Friday, April 14, 2017

This Isn't Jesus

This isn’t Jesus:
This is a white guy. Blue eyes. Really?!
This isn't Jesus:
This is Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels.
I can actually give you a list of people I know who've shared his photo
thinking it was Jesus.
This isn't Jesus:
This is Jim Caviezal as Jesus in The Passion of the Christ.

“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6//Deuteronomy 5:8-10).

I used to think the fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8-11//Deuteronomy 5:12-15) was the most ignored by believers. I’m starting to think it’s the second.

“…since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man” (Romans 1:20-23). Nothing against Ewan McGregor (I have no strong objection to his portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels), but he is “corruptible man.” I have no personal problem with Jim Caviezel, but he is “corruptible man.” If Jesus is going to be portrayed by “corruptible man,” it should be through you and I sharing His Word personally with others.

God, in His providence, did not see to it that an image of Jesus (or even a physical description) was preserved for the Church, except maybe Isaiah’s prophecy: “…He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him” (53:2).

What was preserved about Jesus? The Word. We have the Gospels. We have His resurrected and ascended work through the Holy Spirit in Acts. We have the fullness of His truth for our lives and eternity given by His Holy Spirit through the apostolic witness of the rest of the New Testament.

[As it is written in Deuteronomy 30:14]‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ - that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says [in Isaiah 28:16], ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for [as it is written in Joel 2:32] ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on Him in Whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him Whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written [in Isaiah 52:7], ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!’ However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says [in 53:1], ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:8-17). The lost are not saved by images of Jesus. Saving faith does not rest on an image. They need the Word about Him. God only brings new, eternal life through His Word: “…you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God…this is the word which was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23,25).

We don’t need images of Christ, aside from the ones He has given us (baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the Jesus-commanded Word-made-visible). We need the word of Christ.

Share His Word, not an image. Meditate on the Scriptures, and consider your use of “Jesus images.”
And no.
(Other than this being a reality for every earthly ruler  - Revelation 1:5)..

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Solomon's Temple, Forever, and Sacramentology

“What about the ‘forever’ promises in the Old Testament? At the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, the LORD says, ‘I have consecrated this house which you have built by putting My name there forever [1 Kings 9:3].’ God knew that Temple would be destroyed, so what did He mean? Is it using ‘forever’ in a different way than we do?”

This is the question I get from a church member at the door as I’m shaking hands and hugging necks after the service. I love stuff like this, so sorry to all you folks who walked by without my acknowledgement – you could probably tell I was excited about something, I’m sure! I gave the inquiring church member an answer, and thought I’d jot it down here.

In this case, it isn’t that we need to redefine “forever.” Instead, we need to let the whole counsel of the Bible inform us about the idea of “temple.” The duration of “forever” doesn’t change, but by the time we come to the new covenant Scripture (the New Testament), the dwelling place of God with man comes into its fullness. I’ll give you a quicker version of the quick answer I gave her, and then expand it a little to explain how I got there: Solomon’s Temple is sacramental for Jesus Christ, Who is the true and eternal Temple (along with His “Body,” the Church – those united to Him by faith). The “forever” promise given concerning Solomon’s Temple (a building to be destroyed in just over 300 years) applies to the Person signified (Jesus Christ) through the sign itself (Solomon’s Temple).

Let me tell you where I got the language I quickly pulled out of my theological toolbox Sunday morning.

The Second London Confession (1689) describes the elements of old covenant worship as “those promises, types, and sacrifices wherein [Jesus] was revealed” (8.6). Further, the S.L.C. confesses that the “covenant of grace…is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament” (7.2,3). The Old Testament is a movement from the announcement of the covenant of grace (Genesis 3:15) to its fullness in the first advent of Jesus Christ and His continuing work for His people. Every element and theme in the O.T. leads us to Jesus.[1] The LORD pronounces one of “those promises…wherein [Jesus] was revealed” over Solomon’s Temple, which was one of the “farther steps” in revealing the “covenant of grace.” The Temple was not the point, but it served as a symbol and sign, and, in its old covenant time, communicated the grace of Christ to those worshipers who came to the Temple as commanded and by faith – it both pointed forward to Christ but also brought Christ to those who gathered to worship at the Temple.[2]

There’s a helpful word not used in the S.L.C. to describe this: sacrament.

