Friday, September 28, 2012

MacArthur's Dispensationalism


Every year I attend the Expositors' Conference hosted by Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile. The members of their congregation have always demonstrated a wonderful spirit of service and hospitality and this year was no different. They go out of their way make the conference a time of respite for the attendees and their wives.
 
The preaching of Steve Lawson was powerful as he took his text from Romans 1. It is always a blessing to hear preaching delivered with such passion.
 
The keynote speaker this year was John MacArthur. It is at this point that I must voice great disappointment. Before I continue, I feel compelled to give honor to whom honor is due. This man has been used greatly in our generation for the advancement of Reformed Theology. He has stood firmly in his defense of the Gospel, even in the midst of those who despise it. His stance against the "easy believism" of today and the "Carnal Christian" theory is to be applauded, as well as his books in critique of the Charismatic movement. I see him worthy of respect and honor, not that I'd stand in line to get his autograph, but I'll leave that subject for another day. I am humbled as I write this.
 
That said, MacArthur's eschatology of Dispensationalism stood as a cloud over his handling of the Biblical text. His topic for the Conference was "The Gospel Preaching of Isaiah" with his text taken from Isaiah 53. It was divided over three sermons. His verse by verse exposition was stirring as we were reminded once again of the atonement of Christ. Sadly, faithful to his Dispensationalism, he relegated the text to Israel speaking during the millennium of their rejection of Christ. It robbed the text of its power, which must be applied to every generation. Although verse 1 can be applied to Isaiah standing as the spokesman for the believing remnant of Jews in every generation, more distinctly it applies to Gospel preaching of all ages and the rejection by sinful men. Jesus applied this verse to the unbelief of His generation: "But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: 'LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT? AND TO WHOM WAS THE ARM OF THE LORD BEEN REVEALED'" (John 12:37-38). The point is, no one will believe apart from the strong "arm of the LORD" working mightily in the sinner. To relegate this to some distant point in the future does disservice to the text and strips the power from the text in Gospel preaching.  
 
I realize my stance against Dispensationalism is in the minority in many circles today. It was truly evident at this year's Expositors' Conference. But Dispensationalism is surely the minority position historically, particularly among reformed theologians, both past and present.
 
Allow me to pass along several points for consideration:
1.  The Dispensational position of the rebuilding of the Temple and a return to the sacrifical system at some point in the future is abominable. The Temple was destroyed in 70 ad forever ending the Old Covenant sacrificial system. The blood of Christ effectively and forever ended the shedding of the blood of bulls and goats. Hebrews 9-10 will not allow for any possible return to any type of sacrificial system. "For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified" (Hebrews 10:14).
2.  MacArthur also applied Jeremiah 31 to physical Israel. While looking at Hebrews 10 we might note that Jeremiah 31clearly points to the New Covenant; the New Covenant sealed with the blood of Christ and applied to all who are His--not just Israel.
3.  God has but one people--the elect who are redeemed by Christ and called by the Gospel, both Jews and Gentiles together. The New Testament declares that every distinction and every wall of division between the two has been removed. "For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in the ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity" (Ephesians 2:14-16). Surely Peter makes it clear that the church today is the true representation of God's people. "For you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you were once not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy" (1 Peter 2:9-10).
4.   The Dispensationalists insist that the Kingdom is largely relegated to the thousand year millennial reign of Christ upon the earth. Isn't is facinating that apostolic preaching had a great focus upon the Kingdom of God? "When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening" (Acts 28:23). It would seem amazing that they would spend so much time preaching about something that was over 2000 years (and counting) in the future.

