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Theology Introduction


Q. What doctrines are essential?

Adapted from John F. MacArthur, Reckless Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1997), pp. 108-17.

How are we able to determine what doctrines are essential?

To begin with, the strongest words of condemnation in all the New Testament are aimed at false teachers who corrupt the Gospel. Therefore the Gospel message itself must be acknowledged as a primary point of fundamental doctrine.

But what message will determine the content of our gospel testimony? The biblical message of instantaneous justification through faith alone-or a system of rituals and sacraments that are supposed to convey grace to the participants with no guarantee of ultimate salvation? What authority will we point people to? The Scriptures alone-or a papal hierarchy and church tradition? Those two gospels are flatly contradictory and mutually exclusive.

All these considerations determine what message we proclaim and whether that message is the authentic Gospel of true Christianity. Therefore we are dealing with matters that go to the very heart of the doctrines Scripture identifies as fundamental.

Can we get more specific? Let's turn to Scripture itself and attempt to lay out some biblical principles for determining which articles of faith are truly essential to authentic Christianity.

I. All Fundamental Articles of Faith Must Be Drawn from the Scriptures

First, if a doctrine is truly fundamental, it must have its origin in Scripture, not tradition, papal decrees, or some other source of authority. Paul reminded Timothy that the Scriptures are "able to make thee wise unto salvation" (2 Timothy 3:15, KJV). In other words, if a doctrine is essential for salvation, we can learn it from the Bible. The written Word of God therefore must contain all doctrine that is truly fundamental. It is able to make us "adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:17). If there were necessary doctrines not revealed in Scripture, those promises would ring empty.

The psalmist wrote, "The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul" (Psalm 19:7). That means Scripture is sufficient. Apart from the truths revealed to us in Scripture, there is no essential spiritual truth, no fundamental doctrine, nothing essential to soul-restoration. We do not need to look beyond the written Word of God for any essential doctrines. There is nothing necessary beyond what is recorded in God's Word.

This, of course, is the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura-Scripture alone. According to the Bible itself, no supposed spiritual authority outside "the sacred writings" of Scripture can give us wisdom that leads to salvation. No papal decrees, no oral tradition, no latter-day prophecy can contain truth apart from Scripture that is genuinely fundamental.

II. The Fundamentals Are Clear in Scripture

Second, if an article of faith is to be regarded as fundamental, it must be clearly set forth in Scripture. No "secret knowledge" or hidden truth-formula could ever qualify as a fundamental article of faith. No key is necessary to unlock the teaching of the Bible.

The truth of God is not aimed at learned intellectuals; it is simple enough for a child. "Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes" (Matthew 11:25, KJV). The Word of God is not a puzzle. It does not speak in riddles. It is not cryptic or mysterious. It is plain and obvious to those who have spiritual ears to hear. "The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple" (Psalm 19:7).

The point is not that every fundamental article of faith must be supported with an explicit proof text. The doctrine of the Trinity, for example, is certainly essential to true Christianity—and it is very clear in Scripture—but you will find no comprehensive statement of the Trinity from any single passage of Scripture.

This does not mean that a doctrine must be non-controversial in order to be considered a fundamental article. Some would argue that the only test of whether something is essential to true Christianity is whether it is affirmed by all the major Christian traditions. By that rule, hardly anything of any substance would remain to distinguish the Christian Gospel from the "salvation" offered by pagan morality or Islamic theology. "There is much truth in the remark of Clement of Alexandria; 'No Scripture, I apprehend, is so favourably treated, as to be contradicted by no one.'" (Herman Witsius, Sacred Dissertations on the Apostles' Creed [Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1993 reprint], 1:21)

III. Everything Essential to Saving Faith Is Fundamental

Third, a doctrine must be regarded as fundamental if eternal life depends on it. Scripture is full of statements that identify the terms of salvation and the marks of genuine faith. "Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6). That verse makes faith itself essential to a right relationship with God. It also expressly identifies both the existence and the veracity of God as fundamental articles of the Christian faith.

Elsewhere we are told that eternal life is obtained through the knowledge of the true God and Jesus Christ (John 17:3; 14:6; Acts 4:12). Since Jesus Himself is the true God incarnate (1 John 5:20; John 8:58; 10:30), the fact of His deity (and by implication the whole doctrine of the Trinity) is a fundamental article of faith (see 1 John 2:23). Our Lord Himself confirmed this when He said all must honor Him as they honor the Father (John 5:23).

The truths of Jesus' divine Sonship and Messiahship are also fundamental articles of faith (John 20:31).

Of course, the bodily resurrection of Christ is a fundamental doctrine, because 1 Corinthians 15:14 tells us, "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain."

