Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What We Do When We Get Together...

"The reading of the Scriptures, preaching, and hearing the Word of God, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord; as also the administration of baptism, and the Lord's supper, are all parts of religious worship of God, to be performed in obedience to him, with understanding, faith, reverence, and godly fear; moreover, solemn humiliation, with fastings, and thanksgivings, upon special occasions, ought to be used in an holy and religious manner. "
-The Baptist Confession 22.5

Lord's Day worship each Sunday as the church gathers, is an opportunity to be matured in the faith, and for the Lord to receive glory from His people.  In our day, the methods through which people seek to order their Christian worship services is often very divergent from the ways the text indicates that the people of God are to worship.  The Baptist Confession mentions prayer, and then the next section (above) gives what, in addition to prayer, ought to mark our worship services.  To say that these are the things that ought to occupy our time together is not a legalistic practice, but rather a dependence upon Apostolic tradition--upon the Word of God as the guide for how the covenant people of God ought to worship and commune together with their God.

The Lord has not left us without instruction regarding how we ought to worship.  Often times, we seek spiritual nourishment from man-made cisterns that really hold no water.  Many will resort to means other than the Lord's given means to assemble.  And often these things are not inherently sinful ontologically, but when they become replacements for His given means of worship, they are detractors, and at best spoilers of the meal to come.  In an earlier section, the Confession reads: 

"The light of nature shews that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is just, good and doth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart and all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures. " 22.1

This is not to imply that the Lord is not watching over His children.  It is not to imply that He isn't glorified in things we do throughout the week, for example the talents He has given us.  Painting, doing drama, building something with our hands, etc., are all things that the Lord can be glorified through as His children perform them unto His glory.  However, these are not things for example that the church should focus on in its assembled worship time.  We have an apostolic pattern.  We have  the Lord's institution of the ordinary means of grace.  Therefore, we should let the Word be our guide for how we come to worship.  When we do, a byproduct is that we are not longer looking for an "emotional" experience in worship to drive our times.  We are also not designing our services for the non-believer, as if the assembling of the body is primarily for non-covenantal purposes.  We are gathering as covenantal people, using our covenant maker's instructions on how to assemble in His name.  We are free to expect God to use what He has shown He will use versus resting on our own imaginative devices for the next "big" experience that we hope will move us.  

May God be glorified as His churches worship Him according to His Word.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Law vs. Legalism

"The moral law doth for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof, and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it; neither doth Christ in the Gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation." Baptist Confession 1689, 19.5

When Jesus says, "You have heard it said...but I say unto you..." in Matthew 5-7,  He is not doing away with the Law (specifically, the 10 Commandments).  Rather, He is exposing the legalism of the Pharisees.  Often times, the Sermon on the Mount is a chief text used by many to make the claim that Jesus brings in a new law, and does away with the moral law of the Old Testament.  A brief study of the Pharisaical teaching and method of the day, of adding rules upon rules to God's perfect law, which occurred in the inter-testamental period, will show the context for Jesus' teaching.  Jesus is not seeking to abolish the forever binding moral law of God (summarized in the Decalogue), but rather, He is teaching on how the Law is applied, and how it needs to be separated from the legalism of the religious leaders of the day.

In our day, preaching grace has often meant that many resort either to saying the the entire Old Testament law is done away with, or it has meant calling the adherence to the Law "legalism". (This is most often seen in the keeping of Sabbath).  How ironic.  Jesus is upholding Law over against legalism, and now many today are using those same passages to call Law legalism.  We must preach bold grace...and yes, there are times we may sound antinomian because we preach grace to the deepest of sins and we preach repentance boldly, inviting any to come.  "Such is the provision which God hath made through Christ in the covenant of grace for the preservation of believers unto salvation; that although there is no sin so small but it deserves damnation; yet there is no sin so great that it shall bring damnation on them that repent; which makes the constant preaching of repentance necessary.Baptist Confession 1689, 15.5
However, we must not "be" antinomian" in casting off obedience to God's law as a way of glorifying the God Who saved those who broke His righteous law.

