Monday, December 18, 2017

Three Practices of False Prophets

A few days ago I had a brief moment of stillness in the middle of this time of transition in our lives, so I picked up my wife’s reading Bible and opened it to Ezekiel.

“Then this message came to me from the LORD: ‘Son of man, prophesy against the false prophets of Israel who are inventing their own prophecies. Say to them, “Listen to the word of the LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: What sorrow awaits the false prophets who are following their own imaginations and have seen nothing at all!” O people of Israel, these prophets of yours are like jackals digging in the ruins. They have done nothing to repair the breaks in the walls around the nation. They have not helped it to stand firm in battle on the day of the LORD. Instead, they have told lies and made false predictions. They say, “This message is from the LORD,” even though the LORD never sent them. And yet they expect Him to fulfill their prophecies! Can your visions be anything but false if you claim, “This message is from the LORD,” when I have not even spoken to you?’” (Ezekiel 13:1-6, New Living Translation).

As a preacher, passages like this grab my attention. What are some warnings concerning false prophets in this Word?

They Follow Their Imaginations

We don’t need a new word tailored for this particular moment. The Bible remains all-sufficient and relevant. Let it speak. We don’t need messages crafted to political or personal circumstances. God’s covenant people live in a world of innumerable false messages, and sit under the preaching/teaching of the Word for just a moment in the week. Just do the math: how much time do you spend hearing and reading the Word in comparison to watching the television, being on the internet, listening to the radio, hearing unbelievers speak, etc. The little time we have together in the Word needs to be a time of devotion to a Jesus-centered, Gospel-faith message to keep us grounded in the truth. We live in a world of vain imaginations; and I do not believe we are discerning enough to tell the difference between “sanctified” imagination and the much more common vanity. Let’s just let God’s Word speak and leave the “new words” to those outside the covenant community. I grieve, because so many faithful Bible expositors waste time with imaginations.

They Don’t Stand in the Gap

Drawing comparisons/applications from the Old Testament to the New Testament requires more than just word-to-word comparison. 13:5, for example, speaks of “the nation.” One of my hermeneutical/theological pet peeves is when modern American believers take O.T. references to “nation” or “land” and apply it to the U.S.A. Examples are legion. The N.T. (and therefore contemporary) equivalent to O.T. Israel is not the U.S.A. (or even the modern State of Israel); it is the Church, the new covenant people of God in Christ. In 1 Peter, “God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1:1) are called “a holy nation” (2:9). I would make the same assertion concerning the O.T. concept of “land.” Since even the O.T. patriarchs were looking by faith to a “heavenly homeland” (Hebrews 11:16), even while living in the earthly Promised Land, we who live in the new covenant in Christ should have the same perspective. When Ezekiel condemns false prophets, for “they have done nothing to repair the breaks in the walls around the nation,” it’s about the covenant people for us. It was even this way in the O.T.; sometimes this language of “standing in the gap” refers to literal walls in a city (1 Kings 11:27; Nehemiah 6:1), but other times it reflects intercession (Psalm 106:23; Ezekiel 22:30). Isaiah 30:13; 58:12 are probably referring to both at the same time (physical and spiritual walls being breached and repaired). Amos 9:11 is important to our right new covenant application of this O.T. principle because it is quoted in Acts 15:13-18. The “repair” of “damaged walls” is not the restoration of a literal nation Israel, or any kind of wall-building (figurative or literal) in the U.S.A. The apostle James applies Amos’ prophecy to a spiritual building up of the covenant people of God, fulfilled in the “conversion of Gentiles” by the Seed of David (Jesus Christ).

False prophets don’t stand in the broken-down boundaries of the covenant people. One application: true men of God point out those boundaries between truth and lie (in confession and practice), lead the people to rebuild them, and intercede for the failure/judgment those gaps represent. Another application: (re)building means evangelism/missions, church planting, and continual discipleships.

They Don’t Help God’s People Stand

False prophets don’t help God’s people stand in the day. They give feel-good messages of worldly peace “by saying, ‘All is peaceful’ when there is no peace at all!” (Ezekiel 13:10). You just need preferable circumstances in this life to have peace (again, this could be political or personal). In contrast, the apostle Paul admonishes the people to “make the most of every opportunity in these evil days” (Ephesians 5:16). He warns them of spiritual enemies: “Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil…put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm” (Ephesians 6:11,13). By faith we stand in Christ, a place of true peace – peace with God (Romans 5:1,2). It is a standing in the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Believers need to hear this today, for they are constantly tempted to stand in lesser things against worldly/fleshly/temporary enemies. They do not stand in spiritual, eternal reality against spiritual enemies. True prophets help them stand by revealing God’s truth, not their own carnal imaginations. I become more and more convinced that most believers are fighting with all they have in battles that take them far from the simplicity of faithfulness to Christ and proclamation of the Gospel. We need true prophets to lift up a scriptural reality.

That’s what I’ve been meditating upon for the last few days. We need these warnings, saints. Paul gives us a helpful principle for applying O.T. Scripture in 1 Corinthians 10. He’s speaking of the Exodus and book of Numbers, but the concept is the same: “These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age. If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. So, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols” (1 Corinthians 10:11-14).

True prophets (I understand new covenant prophecy to be ordinary prophecy, that is, preaching the Bible) proclaim an Old Testament rightly contextualized for the New Testament people, and keep the focus on Jesus and His Gospel. This is the prophecy we must have today as the Church, beloved.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

A Song for Twenty Days Out

I love Advent. Today, 20 days from Christmas, I have one of my favorite hymns (year-round) on my mind.

