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Archive for the ‘contemporary evangelicalism’ Category

earlychurch

It’s always exciting to find artifacts and documents relating to the First and Second Century Christian church. We get a better understanding of what it was like to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in the first three or four generations.

But there is something I hope we never find – a very specific liturgy. By that I mean a detailed order of worship (in other words, a record of what they did as they were gathered together to worship, including how long everything took).

Yes, it would be interesting to find such a document. It might even be informative. But, most likely, I think it would be dangerous. We would be strongly tempted to copy it and make it the iron-clad pattern for all of our worship services from that point forward. We might even assume we had found a Divinely-inspired order of worship.

But there is no Divinely-inspired order of worship available to us. The Bible (God’s inspired and authoritative Word) doesn’t provide one. Yes, there are elements of every worship service that are mentioned in Scripture – singing, prayer, giving, and the preaching of the Word, but there isn’t too much beyond that. If a liturgy was found, we wouldn’t have any way of knowing whether or not it was even their normal order. It could have been a special service. We simply don’t know, which is the point.

The absence of an established order of worship gives us flexibility. Worship services may vary from time to time and place to place, but the essential elements as well as the obligation to gather with other believers (Heb. 10:24-25) to worship God remains constant.  In this case, diversity can be a good thing.

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sj&g

Many of us in the church have heard, or read,  a lot about “social justice” recently. Words such as “intersectionality,” “identity politics,” “white privilege,” and racism have been thrown around quite liberally.

This Leftist ideology (which some call Cultural Marxism) has made its way into the evangelical church through several popular websites, authors, pastors, and thinkers. In my opinion, it’s deadly and could have a devastating effect. In fact, we’ve already seen a few fractures which may take awhile to heal – if ever.

A document has been written and published to bring clarity to these issues. The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel was written by John MacArthur, Voddie Bauchum, Phil Johnson, and James White among others. It’s well-written, well-thought out and, most importantly, thoroughly biblical.

Part of the introduction says,

“Specifically, we are deeply concerned that values borrowed from secular culture are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of race and ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality. The Bible’s teaching on each of these subjects is being challenged under the broad and somewhat nebulous rubric of concern for “social justice.” If the doctrines of God’s Word are not uncompromisingly reasserted and defended at these points, there is every reason to anticipate that these dangerous ideas and corrupted moral values will spread their influence into other realms of biblical doctrines and principles.”

Please read it. You can also sign it if you’re so inclined (I did). This is an important time for the church in the United States.

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read me

Lifeway Research released some disturbing statistics recently. Only eleven percent of Christians have read through the Bible once, and only nine percent have read it through more than once.

You may have a hard time believing the percentage is so low, but I can personally vouch for it. In every group of believers I’ve asked, Lifeway’s research has been vindicated. It really is that low.

It’s disturbing to me that so few people who consider themselves Christians have read the Bible – God’s inspired revelation to us – even once, and even fewer more than once. God has revealed Himself, His plan, His will, and His ways to us through His Word, but how can we know any of it if we never open the Book and read it? The answer is obvious. We can’t.

Based on the Lifeway statistics, the vast majority of Christians read the Bible (when they do) in little snippets, and probably not in context, or treat it as a book made up of pithy sayings suitable for framing. Though it’s made up of sixty-six books, the Bible is one story that encompasses a number of themes. We gain so much more when we read the entire book and begin to see the big picture.

Is it any wonder that the church is so influenced by the world? Is it any wonder that the church is rife with false teaching?

There’s a simple solution: Read, hear, study, memorize, meditate on, and obey the Bible! Look, I know that reading the Bible isn’t magic (“three chapters a day keeps the devil away”). It doesn’t work that way. But look at it this way: If we don’t read the Bible (much),  do we honestly think things will magically get better? We know the answer.

As I’ve been reading through Psalm 119, there are some verses that I hope will help encourage us to saturate ourselves in God’s Word:

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word” (v. 9).

“Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You” (v. 11).

“I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word” (v. 16).

“Your testimonies also are my delight; they are my counselors” (v. 24).

“I shall delight in Your commandments, which I love” (v. 47).

“This is my comfort in my affliction, that Your word has revived me” (v. 50).

“The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (v. 72).

“O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (v. 97).

“I opened my mouth wide and panted, for I longed for Your commandments” (v. 131).

“I rejoice at Your word, as one who finds great spoil” (v. 162).

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300px-Fear_The_Lord_-_geograph.org.uk_-_801922

The fear of God, or fearing God, has always been a subject of great interest to me. Toby Sumpter, a pastor at Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, sheds more light on the subject. It’s worth considering.

What does it mean to fear the Lord? It means to be afraid of God. It means to tremble at the thought of God. Christians are often quick to explain this away. It means respect or reverence, we might say. But that really is not sufficient. The fear of the Lord really is a holy dread, a holy trembling. There is a sinful, fleshly fear that is unholy and ungodly, and perfect love casts out that kind of fear. But if you read your Bible and you want to know the God of the Bible, you must come to embrace the fact that there is a knowledge of God’s holiness and glory and justice and power that makes you feel like you’re standing on the very edge of a cliff looking down into thin air.

God is not a cosmic teddy bear. He is fierce and terrible. When people come into His presence they fall down, they tremble. It’s the fear of knowing His complete perfection and holiness and knowing we are not. He is a hurricane of glory, the sun of righteousness, the lion of the tribe of Judah, thunder and lightning goes out from His throne, and He sees all things, knows all things, and He will judge the world in absolute justice.

