Friday, February 28, 2014

The Ship in the Ocean or the Ocean in the Ship?

"God effects and expects a moral distinction between His people and the world. And when the world starts to flood into the church (in the form of unconverted professors of faith), this line starts to blur. The church is in the world the way a ship is in the ocean, and that is the way it should be. But bad things start happening when the ocean gets into the ship."

Douglas Wilson, Against the Church, p. 96

Fires and Fireplaces

"The structure of the institutional church is necessary, like a fireplace. The flame of true evangelical experience and conviction - a 'felt Christ' as the Puritans would say - is the only reason for a fireplace to begin with.

Over the years, as the mansions got bigger and the artisanship that went into the carving of mantelpieces got more cunning, the more time could go by without a fire ever actually being built in that thin. I mean, who wants to fill up such a beautiful hole in the wall with a bunch of ashes?

After a time, others - by which I mean radical charismatics and crazed anabaptists - start setting their fires on the coffee table or the love seat. But at least they knew the room was cold and something should be done about it.

The fire of evangelical conviction, when scripturally governed, cries out for a fireplace to burn in. A well-designed fireplace, put together by biblically minded craftsmen, cries out for a fire to go in it. A fireplace without a fire is cold and dead. A fire without a fireplace is fierce and destructive. Shouldn't we be able to work something out?"

Douglas Wilson, Against the Church, p. 77.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Christ, Baptism, and the Lord's Supper

A couple months ago I read Leonard Vander Zee's book Christ, Baptism, and the Lord's Supper. This was another helpful book explaining the biblical role of the sacraments for the life of the Church. Vander Zee does an excellent job identifying the true dividing line in sacramental theology: the true dividing line in different views of the sacraments is between those who view the sacraments fundamentally as a human declaration to God and those who view them primarily as God's declaration to us. The Reformed position is the latter. In the sacraments it is primarily God who is speaking - speaking to us and about us, identifying who we are, the promises he has made to us, and the hopes we have for the future. I would recommend it. You can find it here.

Against the Church

I just finished reading Against the Church by my friend Doug Wilson. I found Doug's book extremely helpful and think that all those concerned about the Federal Vision controversy will profit from it. Doug emphasizes repeatedly here the absolute necessity of individual regeneration, rebirth, effectual calling for those inside, outside, and beside the covenant. You must be born again. You must move from death to life, from slaves of sin to slaves of righteousness, from tares to wheat, from darkness to light not only objectively but personally. All these things Doug has said repeatedly before but some have insisted that he must not really be saying that because why would sacraments and liturgy still be important? Thom Notaro did us a great service years ago clarifying in his book Van Til and the Use of Evidence that Van Til's critiques of the wrong use of evidence didn't mean that Van Til was completely opposed to the use of evidences in the right way. Hopefully Doug's book Against the Church will serve a similar function to dispel the myth that an emphasis on the objectivity of the covenant, an emphasis on the significance of baptism and the Supper, does not entail a repudiation of the necessity for personal rebirth, faith, and righteousness. Rather the two go are to go together. Pick it up here.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Honor Your Father and Mother

Exodus 20:12 (NKJV)
12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.

Martin Luther writes in his Large Catechism, “To fatherhood and motherhood God has given the special distinction, above all estates that are beneath it, that he commands us not simply to love our parents but also to honor them. With respect to brothers, sisters, and neighbors in general he commands nothing higher than that we love them. Thus he distinguishes father and mother above all other persons on earth, and places them next to himself. For it is a much greater thing to honor than to love. Honor includes not only love but also deference, humility, and modesty, directed (so to speak) toward a majesty hidden within them. It requires us not only to address them affectionately and reverently, but above all to show by our actions, both of heart and of body, that we respect them very highly and that next to God we give them the very highest place. For anyone whom we are whole-heartedly to honor, we must truly regard as high and great….