The Westminster Confession of Faith (1644) describes sacraments as “holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and His benefits” (27.1). The W.C.F. also says “there is in every sacrament a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified” (27.2). While the Particular Baptists omitted this language in the S.L.C., they had no problem using the word “sacrament” in other places.[3] I like the word, so I invoked it last Lord’s Day.

I would say that Solomon’s Temple was sacramental – that is, it represented in a real and beneficial (to those in the old covenant) way the fullness of both God-with-us (Immanuel, Jesus Christ), but also us-with-God in faith-union with Jesus Christ, and therefore brought them into the union between Father and Son, even though Christ’s earthly work had not yet occurred.[4]

When we hold up the bread and repeat the words, “this is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (1 Corinthians 11:24), we do not consider the bread to have the promises of Christ’s sacrifice for us. Those promises come to us in Christ alone. The bread represents that, and we are drawn to Christ through obedience to His command to partake of the Supper. We are, by the Spirit, connected to His body on the cross (Galatians 2:20), and we are, by the Spirit, connected to the “Lamb standing, as if slain” (Revelation 5:6) in heaven. Christ’s Presence and benefits are ours through faith-union with Him (now and forever), a union sealed and made real by the heaven-sent Holy Spirit, Who works in us through the ordinary means of grace in the Church. This is displayed in the parallelism we see on the day of Pentecost:
“Repent, and each other you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
“…those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (2:41,42).

The visible and physical act of baptism showed forth the faith that brings one into union with Christ. That union is sealed by the gift of the Holy Spirit, Whose Presence unites us with Christ – that union is manifested by corporate devotion “to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” The actions are not the union, but are a God-commanded means by which God the Holy Spirit manifests that union for our benefit.[5]

Just as “this is My body” is pronounced over bread, and just as “baptism now saves you,” the worship at Solomon’s Temple (the fellowship of God and His covenant people through sacrifice-mediation) and “forever” promises that attended that worship rested not on a building, but on the coming Christ and His work as the “one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).

Reading the temple “forever” promise as stand-alone is an incomplete (and, therefore, erroneous) hermeneutic. We have a whole Book in our hands. Where does the temple lead? What’s the point of the whole story, and how does the temple connect us to that point? Here’s a vital, indispensable point for interpreting your Bible: what comes later is key to what comes earlier.[6] Jesus saw His resurrection as the building of the true temple (John 2:19-22; see also Mark 14:58; 15:29). Similarly, Jesus is described as the “cornerstone” (Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10-12; Luke 20:17,18; Acts 4:11; Romans 9:32,33) of the true Temple, which is the Church (the people of God, not a building, 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:20-22; 1 Peter 2:5). In union with the resurrected Christ, the true and eternal Temple (locus of fellowship with God), the covenant people of God become part of that Temple, and receive the promises symbolically given to Solomon’s Temple in their fullness forever.

Solomon’s Temple, and the promises proclaimed at its dedication, was symbol/type of the coming Christ, but also sacramental in that those worshipers benefited from the future work of Christ on behalf of His people through the Temple worship by faith.

If your understanding of any Old Testament promise, commandment, God-action, or God-statement doesn’t take you to Jesus, read the whole Book.

