Monday, February 28, 2011

Calvin on Church Discipline

1. Necessity and nature of church discipline

The discipline of the church, the discussion of which we have deferred to this place, must be treated briefly...Discipline depends for the most part upon the power of the keys and upon spiritual jurisdiction...

But because some persons, in their hatred of discipline, recoil from its very name, let them understand this: if no society, indeed, no house which has even a small family, can be kept in proper condition without discipline, it is much more necessary in the church, whose condition should be as ordered as possible.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The 5 Points of Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deism

In Dr. Michael Horton's lecture entitled, "Christianity and Liberalism Today," delivered at Westminster Seminary California's 2011 annual conference (Christianity and Liberalism Revisited), he made mention of the 5 points of "Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deism."

The 5 points of MTD are as follows, along with my very brief commentary on each:

Point 1: God created the world.

With logical positivism dead, and with none but the stubbornest of thinkers holding on to it as a valid epistemology, it comes as no shock that the intelligent conclusion of any philosophical process is that the existence of deity at the end of all causal chains is the only rational option.

However, this output of natural revelation only gives us the "what?" and not the "who?" For the determination of the latter, we need the inerrant, inspired, and authoritative Word of God, the Bible.

To those under the vise-grip of MTD, knowing that God created the world comes as no consolation, for every human being, being made in the image of God, knows this:

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things" (Romans 1:18-23)

Point 2: God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other as taught in the Bible and most world religions.

Again, this is a product of natural revelation, with the Law being ingrained in the heart of every man. The trouble is that most, if not all, MTD-ers don't realize that God requires perfect obedience to His Law. One's estimation of what counts for goodness, niceness, and fairness will never measure up to God's standard. We need perfect obedience to be counted as righteous in God's sight.

Point 3: The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.

Considering Point 2, the MTD man's conception of happiness is essentially existential, not coming to grips with the true nature of his problem, i.e., the wrath of God that weighs heavily upon him. As long as the endorphins are kept pumping, everything is fine with the world—the world revolving around me, of course!

Point 4: God doesn't need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a personal problem.

Knowing that God created the universe (Point 1), it obviously is the case that He alone knows and has the ability to keep the MTD man happy and feeling good about himself (Point 3) when bumps or potholes along the road of life make the joyride less than enjoyable.

Point 5: Good people go to heaven when they die.

See Point 2.

More on MTD by Dr. Horton below:

Friday, February 25, 2011

You Are Not the Gospel!

A well-meaning family friend of ours, whom we've known since I was little and who still attends the Pentecostal church where we used to attend, remarked one day when we had a chance to talk that God wants His children to be materially prosperous so that the unbelievers would get attracted to their lives and begin to desire God as well.

I didn't get to correct her (I think she's as old as my mother or so), but her sentiments are indeed indicative of the predominant view among so-called "evangelicals" (and increasingly among those in the Reformed camp!) that our lives can act in the capacity of the Gospel.

Dr. Michael Horton corrects this false notion below:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Phil Anselmo Dishing Out Some Good Common Grace

I unabashedly confess that I am an inveterate metalhead (I do love jazz and classical, too, y'know. LOL), and Pantera ranks high up there among my esteemed metal bands.

In this 7-part video series, Phil Anselmo, frontman of Pantera, talks to a group of college students (taking up Music, I believe), and spews out some fine words. No, it's not the Gospel, but it is good common grace. Check it out:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Calvin on Fasting

"Let us, therefore, make some observations on fasting, since very many, not understanding what utility there can be in it, judge it not to be very necessary, while others reject it altogether as superfluous. Where its use is not well known it is easy to fall into superstition.

A holy and lawful fast has three ends in view. We use it either to mortify and subdue the flesh, that it may not wanton, or to prepare the better for prayer and holy meditation; or to give evidence of humbling ourselves before God, when we would confess our guilt before him."

John Calvin, Institutes, 4:12:14,15.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Groan, Do Not Grumble

How many excursions into sin could have been avoided if in our suffering we groaned but did not grumble? When discontent over our lot in life gets the best of us, any form of relief (be it of the destructive kind) suddenly takes on the appearance of the best of graces, and grumbling makes way to giving in.