Romans 10:9 confirms that the resurrection is a fundamental doctrine, and adds another: the lordship of Christ. "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved."

And according to Romans 4:4-5, justification by faith is a fundamental doctrine as well: "Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness" (emphasis added). In other words, those who seek acceptance before God on the ground of their own righteousness will find they fall short (Romans 3:27-28; Galatians 2:16-3:29). Only those who trust God to impute Christ's perfect righteousness to them are accounted truly righteous. This is precisely the difference between Roman Catholic doctrine and the Gospel set forth in Scripture. It is at the heart of all doctrine that is truly fundamental.

In fact, an error in understanding justification is the very thing that was responsible for the apostasy of the Jewish nation: "For not knowing about God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God" (Romans 10:3). Is that not the precise failure of Roman Catholicism? But "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (v. 4). In chapter 5 we will return for a closer look at the doctrine of justification by faith.

IV. Every Doctrine We Are Forbidden to Deny Is Fundamental

Certain teachings of Scripture carry threats of damnation to those who deny them. Other ideas are expressly stated to be affirmed only by unbelievers. Such doctrines, obviously, involve fundamental articles of genuine Christianity.

The apostle John began his first epistle with a series of statements that establish key points of the doctrine of sin (hamartiology) as fundamental articles of faith. "If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth" (1:6). That condemns wanton antinomianism (the idea that Christians are under no law whatsoever) and makes some degree of doctrinal and moral enlightenment essential to true Christianity. A second statement rules out the humanistic notion that people are basically good: "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (v. 8). And a third suggests that no true Christian would deny his or her own sinfulness: "If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us" (v. 10).

First Corinthians 16:22 makes love for Christ a fundamental issue: "If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed." And a similar verse, 1 Corinthians 12:3, says that no one speaking by the Spirit of God can call Jesus accursed.

The truth of Jesus' incarnation is also clearly designated a fundamental doctrine: "Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist" (1 John 4:2-3). "For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist" (2 John 7). Those verses by implication also condemn those who deny the Virgin Birth of our Lord, for if He was not virgin-born, He would be merely human, not eternal God come in the flesh.

And since those who twist and distort the Word of God are threatened with destruction (2 Peter 3:16), it is evident that both a lofty view of Scripture and a sound method of Bible interpretation (hermeneutics) are fundamental tenets of true Christianity.

V. The Fundamental Doctrines Are All Summed up in the Person and Work of Christ

Paul wrote, "No man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:11). Christ Himself embodied or established every doctrine that is essential to genuine Christianity. Those who reject any of the cardinal doctrines of the faith worship a christ who is not the Christ of Scripture.

How are the fundamentals of the faith personified in Christ?

With regard to the inspiration and authority of Scripture, He is the incarnate Word (John 1:1, 14). He upheld the written Word's absolute authority (Matthew 5:18). Christ Himself established sola Scriptura as a fundamental doctrine when He upbraided the Pharisees for nullifying Scripture with their own traditions: "Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.' Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.… You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition" (Mark 7:6-9). Our Lord had much to say about the authority and infallibility of the Word of God.

In the doctrine of justification by faith, it is Christ's own perfect righteousness, imputed to the believer, that makes the pivotal difference between true biblical justification and the corrupted doctrine of Roman Catholicism and the cults. That is what Paul meant when he wrote, "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Romans 10:4). It is also why Paul wrote that Christ is become to us righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30), and it is why Jeremiah called Him "The Lord our righteousness" (Jeremiah 23:6). The Lord Himself, Jesus Christ, is our righteousness (Jeremiah 33:16). That is the very essence of justification by faith alone, sola fide.

Of course, all the fundamental doctrines related to the incarnation—the Virgin Birth of Christ, His deity, His humanity, and His sinlessness—are part and parcel of who He is. To deny any of those doctrines is to attack Christ Himself.

The essential doctrines related to His work-His atoning death, His resurrection, and the reality of His miracles-are the very basis of the Gospel (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Hebrews 2:3-4). Reject them and you nullify the heart of the Christian message.

The fundamentals of the faith are so closely identified with Christ that the apostle John used the expression "the teaching of Christ" as a kind of shorthand for the set of doctrines he regarded as fundamental. To him, these doctrines represented the difference between true Christianity and false religion.

That is why he wrote, "Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son" (2 John 9). Far from encouraging union with those who denied the fundamental truths of the faith, John forbade any form of spiritual fellowship with or encouragement of such false religion (vv. 10-11).

So What?

It has not been my purpose here to attempt to give an exhaustive list of fundamental doctrines. Such a task is beyond the scope of this article. Furthermore, the attempt to precisely identify and number such a list of doctrines would be an extremely difficult thing to do. However, a reasonable list of fundamentals would necessarily begin with these doctrines explicitly identified in Scripture as non-negotiable: the absolute authority of Scripture over tradition (sola Scriptura), justification by faith alone (sola fide), the deity of Christ, and the Trinity.

