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, January 03, 2017

Stefan Lindblad on *Ad Intra/Ad Extra*

The following notes are from the Southern California Reformed Baptist Pastors Conference, Session 3, "The Knowledge and Will of God: One or Three?"

"I want to consider... what we might call an architectonic motif in Reformed Theology: namely, an ad intra/ad extra distinction. Richard Muller writes that the ad intra/ad extra pattern is arguably a fundamental, architectonic device in the older Reformed Theology that offers considerable insight into the nature and character of the older Reformed approach to the questions of divine absoluteness and divine relationality. Hence, the significance of the division of the subject of Theology into 'God' and 'the works of God' needs to be noted. Again, citing Muller: the implication of this division is that Theology must define God as He is (insofar as that has been revealed) and then go on to define God in relation to all else (namely, His works)....

"The Reformed theologians wanted to understand something of God considered absolutely (that is, in Himself) and God relatively (that is, God in His relation to the created order)....

"A consideration of ad intra/ad extra does not make God, in His ad intra nature, separate and utterly unknowable... but it actually places God in a relation to His creatures. Now, this pattern of ad intra/ad extra appears consistently throughout the Reformed doctrine of God, and it is intended to indicate an essential foundation in God that provides an absolute, and therefore constant, dependable ground for all that God brings about in the work of creation and salvation, according to Muller.

"Concerning the divine mind, God is then said to have a necessary knowledge ad intra, and a free or voluntary knowledge ad extra (that is, with respect to creatures). Concerning the divine will, God is said to have a 'will of good pleasure' or a 'secret will' ad intra, and a 'will of the sign' or a 'revealed will' or 'perceptive will' ad extra....

"Notice this: the pairs do not indicate a distinction in God Himself, as if God were a composite of multiple intellects or multiple wills. The distinction here is in our apprehension. This is not an ascription of different attributes to God, as Muller notes, but it is the same attribute considered first ad intra and then ad extra....

So what? "With respect to God [this ad intra/ad extra distinction] underlines His independence from creation, but it also underlines the freedom of God: indeed, the freedom of God to create or not to create or to create even a different world than the one which he did create. It underlines the fact, then, that God was under no absolute necessity to create or even to redeem. At the same time, the distinction underlines the way in which the divine absoluteness serves not to exclude but rather to define the nature of the way in which God relates to all things external to Him. It actually assures the constancy of God's relation; indeed, it under-girds God's relation to the world as one of radical freedom. God is not contained by the world, compelled by the world, or constrained by the created order to be or to act in any way. And so the ad intra/ad extra model of God and His works tells us that all of the works of God have a foundation in God and an 'ending point' or 'term' in the created order.

"And thus all of the essential works of the Godhead are acts of the three Persons operating just as the one God. But these works, if you will, 'terminate' on one Person or another (in the incarnation, for example). In other words: the eternal decree needs to be understood as absolute. It is determinate and certain. It is not suspended on the desires of Man nor determined by anything outside of God. There is no preceding condition upon which the decree is suspended, and it cannot be impeded; it cannot be altered.

"And yet the decree is relative also. Relative in two ways: first in relation to the divine willing, which is actually capable of actualizing alternative possibilities in the created order and in relation to its execution in time with respect to its objects and the means by which those objects are realized.

"Here, then, we are seeing that there needs to be in our conception a basic distinction between the decree and its execution, between eternal providence and actual providence. Here, this basic Reformed motif of ad intra and ad extra has significant implications, then, for the way we understand the [divine] decree: not the least of which is a consideration of the will of God in particular..."

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Monday, January 02, 2017

I Call it Heresy! (Redefining "Faith")

Recently, a school of thought has grown up within evangelicalism that insists that repentance and acceptance of the lordship of Christ is not necessary for salvation. All that is required is faith, defined as belief and acceptance. Repentance is a necessity for discipleship. This distinction between salvation and discipleship, however, is very difficult to sustain, as for instance, in the Great Commission, in Matthew 28:19, where Jesus commands his disciples to "go and make disciples." [Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 949-950.]

Introduction

"Heresy," simply defined, is that which denies the fundamentals of Christianity. In the above quote, Erickson mentions a new "school of thought." This new "school of thought" contradicts three fundamentals of Christianity: the doctrine of saving faith, the doctrine of sin, and the doctrine of the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The Biblical Definition of Faith

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH." [Romans 1:16-17 NASB]

The gospel- or "good news"- message of Christianity is, as the verse above instructs us, a revelation of the righteousness of God. This message proclaims the righteousness of God Himself and also how sinful people can become righteous in His sight. The gospel is the power of God for salvation from the wrath of God (cf. Rom. 1:18), but it only grants salvation to those who believe: to those who have faith. It should be obvious, then, that a proper understanding of how God has defined "faith" in His Word is absolutely crucial for people's eternal destiny. The new "school of thought" mentioned at the beginning of this post defines faith as "belief and acceptance". This may sound like a fine definition of faith at first, until we understand what people holding to this new view are denying in light of Scriptural teaching.

