Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Joy of Being Confessionally Reformed

On an older post, I briefly discussed my journey from thinking I was "Reformed" to being "Truly Reformed", which is to say, "Confessionally Reformed", embracing the biblical beauties of The Heidelberg Catechism, The Belgic Confession, The Canons of Dordt, The Westminster Confession of Faith, The Westminster Larger Catechism, and The Westminster Shorter Catechism (otherwise known as The Six Forms of Unity), along with the ecumenical creeds (The Apostles' Creed, The Nicene Creed, and The Athanasian Creed) and The Definition of Chalcedon.

Now I would like to share this very inspiring message by R. Scott Clark on the joy of being confessionally Reformed.

To the confessionally Reformed, I hope this message fosters in you a deeper love for this gift of truth that the Lord has graciously bestowed upon you. To my brothers and sisters who have not yet been blessed as such, may this message be the Lord's means of leading you into all truth.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Theology, Knowledge of Self, and Prayer

To define prayer as merely "talking to God" is deficient. To biblically plumb its depths, one must begin with God and how speech plays a key role in the interactions between the Persons of the Trinity, and how we as men made in God's image and likeness analogize these interactions in our communications with fellow men and God Himself.

To downplay theology is to shun prayer.

"     All speech originates with the Persons of the Trinity.
      God has made us persons in his image.
      Therefore God talks to us, and we talk to him.

Our knowledge of God as the Trinity, three Persons in one God, is the foundation for our understanding of ourselves as discoursing people and as praying people. The more we grasp what it is for God to be as he is, the more we will grasp what it is for us to be as we are. What God is and what we are will determine how the discourse between us is shaped. To the extent that our perceptions of either God or ourselves are distorted, so our perceptions of prayer will be similarly distorted.

- Graeme Goldsworthy, Prayer and the Knowledge of God, ch. 2, p. 37.

The Humanism of Individualistic Piety

How many of us have almost slammed our heads against the wall for having failed over and over again at being consistent with our quiet times? I would think the majority. It seems to me that this emphasis on individualistic piety has more to do with the humanism that has infected the church than it does with the application of biblical doctrine. It almost is an unspoken dogma that being unwavering in one's private times of devotion is superior to going to church every Lord's Day in order to partake of God's blessings through the preaching of the Word, the administration of the Sacraments, corporate prayer and worship, and fellowship among the brethren. I think it's about time that a radical shift in emphasis ensues.

"Many Christians today associate words like piety, devotion, spirituality, and Christian life with things a believer does in private. 'How's your walk?' is shorthand really for asking how well you are keeping up with your personal Bible reading, devotions, and other spiritual disciplines. None of these are wrong, of course. In fact, Jesus modeled getting alone regularly to read Scripture and pray. Nevertheless, a covenantal orientation places much more emphasis on what we do together, with each other and for each other. This in no way entails that we do what we should, but there is an interrelational focus in covenant theology that is different from individualistic pieties. As University of Edinburgh historical theologian David F. Wright notes, 'The piety Calvin advocated was largely communal, churchly. There is much here about `frequenting the sermons` and sharing in the Lord's supper, but very little about individual devotional reading of the Bible or daily routines of prayer, let alone group Bible studies or prayer groups.'"

- Michael Horton, Introducing Covenant Theology, ch. 9, p. 179.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Anselm on Christmas Day

Many thanks to R. Scott Clark for posting the link to this wonderful blog post showcasing Anselm's edifying reflections on the importance of the Incarnation.

"Boso. Infidels ridiculing our simplicity charge upon us that we do injustice and dishonor to God when we affirm that he descended into the womb of a virgin, that he was born of woman, that he grew on the nourishment of milk and the food of men; and, passing over many other things which seem incompatible with Deity, that he endured fatigue, hunger, thirst, stripes and crucifixion among thieves.