Approaching the Bible with presuppositions is always dangerous for all of us. This is why sound hermeneutical principles are essential. MacArthur's presupposition that God's Old Covenant promises to Israel must be literally fulfilled is, in my opinion, a poor hermeneutic. The promises of God find their fulfillment in Christ in the New Covenant. MacArthur said during the Conference that so called "replacement theology" finds its roots in the anti-semetism of the past. It would seem rather, that the teaching that God has one united people in Christ comes straight from Scripture. SDG



Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Robert Shelby

"Behind every frowning providence He hides a smiling face." For those of us who know God's absolute sovereignty over every detail of His creation and every moment of time we know these words to be true, but actually embracing them when God's providence has darkened and the fiery trials seem to consume takes much grace. On July 3 Pastor Rob awakened to face what he thought would be just another day. He'd taken the day off to prepare for our annual July 4 picnic the next day and decided to take the kids to a neighbor's house for an early morning swim. What happened next was a moment in time that would change the entire course of his life. Demonstrating how to dive, he misjudged the depth of the water, hit his head on the bottom, and broke his neck leaving him paralyzed from mid-chest down. He has no use of his hands or legs.

This is one of those frowning providences that seems to hide any possibility of a smiling face. Yet, Rob has demonstrated to the world that his contentment is not grounded upon the conditions of this life and his hope is not dependent upon things we can immediately see. What a blessing has already been realized in this affliction. His nine children are seeing that the God their daddy has taught them about their entire lives is real; He is sufficient through every trial. What a smiling face will be manifested if this will lead to their salvation as they embrace this God as their God. And to see the community of faith rallying around the Shelby family has been a wonderful picture of our union with Christ. When one suffers we all suffer. What a testimony to the world as they witness the reality of Christianity.

We are praying for Rob's healing and restoration, knowing that our God is mighty and He so often demonstrates His power before His people. But, at the same time, we know that if this is not God's ultimate purpose, He will use Rob in ways unimaginable. What a mighty God we serve.

In the words of Sir William Cowper:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footprints in the sea,
and rides upon the storm.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning Providence
He hides a smiling face.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Is the "Statement on the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation" Semi-Pelagian?

There seems to be much debate regarding the "Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation" and the charge of semi-Pelagianism. Albert Mohler wrote on his website, "I fully understand the intention of the drafters to oppose several Calvinist renderings of doctrine, but some of the language employed in the statement goes far beyond this intention. Some portions of the statement actually go beyond Arminianism and appear to affirm semi-Pelagian understandings of sin, human nature, and the human will." Of course, Mohler's comments have been met with strong denials. Jerry Vines wrote, "I strongly disagree with Dr. Mohler's assertion that 'some of the statements appear to affirm semi-Pelagian understandings.' I wonder if Dr. Mohler thinks some of us aren't theologically astute enough to recognize semi-Pelagianism when we see it!"

So is it semi-Pelagian? Herman Bavinck writes in his Reformed Dogmatics (Vol. 3, Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2006, page 486), ". . . the teaching of Pelagius, who did not deny grace but understood it as a universal gift to all people enabling them to choose the good and refuse evil. Grace is emptied of its real meaning since our appropriation of grace depends on our own will: God helps those who help themselves. The great gift of Augustine to the church was his definitive repudiation of all forms of Pelagianism. According to Augustine, our wills are bound, from beginning to end being redirected to God's good and preserving in it; it is a matter of gift not of merit, of grace not of works. Objectively and subjectively, from beginning to end, the work of salvation is a work of God's grace and of his grace alone." Pelagius rejected the doctrine of original sin and the concept of "inherited sin." Since human beings are not corrupted by original sin we are capable of choosing good without any special Divine aid.

While Pelagianism rejected any idea of original sin, semi-pelagianism softened the Pelagian position by asserting that human beings are affected by sin but can still choose the good apart from Divine grace. Arminians have further softened it by adding the concept of universal prevenient grace; a grace given to all men thus making faith possible in all--the determining factor being the act of the will. Arminius rejected the semi-Pelagian position stating that while salvation is a cooperation between God and man, grace is essential.

