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 New Georgia Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Glory of God in Romans 3:23, Explained and Applied

One of the very first Bible verses that I ever memorized was Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." The reason that I memorized this verse was for the first part: that ALL have sinned. This verse is properly a proof that ALL are in need of a Savior.

I did not realize until tonight, however, that I have given woefully inadequate attention to the second half of the verse: "come short of the glory of God." What does it mean to have fallen short of God's glory? IF someone had pressed me on this point, I THINK that I would have responded with some vague idea of our sins making us less than God, who is perfect. But aren't we less than God regardless of sin? Even if a person could somehow refrain from sin throughout his or her entire life, wouldn't that person still be less than God?

I believe that Richard Barcellos' words from the Southern California Reformed Baptist Pastors' Conference are extremely helpful on this point:

Barcellos explains that the "glory of God"in Romans 3:23 refers to "the state of existence in God's special presence" (contrasted with His general omnipresence), which Man "did not possess via creation." Man was created in a blessed state, but not in a state of glory. Adam failed the test God had placed before him, eating from the forbidden fruit-thereafter being barred from eating from the tree of life (Gen 3:6, 22-24)-therefore Adam never entered into "the glory of God" that he would have attained if he had passed the test. Being "in Adam" (1 Cor 15:22), we were all "by nature children under wrath" (Eph 2:3). Adam came short of God's glory; in him, we ALL come short of the glory of God. We live out our fallenness as we choose to sin against God.

Barcellos goes on to proclaim:

"But here is the good news: another came-the last Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ-who suffered, and entered into glory in His resurrection, and will bring many sons to glory. [Believers] will also gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thess 2:14)."

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Ransom

The following is from Walt Chantry's final sermon as pastor of Grace Baptist Church, June 9, 2002, as printed in Tom Chantry and David Dykstra's Holding Communion Together:

Walt Chantry
"I'll tell you what you will not find in any other religion of the world, and that's a ransom. That's a sacrifice, given to satisfy divine justice, and to lift the curse of God against sin. There is no other Lamb. There is no other blood that can save. What menial service this was for our Lord Jesus Christ, to come under the rod of God's curse for us.

"Do you thank him enough for that? Have you trembled enough about the curse that comes to you when you break the law, so that you will say to the Lord Jesus-and I hope you will say it tonight: 'If that curse came upon me I would perish-I would be destroyed forever. Thank you Lord Jesus for giving your life a ransom for many. Thank you for including me in that many.'

"He came intentionally to undertake that mission. And if you stay away from this Savior, your heart is hard. And you count yourself unworthy of salvation, because nowhere else will you find anything like the Lord Jesus Christ, who volunteered to give his life as a ransom."

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Saturday, December 06, 2014

Does a meaningful study of the ancient Church "Fathers" necessarily lead a person away from Protestantism?

I have a friend whose religious journey took him from the Assemblies of God, through the Vineyard movement to Anglicanism, and now he is affiliated with Eastern Orthodoxy. Somewhere along the line, my friend picked up an antipathy toward Protestantism. Recently, in a somewhat typical comment, my friend proclaimed on Facebook: "You can't read the fathers in any meaningful way and remain protestant"

I was especially interested in this comment, because-through the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary-I've become acquainted with several scholars who have done a great deal of study in the "fathers"(the influential pastors and theologians from the earliest centuries of Christianity) and these scholars remain committed to Protestantism. So I posed this question to a group of Protestant scholars of patristics: how would you respond to someone who claims, "You can't read the fathers in any meaningful way and remain protestant"?

The following post details the responses I received.

Luke Stamps
The first respondent was Dr. Luke Stamps, Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University. Luke wrote his dissertation as a defense of dyothelitism, and this work required him to do extensive research in early Church "fathers" leading up to Maximus the Confessor (c. 580-13 August 662). More recently, Luke co-wrote and presented a paper on "Baptists and the Catholicity of the Church" for the Evangelical Theological Society. This paper was focused on better situating "Baptist faith and practice within the historic Christian tradition". Luke's response was short and sweet: "Read Calvin."

