12.31.2009

PERKINS on the REGULATIVE PRINCIPLE OF WORSHIP

ON THE REGULATIVE PRINCIPLE OF WORSHIP
The Rule of Worship: That nothing may go under the name of the worship of God, which he has not ordained in his own Word, and commanded to us as his own worship. For we are forbidden under pain of the curse of God, either to add, or to take away any thing from the precepts of God, in which he prescribes his own worship. When the Jews worshipped God after the devised fashions of the Gentiles, though their meaning was to worship nothing but God, yet the text says, they worshipped nothing but devils. Again, the Lord forbids us in his worship to follow after our own hearts and eyes, or to walk in the ordinances of our forefathers, but only in his commandments. And he holds it as a vain thing, to teach his worship and fear by the precepts of men. That we may worship God with reasonable service, we must prove what is the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God. And those are good works indeed, acceptable to God, which he has prepared for men to walk in. All volunatry religion, and will-service, is utterly condemned. Therefore nothing may go under the name of God's worship, but that which he prescribes.

12.30.2009

DEBATING GOD? The REAL COLLISION













Showdowns always attract an audience. We live in a competitive dog-eat-dog world, and we love to see someone on top take a tumble. Growing up, I couldn't wait to watch the Bulls play the Bad Boy Pistons. Bill Lambier and his dirty entourage did nothing but intimidate their opponents. Who could stop them? They were the dominant force of the late 1980s. But then came one like no other, and his name was Michael Jordan. And every year I waited for #23 to step out and show these Bad Boys that their "Jordan Rules" were totally impotent against his great talent. Every year I waited anxiously for this showdown, ugly as it was, angry as I felt--those Pistons were so foul and I loathed them! But I always came out on top, because, well, my guy won. There he stood, #23, triumphant over his foes holding that great golden ball in the air. Ultimately, something felt real good about those Pistons going back to the locker room in shame. I had won along with Jordan.

This drive to shame our opponent is in us all. We love to see someone fall; we enter into the conflict, and identify with our hero, only to feel uplifted when this iconized warrior wins what has become our battle. Adding a little baseball in the mix, who doesn't want to see their favorite player in the dugout walk to home plate and point to the far wall as the other team reels and sends its personality to throw their team's best curveball? It meets some sort of fleshly desire for vengeance that we can obtain along with the one with whom we have come to identify. It's painful to admit, however, that we haven't won much of anything. Next year another team comes, another championship game is played, and all before is forgotten.

In the Christian world, there is a different kind of showdown that has become more en vogue as of late, namely, public debates over key points of doctrinal difference. Who doesn't want to hear something like this? It's the Christian sport, if you will, not in the physical arena, but in the arena of our pride--the mind. It too fulfills a form of fleshly vengeance against the person challenging the hero that I have come to iconize on my side, whose wit and personality I have best identified with.
A sparing of the minds and dueling of the intellect! There is nothing quite like it when two great debaters step up to the platform to display their unyielding argumentation and genius of word choice. But what is accomplished? Well, as good Americans, that is determined by who was "on their game" that day. Who made the best arguments? Who was the most articulate? Who spoke with the most authority? In other words, who won the audience? The sad reality, however, is that not much was accomplished except a further pandering to the people's carnality of hoping their guy wins. All said, very few in the audience are theologically capable enough to weed through all the superficiality, and really think through the implications and consequences of each particular viewpoint. The debate, more often than not, is won by the best display of personality.

As if this does not create enough conflict in the Christian realm, there is something far worse among Christians today that has become an acceptable platform of discourse, the debate with the atheist. Vicious attacks against Christianity have risen over the past decade by notable atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. In fact, Hitchens a few years back scoured the country looking for an evangelical pastor/theologian who was willing to tour with him and debate the existence of God. Douglas Wilson, pastor in Christ’s Church of Moscow ID, agreed to this debate. Since then, various debates have taken place in public media forums such as the Joy Behar Show and Imus in the Morning. Recently, the movie Collision was produced which is essentially a debate tour arguing the topic “Is Religion Good For The World?”. The debate has gained quite a bit of publicity, and many Christians have flocked to watch the movie.

I have asked numerous Christians what they thought of the film, and the general response goes something like this, " it was alright, Wilson is a nice guy, Hitchens is a fool, but, overall, it was interesting." Interesting? Such an important topic as the existence of God is just interesting? What did it accomplish? The responses are seriously troubling. How can we take such a casual nonchalant approach over such a debate? This debate is framed as a question over the veracity of what God has made known of himself in his Word, and we treat the whole thing as if it's just a bar-room kind of sparing match? Fact is, Hitchens is clearly hostile to the Christian message, especially the exclusive claims of Christ. What profitability comes from something like this? And, should this be permissible?