In discussing the biblical definition of faith, it is helpful to understand the teaching of the Reformers on this issue. The Protestant Reformation, in a very real sense, was primarily concerned with the role and definition of faith in an individual's life. In debating against false teachers, the Reformers had to carefully search all of the Scriptures in order to understand the fullness of the biblical teaching on faith and to be able to give clear, concise statements of how we should properly understand "faith". During the time of the Protestant Reformation, when people were challenging the traditional Roman Catholic religion that was based on rituals and were asserting that favor with God came through faith in Christ alone, "the Reformers delimited three essential elements of saving faith. [These elements of faith are]: notitia (knowledge of the data or content of the gospel), assensus (the intellectual acceptance or assent to the truth of the gospel's content), and fiducia (personal reliance on or trust in Christ and his gospel)" [R.C. Sproul, Getting the Gospel Right (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 167-169].

The categories mentioned above are drawn out from Scriptures such as the following:

Now faith is the assurance [as in acceptance or assensus] of things hoped for, the conviction [as in trust or fiducia] of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. By faith we understand [as in "knowledge" or notitia] that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. [Hebrews 11:1-3 NASB]


Faith As More Than Intellectual Assent

The new "school of thought" mentioned at the outset of this post primarily denies the fiducia aspect of saving faith. People that teach according to this "school of thought" make statements such as:
Saving faith is simply being convinced or giving credence to the truth of the gospel. It is confidence that Christ can remove guilt and give eternal life, not a personal commitment to Him. [Charles Ryrie, So Great Salvation (Wheaton: Victor, 1989), 156, 119. Quoted in John MacArthur, The Gospel According to the Apostles (Nashville: Word, 2000), 27.]
To "believe" unto salvation is to believe the facts of the gospel. "Trusting Jesus" means believing the "saving facts" about Him, and to believe those facts is to appropriate the gift of eternal life. Those who add any suggestion of commitment have departed from the New Testament idea of salvation. [Zane Hodges, Absolutely Free! (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989), 27, 37-40. Quoted in John MacArthur, The Gospel According to the Apostles. (Nashville: Word, 2000), 28.]
But notice that the way in which the men quoted above define "faith" would not preclude each and every demon in Hell from automatically partaking in salvation. For if "faith" is only knowledge of "saving facts" and acceptance that those facts are true without any love for or trust in the Savior, then how could we avoid the conclusion that the fallen angels have all been saved? The devil certainly knows the Scripture as demonstrated in his temptation of Jesus (Luke 4:3-13). Furthermore, the demons were among the first to recognize Jesus' true nature as the Son of God and the Messiah (Mark 5:6-10). These evil spirits knew the facts about Jesus and accepted the truth of who He was, for they begged Him, knowing that He had power over them. But they were not saved, for they desired to depart from Jesus rather than follow Him, and their master, the devil, is still "prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour" (1 Pet 5:8 HCSB).

Faith in What?

After attacking this fiducia, or "trust", aspect of saving faith, the new "school of thought" goes on to undermine the notitia, or "knowledge", aspect of saving faith. The biblical presentation of the gospel is very clear in the assertion that there is a certain core of knowledge that is crucial to saving faith. As the Apostle Paul writes of the gospel,

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, [1 Corinthians 15:1-4 NASB]

In defining "faith" as only "acceptance" or "assurance," and in their attempt to grant this "assurance" to the greatest number of people possible, professors of the new "school of thought" present a sub-biblical view of the content of the Christian Good News message. As one leading proponent of this view has written,
[I]t is possible to believe savingly in Christ without understanding the reality of His resurrection. [Bob Wilkin, "Tough Questions About Saving Faith," The Grace Evangelical Society News (June 1990):1. Quoted in John MacArthur, The Gospel According to the Apostles (Nashville: Word, 2000), 46.]
By this statement, Wilkin has denied one of the doctrines that the Apostle declared to be of "first importance:" one of the doctrines that Paul clearly proclaims as necessary for salvation in the passage quoted above.