Luke's appeal to Calvin was echoed and expanded by another response that I received, that from Dr. Gregg Allison, Professor of Christian Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Among other works, Dr. Allison is the author of Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine and Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment. Dr. Allison wrote:

Gregg Allison
My first response is that the Protestant Reformers read the fathers in a meaningful way, and that patristic legacy became fuel for the Reformation. While those Reformers recognized that they could not embrace the patristic fathers as authoritative tradition in a Catholic sense (that is, of equal authority with Scripture), they embraced many of their writings and the early creeds (e.g., Nicene-Constantinopolitan, Chalcedonian, Apostles’). To take one example, when defending the doctrine of the Trinity against anti-trinitarians (like Michael Servetus), the Reformers concurred with the early church’s trinitarian formulations. A second example: in the Lord’s Supper debates between Zwingli and Luther, each man accused the other of being guilty of an early church heresy (Nestorianism, Eutychianism), and each denied the other’s charge and claimed accord with the Chalcedonian consensus.

My second response is to point to the growing number of Protestant scholars who are patristic experts and convinced Protestants. If you want my own perspective on this issue, please see my chapter in the recently released Revisioning, Renewing, Rediscovering the Triune Center: Essays in Honor of Stanley J. Grenz (chapter 16 is mine).

My friend and co-worker Shawn Wilhite (who is a co-founder of the Center for Ancient Christian Studies) also appealed to the Reformers, while expressing concern that current Protestants are too quick to become anxious over or even dismiss the early Church "fathers". Shawn wrote:

Shawn Wilhite
First, I'd point to Luther, Calvin, and Bucer for the insistence on reading the Fathers. Calvin critiques those who have fallen into unorthodox readings from the result of not reading the Fathers. Carl Trueman overly simplifies the Reformation by saying it boiled down to which party has the more correct reading of Augustine.

Second, much of "Christianeese" is from early Fathers. For example, the Trinity is a Latin term from Tertullian.

Third, read with a discerning open ear. They are right in a lot of places (Didache, Hilary of Poitier, Tertullian, even Cyprian). Why are we dependent upon their theology, especially orthodox creeds and essential theology, but then panic once we read them? I would suggest it is our modernism. Also, because they are closer to the apostolic era, I'm more inclined to want to listen to them quicker than dismissal.

Michael A.G. Haykin
Dr. Michael A.G. Haykin has written an entire book on the Church "fathers" and so (understandably) his response to the question "how would you respond to someone who claims, 'You can't read the fathers in any meaningful way and remain protestant'?" was an appeal to that book:  "Tell them to read my Rediscovering the Church Fathers, and then we can talk. In essence, I would say how can you read the Fathers and be a Roman Catholic!"

Coleman Ford, the other co-founder of the Center for Ancient Christian Studies,
Coleman Ford
wrote most helpfully:

I would ask what does "meaningful" mean in this question? I feel like sometime people are looking for things in the fathers that simply aren't there. Too often people come to the fathers with their own questions/positions without letting them speak on their own terms.

That being said, the fathers certainly challenge me in my reading of Scripture and help me to think deeply about my theological commitments. The fathers don't belong to any one group, they belong to the Catholic Church, that is, those who hold to classic orthodox Christian commitments. I don't understand why some feel they should become RC or EO once they read the fathers. All the Protestant reformers were intimately conversant with the fathers, and they all came to the same conclusion—the fathers are on the side of the reformation.

Certainly I don't read the fathers uncritically. They were fallible men seeking to understand infallible scripture and the infinite nature of our triune God. We owe much to them in establishing many of our theological categories, but we also have the benefit of 1500 years of church history following them. We can't simply approach the fathers without appreciating this fact. With that in mind, we are able to reflect on the trajectory of their thought, learning from their strengths and flaws. I see no reason why one needs to jettison Protestant (and evangelical) commitments when reading the fathers. In fact, my evangelical Protestantism is thoroughly strengthened by my reading and interaction with the fathers.


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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Mitch Chase: "The Genesis of Resurrection Hope"

Earlier this month, Mitch Chase-my friend and pastor-provided a link to his JETS article on the resurrection hope, as found in the book of Genesis. To any pastor or teacher who may be reading this: if you ever plan to preach/teach the book of Genesis, you will certainly benefit from reading this article. Based on the teaching of Christ and His Apostle, as well as a close examination of the Genesis text itself, Mitch demonstrates how the gospel message (the good news of death-overcoming life through the Promised One) is found from the beginning of Scripture. Say that you have occasion to preach or teach Genesis expositionally (section-by-section): by pointing to a variety of passages in Genesis that provide valid glimpses of resurrection hope, Mitch helps the pastor/teacher to demonstrate how the text is constantly pointing forward to the One who is "the Resurrection and the Life" (John 11:25).

