Friday, September 28, 2012

Judgment in the Water and at the Table

God takes the ordinances and sacraments of the Church seriously.

Baptism: “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY.’ Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:1-14).

The Egyptians tried to go through the same waters and were utterly destroyed. The unbelievers (Hebrews 3:19; 4:2) among the sons of Israel went through to find death in the wilderness. Take heed, those of you who have passed through the waters, that they not be waters of judgment for you.

The Table: “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep” (1 Corinthians 11:23-30).

Humble yourself at the Table, bringing only a repentant heart freely confessing sin and faith in the saving work of Christ. May the body and blood bring strengthening grace, not judgment.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Find the Fount of Love

“For Thy lovingkindness [חסד, or covenantal love] is before mine eyes: therefore have I walked in Thy truth” (Psalm 26:3, Geneva Bible). His motivating power for walking in the truth of God’s Word is a blood-bound relationship secure in the unbreakable promise of God’s love. The love is expressed in its cost and oath, not primarily in momentary moods – as Rich Mullins once said, “there’s a loyalty that’s deeper than mere sentiment.” Loyal-love, covenant-love, love of the unbreakable promise...that’s what motivates the Psalmist to walk in the truth of God’s Word, a love alien to our commitment-allergic age. “Herein was that love of God made manifest amongst us, because God sent that His only begotten Son into this world, that we might live through Him. Herein is that love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be a reconciliation for our sins” (1 John 4:9,10). If that covenant-love doesn’t move you to a continual desire to walk in the truth of His Word, return to the gathering where that place of love – the Cross – is the theme of the songs, the promise of the Table, and the only thing the man in the pulpit knows (1 Corinthians 2:2). It’s love that strips you down to the soul to reveal every sin and then covers you in blood-bought perfect white, fills you with the very Presence of love (Romans 5:5), and never lets you go. It’s love that sets you on the Way – not the cheap imitation passed off as love from the feelings and flesh of self-centered humanity. Find the Fount.

“I will...compass Thine altar, that I may declare with the voice of thanksgiving, and set forth all Thy wondrous works...I will praise Thee, O Lord, in the Congregations” (26:6,7,12).

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Treasure of His Name

A good name is to be chosen above great riches, and loving favor is above silver and above gold” (Proverbs 22:1, Geneva Bible).

  • “But while he thought these things, behold, the Angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, the son of David, fear not to take Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her, is of the holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save his people from their sins.’ And all this was done that it might be fulfilled, which is spoken of the Lord by the Prophet, saying, ‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which is by interpretation, “God with us.”’ But he knew her not, till she had brought forth her first born son, and he called His name JESUS (Matthew 1:20-25).
  • “But beware of 1men, for they will deliver you up to the Councils, and will scourge you in their Synagogues. And ye shall be brought to the governors and kings for my sake, in witness to them, and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that hour, what ye shall say. For it is not ye that speak, but the spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. And the brother shall betray the brother to death, and the father the son, and the children shall rise against their parents, and shall cause them to die. And ye shall be hated of all men for My Name: but he that endureth to the end, he shall be saved...the disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his Lord. It is enough for the disciple to be as his master is, and the servant as his Lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more them of his household? Fear them not therefore...” (Matthew 10:17-26).
  • “Then the Pharisees went out, and consulted against Him, how they might destroy Him. But when Jesus knew it, He departed thence, and great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all, and charged them in threatening wise, that they should not make Him known, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the Prophet, saying, ‘Behold my Servant Whom I have chosen, My Beloved in Whom my soul delighteth: I will put my Spirit on Him, and He shall show judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not strive, nor cry, neither shall any man hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall He not quench, till He bring forth judgment unto victory. And in His Name shall the Gentiles trust’ (Matthew 12:14-21).
  • “The same time the disciples came unto Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And Jesus called a little child unto Him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, ‘Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whosoever shall receive one such little child [the disciple humbled like a child] in My Name, receiveth me’ (Matthew 18:1-5).
  • “Moreover, if thy brother trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he hear thee, thou hast won thy brother. But if he hear thee not, take yet with thee one or two, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word may be confirmed. And if he refuse to hear them, tell it unto the Church: and if he refuse to hear the Church also, let him be unto thee as an heathen man, and a Publican. Verily I say unto you, whatsoever ye bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven. Again, verily I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree in earth upon anything, whatsoever they shall desire, it shall be given them of My Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them (Matthew 18:15-20).
  • “Then answered Peter, and said to him, ‘Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed Thee: what therefore shall we have?’ And Jesus said unto them, ‘Verily I say to you, that when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His Majesty, ye which followed me in the regeneration, shall sit also upon twelve thrones, and judge the twelve tribes of Israel. And whosoever shall forsake houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My Name’s sake, he shall receive an hundredfold more, and shall inherit everlasting life. But many that are first, shall be last, and the last shall be first’” (Matthew 19:27-30).
  • “And Jesus answered, and said unto them, ‘Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my Name, saying, “I am Christ,” and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars, and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and realm against realm, and there shall be famine, and pestilence, and earthquakes in divers places. All these are but the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you, and ye shall be hated of all nations for My Name’s sake’” (Matthew 24:4-9)
  • “And Jesus came, and spake unto them, saying, ‘All power is given unto me, in heaven, and in earth. Go therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, until the end of the world, Amen’” (Matthew 28:18-20).