"Diseases, aches, sicknesses, pains—they are all the daughters of sin, and he who is not sensible of them as the births and products of sin, does but add to his sin and provoke the Lord to add to his sufferings (Isaiah 26:9-11). No man shall ever be charged by God for feeling his burden, if he neither frets nor faints under it. Grace does not destroy nature, but rather perfects it. Grace is of a noble offspring; it neither turns men into stocks nor to stoics. The more grace, the more sensible [one is] of the tokens, frowns, blows, and lashes of a displeased Father.

Though Calvin, under his greatest pains, was never heard to mutter nor murmur, yet he was heard often to say 'How long, Lord, how long?'

A pious commander being shot in battle, when the wound was searched, and the bullet cut out, some standing by, pitying his pain, he replied, 'Though I groan, yet I bless God I do not grumble.' God allows his people to groan, though not to grumble. It is a God-provoking sin to lie stupid and senseless under the afflicting hand of God. God will heat that man's furnace of affliction sevenfold hotter who is in the furnace but feels it not." (Thomas Brooks (1608-1680), The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod [Pensacola, FL: Chapel Library, 2007], 26, italics original).

Let us feel the weight of our sin and of being alive in a fallen world. Savor it to the core, mindful of the truth that all this is from the hand of God, exclaiming along with the Psalmist, "Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation" (Ps. 68:19).

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Free to Get Sloshed? Some Principles Are in Order

I've come across an argument trying to justify getting drunk in front of other members of the church that goes along these lines, "Christian liberty permits me to indulge my love for alcohol even in front of people. I don't need to know the state of their consciences. It's their fault if their faith is too weak to recognize my freedom."

Well, the ff. by Sinclair Ferguson, taken from his book, "In Christ Alone," addresses this most grievous argument (found this from one of Ligonier Ministries' FB notes):

The Call of the Conduit

Notwithstanding the sad state of the pastoral ministry, both here in the Philippines and abroad, the call to preach and teach the oracles of God has never lost its gravity and importance. God, in His gracious condescension, has seen it fit to course His faith-building blessings through jars of clay, and the determination of whether one is among those chosen to be conduits of His speech must be taken very seriously.

On a subjective, personal level, determination can be commenced by asking oneself, "Do I love to study the Word of God?" "Do I endeavor to obey the Word of God?" "Do I have a desire to teach the Word of God to others?" This is in keeping with what the priest Ezra was described as being and doing, "For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel" (Ezra 7:10).

On a more objective note, the estimation of the elders of the church play the most important role in this determination. The exercise of one's gifts in the church context gives the elders the data that they would need in ascertaining (with prayerful consideration) whether the love of God's Word, the life of God's Word, and the teaching of God's Word are apparent in the individual. This process of submitting to the authority of the Church simply recognizes the Christ-representative function of the eldership and the Lord's able use of ordinary means.

Dr. Dennis Johnson has more: "Discerning One’s Call to the Ministry" and "Confirming One’s Call to the Ministry"

It Is Preached

The power of the Gospel, its condemning/killing and justifying/vivifying potency, is NOT conveyed through your life, your symbols of success, your soup kitchens, your church band—no, not even through your cliché-emblazoned t-shirts! The Gospel is an announcement; it is news, the best news that can ever be declared from human lips. Therefore, it is PREACHED.

More from Dr. Michael Horton:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Gospel: Message and Method

Pastor Nicholas T. Batzig makes the following remark in a sermon of his entitled, "Hard Pressed on Every Side": "Why are Gospel-preaching churches so small? Gospel-preaching churches are so small because the natural man hates the Gospel and will try to keep even his enemies from hearing the Gospel." The context of the statement is Acts 14, where we see the Gospel-antagonistic Jews shedding off their bigotry towards the Gentiles if only to prevent them from hearing and responding to the Gospel of the crucified Jesus. Such is the ignominy of the Gospel that other hatreds becomes loves if only to make it more hateful!

If such is the case, it may be asked to what message have these hordes of people who warm the seats of these ultra-mega-churches responded to, and by what means? Of course, mere numerical statistics don't mean error prima facie, but a mere cursory observation of the methods and doctrines (or lack thereof) of these churches would lend immense viability to Nick's statement.