Dear friend (whoever may be reading this): do yourself a favor and read "The Genesis of Resurrection Hope" found HERE.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Russell Moore: "Why Not Just Hand the Sermons Over?"

Yesterday, Dr. Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, published an article titled "Why Not Just Hand the Sermons Over?" In this article, Dr. Moore argued that officials in Houston-officials who, in our system of government, are supposed to derive their power from the will of the people in accordance with the U.S. Constitution-overstepped the bounds of their authority when they issued subpoenas for sermons concerning matters of sexuality and gender identity. Dr. Moore argued that pastors should not submit to such an erroneous request. The entire article [found HERE] is excellent, but I wanted to particularly draw attention to a couple of quotes that give a hint of the kind of biblical reasoning that Dr. Moore exhibits:

Shrugging this [matter of unjust subpoenas] off is not the equivalent of Jesus standing silently before Pilate.It’s the equivalent of Pilate washing his hands, so as not to bear accountability for our own decisions and precedents set.

The Apostle Paul left Philippi, just as the magistrates wanted him to do, but he didn’t move an inch until the magistrates’ command to do so was revoked (Acts 16:37-39). Peter and John didn’t stay, all the time, in the temple court preaching Jesus. But they didn’t cease while they were under orders to do so (Acts 4:21-23).

Having just taught through Acts at Sayers Classical Academy, I was especially delighted to see the valid application that Dr. Moore made from that book, as demonstrated both by the sentences quoted above and by him mentioning the Apostle Paul's appeal to Caesar versus lower-level unjust authorities.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

On the Altar of Self-Will

[The following post is lightly adapted from a blogpost originally published here on 5/26/06.]

One of the best blogposts I've ever read was actually written by a non-blogger. My friend Nathan White posted an article by Dave Stephenson-my former pastor and his current pastor at Grace Bible Church in Canton, GA-on Strange BaptistFire blog.

This is a must-read article, especially for Southern Baptists, as Dave addresses the cause of some besetting sins common to many Southern Baptist churches, namely:
  1. "Ignoring biblical qualifications for leadership"
  2. "Refusing to hold sinful lay-leaders accountable"
  3. "Gossip"
  4. Holding to the traditions of men while laying aside the commands of God.
Dave- formerly a pastor of a Southern Baptist church- argues that the above sins spring from a rejection of the doctrines of grace. He writes,
There is something in particular that is driving people to these expressions of the sinful heart rather than to some other expression of it. That something is the rejection of the doctrines of grace. The false theology of libertarian self-will ultimately must bear fruit; and it bears the fruit of selfishness.
I would wholeheartedly agree with Dave's assessment, but I would like to add that these sins also arise due to a neglect of the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. Southern Baptists have been battling against liberal philosophies for many long years now in order to proclaim the inerrancy of Scripture- and, by all outward signs, the struggle for inerrancy in the Southern Baptist Convention has been won- but Southern Baptists as a whole have failed to proclaim other facets of a biblical doctrine of Scripture- that the Word of God is authoritive, necessary, sufficient, and clear. In particular, many Southern Baptist churches fail to proclaim Scripture as sufficient: they have lost the idea that in Scripture we have all we need for life and godliness. Neglecting scriptural sufficiency, Southern Baptists don't see that:
  1. We have very specific qualifications laid out for us in God's Word concerning church leaders (see 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9)- the Lord Himself chooses who will minister to His flock. Instead of receiving the blessing of God-established leadership, many Southern Baptist churches form committees to decide what kind of professional ministers the majority of the congregation would like to hire. Having this mindset at the beginning of the 'pastoral search' process, it is no wonder that many congregations- and particularly those who have been given some measure of power by the will of the people by being placed on committees- are quick to call for new pastors to be fired if they don't meet their expectations.
  2. We have very specific instructions laid out for us in God's Word concerning church discipline, and especially discipline in regards to church leadership (see Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Tim. 5:19-22). If these instructions were followed, then lay-leaders would be held accountable and sin within the congregation would be handled. In the absence of Biblical church disciplne a vaccuum is left that are all-too-easily filled by gossip, backbiting, and church splits.
  3. Finally, a firm commitment to Scriptural sufficiency leads us to carefully check all things by God's Word (see Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Thess. 5:21-22; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). Whether our congregation has engaged in a certain activity for 2 weeks or for 20 years, if we believe that God directs His church by His Word, then we will always be checking the designs for our programs and order of worship by the commands, examples and principles the Lord has given us in the Bible.
A return to the doctrine of Scriptural sufficiency is absolutely crucial if Southern Baptist churches are going to experience real and lasting revival and reformation. Depending on God's revealed will in ordering His church is necessary if Southern Baptist congregations are going to fulfill the our Lord's Great Commission of making disciples of all nations.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