What is the first question asked after a movie like this? We know, who won the debate? Well, what determines this? Again, who made the best arguments? Who was the most articulate? Who spoke with the most authority? Who won the audience? For the atheists, Hitchens won, clearly; he was brilliant. For the Christian, it can be no other, Wilson! But is there not something more at stake here? What have we done to the name of the one who is at the center of the debate, namely, the LORD? To the casual onlooker, we have presented God as a concept to be debated, and this concept of X is taken as something that can be accepted or rejected if I am persuaded in the mind by rational argumentation? The consequences of this are not being considered. God's existence for the skeptic seems to hinge on who wins the arm wrestling match of persuasion. Where would you go in the Bible to validate this approach? Paul may have "reasoned" daily in the school of Tyrannus, but, and I quote, "when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew..."

This is nothing new. Martyn Lloyd Jones faced the same thing in his day. In 1942 he was asked to debate the great atheist Dr. Joad, a well-known radio speaker. Jones was asked to debate religion with him at the Union Debating Society in the University of Oxford. Now Jones was no slacker and could debate with the best of them. The stage was set; thousands would come and hear this great debate. But Jones turned down the invitation and refused to take part in the debate, after which many Christians criticized him for dodging a "wonderful opportunity for preaching and presenting the gospel". Jones' comments are interesting and worth citing. Jones writes,


I think it is wrong as a total approach. My impression is that experience of that kind of thing shows clearly that it very rarely succeeds, or leads to anything. It provides entertainment, but as far as I am aware, and in my experience and knowledge of it, it has very rarely been fruitful or effective as a means of winning people to the Christian faith.
But more important still are my detailed reasons. The first is, and to me this was an all-sufficient reason in itself, that God is not to be discussed or debated. God is not a subject for debate, because He is Who He is and What He is. We are told that the unbeliever, of course, does not agree with that; and that is perfectly true; but that makes no difference. Holding the view that we do, believing what we do about God, we cannot in any circumstance allow Him to become the subject for discussion or of debate or investigation. I base my argument at this point on the word addressed by God Himself to Moses at the burning bush....draw not night hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thy standest is holy ground. That seems to me to be the governing principle in the whole matter...God is always to be approached with reverence and with godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire.

Jones continues,

To me this is a very vital matter. To discuss the being of God in a casual manner, lounging in an armchair, smoking a pipe or a cigarette or a cigar, is to me something that we should never allow, because God, as I say, is not a kind of philosophic X concept. We believe in the almighty, the glorious, the living God; what whatever may be true of others we must never put ourselves, or allow ourselves to be put, into a position in which we are debating about God as if He were but a philosophic proposition...

The second argument I adduce would be that in discussing these matters we are dealing with the most serious and the most solemn matter in life. We are dealing with something which we believe is not only going to affect the lives of these people with whom we are concerned while they are in this world, but also with their eternal destiny. In other words, the very character and nature of the subject is such that it cannot possibly be placed in any context except that of the most thoughtful and serious atmosphere that we know, or can create. Certainly it should never be approached in a light spirit, or in a mere debating spirit; still less should it ever be regarded as a matter of entertainment.

Jones' comments are very important. The Bible does not present God as a concept to be debated. If someone wants to deny his existence, Psalm 14 is God's answer: "the fool says in his heart there is no God..." Psalm 92 describes a man like Hitchens as senseless and as a beast that keeps his head down chewing on the grass. His is a willful suppression of the truth.

What then is there to debate? The natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God, they are foolishness to him (1 Cor. 2). Have we forgotten that our message is foolishness to the world? Didn't Jesus warn about casting pearls before swine? Isn't Hitchens just the kind of person from which our Lord commanded us to shake off the dust from our feet? Can you imagine our Lord setting up a theater to debate in that Samaritan village which rejected him in Luke 9? When Christ was challenged by Pharisees, his responses were not presented as being open for discussion; it was all or none, repent and be converted or face the wrath to come.

I hope we recognize, at the end of the day, that debates like the one outlined above end up becoming nothing more than an iconizing of the personalities to whom we have become attracted. It panders to a certain fleshly desire for vengeance in all of us, while we forget the glory of the one who must free sinners from this present darkness. Have we really longed for the salvation of their souls? Or have we not forgotten that God has chosen to foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise? We need to remember just whose name is at stake when debates like this are going on. As God said to Moses, I AM WHO I AM. This is certainly a name we don't want to forget, unless, of course, we want to bring about the worst kind of Collision.

Abounding Grace Radio--The Primacy of Preaching


The following programs air next week on Abounding Grace Radio. This series deals with the Primacy of Preaching.


CLICK ON THE KARI LOGO TO LISTEN LIVE




Abounding Grace Daily Broadcasts January 6-10, 2010


Monday January 6, 2010
Rom 10 That Word Which We Preach
Tuesday January 7, 2010
Rom 10 That Word Which We Preach
Wednesday January 8, 2010
Rom 10 That Word Which We Preach
Thursday January 9 2010
Rom 10 That Word Which We Preach
Friday January 10, 2010
Gospel Talk Pastors Wes Bredenhof & CJ Gordon

Nine Commandments or Ten? On Sabbath Observance

From Scott Clark here.