“Hymn for Christmas-Day,” by Charles Wesley (1739)

HARK how all the Welkin [an old word for “heaven”] rings:
“Glory to the Kings of Kings,
Peace on Earth, and Mercy mild,
GOD and Sinners reconcil’d!
Joyful all ye Nations rise,
Join the Triumph of the Skies,
Universal Nature say,
‘CHRIST the LORD is born to Day!’”

CHRIST, by highest Heav’n ador’d,
CHRIST, the Everlasting Lord,
Late in Time behold Him come,
Offspring of a Virgin’s Womb.
Veil’d in Flesh, the Godhead see,
Hail th’ Incarnate Deity!
Pleas’d as Man with Men t’ appear
JESUS, our Immanuel here!

Hail the Heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and Life to All He brings,
Ris’n with Healing in His Wings.
Mild He lays his Glory by,
Born - that Man no more may die,
Born - to raise the Sons of Earth,
Born - to give them Second Birth.

Come, Desire of Nations, come,
Fix in Us Thy humble Home,
Rise, the Woman's Conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in Us the Serpent’s Head.
Now display Thy saving Pow’r,
Ruin’d Nature now restore,
Now in Mystic Union join
Thine to Ours, and Ours to Thine.

Adam’s Likeness, LORD, efface,
Stamp Thy Image in its Place,
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy Love.
Let us Thee, tho’ lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the Inner Man:
O! to All Thyself impart,
Form’d in each Believing Heart.

George Whitefield made most of the changes which made the hymn the one we sing today (“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”). I like that variation, too, but there’s a richness to the old verses. Sing them all!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

God's Self-Identification and His Love

“Then God spoke all these words, saying,
‘I am the LORD your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
You shall have no other gods before Me.
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 20:1-6).

We’ve been in Heidelberg Catechism, questions 92-95, these last two weeks in our family devotion. Q.95 in particular has had my attention because of a conversation I had this week:
“95. Q. What is idolatry? A. Idolatry is having or inventing something in which to put our trust instead of, or in addition to, the only true God Who has revealed Himself in His Word.”

A church member asked me what Scripture I’d read to an unbeliever if I had a chance. My initial response was John 3 (verse 16 in particular). Her husband had suggested the same verse, but she was concerned that there was no clear call to repentance in the verse (repentance being the command of the Gospel, Matthew 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15; 6:12; Luke 13:3,5; 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20). Further, she had an unbelieving co-worker who used the first phrase of the verse (“God so loved the world”) to claim she was loved of God and was good enough to go to heaven because of her works.

I advised her to ask one question about John 3:16. We must ask why God had to give His Son. The scriptural answer is, of course, because there had to be a sacrifice in our place so that those who believe could inherit eternal life. Quite the opposite of affirming our worth or goodness, John 3:16 logically requires we realize just how sinful we are – it took God the Father punishing His willing Son in our place to save us. Only the most extreme, radical act could save us. That’s how dire our situation is outside of repentant trust in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation.

The first two commandments and Heidelberg Catechism Q.95 identify the problem: authority. This unbeliever’s misuse of John 3:16 makes her guilty of violating the first two commandments. It’s ironic that, in this age where individuals all think themselves gods who speak reality into being, we ignore God’s own self-revelation. We think God is as we imagine and speak Him to be, regardless of what He has said about Himself. Our society would not tolerate that in any other context. Only God loses His right to self-identify.

Heidelberg Catechism Q.95 ends with the all-important phrase “the only true God Who has revealed Himself in His Word.” It doesn’t matter what you think or imagine Him to be. He has explicitly told us Who He is “to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways [the Old Testament], in these last days has spoken to us in His Son [revealed in the apostolic witness of the New Testament], Whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:1-3).

We imagine a god who looks just like us, thinks just like us, and is in whatever image we speak him to be. We make ourselves authority over his being. This is a violation of the first commandments, and this transgression is enough to make us guilty forever.

Unbelievers know this to be true, and I can prove they know it. A twisting of this reality is manifesting itself in a culture where the greatest sin is to not accept what someone says about themselves in their self-identifying. Unbelievers, as part of creation, inherently have knowledge of the Creator. In their sin and rebellion, however, they take this knowledge and twist it, replacing God with their own fantasy: “…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 and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures” (Romans 1:20-23). It doesn’t matter how “good” a person is, they are violating the first two commandments. It is impossible to have a right relationship with God (or to enter into His eternal presence of bliss) if you are ignoring His self-identification and have replaced Him with a god of your own imagination. He has identified Himself, His character, His works, and His will clearly in His Word. What gives you the right to ignore Him and reimagine Him in your own image?

In this day, it is a cultural sin to deny someone’s self-identification – you become rejected, labelled, and often unemployable. The first commands, given by God concerning Himself, have been reallocated by our society to its preferred god: the absolute individual.

“…You thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes” (Psalm 50:21).

Repent of this, dear friends. His mercy is unending and free to those who turn from their rebellion against His Word and come to Him through faith in His Son. Yes, “God so loved the world” (John 3:16). Why did this necessitate Him giving “His only-begotten Son”? I suggested to the church member that she share from Romans 5 with this unbeliever if she got the chance: “…while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Romans 5:6-11). Of course, there are a lot of other places to further explain the love of God rightly (I’m always stunned by the title “Him Who justifies the ungodly,” Romans 4:5); each passage about God’s love, when read in context, requires us to see our own unloveliness. His love toward us is all of grace, grace, God’s sweet grace. A view of the love of God that ignores your sins and centrally posits your beauty or worth will always ignore God’s revelation of Himself and ultimately be a religion whereby you cheat Him of the glory and thanks He alone deserves.

He has revealed Himself to us; believe this revelation for His glory and your eternal joy. He alone is worthy.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Balance in the Offices of the Church

“Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:1,2).