His Name, the greatest of treasures, is not owned without trial, but is great to eternal life – unlike the temporary treasures of this world.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Teach from Your House, All-Wise Lord

“But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the House of the Lord shall be prepared in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills, and people shall flow unto it. Yea, many nations shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the Mountain of the Lord, and to the House of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us His ways, and we will walk in His paths’: for the Law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem...we will walk in the Name of the Lord our God, forever and ever” (Micah 4:1,2,5, Geneva Bible).

I love the teaching promises in the Prophets (Isaiah 2:3; Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 36:27; 44:23).

All-wise Lord, teach from Your House today (“Whose House we are, if we hold fast that confidence and that rejoicing of that hope unto the end,” Hebrews 3:6), that Your people may be gathered to You and may walk in Your Name to Your eternal glory!

Beautiful Fruit from Bitter Seed - the Spirit's Power

“I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord, and of judgment, and of strength to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin” (Micah 3:8, Geneva Bible).

This is the work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-9) – the convicting men of their sin through the Word preached (1 Corinthians 14:24,25) – and the fruit of it is eternally glorious: “Now when they heard it, they were pricked in their hearts, and said unto Peter and the other Apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said unto them, ‘Amend your lives, and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins: and ye shall receive the gift of the holy Ghost. For the promise is made unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.’ And with many other words he besought and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this froward generation.’ Then they that gladly received his word, were baptized, and the same day there were added to the Church about three thousand souls. And they continued in the Apostles’ doctrine, and fellowship, and breaking of bread, and prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the Apostles. And all that believed, were in one place, and had all things common. And they sold their possessions, and goods, and parted them to all men, as everyone had need. And they continued daily with one accord in the Temple, and breaking bread at home, did eat their meat together with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and had favor with all the people: and the Lord added to the Church from day to day, such as should be saved” (Acts 2:37-47).

This? Out of the work of preaching for the conviction of sin? Only the power of God the Holy Spirit can produce such beautiful fruit from such bitter seed.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Application of Imprecatory Psalms

The unpopular part of this popular Psalm: “Oh that Thou wouldest slay, O God, the wicked and bloody men, to whom I say, ‘Depart ye from me’: Which speak wickedly of Thee, and being Thine enemies are lifted up in vain. Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate Thee? And do not I earnestly contend with those that rise up against Thee? I hate them with an unfeigned hatred, as they were mine utter enemies. Try me, O God, and know mine heart: prove me and know my thoughts, and consider if there be any way of wickedness in me, and lead me in the Way forever” (Psalm 139:19-24, Geneva Bible). Notice the last petition: the enemies of God inside the Psalmist are not exempt from his imprecation. Let’s consider this a worthy application of these Psalms that normally make us uncomfortable – using them as prayers against the rebellion in our hearts, minds, and souls.

Teaching and Learning Discernment

“And they shall teach my people the difference between the holy and profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean” (Ezekiel 44:23, Geneva Bible).