Faith As More Than Momentary Assurance

Having defined "faith" as "acceptance" or "assurance" in certain "saving facts" (which facts have been shown to be rather dubious in light of the above quote by Bob Wilkin), the new "school of thought" being examined here must account for the reality that many people, having accepted certain facts about Jesus and having come to assurance of their salvation, later reject the gospel message or lack assurance as to their salvation. So the question is, 'according to the new view, do these people who now reject the gospel or lack assurance then lose their salvation?' The answer of the new "school of thought" would be that these people do not lose their salvation. And many of us would agree that indeed, anyone coming to true faith in Christ cannot lose their salvation. So then the question becomes, 'according to the new view do these people who now reject the gospel or lack assurance then prove that they never had true faith?' The answer of the new "school of thought" would be that we should not question the salvation of those who utterly lack assurance or who have even completely rejected the gospel, for in their view, if a person has ever had an intellectual assent to facts about Jesus, then they are eternally secure.

As Bob Wilkin, who was quoted above, has clearly stated,
There is no time requirement on saving faith, the moment of faith, the believer receives eternal life once and for all, whether he dies shortly thereafter, or whether he lives for 100 more years, even if a person believes only for a while, he still has eternal life. [Bob Wilkin, Confident in Christ, quoted by Dr. James White; Dr. James White vs Dr. Robert Wilkin, "The Regeneration and Perserverance Debate"]
In the debate quoted above, Bob Wilkin gives a snapshot of how he presents the Jesus to a non-believer, saying,
One of the things that I like to do when I’m talking to people is I will say, ‘Jesus said, -He who believes in Me has everlasting life- Do you believe in Jesus?’ Oftentimes in America, people say, ‘yes,’ right? So I say, ‘well, what do you have?’ Y’know, Jesus says, -He who believes in Me has everlasting life.’ [People say,] ‘I don’t know.’ So then I say, ‘well, this isn’t rocket science- you say you believe in Jesus, and Jesus says (John 6:47) -He who believes in Me has everlasting life.’
According to Bob Wilkin, if at any time the person to whom he was speaking were to say, ‘well, I believe in Jesus, so I have everlasting life,’ then they would undoubtedly possess eternal life, no matter if they were to profess similar belief in Buddha or if they were later to become an atheist. Other proponents of this view have stated this position very clearly. Charles Ryrie wrote,
A believer may utterly forsake Christ and come to the point of not believing. God has guaranteed that He will not disown those who thus abandon the faith. Those who have once believed are secure forever, even if they turn away. [Charles Ryrie, So Great Salvation (Wheaton: Victor, 1989), 141, 143. Quoted in John MacArthur, The Gospel According to the Apostles (Nashville: Word, 2000), 27.]
Likewise, Zane Hodges wrote,
It is possible to experience a moment of faith that guarantees heaven for eternity, then to turn away permanently and live a life that is utterly barren of any spiritual fruit. Genuine believers might even cease to name the name of Christ or confess Christianity.[Zane Hodges, Absolutely Free! (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989), 107, 111, 118-119. Quoted in John MacArthur, The Gospel According to the Apostles (Nashville: Word, 2000), 28.]
But in direct contradiction to these statements, Jesus declared,

"If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels." [Mark 8:34b-38 NASB emphasis added]

Also, the Apostle John clearly stated,

They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. [1 John 2:19 NASB]

Notice that the fact that the ones spoken about in the verse above left the fellowship of the body of believers is taken as absolute proof that "they were not really of us." The view of faith as momentary assurance, as mere intellectual assent, which guarantees salvation even to those who eventually become atheists, does not agree with the biblical presentation of a persevering faith.


Vives Fide

The Protestant Reformers were used by God to proclaim the gospel message- the good news that justification is by faith alone- to a lifeless, ritualistic church. But we must understand that the Reformers consciously made the distinction between dead rituals and what they called vives fide, or "living faith". The doctrine of sola fide- or "faith alone," preached by the early Protestants- and taught in Scripture passages such as Romans 4:1-8 or Galatians 3:6-14- was not something at which the Roman Catholic Church could merely nod her head and go on her merry way, for faith is something that utterly transforms the life of the one in whom it resides. As a blind man who has just been given sight or a deaf man who has just been granted ears to hear cannot help but to change his lifestyle, so the man who has been given faith- who has formerly possessed a heart of unbelief, yet now trusts in Christ as his only Savior- will inevitably act in a manner fundamentally different than he ever imagined.

For this reason the Reformer, Martin Luther, wrote,

True faith, of which we speak, cannot be manufactured by our own thoughts, for it is solely a work of God in us,
without any assistance on our part. As Paul said to the Romans, it is God's gift and grace, obtained by one man, Christ. Therefore, faith is something very powerful, active, restless, effective, which at once renews a person and again regenerates him, and leads him altogether into a new manner and character of life, so that it is impossible not to do good without ceasing.
For just as natural as it is for a tree to produce fruit, so natural is it for faith to produce good works. [Martin Luther, "Justification by Faith" in Classic Sermons on Faith and Doubt, ed. Warren W. Wiersbe (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1985) 78. Quoted in John MacArthur, The Gospel According to the Apostles (Nashville: Word, 2000), 236.]
Conclusion

Finally, I would like to simply close with the following statement by the apologist James White:
I’m going to gladly accept the characterization that I believe that saving faith is more than mere intellectual assent because the Protestant Reformation has condemned as a heresy that perspective from the very beginning and I join with that. [Dr. James White vs Dr. Robert Wilkin, "The Regeneration and Perserverance Debate"]
[The above article is adapted from a blogpost that I originally published on 2/24/06.]

