relations not in this communal sense, but instead in the supporting sense of the next verse, “as any had need.”  It wasn’t that they sold off everything and holed up in John Mark’s mothers house with organic foods and home schooling, but that they considered the things of this world fleeting and were willing to part with them “as any had need” so that the poorer of the believers were cared over.

So again, is this where we should look to discover how to fashion the church in a biblically appropriate manner?  If we are talking about leadership and structure, certainly.  Read Acts 6, 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1 and find out how the Holy Spirit through the Apostles prescribed for us to judge and appoint leaders in the church.  However, if it is a question of makeup, if we are searching to see what the church should look like in the world, how the believers should relate to one another in it, I would have to conclude no, the early church of Acts 2 should not be our role model.  It should be Revelation 21.

Revelation 21?  What?  Yes, that’s what I meant.  For those of you unaware of this passage, here’s how it starts:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (vv.1-4)

Revelation 21 is the consummation of God’s plan in all of creation.  We see that he has judged the wicked and is now restoring the original purpose of the land.  The first heaven and first earth, the creation that has been groaning in the pains of childbirth (Romans 8.22), is now cleared away and a new heaven and new earth come into being.  And upon the new earth is the holy city, the New Jerusalem, where God tabernacles with man freely, as he did in the Garden, as he will do forevermore.  Here all bad and evil things are gone and only the praise of the glory of God is known.

But how is this what we are to be looking towards?  Why is this the model for the church, and what does that even mean?

Ephesians 2.19-22, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

1 Peter 2.9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

The church is the coming kingdom of God manifested in the world today.  It is the embodiment of the “Now-Not Yet” tension created when Christ said, “[B]ehold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17.20-21).  The King has come and he has established the church, who speaks of him, to show his kingdom.  But this kingdom will not be revealed fully until the end, until the events of Revelation 21.  From now till then we are to show forth the kingdom of God, live as we are, as citizens of heaven (Philippians 3.20), proclaiming what has already been revealed to us, “the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

Reading the book Worldliness, edited by CJ Mahaney, I found the following paragraph which really nailed it home for me:

God holds up his church as Exhibit A for the reality of the gospel.  As people called out of a fallen world, living transformed lives with transcendent values, the church displays the character of God, illustrates the power of God, and exemplifies the saving purposes of God.  In fact, the church at this stage in salvation history has the privilege of signaling the next stage.  Our life together gives the world a preview of life in the coming kingdom. . . .  Who dreamed that their church participation was so significant?  Giving the world a glimpse of the consummated kingdom of God!  Does such a grand vision govern our attitude toward our local churches? [p.165]

“Who dreamed that their church participation was so significant?”  I think this is the problem.  If even for a good cause, we have gotten so caught up in trying to be like the church of Acts 2 that we often times forget that the church in Acts 2 was just trying to be the “church” of Revelation 21.  They weren’t our model, they were an example of what following the model does.  When our desire is to “[signal] the next stage” then we are focused on fulfilling what God says that next stage will include.  No more tears, no more mourning, a spring of water to the thirsty.  The presence of God dwelling among us.  This is our model.  This is what we are to imitate and initiate in the world.  The New Testament church is the eschatological church, the kingdom of God manifested in a fallen world, proclaiming a king who is coming to reign, who has done sufficiently well to reconcile all of creation with its creator in glory in the holy city, the promised land, New Jerusalem.

Does such a grand vision govern our attitude toward our local churches?  It should, and oh the power if it did.

“Contextualizing” is Not a Dirty Word- Surveying Contextualization in the Acts of the Apostles

January 24, 2009

With the growing distinction between emerging and non-emerging (or traditional/institutional) churches in American Christianity (and abroad) we are seeing a rise in buzzwords that tend to be championed by one side and demonized by the other. “Contextualizing” (and “contextualized,” “contextualization,” “context-driven,” etc.) is one such word.

A rough definition of “contextualization” for the church is “being aware of the cultural context in which lost people around them live, and [making] every effort to bring the love and truth of Jesus in word and deed to be ‘all things to all people’ using ‘all means’ to ‘save some’” [Mark Driscoll, Vintage Church, p.228]. It is “not making the gospel relevant, but showing the relevance of the gospel” [ibid.].

This last portion is the place where I think a lot of traditional churches miss the boat and sell-out the idea of contextualizing. They see any attempt to use means outside of their comfort-space as being a compromise of the gospel and the commands of Scripture. Any flux from the bubble of G-rated movies, button down shirts, Charles Wesley hymns, and home schooling is seen to them as a departure from the revealed Word of God and is a method which will not lead anyone anywhere except into further debauchery and wantonness of the truth. As a Southern Baptist, this is a position which I have seen people in my denomination and theological tradition taking a little too frequently for my liking.