So does the "Statement" border on semi-Pelagianism? I think it comes right up to the brink of the precipice. Article 2 states, "We deny that Adam's sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person's free will. . ." In other words, they are saying that the human will may be affected by sin but not incapacitated by sin. Perhaps the Article is just poorly written, but this is clearly the semi-Pelagian position; that Adam's sin did not result in the incapacitation of any person's free will. Dr. Mohler's statement is simply stating the grave concern over the wording of their statement.

By the way, Roger Olsen, author of "Against Calvinism," a book criticizing Calvinism, wrote on his blog, "It may very well be that the majority of Southern Baptists have believed and do believe that Adam's fall did not result in the incapacitation of anyone's will to respond to the gospel apart from supernatural grace. I have argued for a long time that semi-Pelagianism is the default theology of most American Christians of most denominations." Regarding the "SBC Statement" he writes, "I am not accusing the authors or signers of semi-Pelagianism. But, as it stands, the statement affirms it, whether intentionally, or unintentionally."

Just as we are offended at the "Statement's" misrepresentation of Calvinist soteriology, we must be careful not to misrepresent their position. Reformed theology has been written on voluminously and is clearly defined so that there should be no misunderstanding if one takes the time to read and study our position. If they are to deny the charge of semi-Pelagianism, they too need to do a better job of clearly defining their position.

Friday, June 1, 2012

SBC Statement Against Calvinism

As I read the recent "Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation" I was filled with both disappointment and dismay; disappointment because these brothers feel the need to go on the attack, dismay because of their misrepresentation of Calvinistic soteriology. Either they don't understand the Calvinistic position or they are purposely and dishonestly seeking to malign a large segment of Southern Baptists. I hope and trust it is the former. As a Southern Baptist and a Calvinist I want to address some of the elements in this statement.

From the very beginning, with the preamble, the misrepresentations begin with the suggestion that traditional Calvinism is plagued by "anti-missionism" and "hyper-Calvinism." They also downplay the Calvinistic roots of the SBC. A look to history reveals a substantial influence of Calvinism. The first president of the Convention, W.B. Johnson, was a Calvinist. Basil Manly, Patrick H. Mell (who held the office of SBC president longer than any other man), John Broadus, William Williams, etc. etc. -- all Calvinists. James Petigrue Boyce, SBC president and founder and first president of Southern Seminary drafted the Abstract of Systematic Theology, a solidly Calvinistic statement. While the majority of Southern Baptists today may hold to Arminian soteriolgy, it would not be accurate to declare this to be the "traditional" position when even our first seminary was solidly Calvinistic. In addition, B.H. Carroll, founder and president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was a Calvinist. And while they stress that their "traditional" view of salvation is stated clearly in the Baptist Faith and Message, "Article IV," the truth is Calvinists also agree with this statement. And while, as I will point out below, they claim to hold to this statement, they in fact do not. Allow me to make some comments on the articles of their statement. Again, the Calvinistic view is often misrepresented. There is so much to be said, but I'll try to keep my comments brief.

Article One - Calvinists also affirm that "God has made a way of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for any person." There is a genuine offer of grace to all who will turn from their sin and trust Christ as Savior. We also affirm, however, that no man "can come" unless it has been granted to him from the Father (John 6:65), and that "all that the Father gives" to Christ will come to Him (John 6:37).

Article Two - They grossly contradict themselves. On one hand they declare the depravity of man as rendering him unable not to sin, "that every person who is capable of moral action will sin."  But then they declare, "We deny that Adam's sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person's free will." Why doesn't the lost man simply "will" not to sin? The Calvinist also agrees with them that no sinner "is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit's drawing through the Gospel." One other comment: if no man suffers the guilt of sin until he actually sins why do innocent children die? "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned--" (Romans 5:12).

Article Three - We also affirm the "penal substitution of Christ." And we also deny that this atonement results in salvation apart from faith and repentance. But then they add: "We deny that Christ died only for the sins of those who will be saved." Once again, they are demonstrating an inconsistent position. Did Christ really die as a "substitute" for all of the sins of those suffering in hell? Why is it that they are in hell?

