Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

"What verse?" (my son's impatience and sound preaching)

"What verse are we on?"

My son, Christian, whispered this question to me during the middle of the sermon this past Lord's Day. For a moment I was thrilled. At seven years old, Christian usually pays no attention during church service, and complains that sitting still and listening to someone talk is boring. I've been praying that the Holy Spirit would change his heart, so that he would come to love singing praises to Jesus and hearing from God's Word. As Christian looked in my Bible to see which verse the pastor was on, I whispered to him that the sermon was from Matthew 21:12-17, and that the pastor was currently explaining verse 13.

"Oh," Christian said, disappointed. He gave a little sigh and sat back.

I realized then that (despite the fact that-as one of our elders rightly pointed out at the end of service-this was one of Pastor Mitch's very best sermons) Christian wasn't interested in what was being said. Instead, he had figured out that when the pastor reached the last verse in the given passage, the sermon was almost over.

I believe that this observation by my son actually says something quite positive about the preaching we regularly enjoy at Kosmosdale Baptist Church. Our pastor preaches expositional sermons. His sermons explain the main point of the passage from which he's speaking, making the main point of the passage the main point of what he proclaims to the congregation. Furthermore, he moves verse-by-verse through the text, which involves:

1. giving the meaning of each verse;
2. relating each verse to the main point of the overall passage;
3. connecting the passage to the larger (Christ-centered) story of Scripture;
4. applying it all to life today.

Whereas this is not the absolute only way to preach a sound sermon (there are times when a preacher may appropriately trace out a particular doctrine or explore a specific ethical issue from a variety of texts, for example), this method of preaching is useful for making sure that the congregation hears the whole counsel of God's Word. (The preacher committed to the type of preaching described above is less likely to camp out on his favorite subjects, ignore uncomfortable texts, etc.) Incidentally, this means-as Christian observed-that once the end of the text is reached, the end of the sermon is at hand; obviously, the preacher may have some additional words of application from the text, or wish to show more connections to other texts, but the expository preacher is particularly aware that the only message he has for the congregation is the message that God has given to us in His Word.


Monday, July 06, 2015

Biblical Limits to Government

The following consideration is, I think, appropriate following the Independence Day weekend. The two paragraphs below are from the book Understanding the Times by David A. Noebel. We use this book for the "Worldview" class that each upper grades student must take at Sayers Classical Academy.
Government was established by God to manifest and preserve His justice on earth. This is government's central purpose; as such, the state should concentrate on enforcing justice and avoid meddling in other institutions' business. Generally speaking, the church was ordained to manifest God's grace on the earth, and the family to manifest God's community and creativity (including procreativity). The government, then, as the institution of justice, should prohibit, prevent, prosecute, and punish injustice. The church, as the institution of grace, should preach the gospel and be the chief vehicle of charitable aid to the needy. And families should have chief responsibility for bearing, raising, and educating children, and for creating, possessing, and disposing of property.

Each of these institutions is limited by its own definition and by the other two. Because government is an institution of justice, not of grace or community or creativity, it should not interfere with freedom of religion, attempt to dispense grace through tax-funded handouts, control family size, interfere in raising children (including education), or control the economy and the disposition of property.


Saturday, July 04, 2015

Are "patriotic services" in church biblically appropriate?

[The following blogpost was originally published on 7/6/08.]

On July 3, 2008, Dr. Russell Moore guest-hosted The Albert Mohler Radio Program on which he interviewed Pastor Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church and Stanley Hauerwas, Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke University Divinity School. Dr. Moore asked whether it is appropriate for a congregation to hold a patriotic service for the fourth of July. [The show may be heard HERE.] Readers of this blog may be interested in this discussion. I agree with much of what Dever says in this interview, but I want to highlight the portions of the interview in which Dr. Moore interacted with Dr. Hauerwas, as the position of Dr. Hauerwas seems more radical.