For one thing, most of these churches subscribe to a paradigm of conversion that is best described as moralistic, therapeutic, deism. Preach on a subject that will foster discontent in the audience, though not about God's Law and sin—that's sure to cut the attendance by half the next Sunday! Let it be about relationships, how to carry on great marriages; or about the career, how to always be on top at the office. So you've been a failure as a husband or father; you've not been promoted in 3 years. Well, you need a Savior! Needless to say, the Gospel is not about eliminating the pet peeves from your life, but about what God has done, in Christ, to save you from Himself—with Christ living a perfectly righteous life (to satisfy God's demand of perfect obedience to the Law), dying on the cross (to satisfy God's demand of payment for your non-obedience to the Law), and rising up from the dead in order to secure for Himself a people imputed with His righteousness and declared justified by grace, through faith.

Secondly, they operate on a paradigm of conversion that is epochal. Given perhaps that the person and work of Christ was adequately preached from the pulpit (the Gospel), the working assumption is that this one time of having heard the message is enough to effect conversion, so then we have the proverbial "altar call" and "sinner's prayer." While the Lord is free to effect His saving work in such a case, it is more the exception than the rule. John Calvin states, "We are converted little by little to God, and by stages." Instead of the revival type of evangelism, it appears that the biblical mold is progressive indoctrination through Sunday preaching and Bible studies. The Holy Spirit uses the biblical truths of the Gospel as expounded in these venues, assimilated through the mind (noticia), to break its way through to the sin-hardened heart, making it realize (assensus) its need for a Savior (fiducia). This approach takes the radical depravity of the human heart and God's promise to bless His ordained means seriously. Dr. Darryl Hart gives a treatment of this in two blog posts: "The Unconverted Calvin: Part One and Two."

The Gospel's message and method are not the rave these days. No matter. Not a single one for whom Christ died shall be lost, even if his church is micro. ;-)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

That Deadly Darling

God cures David of adultery by killing his endeared child. There is some Delilah, some darling, some beloved sin or other that a Christian's calling, condition, constitution, or temptations leads him to play with and to hug in his own bosom. As in a plot of ground that lies untilled, among the great variety of weeds there is usually some master-weed, which is more plenteous and more repulsive than all the rest. So it is also in the souls of men, though there be a general mixture and medley of all evil and corrupt qualities, yet there is some one sin which is usually paramount, which is most powerful and prevalent, which sways and manifests itself more eminently and evidently than any other of them.

So, though the root of sin and bitterness has spread itself over all, yet every man has his inclination to one kind of sin rather than another. And this may be called a man's besetting sin, his bosom sin, his darling sin.

Now, it is one of the hardest works in this world to subdue and bring under control this bosom sin! Oh! the prayers, the tears, the sighs, the sobs, the groans, the distress that it will cost a Christian before he subdues this darling sin!

A man may easily subdue and mortify such and such sins, but when it comes to the master-sin, to the bosom-sin, oh! What tugging and pulling is there! What striving and struggling is there to get off that sin, to get down that sin!

Now, if the Lord, by smiting you in some near and dear enjoyment, shall draw out your heart to fall upon smiting of your master-sin and shall so sanctify the affliction as to make it issue in the mortification of your bosom corruption, what eminent cause will you have rather to bless Him, than to sit down and murmur against Him! And doubtless if you are dear to God, God will, by striking your dearest mercy, put you upon striking at your darling sin! Therefore, do not murmur, even when God touches the apple of your eye; even when He has snatched the fairest and the sweetest flower out of your bosom.

Thomas Brooks (1608-1680), The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod [Pensacola, FL: Chapel Library, 2007], 13-14, italics original.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Where Do You Get Your Water?

"Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken l me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:12-13).

In this passage pregnant with passion and feeling, the Lord inveighs against His people, Israel, for the utter inanity of their ways. Here is the Lord, the fountain of life, a never-ending source of refreshment, theirs for the taking if they would but receive and drink. But, no, they would rather engage in the back-breaking, arduous task of digging out these containers of water that have no choice but to eventually crack and dismantle into ineffectiveness—so then they dig out some more, a continuous exercise in tiresome idolatry!