Here is a portion of the article:

Scotland star Euan Murray explains why he won't play rugby for Scotland on Sundays
By Lachlan Mackinnon

SCOTS rugby international Euan Murray has spoken for the first time about why his faith led him to quit playing on Sundays. The 29-year-old has told how he even snubs coffee or dinner invitations on the Sabbath as he does not want to "encourage other people to work". Euan said: "It's basically all or nothing, following Jesus. I don't believe in pick 'n' mix Christianity. I believe the bible is the word of God, so who am I to ignore something from it? "I might as well tear out that page then keep tearing out pages as and when it suits me. If I started out like that there would soon be nothing left." Euan's recent decision to keep Sunday as a day of worship means he will miss Scotland's opening Six Nations game against France on February 7 and, potentially, some key matches with his club, Northampton. Despite his religious stand, Euan has played for Scotland before on a Sunday - in the 2008 Six Nations against France. But he said turning out on the Sabbath grew increasingly painful. Euan, who has 28 caps, said: "I was going against my conscience and it became impossible to enjoy. "I realised it's quite simple, really. "Jesus said, 'If you love me, keep my commandments' and there are 10 commandments - not nine."




12.29.2009

The MORTIFIED CHRISTIAN by Christopher LOVE (1618-1651)

In 1656 John Owen published his great treatise Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers. This volume has been one of my favorites. It provides so much sound instruction and Biblical wisdom in how to kill the deeds of the body that every Christian would do well to read carefully the entire volume. I summarized Owen's NINE WAYS OF MORTIFICATION here.

The other day, however, I picked up a little volume in my study by Christopher Love called The Mortified Christian. I noticed that the publication date was 1654, thus preceding Owen's great work by two years. It is strikingly similar to Owen's work, and, at some points, much easier to read. I believe the volume was reprinted only once (Soli Deo Gloria 1998) since it was originally published in 1654. Already, the volume has become scarce, and Amazon has only a few copies, each of which run well into the hundreds.

Love's treatise is based on Romans 8:13, For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

For your benefit, here are some selected portions of Love's Nine Rules for those who have unmortified sin. Do spend some time reflecting on these rules, I promise they are well worth your time.

Rule 1: Count not the restraining of sin from coming into action to be a real mortifying of sin. Restraining grace is not mortifying grace...A man may for a time lay a curb and restraint upon his lusts, so that they do not come forth into action, even without the powers of mortifying grace.

Rule 2: A listlessness [indifference, lethargy] toward any kind of sin is no infallible demonstration that such a sin is mortified...[Listlessness] may proceed likewise from horror and terror of conscience. When this seized upon a man in whose face God casts the flashes of hellfire, this may make him abstain from sin for a time while the horror lies upon him. As a thundering storm sours the beer in our cellars, so, when God thunders upon the conscience, it will sour and embitter sin to a man so that he has no desires after it for the present. Yet, this is not mortifying grace upon the heart, but the horror of conscience that gnaws and grips and terrifies the man, and makes him listless after sin at such a time...Another external cause of a man's listnessless to some sins may be his natural temper. For, though every man has sin in him seminally, yet there are some sin which by nature he is more inclined to than others, according to his constitution.

Rule 3: Let mortification be extended to inward and secret sins as well as to outward and scandalous sins. Not only the lusts of the flesh, but those of the mind are to be mortified; not only the deeds of the body, but the thoughts of the heart and corruptions in the inward man are to be subdued...You must mortify the very first motions and secret propensities to any sin in your hearts.

Rule 4: Let mortification be especially directed to strike at those sins that are your master sins--that are most prevalent and predominant in your heart, that you have most prayed against and are least able to resist, that strongly assault you and most easily beset you and are master over you...So I say to you, fight not so much against any sin as against your beloved, darling, constitutional sins that most easily beset you and prevail over you.

Rule 5: Think not to compass this great work of mortification by a general, superficial sight of sin, unless you come to a distinct and particular apprehension of your sins...if you take sin apart and labor to have a distinct view and sight of each one, this is the way to overcome and mortify sin. If you shoot at random, you will never hit the mark. So, if you look at sins in general, in the lump, you will never be able to mortify them.

Rule 6: Let your mortification extend not only to particular acts of sin, but to the whole bulk and body of sin. It is a great fault among many Christian that if they are troubled with passions, they go about to mortify them while forgetting their other sins..whenever you go about to mortify any one particular lust, you should labor to bewail the whole body of sin that is in you and to strike at the very root of sin...if you do not pull up sin by the root, the other sins will but make your corruptions rage all the more.

Rule 7: When you are setting upon the work of mortification, go about it in the strength of Christ and not in your own strength...you may commit sin by your own strength, but you cannot mortify sin by your own strength. Only an arrow fetched from Christ's quiver can slay your lusts. Do no encounter sin with confidence in your own strength, for you are but a feather before a whirlwind.