Moore: Professor Hauerwas, what would you say to someone who says, "I want to have in my congregation this Sunday a singing of songs such as 'America the Beautiful,' I want to have a representation of the flag, I want to have people who are members of the armed services being recognized," what's wrong with that?
Hauerwas: Very simply, idolatry. It's idolatrous, and that the problem with those interventions within the worship- it makes you forget that the god that is referred to in the patriotic songs, pledges, etc. is not the Christian God. Our God is not some generalized blessing on something called freedom qua freedom, our God is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- that you only are made free through obedience to the Cross. So, just to the extent that you confuse those two "Gods," you are coming very close to becoming idolatrous.
Moore: Professor Hauerwas, what would you say to someone who says, "I would feel almost as though I'm a traitor to my country to come in and say, 'this very important part of my life, which is my faith in Christ, how can I separate that out from who I am as a rooted citizen of this country?'"
Hauerwas: Ask yourself if you lived in Germany in 1934 what that would mean.
Moore: But surely you wouldn't equate the situation today in the United States of America with Germany in [the Nazi era]...
Hauerwas: How would you know? I mean, who fought in Hitler's war? Who were they? They were Lutherans and Catholics- they were Christians- they were deeply pious people. How would we know when we've been captured by the powers in a way that is leading us away from the gospel?

When people always refer to Romans 13 don't forget Romans 12: "Bless those who persecute you, and do not curse them, rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay' says the Lord, 'If your enemies are hungry, feed them.'" I mean, we have to remember that.
Moore: So part of your problem with the typical fourth of July celebration service in, say, an evangelical Christian service would be the military reference there?
Hauerwas: Well, I think one of the great problems is Christians have forgotten we have a problem with war. I don't in any means want to cast aspersion on people who are committed participants in the military. But first of all, the church has to remind people that become conscientious participators in the military, "We've got a problem with war" don't we? I mean, when does that start sinking through Christian conscience, that we have a problem with war? It's not to be celebrated. If you want to know what a good celebration would look like to honor country, it should be mourning in the face of having to have Christians kill another human being in the name of loyalty to a country. We need to mourn that.
Moore: Professor Hauerwas, what would you do, or what would you counsel someone to do, since you say that these types of patriotic services really are representing the worship of another God- what would you do if you were walking into a local church, maybe the church that you belong to, this Sunday morning, and that's exactly what you found: The Star-Spangled Banner, the Battle Hymn of the Republic, what would you counsel a Christian to do?
Hauerwas: Walk out.
Hauerwas: ... You need to remember that the fourth of July is a liturgy... [it] is a counter-liturgy to the liturgy of the church. That's the reason why it's just right to emphasize the centrality of the eucharistic celebration, which is the sacrifice that ends all sacrifices. So the very fact that often-times the fourth of July is the celebration of an alternative sacrifice to the sacrifice of the Lord's Supper: it's exactly doing a competitive liturgy to the liturgy of the church.

Some objections I have to Dr. Hauerwas' statements:
  1. I'm not sure that "God" as represented in all patriotic songs is necessarily different than God as worshiped by Christians. I would suspect that many of these songs were actually written by Christians, and sincerely intended to praise God.
  2. I agree with Dr. Moore, who pointed out later in the broadcast that it is fairly easy to discern between America today and Nazi Germany. The fact that I can blog on this subject with absolutely no concern of government persecution proves that there is an obvious difference.
  3. I think that Dr. Hauerwas' statements that Christians "have a problem with war" need some qualification in light of the fact that God commands war in the Old Testament and Christ is portrayed as a military conqueror in the book of Revelation.
  4. I believe the preaching of the Bible, not the "eucharistic celebration," needs to hold the place of "centrality" in our worship services, as the Word of God defines the meaning of the ordinances.
What I appreciated about Dr. Hauerwas' statements:
  1. I do think that many patriotic songs are theologically weak and are sung by many who actually give no thought to the God of the Bible, and so Dr. Hauerwas may be quite correct in warning that these are "are coming very close to becoming idolatrous."
  2. When churches give uncritical endorsement to a nation in their worship, I do believe that they set Christians up to become unable to discern when a government does become tyranical; hence, Dr. Hauerwas' statement about "Germany in 1934" may be appropriate, with some qualification.
  3. As all war is due to human sin, there is a definite since in which Christians should never take joy in war, and we should be very wary of any participation in war. All war should indeed be an occasion for mourning.
  4. I appreciate how Dr. Hauerwas strives for consistency in his presentation, advising Christians to "walk out" of patriotic services.
  5. Patriotic services may indeed become a "counter-liturgy to the liturgy of the church," placing focus on human sacrifices, taking focus off of the sacrifice of Christ, and placing focus on freedom to act as we wish, taking focus off of the freedom we have in Christ to live according to God's will.
As an additional observation, I would like to add that this conversation highlights one of the benefits of expository preaching: preaching the biblical text passage-by-passage, keeping the focus of the text as the focus of the sermon. (In a well-ordered worship service, the Scripture readings, songs, and prayers will also be related to the sermon text.) I am quite certain that-while some appropriate application re: our nation may be made-there is no possibility that the worship service tomorrow at Kosmosdale Baptist Church (where I am a member) will turn into a 'God-and-Country' event. Why? Because last week our pastor (Mitch Chase) preached from Matthew 20:20-28. Therefore (since he is committed to letting the text determine the content of his sermons), this week he is preaching from Matthew 20:29-34. (There's not much about the old stars-and-stripes in those Christ-glorifying verses.)