[1] A more current Baptist confession, one I appreciate and ascribe to in my fellowship and service in the Southern Baptist Convention, says, “All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, Who is Himself the focus of divine revelation” (Baptist Faith & Message [2000], I).
[2] “Although the price of redemption was not actually paid by Christ till after His incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefit thereof were communicated to the elect in all ages, successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices wherein He was revealed, and signified to be the Seed which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, being the same yesterday, and today and forever” (Second London Confession, 8.6).
[3] For example, Nehemiah Coxe (d. 1688) says, “Unto the public work and charge of a bishop or elder belongs also the administration of the sacraments, or ordinances of positive institution in the church, as baptism and the Lord’s Supper” (Biblical Elders and Deacons). When Hercules Collins (d. 1702) adapted the Heidelberg Catechism for his Baptist Congregation’s use, he retained the original language concerning sacraments: “Q.65 What are the sacraments? A. They are sacred signs and seals set before our eyes and ordained of God for this purpose, that He may declare and confirm by them the promise of His gospel unto us, to this, that He gives freely remission of sins and life everlasting to everyone in particular who believes in the sacrifice of Christ which He accomplished once for all upon the cross.” I give these two examples just to show that Particular Baptists, while not using the word “sacrament” in the Second London Confession, still used it without reservation in other places.
[4] It was going to occur – God had promised it in the Garden (Genesis 3:15). It was going to occur – God purposed it before the first pages of the Bible (Ephesians 1:4; 2 Timothy 1:9).
[5] This is the only way you will understand Peter’s words rightly: “…baptism now saves you - not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience - through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven” (1 Peter 3:21,22). Baptism is a real and indispensable (I know I’ve used that word in this post already) part of the “appeal to God for a good conscience – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” A Zwinglian view of the ordinance as “mere symbol” doesn’t adequately explain Peter’s strong language “baptism now saves you.” As Baptists (and I suspect we’re not alone among Protestants), our weak doctrine of sacramentology has hobbled our understanding of the ordinances, the role of biblical Christian practice, our union with Christ, and our fellowship with the Trinity here on earth.
[6] “…the final authoritative interpreter of a specific Scripture is the rest of Scripture…the NT finally clarifies and authoritatively interprets previous OT type and shadows…there must be a final dependence upon the NT revelation to determine how the OT is fulfilled in it…the NT claims priority to teach how the Old is fulfilled in it as the inspired commentary on the OT…the priority of the NT for interpreting how the OT if fulfilled in it is fundamental to consistent biblical and systematic theology.” Frank A. Malone, “Biblical Hermeneutics and Covenant Theology,” in Covenant Theology: A Baptist Distinctive, ed. Earl M. Blackburn (Birmingham, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2013), 67-76. Or, as Calvin succinctly says it, “the apostles are better interpreters” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.13.7).

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Solus Christus and His City

I was listening to Revelation while running the last few days. I’ve always found that listening to Scripture (and reading different translations) draws my attention to previously-unnoticed aspects of the Word, no matter how many times I’ve read it (or preached/taught on it).

After seeing “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2), it is revealed to John that there are those who are not permitted entry:
“The nations will walk by [the city’s] light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (21:24-27).[1]
“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying (22:14,15).

Those who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18), “oppose the truth” (2 Timothy 3:8), or dismissively ask “what is truth?” (John 18:38) cannot abide eternally in this city, which is the Church.[2] Conformity to the truth is key to entry into this city, for Jesus is “the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through” Him (John 14:6; see also John 1:14,17; 1 John 5:20).

In this same ending section of the Revelation, the veracity of the words of the book are emphasized: “…one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues…said to me, ‘These words are faithful and true’” (21:9; 22:6). This isn’t abstract faithfulness or truthfulness, but these words are what they are because their Source is divinely Personal - the words of the Revelation “are faithful and true,” because this book is “the Revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1), and He is a “faithful and true” Witness:
“…Jesus Christ, the faithful Witness (1:5).
“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness…” (3:14).
“…I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He Who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war…from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations” (19:11,15).[3]

In a book about the unveiling of the One Who is unchangeably, eternally, and essentially “faithful and true,” its words reflect His character. A book of truth revealing the One Who is Truth lays out the reality that only those conformed to this truth will live in fellowship with Him now and forever.

Therefore, it is not merely telling falsehoods that exclude one from “the city,” but living a life contrary to the Lord Jesus Christ, Whose character throughout the Revelation is highlighted as being “faithful and true.” That which is contrary to Jesus will not be in His city, but those living by faith in the One Who is Truth will be with Him:
“…to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One Who has the sharp two-edged sword says this: ‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells’” (2:12,13). In Pergamum, a city of great spiritual darkness and persecution, we have a believer named Antipas named. His life as the divinely Personal Truth’s “witness” may have ended his earthly life, but brought him into a welcoming opposite of that condemnation expressed in Matthew 7:21-23. This One Who knows Antipas is introduced in this letter as “the One Who has the sharp two-edged sword,” that is, the Word of power and judgment against those who oppose the Truth Who is Jesus and persecute those united to that Personal Truth by faith.
“…I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder, and the voice which I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders; and no one could learn the song except the one hundred and forty-four thousand who had been purchased from the earth. These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless” (14:1-5).

Jesus’ “sword” comes from His mouth (1:16; 2:16; 19:15,21); the word, testimony, and witness of Jesus has power. When this testimony is given through His servants, it is He Who is speaking through them. The witness may die, but the truth of Jesus spoke through them accomplishes its purpose. We see this in the “witnesses” described later: “I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth” (11:3). Also, at the end of the book we read of the Whore’s guilt: “…I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus (17:6).