Rule 8: Take heed of suffering sin to remain long in your heart without control, but labor to mortify it in its very first motions. When your nature first begins to close with a sin, then labor to root it out; for it's easier to keep sin out of our souls than it is to drive out sin once it has gotten into our hearts. Sin is like a serpent, which, if he can but get his head into any place, he will soon wind in his whole body...Sin is like the overflowing of a mighty river: once the water has made a breach in the bank, if it is not presently stopped, it will soon overflow the whole meadow. If we let sin alone in its first motions, it will quickly overrun the whole man.

Rule 9: When you have, through the strength of Christ, mortified one sin or resisted one temptation, do not sit down and think your work is done, but expect another combat. Your corruption will come afresh upon you again...Though you have cut off one lust today, it may be that another will spring out tomorrow.

12.24.2009

The CHRISTMAS SCANDAL

Truly, there should be no person more joyful than the Christian. What we celebrate everyday is the truth that God has been faithful to his promises to send his son to deliver us from our sins. The greatest news ever given to mankind is Immanuel, "God with us". The greatest declaration ever made to lost sinners is that that the Son of God has "given light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death to guide our feet into the way of peace".

I don’t know if you have been following the culture wars, but every year the debates over Christmas rights seem to intensify. This year the clash really came to a head over whether we can say "Merry Christmas". The secularists rage for the right to say Happy Holidays, and Christians the right to keep Christ in Christmas. Bill O' Reilly also made this his fight, and the other day he had a Walmart head come onto his program who gave public support for their employees to greet in the Christian manner. Both ended up in agreement that people should be able to say "whatever they want to say". As Christians, we have made this our fight, and who dares to stand in our way for the freedom to say "Merry Christmas". Anything wrong with this?

It’s painful to think about what this really demonstrates, namely, a Christianity all out of priority. Is this now the depth of our offense? Is that what our Christianity has now boiled down to? Is this ultimately the impression that we want to leave upon the world, that our battle in the world should be over the freedom to say Merry Christmas. Isn't there more to our message, and the offense far greater? The devil must gloat at a time like this, it's just what he wants. People will never be forced to think beyond the birth of Christ to what his presence and the coming of his kingdom really means.

When Christ was born, it wasn’t a fight over Christmas greeting cards, or rights for people to sing Christmas carols, or even to give presents. His coming inaugurated a war over the eternal destiny of souls; his whole presence was a stumbling block to the world, and his message the height of offense. Using the words of Luke, "this child was destined for the fall and the rise of many in Israel". So what we are experiencing in terms of the world's hatred for Christianity is not ultimately tied to a right to greet, but to the person and work of Christ. Such antagonism goes much deeper. We are receiving a little glimpse of the world's ultimate hatred for Christ, something that he experienced not only later in his humiliation, but from his very birth.

Christ's arrival on the scene of history was met with nothing but opposition and murderous attack. From his birth, he had to flee for his life. Even by his own he was "despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief". That offense is not what we like to think about in connection with the birth of Christ. Instead of rags, we want riches. Instead of a feeding trough, we want a cozy manger. Instead of a crown of thorns, we want a halo. And, ultimately, instead of a humbled Jesus on a donkey going to the cross, we love to keep Jesus untouched in Bethlehem; this way he is non-offensive and non-requiring.

For many, such a message may seem to threaten a joyful celebration of the birth of Christ. But if understanding the depths of Christ's humiliation seems to threaten your joy, you should stop and ask if you have come perilously close to losing sight of the meaning Christianity altogether. The true celebration of Christmas is not trees and ornaments, cookies and warm fuzzes; true celebration is actually bowing in awe before an announcement that "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them". True Christianity is to drop to the knees in genuine sorrow for sin, and embracing "the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world". If there is to be a celebration it is to "ponder in our hearts" this truth.


Thus, the character of what we have come to call Christmas has nothing at all to do with our giving, but in reality has everything to do with God lavishing down upon us his indescribable gift from another country, the gift of his son. For me, that requires so much more than a right to greet people with "merrry Christmas", that's cheap, that's easy; it requires that I, in sincerity and concern for this lost world, go and tell others the wonderful things that God has done for me. It requires that I invite others to church hear this good news, with the prayerful hope that they too, like me, might be brought under the power of the gospel. May we, everyday, set ourselves to think upon God's indescribable gift to lost sinners.
CJG

12.22.2009

On CATECHISM Preaching

The other day I was reading R.L. Dabney's little book called Evangelical Eloquence: A Course of Lectures on Preaching. Dabney wrote something that I found interesting with regard to catechism preaching. He writes,

But I would argue that the expository method (understood as that which explains extended passages of Scripture in course) be restored to that equal place which it held in the primitive and Reformed Churches...But the course of sermons on the Confession would still be inferior to the course of sermons on the Bible, because the latter gives us God's infallible arrangement, natural, historical and germinant, which the former gives us man's.

In the church in which I grew up (CRC) and the one in which I now preach (URC), it is customary to preach a catechism sermon from the Three Forms of Unity once a Lord's Day--typically the PM service. Over the years I have heard this done in various ways. Some did this very well, preaching with enthusiasm and excitement over Biblical truth (such enthusiasm is infectious by the way), but, on the other hand, some of the catechism preaching that I have been exposed to seemed more appropriate for the lecture hall than the pulpit. The results didn't help the matter. After the service, it was painful to hear more discussion over the milk prices and the weather, than the Word of God.