In this post, I’m not out to defend the plurality of overseers/elders/pastors in the local church (these different New Testament titles describing a singular office). I’m writing assuming you’re with me on the need for an office of men who lead, model, and meet the spiritual needs of the membership of the local congregation (overseers/elders/pastors); similarly, if you keep with this post past this sentence, I assume you’re with me on the biblical mandate for an office of men who lead, model, and meet the physical needs of the membership of the local congregation (deacons, a title that means “servant”). Presupposing these principles, I want to make an appeal for balance in the relationship between these offices and how that balance is a witness to the biblical calling on all believers.

First, there is no exclusivity to the actions carried out by the offices. “Overseers” can (and should) serve others. Why? Because service is a call for all believers, and holding an office exempts you from no requirements given to all believers (Matthew 25:41-46; James 2:15-17; 1 John 3:16,17). Yes, the focus of the office should be on “prayer and to the ministry [τῇ διακονίᾳ] of the Word” (Acts 6:4), and working “hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17) – I would add that mentoring other teachers is a primary activity, as well (2 Timothy 2:2). This emphasis, however, doesn’t mean that an elder can’t mow a widow’s lawn or help wash dishes after the potluck. “Deacons” can (and should) be involved in the ministry of the Word when appropriate. Of the “seven” in Acts 6, two go on to dominate the next chapters with their preaching (Stephen in chapter 7 and Philip in chapter 8). Further, all believers have a responsibility to devotion “to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42), that is, the New Testament and its interpretive authority over the Old Testament. “Deacons” are no exception. All believers are filled with the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit speaks Jesus through all believers. Read Acts 2:16-18. On the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter proclaims that the promise of Joel 2:28,29 (and the desire of Moses in Numbers 11:29) has been fulfilled in the Church. All of God’s people in Christ have His Spirit, and are called upon to speak a Christ-centered Scripture to all situations (a fulfillment of Deuteronomy 6:6-9). Office, to repeat, is not an exemption from normal Christian experience and calling.

Second, the offices display the two key elements to Christian life. True faith bears the fruit of good works (Ephesians 2:8-10; Philippians 2:12,13; Hebrews 13:20,21; James 2:14-26). In the offices we see these elements represented. “Overseers” lead and serve as examples to a dedication to the truth of the faith, as revealed in the Scriptures and witnessed to by the Church through history. “Deacons” lead and serve as examples to the living out of that truth in loving service to those who have needs (especially and primarily within the local congregation). Faith and works cannot exist apart from each other. Faith without works is dead. Works without faith is legalism that cannot save; or, to put it another way, works without faith in Jesus Christ alone is the model of every non-biblical religion/philosophy in the world. It is an effort to achieve a goal (be it spiritual or physical, temporal or eternal) apart from faith in Jesus’ all-sufficient saving work. The offices of the Church display both faith in Jesus Christ alone (and the body of truth that is part of that faith) and Spirit-wrought works as the fruit of that faith, and both are indispensable.

Third, in the single body of the local congregation, the offices serve as a model of balance that is to be lived out by the individual members. While Paul doesn’t single out the “overseers and deacons” in the rest of the letter, Philippians does have unity and mutual submission within the local congregation as a significant theme (1:27; 2:1-18; 4:2). The offices, since they witness to required elements of a true Christian life, must complement and balance each other. In a congregationalist (democratic) polity, individual office holders have one vote – just as the non-officer holder (as a Southern Baptist, I confess that “each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes,” Baptist Faith & Message [2000], VI). They do not wield any greater decision-making power. “Overseers” lead by modeling a life dedicated to the truth of Scripture, teaching, equipping, correcting, and encouraging themselves and the congregation to greater understanding, knowledge, and faithfulness to the Bible. “Deacons” lead by modeling a life living that truth out in loving service to the congregation and by organizing efforts in the whole faith community to serve members in need. Neither office has greater power; the idea of power, in fact, is antithetical to the offices as Jesus embodied them. It is together that they display a biblically-balanced Christian life. If they are not displaying that balance in their harmony and mutual submission, they are giving witness to a twisted and imbalanced Christianity – which is no Christianity at all.

This humility, mutual submission, and balance has to be purposefully pursued. In our sin and pride we will tend toward exerting our will and elevating our status within and between the offices. Office-holders must continually remind each other of the true nature of the offices. They must pray for each other, and pray together (1 Timothy 2:8). They must speak well of each other, publicly and privately giving thanks for the wisdom of Christ and work of the Spirit in and through these offices. They must seek out ways of helping one another. “Overseers” must participate in the service of “deacons,” submitting to them and following their lead in service projects or individual acts of mercy. “Deacons” must participate in the teaching opportunities offered within the congregational schedule, especially when they are led by “overseers.” “Deacons,” pursue growth in the truth under the leadership of the “overseers.” “Overseers,” live out that truth under the servant-leadership of the “deacons.”

In the mutual submission and balance of the offices, these two groups offer even more to the congregation than they ever could apart from each other or – God forbid – in competition with each other. Officers living in biblical balance show a rich and whole Christian community and life to the congregation as a whole and as individuals. This is the will and plan of Christ, the only Lord of His Church.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Jesus Prays Psalm 6

In the Gospels we often read about Jesus’ prayer life – passages that describe His all-night prayers (Luke 6:12) catch our attention, especially in a time when our attention spans are decreasing at an exponential rate. How did He pray? Remember that the Psalms (the Bible’s prayer/song book) are about Jesus (Luke 24:44). Let me suggest that the Psalms are an insight into Jesus’ extensive prayer life on earth and as He intercedes for us in heaven (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). Reading Psalm 6 this morning, let’s briefly explore how this is a Jesus-prayer.