Article Four - Calvinists also believe in God's free offer of grace to all men. We also affirm that the grace of God can be and often is resisted. Jesus told Paul, "It is hard for you to kick against the goads" (Acts 26:14). While the Gospel can be resisted, the Bible teaches that ultimately saving grace will be efficacious - "All that the Father gives me will come to me" (John 6:37).

Article Five - This is where everyone who signs this document needs to make an honest declaration that they reject the "Baptist Faith and Message." They state, "We deny that any person is regenerated prior to or apart from hearing and responding to the Gospel."
The BFM, Article IV: "Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." They cannot honestly claim to hold to the BFM statement on salvation and then reject this clear statement that regeneration precedes faith and repentance.

Article Six - I don't even know what they mean here. Do they really believe that election is only a plan? Is that really what the Bible teaches about election? That election is only God's selection of a plan? What about the boundless passages that speak of God's election of individuals. And they seem to ignore the very passages they reference.
Ephesians 14-6 - Paul writing to the "saints" at Rome declares in Verse 3, "who blessed us," then in Verse 4, "Just as He chose us," then in Verse 5, "having predestined us," and finally Verse 6, "which He freely bestowed on us." Will a sound exposition of the text allow you to conclude that Paul is speaking of just a "plan" or that he is speaking of all men in general?
Romans 8:29-30 - Again, what about the context? In Verse 28 speaks of God working all things for the good of those called according to His purpose. Not to all men in general but to those He has called. Then, as he continues in Verses 29-30, he speaks of God's foreknowledge and predestination of these called ones. Foreknowledge implies events fixed in time. Events are fixed in time because God fixes them - "having predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His own will" (Ephesians 1:11).
OK, I promised to be brief.

Article Seven - Again, a contradiction. "We affirm God's knowledge of and sovereignty over every person's salvation." "We deny that God's sovereignty and knowledge require Him to cause . . ." Sovereignty refers to God's absolute, independent, reign and governing of all things. Nothing is left outside of His sovereign reign. God is the first cause of all things. You really cannot claim to believe in the sovereignty of God while denying that He is sovereign over all things, including the hearts of men. Pharaoh can testify to this. So can Solomon, "The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes" (Proverbs 21:1).

Article Eight - This would take much space to debunk. Did Lydia open her own heart or did God open it? "And the Lord opened her heart to respond . . ." (Acts 16:14). Ephesians 2:8 can be debated endlessly as to whether "grace" or "faith" is the gift from God. Either way, we have to agree that it is "not of yourselves." Salvation is God's work. If the ultimate difference between heaven and hell is my act of faith, then salvation is an act of human effort, a work. Yet Paul continues, "Not as the result of works, that no one should boast" (Ephesians 2:9).

Article Nine - The Calvinist also denies the remote possibility of apostasy for those who are in Christ. But our belief rests in the full work of God in His redemptive purpose. Once again, they are inconsistent here. If  salvation is based upon the exercise of our free will in coming to Christ, then reason would demand that a person also has the free will to turn from Christ to his former way of life. Would God violate our free will by keeping us in the faith?

Article Ten - To this every Calvinist would also say Amen. And multitudes of Calvinist missionaries, both in the past and in the present, testify to God's saving grace and the power of the Gospel unto salvation. Are they honestly accusing us of believing that a person can be saved apart from faith and repentance? This is the maligning of Calvinists that is both unfair, and perhaps even dishonest.