This is still a vital responsibility (for teachers and disciples): “Of whom we have many things to say, which are hard to be uttered, because ye are dull of hearing. For when as concerning the time ye ought to be teachers, yet have ye need again that we teach you what are the first principles of the Word of God: and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For everyone that useth milk [“the first principles of the Word of God”], is inexpert in the Word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat [“the Word of righteousness”] belongeth to them that are of age, which through long custom have their wits exercised, to discern both good and evil(Hebrews 5:12-14).

When the teachers don’t teach and the disciples don’t learn: “Woe unto them that speak good of evil, and evil of good, which put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for sour. Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight...they have cast off the Law of the Lord of hosts, and contemned the Word of the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 5:20,21,24).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Pastoral Heart of Interpreter

“ Master, you must know, is one of very tender bowels, especially to them that are afraid; wherefore he carried it so towards him as might tend most to his encouragement.”
- Great-heart, speaking of Interpreter, in “Pilgrim’s Progress” (Book 2, Stage 6) by John Bunyan (1628-1688)

17th century language aside, this is a great reminder to pastor-teachers. May we be more like the Interpreter.

“But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:7,8,10-12).

The Greatest Threat Is Inside, Church

  • “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are (1 Corinthians 3:16,17).
  • “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit Who is in you, Whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19,20).
  • “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE [Leviticus 26:12]. Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,’ says the Lord. ‘AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN [Isaiah 52:11]; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’Says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).
  • “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in Whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in Whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

“Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4).

These are all the verses in the letters of Paul that speak of the Temple of God. Why don’t we read the first set of verses (1 Corinthians 3:16,17; 6:19,20; 2 Corinthians 6:16-18; Ephesians 2:19-22) together with 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4? Taking the evidence in Paul’s writings to the Churches (the inspired distillation and representation of his in-person teaching to the Churches), shouldn’t a consistent hermeneutic conceive of the Temple theme together? Instead of looking to geopolitical threats outside the Church, maybe we should be on guard inside the Church – which, I believe, is Paul’s consistent work and warning to us (note the presence of “lawlessness” and the “Temple” together in 2 Corinthians 6:14,16!). See also Matthew 7:15-22; 13:36-43; 23:25-28 (all outwardly “religious” people who actually represent “lawlessness”).

* * * * * * *

  • “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. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life. These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you” (1 John 2:18-26).
  • “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:1-6).
  • “Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds” (2 John 5-11).

Where/Who is “the antichrist” (a word not used anywhere outside of the above cited verses – IT IS NOT FOUND IN THE REVELATION)? Inside the Church or out? It is geopolitical or doctrinal?

I fear for you, beloved Church, that you may be looking outside the camp for an enemy you believe to be on the borders who – the Scriptures tell us – rises up inside. I love you with all my heart – don’t be deceived!
“For thus the LORD spoke to me with mighty power and instructed me not to walk in the way of this people, saying, ‘You are not to say, “It is a conspiracy!” In regard to all that this people call a conspiracy, and you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it. It is the LORD of hosts Whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fear, and He shall be your dread. Then He shall become a sanctuary’” (Isaiah 8:11-14).

Wait in - and as - the Temple

“We wait for thy loving-kindness, O God, in the midst of Thy Temple” (Psalm 48:9, Geneva Bible).

“ are the Temple of the living God: as God hath said, ‘I will dwell among them, and walk there: and I will be their God, and they shall be My people’” (2 Corinthians 6:16).
“...through [Christ] we both have an entrance unto the Father by one Spirit. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and...
foreigners: but citizens with the Saints, and of the household of God. And are built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in Whom all the building coupled together, groweth unto an holy Temple in the Lord. In Whom ye also are built together to be the habitation of God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).
“Ye also as lively stones, be made a spiritual house, an holy Priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the Scripture, ‘Behold, I put in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect and precious, and he that believeth therein, shall not be ashamed’” (1 Peter 2:5,6).

You are that Temple, beloved Church. Wait on His covenant-love together.