I really love the song “Sunday!” by tree63.

“Nothing’s sacred, the days are cheap;
Truth is thin on the ground.
Still our prophets are crucified;
Nobody believes we’re stumbling.
It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming.”[4]

In days when “truth is thin on the ground,” where are we going to stand? The Revelation tells us it is not to be found in pundits or websites – why do you read, rely on, and repost these more than the Scripture, which is the inerrant testimony of Jesus? Those who enter the City and live there with the divinely Personal Truth are those who live in conformity not to the chaotic confession and conspiracy of the world, but those who are “standing” with “the Lamb” on the rock-steady “Mount Zion,” “and no lie [is] found in their mouth; they are blameless.” In an age of “false news,” “alternative facts,” poorly-constructed sophistry eagerly consumed by every faction, cults of personality, and 1984-style propaganda, where are you going to stand? I think I know, judging by the fact that you mention Jesus, His Gospel, and His truth far less than you mention the wisdom of the world. Repent and return to the City. Too many are outside the gates, with one finger stretched out to barely touch its mighty walls and with the other hand building a poor, tiny replica of the City out of pieces of garbage unworthy of the Reality.

Love Jesus. He is better. He is King. He is Savior. Witness His truth and faithfulness through the Word of His Gospel to the lost. Bring them into the City. SOLUS CHRISTUS!!

[1] The Bible often explains itself if we are teachable. The Revelation is written from a very Hebrew mindset, explaining itself through parallelisms, as in this passage. “…the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.” What is “their glory”? The other phrases about entering the city explain the “glory.” It is further described as “the glory and the honor of the nations,” which is brought “into it.” Finally, this “glory” is defined clearly as “those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Believers are “the glory and the honor of the nations.” Further, I wonder if “the kings of the earth” are believers as described in 5:9,10 (“they will reign upon the earth”) – that is, that 21:24-27 describes evangelism/missions. Those purchased by the blood of the Lamb among the nations manifest His absolute reign over heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Ephesians 1:20-23) by witnessing of Him and leading others into His eternal city which is His Bride, the Church.
[2] 1:1 tells us the Revelation was “signified” (ἐσήμανεν, from σημαίνω, the verb form of the word “symbol,” or “sign,” σημεῖον). John sees the Church “signified,” or “symbolized,” as a city – the New Testament knows only the Church as the Bride of the Lamb (Ephesians 5:22-33; Revelation 19:7-9; 21:9,10 – not to mention the use of “Bridegroom” to refer to Jesus in the Gospels).
[3] See also John 3:9-12,27,31-34; 8:14-18; 18:37,38.
[4] Written by John Andrew Ellis (Birdwing Music, 2007).

Friday, March 3, 2017

Praise the Father to the Fatherless

“Children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord” (Baptist Faith & Message (2000), XVIII).

On Thursday mornings I have a men’s theology reading group at a local coffee shop. After yesterday's meeting I was driving around town listening to National Public Radio (NPR). There was a segment on the growth of human embryos in “lab dishes,”kept alive up to two weeks old – the current deadline for laboratory guidelines in the U.S. (the nervous system begins to form after this point). The embryos develop without “receiving instructions from the mother’s body…without any information from mom.”

My first thought was, “what a striking image of loneliness.” These human beings are conceived in a lab, grow for a brief period of time in a “lab dish,” and are terminated at two weeks – all in isolation from a mother’s womb. They are conceived to be observed and then thrown away. Alone. While not having awareness, they are human beings, and human beings were created to be the image of God, and were created with souls.

I am a one-issue voter: I am politically active for human life, conception to natural death. Apart from pro-life political activism, though, I was comforted by a single reality as I drove  - grieving - through town yesterday morning. These souls, conceived to serve human pragmatism alone and destined to die in two weeks, have a Father in heaven Who knows them and guarantees they are not to spend eternity as they spend those two weeks:
“…let the righteous be glad; let them exult before God;
Yes, let them rejoice with gladness.
Sing to God, sing praises to His name;
Lift up a song for Him who rides through the deserts,
Whose name is the LORD, and exult before Him.
A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows,
Is God in His holy habitation.
God makes a home for the lonely”
(Psalm 68:3-6).