My second book-What the Spirit Says to the Churches: A Commentary on Revelation 1-3-is now available to order from Amazon.


The second book I've written-What the Spirit Says to the Churches: A Commentary on Revelation 1-3- is now available for purchase at the following link: http://www.amazon.com/What-Spirit-Says-Churches-Commentary/dp/1490838112

In writing this work, my goal was to render a commentary on Revelation 1-3 that is clear, concise, accurate, and Christ-focused.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Heart and Life: Notes and Gospel Reflection on Proverb 4:23


Text

With all preservation, watch over your heart, because from it [flow] the springs of life. (Prov 4:23)

Cross-Reference

The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. (Luke 6:45 NASB)

5Ws

Who? This is a general command, and yet the contents of the heart, expressed through speech, reveal two kinds of people: the good and the evil.

What? The heart—the faculty of the soul which is the seat of our desires—“the springs of life;” “treasure” (and a portion of that treasure), which is good or evil; speech.

When? The springs of life are always flowing and are particularly evident when we speak.

Where? The condition of our heart is particularly evident when we open our mouths to speak to others.

Why? Our heart, reflected by our speech, sets the whole course of our life, even into eternity.

How? We choose according to our greatest desire.

So what? These are verses of absolute good or absolute evil: of eternal life or eternal death.

2 Tim 3:16

Teaching: these passages teach us concerning the necessary God-created connection between heart, speech, and life.

Correcting: these passages correct us when we falter in vigilance concerning our hearts.

Rebuking: these passages rebuke us if we imagine that we can reform our lives or our speech without a fundamental change of heart.

Training in righteousness: these passages help train us to watch over our hearts for our own good, for the benefit of others, and for God’s glory.

Gospel Reflection

Due to the sin of Adam, our hearts have been radically corrupted, bent against God. Our vigilance and deeds in reforming our hearts—if we do begin to realize the adverse effects our corrupted hearts have on our lives—our will and works are utterly insufficient. We need the power of the Holy Spirit. We need redemption for our hearts. As our hearts are, by nature, in rebellion against God, we stand condemned as traitors against our Sovereign. We need the legal obstacle to our redemption—our condemnation under the justice of God
—removed.

Christ died, taking our condemnation in our place. But we must have more than forgiveness from the penalty of our sin; we must have redemption from the power of sin. Our hearts must be set free from the prison of sin. We must have our hearts cleansed from the pollution of sin. And as the old hymn celebrates:

[Christ] breaks the power of cancelled sin, 
He sets the prisoner free,
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.

Having died for our sins, Jesus rose again on the third day, demonstrating that He was victorious over sin, death, and Hell. He now lives forever, offering salvation from sin and eternal life to all who believe in Him. He offers the power of the Holy Spirit, that we might guard our hearts, living lives that honor Him. By His grace and for His glory, dear reader, watch over your heart.

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Christ and Angels: Notes on Ephesians 1:9-10; Colossians 1:19-20


Focus Passages

He made known the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention, which He purchased in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times– that is, the summing up of all things in Christ– things in the heavens and things on the earth. (Eph 1:9-10 NASB)

For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on Earth or things in Heaven. (Col 1:19-20 NASB)

Cross-References

Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. (Matt 6:10)

You have made Him a little lower than the angels. (Heb 2:7a)

Don’t you know that we will judge angels? (1 Cor 6:3a)

Reflection

These passages focus readers’ attention on gospel truths from past, present, and future: 1. the past, “the fullness of the times,” when Christ’s work of penal substitution took place; 2. the present, as we are continually praying for God’s will to be done; 3. the future state, in which we who are redeemed will judge angels.