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Friday, December 09, 2016

Suffrage Within the Church in Electing Elders

[I originally posted the following in April of this year. This week, Denny Burk published a blogpost on the same topic: "Does the congregation have a role in 'appointing' elders?" Dr. Burk reaches similar conclusions to what I post below, though he may be more 'congregational rule' than 'elder led' in his view of church government. Wanting to be a part of the current conversation on this topic, I offer this again.]
 
3 points about the above video:

1. Yes, it may have been made with sexist intention, and sexism is wrong.
2. It is, however, genuinely ironic and funny.
3. The real point is that most people have not been educated or prompted to consider their right to vote, and that definitions matter. (This is why I used to show this video when teaching Political Science; I think that someone could have just as easily gotten a bunch of guys to thoughtlessly sign a petition against men's suffrage.)

With that goofy introduction out of the way: this post is not about women's suffrage, or suffrage in general. This post is about suffrage within the church, specifically in regard to the election of elders. I believe that, just as people in society at large have not adequately thought through issues related to voting, we within the church have not adequately thought through the role that voting plays in our congregations.

Concerning suffrage within the church, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 declares: "Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes." In line with this statement, I was brought up under a tradition of regular church business meetings, wherein the congregation would vote on various issues facing the church. Though, at times, the business meetings were viewed as alternately either boring or contentious, no one questioned whether they should be occurring.

In college, I lived in a different town, and I became involved in an independent church, the pastor of which was very strong on the elder-rule model of church government. He basically believed that the congregation did not need to vote on anything. Whereas I remained convinced that the New Testament gives warrant for the congregation electing deacons, I followed my then-pastor's conviction that elders should be appointed by other elders, and that the elders should make virtually all of the decisions for the congregation as a whole; I did not see that the need for any church vote regarding the installation of elders. I believed that my conclusions on this matter were warranted from Titus 1:5, in which Paul instructed Titus (who was a pastor), "For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city, as I directed you." This passage seemed to indicate the Titus himself, and not the various congregations, was in charge of installing elders for the congregations.

When I became a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, my thinking on elders unilaterally appointing other elders was challenged. Surprisingly, the decisive challenge (moving me back into a more historically Baptist direction) did not come from a Baptist, but from a Presbyterian. For a Missions class, I was required to read Robert Reymond's Paul, Missionary Theologian. In discussing aspects of church government seen in Paul's missionary activity, with specific reference to Acts 14:23, Reymond notes:


The verb xειροτονέw literally means ‘choose, elect by raising hands’. The action described here probably means that Paul as an apostle simply appointed elders when he first planted a church, just as missionaries often do today when they first plant a church. This ‘appointing’ did not preclude, however, his seeking the church’s will in the matter by asking the congregation for a show of hands. (502n10)

The idea seems to be that elders will initiate the choosing of other elders, but that the congregation will play an important role in confirming the calling of those elders. Practically speaking, this makes sense in at least two ways:

1. Men who may be considered for the role of elder might tend to put on more of a pious manner when around the already-appointed elders than when around others.  Members of the congregation who are not elders may have insight into ways that a man's character does not line up with the qualifications of an elder.

2. In general, if the congregation does not respect a certain man (perhaps not through specific moral fault in the man, but rather through his not having labored among them for an adequate time), then-if that man is installed as an elder with no formal congregational input-it might be hard for the congregation to accept the new elder's pastoral authority.

John Calvin made a similar point as Reymond, in an even more expansive way, when he considered the question, 'Should a minister be chosen by the whole church, or only by colleagues and elders, or by the authority of a single pastor?' Calvin answered:


Those who attribute this right to one individual quote the words of Paul to Titus “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city” (Tit. 1:5); and also to Timothy, “Lay hands suddenly on no man” (l Tim. 5:22). But they are mistaken if they suppose that Timothy so reigned at Ephesus, and Titus in Crete, as to dispose of all things at their own pleasure. They only presided by previously giving good and salutary counsels to the people, not by doing alone whatever pleased them, while all others were excluded. Lest this should seem to be a fiction of mine, I will make it plain by a similar example. Luke relates that Barnabas and Paul ordained elders throughout the churches, but he at the same time marks the plan or mode when he says that it was done by suffrage. The words are, Χειροτονήσαντες πρεσβυτέρους κατ εκκλησίαν (Acts 14:23). They therefore selected (creabant) two; but the whole body, as was the custom of the Greeks in elections, declared by a show of hands which of the two they wished to have. Thus it is not uncommon for Roman historians to say, that the consul who held the comitia elected the new magistrates, for no other reason but because he received the suffrages, and presided over the people at the election. Certainly it is not credible that Paul conceded more to Timothy and Titus than he assumed to himself. Now we see that his custom was to appoint bishops by the suffrages of the people. We must therefore interpret the above passages, so as not to infringe on the common right and liberty of the Church. Rightly, therefore, does Cyprian contend for it as of divine authority, that the priest be chosen in presence of the people, before the eyes of all, and be approved as worthy and fit by public judgment and testimony, (Cyprian, Lib. 1 Ep. 3). Indeed, we see that by the command of the Lord, the practice in electing the Levitical priests was to bring them forward in view of the people before consecration. Nor is Matthias enrolled among the number of the apostles, nor are the seven deacons elected in any other way, than at the sight and approval of the people (Acts 6:2). “Those examples,” says Cyprian, “show that the ordination of a priest behoved not to take place, unless under the consciousness of the people assisting, so that ordination was just and legitimate which was vouched by the testimony of all.” We see, then, that ministers are legitimately called according to the word of God, when those who may have seemed fit are elected on the consent and approbation of the people. (Institutes 4.3.15)

After the above statement on suffrage within the church in electing elders, Calvin then gives the following important word: Other pastors, however, ought to preside over the election, lest any error should be committed by the general body either through levity, or bad passion, or tumult. (Ibid.)


With all of this in mind, I  believe that when it comes to electing elders, the already-appointed elders should take a lead role in both bringing new candidates for eldership before the congregation and in presiding over the election of new elders. HOWEVER, candidates for eldership must be confirmed by the whole congregation. The biblical warrant for the congregation both electing officers and exercising church discipline (Matt 18:17) means that there is definitely a congregational aspect to church government.

I will say that I am still a bit uncomfortable with the Baptist Faith and Message declaration about "democratic processes," simply because the term "democratic" has such philosophical and historic baggage. HOWEVER, I fully concur with the statement in the Reformed Baptist Confession (1689):

The way appointed by Christ for the calling of any person, fitted and gifted by the Holy Spirit, unto the office of bishop or elder in a church, is, that he be chosen thereunto by the common suffrage of the church itself; and solemnly set apart by fasting and prayer, with imposition of hands of the eldership of the church, if there be any before constituted therein; and of a deacon that he be chosen by the like suffrage, and set apart by prayer, and the like imposition of hands. 
( Acts 14:23; 1 Timothy 4:14; Acts 6:3, 5, 6 )
 (26.9, emphasis added)


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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Psalm 118: A Thanksgiving Psalm

The text of Psalm 118 is as follows [from the NIV 1984]:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.
Let Israel say:
    “His love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say:
    “His love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord say:
    “His love endures forever.”
In my anguish I cried to the Lord,
    and he answered by setting me free.
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.
    What can man do to me?
The Lord is with me; he is my helper.
    I will look in triumph on my enemies.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in princes.
10 All the nations surrounded me,
    but in the name of the Lord I cut them off.
11 They surrounded me on every side,
    but in the name of the Lord I cut them off.
12 They swarmed around me like bees,
    but they died out as quickly as burning thorns;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off.
13 I was pushed back and about to fall,
    but the Lord helped me.
14 The Lord is my strength and my song;
    he has become my salvation.
15 Shouts of joy and victory
    resound in the tents of the righteous:
“The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!
16     The Lord’s right hand is lifted high;
    the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!”
17 I will not die but live,
    and will proclaim what the Lord has done.
18 The Lord has chastened me severely,
    but he has not given me over to death.
19 Open for me the gates of righteousness;
    I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord
    through which the righteous may enter.
21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
    you have become my salvation.
22 The stone the builders rejected
    has become the capstone;
23 the Lord has done this,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Lord, save us;
    Lord, grant us success.
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
    From the house of the Lord we bless you.
27 The Lord is God,
    and he has made his light shine upon us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
    up to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I will give you thanks;
    you are my God, and I will exalt you.
29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.
A few of notes re: this Psalm:

I love how this Psalm is bracketed by thanksgiving to God. The Psalm begins and ends with the same words of thanksgiving (vv. 1, 29). In the middle of the Psalm, there is the repetition of thanksgiving concerning "The LORD's right hand" (vv. 15-16). There are several other modes of expression in the Psalm, such as supplication (v. 25), or a poetic recounting of historical events (vv. 10-12), but these are all within a Psalm of thanksgiving. This reminds us, that however we address God and others, our lives must be characterized by constant thanksgiving (1 Thess 5:18).