Now, I know I have come out awfully harsh against the apprehension towards contextualization, and yet I have not offered any evidence for why we should use this. At this point the standard argument develops from Paul in 1 Corinthians 9.19-23 where he says,

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

I think by now everyone on both sides is familiar with this passage, and since this is the case those who still stand against contextualization seem to have found some way of arguing against its fairly obvious face meaning. As well, this has gotten to be a bit cliche, and so I think perusing over a fresh idea might do us some good in defending context-driven ministry and evangelism. To do this I ask that we look to the book of Acts.

Throughout the record events in Acts we see many sermons and gospel presentations made by the leaders of the early church. Among these I would particularly like to focus on Peter’s sermons, first to the Jews in Acts 2.14-36 and then to the Gentiles in 10.34-43, and Paul’s sermon to the philosophers of Athens in Acts 17.22-31.

In Acts 2.14-36 we find Peter and the Apostles (or the whole early church, however you read it) filled by the Holy Spirit, “speak[ing] in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (v.4). This occurs on the day of Pentecost, a harvest festival celebrated 50 days following the Passover in Jerusalem by Jews from all over the known world. Thus, when Peter goes out to preach, he addresses the “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem,” meaning the pilgrim and native Jews (v.14). The sermon which follows is unmistakably Jewish in audience, as Peter quotes from the Prophet Joel (vv.16-21) and from David (vv.25-28, 34-35), as well as making statements such as, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (v.36).

Later on, in chapter 10, after having been sought out by the Lord in a vision (vv.9-16) and by the men representing Cornelius (vv.17-23), Peter realizes that God is moving in him to deliver the Gospel to the Gentiles as a people, specifically to the house of Cornelius, the Roman Centurion. This he does, only now, unlike when amongst the Jews in Acts 2 (and Acts 3), he does not speak of the fulfillment of the OT prophets words, but instead points to the mighty works of God in salvation and in the miracles surrounding Jesus’ anointing (v.38), his death on the cross (v.39), and his resurrection (v.40). He then bears witness to his calling to proclaim the gospel and tells that “everyone who believes in [Christ] receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (v.43).

Finally, in Acts 17, we find the Apostle Paul fleeing from the Jewish mob, wandering about Athens. While in Athens “his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols” (v.16). Because of this Paul began reasoning with the Athenians, both Jews in the temple and Gentiles in the marketplace (v.17). Eventually Paul finds himself before the philosophers at the Areopagus where they ask him to give “this new teaching” that Paul has been speaking about (v.19). This Paul does, delivering the gospel message to the “Men of Athens” (v.22). However, unlike Peter to the Jews in Acts 2, Paul does not argue from the prophets, nor like Peter to the Gentiles in Acts 10 does he speak of his witness to the life of Christ, but instead he appeals to the Athenian philosophers search for God, testifying to them of God’s sovereignty over creation (even using the words of Greek thinkers to support himself, v.28) and of God’s coming judgment upon the sins of mankind, a judgment which is only survivable by repentance and Christ’s righteousness imputed to believers through his death on the cross (vv.30-31).

So, three sermons, three proclamations of the gospel, three different audiences, and three different contextualizations. To the Jews we see Christ preached as the fulfillment of prophecy, to the common Gentiles he comes as a Spirit-filled servant of God dying on the cross and being raised to life for the forgiveness of sins, and to the intellectuals in Athens he is the only hope for avoiding the wrath of an Almighty God. The pattern of evangelism, ever since day one, has been contextualization. Yet, at no point do we see Apostles pervert or weaken the message they have been entrusted with. Instead what we see is them pointing to different facets of the one great jewel that is the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Christ and what all this entails.

This has never been about compromise, it has always been about reaching people for Christ in a way which is most appropriate for their life. It is not a thing we should be afraid of; “contextualizing” is not a dirty word, it is the way of biblical evangelism.

More than Just a Ghost- Al Mohler on the Holy Spirit

October 24, 2008

These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” -John 14.25-26

But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” -John 15.26

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” -John 16.7-8

Growing up I did not have much church exposure, but, what exposure I did have came at services and camps which fell under the pentecostal denomination. Because of this, I had a strong initial presentation to belief in the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Now some 12-15 years later, and 7 years since joining a Southern Baptist church, a strong view of the Spirit is still a part of my faith (though with certain necessary orthodox changes from the pentecostal beliefs in spirit baptism, etc). However, as a Southern Baptist denominationally and a Calvinist soteriologically, I would have to say that the view portrayed of the Spirit in typical SBC life leaves something to be desired.