Friday, September 14, 2012

He is on the Move

The headlines in the 7th century B.C. – nothing but doom from the North:
  • “...out of the North shall a plague be spread upon all the inhabitants of the land” (Jeremiah 1:14, Geneva Bible).
  • “...I will bring a plague from the North, and a great destruction” (Jeremiah 4:6).
  • “Behold, waters rise up out of the North, and shall be as a swelling flood, and shall overflow the land, and all that is therein, and the cities with them that dwell therein: then the men shall cry, and all the inhabitants of the land shall howl” (Jeremiah 47:2).

The reality in the 7th century B.C. – the Lord was coming from the North for His glory and the purification of His people:
  • “It came to pass in the thirtieth year in the fourth month, and in the fifth day of the month (as I was among the captives by the river Chebar) that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God...the Word of the Lord came unto Ezekiel the Priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of Chaldeans, by the river Chebar, where the hand of the Lord was upon him. And I looked, and behold, a whirlwind came out of the North, a great cloud and a fire wrapped about it, and a brightness was about it...” (Ezekiel 1:1-4).

Lord, help us to keep our eyes on You as we read the headlines today. “...He governs all things to the good of His Church” (Baptist Confession of Faith 1689, 5.7).

Thursday, September 13, 2012

He Alone Is Worthy

Last night at Bible study we considered this verse: “...those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead...” (Luke 20:35). What does it mean to be “considered worthy” for “the resurrection from the dead”?

  • “...the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, ‘...I am not worthy for You to come under my roof; for this reason I do not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed’...when Jesus heard this, He marveled at him, and turned and said to the crowd that was following Him, ‘I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith’” (Luke 7:6,7,9).
  • “I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.’ So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am not longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:18-24).

Those considered worthy never believe they are before God, and, in fact, confess that they are not.

Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created...worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth...worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Revelation 4:11; 5:9,10,12).

Humble yourself before Him and confess that He alone is worthy.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Matthew's Purge

After Christiana’s son Matthew eats of “the fruit of Beelzebub’s orchard,” against his mother’s teaching, he becomes ill almost unto death. Mr. Skill is brought in to treat him.

“So he made him a purge, but it was too weak; it was said it was made of the blood of a goat, the ashes of a heifer, and some of the juice of hyssop (Hebrews 9:13,19; 10:1-4). When Mr. Skill had seen that that purge was too weak, he made one to the purpose. It was made ex carne et sanguine Christi (John 6:54-57; Hebrews 9:14); (you know physicians give strange medicines to their patients) and it was made into pills, with a promise or two, and a proportionable quantity of salt (Mark 9:49). Now, he was to take them three at a time, fasting, in half a quarter of a pint of the tears of repentance (Zechariah 12:10).”
- John Bunyan (1628-1688), in “Pilgrim’s Progress” (Book 2, Stage 4)

The body and blood of Christ unto self-mortification and repentance. The strangest medicine and surest purge.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

I Love the Local Church

I love the local Church, more and more as I continue to walk the Way in Christ. I love the gathering where members greet one another and visitors, pray together, sing together, gather at the Lord’s Table, and get fed Christ in His Word. I am a Baptist, Reformed Baptist in my theology and a member of a local congregation voluntarily associated with the Southern Baptist Convention. I have never demanded that other orthodox Christians share my theology – though never afraid to speak of my interpretations of Scripture, I have always endeavored to do so in an attitude of brotherly love in Christ. It’s always been popular and easy to bash the local Church, since she’s so full of messed-up sinners (unlike those outside the local Church!?). But I thought I’d take time to describe why I believe the New Testament teaches the reality of the local Church. I do not believe that any particular local congregation is “the Church” to the exception of any other local congregation, but we do see the New Testament calling local congregations “the Church.” If it’s good enough for the New Testament, it’s good enough for me.

The New Testament speaks of both “the Church” in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1; 11:22; 15:4) and “the Churches” in Judea (Galatians 1:22; 1 Thessalonians 2:14). I assume that the individual congregations in Judea didn’t call themselves “the Churches,” but “the Church.” I also assume that each local congregation did not see itself as the only Church, despite being called “the Church.” It seems reasonable to speak of a local congregation today as “the Church” without meaning that it is the only Church to the exclusion of every other organized gathering of disciples of Jesus Christ.