I must boldly preach grace, and monergistic grace at that.  God saves me...He sanctifies me...he ordains good works for me to do (Eph 2:10).  I can boldly proclaim grace for any sin, but I must also proclaim that true faith and repentance are met with obedience to God's law as lifestyle, imperfect as it may be.

"Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned, yet it is of great use to them as well as to others, in that as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their natures, hearts, and lives, so as examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against, sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ and the perfection of his obedience; it is likewise of use to the regenerate to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin; and the threatenings of it serve to shew what even their sins deserve, and what afflictions in this life they may expect for them, although freed from the curse and unallayed rigour thereof. The promises of it likewise shew them God's approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof, though not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works; so as man's doing good and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law and not under grace.  Neither are the aforementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the Gospel, but do sweetly comply with it, the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done."
Baptist Confession 1689, 19.6-7

Christians can be like the Psalmist who "delights in the Law of the Lord."  I delight as one who has a record of obedience because of Christ's work, and as one who sees the beauty of the Law as a means of living for the God who saves.--the God who saves a law-breaker like me.  Legalism is adding to His law, it is not seeking to keep His law by His grace...

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Lord's Day Cometh

A normal rhythm of the Christian life, if we allow it, is 1 in 7.  Every week, we have before us a chance to Sabbath in our Lord and assemble on the Lord's Day in the light of His resurrection.  There is much talk today about how to "do" church.  Many people focus on "how-to" strategies aimed at growing a church, or desire to minimize certain elements and maximize others.  I have been profoundly benefitted from reflection upon what the Bible calls the church to be.  Having grown up in church, served in churches as early as High School and college, and entered ministry right out of college, I have been exposed to a variety of church "styles" and "types".  But in the end, the Lord's pattern for the church is laid out clearly in Scripture if we are willing to in faith, believe that the Word is our best guide for the church.  How do we think weekly about each approaching Lord's Day?  A few thoughts:

Rhythm:  The Lord has given a one in seven pattern for us to follow since creation.  Sabbath rest, ultimately realized in our eschatological rest in Christ, is a rhythm that is given to us for our good (Mark 2).  This pre-Sinai pattern also teaches about our God, and His own pattern that He has revealed to us at creation.  The early church, because of the resurrection of Jesus, observed Sabbath together on the first day of the week, and weekly celebrated the ultimate eschatological rest through the the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  This God-given rhythm, although having a change in which day it was to be observed, has not been rescinded (Heb 4), but has been given greater understanding.  We need this rhythm.  We need a day of God-centered devotion and rest, where we remove the requirements and distractions of the other 6 days out of our hearts, minds and physical focus, and we rest in our Lord.  And on this day, the church assembles together (Rev. 1:10).  "Keeping the sabbath holy" is not a burden, but a delight to borrow Walt Chantry's verbiage.

Food:  The ordinary means of grace, specifically the Word and the Table, are the food the Lord uses.  We live in a day when so many minimize these things, and church diets...the spiritual diets of believers, are junk food.  The minimizing of preaching, the lackadaisical use of the table, either in frequency or in the lack of intentionality, has left people starving for the food of the Lord.  Why would we not want to regularly gather at the table of the Lord as He is spiritually present with His people by the Holy Spirit, nourishing them in the benefits of His accomplished work?  What skit, video presentation, or state of the art building can hold a candle to that?  And the amazing thing is that He has told us in His Word to focus on these things--these means of grace.

Structure:  Biblical church government/polity and membership are crucial forms of fencing.  Given that the New Covenant is an unbreakable covenant, the church is to be made up of professing believers.  These believers, duly baptized, recipients of the sign of the covenant of grace, are gathered together with under-shepherds into a community of discipleship, accountability, and mutual joys and sorrows (Gal 6).  We live in a day when a biblical ecclesiology is lacking, and many assume that it really doesn't matter.  We just think "let's just preach the gospel",  but why would we discard the Lord's instructions on "how to gather" as we do?  Hebrews 4 (Sabbath) and Hebrews 10:25 (assembling) go together as the best mixture--the New Testament knows nothing of Sabbath without assembling.  The regular gathering of the church, duly constituted, is crucial in the life of the believer.