But this thanksgiving is not just an individual action. The psalmist is calling upon his hearers/readers to thank God with him. This is a reminder that we are to be concerned with bearing witness concerning the goodness of the LORD, that all nations would praise Him.

And why does the psalmist give thanks to God? First and foremost, because of Who He Is. God is good; He is the one with an ever-enduring love. I fear that many of us, even if we do mention the things we are thankful for on Thanksgiving Day, tend to focus overmuch on the things rather than the Giver of those things.

The psalmist does not give thanks to God on the basis of God giving him a charmed, trouble-free life. The psalmist does not feel that he must pretend that his life is trouble-free. Instead, the psalmist writes: "In my anguish I cried to the LORD" (v. 5). On Thanksgiving Day, many are feeling anguish: especially those who are separated from loved ones due to death or distance. It is a comfort that we can still cry out to the LORD in our anguish, and that-by faith-we can be assured of His help.

The psalmist points to the gospel in his praise. The psalmist writes of the righteous man, who is rejected by unjust authorities, and who is vindicated by God (vv. 22-23). The Apostle Peter interprets this image of a rejected then exalted "stone" as fulfilled by Christ (Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:7), who was put to death by the religious and governmental authorities of His day, but who rose again, showing that He had conquered sin, death, and Hell on behalf of all who believe in Him.

There are many other points that could be made about this Psalm. Contemporary songs have been written, which draw upon its various verses. But allow me to leave you with this: on this Thanksgiving, it is good to meditate upon the Word of the LORD and truly give Him praise.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Thanksgiving Reflection

Often I will see my wife and children in the living room of our house and will feel awash with an overwhelming sense of gratitude to God for the blessing that they are to me. Our Heavenly Father is truly the Giver of all good things. I am aware, at least to some degree, of how selfish that I can be, and I in no way deserve Abby's love; without God's grace in my life, I could choose to isolate myself and follow sinful desires, tearing my family apart and robbing us all of the happiness that we have together: a mistake that I've seen some of my friends make. This Thanksgiving, I pray God's protection on my household and pray that He grant us wisdom to continually thank Him as we seek to serve Christ.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Song for the Thanksgiving Season: Give Thanks

Give thanks with
a grateful heart.
Give thanks to the
Holy One.
Give thanks, because
He's given Jesus Christ,
His Son.

And now, let the weak
say, "I am strong."
Let the poor
say, "I am rich,"
Because of what the
Lord has done for us.

Give thanks.

-by Henry Smith, 1978
(Matt. 5:3; Jn. 3:16; II Cor. 12:10; Phil. 4:6-7)

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Monday, November 21, 2016

A song for this Thanksgiving season: The Love of God, by Frederick M. Lehman

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.

When years of time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men, who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

Refrain.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

Refrain.

[From the cyberhymnal page HERE.]

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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Response to the Election Result: Prayer

The following post is adapted from what I wrote back in 2008, just after that year's presidential election. Only the conclusion is updated to apply to the current moment.

Five Biblical Examples

1. In Genesis 12, God promised Abram that he would bless him, making him a great nation with many descendants. Later in this chapter Abram and his wife Sarai go down into Egypt. Abram is fearful that the Egyptians will kill him to steal his beautiful wife, so he tells Sarai to claim she is his sister (this shows how fear can lead to making crazy decisions). Sarai is then taken into Pharaoh's harem. Pharaoh planned to keep Sarai for a wife, but the Lord sent plagues upon Pharaoh and all his house. Apparently, in inquiring why calamity was coming upon him, Pharaoh learned Sarai was Abram's sister, and he returned Sarai to Abram and made sure that they were able to safely leave his land.

2. In Genesis 20 an almost identical situation occurred involving Abraham, Sarah, and King Abimelech; this time, after Abimelech took Sarah from Abraham, but before he could take her for a wife, the Lord came to him in a dream and warned him that he would be killed if he had relations with her. Thus, Sarah is once again returned to Abraham by divine intervention.

3. In Exodus 7-12 Pharaoh repeatedly denied liberty to the people of Israel, intending to keep them as a weakened slave-race, subjected to the Egyptians. But God sent severe plagues upon the Egyptians, culminating in the death of all firstborn people and animals in unbelieving households, including the death of Pharaoh's own child. Thus, Pharaoh's will was broken, and he commanded the people of Israel to leave Egypt.

4. In Daniel 4 King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was bragging on his own majesty and accomplishments. Presumably, he was very pleased with his state in life and planned to continue reigning, uninterrupted, as a glorious king upon the earth, commanding others to worship him as he worshiped himself. Quite suddenly, God struck Nebuchadnezzar with madness and he lost everything; he was reduced to living as a beast in the field. After an appointed time had passed, God restored his senses to him, and King Nebuchadnezzar worshiped God, rather than himself.