But what are we to do with this understanding? First of all, we should resist any temptation to wield these doctrines like a judge's gavel that consigns multitudes to eternal doom. We must not set ourselves up as judges of other people's eternal fate.

On the other hand, we must recognize that those who have turned away from sound doctrine in matters essential to salvation are condemning themselves. "He who does not believe has been judged already" (John 3:18). Our passion ought to be to proclaim the fundamentals with clarity and precision, in order to turn people away from the darkness of error. We must confront head-on the blindness and unbelief that will be the reason multitudes will one day hear the Lord say, "I never knew you; depart from Me" (Matthew 7:23). Again, it must be stressed that those who act as if crucial doctrines were of no consequence only heap the false teacher's guilt on themselves (2 John 11).

We have no right to pronounce a sentence of eternal doom against anyone (John 5:22). But by the same token, we have no business receiving just anyone into the communion and fellowship of the church. We should no more forge spiritual bonds with people whose religion is fundamentally in error than we would seek fellowship with those guilty of heinous sin. To do so is tantamount to the arrogance shown by the Corinthians, who refused to dismiss from their fellowship a man living in the grossest kind of sin (1 Corinthians 5:1-3).

We must also remember that serious error can be extremely subtle. False teachers don't wear a sign proclaiming who they are. They disguise themselves as apostles of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:13). "And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness" (vv. 14-15).

In view of the current hunger for ecumenical compromise, nothing is more desperately needed in the church right now than a new movement to reemphasize the fundamental articles of the faith.



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Q. How to promote unity in theological discourse?

A Very Brief Summary Outline of a fuller paper on Convictions, Persuasions, and Opinions
Levels of belief in the Pauline Epistles: A Paradigm for Evangelical Unity

  1. 2 issues puzzle me: 1) How should believers argue, discuss, dialogue, debate over points of belief that they have different commitment to? (Emotional commitment is not the same as Personal commitment here).  I want to allow people to have just as strong emotional commitment to say eschatology as they do the divinity of Christ, but allow themselves to understand that they do not view each of those with the same level of importance or value that one has a personal commitment to (One could call this theological triage if they want).  2) I was puzzled as well by those who called themselves Christians but denied basic doctrines like the Trinity or the deity of Christ.   C. S Lewis says that the common core of Christian belief: "…turns out to be something not only positive but pungent; divided from all non-Christian beliefs by a chasm to which the worst divisions inside Christendom are not really comparable at all."[1] In the remainder of the book Lewis, in essence, establishes two categories of views: those that are a part of "mere" Christianity and those that are not.
  2. It seems to me that just about everyone who discusses biblical teaching on ecclesiastical cooperation and separation recognizes several unavoidable factors that affect how much we are able to cooperate in gospel ministry with other professing believers, how much we are compelled to withdraw from such fellowship, and when we are required to expose and rebuke error. I believe these factors include at least three specific dimensions:
    1. Proximity to the gospel (should be applied to both the thin and thick Gospel)
    2. Nature of the cooperation in view (Philosophy of Ministry would be included in this category)
    3. Exegetical certainty
    4. the spirit of the age."

    Proximity to the gospel means that some doctrines are so essential to the nature of the Christian gospel that to deny the doctrine is to deny the gospel itself. The nature of the cooperation in view recognizes that different levels of fellowship and joint gospel ministry impose different demands on agreement. To serve as an elder-pastor in a church, I would need to have a very high level of agreement on most (but not all) issues with the other elders. My level of agreement with non-elder members of the church would be less. We could permit a person to speak in our church who might not qualify for membership. We might even be able to support other churches or ministries in some specific venture whose leaders we would not permit to speak in our church. Finally, exegetical certainty means that we do not possess equal certainty on all biblical doctrines. "Baptism for the dead" is not as clear as "Jesus is Lord." A more relevant example might be some matter of Soteriology that could be very close to the center of the gospel, yet be less clear in the understanding of some than of others. A potential fourth dimension I am thinking about is what I am currently calling "the spirit of the age."  In this dimension a doctrine might rise in importance because of its prominence in a contemporary groundswell against sound doctrine. An current example might be egalitarianism, the belief that both genders should share equally leadership roles in the local church and the family.