So often when I sit to give spiritual counsel to a weary person who professes Christ, some component in the three given above is missing, or is askew.  Not every problem will be solved by just having the above three things in order, but so often, one of more of these three things in lacking in a believer's life.  So, how do we think about this coming Lord's Day approaching?  I now look forward with eager expectation to the Lord's "Sabbathing" in Christ.  I think in advance about how He will feed His people through His Word preached and in His Word made visible (sacraments).  The Lord has changed how I focus on these things, and as a result, my life has been enriched.  Prayer, while not the main focus of this post, is also a means the Lord uses in the life of the believer...a means, which too many of us, myself included, don't utilize as we could.

Friend, we have a wonderful one in seven rhythm given to us by the Lord.  We should not only not neglect the assembling of believers (Heb 10), but we should look to the coming Lord's Day as a reminder of weekly nourishment.  The ministry of the Word, Sacraments and prayer along with biblical church membership and government are the food and fence that the Lord uses to lead His sheep in green pastures in a weekly rhythm of grace until they are safely home.  It is now a few days until the next Lord's day.  If I have breath a few days from now, I will, Lord willing, be pleased to gather with the saints, feed on the Word, rest together and individually in Him, and look toward heaven's shore--what a gift He has given to us...

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Planned Parenthood and The Gospel

I came home yesterday and my wife had a slightly more quiet disposition.  I asked if anything was wrong, and she asked me if I had seen the recently revealed undercover video of a Planned Parenthood Executive in casual, non-chalant discussions regarding the selling of aborted human baby parts--aborted baby limbs, organs, etc.  I had not, and even without seeing the video (HERE), I was immediately cut to the heart.  I later watched the video in slight disbelief at the callous nature over which the woman, seemingly a medical doctor, spoke.  But of course, abortion has been an issue that has caused me heartache for years.  I am pro-life--I am for the life of the unborn, and the life of women.  Abortion, just like any other breaking of the sixth commandment, destroys an image-bearer of God.  But what should my response be to this most recent atrocity of the abortion industry?

* The gospel can save those who have abortions and those who perform them--they murder with tools, and I have been saved from murdering words (Matt 5:22).

*The gospel can save this woman pictured on the video, and any others, from callous, murderous hearts.  The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16).

*In my outrage, I must hate the evil that God hates, but I am called to love those who perform abortions.  How can I hate others who need Jesus, when I need Him too?  One day soon, a Lord's Supper table, or the ultimate marriage supper of the Lamb table, will be occupied by one more abortion provider who has met Christ.  We will partake together in the blood and body of Christ (1 Cor 10:16-17).

*I can, under God-appointed civil authorities (Rom 13), appeal to leaders and ask why tax dollars are paying for Planned Parenthood.  I can stand in marches and outside clinics to gently testify to truth, but I must do so as one who represents Christ and the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5).

*I must seek to care for the orphan and the husbandless (Is 1:17), both of which are regularly represented in the abortion industry.  The early Christians went out to trash heaps and gathered babies that were "exposed" (a practice known as exposito whereby an unwanted child, born to a father who did not desire to keep it, could be literally discarded and left to die) and adopted them--a practical picture of the gospel (Gal. 4).  We Christians must lead the way in foster care and adoption--not "AS" the gospel, but as an implication of the gospel.

*I must temper my shock with the realization that until Christ returns, this is the norm.  We often are tempted to think that things are "getting worse", but they were technically "worse" in Paul's day in many ways.  Secular morality will come and go until He returns.  So, we say "Maranatha!"  (Rev. 22:20b).

*I must not let my mind grow numb to the senseless killing of the infants but continue to humbly work to minister to all affected by the abortion industry.

*I lament toward my eternal home and do not lament as though this is my home.