5. In Acts 9 Saul had been granted executive authority to capture and imprison Christians, for the purpose of having them sentenced to death. While Saul was "yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9:1 KJV), the Lord appeared to him, knocked him to the ground and informed him that he was now an Christian apostle, instead of a persecutor of Christians (cf. Acts 26:12-18).

Biblical Principle

Throughout Scripture we see kings and other governmental authorities who express one intention, and yet, when he chooses, God over-rides the intentions of kings and rulers so that they end up making decisions contrary to their original intention. God rules in this way for the purpose of maginifying His glory.

Conclusion

As Denny Burk noted, Donald Trump displayed a character that was outside the normal bounds of acceptability for a presidential candidate. If someone read the "Resolution on Moral Character of Public Officials" from the Southern Baptist Convention, without knowing that it was adopted in 1998 (in light of the scandals of President Bill Clinton), it would be easy to assume that the resolution was crafted with Mr. Trump in mind. What was true in 1998 under Bill Clinton is true in 2016 under Donald Trump. Yet Mr. Trump (who is in print and on tape as repeatedly bragging about marital infidelity) infamously claimed in 2015 that he rarely, if ever, asks God for forgiveness, saying: "I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don't bring God into that picture. I don't."

For both political and moral reasons, many Christians are seriously concerned about what a Donald Trump presidency may hold. But God can change Donald Trump's mind and his character, and Christians should faithfully pray to this end.

True hope is not in presidents or in voters, but in God, the sovereign Lord over creation.
The king's heart is like channels of water in the hands of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes. (Proverbs 21:1 NASB)

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Saturday, November 05, 2016

Evan McMullin: An Explanation of Reluctantly Voting for Romney, Part 2

As Denny Burk articulates well, in the current presidential election, both of the major party candidates are entirely unacceptable. For this reason, I have been planning to vote third-party (or for an independent candidate). I like the Constitution Party platform, and had planned to vote for the Constitution Party candidate, Darrell Castle. However, Castle is not listed on the ballot in Kentucky, and I am receiving conflicting information as to whether he is an approved write-in candidate.

The best option that I have on the Kentucky ballot appears to be Evan McMullin. According to his website, McMullin is pro-life and a constitutional conservative. Though it's, admittedly, rather a long-shot, there is a possibility of McMullin winning the presidency (probably through the contingent election process).

The realities of this election season leave many evangelicals, like me, with the unsavory choice of casting a vote for a Mormon. I [and many of my fellow evangelicals] deem this choice "unsavory" because Mormonism promotes an anti-Christian view of both the content and the source of true belief in God.

In thinking through this matter, I'm reminded of my reasoning in voting for Mitt Romney against Barack Obama in the 2012 election. Though reluctant to vote for Romney, I found Obama to be entirely unacceptable due to his radically pro-abortion agenda. The following is what I wrote concerning Mitt Romney in 2012, which also applies to voting for McMullin this Tuesday.

Many of my evangelical friends are, understandably, concerned that electing Mitt Romney will promote Mormonism: that Mormon missionaries, both in the U.S. and throughout the world, will find greater ease in winning people to their false gospel if they can trumpet their religion as the religion of the President.


But to what extent is this a valid concern?

Note that some within the Mormon organization itself do not believe that Mitt Romney as President will help their cause. For example, see the following excerpt of a letter from a Mormon missionary, as heard on NPR's Talk of the Nation yesterday:

"My fear is that if Mitt Romney's elected President, it will be more difficult for LDS missionaries abroad to distinguish themselves from the United States in countries where many may not love Americans. I worry any 'wrongs' made by Mitt Romney would reflect poorly upon the [Mormon] Church, not only abroad, but here in the States."

It is unlikely that Mormon missionaries will be able to use Mr. Romney as much of an example if they have to: 1) constantly distance themselves from the notion that Mormonism = Americanism [especially when they are in other nations]; 2) constantly explain why the Mormon Church's positions on issues are somewhat different that Mr. Romney's positions.

Finally, I would encourage my fellow evangelicals to consider the following: when Bill Clinton was elected President, and throughout his presidency, he was a member "in good standing" of a Southern Baptist affiliated church in Arkansas. Does anyone really believe that having Mr. Clinton in office (even before the Lewinsky scandal came to light) was any help at all for Southern Baptist evangelists and missionaries? I can testify that during the Clinton administration I was involved in door-to-door evangelism with my Dad and other members of my church; I can honestly say that it never crossed our minds to mention Bill Clinton. If having a member of one's denomination as President is not a help for a true expression Christian belief, then why should we assume that a Mormon as President would help that false expression of faith in God?