While we oppose this laboratory conception of the lonely doomed, we should, at the same time, praise the Father Who has a home destined for them in heaven’s eternal family. He doesn't miss one of them, no matter how small.

He is worthy of our praise.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

On Cheese and Purity

It sure seems we have to spend a lot of time pointing out false teaching and practice. While “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9), the “nothing new” can sometimes seem to be our focus. I worry about this as I consider what unbelievers are hearing from us in the public forum.

We have to say a lot about the wrong masquerading as truth.

It isn’t because of a problem with biblical Christianity – orthodoxy and orthopraxy. This is the nature of that which is pure. It must be protected from contamination.

A prominent cheese-maker a few weeks ago was facing a recall because of possible bacterial contamination of its cheese. Cheese production occurs by the purposeful and carefully-controlled use of bacteria. Good cheese is always in danger of contamination. Precautions must be taken to protect it. Its susceptibility to corruption is very real, and the results of contagions could mean sickness or death at the worst, but the production of inferior product at the best.

Our family loves watching shows about cheese. Yes, cheese. We were recently watching a program on goat cheese production in Estancia, New Mexico. Guests were invited to interact and even bottle-feed baby goats, taste the cheeses, and have an interesting experience, but there was a door through which guests couldn’t go – into the cheese-making room. Contamination was too great a threat.

The same is true for biblical doctrine. Every day dozens of heresies are thrown out into the square of mass discourse, sometimes through the careless words of well-intentioned believers, sometimes through best-selling “Christian” books or music or teachers. We must be diligent to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3), for it is the Church’s primary responsibility to be “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

Those things which are purest are in constant danger in a world of constantly creeping impurity, and must be ever inspected and protected.

“On the twenty-fourth of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to Haggai the prophet, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Ask now the priests for a ruling: If a man carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and touches bread with this fold, or cooked food, wine, oil, or any other food, will it become holy?”’ And the priests answered, ‘No.’ Then Haggai said, ‘If one who is unclean from a corpse touches any of these, will the latter become unclean?’ And the priests answered, ‘It will become unclean’” (Haggai 2:10-13).

In this illustration from the old covenant Law, we are reminded that when the unclean comes in contact with the holy, the holy becomes unclean.

Not only do we need to be mindful of this, but it needs to be a point in our conversation with unbelievers. Several times a year I interact with unbelievers privately, and for some who genuinely want to understand Christianity, there is often confusion because of the great mass of voices offering contaminated cheese wrapped in a label of genuine product. We must share this principle with them: things which are pure must be protected against the constant threat of degradation. It’s to be expected that there are many twisted or watered-down versions of the truth out there.

At the same time, we, as believers, cannot allow all of our public speech to be condemnation of impure doctrine. For every false word, we must say a dozen true words. If we truly believe that God the Holy Spirit works through the Word He has inspired, we should be about unleashing it as often as possible, and in every possible medium. I’ve watched this in political speech on the internet, the radio, and television – people are so busy mocking and trashing their political opponents that there is hardly any positive teaching of why their political viewpoint is right. Demonization alone only convinces that all are demons. Proclaim Scripture, beloved. Know and broadcast truth. Yes, “contend” to keep it pure, but don’t let your message be solely about bad bacteria. Let’s say a lot more about pure, well-made, and satisfying cheese than the impure, shoddy, and cheap stuff. As a family we enjoy regularly trying different varieties, strengths, and flavorings of cheese, but always expect that what we buy and sample is pure. Scripture may speak in a wide variety of styles and voices, but, from cover to cover, it gives us a single message inspired by a single Author, and it is good.

Feed them the good stuff.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Unnecessary Silence

I took some brothers in the Lord to see Martin Scorsese’s Silence yesterday. You know you live in the middle of nowhere – or at least close – when you have to drive three hours and cross state lines to see a movie.

Warning: plot details ahead. Don’t read on if you plan on seeing the movie – which I personally wouldn’t recommend unless you’re going to discuss it in the context of the Bible and biblical theology with brothers and sisters in Christ.

MattZoller Seitz wrote: “‘Silence’ is a monumental work, and a punishing one. It puts you through hell with no promise of enlightenment...this is not the sort of film you ‘like’ or ‘don't like.’ It’s a film that you experience and then live with." This sums up how I felt about it. When I got home and my family asked if I liked the movie, it seemed impossible to answer.