“O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your anger,
Nor chasten me in Your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am pining away;
Heal me, O Lord, for my bones are dismayed.
And my soul is greatly dismayed;
But You, O Lord—how long?
Return, O Lord, rescue my soul;
Save me because of Your lovingkindness.
For there is no mention of You in death;
In Sheol who will give You thanks?
I am weary with my sighing;
Every night I make my bed swim,
I dissolve my couch with my tears.
My eye has wasted away with grief;
It has become old because of all my adversaries.
Depart from me, all you who do iniquity,
For the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my supplication,
The Lord receives my prayer.
All my enemies will be ashamed and greatly dismayed;
They shall turn back, they will suddenly be ashamed”
(Psalm 6:1-10).

How is this Jesus’ prayer? The Lord Himself gives us the interpretive key to understanding this plea in His context.

He quotes verse 8a in Matthew 7 when He speaks of false confessors/teachers: “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will know them by their fruits.  Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?  So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven will enter.  Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:15-23).

 They may fool many people, but they do not fool Jesus the Judge. Jesus, in quoting Psalm 6:8a in this Sermon on the Mount teaching, reveals to us the greater context of His judgment of false confessors/teachers. In Psalm 6, we see that the damage they do within the covenant family (the Church) is taken personally by the Lord of the Jesus. What these liars and hypocrites do to the Church, they do to Him. Before Paul was apostle, he was Saul of Tarsus, chief among the persecutors of the Church. When Jesus knocked the man off his horse, the glorified Lord of the Church asked this question: “Why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4; 22:7,8; 26:14). To hurt the Church is to attack the Lord of the Church. He prays on behalf of His Church to His Father (even now).

The answer to the prayer is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Psalm 6, the Lord points out that God’s wrath and death itself must be conquered by God Himself before the adversaries of God’s beloved can truly be conquered. We often associate Jesus' prayer concerning His death with the Garden of Gethsemane alone. This is not necessarily true: “In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety” (Hebrews 5:7). Psalm 6 was one of those prayers, prayed long before the Garden. The prayer was "heard," and answered. This, of course, happened in the saving work of Jesus on the cross, in His resurrection, and in His coronation seating at the right hand of the Father in heaven. The enemies were placed into the judging hand of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:25). Prayer answered.

Yes, false confessors/teachers are a deadly threat to the Church in every age. They sneak in to the Church from the outside, and rise up from the inside. Unless we are diligent, we step into that role ourselves.

We should read this Psalm as the answered prayer of Jesus to the Father on behalf of His Church, which in His Body – in union with Him by faith, sealed by the Spirit. To hurt His Church with lies (in practice or doctrine) is to attack Him. Judgment is assured.

This is how Jesus prayed Psalm 6.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Modeling the Truth

I recently wrote this: “Purposefully showing the relationship of Christ and Church in the worship gathering on the Lord’s Day should be a regular part of that disciplined pursuit of each other. This isn’t hypocrisy; this is disciplining yourselves to show the ideal of the Gospel. Again, if there are problems, get help. Modeling the goal of Christian marriage (the Gospel relationship between Christ and the Church) in the gathering of the Church is appropriate and a good reminder to you and the rest of the congregation.”

Today I’d like to say a little more about the principle behind this statement. This is advice I’ve given to a lot of people in many different contexts over the years.

We should purposefully discipline ourselves to think, speak, and live out the truth of the Bible, even when we don’t feel like it.

If I wait until I feel like praying, I won’t pray. If I wait until I feel like telling others about Jesus, fear will win. If I wait until I feel like showing my brothers and sisters in Christ the love commanded by Scripture, I will choose being “authentic” over obeying God’s commands.

There it is. The popular buzzword among believers today: “authentic.”

I suspect it’s a barely-Christianized version of the world’s advice to “follow your heart.” But I should not be led by how I feel. I don’t have that option as a believer, for I have been bought with a price, and I am not my own (I am only speaking to those who are believers – non-believers should not imitate the behavior of believers). The command to love (to use one example) is not conditional on whether I feel like loving or not.

I am not to follow my heart, but to lead it in the truth: “Listen, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way…he who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered” (Proverbs 23:19; 28:26). Truth and wisdom come to the heart from the outside – from Scripture alone. It must be actively applied to the heart, which resists in its sin and selfishness.

The Psalmist often commands his soul into action; this command is usually accompanied by a proclamation of truth to self.

“Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him
For the help of His presence.
O my God, my soul is in despair within me;
Therefore I remember You from the land of the Jordan
And the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls;
All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me.
The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime;
And His song will be with me in the night,
A prayer to the God of my life…
…why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God…
…why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why are you disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God”
(Psalm 42:5-8,11; 43:5).

“My soul, wait in silence for God only,
For my hope is from Him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
My stronghold; I shall not be shaken.
On God my salvation and my glory rest;
The rock of my strength, my refuge is in God”
(Psalm 62:5-7).

“Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle…
…bless the Lord, O my soul…
…bless the Lord, O my soul…
…bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!”
(Psalm 103:1-5,22c; 104:1,35b).

“Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
Yes, our God is compassionate.
The Lord preserves the simple;
I was brought low, and He saved me.
Return to your rest, O my soul,
For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you”
(Psalm 116:5-7).

“Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!”
(Psalm 146:1).

The Psalmist commands himself to praise, shepherding his own heart with truth.

As believers, we are called to obey, whether we feel like it or not.

We are called to keep the commandments of God, whether we are in a good place in our Christian walk or not.

We are called to apostolic imitation (1 Corinthians 11:1; Hebrews 13:7), even when we want to do something else.

God in Christ is not worthy of our love, praise, and obedience only when it’s “real” for us.

The Father purposes for us to be conformed to the image of His Son. In faith-union with the Son we are growing into His likeness, righteousness, and obedience. By the power of the Holy Spirit we are to die to the “authentic” self (which is a sin-loving idolater) and live unto God in obedience to His commands.

