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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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