“[So] learn what this commandment requires concerning honor to parents. You are to esteem and prize them as the most precious treasure on earth. In your words you are to behave respectfully toward them, and not address them discourteously, critically, and censoriously, but submit to them and hold your tongue, even if they go too far. You are also to honor them by your actions (that is, with your body and possessions), serving them, helping them, and caring for them when they are old, sick, feeble, or poor; all this you should do not only cheerfully, but with humility and reverence, as in God’s sight…

“[N]otice what a great, good, and holy work is here assigned to children… If they wish to serve God with truly good works, they must do what is pleasing to their fathers and mothers, or to those who have parental authority over them. Every child who knows and does this has, in the first place, the great comfort of being able joyfully to boast in the face of all who are occupied with works of their own choice: ‘See, this work is well pleasing to my God in heaven; this I know for certain.’ Let them all come forward and boast of their many great, laborious, and difficult works; we shall see whether they can produce a single work that is greater and nobler than obedience to father and mother, which God has appointed and commanded next to obedience to his own majesty. If God’s Word and will are placed first and observed, nothing ought to be considered more important than the will and word of our parents, provided that these, too, are subordinated to obedience toward God and are not set into opposition to the preceding commandments.

“You should rejoice heartily and thank God that he has chosen and fitted you to perform a task so precious and pleasing to him. Even though it seems very trivial and contemptible, make sure that you regard it as great and precious…because it has its place within that jewel and holy treasure, the Word and commandments of God.”

These words of Luther remind us of the great honor that God has bestowed upon parents and of the honor which we are to show to them. And so reminded of our duty and convicted of the ways in which we have fallen short, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Remember the Sabbath Day

Exodus 20:8–11 (NKJV)
8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

Today we return to our series of exhortations on the Ten Commandments. God’s law is an expression of God’s character and, as those who love and treasure Him, the law gives us an appreciation for what God is like and how we can become more like Him. Indeed, one of God’s promises in the New Covenant is that He will write His law upon our hearts and teach us His commandments. As believers in Christ we are to delight in the law of God in the inner man, hungering by the grace of God to please Him in all respects by treasuring His commandments and fulfilling them in our lives.

The first four commandments inform us of our duty in relation to God, the way in which we are to respond to Him and honor Him. The first commandment governs our heart: God alone is to be the object of our affection; the second regulates our bodies: God alone is the one to whom we bow in worship; the third governs our lips: God’s Name must not be treated lightly; the fourth regulates our time: God must be prioritized in our weekly lives.

The Westminster Confession explains:
As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He has particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week: and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord's Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath. (XXI.7)

The Lord’s Day is a holy day – a day set apart from ordinary days for the honor of God and the good of mankind. The Sabbath was given to mankind as a gift, a gift of rest from the Creator. The Sabbath reminds us that all we have and all we are comes as a gift from God not a result of our own labor and performance. God announces through the prophet Ezekiel:
Moreover I also gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them. (Ezek 20:12)

The Lord’s Day announces this same thing and more today. On this day Jesus rose from the dead and conquered sin and death. Because Jesus has risen, He has poured out His Spirit upon us that we might be sanctified – made more like our Savior, increasingly reflecting the character of God. God continues to use the rest of the Lord’s Day to remind us that all that we have and all we are come as gifts from Him. They are not primarily a result of our labor but of His grace – for there are many who labor long and hard and who have nothing to show for it.

Increasingly as a people we have ignored and despised the Lord’s Day, we have rejected the privilege of rest and have insisted on working. We have declared that it is not God whose work is primary but we whose work is primary. So God is increasingly making us slaves to our labor and making the portions which we have thinner. Unless we repent and acknowledge once again our dependence on God and the need to reverence His Name by resting on His Day, we can expect this bondage to increase.

So let us confess this day that as a people we have despised God’s holy day and that we need Him to forgive us and restore to us the rest we have lost. Let us kneel as we confess together.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

In Praise of Bullies

I submitted an article in praise of bullies to the Coeur d'Alene Press which was published yesterday. If you'd like to read it online it is available here. This is a modified version of a previously unsubmitted letter.

The point of the letter is that if there is no higher principle of justice that stands over and above every society, then we are simply left with the majority imposing their will on the minority. This is evident in one of the responses to my article online which says that it is simply society which dictates what is just or unjust. But if society dictates what is just or unjust then why is bullying wrong? If the majority of kids think it's acceptable, then why not just let it go? Might makes right.

From a Christian worldview it is possible to answer this question - the reason we don't let it go is because there is a God who has created us in His image and, therefore, even those with whom we disagree are worthy of honor and respect.