Friday, July 03, 2015

Eternal Life By Means of the Mosaic Covenant

[Philip] Cary[, a 17th century Particular Baptist, who debated the Baptist position against the paedobaptist John Flavel,] affirmed that the Mosaic covenant was the covenant of works, often describing it in terms of being an edition of "Adam's covenant," and saying that it offered "life and salvation"[, but] he also acknowledged that no one could be saved by that covenant, and that this impossibility made the Mosaic covenant subservient to the covenant of grace. [Samuel Renihan, "Dolphins in the Woods," Journal of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies, 2015. Emphases in original.]

Cary's view, described above, is basically my own view. This view of the Mosaic covenant, perhaps with some slight nuance, was (I believe) also held by Nehemiah Coxe, who was likely the main editor for the Second London Baptist Confession. Samuel Renihan asserts, "Coxe's position [is] that a 'remembrance' of the covenant of works was 'revived' in the Mosaic covenant[, which] is a much softer version of Cary's view of the Mosaic covenant" [ibid]. But Renihan does not actually give an explanation of the [supposed?] difference between Cary's 'edition of Adam's covenant' and Coxe's 'revived remembrance of the covenant of works.'

Coxe wrote:

Yes, such is his infinite bounty that [God] has proposed no lower end to his covenant transactions with men than to bring them into a blessed state of eternal enjoyment of himself. And therefore, when one covenant (through the weakness of man in his lapsed state) has been found weak and unprofitable as to this great end of a covenant because insufficient to accomplish it, God finds fault, abolishes it, and introduces another in which full provision is made for the perfect salvation of those that have interest in it (Hebrews 8:7-8). [Nehemiah Coxe and John Owen, Covenant Theology (Palmdale, CA: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2005),37.]

It seems, therefore, that Coxe also would have affirmed that the end of the Mosaic covenant was to bring God's people "into a blessed state of eternal enjoyment of himself," though he (like Cary) would have affirmed that no one actually could be saved by that covenant, due to our fallen state in Adam, in which we have already broken the original Covenant of Works.

Moses, who was not sinless, was not suited to be a federal head for the entire human race in the same sense as either Adam or the last Adam: our Lord Jesus Christ. On the other hand, it was through the Mosaic covenant that the nation of Israel was established. Christ Himself is the true Israel; He fulfilled all of the requirements placed upon Israel and earned not only "life in the land" (promises ultimately fulfilled in the new heavens and new earth), but also eternal life for all those united to Him by faith. God also made the New Covenant with the "house of Israel and the house of Judah" (Jer 31:31). It is only as we partake of the New Covenant blessings, such as the forgiveness of sins and the indwelling Holy Spirit, that we may stand as righteous in God's sight. Therefore, it is only by being in placed in true Israel (not by works, but by faith) that we may enjoy all of God's covenant blessings.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Bible Reading Like An Apostle: Reading for the Purpose of Application

[The following post was originally published on 1/31/07.]