It's easy, of course, to blame the state of the listener, especially if tolerance for the sermon length has come to be measured by the intake of Wilhemena mints. But let's not pass the blame too quickly. The kind of catechism preaching that some are exposed to does not always drive the hearer to a proper response. It's not too hard to figure out why. In my experience, typically, the minister would invite the congregation to read with him a few verses of the Bible, and as soon as he had finished reading, it sounded like a bowling-alley throughout the sanctuary. All the Bibles went back into the pew as we were then invited to turn to the back of the Psalter-Hymnal to the catechism, and for the next thirty-five minutes or so the Minister expounded the LD, rarely again making a reference to the Bible. Dabney cautions that highly doctrinal preaching, done in the manner described above, tends to cultivate an antinomian spirit within the congregation.

My main concern here is how best can we honor this practice of catechetical preaching while ensuring that we are instilling a love for God's Word in our hearers. The practice itself has found warrant in much of the Dutch Reformed tradition based on the premise that the confessions are summary statements of Biblical doctrine. Such a practice is justified precisely because there is no dichotomy between the Bible and the confessions. Simply put, since the catechism is Biblical truth it is legitimate to preach these truths in a systematic way.

In terms of the application of this principle, some believe quite strongly that fidelity to the tradition is to preach the catechism itself (Catechism-Text Method). Others I know in URC churches believe that the adopted practice of Reformed churches has always been to preach the Bible and employ the catechism for clarity purposes in defining what we mean when we confess certain doctrines (Bible-Text Method). Both methods follow the course of the fifty-two Lord Days, but the latter is more concerned to communicate that what is being preached is God's Word and not a subordinate document.

In light of this discussion, I believe Dabney makes an interesting point, namely, that all catechism preaching is de facto inferior to expository preaching because the form of the catechism is man's. In other words, the Bible gives us even an inspired form but the catechism does not. Dabney writes, "What can one expect save a cluster of ruse, shapeless indentations rather than the symmetrical imprint of the Redeemer's beauteous image on the soul?"

So, what do you think of Dabney's point here? Is it valid? If so, does it require the Bible-text method over the Catechism-Text Method? Just some questions that came into my mind as I was reading this fine volume on preaching.

CJG



12.21.2009

Just Another Example of CREED or CHAOS

Recently, I had a dialogue with Rev. Bill Dejong (CanRC minister) on the efficacy of the sacrament of baptism here. I was thankful for the opportunity to interact with Bill, and I thought the tone of the discussion was overall very good. At the end of the discussion he asserted that "the efficacy of baptism as a means of salvation -- I repeat myself -- is tied to faith."

When statements like this are made it is generally assumed that everyone must be speaking of the nature of faith in the same way. In other words, it is generally assumed that what is meant is that there is nothing of inherent value in faith, but that it is merely receptive, the "empty hand", as Calvin called it, to receive Christ's righteousness--just as our Reformed confessions have always defined faith. But such is not always the case and many so-called Reformed people do not mean the same thing today when they speak of faith.
Every reader should know by now that the Protestant doctrine of the nature of justifying faith has been deliberately redefined by the Federal Vision. Now I am not saying Rev. Dejong has adopted the FV view that I am interacting with in this post, I really do not know--though he certainly is appreciative of FV thought (his own words). But anytime you are confronted with a lack of clarity in our theological language, when something as important as the nature of faith is raised in a given discussion, it's always important to ensure that we mean the same thing. If you do not mean the same thing when terms are used, then nothing but talking past one another will occur--and our baptism discussion surely evidenced this problem.
With this struggle in mind, let me interact with the Federal Vision's definition of faith to demonstrate the dangers we are faced with when we redefine our confessional categories and terms.

In A Joint Federal Vision Statement, signed by the central proponents of the FV, a series of affirmations and denials are presented. The statement on “Justification by Faith Alone” reads,


We affirm we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone. Faith alone is the hand which is given to us by God so that we may receive the offered grace of God. Justification is God’s forensic declaration that we are counted as righteous, with our sins forgiven, for the sake of Jesus Christ alone.


We deny that the faith which is the sole instrument of justification can be understood as anything other than the only kind of faith which God gives, which is to say, a living, active and personally loyal faith. Justifying faith encompasses the elements of assent, knowledge, and living trust in accordance with the age and maturity of the believer. We deny that faith is ever alone, even at the moment of the effectual call.