Levels of Belief in Paul’s Letters

I find it so intriguing that Paul did not hold all of his beliefs at the same level of importance. I think we find in Paul’s letters at least three distinct levels of belief. I will call these three levels, "convictions," "persuasions," and "opinions."
1.        Convictions: Even though Paul was often a man of peace and tolerance, there were some issues so crucial and central to the faith that Paul was willing to risk dividing the body of Christ. Paul tells us about one such issue in his letter to the Galatians.
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, "If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?" (Galatians 2:11-14)
·         Paul was willing to stand and fight, even risking a public controversy, because the issue of circumcision struck at the heart of the gospel. Any compromise at this point would be tantamount to a loss of the gospel itself!  In both instances recounted in Galatians 2, Paul is acting from convictions concerning matters crucial to salvation. These are not "mere" persuasions where the Apostle, although certain he is right, can allow other believers to disagree. 
·         Convictions, for Paul, are matters of belief where the gospel itself is at stake. In these matters Paul is not "tolerant." Rather he confronts those in error and is ready to break fellowship with them if they do not repent.
2.        Persuasions: In determining if this sort of schema has any validity the central question to consider is this: “Does any New Testament writer ever indicate that he had more than one level or strength of view?”  A prime example of this second level of belief can be found in Romans 14. In verse five Paul states, "One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully persuaded in his own mind." It is important to observe that while each person is to be fully persuaded, Paul is not insisting on uniformity of view between "fully persuaded" believers. Each person can have his or her own belief, yet remain in unity with believers who disagree.
3.        Opinions. A final level of belief is found in Paul's treatment of marriage in 1 Corinthians 7. In dealing with the question of celibacy he says:
Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again least Satan tempt you because of your lack of self-control. This I say by way of concession, not of command. Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. (vs. 7-8)
·         The word for wish is thelo, which in this context expresses "desire" or "design."  Frequently it simply means "will" or "would" but sometimes the word takes on the more tentative nuance of a wish or desire. Therefore, while thelo can have a more general meaning, it frequently carries the sense of a strictly personal or even hypothetical wish. So when Paul says, "I wish all were like me," expressing his opinion that the celibate state is best.
·         Perhaps an even clearer example of Paul expressing an "opinion" is found in 1 Corinthians 7:40. In advising the widow, he says, "But in my opinion she is happier if she remains as she is; and I think I also have the Spirit of God." "
·         Elsewhere in this passage, Paul did speak authoritatively. In verse 12, the apostle undoubtedly expected his directives to be literally obeyed for he concludes his discussion in verse 17 with "and thus I direct (diatassomai) . . . ." In this verse, we find no hint of a disclaimer, no room left for individual conscience. But verses 25 and 40 are quite different. Clearly neither of these is in the nature of a universal directive; for each carries a disclaimer in a nearby verse.
4.        Clarification: I want to stop a minute to clarify something that may be confusing. Often when I have taught these ideas in the past, some have misunderstood me to be saying that what distinguishes one level of belief from another is how strongly a person feels about something. So let me say it as clearly as I can, what separates these levels of belief is not the psychological or subjective "strength" with which one holds a belief. An individual might feel very strongly about an issue and still choose, based on biblical or theological criteria, to class her view as a persuasion or an opinion rather than a conviction.  Example: Abortion.
5.     Judgment Calls: What I mean by a "judgment call" is a decision that has to be made when no specific rule of Scripture refers explicitly to your circumstances.  There is no passage in Scripture that says, "When a young missionary has forsaken the work on his first journey, you shall give him a second chance after 18 months of penitent and faithful service." And no Biblical text says not to.  Instead we have principles that say, "Encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all." And we have principles which say that leaders in the church should be above reproach, and well-tested. One principle stresses the glory of God's mercy. Another principle stresses the glory of God's calling. One principle accents the bounty of God. The other principle accents the holiness of God.
·         Some of our decisions are governed by explicit Biblical commands -- thou shalt not commit adultery! But most of our decisions in life are an effort to apply Biblical principles to situations that the Bible does not deal with explicitly. And the problem is that we often differ on how to do this. Matthew Henry calls these issues "points of prudence." Listen to his wise and sober words:
Even those that are united to one and the same Jesus, and sanctified by one and the same Spirit, have different apprehensions, different opinions, different views, and different sentiments in points of prudence. It will be so while we are in this state of darkness and imperfection; we shall never be all of a mind till we come to heaven, where light and love are perfect. (Commentary, vol. 6, p. 200)
·         In Acts 15:38 the word Luke uses to describe Paul's conviction that Mark should not go fits this idea. It says, literally, "But Paul did not count it fitting, or proper, to take along one who had withdrawn. . ." It was an issue of spiritual prudence, an issue of propriety and fitness and strategic wisdom.
·         But what does wisdom dictate in a choice like this? Barnabas seemed to focus on the need and potential of Mark. Paul seemed to focus on the demands and potential of the larger cause of the Gospel and the honor of the mission.
·         I don't think we should see this as all bad. It's the rancor and bitterness and resentment that are bad. But is it bad that one mission agency perceives wisdom in one strategy and another agency perceives wisdom in another strategy, so that two mission agencies are formed? In fact there are agencies today with extremely high standards for their candidates more like Paul's and their are agencies who will send almost anyone who wants to go. Is that all bad?
·         The point here is simply this: most of our life and ministry is made up of those kinds of decisions -- the application of Biblical principles to situations not explicitly dealt with in the Bible. And therefore complete agreement in these areas will not happen in the body of Christ until we no longer see through a glass darkly. And I suggest that we not too quickly assume that our different strategies for Christ are a bad thing.
6.        Distinguishing between these 3 levels of belief: Convictions are central beliefs, crucial to salvation, over which we should be willing to denounce someone in serious disagreement and (if there is no repentance) eventually divide fellowship.  Persuasions are beliefs about which we are personally certain but which are not crucial to salvation. We must accept those with differing persuasions as members in good standing of God’s family even when we are certain they are wrong.  Opinions are beliefs about subjects which either: we have a preference, but acknowledge that others may also be right in holding a different view, or we do not have any confidence that we yet know the truth of the matter.