This is not hypocrisy, saints. This is discipleship. Hypocrisy would be someone outside of Christ pretending to be in Christ; what I'm advocating is a believer in Christ disciplining herself to be as the Scripture describes she is in Christ.

Live individually and corporately in the truth of the Word. Remind yourself of this truth constantly.

“I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1,2).

“We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

“…be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 5:23,24).

Crisis moments in our minds, character, and discipleship are usually built not on the sudden, but on the habitual neglect of being saturated in the truth in the gathering of the Church and the self-discipline of being in the Word.

When we don’t feel like it,
Lord, hold us in the truth
That we may preach it to ourselves
And live out our self-sermons
Until they become eternal life,
And not just a struggling self-discipline.
Help us to rest not the earthly
Under the excuse of “authentic” or “honest,”
But, Holy Spirit,
remind us of the truth of Scripture
As it is in Jesus.
Take us to what we are in Him,
Away from what we are as sinners.
Help us to think rightly and stand faithfully
By Your grace in Christ.
Without it we have nothing.

Amen and amen.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Married Couples, Show the Gospel in Worship

“Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God” (1 Corinthians 11:2-16, E.S.V.).

Before I comment on the text above, let me explain why I used the English Standard Version for this post. As far as translations go, I’m a New American Standard guy (I’ll be using it in the rest of this post). It was the translation given to me when I was baptized in 1984, and I’ve stayed with it (and its update in 1995). Occasionally I’ll try another translation; I’ve used the English Standard Version and Holman Christian Standard for sermon series through books of the Bible. I like the New King James Version and New Living Translation a lot (the N.K.J.V. is my favorite alternate translation). I recently quoted the New International Version in my sermon notes; that was the only time in 10 years, to my recollection.

I’ve been preaching through 1 Corinthians in our evening Lord’s Day service for a year now. Recently I taught on chapter 11, which begins an extended discussion of Christian worship (chapters 11-14). I believe the interpretive challenges in 11:2-16 (and 14:34,35) could be eased if we consistently translated γυνή as “wife” instead of “woman” (and ἀνήρ as “husband” instead of “man”). The E.S.V., in the passage above, does this, but not consistently. Still, the use of “husband” (11:3; 14:35) and “wife” (11:3,5,6,10,13) in the E.S.V. is a step in the right direction.

Well, the other night, when I was teaching through 11:2-16, I did a verse-by-verse explanation of the passage for about twenty minutes. There are several challenging aspects to this section, and I suspect it’s easy to get bogged down in them. The reason I’m writing this post, though, is not to rehash those interpretive hurtles with you. Instead, I want to sum up the passage for you with one sentence: husbands and wives are to display the Gospel in their relationship when the Church is gathered for worship.

Paul’s all about the Gospel. As far as his preaching when he was with the Corinthians, he wrote, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). When I was teaching a preaching class several years ago, I told the men that the first step was to imagine a big cross on the empty sheet of paper that would become their sermon notes. Remember Spurgeon’s famous wisdom: “The motto of all true servants of God must be, ‘We preach Christ; and him crucified.’ A sermon without Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it. No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching” (07/09/1876; sermon #2899).

The Lord’s Supper is given by the Lord of the Church so that the membership can proclaim the cross of Christ together: “…as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

The Gospel is primary: “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared” (1 Corinthians 15:1-5). We need the Gospel often. I have told our congregation for years that they need to preach the Gospel to themselves every day. And it certainly needs to be proclaimed every Lord’s Day. As Martin Luther wrote at the beginning of his commentary on Galatians, “I must hearken to the gospel, which teacheth me, not what I ought to do (for that is the proper office of the law), but what Jesus Christ the Son of God hath done for me: to wit, that He suffered and died to deliver me from sin and death. The gospel willeth me to receive this, and to believe it. And this is the truth of the gospel. It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consisteth. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.”

In the same way, husbands and wives are to display the Gospel in their relationship in the gathering of the Church. When you read 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (and 14:34,35), read “husband” and “wife” for “man” and “woman.” Don’t get distracted by hair/head coverings and the public prayer/prophesying of women (those are legitimate issues to discover, but it’s issue to miss the big picture while wrestling with them). Read this passage in light of Ephesians 5:22-33.

While there are definitely unique cultural elements to this, don’t buy the argument that the whole passage should be jettisoned from application because of those issues found in A.D. 1st century Corinth. Paul doesn’t base his reasoning on cultural conditions which are irrelevant today. He bases his argument on Genesis 2 in 1 Corinthians 11:8,9. He does the same thing in 1 Timothy 2:13-15. Jesus does the same thing in Matthew 19:3-9 and its parallels in Mark and Luke. The historicity of Genesis 2-3 matters because of the Gospel.

How does the marriage relationship display the Gospel in worship? I can’t answer that question comprehensively, but here are a few thoughts:

Show you actually love each other. Don’t complain about each other in the times around gathered worship. I’m not saying be hypocritical if there are problems, but we don’t gather for the primary purpose of displaying ourselves. We gather to display and remind ourselves of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Need help? Please seek it out. In worship, however, practice displaying love by respecting each other, smiling at each other, sitting close, singing together, and receiving the Word together (I know our roles in service sometimes make this impractical, but make time away from those roles to worship together with the gathered congregation). Do you remember the 40-day Love Dare devotional? Purposefully showing the relationship of Christ and Church in the worship gathering on the Lord’s Day should be a regular part of that disciplined pursuit of each other. This isn’t hypocrisy; this is disciplining yourselves to show the ideal of the Gospel. Again, if there are problems, get help. Modeling the goal of Christian marriage (the Gospel relationship between Christ and the Church) in the gathering of the Church is appropriate and a good reminder to you and the rest of the congregation.