God is glorified in Christ in the Heavens and on the Earth. The benefits of God’s grace in Christ are “purchased” “through the blood of His cross.” This is according to the divine will: it is the Father who made Christ a little lower than the angels during Christ’s pre-resurrected incarnate existence. The revelation of the gospel of reconciliation also takes place according to the kind intention of God’s will (“the Father’s good pleasure”). The gospel of reconciliation uniquely demonstrates God’s grace. Due to His atoning work, establishing the gospel of reconciliation, all things have been summed up in Christ, and all of the manifest created order will be at peace with God.

In reflections upon Christian theology and piety, there is much discussion of “mystery.” These passages correct faulty understandings of “mystery:” a term that must be understood in light of the person and work of Christ. These passages, by implication, offer a rebuke to those who would fail to grant Christ and His Cross their proper place of preeminence. These passages train us to glorify Christ and His work on the Cross in all aspects of our lives.

Commentaries

“[O]ut of Christ all things were disordered, and that through him they have been restored to order. And truly, out of Christ, what can we perceive in the world but mere ruins? We are alienated from God by sin, and how can we but present a broken and shattered aspect? The proper condition of creatures is to keep close to God. Such a gathering together (νακεφαλαίωσις) [AKA: "recapitulation"] as might bring us back to regular order, the apostle tells us, has been made in Christ.” [Calvin’s Commentary, Ephesians 1:10]

“The apostle opens up a view of the atonement as embracing angelic intelligences as well as men…. In one sense, the efficacy of the atonement reaches to [angels], but in a different way from the reconciliation of those alienated by sin. God reconciles all things to Himself, celestial and terrestrial, and the angels seem to have been confirmed by the Son of God. It is not to be affirmed that Christ was the Mediator of angels, for the language of Scripture is that He is the Mediator between God and men (1 Tim 2:5), but He is their Head, the uniting bond of the universe, gathered up anew or recapitulated under Him (Eph 1:10).” [George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Atonement According to the Apostles (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1988), 297-299.]

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Christ is Life: Reflections on John 1:4

Focus Passage

In [the Word] was life, and that life was the light of men. (John 1:4)

Cross-References

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)

Jesus said to [Thomas], "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples [after His resurrection], which are not written in this book, but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

For to me, to live is Christ. (Phil 1:21a)

Reflections

Jesus is Life. He is revealed as Life in His incarnation and in His teaching. Jesus is revealed as the Life by the divine will through the Cross and in His resurrection. Jesus declared that He is the Life when He was in close communion with His disciples. We too need communion with fellow believers that we would be ever more convinced that life is uniquely in Him.

Jesus is the Life because He is God, He is Man, and as the God-Man He conquered death. He took the death that we deserved in our place. Believing in Him, we have life in His name, both in this life and the life to come.

Jesus has life in Himself. The incarnate Word is—as we see throughout the Gospel of John—the eternal “I AM” of the Old Testament. “I AM” represented YHWH, the covenant name of God in the Old Testament. But whereas that name came to represent judgment and condemnation, since—by the weakness of our sinful flesh—people were entirely unable to keep the Old Covenant demands, the name Jesus literally means “YHWH saves.” The New Covenant established in His blood brings about life and peace with God.

The Word of God does not only create, but sustains all things. The Word of God does not only create and sustain, but He reveals who God is (He is the Light). The Word of God directs our paths (He is the Way). The Word of God is the Truth by whom all ideas must be evaluated.

The Word of God does not only create—does not only give life—in the natural realm, but in the supernatural and eternal realm as well. We ought not seek for life anywhere else. There is one Mediator between God and Man, the Man Christ Jesus. Jesus’ teachings offer us clear guidance. We obtain eternal life by faith alone; we gain access to God through Christ alone.

Jesus is the Life. These passages rebuke anyone who would seek to proclaim another source or end for life. These passages correct those who are confused about life, and who have something other than Jesus Himself as their chief concern in life. These passages train us to look to Jesus as the grounding for our lives, as the way to live our lives, and as the truth about life by which all other ideas must be evaluated.

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