So What?

In this section, I will try to show some of the everyday aspects of holding these belief levels.
1.        Convictions. I believe we should have very few convictions. We should be willing to die (or suffer ridicule) for our convictions.
2.        Persuasions. Most Christians have a fair number of persuasions. The number of our persuasions generally increases as we study. Persuasions should be subjects we have studied enough to be entitled to a clear view on the subject.  Examples might be: Millennial views, the role of "tongues," and capital punishment.
3.        Opinions. We will have many opinions and they will change fairly frequently. Opinions may be on subjects which either we have not personally studied or on which the Bible is silent or ambiguous.  Examples might be: How long until Christ returns? Which is the best Bible translation? What is the proper size of the US military budget?
4.        Judgment Calls:
5.        Boundary Statements. I would like to draw out one final implication of this “convictions, persuasions, opinions classification scheme.”  From the very early centuries of Christianity down to the present day, many churches, denominations, and other Christian groups have drafted lists of their beliefs. These lists are usually called creeds, doctrinal statements, or statements of faith. I have long pondered the question, "what sorts of beliefs properly belong in these kinds of boundary statements?" Now you may be thinking that my answer is obvious. You may think I will say only conviction level beliefs belong in these faith statements, but that is not my conclusion. If boundary statements were only written to clarify who is, and who is not, a true Christian, then it might make sense to include only conviction level beliefs.
[2]  However, many doctrinal statements, especially in recent centuries, are designed to capture the distinctives of a ministry or a particular group of Christians and include a mixture of conviction, persuasion, and sometimes even opinion level beliefs.[3]   Also boundary statements must decide on the issues that effect a church’s ecclesiology and philosophy of ministry because these issues will effect the message, theology and ministry action of the church.  The leaders must be committed to teaching the truths that are contained in the confession.  Leadership within a church must have both theological and philosophical unity in order for the church to be healthy. 
Application and Conclusion
Inerrancy: After considerable study and thought this writer has concluded that inerrancy must be held at a conviction level of belief.  Without a confidence in the Scriptures and a general hermeneutic closely akin to that of the Chicago Statement, conclusions of the sort reached in this article could not be held consistently and would likely not long endure.  As that document states, in part: … we further deny that inerrancy can be rejected without grave consequences, both to the individual and to the Church.
Creationism: Must evangelicals reject at the conviction level all forms of theistic evolution?  More specifically, is belief that the “days” in Genesis 1 were literal 24 hour days essential to the Christian faith?  The levels of belief paradigm might be applied to this issue in the following fashion.  At the conviction level all evangelicals can agree that God is the Creator, the ultimate source of all that exists.  This is definitely a doctrine that is central to salvation for if he did not create man then he is not accountable to Him and may not need Salvation.  But the exact timing of the creation can be held at the persuasion level or opinion level.  While scholars may want to discuss or even debate this issue, they need not imply that all those who disagree are somehow similar to those who have deserted the faith for other gods.
Conclusion: Extensive further development of a paradigm of this sort couldbe a great boon to the Christian world.  Increased clarity concerning what is truly central and crucial and what is not could assist in promoting cooperative efforts in evangelism, follow-up, and discipleship of new believers and in setting agenda for churches that desire to grow.
The evangelical community needs a careful, thorough, lucid, systematic theology that makes a concerned attempt to delineate what is central and nonnegotiable in the Christian faith from what is valuable but secondary.  It is this writer’s persuasion that such a work would be of inestimable value to younger believers, pastors, theological students, and scholars alike.




