Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Value of Studying Church History

Quoting from a number of different Sources Dr. Kevin Smith, new associate professor of Church History at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, gave his students the following motivation for studying our heritage:

1. It teaches us about the Dangers of Heresy-It is easy to see, from reading church history, how a little change in the Biblical doctrines can lead to a slew of errors which result in much devestation and conflict.

2. It teaches about the Joys of Revival- The recovery of true faith in either theology or practice (or both) was celebrated and treasured throughout history. At the Reformation and the Great Awakenings a big and glorious vision of God and of Jesus Christ, was granted fresh upon the church and it had such an astounding impact as to change history forever.

3. It teaches Humility- Preachers who read the sermons of C.H. Spurgeon lean quickly how incompitent they are. Likewise prayers who read the life of George Muller learn to pray better, and missionaries who read of Adoniram Judson learn to surrender more. We are humbled by their exmaples, and more so we are humbled by the knowledge that God does not need us. We are not the best thing to ever happen to the Christian faith, and the faith neither begins or ends with us.

4. It teaches us the way to Identify & Define Issues- Solomon said that there was nothing new under the sun and such is certainly the case in theology. For the most part the challenges and issues that face the church today have been wrestled with in the past. By reading church history we can learn that Mormonism is really just Arianism re-born, and that Neo-Orthodoxy is a lot like existentialism. In being able to identify and define issues we are better equipped to evaluate and respond to them.

5. It Reveals teh Repeated Confimation, and Concrete Demonstration of the Irreducible Durability of the Christian Faith- After 2,000 years of assults, trials, persecutions, and internal and external challenges the Christian faith still thrives and even expands among its number of adherents. Jesus said that not even the gates of hell would triumph over the church, and history is living proof of this.

6. It Provides a Perspective on the Interpretation of Scripture- As Evangelicals we do not hold that the church, or the Pope, is the only true interpreter of Scripture, yet neither do we beleive that it is sufficient for you to simply study your Bible and ignore the church. God has given us the Church to help us, and in the church He has given to us teachers and preahcers to spend their days studying the word of God and help us understand it. The Church local, however, is met with the church universal and in the larger church, that church that spans geography and time, we find good teachers as well.

7. It is a Labratory for the Interaction of Christianity and the World- The mistakes and victories of the church in years past are seen in church history and we can learn from them. We can learn from Aquinas and Anselm how to defend the existence of God, from Abraham Kuyper how to interact with the culture, from Constantine how the relationship between church and state is not to be done. Before we try it, we can see it played out in many cases.

8. It Shouts Out Loud that God Sustains the Church Despite its continual Betrayal and Rebellion- No matter what has happened( whether it was the papacy or the Crusades, slavery or the drowning of Anabaptists), God will not let our failures ruin His plan. He does not lon allow His bride to mocked and stained before He raises up a John Huss, John Wyclif, a Martin Luther. Learn to praise God by reading church history and seeing how, despite of our sin, He builds His church.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Compatibilist Middle Knowldge

You can see my latest article "New Shades of Theology?: An Analysis of Bruce Ware's Compatibilist Middle Knowledge," by clicking on the linkg Pastor Dave's Articles to the left of the screen.

What Dr. Ware is doing in the development on this doctrine is interesting, but, as I conclude in my paper, completely un-necessary and confusing. But find out for yourself, study the topic, and you can start here.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Readings in Theology

The new semester for Southern Seminary students is under way, two weeks in. I have had a fair amount of work already, completing my first book this last Monday. One of the great benefits of Seminary education is the reading. I have enjoyed, for the most part, all of the readings that have been assigned to me by my professors, in almost all of the classes I have had. The book I just finished on Monday, however, might be the exception.

It was not that I didn't enjoy it, or that I didn't like the author, or the writing in particular. No, rather it was that I didn't agree with his teachings. In Systematic Theology II I have been assigned to read Dr. Bruce Ware's God's Greater Glory. The work is a look at the doctrine of divine providence and Ware's own position on the subject is somewhat unique. Only a handful of other theologians hold to what he calls "Compatibilist Middle Knowledge" as the reconciling doctrine between God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. I do not agree with the doctrine, but it is interesting, and it has made me think more carefully and thoughtfully about my own doctrine of divine providence. To this end I have much to thank Dr. Ware for (and I can since he is a highly esteemed professor at this institution). But on the other hand, I have not found much other value in the work and in the coming days hope to post an assessment of his theological view on divine providence.