Anselm. We do no injustice or dishonor to God, but give him thanks with all the heart, praising and proclaiming the ineffable height of his compassion. For the more astonishing a thing it is and beyond expectation, that he has restored us from so great and deserved ills in which we were, to so great and unmerited blessings which we had forfeited; by so much the more has he shown his more exceeding love and tenderness towards us. For did they but carefully consider bow fitly in this way human redemption is secured, they would not ridicule our simplicity, but would rather join with us in praising the wise beneficence of God. For, as death came upon the human race by the disobedience of man, it was fitting that by man’s obedience life should be restored. And, as sin, the cause of our condemnation, had its origin from a woman, so ought the author of our righteousness and salvation to be born of a woman. And so also was it proper that the devil, who, being man’s tempter, had conquered him in eating of the tree, should be vanquished by man in the suffering of the tree which man bore. Many other things also, if we carefully examine them, give a certain indescribable beauty to our redemption as thus procured.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Imitation of Christ vis-à-vis the Gospel

The notion of the Christian life for many who claim to be seeking to live it is bound up in the imitation of Christ. For them, to be a Christian is to live like Christ, and therefore it is ultimately more existential/pragmatic than it is foundational. This of course ably deconstructs the idea of what it means to be a Christian to accomodate the "Christian Buddhist", the "Christian Hindu", the "Christian Muslim", etc., blurring key distinctives and muting biblical Christianity's claim to exclusivity.

"One of the most sinned-against biblical principles is that of the grace of God in the gospel as the pattern, motive and power for Christian living. Let us take the example of Jesus. The Christian church has always acknowledged the role of the imitation of Christ as a valid principle in Christian living. After all, if we cannot see Jesus as an example of the godly life, who can we see this role? Yet the church has recognized, when it has sought to understand things in the light of the Bible, that Jesus did not come primarily to set an example. Following Jesus was not, for the disciples, solely a matter of trying to be like him in his perfect humanity. It was first of all a matter of believing in him as the unique fulfiller of the Old Testament prophecies of the Christ, the Saviour who was to come to do for them what they were powerless to do for themselves. To keep the biblical perspective we need to see that imitation of Jesus is secondary to and the derivative of the acceptance of his unique role in doing things that can never be merely imitated. The Christian disciple imitates elements of Jesus' life and ministry such as serving one another and even laying down one's life for others. But such serving can never achieve what Jesus' serving achieved in the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of all who believe."

- Graeme Goldsworthy, Prayer and the Knowledge of God, ch. 1, p. 12.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Absenteeism and Church Discipline

"In response to our transient culture, some congregations have adopted a practice of 'lapsing' or 'erasing' members who simply disappear. On the surface this seems like a reasonable thing to do. Indeed, I've done it myself. After all, what else can the elders do in such a case? If a member is gone, he is gone. It's not good for the church rolls to be full of non-attending members and the elders are no longer able to care for a missing member, so the best thing is simply to accede to the reality of our transient culture and erase or lapse them.

There is an alternative. It's the third mark of a true church: discipline. As attractive and eminently practical as lapsing or erasing members might be it's not a biblical option. If church membership is analogous to marriage or any other binding contract, one member of the covenant cannot simply disappear. There are extraordinary circumstances. It might be that a husband goes on a trip and, unbeknownst to anyone, he is eaten by a lion. Ordinarily, however, if someone disappears, it is with intent. If it is with intent, then there is a moral problem. In our time, when almost everyone has a mobile phone, email, facebook etc. going 'off the grid' is pretty difficult. It requires intent. If a person intends to escape a covenanted relationship to the visible church by disappearing, then such a person has violated his membership vows. In such a case, a person is a candidate for church discipline, even if he is apparently beyond contact."

- R. Scott Clark, The Heidelblog: 'On Lapsing Members: Coping with a Transient Culture'

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Price of Feeling Good in the Church

This has been shouted out from the rooftops time and again, but seeing that the glory of Christ is at stake—not to mention that souls are still being dragged off to hell with smiles on their faces—I believe with a passion that the following questions need to be asked once more, if not again and again and again: Does the church that you belong to preach the Gospel? Does it biblically and faithfully dispense of the Sacraments? Is discipline being carried out among the membership? Are the Scriptures preached expositorily?

If you attend one of the more famous megachurches (and some of the smaller ones seeking to be megachurches), the honest answer, in all probability, is NO! And if so, you may have been taught what your "purpose" in life is, you may have been shown techniques on how to be "happy" and "prosperous" in the present life, you may have been entertained into coming back for more Sunday after Sunday, and you may have been led to mutter the "sinner's prayer" in order for you to have a "personal relationship with Jesus"—all without Christ in the Law and Christ in the Gospel. The rude awakening may come now, when you can still seek the truth in Christ, or it may come later when you hear Christ's disownment with a finality that is hot and eternally aflame.