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Christian Hedonism


Q. Are We Obligated to Pursue our Joy?

The Grand Obligation
The Pursuit of Joy

Does It Really Follow that We Should therefore Pursue our Joy in God?
Another pivotal quote from C. S. Lewis:
The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire.
If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,1965], pp. 1-2.)

There Are Biblical Commands to Pursue Our Joy in God
Psalm 37:4
Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart.
Psalm 32:11
Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous ones; and shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart.
Psalm 33:1
Sing for joy in the LORD, O you righteous ones; praise is becoming to the upright.
Psalm 67:4
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy; for You will judge the peoples with uprightness and guide the nations on the earth.
Psalm 100:1
Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth. Serve the LORD with gladness; come before Him with joyful singing.
Philippians 4:4
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!

There is a Biblical Threat if We Will Not Pursue Our Joy in God
Deuteronomy 28:47
Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things; therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you.

The Essence of Evil and Sin Is to Pursue Satisfaction Outside God
Jeremiah 2:12-13
"Be appalled, O heavens, at this, and shudder, be very desolate," declares the LORD. "For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water." 

An Essential Element of Saving Faith Is Being Satisfied with All That He Is for Us
Hebrews 11:6
And without faith it is impossible to please God, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
John 6:35
Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst."
2 Corinthians 1: 24
Not that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm.

The Affections (Emotions) Are Biblically Essential to Christian Living
No feelings of covetousness
Exodus 20:17
You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Contentment
Hebrews 13:5
Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, "I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,"
Fervent Brotherly Love from the Heart
1 Peter 1:22
Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart.
Hope
Psalm 42:5
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.
1 Peter 1:13
Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, hope fully in the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Fear
Luke 12:5
But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!
Romans 11:20
Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear.
Peace
Colossians 3:15
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.
Zeal and fervency
Romans 12:11
. . . not lagging behind in diligence, [be] fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.
Sorrow
Romans 12:15
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
James 4:9
Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.
Desire
1 Peter 2:2
Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.
Tenderheartedness
Ephesians 4:32
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
Gratitude
Ephesians 5:19-20
Speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.
Lowliness
Philippians 2:3
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with lowliness regard one another as more important than yourselves.

Problems
1) Can we govern our feelings?
2) What if they are not there; what do we do?

The Meaning of Conversion is the Awakening of Delight in the Glory of God
Deuteronomy 30:6
Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.
Jeremiah 32:40
I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me.
Ezekiel 11:19-20
And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God.
Ezekiel 36:26 –27
Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.
John 3:19-20
This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. "For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.
2 Corinthians 4:4-6
The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

Praising God (Worship) Is, in Essence, Prizing God
Philippians 1:19-23
I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better;

Love for People Is the Overflow and Expansion of Joy in God
2 Corinthians 8:1-8
Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints . . . I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also.
2 Corinthians 9:7
Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
1 Peter 5:2
Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness.
Hebrews 13:17
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.
Acts 20:35
In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"
Luke 12:33
Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys.
Hebrews 10:32-34
But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.
Hebrews 11:24-26
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.
Hebrews 12:1-2
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 13:12-14
Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.

Pride and Self-pity Are Overcome by the Pursuit of Joy in God
Mark 10:23-30
And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, "How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!" The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." They were even more astonished and said to Him, "Then who can be saved?" Looking at them, Jesus said, "With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God." Peter began to say to Him, "Behold, we have left everything and followed You." Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life."

The Words of David Livingston
On December 4, 1857, David Livingstone, the great pioneer missionary to Africa, made a stirring appeal to the students of Cambridge University, showing that he had learned through years of experience what Jesus was trying to teach Peter:
For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. . . . Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice. (Cited in Samuel Zwemer, "The Glory of the Impossible" in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, Ralph Winter and Stephen Hawthorne, eds. [Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1981], p.259. Emphasis added.)

There is Self-denial, but All for the Sake of Ultimate Satisfaction in God
Mark 8:34-35
And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it."
Matthew 13:44
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Suffering is Required and Sustained by the Pursuit of Joy in God
Romans 8:17-18
If [we are] children, [then we are] heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
2 Corinthians 4:16
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Matthew 5:10
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Romans 5:2-4
We exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope. 

The Duty of Serving God is Sustained by the Joy of Being Served by God
Acts 17:25
God is not served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things.
Psalm 50:12-15
If I were hungry I would not tell you, For the world is Mine, and all it contains. Shall I eat the flesh of bulls Or drink the blood of male goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving And pay your vows to the Most High; Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.
1 Peter 4:11
Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Isaiah 64:4
For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear, Nor has the eye seen a God besides You, Who works for the one who waits for Him.
2 Chronicles 16:9
For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.



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Q. Why Prusuing your Pleasure in God is not an Endorsement of the Prosperity Gospel?