A couple of weeks ago Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern seminary, gave legs to this complaint. As one who shares the same reformed convictions as myself, Dr. Mohler knows all to well the necessity of a strong view of the Spirit in the work of regeneration and the inner testimony of assurance of salvation. He also knows the propensity of Baptists to avoid the idea of an active Spirit for fear of placing too much emphasis on seeking signs and gifts among the body of believers. Therefore, when approaching the topic of the Holy Spirit as spoken of in the Apostles Creed, Dr. Mohler delivered a thorough explication of the him as revealed to us by the words of Christ in John chapters 14 through 16, without going overboard into the more murky waters of the involvement of the Spirit in the life of the church a la the book of Acts.

I think his message, which was part of Southern seminary’s Heritage Week, is a must listen, particularly for those among us who err too frequently on the side of a passive, unimportant Spirit. As Dr. Mohler points out, the Spirit does not come to testify about himself (John 16.13), yet without his presence the church would be lost in the world (John 14.18).

Dr. Albert Mohler- The Apostles Creed: The Holy Spirit

God Decides 2008!- Answers to Common Objections of this View (part 2)

October 22, 2008

Continuing on with common objections, let’s look at two more. First,

Objection: If one believes that election is effectual for salvation then they will no longer take part in evangelism.

This objection is almost a continuation of the John 3.16 objection, and usually accompanies it, but also has its’ own individual flavor.  Basically, the reasoning behind this question is, if God has chosen his elect, and if all and only his elect will be saved, then why should we participate in evangelism?

The first, and most to the point and terse answer to this, is the one RC Sproul so bluntly makes, that being that we do so because evangelism has been commanded of us by Christ: Matthew 28.19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Mark 16.15, “And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.’

This certainly is good enough of a reason, but for the sake of thoroughness, I would like to look a little deeper.  To do this I want to call upon some passages in Acts which I think illuminate to us what the apostles knew of election and how they proceeded.  Acts 18.9-11 recalls for us a vision of Paul’s in which the Lord speaks to him:

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

In the vision, the Lord instructs Paul to “not be silent . . . for [the Lord has] many in [that] city who are [his] people.”  In other words, Paul is instructed to continue evangelism because of God’s election.  God had elected many in the city of Corinth to salvation, and it was by the means of Paul’s preaching which he had determined to awaken their souls (cf. Romans 10.14-17).  Then what was Paul’s response?  “And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (v.11).

Elsewhere in Acts, we see Luke give account of a gospel work in the city of Antioch in Pisidia in which he expresses similar sentiments about God’s electing and its effectualness for salvation for all and only the elect: Acts 13.48, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”  This is almost unmissable, that God had preordained a section of the Gentiles to be saved, and that that preordination found effect in the preaching of the Word by Paul and Barnabas.  Once more a testament to the necessity of sharing and receiving the Gospel message as a vehicle for carrying out God’s electing graces, and an indictment on anyone who would say that believing in this view of unconditional election causes one to neglect the call to evangelism.

Objection: If God elects people to salvation, then necessarily those who he does not elect to salvation he is just electing to hell.

This is a tough one.  Yet, though it may be the hardest to answer, it is also probably the most esoterically useless.  The point is, a lot of people will try and argue that the specific view of unconditional election which has been voiced here necessarily leads to determinism, and that that philosophical position is incapable of standing with the nature of an Almighty loving God.  I have spoken towards this charge previously and so will not be answering it in too much depth, but I feel that one short illustration will do.

The problem for those who detail the objection in the way that if God is unconditionally electing some to salvation then this implies he is also unconditionally “electing” the rest to damnation, is that this seems unfair.  That is because, in this view, one is picturing God before the foundation of the earth with a bag of neutral souls in his lap, picking out each individual soul, and placing it unconditionally either in heaven or in hell.  In this case, God places all of us where he wants us and that is where we stay, which, I agree, sounds appalling.

However, for the consistent 5-point Calvinist who adheres to the stated view of unconditional election, what they actually see is God before the foundation of the earth with a bag of neutral souls, picking out some of the souls and placing them in heaven and just leaving the remaining souls in the bag.  Then, God creates the earth, man falls, and through the sin of Adam all of the souls move to place themselves in hell.  The ones that were just sitting in the bag actually make it there and are thus condemned (John 3.18), whereas the ones which God had originally placed in heaven are guarded by his power and kept from making the jump (1 Peter 1.3-5).  Thus, human responsibility is culpable for leading the condemned to condemnation, whereas God’s sovereign grace is the cause of the salvation of the elect, and nowhere does full determinism come into play.

*     *     *

Well, this has been a fun series of posts, but I think with that we will draw it to a close.  I do not expect this to be the last word on election in this blog, as it is one of my favorite doctrines to look at, but for now I think I have said all I feel led to say.  Please continue to post with questions/objections and I will do my best to respond to them.  Thanks for your readership.