In the affirmation section, standard Reformed language is employed. Justification is described as a forensic declaration, received by faith alone which is described as the hand given by God by which we are accounted righteous for the sake of Jesus Christ alone. In the denial, however, we find a clear presentation of the FV’s understanding of the nature of this justifying faith. There are two important points to observe. First, the FV statement correctly denies that faith in God’s act of justifying the sinner can be understood as anything other than that which has been given by God. So far so good.
But when prompted as to what kind of faith justifies, and what is the kind of faith that God gives, the statement is unequivocal: justifying faith is “a living, active, and personally loyal faith.” In other words, according to the FV, faith is not merely apprehending and resting in Christ; but it also must be active, living, and loyal. Should this be offensive to Protestant ears? Is there anything behind such a formulation? What is meant by this?

Here we notice that certain virtues are built into the nature of the faith that God gives to the sinner for his justification. This certain kind of faith by which God justifies a sinner includes virtuous qualities. Because the FV generally denies the existence of merit, many fail to understand whether there is any real concern with the FV’s formulation. But the formulation is elusive. Steve Schlissel writes, “Nothing in the Bible teaches a kind of faith that does not obey. Obedience and faith are the same thing, biblically speaking…To believe is to obey.” What? Don't you think this will create a bit of confusion between justification and sanctification?

Another writes, “Obedient faith is the only kind that God ever gives, and when He gives it, this justifying faith obeys the gospel, obeys the truth, obeys His salvation. Faith that does not obey the gospel is not justifying faith.” Did you catch that? Obedient faith is the kind of faith that justifies. Since faith and obedience are the "same thing" according to Schlissel, it can equally be said that obedience justifies.

If you define faith this way, what need is there to make the distinctions Protestants have made between justification and sanctification (See Belgic Conf. Art. 22-24)? Thus, Peter Leithart, being consistent with this peculiar definition of faith, criticizes the Protestant doctrine of justification as being “too rigid in separating justification and sanctification.” Instead, Leithart proposes that justification and definitive sanctification should be viewed as the “same act” in God’s declaration of the sinner as righteous. The same act? No distinction now at all? It is the "same act"--Leithart, and the "same thing"--Schlissel.
This radical recasting of the Protestant understanding of justifying faith is clearly akin to the Roman Catholic view. Trent’s anathema of the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith is important to see in this connection. In Canon XI Trent declared,

If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favor of God: let him be anathema.

Canon XII states,

If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.

Trent correctly summarized the Protestant definition of faith in the act of justification. As outlined above, in Trent’s formulation of justification, God pardons sin and infuses the inward righteousness of hope and charity into the sinner’s heart.
The language between Rome and the FV is strikingly similar, and the conclusion inevitable because both Rome and the FV accept the same premise, namely, that God can only declare one righteous who is intrinsically righteous. For the FV, faith, in the act of justification, cannot be defined as trusting, resting, and receiving because those participles don’t imply sanctification and intrinsic righteousness.

Now do these statements square with the Protestant doctrine of faith? The following are statements by key Reformers on the nature of justifying faith; notice how radically different the above formulations are in light of these statements:

Calvin states,

For did faith justify of itself, or (as it is expressed) by its own intrinsic virtue, as it is always weak and imperfect, its efficacy would be partial, and thus our righteousness being maimed would give us only a portion of salvation. We indeed imagine nothing of the kind, but say, that, properly speaking, God alone justifies. The same thing we likewise transfer to Christ, because he was given to us for righteousness; while we compare faith to a kind of vessel, because we are incapable of receiving Christ, unless we are emptied and come with open mouth to receive his grace.

Perkins states,
The difference concerning faith is this: the Papist says that a man is justified by faith: yet not by faith alone, but also by other virtues, as hope, and love, the fear of God…we say otherwise, that faith justifies, because it is a supernatural instrument created by God in the heart of man at his conversion whereby he apprehends and receives Christ’s righteousness for his justification.
Zacharias Ursinus, primary author of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), produced an entire question an answer concerning the meaning of justification by faith alone. Q. 61 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks,
Why do you affirm, that you are made righteous by faith only?” The answer states, Not for that I please God through the worthiness of mere faith but because only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God, and I cannot take hold of it, or apply it unto myself any other way than by faith.
Ursinus makes clear that there is no inherent value in faith by which a sinner is justified; the ground for a sinner’s justification is the merits of Christ. Faith, understood only as instrumental, apprehends and applies to the sinner, not only the satisfaction that Christ effected on the cross, but also the merits of his righteous and holy life.

In his commentary on question and answer 61, Ursinus wrote,
We say that we are justified by faith alone: 1) because we are justified by the object of faith only, to wit, by the merit of Christ alone, besides which, there is no justice of ours, nor any other part thereof…All works are excluded, yea, faith itself as it is a virtue or work. 2) Because the proper act and operation of faith is, for a man to apprehend and apply unto himself Christ’s righteousness, yea, faith is nothing else than the acceptation itself, or apprehension of another’s justice, or of the merit of Christ. 3) Because faith only is the instrument, which apprehends Christ’s satisfaction.
Again Perkins,
The doctrine which we teach on the contrary is that a sinner is justified before God by faith, yes, by faith alone. The meaning is, that nothing within man, and nothing that man can do, either by nature, or by grace, concurs to the act of justification before God, as an cause thereof, either efficient, material, formal, or final, but faith alone. All other gifts and graces, as hope, love, the fear of God, are necessary to salvation, as signs thereof and consequents of faith. Nothing in any man concurs as any cause to this work but faith alone. And faith itself is no principal, but only an instrumental cause whereby we receive apprehend, and apply Christ and his righteousness for our justification.