Having discussed it with my brothers in Christ, however, I have a few observations. This post is as much the fruit of their meditation as it is mine.

The Christianity of Silence is Roman Catholicism. There are prayers (and rosary), absolutions and masses ministered by the priests, crosses and crucifixes, infant baptism, and…silence. Waiting for the voice of God to guide through the torment. One crucial thing is missing for the Christianity of Silence, and, I suspect, the Christianity of many living in the world today: the Bible was absent. God’s Word, by which the Holy Spirit speaks to the saints, is not present. It is no wonder God is “silent.” The means by which He speaks to His people is not used.

One of the most powerful parts of the movie for me personally was when Padres Rodrigues and Garupe meet with the underground church in the village of Tomogi. Rodrigues, in a narrative voice-over, compares the gatherings of these believers with those worshiping in the catacombs under the persecution of the Roman Empire. It is night, and the first meeting of the priests with the underground church. The believers offer food to the priests, who ravenously begin devouring it before pausing in embarrassment to realize they had not blessed it before eating. After a hasty prayer, they resume devouring the food. Then they notice that the lay leadership of the church is not eating. When the priests ask why the leaders aren’t eating, the elder Ichizo (who will soon be martyred on a cross in the ocean) responds, “it is you who feed us.” The food these believers – and all believers – desperately need is the Word of God, and Christ has given His Church both elders and gifted lay members who give this most needful food to His people by the power and illumination of the Holy Spirit.[1] The sacramental wafer without the Word rightly preached, taught, and understood, cannot feed the people.

Earlier in the movie, Rodrigues, still in Portugal, meditates on Jesus’ command to Peter as he prepares to journey to Japan. The padre only considers the phrases, “feed my lambs, feed my lambs, feed my sheep.” He would have done well to go to the Book to discover what this means.

“So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’
He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’
He said to him, ‘Feed My lambs.’
He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’
He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.’
He said to him, ‘Tend My sheep.’
He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love Me?’
And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep. Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.’ This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, ‘Follow Me’” (John 21:15-19, N.K.J.V.).

How did Peter understand Jesus’ command to “feed” His “sheep”?

Believers have “been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever…as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (1 Peter 1:23; 2:2,3). The food is “the Word of God…the pure milk of the Word.”

The “silence” was unnecessary. “God, Who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1,2). The Old Testament testified and revealed through shadows and symbols the Son of God. The New Testament reveals Him fully in His Person, His actions, His words, and the inspired apostolic word concerning Him. The Word is not “silent.” It gives us Jesus, our most needful Food.[2]

The Holy Spirit speaks through the Bible today, especially when believers gather to worship and fellowship through the preaching, reading, and teaching of the Word. It is sad when either 17th century Roman Catholic priests or believers today struggle with the silence of God because they are neglecting His appointed means of speaking and being present with His people.

Apostasy is a major theme of the movie Silence. Believers are tormented physically, emotionally, and psychologically in an effort to get them to apostatize. Rodrigues and Garupe even argue briefly over advising the Japanese believers to apostatize before the Inquisitor. In the end, Rodrigues is denied his own martyrdom and led to apostatize to relieve the torment of Japanese Christians. It is a horrible choice he is given, and a clear picture of the depravity of the fallen human nature.

Apostasy is a reality described in the Bible.[3]

In one sense, it is ubiquitous to this age between the Advents of Christ. In explaining His parable of the sower, Christ says, “the seed is the word of God…the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away [ἀφίστανται] (Luke 8:11,13).

Believers are called to examine themselves to rid themselves of that which may reveal them to be false confessors: “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing [ἀποστῆναι] from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (Hebrews 3:12-14). Notice the remedy is self-examination and the encouragement of other believers.

The New Testament also uses the term apostasy to describe that falling away that comes at the end of this age.

“Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away [ἀποστασία] comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4).

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart [ἀποστήσονταί] from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1).