Do you fear the Lord?

This godly, holy fear is necessary for a godly and holy life. God spoke to the people of Israel and gave them His covenant so that they would learn to fear Him all the days of their life and teach their children to do the same. The fear of the Lord teaches men wisdom; it teaches us to obey God’s commands. The fear of the Lord hates all evil. The fear of the Lord is clean and endures forever. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life. The fear of the Lord is better than great treasure. Hebrews says that in the New Covenant, we have come to Mt. Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and God speaks to us directly from heaven, and therefore we must serve God with reverence and godly fear, because our God is a consuming fire.

Our God is not at all safe, but He is good.

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heidelberg

Contemporary Evangelicals need to rediscover the wisdom of the catechisms which were written during the Reformation. The theology found in them is rich, pastoral, and thoroughly biblical. As a church, we’re poorer because of our neglect of them. Here is a little bit of that wisdom:

Question #60

Q – How are you right before God?

A – Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ;

so that, though my conscience accuse me, that I have grossly transgressed all the commandments of God, and kept none of them,

and am still inclined to all evil;

notwithstanding, God, without any merit of mine,

but only of mere grace,

grants and imputes to me, the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ,

even so, as if I never had had, nor committed any sin: yea, as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for me;

inasmuch as I embrace such benefit with a believing heart.

“How can I be right before God?” is the most important that anyone will ever ask. Our destinies depend upon it, and the Heidelberg Catechism gives us a brief answer of what is found in God’s Word, the Bible.

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titus-2__large-detail_320_320_70_s_c1

Grace – God’s unmerited and undeserved favor – is amazing in more ways than we normally think. Titus 2:11-14 illustrates it: For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” 

“The grace of God has appeared” (verse 11) in the person of Jesus Christ. That grace brought “salvation.” God saves us by His grace and we praise Him for it! He opened our eyes when we were spiritually blind; He opened our spiritually deaf ears; and He gave us a heart of flesh in exchange for the heart of stone each of us have by nature – and He did all of this by His grace! We didn’t deserve it, couldn’t earn it, and, in fact, deserve the exact opposite.

Everyone who has repented of their sin and has believed in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation did so solely because of God’s grace. We’ve been redeemed by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. But does that give us a “get out of jail card free card” with respect to our behavior and conduct as a Christian? Can we live any way we want because we’re saved by grace?

No, it doesn’t and no, we can’t! Still on the subject of “the grace of God” from verse 11, verse 12 begins with the phrase “instructing us.” The grace of God not only saves us, but instructs us (or teaches, disciplines, trains us). To what end? Grace instructs us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.” In other words, grace doesn’t softly whisper in your ear to go ahead and indulge yourself because God doesn’t really care anymore; rather grace teaches us, trains us, and disciplines us to say no to ungodliness and yes to godliness. While we’re at it, we await the second coming of “our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (verse 13), who “redeemed us from every lawless deed” on the negative side, and is purifying “for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (verse 14). By His grace, God has redeemed us “from every lawless deed” and “for good deeds.” God is just as concerned with our birth (justification) as He is with our growth (sanctification).

God’s grace is truly amazing – through it we’re saved, taught, empowered, and changed!

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open-Bible

How do we know what’s right and wrong? How do we know that abortion is wrong? How do we know that all human beings have dignity, value, and worth? How do we know that there are two sexes – male and female – which are assigned to us by God at our conception? How do we know the true spiritual condition of mankind (lost, sinful, and fallen)? How do we know how we can be right with God?

There are a number of answers, and almost all of them are wrong. Human reason and logic can’t give us the answers. Neither can intuition, personal experience, or tradition. As Christians, we rely on revelation. God has revealed Himself to us and He has spoken to us in His Word. The reason we know anything, and can know anything, is because God has revealed it to us.

When we think about any issue or question, whether inside the church or not, our first question needs to be “What does the Scripture say?” In other words, we need to ask what God thinks about it. This ought to be our first instinct, not our last. God’s Word – what He has to say – is authoritative in every area of life. That instinct, however, is in short supply in today’s church. We seem to take our cues from just about any other source than God and His Word.

It ought not be so, as illustrated by the following two passages. The apostle Paul has been arguing in the early chapters of the book of Romans that everyone is sinful and, therefore, deserving of God’s wrath (1:18-3:20). He then proclaims that justification by faith alone is the answer to the question of how sinful man can be right with a holy God (3:21-31). In 4:1, he says, in effect, “What about Abraham? How was he justified?” In order to give his answer, he appeals to Scripture, when he says, “What does the Scripture say?” (4:3). A quotation from Genesis 15:6 follows: “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Paul cites Scripture to make his case and bring the discussion to an end – the matter is settled.

The second passage is Matthew 19:3-9. Some Pharisees challenged Jesus about whether or not a man could divorce his wife. Instead of quoting an influential rabbi or two, Jesus went straight to the Scripture to give the authoritative answer. He said, “Have you not read?” in verse 4. In other words, “What does the Scripture say?” The Lord Jesus asked this question many times during His ministry. He continually appealed to God’s Word as the final authority in all matters.

The church needs to remember and recover this crucial principle. We know what’s right and wrong, what’s true and false, because we read it in God’s Word – because God says so. There’s nothing wrong with believing and saying that. In fact, if we’re going to be faithful Christians, that’s exactly what we’ll do.

 

 

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