Similarly, we have “the Church” in Antioch (Acts 11:26; 13:1), Caesarea (Acts 18:22), Cenchrea (Romans 16:1), Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1), Laodicea (Colossians 4:16; Revelation 3:14), Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1), Ephesus (Revelation 2:1), Smyrna (Revelation 2:8), Peramum (Revelation 2:12), Thyatira (Revelation 2:18), Sardis (Revelation 3:1), and Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7). We have “the Churches” in regions like Galatia (Galatians 1:2). We have “the Church” in Ephesus (Acts 20:17) spoken of along with “the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (20:28), seeing the local and universal Church together without losing the distinctiveness between the two ideas.

The New Testament speaks of “the Church” in various households: Prisca and Aquila’s (Romans 16:3-5; 1 Corinthians 16:19), Nympha’s (Colossians 4:15), and Philemon’s (Philemon 2). All “the Churches” met in homes at this time, so let’s not assume these were unorganized, unstructured groups with no membership or “officers.” If the New Testament speaks of these elements of the local Church, and all Churches met in homes, then house-Churches had these elements.

So, given the usage of the term “the Church” in reference to the local congregation in the New Testament, I think we’re safe in referring to our local gathering of disciples as “the Church” without violating the idea of the universal Church or being exclusively cultish.

I believe in membership in the local Church as a function of accountability and discipline (Matthew 18:15-17). As an Elder of a local congregation who will be held account by God for how he shepherded Christ’s flock, I believe membership to be a necessary tool to define the local covenant community of faith for which I will be held responsible (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-3). Baptists have always believed in the liberty of the human conscience before God. We do not force anyone into membership or require it for those attending our gatherings. I uphold membership but leave it to the individual conscience and the Holy Spirit – we have individuals who have attended for years but never joined in our local congregation. I also believe membership to be an important expression of commitment in an age that is severely allergic to any expression of commitment.

I believe that the local Church is “incorporated.” I know it’s popular to criticize the Church as an “institution,” but the Church in the New Testament has organized, structured elements commended to it that necessarily define it. We are to observe baptism, the Lord’s Supper, teach the Bible, sing, have Elders/overseers/pastors, deacons, maintain a common treasury for the needs of the saints near and far, engage the community of unbelievers for the sake of the Gospel, and have orderly gatherings. These structuring elements could be seen negatively as “institutional,” or as God’s ordinances for His Churches (the Church). We may not agree on how these various ordinances of structure are to be implemented, but we cannot easily deny that the Scripture imposes order on the local congregation. Therefore, we who agree on how to interpret these commands gather with other believers who interpret them similarly, without regarding ourselves as infallible – my own views of the local Church have grown as I have continued studying the Scriptures during the journey of my discipleship in Christ. Often those who condemn the local Church as too localized fail to see that they themselves segregate from other saints who do not interpret the Scriptures as they do. We all have growing to do in this area!

Finally, I believe the Scriptures teach that the local Church must gather and disciples must gather in a local Church (1 Corinthians 11:18; Hebrews 10:25).

Here’s the thing: if you believe that these are wrong interpretations/applications of Scripture, that’s fine. Again, being Baptist has historically meant that we believe in the freedom of the conscience of the individual before God. This isn’t “live and let live,” but we want the freedom to pursue the Way as we believe it to be commanded in Scripture, and believe you should have the same freedom without coercion. If, despite this, you feel the need to criticize “local Churchers” or “institutional Churchers,” consider speaking to what you may regard as “weaker brothers” the way Paul commanded in Romans 14:13-23; 1 Corinthians 8:13-9:1,12. In our relationships with each other (and even with the lost), we do not use details non-essential to the Gospel to “tear down the work of God” (Romans 14:20), with the result that “through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died” (1 Corinthians 8:11). This is a “sin against Christ” (1 Corinthians 8:12), even though what you may be taking a stand for is scriptural! Gentleness (2 Timothy 3:24-26; James 3:13-18) must accompany us when correcting others or growing others up in the knowledge of the truth. This does not mean we compromise the truth, but that we are “speaking the truth in love” so that we “grow up in all aspects into Him Who is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). I always appreciate fellow believers who challenge me in my convictions about Scripture; it brings me back to those Scriptures, which is always edifying.