It can be funny to put each other down teasingly and to make little jokes at each other’s expense, but think about saving that for other times. Husbands, have eyes for your bride. Wives, be thankful he’s at gathering with you. Smile at each other. Husbands, put your arm around her shoulders. Do you have little ones with you in worship? Shepherd them as a team, serving one another by engaging in worship-parenting together. Display the Gospel in your relating to one another in worship. I think you know to keep the affection appropriate; hear the heart of what I’m saying.

There is an increased sensitivity and consideration of single people in the life of the Church; that’s a good thing. We want to be inclusive and edifying to all believers. This doesn’t mean we minimize the biblically-mandated witness the married contribute to the worship gathering.

Husbands and wives, remember: you should be showing the Gospel story by your relationship in the gathering of the Church.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Advent Worship

45 days until the first Lord’s Day of Advent.

Yesterday, in our co-ed theology reading group, we were discussing the human soul. Toward the last ten minutes of the hour, the conversation turned to Jesus and His fully human nature. This group had discussed the Trinity for several weeks last summer, and elements of that study came back up, as well.

We reminded each other of several key elements of our confession of the Trinity: the Persons are distinguished (not divided) in the Trinity, perichoresis/περιχώρησις (one group member remembered it as “the dance” between the Persons of the one God), and how Christ “operates” according to both of His natures. I used to fly through theology proper (the study of God in Himself) when teaching Systematic Theology. I wish I could go back and change that. What I love is how theology proper connects with Christology. Yesterday, theology proper made its way to Christology via anthropology (the theology of humanity). A rich journey. Calvin started his Institutes with the statement, “all…true and sound wisdom, consists in two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves” (1.1.1). In the section we were considering yesterday, he repeated this idea: “…we cannot have a clear and complete knowledge of God unless it is accompanied by a corresponding knowledge of ourselves” (1.15.1). He means that knowing ourselves as created requires a knowledge of Him as Creator; it also means that we must know ourselves as needing a redeemer before knowing Him as Redeemer. These meet in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

I suggested to them that it’s helpful to break down the name and title, “Jesus Christ, Son of God” (Mark 1:1; John 20:31; Acts 8:37; Romans 1:4; 2 Corinthians 1:19; 1 John 5:20; 2 John 3).
He is eternally the Son of God, fully and truly God in His essence. The essence and being of God is not divided; He is simple (as opposed to composite). He does not change. This is the Son, distinguished in Person from the Father and Son, yet one with them as God in essence/substance/nature/being.

He was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit. On the eighth day after His birth He was given the name “Jesus” by Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:21). This is the name of His human nature. Of course, the name has a theological (Matthew 1:21) and historical (the name “Jesus” is the same as “Joshua”) import. It’s a name, however, given to Him in His newborn humanity.

is the title for God’s chosen King over all (see Psalm 2). This is a name properly His after His resurrection, when He had received full authority in all things (Matthew 28:18). It is a name related to the Davidic covenant.

Even as the Son, in His humanity, is located at the right hand of the Father in heaven, His divine nature is spiritually involved in the “dance” with the Father and Spirit as fully God. He is not limited in His divinity.

This is glorious mystery. We joked that as you begin to get a grasp of how to speak of the Trinity rightly, we are introduced into the union of eternally divine and human in the Son and have to work through even more amazing concepts.

He is worthy of our studying, discussion, learning, and mental wrestling – this, too, is worship (especially when we do it together). It is obedience to the command to love God with all of our minds (Matthew 22:37//Mark 12:30//Luke 10:27). Give Him glory by working to think and speak rightly of Him, beloved!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Battle for the Parishes

I came across this quote last week while working on my dissertation’s history chapter: “Protestants believed that preaching was ‘the ordinary means of salvation,’ for which there was no substitute. But less dogmatically and more pragmatically, historians can agree that without their being preached, or imparted through a sustained process of catechizing, the essential protestant doctrines, and concomitant religious experience, were unlikely to take root. Not far short of the end of the [16th] century, a Kentish minister claimed that when he canvassed opinion in parishes where there had been no preaching, hardly anyone knew they could never be saved by their own moral endeavours. Justification by faith alone was something of which they knew nothing.”[1]

And if preaching today is doctrine free (most popular Christian music and songs in worship certainly are)? If those few minutes between congregation and pulpit have more stories, jokes, and self-help moralistic bumper stickers or tweets than doctrine or exposition of Scripture? Read the quote again. Parishes had lost the Gospel. Lost it.

Pastors must preach the Gospel often to themselves, and constantly to the congregation. Congregants must, too, learn to preach it to themselves, and preach it to others.

The above quote reminds me of something I was taught when I was being mentored in ministry: ultimately, the problems in the church can be traced back to the pulpit.

When I taught a preaching class several years ago, I told them the first thing I wanted them to do when preparing notes was to mentally (or literally, if need be) put a cross on the page. Plan from the beginning on getting to the cross, getting to the Gospel.

Artist Shai Linne’s new album is entitled Still Jesus (Lampmode, 2017). I hope it is still Jesus alone for us, Church. It will only be so if we are purposeful and constant about it. What has Jesus done? Why is it needed? How is it the only remedy for our greatest problem? Do we still believe this? When we hear of problems in the world or in an individual’s life, is the first solution that comes to our mind still Jesus?

Battle for the parishes (or whatever we call them in all the places we live). They must know the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

[1] Patrick Collinson, John Craig, and Brett Usher, eds. Conferences and Combination Lectures in the Elizabethan Church (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 2003), xxiv.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Bible We Need

I’m on sabbatical this month, finishing the writing for my final doctoral work. While every day’s been spent pouring through books and journal articles, I’ve still been reading a chapter of Tertullian’s Against Praxeas every day or so. They are short chapters. That doesn’t make Against Praxeas devotional material, but that’s how I’ve been treating it. I came across something interesting yesterday.