It does not take much soul-searching to find that we ourselves have been drinking from our own cesspools instead of quenching our thirst on the life-giving fountain of Christ. While the Lord bids us come and drink, we go off and get sloshed on fetid beverage that can take the form of legitimate sources of providential joy gone sour by overindulgence or actual blatant excursions to sinful revelry. When all the true comfort that we can ever have in this life is in the realization "that I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him" (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A1), we settle for false hopes and aspirations.

And yet the Lord is faithful with a faithfulness that is beyond the capacity of our sinful, finite souls to comprehend, so He implores, "Return, faithless Israel, declares the Lord. I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, declares the Lord; I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt, that you rebelled against the Lord your God and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree, and that you have not obeyed my voice, declares the Lord. Return, O faithless children, declares the Lord; for I am your master; I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion" (Jer. 3:12-14).

Listen to this life-giving message by Dr. David P. Murray entitled, "Diggers or Drinkers", for a masterful exposition of the passage above.

Good Times, Bad Times, Gimme Some O' That

"For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" — Psalm 30:5.

Their mourning shall last but until morning. God will turn...
- their winter's night into a summer's day,
- their sighing into singing,
- their grief into gladness,
- their mourning into music,
- their bitter into sweet,
- their wilderness into a paradise.

The life of a Christian is filled up with interchanges of
- sickness and health,
- weakness and strength,
- want and wealth,
- disgrace and honor,
- crosses and comforts,
- miseries and mercies,
- joys and sorrows,
- mirth and mourning.

All honey would harm us
; all wormwood would undo us, a composition of both is the best way in the world to keep our souls in a healthy constitution. It is best and most for the health of the soul that the warm south wind of mercy, and the cold north wind of adversity do both blow upon it. And though every wind that blows, shall blow good to the saints, yet certainly their sins die most, and their graces thrive best, when they are under the frigid, drying, nipping north wind of calamity, as well as under the warm, nourishing south wind of mercy and prosperity.

Thomas Brooks (1608-1680), The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod [Pensacola, FL: Chapel Library, 2007], 9-10.

What Is the Gospel?

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Right and Wrong in Richard Foster

It is certainly a misconception by many who are vaguely aware of the meat and substance of Reformed theology, piety, and practice that we of the Reformed persuasion are lean on the area of private spiritual devotion. So you have the likes of Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Donald Whitney, et al. filling in the demand for more "instruction" on "spiritual formation," in the hopes of accelerating sanctification.

But whereas Scripture has laid out the three means of grace, i.e., the preaching of the Word, the Sacraments, and prayer, as the ways by which God has promised to meet us, build our faith, and hence produce the gratitude that is the ground of all God-pleasing obedience, gurus of "spiritual discipline" make much of introspection and obsessive "fruit-hunting" through devices that are really extrabiblical, taking more from mysticism than the catholic Christian faith.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Juice of Life: God's Promises

I recently bought Francis Schaeffer's "How Should We Then Live" DVD. I must say that it has been a treat watching and hearing him explain through various epochs in history how mankind finally ended up in misery, with his pitiful attempts at finding meaning in life via humanism (notwithstanding his glorious achievements in culture), by virtue of his rejection of absolutes. Though I do not agree with Schaeffer's view of neutrality (as opposed to presuppositionalism), he does adequately describe the predicament of man when in a state of independence from God.

The following quote is something that Schaeffer would definitely agree with:

"What are you driven by? What really gets you up out of bed in the morning? When everything around you seems to fall apart and life doesn't seem to work, what anchors you? Is it things that you see (circumstances as they appear to you) or is it something that you hear (God's promise) that determines things for you? Is it something inside of you or something external to you, a word that comes from outside completely challenging your experience of things? Are you driven by power, wealth, ambition, self-esteem, the acceptance of others? Or perhaps by nobler things, like making the world a better place, loving God and your neighbor, a sense of purpose and meaning?...While affirming the importance of having clear goals and a worthy focus in life, I am urging us to put purposes in their place, as servants of promise. No longer under the law's condemnation, the justified are free now to respond to God's commands out of thanksgiving for the God whose character it displays and out of love for our neighbors. The gospel saves us, giving us reason to walk through the wilderness to the promised land, and the law guides us, giving us directions for that journey. Christians are driven by God's promises, and directed by God's purposes." (Michael Horton, The Gospel-Driven Life [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2009], 133, italics original).

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