What becomes of the work of Christ when faith is redefined this way? You see, if the nature of justifying faith includes obedience, what need is there for the imputation of the active obedience of Christ? Your "obedient faith" answers this need, and, therefore, the FV has no problem making this a denial: "We deny that faithfulness to the gospel message requires any particular doctrinal formulation of the 'imputation of the active obedience of Christ.'"
So there it is, many FV proponents have redefined faith in God’s act of justifying the sinner so as to include obedience as an instrument—thereby mingling justification and sanctification. Now, should there be reason for concern? Yes, if you want to remain Protestant and Reformed and not subvert the gospel. So in light of the present controversey, we do need to ask again what it means when we confess that we are saved by "faith alone". What we mean when we confess certain things is everything.
CJG


12.18.2009

PERKINS on the EFFICACY of the SACRAMENTS


The following is a statement from William Perkins on the Efficacy of the Sacraments. Notice that Perkins does not allow for us to speak in different categories with regard to how we understand the sacraments as signs and seals. Keep in mind, Perkins was the father of Elizabethan Puritanism, and every delegate to the Westminster Assmebly would have been well schooled in Perkins when drafting WCF Q&A 161.

On the Efficacy of the Sacraments:

The difference between us [Rome] stands in sundry points. First of all, the best learned among them teach, that Sacraments are physical instruments, that is, true and proper instrumental causes, having force and efficacy in them to produce and give grace...Now we for our parts[Protestants] hold that Sacraments are not physical, but mere voluntary instruments. Voluntary, because it is the will and appointment of God to use them as certain outward means of grace. Instruments, because when we use them aright according to the institution, God then anwerably confers grace from himself. In this respect only take we them for instruments and no otherwise...We hold the contrary: namely, that no action in the dispensation of the sacrament conferreth grace as it is a work done, that is, by the efficacy and force of the very sacramental action itself, though ordained by God: but for two other ways. First, by the signification thereof. For God testifies unto us his will and good pleasure partly by the word of promise, and partly by the Sacrament: the signs representing to the eyes that which the Word does to the ears: being also types and certain images of the very same things that are promised in the Word, and no other.


Abounding Grace Radio Webpage

At times I post my daily radio program here, but you can go to the following link and find the past three years of programs posted for you in MP3 format.

12.11.2009

EXTRA-CONFESSIONAL BINDING & The Heidelblog's Questions for the CanRC


Recently Scott Clark posted a series of questions to the CanRC on the Heidelblog that need clarification for us to move forward in unity talk. The comments that followed are worth reading since there is sincere dialogue and struggle over "extra-confessional binding". Thankfully, Wes Bredenhof pointed us to a piece written by a CanRC minister in Abbotsford that calls for taking seriously the implications of confessional subscription. As I stated in the comment section, we don’t need to charge people with heresy before asking them to provide clarification on exactly what they mean when they confess certain things. This is simply a matter of interpretation. But I would like to illustrate this point showing why our dialogue is so needed.

The following is a statement posted and apparently supported by a CanRC minister on his blog:
All of these passages portray baptism as (not in isolation but together with faith) the means by which we receive the gift of salvation, including forgiveness, union with Christ and the Holy Spirit . . . the New Testament writers were not embarrassed to attribute salvation to baptism as well as to faith . . .Of course, attributing this power to bring salvation to baptism separate from faith is an abuse of the New Testament.
And, then a direct statement by this minister in a previous post:

The agenda of the FV school of thought is to talk about the things God talks about in the way God talks about them. I remember conversing a couple of years ago with someone of substantial theological pedigree who objected to my statement that we are joined to Christ through baptism. My interlocutor insisted that baptism was a sign and seal of the covenant and not a means by which we are united to Christ. I found this statement analogous to insisting that my minivan is a Ford and not a Windstar. What really floored him, though, was my use of the prepositional phrase, through baptism." He seemed to think that nothing happens "through baptism" and that I should excise that formulation from my theological speech. I tried to explain to him that I attributed no inherent power to baptism, but wanted to be faithful to the Bible's way of speaking about baptism. Paul says in Romans 6:4: "We were therefore buried with Christ through baptism (dia tou baptismatos) into death." If Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, didn't hesitate to use this language, why do we? Well, it's risky, people say. But the risk in using these formulations is the Holy Spirit's risk and we are simply not afforded the liberty to say, "The Holy Spirit should have been a little more cautious with his vocabulary…We don't need to discard our theological explanations of baptism; we do need to ensure that our theological explanations do not eclipse the Bible's formulations. I'm therefore appreciative of the FV school of thought for reminding us to speak about the things God does in the way God does."
I recognize that many Reformed expositors have explained Romans 6:4 as water baptism, but none that I have read go to the extreme of what I am hearing suggested in the comments made above. What exactly happens "though baptism"? Most describe the baptism of Romans 6:4 as a sign and seal only of the believers death to sin. In my humble opinion, the focus of Romans 6:1-4 is not water baptism (sprinkling or immersion), but about the change effected by Christ’s death and resurrection, applied by the power of the Spirit—literal water has nothing to do with this. Thus we have the use of so many aorist tenses to describe what Christ has done. Christ has secured this change, killing our old man through his death. Our baptism indeed is a sign and seal of this, but only that. These benefits are received by faith alone, which Paul has explained with great detail in chs. 3-5. So in Romans 6 he is explaining how this change was accomplished, not through the act of water baptism, but through the death of Christ.

