October 31, 2006

Happy Reformation Day

October 31—Reformation Day!
Nailing the 95 Theses, from the movie "Luther"

It is a sin and shame not to know our own book or to understand the speech and words of our God; it is a still greater sin and loss that we do not study languages, especially in these days when God is offering and giving us men and books and every facility and inducement to this study, and desires his Bible to be an open book. O how happy the dear fathers would have been if they had our opportunity to study the languages and come thus prepared to the Holy Scriptures! What great toil and effort it cost them to gather up a few crumbs, while we with half the labor— yes, almost without any labor at all—can acquire the whole loaf! O how their effort puts our indolence to shame.
— Martin Luther

October 30, 2006

Advice to those who would serve

O sinful soul that I am...

When I read the Bible, I quite often stumble across phrases that I have read so many times before, but that never quite impacted me the way they do this time. I ran across just such a passage this morning.

2 Timothy 2:23–26
Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

This passage is just chock-full of gems. Be patient with me and I'll explain the things that jumped out at me from these verses.

We must be kind

The Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone

In an era of talk radio, our culture thrives on controversy. We love to hear a good "smack-down" on the news, on television interview shows, or on call-in talk radio shows. Our culture adores the verbal fist-to-cuff nature of such spectacles.

The Christian community has become infected with this disease and we now often hear of Christian leaders speaking in provocative terms. A few visits to some of the more prominent blogs and Christian interactive news services will bear out this fact. We have become a nation of belligerents and the Church has followed right along with it. I was proud of my pastor recently when he declined an opportunity to be on a popular Christian radio program to discuss a contentious situation between Ergun Caner, the Dean of Liberty Theological Seminary, and James White, the head of the apologetics ministry Alpha & Omega. In his letter declining the interview, Pastor Mike O'Brien quoted Dr. Paige Patterson as saying:

"The splitting of the two did them no favors and pushed them in opposite directions that were very unfortunate. . . If we allow Satan to have his way, we'll divide up over it, as we certainly should not."
Would that we all could have the calm spirit of reconciliation that my pastor shows.

We can't do it—but God can

And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance

The next thing that smacked me in the face from this passage is the reason the Apostle Paul gives that the servant of God should be a peacemaker: "God may perhaps grant them repentance." I see in this phrase the total sovereignty of God being taught to those of us who would rather argue people into the kingdom. It is not up to us to bring people into the kingdom; it is up to God. We cannot convince anyone of the truths of scripture if they do not have the benefit of the Holy Spirit enlightening their minds.

God wills and does His good pleasure

and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

As if to reinforce the important concept here, Paul strengthens his argument by pointing out that it's not simply that God must grant them repentance but that God actually captures them to do his will. The total sovereignty of God. We must swear off all violence and manipulation and preach the Gospel message with gentleness. And we must let God do the violence and manipulation to the will of man. God will manipulate the wicked and sinful hearts of His elect to change those hearts of stone into hearts of flesh that willingly seek to honor God.

What a wonderful and glorious God we serve!

Who are our opponents?

Another thing that jumped out at me from this passage is the fact that Paul assumes that the ones we consider to be our "opponents" are nonbelievers. The members of the household of faith are not to be considered opponents. We may have disagreements with them from time to time, but they are not our enemies. So if we treat nonbelievers with gentleness in the desire that God may grant them repentance, how much more gentle and patient should we be with those who are our brothers in Christ?

October 25, 2006

What is the goal of missions?

Seeker Sensitive or Fire & Brimstone?

My sister and I have had a minor disagreement about how we should present the gospel to the lost. She is fully immersed in the "seeker sensitive" movement. She talks about meeting the "felt needs" of the people. She recommends books that discuss how to evangelize without using words such as "sin" or "repentance." I have argued for the straight presentation of the biblical gospel in the same manner that the apostles proclaimed Christ—shining a spotlight on sin and calling the sinners to repentance.

But our motivations are the same—we both want to see people won for Christ. The question is: What is God's motivation for evangelistic/missionary outreach?

John 4:23
But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.

God is seeking people "to worship him." This is his goal and should be ours as well. It should not be to "reach people at their felt needs," because their "felt needs" are not their true need—the need for the washing of Christ's blood to restore them to fellowship with God. But it should also not be to grow the church, to fulfill my obligation as a Christian, or to mark another notch on my evangelistic belt, which quite often are my personal motivations for evangelistic outreach. After all, it should not be about meeting my needs anymore than it should be about reaching the lost at their felt needs.

In Let the Nations Be Glad, John Piper writes:

If the pursuit of God's glory is not ordered above the pursuit of man's good in the affections of the heart and the priorities of the church, man will not be served and God will not be honored.

Ouch! ... He's right. And his statement stings both my sister and me. Missions is not about man (not about the felt needs of the nonbeliever or about my own percieved needs); missions is about gathering people to worship the Sovereign Lord of the universe.

October 10, 2006

Calvinists and Baptists Debate - Cancelled by Liberty

The debate we have all been so excited about has finally died a whimpering death. The Caners reneged on their negotiated agreements with James White/Tom Ascol and, along with Brett O'Donnell, have unilaterally decided on changes to the format—including that the Caner side of the debate be given both the opening and closing statements of the debate. This, of course, is totally unacceptable to anyone in any debate, and therefore was rejected by James White and Tom Ascol.

Of course, Ergun Caner is now lying about what has taken place and is claiming that James White has backed out of the debate. In his typical ungracious style, Dr. Caner has announced his misrepresentation of the facts with an ad hominem attack.

More information regarding this debacle may be found on the web site from my church announcing the fact that our planned engagement with James White will have to be postponed due to Liberty's inexcusable behavior. Read it here.