If their misrepresentation of Calvinist doctrine is sincerely due to a lack of understanding, then there needs to be more serious dialogue between the two sides. I find this of particular concern since there are so many seminary professors and seminary presidents who are signing the document. Surely, they understand the doctrines and beliefs of historical Calvinism. If, on the other hand, this is a purposed effort to malign a group that disagrees with them by misrepresenting the Calvinist position, shame on them. This can only cause further division, particularly among the rank and file in the pews who read and listen to these leaders and conclude that all Calvinists are heretics who are anti-missions and who deny that the Gospel must be brought to all men.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Church, Why Bother - Book Review

In the past several years there have been many books published on the subject of the local church, some of which are very good. It is very encouraging to see a heightened interest in this important and long-neglected subject. But one book that stands apart is a new book entitled, The Church, Why Bother by Jeffrey D. Johnson, pastor of Grace Bible Church in Conway, AR. It is a very brief book, weighing in at only 155 pages, but each page is full of rich and refreshing truths regarding the importance of the local church. It is such a concise and relevant book I've chosen it as the next book for our monthly Men's Study. Let me share some of the highlights of the book.
A quick perusal of the table of contents reveals the catalogue of important topics covered in this book. In the introduction Johnson begins with a contrast between "easy-believism" and "Lordship salvation." It is a low view of God that results in "easy-believism" and it has a direct impact on how a person views the local church. Johnson writes, "What we believe about God, salvation and man will consequently influence the way we do church." This provides the framework for the remainder of the book.

Chapter 1 - The Nature of the Church - Johnson defines the local church as "a fellowship of believers, who by the Holy Spirit, have been called out of this world of darkness and have been spiritually united together into one body in Christ Jesus." He emphasises the church as the truth bearer, the pillar and ground to protect and proclaim truth. It is comprised of God's sanctified people.
Chapter 2 - The Purpose of the Church - The purpose of the church is to glorify God, proclaim the gospel to the world, and serve as the means of sanctification of the saints through the propagation of God's Word.
Chapter 3 - The Culture and the Local Church - In this chapter Johnson weeds through the thorny subject of the church in the context of modern culture. There has been a tendency today for some to seek to redefine the church in an effort to increase its influence and acceptability in the world. Johnson's thesis for this chapter is, "The church is not to be influenced and shaped by the culture, but be a sanctifying influence upon the culture."
Chapter 4 - The Activities of the Local Church - If the purpose of the church is to promote and mature in unity, truth, and purity, then the activities of the church should focus on achieving these objectives. Johnson stresses the great danger in placing to much importance on the numerical growth of the church, which leads to a pragmatic, consumer driven philosophy in church programs.
Chapter 5 - The Worship of the Local Church - The main feature that shapes the worship of a church is its theology. Johnson states, "The creativity in worship, which is emphasized by the Emergent Church, is based upon an ever-changing theology that contains no absolutes." He goes on to describe the fundamentals of Biblical worship.
Chapter 6 - The Membership of the Local Church - In this chapter the author gives a refreshing overview of the importance and necessity of church membership. He writes, "Going to church is not to be squeezed into the Christian's weekly schedule, but rather it is to be the principle activity and focal point of the Christian life." He outlines the sad result of our culture of individualism. Most Christians view the church as something to meet their particular needs with membership being optional. There is little commitment and church hopping is common. Johnson describes church membership as being both a privilege and a responsibility.
Chapter 7 - The Discipline of the Local Church - As an excellent followup of the previous chapter, this chapter covers the important topic of church discipline. When a member persists in continual, unrepentant sin, the church must deal with it in order to maintain the spiritual integrity of the church. Johnson outlines the procedure of church discipline.
Chapter 8 - The Authority of the Local Church - When the primary emphasis of the church becomes adding to the membership the church loses its authority. Johnson describes it as "putting the potential visitor in charge." In this chapter he describes the government of the church and the leadership of the elders within the congregation.
Chapter 9 - The Doctrinal Standards of the Church - In this final chapter the author stresses the importance of confessional statements in the local church. He warns against the danger of mysticism, which he defines as an subjective experience void of objective Biblical truth--where the experience is sought out more than God Himself. Johnson writes, "There is no personal encounter with God apart from the truth." The church needs to clearly define what it believes. Every church member or potential church member has a right to know how the church interprets the Scriptures.