In Silence, Inoue (the Inquisitor) uses a parable to explain to Rodrigues why Christianity cannot thrive in Japan. A daimyo, he explains, has four concubines whose jealousy and fighting with each other make him miserable. His solution: cast them all out of the house. Inoue explains these four concubines are “Spain, Portugal, Holland, England,” all trying to have their national “Christianity” take root in Japan. Japan, the man, has decided to cast them all out. Rodrigues responds, “our church teaches monogamy. What if Japan were to choose one lawful wife from the four?” Inoue states, “you mean Portugal” (Rodrigues’ country of origin). The padre responds, “I mean the holy church.” Beautiful moment – if only the priest meant not the Roman Catholic Church, but the biblical Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bride, the only one who has the means of saving and healing from out of the nations through the Gospel entrusted to her. Sadly, it seems that Rodrigues himself doesn’t remain faithful to the Bride. Apostasy, ἀποστασία, has a cognate in the N.T. - ἀποστάσιον, a certificate of divorce (Matthew 5:31; 19:7; Mark 10:4).

The believers in Silence publicly apostatize under tremendous threat and distress. Sadly, many professing Christians today deny “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) just to remain popular or socially acceptable (politically correct). Many cannot hold to the faith even though they are free from the type of persecution depicted in this movie – the type of persecution experienced by many believers around the world today. For them, the only “gospel” is that God wants His people in this world to be comfortable and happy. The rest of the Gospel message – the hope, glory, and eternal joy on the other side of Jesus’ cross -  is a key point missing from their lives, and the movie Silence.

At one point, after baptizing a Christian couples’ infant, the wife asks, “we now? All with God, in paraiso?” Rodrigues attempts to correct her, “Paradise? Now? No. But God is there now, and forever. He prepares a place for us all. Even now.”

Later, as they are arrested, a Japanese believer whose new name at baptism is Monica (like St. Augustine’s mother) has to remind Rodrigues himself of this. She says, “Padre...our father...Padre Juan...said if we die we will go to paraiso.”

Rodrigues says, “Paradise, yes...”

Monica continues: “Isn’t it good to die? Paraiso is so much better than here. No one hungry,
never sick. No taxes, no hard work.”

The padre, reminded of this truth in his despair, agrees. “Padre Juan was right. There’s no work in paraiso. No taxes, no hunger. Nothing can be stolen from you. And there’s no pain...” He is almost forced into this confession by Monica, but its hope is not seen in the rest of his actions, words, and meditations throughout the movie.

The Scriptures, especially the Word of the New Testament, would have given Rodrigues a firm foundation in this vital theological truth. Believers are called to walk through this world with a hope, assurance, and longing for glory with Christ in heaven.

Suffering is to be expected in this world. It should not be a surprise for believers.

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

“…all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).

Only those who have starved themselves of this needful biblical meal, be it a 17th century priest or modern Christian engorged on prosperity and positivity preaching, will be shocked and unable to understand when difficulty for the faith comes. It is promised in the N.T., and the strength for it is found there.

“We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:3-10).

The great Whore, Babylon the great, “drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Revelation 17:6), manifests under many masks, from the Roman Catholic Church in the days of the Reformation to Imperial Japan to today’s militant Islam to bestselling false teachers buying "souls of men" (Revelation 18:13) to many others.[4] “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time” (Revelation 12:12). The dragon hates the Church and seeks her destruction, one believer at a time, often through his deceitful puppet, Babylon.

How does the Church overcome in the face of such evil? “…they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death” (12:11). Generation to generation of this Gospel Age, believers have suffered horribly for the faith and endured it by the hope of the promise of glory contained in the Word.[5]

His blood is our assurance now and forever. The Word of the testimony of Jesus Christ is not silent, and cannot be silenced. And this life, including the sometimes long moments of its end, are indescribably small compared to the glory waiting the faithful in eternity (this is Paul’s perspective – Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17,18).

And the silence of God? When the Psalmists beg God to speak in His silence (28,30,39,83,109), they themselves are never silent. They pray for God to speak, and then begin to remind their souls of His long ages of good faithfulness to His people in blessing and trial.[6] The Word is the answer to their prayer that God not be silent.

Run to the Word. Read it, pray it, sing it, preach it, teach it, think it, adore it, breathe it. God is not silent nor absent as long as His Word is your life. God is not silent.