My point in this post is simply to admonish us all to read, carefully and with Bible in hand, those whom we disagree with. Dr. Ware has presented a thoughful and cogent argument for his convictions and they have already caused me to think more carefully and intentionally about my beliefs. This is the great benefit of discussion. So discuss, with caution, and in submission to God's word, and so grow!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Preaching the Gospel Through Friendships

This past Sunday Dr. Michael Haykin spoke at our church. His Sunday School lessons was, for me, the most significant of the whole day. His topic was friendship, and in the course of his lecture he admonished us to consider more carefully the role of friendship in the Christian life. He gave us several Biblical examples of friendship: Ruth and Naomi, and, the famous, Jonathan and David. Then in a "Rapid History of Friendship" he explored four groups of friends from Church history: Gregory of Nazianzus & Basil, John Calvin and William Ferrell, Esther Burr and Sarah Prince, and Andrew Fuller and John Ryland.

In the course of his lecture he stated, "Friendship was a means of grace [to these people]." Those words made an impression on my mind. Friendship is a gift from God with the intent of helping us conform more to the image of His dear Son.

Like Church Discipline at the larger congergational level, friendship at the one-on-one level works the same way. Friends are those, as Dr. Haykin said, "who speak into your life." They are those who confront us when we are wrong, and those who encourage us when we are depressed. Speaking of Calvin and Ferrell's relationship, Dr. Haykin noted that Calvin had on several occassions blatantly todl Ferrell that his sermons were too long and he was doing a dis-service to the gospel in these legnthy messages.

Use your friendships to help one another keep believing the gospel. Offer wise counsel to one another, correct one another, read together and pray together. Pray for one another, and visit often. I conclude this series with the words of Esther Burr to her "boosom friend" Sarah Prince, "What would this world be withou friends." Use them for the glory of God, and the preservation of yours and others faith.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Preaching the Gospel Through Church Discipline

"Hard days made me. Hard nights shaped me. I don't know they somehow saved me. And I know I'm making something out of this life they called nothing. I take what I want. I take what I need. You say it's wrong, I say it's right for me. I won't look down. Won't say I'm sorry. I know that only God can judge me." So sings the pop-punk band Good Charlotte.

This is the common view of the world. Our Sunday school teacher at Third reminded us last week that former rapper Tupac felt the same way. But such a view is also not uncommon in the church these days. It is a view that proudly shouts, "only God can judge me." So R. Albert Mohler Jr. discerningly writes:

The decline of church discipline is perhaps the most visible failure of the contemporary church. No longer concerned with maintaining purity of confession or lifestyle, the contemporary church sees itself as a voluntary association of autonomous members, with minimal moral accountability to God, much less to each other (ed. Mark E. Dever, Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life. (Wasington D.C.: 9 Marks, 2001). 43.).

But this is not the testimony of Scripture. Matthew 18 clearly proclaims that the church has a responsibility to "judge" one another. This is not meant to sound either legalistic or cruel (see my article "A Theology Against Legalism"). The Bible does, however, express that there is an appropriate form of judgment that Christians are to make within the church. To that end Jesus, in Matt. 18, established church discipline.

It may not sound like it but church discipline is a key means by which the church preaches the Gospel to one another. There are two types of church discipline: formative and corrective. Formative Church Discipline is what happens on Sunday mornings, as the word is preached. It is what happens when brothers meet over coffee to encourage one another in the faith, to be accountable to one another. Corrective church discipline is what happens when a member of the church reveals a pattern of unrepented sinning and is confronted (first by one brother; then if he is unrepentant, by two witnesses; then, if he remains unmoved, he is confronted by the whole church; and finally, expelled from the membership, though not necessarily from church attendance). How does this practice preach the gospel? Let's look at what it does.

In church discipline God is commanding His bride to be concerned about purity and holiness of testimony. The church is to be the pure bride of Christ. While no Christian is perfect, and the church is indeed full of sinners, it is to be full of sinners redeemed by Christ and striving to be conformed to the image of God's dear Son. This means that though they will sin, they are to be humble, repentant, and progressing in their sanctification. Preaching, discipleship, and corrective church discipline are a means to mainting the purity of the church, and an honorable witness before the world, and in so doing it warns members of the serious nature of sin. In this way we are preaching the gospel to one another: when we say that Christ's death and resurrection for sinners and application to His elect will reveal itself in faithful obedience in the lives of believers. We preach the gospel in our simple watching out for one another, and doing our best to keep one another from falling into sin.