According to the Barna Research Group, 10 million self-proclaimed, born again Christians have not been to church in the last six months. Even many sincere believers fail to recognize the importance of the local church. Job and family are the priority. While they may see the church as important, their life's decisions demonstrate that they see the church as something that fills in the periphery of their life. The Church, Why Bother is a wonderful reminder of the importance and necessity of the local church in the life of every Christian. In our hyper-individualistic society, the truths of this book need to be taught over and over.

Here is a video by the author describing his book.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

ARBCA 2012 GA - Day 3

The final day of the ARBCA GA began with a devotional by Pastor Jeff Oliver from Grace Reformed Baptist Church, Placerville, CA. His text was from Numbers 6:21-26, the priestly benediction. He described the source of blessing--the LORD through whom every blessing flows; the definition of blessing--a face to face relationship with God; how to receive the blessing of God--by grace and mercy. Christ gave up peace with the Father for our sake, that we might know the blessing of God's countenance.

Following the devotional we heard a biographical sketch of William Carey by missionary Sam Masters. This was followed by missionary reports--Jatniel Perez from Cuba and Raymond Perron from Canada and then reports from several of our ARBCA churches.

Lunch was at 12:30--tuna sandwiches, soup, and salad. During lunch several of us met in a room to hear testimonies from two young men, one from Switzerland and the other from Ireland.

We returned at 3:30 for an hour of prayer followed by our theological discussion. This afternoon's discussion was on the topic of church discipline. Several helpful comments were made by several pastors.

Supper was sirloin tips, sausage, potatoes, and green beans. Fellowship during supper was great.

The evening sermon was by Pastor Jon Hueni from Grace Fellowship Baptist Church of Bremen, IN. His topic was, "The Implications of the Incarnation" using Philippians 2:1-11 as his text. He asked the question, "What shall we do with the incarnation?"
1. Believe and confess it. No true Christian denies the incarnation.
2. Adore it. Sing of it.
3. Use it. He is there for us. We can come confidently before the throne of grace.
4. Imitate it. First, in our relationship with saints in the church. Paul urges us to unity and humility in service to one another. Second, with sinners in the world. We need a genuine interest in others. We must get close to sinners--Jesus sends us into the world.

We closed the meeting by singing, "All Hail the Power of Jesus Name." The General Assembly this year was the best I've attended in six years. It was pervaded by a spirit of joy and optimism. The fellowship was warm and genuine. God is working greatly in our association.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

ARBCA 2012 GA - Day 2

Day 2 of the ARBCA GA began with a devotional by Thomas Winn, Pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Jackson, MS. Taking Psalm 37:1-11 as his text, he pointed to the great encouragement of trusting God, even when it seems that the wicked are prospering more than the righteous. His charge was to depend on the LORD, delight in the LORD, and commit our ways to the LORD.

The devotion time was followed by a biographical sketch of Isaac Backus by Ron Baines, pastor of Grace Reformed Baptist Church of Topsham, Maine. In the 17th century there were 12 congregations throughout New England. During the life of Isaac Backus the number of Baptist congregations grew to 978. He left the Congregationalist Church over the issue of open communion as well as believers baptism. He pastored Baptist churches for 58 years. Valuing an educated ministry, he founded Rhode Island College where he served as trustee for 34 years. He is also well known for his staunch support of religious liberty.

Our annual business session began at 10:30 and was blessed once again by a spirit of cooperation. This year's GA has a air of joy and excitement over what God is doing in our Association. The business session ended at 12:40 with lunch following--ham sandwiches and chicken noodle soup. Fellowship during all of the breaks and meals has been wonderful.