Tertullian (A.D. 160-220) is the guy who gave the Church the term “Trinity.” Not that he invented the doctrine of the Trinity, but in defending the faith, he added this word to the Church’s arsenal as it described what it read in the Scriptures. Remember this. While the word “Trinity” doesn’t occur in the Bible, it’s scriptural. Sometimes skeptics, atheists, or false teachers will say things like, “the word doesn’t even occur in the Bible, and the doctrine wasn’t invented for over 100 years after the Bible was written.” Notice the word “invented.” He didn’t “invent” the doctrine. In refuting a false teacher, Tertullian used a new word to describe the old faith the Church already believed and confessed from scriptural witness. This strategy is used by people trying to refute your faith in dozens of areas, Church. Learn it and be wise.

Anyway, Tertullian is arguing that the Persons of the Father and Spirit are invisible – they are not made of the stuff of creation (which is where the trait “visibility” is manifested). We, as part of creation, are made to see the visible of creation; God, in His nature, is not of creation and is not, therefore, visible. He allows Himself to be seen and heard in the Bible, of course. The Church has taught that God, temporarily using creation, revealed Himself in the events recorded in the biblical witness. The “temporary” part has one big exemption: the incarnation of Jesus, when the eternally-existing second Person of the one true God, the Son, was united without mixture or degradation to a human nature by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin. This hypostatic union (another bit of phraseology added to the Church’s vocabulary describing that which was already part of the scriptural faith from the beginning) is not temporary, but forever. This Jesus, fully God and man, still exists this way now at the right hand of the Father in heaven. Jesus, eternal Son of God, is now forever human.

Tertullian teaches that it is not the invisible Father and Spirit we see in the Old Testament, but the Son pre-manifesting the humanity He will fully take on in the incarnation (the technical term for this is Christophany).

“…it is the Son Who from the beginning has judged, smashing down the tower of pride and confounding the tongues, punishing the whole world by the violence of the waters, raining down upon Sodom and Gomorrah fire and brimstone – the Lord raining it down from the Lord. For He it always was Who came down to converse with men, from Adam even to the patriarchs and prophets, always from the beginning preparing beforehand in dream and in a mirror and in an enigma that course which He was going to follow out to the end” (all quotes are from section 16 in this posting).

This is pretty standard stuff now (which is why we have a word like “Christophany”), but after this Tertullian gives us something that I think is really helpful.

“Thus also He already at that time knew human affections, as He was going to take upon Himself also man’s substances, flesh and soul, asking Adam a question as though He did not know – ‘Adam, where art thou?’ – repenting that He had made man, as though He had no foreknowledge; tempting Abraham, as though ignorant what is in man; angry, and reconciled with the same persons; and all those things which heretics…seize upon as unworthy of God, ignorant that those things befitted the Son, Who was also going to undergo human passions, both thirst and hunger and tears and nativity itself and death itself, for this purpose made by the Father a little lower than the angels.”

This is helpful. We typically use the word “anthropopathism” to describe the language of human affections displayed in God in the Scripture. Emotions are changes, and this is a problem is you want to affirm the immutability (unchangeability) of God (which I do). This pre-manifestation of the humanity to which the Son would be united makes these anthropopathisms Christ-centered and Gospel-oriented - these revealed emotions/affections in the God of the O.T. are foreshadowings of the human nature of the incarnate Son. Tertullian writes that He did this “with the purpose of laying a foundation of faith for us, that we might more easily believe that the Son of God has come down into the world, if we knew that something of the sort had previously been done.” This seems to me to be as great a contribution to Christian theology as Tertullian’s giving us the word “Trinity.”

This cannot be the manifestation of the Father, Tertullian writes. “How can it be that God Almighty, that invisible One Who none of men hath seen nor can see, He Who dwelleth in light unapproachable, He Who dwelleth not in things made with hands, before Whose aspect the earth trembleth, and the mountains melt as wax, Who graspeth the whole world in His hand like a nest, Whose throne is the heaven and the earth His footstool, in Whom is all space but He not in space, Who is the boundary line of the universe, He the Most High, should have walked in paradise in the evening looking for Adam, should have shut up the ark after Noah had gone in, should have rested under an oak with Abraham, should have called to Moses from the burning bush, and should have appeared with three others in the Babylonian king’s furnace – although it says He was a Son of man?”

All of God’s interaction with humanity as revealed in the Bible is so that we would know “from the beginning the whole course of the divine ordinance has come down through the Son.”

This is not to minimize the Father, but it is the Son Who reveals the Father to us.

“…the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father…no one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God Who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:14,18).

“Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:8,9).

Tertullian’s teaching honors the words of the Gospel, showing us a whole Bible that is Christ-centered. We need that Bible.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Learning Right Distinctions

“…the dispute is not about sexuality as such. Rather, it’s about not allowing people to draw moral distinctions that exclude others and hurt their feelings, no matter what the justification…Tocqueville saw this coming long ago. Democracies, he wrote, prize equality above all other values. Their ‘passion for equality,’ he observed, is ‘ardent, insatiable, incessant, invincible.’ It is not simply a matter of assuring every person equal rights under law. Tocqueville believed, in Patrick Deneen’s words, that democracies inevitably seek to do away with ‘any apparent differences’ among people – ‘material, social, or personal.’ No distinctions are to be tolerated. In fact, Tocqueville wrote that democratic societies have an inevitable tendency toward pantheism, since, in the end, even a distinction between Creator and created becomes intolerable.”
-   - “Passion for Equality,” by Mark Movsesian (posted at First Things on July 10, 2017)

An important strategy to understanding the Revelation is the idea of counterfeit. It’s always been a major point for me when teaching about the “mark of the beast” that it is just a counterfeit to God’s mark on His people from the early parts of the Bible onward. We focus on the beast, and, sadly, tend to ignore the wealth about what God has done.