The failure of most churches to properly do church discipline, or to even attempt to practice it, reveals a major reason why Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, is concerned that many non-Christians are hiding out in our own congregations. Imagine how Biblical Church discipline would preach the gospel to so many in our churches who think they are saved but have never truly trusted Christ. Let me urge you to study this doctrine, come to understand it better, and then seek to understand how it preaches the gospel in our churches, how it urges us all to "keep believing the gospel."

For further reading on Church Discipline see Daniel Wray, Biblical Church Discipline (Carlise: Banner of Truth, 1991), and Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000).

Friday, August 18, 2006

Preaching the Gospel Through Congregational Singing

Congregational Songs "give us language and opportunity," writes Mark Dever, "to mutually encourage each other in the Word and to call each other out to praise our common savior. One of the most important functions of congregational singing is that it highlights the corporate nature of the church and the mutual ministry that builds us up in unity" (The Deliberate Church, 116).

This was a revolutionary idea to me a few months ago. In the act of corporate singing we are calling out to one another much like the Psalmists did in the Old Testament, to worship God: Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless His name; tell of this salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous works among all the peoples (Psalm 96:1-3).

As you sing, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me..." You are both reminding your brothers and sisters that God has saved sinners in the work of Christ on the Cross, and you are encouraging them that they are not alone in the Christian life. So Dever writes again that in corporate singing "We are encouraging each other, by the strenght of our voices, that we are not alone in our confession, but that everyone else who is singing is affirming the truth and significance of what is being sung" (120).

Of course our worship in song is to be primarily about God- the renewal of our covenant with Him, and the glorification of His name. But in doing this we should also be singing to one another, "Keep believing the gospel, friends."

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Preaching the Gospel Through the Lord's Supper

Sorry for the delay on this entry. The new Semester has started with a mad rush for me and I have not had time to post. But here I am today to write about the ways that we can preach the gospel to one another, and the one that stood out to me was the celebration of the Lord's Supper.

In the celebration of the Lord's Supper Christians are to be doing exactly what Christ commanded: remembering the Lord's Death until he comes, as the apostle Paul said (1 Cor. 11:26). If we are remembering the Lord's death for ourselves, in seems implied that when we take it with others, we are at the same time reminding one another of the Lord's death. This occured to me most recently as I was partaking of Communion with the members of Grace Baptist Church in Minford Ohio.

Here the congregation took the bread individually, as a testimony to their personal relationship with Christ. And then they took the cup together as a testimony to their unity in Christ as the church. Here in this act I was suddenly struck with the reality of the Lord's Supper. To celebrate it in rememberance of the Lord's Death, does not simply mean remind ourselves. It means, remind that brother or sister next to you. J.I. Packer captures this in his summary of the doctrine of the Lord's Supper:

The prescribed ritual of the Supper has three levels of meaning for participants. First, it has a past reference to Christ’s death which we remember. Second, it has a present reference to our corporate feeding on him by faith, with implications for how we treat our fellow believers (1 Cor. 11:20-22). Third, it has a future reference as we look ahead to Christ’s return and are encouraged by the thought of it. Preliminary self-examination, to make sure one’s frame of mind is as it should be, is advised (1 Cor. 11:28), and the wisdom of the advice is obvious.

Preach the gospel to one another, friends, as you take of the meal. Eat the bread in recognition that each of us must repent of our sins and believe upon Christ individually. But then take the cup together to remind one another that Christ has died for sinners, and to encourage one another to beleive the gospel.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Preaching the Gospel to One Another

In my sermon on August 6th, I stated that one of the ways Christians should fullfill the command to love one another is by preaching the gospel to one another. I want to explore that idea in further detail this week and offer a few ways in which we can do this.