May these horribly sad words never apply to our disagreements on the application of Scripture to our lives as believers walking together in the Way: “For it is not an enemy who reproaches me, then I could bear it; nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me, then I could hide myself from him. But it is you, a man my equal, my companion and my familiar friend; we who had sweet fellowship together walked in the house of God in the throng” (Psalm 55:12-14).

So, I will keep loving the local Church. I will keep being inspired by passages in my daily reading of the Psalms to desire the gathering of the Church (35:18; 40:9,10; 107:32; 149:1, for example). I will keep sharing my love for the local Church and the Scriptures that I believe support these convictions, hoping to strengthen the saints in their membership, attendance, and participation (and to encourage those outside the local Church to consider visiting the gathering to hear the Gospel). I will continue in covenant membership of the local Church with those who confess to be disciples of Jesus, even when it’s not easy because of personality/doctrinal differences. And I believe I have some scriptural precedent for doing so.

I love the local Church.

“A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth...the New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Baptist Faith & Message 2000, VI).

Monday, September 3, 2012

Happy Hunting, Church

The prophet Jeremiah contrasts the first Exodus from Egypt with the second Exodus coming after his days – the return of the Babylonian Exiles to Judah starting in 539 B.C.: “‘Behold therefore,’ saith the Lord, ‘the days come that it shall no more be said, “The Lord liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt,” But, “The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the North, and from all the lands where He had scattered them,” and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers. Behold,’ saith the Lord, ‘I will send out many fishers, and they shall fish them, and after will I send out many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the caves of the rocks’” (Jeremiah 16:14-16, Geneva Bible).

Jesus Himself takes Jeremiah’s language of “hunting” and “fishing” for souls to bring them home in the third and final Exodus – the Church’s mission in the world:
  • “...Jesus began to preach, and to say, ‘Amend your lives: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ And Jesus walking by the sea of Galilee saw two brethren, Simon, which was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea (for they were fishers.) And He said unto them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ And they straightway leaving the nets, followed Him” (Matthew 4:17-20).
  • “...Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe the Gospel.’ And as He walked by the sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea (for they were fishers.) Then Jesus said unto them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you to be fishers of men.’ And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed Him” (Mark 1:14-18).

I recently had four days of driving many hours before the sunrise and saw the constellation Orion (the Hunter) rise. From Betelgeuse to his belt to Rigel, the Hunter reminded me of those sent to hunt souls for the Exodus from “the power of darkness” to “the kingdom of his dear Son, in Whom we have redemption through His blood, that is, the forgiveness of sins. Who is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:13-15).

This is the great Gathering, Church.
  • “And He shall send His Angels [that is, “messengers”] with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect, from the four winds, and from the one end of the heavens unto the other” (Matthew 24:31).
  • “Other sheep I have also, which are not of this fold: them also must I bring, and they shall hear My voice [through the preaching of the Gospel, Romans 10:8-17]: and there shall be one sheepfold, and one Shepherd” (John 10:16).

Happy hunting, Church.

The Wrath of the Son

“Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish in the way, when His wrath shall suddenly burn. Blessed are all that trust in Him” (Psalm 2:12, Geneva Bible). Trust in the Son and worship Him. This is not a live-and-let-live situation. “And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in dens, and among the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us, and hide us from the presence of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of His wrath is come, and who can stand?” (Revelation 6:15-17).

Be counted among the blessed that trust Him. “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ: as though God did beseech you through us, we pray you in Christ’s stead, that ye be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Parents, Echo the Lord

“My son, forget not thou my Law, but let thine heart keep my commandments. For they shall increase the length of thy days and the years of life, and thy prosperity” (Proverbs 3:1,2, Geneva Bible). Parents, may our “commandments” be echoes of the Lord’s commandments.
  • “Honor thy father and they mother, that thy days may be prolonged upon the land, which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Exodus 20:12).
  • “Honor thy father and thy mother, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee, that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee upon the land, which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Deuteronomy 5:16).
  • “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honor thy father and mother (which is the first commandment with promise) that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest live long on earth. And ye, fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in instruction and information of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1-4).