Yesterday was a sad day...and yet abortions have occurred for thousands of years.  I recently wrote a short entry for a dictionary detailing the millennia-long occurrence of abortion--people are like Cain-we murder.  And so we must call it sin, long for the Savior Who saves from sin, and continue to focus our response not on outrage only, but on sharing the gospel...the story of the Lord who created babies and Who is not overruled by man's temporary abortive schemes.  He will one day raise His elect--abortion doctors and infants alike.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Confessional Counseling (Reprise)

This post was previously posted back in March, but given our church's current focus on the Means of Grace, I am reposting:

Counseling has been a significant part of my life, both in study and in doing, as a pastor, and as a counselor who has been in private practice/counseling ministry.   There is a wonderful wealth of counseling training materials for Christians seeking to counsel.  Of course, there are a variety of theories on counseling, from 'Nouthetic' to 'Theories of Explanation' paradigms, and all manner of approaches in between.  I lean very strongly to a Word-informed, Word-saturated approach in counseling.  I have sat with hurting people for countless hours seeking to apply the truths of God's Word to their situations, thoughts, experiences and sinful patterns, and yet over the years I have come to realize that counseling, while often a very helpful component to the ministry of the church, is to complement the means of grace.  By means of grace, I mean those ordinary means that the Lord Christ has given His bride to feed their faith until they are with Him face to face (not the basis of our justification, but the ordinary, God-ordained mechanisms through which His people are fed by the grace wrought by the merits and work of Christ).  There are a variety of helpful resources on these, both old and new, that I encourage the reader to utilize such as this lecture series here: [Click Here]

The Baptist Confession (1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith) 14.1 says:

"The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word; by which also, and by the administration of baptism and the Lord's supper, prayer, and other means appointed of God, it is increased and strengthened. ( 2 Corinthians 4:13;  Ephesians 2:8; Romans 10:14, 17; Luke 17:5; 1 Peter 2:2; Acts 20:32 )"

While counseling, rightly performed, is an offshoot of the ministry of the Word, it is not a replacement for the ordinary means of grace.  Counseling is the ministry of the Word applied to the pain caused by the fallen world, but also applied in discipleship to the growth of the Christian.  However, how many of us, pastors and "professional" counselors alike, forget the means of grace in the process?  How often have we labored with individuals in listening, speaking, shedding tears, and encouraging and yet have forgotten to commend the ordinary means of grace to individuals?.  Many of us counsel those within the local church that we pastor, and so this may be a less prevalent reality, albeit it a necessary reminder as we continue to counsel.  Others have spent time outside the local church counseling persons (elsewhere we could have the necessary discussion of the appropriate way to go about counseling outside the auspices of a particular local body--connection to the local church is so necessary and must be a continued goal for counseling in my opinion), and we have failed to even consider the role that the means of grace (and their absence in the life of the individual) play in their journey.  What if a depressed individual is not regularly coming to the table of the Lord, and is looking for our "wisdom" alone to get them through?  What if a person struggling with grief is talking to us, but not currently sitting under the preaching of the Word, or assembling regularly in communion through the Supper?  Or, how about the individual who is struggling with the sin of drunkenness, and is seeking to talk it out with us, but is not currently praying regularly according to the biblical pattern that the Lord has given?   Our counsel, if the Lord wills, can be of great comfort, and perhaps spiritual benefit, but it cannot replace the ordinary means of grace that the Lord has ordained for His people until they are home.

Please do not misunderstand me.  I know many of the deep deep hurts and struggles that believers have experienced, and I do not mean to insinuate for example that the woman who was ritually abused by her father and is now in the throws of pain over it needs to forsake counseling, and "just take the Lord's Supper".   The means of grace are not a magic pill for all depression, anxiety, trauma recovery, etc.  However, they should not be neglected in the lives of those individuals who are working through these issues.  Many readers will be thinking, "Well of course!  I would never expect a counselee to not be involved in the means."  Yet do we regularly encourage them as part of the overall picture of a person?  Wouldn't it be a better approach to see counseling as a necessary and yet secondary complement to the Lord's work in feeding faith through the ordinary means?

Oh how important is the phrase "ordinarily wrought" in the confessional paragraph above.  When a brother or sister or "counselee" sits in my office, my first question will not likely be "when was the last time you took the Lord's Supper?"  However, the Word preached, the sacraments, and prayer should be a consideration as the counseling unfolds.  We may talk through problems and sins and pain, but it is most useful as a complement to the Lord's given means of feeding His people in His grace.

The means of grace are the banquet.  Counseling ministry is a needed help, but it alone will not satisfy the spiritual appetite...