You’ve probably heard of a similar counterfeit regarding the dragon, beast, and false prophet as imitative of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Mark Movsesian’s article, while not expositing the Revelation, reveals another counterfeit of the enemy of God, who is also the adversary to God’s people. The world system seeks to blur what God distinguishes and counterfeit God’s establishment of unity.

Outside of Christ, God makes distinctions. In the Old Testament, for example, it is between Israel and Egypt (Exodus 11:7), clean and unclean (Leviticus 11:47), holy and profane (Ezekiel 22:26), “between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him” (Malachi 3:18). God pronounces “woe” on those who redefine and change these standards (Isaiah 5:20,21).

As Movsesian astutely points out from Tocqueville, even the vital Creator-creature distinction becomes intolerable. We come by it naturally – our first parents fell from their first state because of the temptation to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5). Whether the king of Babylon’s aspirations to make himself “like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:13,14), or the “the man of lawlessness,” also called “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 2:3,4). We tend, in our study and meditation, to identify this “man” with a single eschatological figure, but this tendency to desire to be God is innate to every fallen human being. The rebellion against biological gender (contra Genesis 1:27, quoted as authoritative by Jesus in Matthew 19:4), the exaltation of abortion rights (contra Genesis 1:28), and the revolt against the creation ordinance of marriage (contra Genesis 2:24, quoted as authoritative by Jesus in Matthew 19:5//Mark10:7,8 and by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 5:31) – these three rejections of fundamental reality as created by God show this spiritual psychosis.

The Church has, from the beginning, confessed distinction – not division – in the unity of God. He is “one God, Who is not to be divided in nature and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations” (Second London Confession, 3.2). This distinction, faithfully describing the full witness of the Scripture, must be defended against heterodoxy in every generation of the church.

In creation, God has ordained distinctions. In Himself, there are three eternal and Personal distinctions.

However, in regard to the salvation of His elect through faith in His Son, God makes no distinction. He saves all sorts of people.
• The apostle Peter, at the first great Church Council, proclaims, “He [God] made no distinction between us [Jews] and them [non-Jews], cleansing their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9).
• Paul teaches this in his flagship of Christian theology: “…the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; Whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (Romans 3:21-25).
• Later, he writes, “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 written in Joel 2:32] ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (10:12,13).
• In Ephesians 2:11-22 he describes this great division between Jew and non-Jew abolished for those in Christ.

Paul will also simply and definitively describe this undoing of sin’s distinctions in Christ:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
“…you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him - a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:9-11).[1]

Let me circle back to my original thought, prompted by Movsesian’s article and the Tocqueville reference.

What God has distinguished, rebellious humanity seeks to blur. They cannot undo divinely-ordained distinction, but they can twist and deny, even when it seems to be an empirically-established fact. The Church is not immune from this temptation. The New Testament speaks of those inside and those outside the Church (1 Corinthians 5:9-13; 6:9,10; Galatians 5:19-21), but I know of believers who are uncomfortable with any exclusive language concerning either membership or any sense of belonging.[2] The Lord Jesus, in asserting the authority of Genesis 2:24, says of marriage, “what therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:5,6). We all know how much of a struggle this is in the Church.

There are worldly distinctions with divisions inherent in them which are dissolved in Christ. This is what the world system seeks to counterfeit. Our society claims to adore seemingly infinite diversity, but in reality this diversity is bound within an unbending conformity. As Movsesian observes, no distinction from this conformity can be tolerated. This is done in the name of an equality that is counterfeit to what God has manifested in Christ.

The danger, and the reason I’ve taken time to scribble (digitally) these thoughts down, is that believers must be biblically-grounded in distinctions and unity. We must not take our cues from the world on what is to be distinguished and what is to be indistinguishable. Worldly power struggles and divisions based on race, gender, socio-economic status, geography, personal preference, etc., cannot be allowed to assert themselves in our worldview as individual believers, in our relationships with each other in the Church (I’m thinking specifically about cliques here, but that’s not the only problem), or in our authority structures in the Church. What has been made equal in Christ must not be divided by worldly standards manifesting themselves in remaining sin in our lives. We cannot distinguish between which people groups or types of people "deserve" the Gospel or which ones are more likely to be changed by its power - all must hear the Gospel, and all are equally dead in sin and can only be brought to life by the power of the Holy Spirit through the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ alone.

What God has distinguished we cannot declare to be one. Unbelievers are not believers. Men and women are different in some ways ordained by God in His creation. All religions are not equal. The distinguished Persons of the one true God must not be compromised, “which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on Him” (Second London Confession, 3.2).

We will not learn proper distinctions and unities from the world, which is in active rebellion against God and embodies the counterfeit to His purpose, creation, and nature. We must get our worldview from dwelling in God’s Word and taking our cues from it alone. "We ought to seek from Scripture a sure rule for both thinking and speaking, to which both the thoughts of our minds and the words of our mouths should be conformed" (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.13.3). The tension between God’s declaration of reality and the counterfeit will only increase. Daily we must discipline ourselves to truth, prayerfully relying on the illumination of the Holy Spirit to help us stand.

[1] Even in the Church we have twisted this to mean assimilation to the standards of the dominant rather than mutual submission to Christ, the only Head of the Church. We struggle with sin and cultural blind-spots – all of us – and still have a long way to go in our sanctification. The good news is, of course, the assurance of Philippians 1:6.
[2] See also Matthew 5:13; 13:48; Mark 4:11; 5:10; 12:8; Luke 13:28; 14:35; 20:15; John 12:31; 15:6; 1 Corinthians 5:12,13; Colossians 4:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:12; Revelation 21:8; 22:14,15.