Delight Yourself in the Lord! (Ps. 37.4)
Sam Storms - www.enjoyinggodministries.com
May 18, 2007

I am an unashamed, passionate advocate of Christian Hedonism. I’m sure there are some who think that’s akin to saying that I enjoy eating fried ice or drawing round squares. After all, aren’t Christianity and Hedonism mutually exclusive? This isn’t the place to explain why they aren’t. I’ve done that elsewhere at some length (see my books, Pleasures Evermore and One Thing, and of course, John Piper’s classic defense in his book, Desiring God).
I’ll simply say that I’m a hedonist because I believe it is impossible to desire pleasure too much. But I’m a Christian hedonist because I believe the pleasure we cannot desire too much is pleasure in God and all that he is for us in Jesus.
Of the many biblical texts I could cite to defend this concept, none is more explicit than what David says in Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
David doesn’t say, “Delight yourself.” Such would be an endorsement of secular, self-indulgent hedonism. Hedonism as it is found in the world at large is a philosophy of life and decision-making which says that choices should be made based solely on their capacity to bring us the greatest degree of personal pleasure. Hedonism, then, is the pursuit of pleasure as an end in itself. But David's counsel is that we delight ourselves in God!
I once asked John Piper how we avoid reading this text as an endorsement of the prosperity gospel or a gospel that uses God to get goodies, so to speak. In other words, what prevents us from seeking our joy and satisfaction in God as a pathway to laying hold of other desires of the heart?
He responded by saying that the “desires” of the heart must be desires that are satisfied in more of God in more and more ways. If that were not the case, we would not truly be delighting in God as an end in itself but only using God to get what we enjoy more than what may be found in him alone. He wrote to me: “I often say that the desire of the heart that we get is God himself. True. But the text implies plurality, and so I am willing to say that we get more of God in more ways when we delight in him. It does not promise that all we can conceive of enjoying will come to us, but that our desires to taste more of God in many ways will be arranged according to God’s wise and loving plan.”
We should also note that if your delight is wholly in God then your desires will not be for anything that would diminish his centrality in your soul. You won’t want anything that has the potential of turning your heart to trust in anyone but him. If your “desires’ are for the stuff of this world that would detract from your complete satisfaction in God, then you aren’t truly delighting yourself in him.
That said, let's notice two things about this statement.
First, it is a command. This isn't something we are to "pray about" or "consider", as if it were an option or choice. This is a moral obligation binding on all. You can't respond to this statement by saying: "Thanks, God, but no thanks. I think I'll pass on this one. It's just not my style. It's not in keeping with my personality or temperament or spiritual gifts. But thanks anyway." No. Such would be sin! In a word: delight is a duty.
Second, delight or joy is also a feeling, an emotion, an affection, a subjective experience that is ultimately not under our control. It isn't something we can produce by an act of will. God has to awaken and stir and evoke such affections in our souls. He uses a variety of means to this: Scripture, creation, the sacraments, obedience, prayer, worship, meditation, etc. Our responsibility, as Jonathan Edwards put it, is “to lay ourselves in the way of allurement.” God’s responsibility is to allure.
How, then, are we to fulfill this command? Or, better still, in what ways does this delight manifest itself in our lives? I delight myself in my wife by spending time with her. I delight myself in baseball by watching the game and reading the box scores. I delight myself in ice cream by eating it. I delight myself in my grandsons by playing with them. I delight myself in a book by reading it. But how do we delight ourselves in God? Let me suggest four ways.
(1)        Intellectual fascination. We must make use of the mind to set ourselves to know him. I have in view intellectual enthrallment with God in which our understanding of him is expanded and intensified. Know him. Learn of him. Study him. Explore his ways. Investigate his will. Become a student of the personality and character of God and he will most surely captivate your mind.
In sum, trust God to be sufficiently intriguing that you will be ruined for anything else!
(2)        Aesthetic adoration. We are fundamentally, and by God’s design, aesthetic creatures. Being fashioned in the image of God means, at least in part, that we are instinctively drawn to beauty and repelled by ugliness. We have an innate capacity to recognize and rejoice in beauty (unless, of course, we pervert and diminish that capacity by hardening our souls in unrepentant sin). God is ultimate Beauty. To delight in him is to behold his beauty in all its vast array: the symmetry of his attributes, the intricacies of his handiwork, the splendor of his power, the majesty of his mercy, and the list could go, quite literally, infinitely. We must therefore labor to cultivate our aesthetic sensibility and refine our taste for the sweetness of his glory.
In sum, trust God to be sufficiently beautiful that all idols become ugly in comparison!
(3)        Emotional exhilaration. Our affections are also designed to find their focus and fulfillment in God. He is worthy of our zeal, love, devotion, delight, fear, joy, passion, gratitude, and hope. Although we do not see him now, we “love him,” and “believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8). With the Spirit’s help we must learn to cultivate and re-direct all affections so that they are rooted in him and riveted on him.
In sum, trust God to be sufficiently enjoyable that all else pales in comparison!
(4)        Volitional dedication. Delighting in the Lord also entails the engagement of our wills and the choices we make.
We must do two things. First, we must choose to obey his commands, and second, we must choose to avoid all that he has prohibited. Obedience nourishes delight and joy. God's commands are his prescription for happiness and spiritual health. We must therefore trust God when he says that sin will corrupt and destroy. We must trust God when he says obedience will bless and enrich.
Disobedience dulls and anesthetizes our spirits to God's presence and activity. It's like injecting Novocain into our spiritual nerves. Disobedience diminishes our capacity to delight in him; it drains our spiritual energy; it lays waste to our ability to focus on God and trust him confidently. It unleashes in our spiritual system a toxin that will progressively cause our spiritual eyes to go blind and our spiritual ears to go deaf. To the extent that we insist on eating the appealing, but ultimately toxic, delicacies of this world, our spiritual taste buds will lose their sensitivity to enjoy the sweet savor of Jesus.
In sum, trust God’s commandments to be sufficiently good that the ways of the world are exposed as noxious and fatal.
Don’t treat delight or joy as merely an after-effect of obedience, a mere by-product of duty. Make your joy in Jesus central in all you do and say and think, for in your gladness in him is his glory in you most vividly seen!
Joyful, joyful we adore Thee!