In the comments above, notice how everyone else is made to feel that they are missing the real meaning of the Holy Spirit because we should "just use the vocabulary of the Holy Spirit". Sure there is sacramental language, no one denies that. But why I am left feeling that a real assertion is here made that the thing and the thing signified are one and the same? You see, we are now left with all sorts of unanswered questions. On a side note, my Greek professor used to call the above error illegitimate totality transfer, namely, when one meaning of a word is applied across the board whenever the word is found. The accumulation of verses posted on the blog suggesting that the word baptism should be understood one way every time it is employed is clearly a breaking of this grammatical rule.

But here is my point: How am I to interpret these statements in light of our confessions? What is important here is that a basic reading of this minister’s statements leads me to believe that all infants are washed, forgiven, regenerated, and sealed with the Spirit through water baptism itself. If I am not characterizing his views fairly, then I am completely open to correction, and will make it right if I am wrong. I assure you that I am not heresy hunting, or even bringing charges, but rather genuinely trying to understand these statements in light of what we confess and believe Scripture teaches, and as we move forward in unity talk.

So notice carefully his language. Is he speaking of salvation in a broad sense? What is he talking about? Clearly salvation in the narrow sense. Taking these statements at face value, he supports the idea that baptism, the act of, is the means by which we receive the forgiveness of sins and are united to Christ. In other words, in baptism itself we have the washing away of all our sins. As I read this, he attempts to safeguard himself confessionally by saying that faith is included in the mix as it equally comes as a gift secured through the act. This is hallmark FV teaching, and he is quite open about being appreciative of FV language on baptism.

Now if we take the claim that is being presented at face value, “just read the confessions, this is what we believe,” how am I to determine what the CanRC believes LD 27 teaches when statements are made like this? Q&A 72 asks, "Does this outward washing with water itself wash away sins? No, only Jesus Christ's blood and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sins." Help me to see where I am wrong, but the above statements do not agree with LD 27. Again, maybe I am reading uncharitably, but even this proves our struggle, what ambiguity do we have in our confessions on this issue? Do our confessions teach that the act of baptism unites us to Christ? And do our confessions teach something contrary to the vocabulary of the Holy Spirit? Why am I made to feel this way? In all sincerity, this troubles many of our consciences and provides a good justification for dialogue and open interpretation of the confessions.

Further, this same minister has devoted his entire blog to the rebuttal of the URCNAs report on justification. So how I am to discern what the CanRC believes regarding the FV view of baptism, or covenant theology, when a minister is posting things like this? If this is the CanRC view, then we have a major difference regarding our "confessional" view of baptism. Deep down, I do not want to believe this about the CanRC, and I love my brothers enough to want explanation. But when statements like this are being made, you can see why we are asking for clarification. Evidently, the "just read the confessions" doesn't work in this case, unless, of course, this minister needs to be corrected. But even then, it proves the need for dialogue.

NOTE to READERS:  I apologize for the difficulty in trying to follow the comment thread; for some unknown reason, many of Rev. Dejong's comments have disappeared--not sure how this can happen?  So you will notice I am responding to the air in some of these. It's too bad, the thread was quite a fascinating read. 

12.08.2009

Abounding Grace Radio: REVELATION 20: THE MILLENNIAL REIGN OF CHRIST

Here is Abounding Grace Radio on the Reformed View of the Millennium REV 20

Abounding Grace Daily Broadcasts Dec. 14-18, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
Rev 20 The Millennial Reign of Christ Part II
Tuesday December 15, 2009
Rev 20 The Millennial Reign of Christ Part II
Wednesday December 16, 2009
Rev 20 The Millennial Reign of Christ Part II
Thursday December 17, 2009
Rev 20 The Millennial Reign of Christ Part II
Friday December 18, 2009
Pastors Wes Bredenhof & CJ Gordon
Abounding Grace Daily Broadcasts November 16, 2009
Monday ,November 23, 2009
Rev 20 The Millennial Reign of Christ
Tuesday November 24, 2009
Rev 20 The Millennial Reign of Christ
Wednesday November 25, 2009
Rev 20 The Millennial Reign of Christ
Thursday November 26, 2009
Rev 20 The Millennial Reign of Christ
Friday November 27, 2009
Christianity and Liberalism