The local church is so crucial for the Christian life because it is in many ways a guard for Christians. It is in the local church context that individual Christians are encouraged and challenged to keep believing the gospel that they first believed. The great weakness of many Christians, and churches, is that they let the gospel message slip into irrelevance for their lives after a period of excitement over conversion has passed. It becomes that old message that I heard a long time ago and believed in order that I could know God, but it no longer has significance for my life. It certainly does not have implications for us on Monday morning. This sad way of thinking, though prevelent in our churches, is not the truth. The Gospel is the very center of the Christian faith, from it stems all other parts of the faith.

That being said, how can we encourage one another to keep believeing the gospel? This week I will attempt a series that aims to answer just that question, so keep checking back.

Friday, August 11, 2006

It's Typical Allen

Life, any true life, is full of ups and downs, tears and laughters. It is, as one man said, both a tragedy and a comedy. Such is the nature of Woody Allen's 2004 film "Melinda and Melinda". Only Allen has an interesting take on this truth about reality. It's not simply that life is full of sorrow and joy, but rather that life can be either a comedy or a tragedy, it just depends on how you look at it. To convey this message in "Melinda and Melinda" Allen portrays the same woman's story in two separate genres; once as a tragedy and once as a comedy.

The film opens with a group of friends sitting in a New York City restaurant. Two of the friends are playwrights, one does comedy, the other tragedy, and when given the bare details about Melinda's life they construct a story each in his own genre. The film is a rather unique idea, to cast really two films in one (whether or not Allen achieves this successfully is up for debate, but he attempts it). There are some moments of reall craftsmanship on the directors part, some good acting, and some very funny scenes. In many ways it is a film typical of Allen's style. Like his last 40 or so films he has attempted to portray this same idea about life. His final conclusion, however, leaves much to be desired: life is meaningless and it's all about the living.

At least three different characters exclaim that life is meaningless, and the film concludes with Shawn Wallace's character exclaiming that not only is life meaningless but all that matters is enjoying every moment. It is the typical "eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die" attitude. It is a film that reflects a whole worldview all around us, and as Christians we need to be able to interact with this worldview and explain why it is wrong.

While I certainly don't applaud Allen's views, or his use of language, sexuality, and generally light humour about serious issues, I can be thankful that he has reminded me of what many people think life is like. Movies can be a good help to both apologetics and evangelism (see my article "Theology at the Movies"), and to that end I am value Allen's films. But this does not negate the problems of the film, nor make it worth watching, in many ways it is simply typical Allen.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Church's Love

This last Sunday I preached at Grace Baptist Church in Minford, Ohio. In preparation for my Sunday evening sermon I invested some study in the book of 1 John on the subject of the fellowship of the church. In 1 John 3:11-24 John writes to the church, re-iterating the command given by Jesus that they are to love one another. In my sermon I pointed out that John elaborates on the church's love: He says that the Church's Love is our Assurance of Salvation (v. 11-15); It is our Action (v. 16-18); and it is Our Obedience to God (v. 19-24).

This small section has huge implications for the church. If we hate our brother, John tells us, then we are not Christians. If we say we love our church, yet do nothing for it (do not attend services, refuse to join the membership, etc.) then we do not really love, for love is an action (see how John defines love by giving us the example of Jesus action of dying on the cross). And our love for our neighbor is obedience to God's law (Love the Lord your God...And Love your Neighbor...).

On the practical level I explained three ways that we can love one another. First, Love by caring. This takes time and energy. It means being more intimately invovled in the lives of the members of your local church. It means women taking women out to coffee. It means men reading books together. It means praying with one another, and visiting in one another's homes. It means, simply put, seeing each other for more than a Sunday morning service. Second, love by Using Proper Speech. What I mean here is that the church is a family, and the way we talk about one another should reflect this type of thinking. It means making membership matter in the church. It means thinking of that man as your brother, that woman as your sister. It means considering the issues in the church to be "family business," and not something to be gossiped about with those outside the body. It means realizing your a family and thinking that way regularly. Thirdly, love one another by preaching the gospel to one another. If we truly love one another we will not simply care about the physical and emotional, financial and social needs of our fellow church members. But we will care about their spiritual well being as well. Preaching the Gospel to one another means asking one another about how they came to know the Lord. It means sharing your testimony. It means singing and participating in the corporate worship service with an interest in reminding your brother or sister that Christ has died for them. It means singing the gospel to one another, taking the Lord's Supper as a reminder of your unity in Christ, and it means guarding one another from sin. In this way you love one another: by urging your fellow Christians to "Keep Believing the Gospel."