Step out into the light while life still courses through your veins.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Roast Pork, Roads to Truth, and the Church

When a person feeds on physical food, it becomes part of the person. The pig cells of roast pork don't remain as such after having entered my body—no, they become Warren cells. This is the nature of physical feeding.

When the mind feeds on truth, it can do so in three ways: subjectively, objectively, and divinely. Subjective feeding on truth is akin to auto-cannibalism, if there is even such a thing. The person is the sole source, judge, and consumer of truth—with truth being a generation of the self. Of course, this is problematic, as it would only be a matter of time before the whole self is consumed and obliterated. Postmodernists and relativists really don't live out their subjectivity consistently. How can they if they are to survive?

Secondly, there is the objective feeding on truth. This is the mind making judgments on the outside world based on how and what it actually is, regardless of personal convenience. It sees that the various objects extrinsic to itself have independent existence and that the act of knowing is the recognition of this and the various properties that make existence possible. This is at the root of factual learning.

If the assimilation of food alters its structure as it becomes absorbed into the body, the subjective approach to truth actually erodes and degrades the self, while the objective approach adds information to the mind's body of knowledge without effecting changes to the nature of the soul. The third approach to truth, feeding on the divine, does precisely that—it leaves the soul, the total person, changed to the core. This is at the heart of the Lord Jesus Christ's declaration that "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). Everything inferior to man that comes into him is either transformed, is destructive of him, or leaves no remarkable residue. Only as man enters into God's truth is he radically altered, the finite embraced by the infinite, coming out of the transaction not as the same Dick, Harry, Jane, Sue or Warren—but more Christlike.

These divine transactions, the feeding on divine truth, come through the preaching of the Word, the administration of the Sacraments, corporate and private prayer, the ardent study of Scripture, and fellowship among the brethren. They are mediated—as would be the necessary case when the infinite engages the finite—through the church.

The Trinitarian Ground of Good

"Within the three religions that have a personal view of God...(Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), only Christianity truly provides robust grounds for values. And this is because of the Trinity. The Trinity allows us to see God interact with himself; it is a window into his character. For example, how do we know God is a loving God? Surely, we could point to the Incarnation, but that relies on something outside himself (the world) and God doesn't rely on the world for the way he is. In the Trinity, however, we see him actively loving within thee Godhead, but without being contingent on anything outside himself. Only the Trinity allows God to escape being arbitrary or relying on something or some standard outside himself. Islam's view of God as radically one fails on one or both of these problems and prevents it from providing a proper grounding of values. And the non-trinitarian view of Judaism fails for the same reason. The way we can have confidence in God's character and his promises is through the Trinity."

- Doug Powell (MA in Christian Apologetics, Biola University; contributor to the Apologetics Study Bible), Modern Reformation, Vol. 18, Number 7, November/December 2009, pp. 38—39.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Neither Syncretistic Nor Irrelevant

Steering clear of the errors of the Emerging and Megachurch movements, there is a better way—the true way—i.e., the historic, apostolic, Christocentric, and confessionally Reformed way.

"So, first of all, what I say is important for the deep church. When we look to form our church, we're looking at three things: we're biblical; we want to connect with the culture—being contextual and being all things to all men in order to reach them, which is important; and we have this great tradition. Obviously, Scripture is the most important, but the other two are also critical for understanding how we as the church can be connected into the twenty-first century. I think that gets us to what Newbigin says: the problem with most churches is that we're either syncretistic and we look exactly like the culture, or we're completely irrelevant and we don't connect with the culture. I think when we have Bible tradition and a desire to be missional in the culture, we're neither syncretistic nor irrelevant. We're actually extremely relevant, but distinct at the same time. We're really what Hauerwas wanted, which was a resident alien. We're both alien to the culture, but we're also residents in the culture."

- Jim Belcher (author of 'Deep Church' and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, California), excerpted from an interview with Michael Horton, Modern Reformation, Vol. 18, Number 7, November/December 2009, p. 47.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Weekly Antidote to Worldliness

Those who have a low view of the Sabbath, who deem it as unbinding, forfeit on a key means to overcoming worldliness.