Returning at 4:45, we engaged our theological discussion on the subject of "Fencing the Table." Our Association is divided pretty evenly on the subject. I spoke on the grounds of 1 Corinthians 5 and withholding Communion from a so-called brother in sin and Matthew 28 (the Great Commission) with regard to baptism preceding Communion--which would prohibit a paedobaptist from partaking in our church. It was interesting to hear that closed communion has been the historic Baptist position, contrary to the practice of many today.

Supper tonight was a combination of a penne pasta, meatballs, and sausage. Dessert was a delicious cannoli.

Our evening worship service began at 7:00 with singing, always rich with the robust sound of male voices lifted up in praise. The sermon was delivered by Pastor David Campbell from Grace Baptist Church of Carlisle, PA, titled "The Purpose of the Incarnation." He took his text from John 1 with three points:
1. Christ in His humanity was susceptible to death. His sinless body could die.
2. Christ in His humanity became justly liable to death - it was right. Christ became sin. He bore our sin.
3. Christ in His humanity voluntarily embraced death. He obeyed the Father and embraced the cross as the ultimate model of love.
4. Christ in His humanity fully experienced death, both physical death and the second death--the separation of the whole person from God. He suffered in an intensity to satisfy the wrath of God.
5. Christ in His humanity forever freed us from death.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

ARBCA 2012 GA - Day 1

The 2012 GA began at 8:30 am with a devotional by Rich Jensen. He began by quoting the opening lines of Charles Dickens', A Tale of Two Cities, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." With this opening, he proceeded to describe the pastoral ministry; good times filled with encouragement and joy, and difficult times filled with discouragement and grief. The devotional was very encouraging as he spoke to the heart of the pastoral ministry. He closed by sharing a story of a man he led to Christ that God used to greatly encourage his ministry. We all need such encouraging blessings upon our ministry.

The remainder of the morning was filled mainly with reports, primarily regarding the many church plants God is raising up among ARBCA churches. It was a blessing to hear of what God is doing among us. We broke for lunch at 12:30--ham sandwiches and clam chowder; a taste of New England.

At 4:45 we returned to the church for the first of our three theological discussions. The topic was "Incarnational Ministry." The idea is that missions should be modeled after the incarnation of Christ; i.e. He came as a helpless infant, as a man to identify with men. He came as a Jew to immerse Himself in the Jewish culture, etc. We should be willing to immerse ourselves in the culture to which we are ministering. Various comments were expressed regarding the lack of Scriptural support for the incarnation of Christ as a model for missions, especially using Philippians 2.

Supper was at 5:45 - a choice of Shepherds Pie or Chicken Pot Pie. I had both--quite tasty. Our host church, Pioneer Valley Baptist Chapel of Chicopee, MA, is showing us wonderful hospitality.

The evening worship service began at 7:00 with Pastor Earl Blackburn from Heritage Baptist of Shreveport preaching on "The Wonder of the Incarnation." (The incarnation of Christ is this year's conference theme.) Using John 1:1-5; 14 as his text, Pastor Blackburn led us to gaze with wonder upon the incarnation of our Lord.
1. His Eternal Existence - Verses 1-5. He was always with God, always was God. He was Creator of all, the source of all life, and actively involved over all creation.
2. The historical entrance of the Son into this world. Verse 14 - "The Word became flesh." He was human in every way, physical in every way. It was a Condescending Entrance - "He dwelt among us." It was a Identifying Entrance - "He dwelt among us." It was a Sympathizing Entrance - "He dwelt among us"
3. The incarnation was a Divine exhibition - Verse 14 - "We beheld His glory." It was an exhibition of glory, grace and truth.

The conference makes for a long day, but one filled with wonderful fellowship and preaching.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tattoos For the Glory of God - or Not

I posted a blog back in 2009 titled, "Should Christians Get Tattoos?" It continues to be a question of interest. Body "art" and piercings seem to be more and more a part of our culture. Let me comment on this subject once again.