Do you love God? Do you love your local Church? John warns us that if we do not love our brothers than the love of God is not in us. Friends, true Christians will love.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Lady in the Water

One thing you cannot say about M. Night Shyamalan is that he is afraid to take risks. In the movie industry the common thing to do is to find a theme that works and re-dublicate it a dozen times. A good theme produces a number of blockbuster hits, and reels in the money for production companies. But such a practice leaves us, the viewers, with little new experiences, as the same stories are told over and over again. But then along came M. Night Shyamalan, whose directing genius gave us both "The Sixth Sense" and "the Village." Two films with unique stories and amazing twists. Adding to the number of the young director's risk takes is his latest film "Lady in the Water."

"Lady in the Water" is another stand out film. Whether you liked it or not you must confess that it is unique. The film revovles around the interaction of an Eastern myth-come-to-life and the modern world (for all you realists out there, this will not be an enjoyable film for you). I was truly impressed by the story itself. Composing such a fantastic world of imagination in these modernist, rationalistic times is quite a feat. Though it was obviously imbued with a pantehsitic worldview, there is much to be appluaed. As a postmodern film it was very self-concious, even humourous (intentionally so) at times. I think the acting, the cinemotography, the story, and the irony of the film were all marks of brilliant craftsmanship on the part of the director. I am no film critic, but I give it two thumbs up!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

My Latest Article

Check out my newly finished article: Romans 1:3-4 and the Eternal Sonship of Christ. You can read it under Pastor Dave's Articles.

The text of Romans 1:3-4 has had some differing interpretations throughout the history of the church. The generally accepted interpretation of it today could raise some issues about the Eternal Sonship of Jesus Christ if not carefully understood and explained. I have attempted to do just that in this article. Check it out.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Celebrating Missionary Movements This Year

2006 marks the 100th anniversary of the famous Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles. In 1906 William Seymour led a group of African American believers in the way of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. The testimony of those who were part of this "baptism" states that some were "slain in the Spirit" and many spoke in tongues. These statements raise as many eyebrows now as they did in that year, yet from this Penecostal wave came a number of missionary movements. The Azusa Street revival sparked such an interest in the spreading of the gospel that by 1910 Penecostals had 200 missionaries. The assumption that was made from this passion for missions was that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, as they saw it, was a compulsion to mission work. For Penecostals, the outpouring of the Spirit on the Apostles at Pentecost is to be taken as normative. So as they went forward to preach the Gospel in many different tongues because of this "baptism," then so it should be concluded that missions is accompanied by this same outpouring of the Spirit. These charismatic gifts lead to, in a sense then, the missionary movement.

It is interesting to note, however, that this year also marks the 200th anniversary of the "Haystack Prayer Meeting" of 1806. While praying under a haystack in a thundedrstorm a group of men from Williams College began to pray for God to send out missionaries to Asia and indeed to the whole world. The event marked the beginning of the American missionary movement that led to, six years later, the departure of the first American missionaries, included among them were the Congregationlists turned Baptist Adoniram & Anne Judson, and Luther Rice. There is a bit of irony invovled in the occurence of these two anniversaries arriving at the same time. For the one seems to suppose that the Spiritual gifts are the makers of passionate missionaries, and yet its pre-cursor denied that such was the case. Judson's impact on the missionary movement is profound. He was a rational thinking man who challenged the Burmans on the intellectual level, debating philosophically with both the Karens and the Burmans. Yet he was a equally passionate and spiritual in his endeavors, calling all to repentance and telling one man in particular that he must not presume to judge the word of God by his rationalism.

It is an amazing thing that both these events are being celebrated this year. They mark some great differences theologically and methodologically in missiology. And while we may rejoice that missions is going on from both sides of the debate over the "Charismatic Gifts," we must be careful as well. The Penecostals of Azusa street seemed to have forgotten their forerunners. They needed a lesson from history to understand that these "gifts" were not the makers of good evangelists, for Adoniram Judson may well have been the greatest missionary of American history. But those of us in the present too must be careful not to discount our Penecostal and Charismatic brothers. Their history evidences a missionary movement that deserves note. While some would prohibit them from doing mission work, we need to thank the Lord for their spirit. Engage them in friendly debate, yes, but where possible rejoice with them as they spread the gospel.