[1] “Although it be incumbent on the bishops or pastors of the churches, to be instant in preaching the word, by way of office, yet the work of preaching the word is not so peculiarly confined to them but that others also gifted and fitted by the Holy Spirit for it, and approved and called by the church, may and ought to perform it” (Second London Confession, 26.11).
[2] The Bible is “the true center of Christian union,” and “all Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation” (Baptist Faith & Message 2000, I).
[3] While the word “apostasy” is not used, the apostle John’s warning describes the state of salvation of these who leave: “Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:18,19).
[4] Sadly, the tortures Inoue Masashige, the “Inquisitor,” oversaw concerning the Christians (Japanese and Jesuit alike) – drownings, burnings, beheadings – were torments the Roman Catholic Church (and some Protestants) had been inflicting on Protestants in Europe for the previous hundred-plus years.
[5] “…it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in divers manners to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His church; and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased” (Second London Confession, 1.1).
[6] Near the end of the movie, Rodrigues, now living as Okada San’emon, a man with a Japanese name with a Japanese family, hears the voice of Jesus say, “I suffered beside you. I was never silent.” I am reminded of Isaiah 53:7//Acts 8:32,33.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Omnipresent in a Manger

After finishing Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology a month ago with my Thursday men’s theology reading group, we’re planning on starting John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion early next year. Along with trying to memorize Hebrews 10:4-10, I’ve been studying the Institutes in my “personal” study time.

I came across this passage in the Institutes today: “They thrust upon us as something absurd the fact that if the Word of God became flesh, then He was confined within the narrow prison of an earthly body. This is mere impudence! For even if the Word in His immeasurable essence united with the nature of man into one person, we do not imagine that He was confined therein. Here is something marvelous: the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way that, without leaving heaven, He willed to be borne in the virgin’s womb, to go about the earth, and to hang upon the cross; yet He continuously filled the world even as He had done from the beginning” (2.13.4).

At least two Scriptures point us to the Son’s omnipresence (note that both of these are direct quotes from the Lord Jesus):
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that [as it says in Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15] by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father Who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst (Matthew 18:15-20).
“…the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:16-20).

Of course, the Son is present with His covenant people by the presence of the Holy Spirit, Who is “the Spirit of Christ” (Romans 8:9; 1 Peter 1:11) and “the Spirit of Jesus” (Acts 16:7; Philippians 1:19). But He is also, because He is “God of God…very God of very God…being of one substance with the Father” (Nicene Creed) and “in this Trinity none are before or after another, none is greater or less than another…equal to the Father as touching His Godhead” (Athanasian Creed), omnipresent as God. We attribute to God omnipresence, and therefore, since the Son is fully God, we must attribute omnipresence to the Son.

We may stumble over this confession, especially during Advent, as we consider the mysterious wonder of the eternal, divine Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us (John 1:1,2,14). How could the Son be omnipresent and yet in a body dwelling as one of us among us during the years of His earthly life? How can the New Testament, after His ascension, locate Him at the right hand of the Father in heaven (Acts 2:33; 7:56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22; Revelation 3:21)?

Why is this strange? If we confess the Son to be fully God, are there not lessons from the Old Testament to learn about His omnipresence? God, Who cannot be contained in space or time, manifests His glorious, Personal Presence in places like the Tabernacle and Temple in the Old Testament. No one believes Him to be located solely between the cherubim, or solely even on the throne in Heaven. Just as God was manifest between the cherubim and yet omnipresent, the Person of God the Son is manifestly present in His human nature/body, and yet as God is omnipresent.

As Stephen preaches before his martyrdom: “Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern which he had seen. And having received it in their turn, our fathers brought it in with Joshua upon dispossessing the nations whom God drove out before our fathers, until the time of David. David found favor in God’s sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for Him. However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says [in Isaiah 66:1,2]: ‘“Heaven is My throne, and earth is the footstool of My feet; what kind of house will you build for Me?” says the Lord, “Or what place is there for My repose? Was it not My hand which made all these things?”’” (Acts 7:44-50).

Hercules Collins, a 17th century Baptist pastor, gave his congregation a teaching on the Son’s omnipresence. After speaking of Christ’s ascension into heaven, Pastor Collins writes: “Q. 46. Is not Christ with us then until the end of the world, as He has promised? A. Christ is true God, and true man, and so according to His manhood is not now on earth, but according to His Godhead, His majesty, His grace and Spirit is at no time apart from us. Q. 47. Are not by this means the two natures in Christ pulled apart, if His humanity be not wherever His divinity? A. No. Seeing His divinity is incomprehensible, and everywhere present, it follows necessarily that the same [the Son’s divine nature] is without the bounds of His human nature which He took to Himself, and yet is nevertheless in it, and abides personally united to it” (Orthodox Catechism, 1680). 

This Advent, as we adore the baby in the manger, let us worship in awe at the reality of the omnipresent God the Son.