Surely Christians do not live in a cultural vacuum. We wear nice clothes that are consistent with the current style, while maintaining the Biblical command of modesty. We are mindful of hairstyles consistent with those of our present generation. Christian women wear modest makeup with a desire to accent their God given beauty. But the purpose of all things for the Christian is the glory of God. Our purpose is not to draw attention to ourselves but to ascribe all glory to God. We are never to emulate the practices of the wicked (those who do not love and follow Christ). This is the spirit behind Paul's admonition for ladies to avoid displays of expensive clothing or hairstyles inconsistent with that of a Godly woman (1 Timothy 2:9). Christians do not spend their energy seeking to draw attention to themselves but their greatest desire is to point all attention to Christ. John the Baptist declared what should be the heart of all of us, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 30:30). This takes great wisdom and discernment as we examine our heart. A lady that refuses to cut her hair, wearing it in a huge bun on the top of her head, and wearing dresses that are 30 years out of style, actually draws more attention to herself. I'm not questioning the motives of those who do this. It just stresses the importance of discernment.

As Christians, we enjoy great liberty. God has given us wonderful things to enjoy. We receive His blessings with thanksgiving and rejoice in His goodness. By refusing tattoos, we are not talking about some vain asceticism. And refusing tattoos is in no way an indication of "legalism." Legalism is seeking to gain God's favor through our actions. We can do nothing to earn God's favor. Our motivation for living a Godly life is not to earn God's favor but to exalt Him. On a recent comment on my previous post a young lady wrote, "God will love me not (sic) matter if I have tattoos or not." This misses the point. We aren't seeking to earn God's love but to display Him gloriously before others.

Again, it demands a careful examination of our motives. It demands great wisdom and discernment (Romans 12:1-2). All of us are quite skillful in justifying what we want to do. It is not my responsibility to examine your motives, but it would seem to me, if we honestly examine the motive for tattoos we can only conclude that it stems from a desire to draw attention to ourselves. Look at me. Look at my tattoo. Isn't my tattoo special? I can't imagine someone honestly saying that their motive for getting the tattoo was, look at Christ. Isn't He glorious!

Resurrection Glory

One of the greatest events in the history of the world is one largely ignored by the world. On April 8 we will celebrate Easter Sunday. When I say "ignored by the world" I don't mean the world ignores it completely. As you attach Good Friday to the weekend it provides three days of vacation. In addition, Easter has become a major holiday of decorating, with all the colorful eggs and bunnies surrounded by the beautiful hues of pastels. Children shout with glee as they search and find the Easter eggs, and they find great joy in Easter baskets filled with marshmallow bunnies and chocolate eggs. When I say "ignored by the world" I mean there will be little attention given to the glorious reality of the day.

Easter is a celebration of the resurrection of Christ. When Jesus was crucified there was great joy among many. The Jewish leaders were finally rid of this one who challenged their authority and customs, and Pilate was able to wash his hands clean of the whole affair. The crowds mocked and cursed with an air of celebration. Surely, as Jesus was pierced and finally placed in the tomb, Satan and all his demonic hordes must have lifted their fiendish voices in victory. But little did they know that this was all unfolding according to the predeterminate counsel of God (Acts 4:27-28). On the third day Jesus was gloriously raised with all power and majesty.

The resurrection is an indispensable part of the Gospel. Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 15 that the resurrection was at the very heart of his Gospel preaching and he declared that it must be believed. The resurrection is the glorious declaration of "mission accomplished" and "payment received." The sacrifice of Christ was well-pleasing and received by God to fully atone for the sins of His people. Jesus was able to enter into the very throne room of God to offer up His own blood. This day was so significant that the Sabbath Day was moved to the first day of the week.

In addition, the resurrection has changed everything in our life. We are living the resurrected life. By virtue of our union with Christ, His life has become our life. We have been raised to new life (Romans 6:4-5). May we rejoice on this glorious resurrection Sunday as we celebrate our risen Savior. And may our lives testify to the reality of the resurrection.