"The Lord's day with its worship directs our attention to God and eternity. How we need this. We need to get away from the toil and dayliness of living and be reminded that a better day is coming. This not only fortifies us in suffering and persecution, but also arms us against worldliness. Spiritually, we need adjustments, and if we cling to our worldly tasks and recreations on the Lord's day, we will not be realigned with God's perspective, and the world will tighten its grip on us."

- Joseph A. Pipa, The Lord's Day, 'The Work of the Sabbath', ch. 10, p. 168

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

On the Chimps that Roam the Web

"We mediocrities struggle at a different level, hoping that our own petty contributions, irrelevant and ephemeral as they are, will be puffed and acknowledged by others; and, in a sense, there is nothing we can do about that. I am a man divided against myself; I want to be the centre of attention because I am a fallen human being; I want others to know that I am the special one; and as long as the new me and the old me are bound together in a single, somatic unity, I will forever be at war with myself. What I can do, however, is have the decency to be ashamed of my drive to self-promotion and my craving for attention and for flattery and not indulge it as if it were actually a virtue or a true guide to my real merit. I am not humble, so I should not pretend to be so but rather confess it in private, seeking forgiveness and sanctification. And, negatively, I must avoid doing certain things. I must not proudly announce my humility on the internet so that all can gasp in wonder at my self-effacement. I must make sure I never refer to myself as a scholar. I must not tell people how wonderful I am. I must resist the temptation to laugh at my own jokes. I must not applaud my own speeches. I must deny myself the pleasure of posting other people's overblown flattery of me on my own website, let alone writing such about myself. I must never make myself big by clinging to the coat-tails of another. In short, I must never take myself too seriously.

Not even chimpanzees do that."

- Carl Trueman, Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear To Tread

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Heart Disease of the Justified

An enlargement of the heart, that peculiar muscle that pumps life-giving, oxygen-rich blood throughout the body, is a symptom of its disease. Precipitating factors have caused it to over-exert itself, and just like any muscle found in the body, it has compensated for the load by increasing in size. Eventually, it will just give out due to fatigue and the host body will die.

Interestingly, this is not the case for the soul of man, his heart—the seat of his emotions, motivations, inclinations, and intellect. Its enlargement is, conversely, an indication of health—spiritual vigor and life—borne out of the nature of Christ that the Spirit has wrought in him. He is a new man, with a heart pumping the eternal life-giving blood of the Lamb, by which immortality is his as he is forever connected to the Vine.

Abraham was such a man, one with an enlarged heart. Can you picture him bartering with God for the souls of a few men, who in his mind could perhaps be entangled in the web of wickedness and debauchery that is Sodom and Gomorrah, with themselves abhorring their current predicament and desiring the righteousness of God? Why would Abraham feel so strongly about this so as to engage the God of Unapproachable Light, knowing himself to be but a worm? Perhaps it is because the light of life that is his heritage as one who has been counted righteous in the sight of God has opened up his eyes to the extent of his own radical depravity, his own unworthiness, and therefore as a justified sinner he feels an affinity with those that are as yet unjustified. "What separates me from them?", he may have asked himself. "What is it in me that I should have been treated so well, and these little ones, forsaken?" He came face to face with grace and his heart was enlarged.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Enduring Sabbatism of Hebrews 4

"The next place to be cited is Heb iv. 9. This verse (with its context, which must be carefully read) teaches that, as there remains to believers under the Christian dispensation a hope of an eternal rest, so there remains to us an earthly Sabbath to foreshadow it. The points to be noticed in the explanation of the chapter are: That God has an eternal spiritual rest; that He invited Old Testament believers to share it; that it is something higher than Israel's home in Canaan, because after Joshua had fully installed Israel in that rest, God's rest is still held up as something future. The seventh day (verse 4) was the memorial of God's rest, and was thus connected with it. It was under the old dispensation, as under the new, a spiritual faith which introduced into God's rest, and it was unbelief which excluded from it. But as God's rest was something higher than a home in Canaan, and was still offered in the ninety-fifth Psalm long after Joshua settled Israel in that rest, it follows (verse 9) that there still remains a sabbatism, or Sabbath-keeping, for God's people under the new dispensation; and hence (verse 11) we ought to seek to enter into that spiritual rest of God, which is by faith. Now, let it be noted that the word for God's 'rest' throughout the passage is different one from 'Sabbath'. But the apostle's inference is that because God still offers us His 'rest' under the new dispensation, there remaineth to us a Sabbath-keeping under this dispensation. What does this mean? Is the sabbatism identically our 'rest' in faith? But the seventh day was not identically that rest; it was the memorial and emblem of it. So now sabbatism is the memorial and emblem of the rest. Because the rest is ours, therefore the Sabbath-keeping is still ours; heaven and its earthly type belong equally to both dispensations."