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Dr. Albert Mohler on the Abstract of Principles' Origin

In this blogpost, I highlight three quotes from Dr. Albert Mohler. These quotes are all from early in Dr. Mohler's career as President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary [SBTS]. When these quotes were given, Dr. Mohler was engaging in the struggle of reformation at SBTS, returning the institution to biblical fidelity, as expressed in its confessional basis: the Abstract of Principles. I highlight both the historical origin of the Abstract and the history of reformation at SBTS with three prayers in mind: 1) that the Southern Baptist Convention [SBC] can experience unity in truth, while engaging in gospel-focused theological education and missions; 2) that the churches in cooperation with the SBC will experience continued reformation, hearing the doctrines of God's sovereign grace ever more clearly proclaimed from our pulpits; 3) that SBC-affiliated churches could find increasing opportunities for cooperation with [other] Reformed Baptist churches outside the SBC.

On April 8, 1993, when he was president-elect of the seminary, Dr. Mohler participated in a question-and-answer forum at SBTS chapel. [You can view the entire forum HERE.] In this forum, he said the following about the Abstract of Principles:
"The Abstract of Principles is the confessional document of this institution, and it is (in fact) a contractual document. Every elected member of the faculty has affixed her name or his name to that document, going all the way back to the founders in 1859. As a part of my election as President, and the search process, all of the finalists were asked to present to the Search Committee, and then to the Board of Trustees, an interpretation (a very brief interpretation) of the Abstract... [the Abstract] is the bedrock of this institution. When Basil Manly Sr., who was the first Chairman of the Board of Trustees of this institution, wrote to James Petigru Boyce [the first SBTS president] anticipating the founding of this school, he told Boyce, 'There must be a confession; you must state what you believe and what you will teach.' ... All of us who are assigned responsibility and submit ourselves to the Abstract agree to teach 'in accordance with, and not contrary to' that document... The Abstract is a very straight-forward document. It was written very carefully, based upon the Second London Confession, the Philadelphia Confession, and later recensions that came into Southern Baptist life directly. It was written so that it would be straightforward, and without great ambiguity."
Upon his convocation, on August 31, 1993, Dr. Mohler delivered the famous address, "Don't Just Do Something, Stand There!" setting forth a vision for reformation at Southern Seminary, according to the institution's confessional basis, the Abstract of Principles. Concerning the origin of the Abstract, Dr. Mohler said:
"The most critical role in bringing the Abstract of Principles to final form was served by Basil Manly, Jr., another of the four founding faculty... At Princeton, both Manly and Boyce had studied under the imposing figure of Samuel Miller, a stalwart defender of Presbyterian theological and ecclesiastical standards, who argued the 'The necessity and importance of creeds and confessions appears from the consideration that one great design of establishing a Church in our world was that she might be, in all ages, a depository, a guardian, and a witness of the truth.' 
"That same conviction drove Boyce, both Manlys, John A. Broadus, and those who deliberated with them, to propose an Abstract of Principles based upon the Second London Confession, which was itself a Baptist revision of the Westminster Confession. The Second London Confession had been adopted in slightly revised form by the Baptist associations in Philadelphia and Charleston, and had thus greatly influenced Baptists of both the North and the South."
In 1995 the Founders Journal released a special issue, commemorating the sesquicentennial of the SBC. This issue was handed out to messengers of the 1995 annual meeting of the SBC. In this issue, Dr. Mohler, who was still in the heat of the controversy regarding the reformation of SBTS, wrote an article titled, "To Train the Minister Whom God Has Called: James Petigru Boyce and Southern Baptist Theological Education." In that article, Dr. Mohler wrote:
"The Abstract of Principles came primarily from the editorial pen of Basil Manly, Jr., who had been assigned the task of drafting the confession. Manly drew from the very finest and most faithful Baptist tradition by turning to the Charleston Confession and its Reformed Baptist orthodoxy. The Abstract of Principles stands as a brilliant summary of biblical and Baptist conviction. It is solidly based within the confessional tradition of the Baptists and was, as acknowledged by those who set it in place, a faithful repetition of the central truths found within the Westminster Confession. 
"Thus the great truths of the sovereignty of God and the doctrines of grace were incorporated within the heart of Southern Baptists’ first theological institution. Here was to be found no lack of doctrinal clarity and no ambiguity on the great doctrines which had united Baptists to this date. Sincere and earnest Southern Baptist who wish to understand the true substance of our theological heritage need look no further than the Abstract of Principles for a clear outline of the doctrines once most certainly held among us. Let there be no doubt that in the years to come Southern Seminary will be unashamedly and unhesitantly committed to these same doctrinal convictions as set forth in this incomparable document."

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