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17 NIV 1984).
As we begin to examine the apostles' example for reading Scripture it is important to note that though we may distinguish between biblical interpretation and biblical application– and this may be a helpful distinction to make on a regular basis– we must never separate the two. Scripture is useful so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. Understanding this, we realize that when the apostles read the Scripture, they did so for the specific purpose of applying it to their lives and the lives of others in the Church. This is why the Apostle Paul may read a particular civil law from Moses: Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain (Deut. 25:4 NIV 1984), and derive a principle for specific application within the New Covenant community (see 1 Cor. 9:8-12). We too are to read the Bible with this purpose, as instructed by the Apostle, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom,” (Col. 3:16a NIV 1984). So we cannot imagine that we may properly interpret what is being communicated in the biblical text unless we come to the Scripture with a fervent desire to put what God has revealed into practice.


Monday, June 29, 2015

The Mosaic Covenant: Only for "Life in the Land"?

"So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the LORD." (Leviticus 18:5 NASB)

In a recent interview with Dr. Guy Waters, Brandon Adams and Pascal Denault helpfully pointed out how the above verse demonstrates that the Mosaic Covenant is not simply an administration of the Covenant of Grace (the standard Presbyterian view, which effectively erases key differences between the Old and New Covenants); rather, the Mosaic Covenant is a covenant of works. In explaining how the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works, Adams was careful to say that the Mosaic Covenant did not promise eternal life, but only “life in the land.” There may be some problems, however, with viewing the life indicated in Leviticus 18:5 as only involving “life in the land.” Notably:

1.   If the Mosaic Covenant could only secure “life in the land,” then this fact would immediately defeat the assertions of the Apostle Paul’s opponents. When arguing against anti-Christian Jewish opponents and Judaizers, who would seek to bind people to certain aspects of the Law in order to achieve salvation,  Paul never writes, “Look, the Law can only give you ‘life in the land’ rather than eternal life anyway.” If the Law only had “life in the land” in view, then pointing this out would immediately undermine the arguments of those seeking to use the Law for soteriological purposes.

2.   On the other hand, New Testament passages exploring the function of the Mosaic Covenant make a different point about why it could not secure life: a point inconsistent with the view that the Law was only able to secure “life in the land.” NT passages where Leviticus 18:5 is cited (see Rom 10:5, Gal 3:12) are explicitly soteriological; the life under consideration can hardly be only “life in the land” any more than the “curse of the Law” that we actually earn (as mentioned in Gal 3) could conceivably be limited to the loss of real estate.  Jeffrey Smith rightly summarizes key components of Paul’s view concerning the Mosaic law, writing:

The Judaizers were insisting that Gentiles be circumcised. Paul argues that insistence on the necessity of circumcision in order to be justified brings one under a debt to obey the whole law in order to be justified. The law and its obligations cannot be treated piece-meal. If one insists on adherence to any aspect of the law as the means or ground of justification, then one is under obligation to obey the whole law as the means of justification. [Jeffery Smith, “An Overview and Critique of the New Perspective,” Reformed Baptist Theological Review 4 (2007), 112.]

3.   Finally, the view that the Mosaic Covenant could only secure "life in the land" for the one perfectly keeping it may undermine the doctrine of Christ's active righteousness. Christ fulfilled the law of Moses (Matt 5:17-19; Gal 3:10-14). Why did He do this? It was not for His own sake (the eternal Son of God had no need in Himself to be subjected to regulations mediated by one of His creatures); rather, it was for us and our salvation. He did not fulfill the Law on our behalf just in order to secure an area of ground in the Middle East; rather, He fulfilled the Law in order to secure eternal life for His elect bride.

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Friday, May 22, 2015

God the Sustainer: Almighty and Sovereign

"...then we must conclude that the storms that blow against us are not from God. They are part of the natural order which follows a course of natural law." [Jim Evans, quoted in the Opelika-Auburn News, C1, 3 September 2005 under "Where is God in the Storm?"]

In response to the above quote concerning Hurricane Katrina made by a pastor near Auburn, Alabama (where I used to live), Paul Stith, of Grace Heritage Church (where I was once a member), made the following comments:

Why is it that we feel compelled to let God off the hook, as it were? Why do we want to find comfort by saying that God had nothing to do with this? Are we really better off with a God who is little more powerful than the Red Cross, running to the disaster to hold our hand in the aftermath? This is the god that some have constructed in their imaginations.

In stark contrast to this ‘god of our imaginations’ the Bible presents God as omnipotent [that is, "all-powerful"].