- Robert L. Dabney, Discussions, 535 (as cited in Joseph A. Pipa, The Lord's Day, pp. 128—129).

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Shadows and a Sulcata

Beauty in creation is reflective of the incomprehensible beauty of God. It is precisely because of His transcendence that only faint shadows of His comeliness are evident in nature—O, but what food for the soul are these glimpses in the dark!

I am of the conviction that man needs his regular doses of the beauty of God reflected in the created order as a barrier against the erosion of his well-being. Having been at a valley surrounded by an undulating series of tree-green mountains yesterday, with the landscape blanketed in a clear sheet of warm, soothing sunlight, and having my heart moved to worship at the sight thereof, my conviction was reinforced. The place was Heaven's Gate cemetery; and though the context was that of mourning, the joy and love of God permeated every inch of grass. Indeed, a peek at a crack on the door of heaven was what it was, and I thought to myself, "papa is enjoying the full reality of all this now"—well, perhaps not the full reality as that is still in the age to come—but being in the presence of the One from whom all this beauty that surrounded me derives its being, he is happy and he is home.

With that said, I advocate pets as stress-relievers, too. I am enjoying "Ranger", my Sulcata Tortoise very much!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Discipleship and Doctrine

"We need sound doctrine, not because we are intellectualists but because we need the surprising good news that we have been saved not by our discipleship but by Christ and his work. We need this doctrine not simply to know how to be saved from God's wrath but for the knowledge of how we have been liberated from the tyranny of sin. Anyone can rise to the occasion and help to make the world a better place, but only through faith in Christ can a sinner be united to Christ and bear the fruit of the Spirit, whose fragrance penetrates this passing age with the scent of the age to come. We need the doctrine in order to know what God is doing in this time between Christ's two comings, as he gathers us to receive his good gifts through preaching and Sacrament, as we respond to him in prayer and praise, contribute to the up-building of the saints through the gifts he has given us, and reach out to the world through witness and service."

- Michael S. Horton (What Is Discipleship Anyway?, Modern Reformation)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Papa, Our Long Talks Are Not Over

I am writing this as one who has just recently lost a dearly beloved father-in-law. Well, to be more precise, what I lost was the ability to interact with him through the agency of our physical bodies. Human relationships this side of glory are founded on laws of physics that must not be transgressed in order for life to ensue, for communication to take place, and hence for relationships to flourish. Death is the stake driven through the heart of the physicality of humanity, the distortion that mars God's ultimate design for man to be embodied, and the fruition of sin. For where there is sin, there then must be the tears of years of shared humanity abruptly torn asunder, bringing with it the grief and convulsion of soul that marked even the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. John 11:33—35).

Me and my family are allowed to mourn for papa, for he was God's gift to us—being instrumental in the bringing forth of my wife into the world and raising her up in a manner that has benefited me as her husband and our kids as their mother—with his felicities transcending kinfolk, spilling over to the many people he has touched through the preaching of the Word, his social advocacies, and his long, drawn-out story-telling (he was a voracious reader and had an opinion on almost everything under the sun), which have all now been temporarily suspended.

But then our lament must be short-lived. As children of God, redeemed by the invaluable covenant blood of Christ, death is now but the doorway into an eternity of seeing the Lord face to face—but it is not to be romanticized for it is the curse of God upon sin, and the curse which He Himself bore in behalf of those whom He has chosen from among the lot of mankind even before the dawn of time. The nature of death is a dichotomy: it is the harbinger of doom for those who have shunned the Lamb that was slain even before the foundation of the world, and the herald of delights for those who through the Spirit have put their faith, through grace, in Christ—and it is in the latter consideration that we find the consolation that cuts short our sadness.

I may not have often appreciated papa's penchant for verbosity, but I know that in the future age of glory, I shall again converse with papa, with a perfection of dialogue that must necessarily mark the absence of sin, in the flesh. We love you, papa!

"When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

'Death is swallowed up in victory.'
'O death, where is your victory?

O death, where is your sting?'" (1 Cor. 15:54—55)

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