God’s omnipotence is majestically and undeniably demonstrated in the first act of creation in which the universe was created out of nothing by God's Word, but often we are distracted by the visible matter around us in such a way as to miss the continuing activity of God throughout creation. We may be quick to acknowledge God as Creator, as I am sure the pastor quoted from the article above would do, but may fail to glorify God by declaring that “He sustains all things by His powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3). That ‘all things are sustained by God’s might’ should clue us in to what the phrase “all-mighty” really indicates: namely, that “God’s omnipotence brings out every phenomenon of existence. This is the essential and sufficient cause of all things.” [Fredrik Brosche, Luther on Predestination (1978).]

God is in control because He is almighty. All power belongs to God. Any power in the natural world–from the force of the hurricane to each movement of the human will–is secondary and derivative from God, who is the Sustainer.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Divine Sovereignty Over the Human Will

Both the scriptural evidence and proper theological reflection demonstrate that God is sovereign over His creation in general. But there is a commonly held view that God has limited His sovereignty when it comes to human choices. This popular view is due more to human philosophy than to God’s revelation, for the Bible clearly declares God’s sovereignty over the human will.

God’s sovereignty in the will of the lost is demonstrated in Scripture. God is presented as sovereign in judging the wicked by hardening their will against His Word in Romans 9:17-18, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” God is presented as sovereign in the saving His elect from their lost condition by the intervention of His Word in Acts 9:1-6,

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”

God’s sovereignty in the will of believers is also demonstrated in Scripture. God is presented as sovereign over our hearts’ desires in Psa 37:4, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” God is specifically presented as sovereign over our desire to do His will in Phil 2:12-13,

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

God is in control. There is no corner of the universe–even within the human heart–outside of God’s control.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

No Maverick Molecules

My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isa 46:10b).

Bible teacher R.C. Sproul, in his classic work Chosen by God, magnifies God’s sovereignty in governing His creation:
God is sovereign over His entire creation. If something could come to pass apart from His sovereign permission, then that which would come to pass would frustrate His sovereignty. If God refused to permit something to happen and it happened anyway, then whatever happened would have more power and authority than God Himself. If there is any part of creation outside of God’s sovereignty, then God is simply not sovereign. If God is not sovereign, then God is not God.
If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled. Perhaps that one maverick molecule will lay waste all the grand and glorious plan that God has made and promised us. If a grain of sand in the kidney of Oliver Cromwell changed the course of English history, so our maverick molecule could change the course of all redemptive history. Maybe that one molecule will be the thing that prevents Christ from returning. (26-27)
The LORD is God. He is sovereign. No part of His creation is outside His control. His purposes cannot be thwarted. 

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Divine Sovereignty: Scripture and Reflection

God is presented as the Sovereign Creator at the beginning of Scripture in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
God is presented as the Sovereign Creator again when creation is spoken of in light of Christ in John 1:3, “All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created.”
God’s sovereignty is established in creation as we read in Acts 17:24, “The God who made the world and everything in it: He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands.” God’s sovereignty is demonstrated in His sustaining power over His creation as we read in Acts 17:28, “For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring.'”
God’s sovereignty over His creation is seen throughout the Scriptures:
· In inanimate creation (Job 37:6-13; 38:12, 22-32; Ps. 104:4, 14; 135:6-7; 148:8 Matt. 5:45)
· In animals (Job 38:39-41; Ps. 104:27-29; Matt. 6:26; 10:29)
· In seemingly random or chance events (Prov. 16:33)
· In the affairs of nations (Job 12:23; Ps. 22:28; Dan. 4:34-35)
· In the will of kings (Ezra 1:1; 6:22; Ps. 33:14-15; Prov, 21:1)
· In the will of believers (Phil. 2:13)
· In every aspect of our lives (Job 14:5; Ps. 139:16; Prov. 16:9; Prov. 20:24; Jer. 10:23; Matt.6:11; Gal. 1:15; Phil. 4:19)
We may sometimes feel out of control. The truth is, even on our best days– as we exercise God-given wisdom in how we order our actions, as we practice godly self-control–the amount of control we are able to exercise is still quite limited. But God is always in control. As we trust in God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can take comfort that He is working out everything for our ultimate good and His glory (Rom 8:28).

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