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Q. What is Christian Hedonism?

Christian Hedonism

"Christian Hedonism" almost sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn't it? If the term makes you squirm, we understand. But don't be too quick to pass us off as heretics or just another ease-obsessed American theology. Probe a little further. We are simply stating an ancient, Biblical truth in a fresh way.
All of us seek our own happiness. In other words, everyone is a hedonist. No matter what we say, we only act on what we think will make us the most happy ultimately, or the least miserable. We will gladly forego short-term pleasures if we believe the long-term benefits far outweigh the sacrifice. And we will ignore long-term consequences if we believe short-term pleasures are worth the risk.

On the surface, this sounds as though we want the universe to revolve around us. What about God? To answer this question we need to understand a crucial truth about pleasure-seeking (hedonism): we honor most what we delight in the most. Pleasure is a gauge which indicates how valuable we consider someone or something to be. Pleasure is the measure of our treasure. We know this intuitively. When a friend says to us, "I really enjoy being with you," we do not get angry and reply, "Stop being so selfish! Is your enjoyment all that matters to you?" We realize that we are honored by our friend's delight in us. Our "worth" is "glorified" by his satisfaction in us. The same is true of God. If we delight ourselves most in God, as the Bible commands (Psalm. 37:4), we demonstrate that God is our most precious treasure. Sin is simply delighting in someone or something else more than we do God.

Therefore, a Christian Hedonist seeks the supreme pleasure which is in God himself. He does not try to turn God into a means for gaining worldly pleasures. That would be idolatry. And it would be settling for "molehill" pleasures rather than "Mount Everest" pleasures! Nor does a Christian Hedonist sink back from suffering for Jesus in this world, but gladly counts his life as loss that he might gain Christ (Philippians 3:8).

John Piper (Introduction, Desiring God, Multnomah, 2nd ed. 1996, p. 23) explains it this way. "Christian Hedonism is a philosophy of life built on the following five convictions:

  1. The longing to be happy is a universal human experience, and it is good, not sinful.
  2. We should never try to deny or resist our longing to be happy, as though it were a bad impulse. Instead we should seek to intensify this longing and nourish it with whatever will provide the deepest and most enduring satisfaction.
  3. The deepest and most enduring happiness is found only in God. Not from God, but in God.
  4. The happiness we find in God reaches its consummation when it is shared with others in the manifold ways of love.
  5. To the extent we try to abandon the pursuit of our own pleasure, we fail to honor God and love people. Or, to put it positively: the pursuit of pleasure is a necessary part of all worship and virtue. That is, the chief end of man is to glorify God BY enjoying him forever. Another way of saying it is,

"God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him."



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Worship


Q. Is Worship the Ultimate Purpose of Living?

 

WORSHIP IS AN END IN ITSELF
September 13, 1981 (Morning) • Bethlehem Baptist Church •  John Piper, Pastor

I want to try this morning to create a consciousness in our church that worship is an end in itself. I want us to have this conviction: that worship should never be pursued as a means to achieving something other than worship. Worship is never a step on our way up to any other experience. It is not a door through which we pass to get anywhere. It is the end point, the goal.

I remember one night in my room in Saint Hall at Wheaton College my senior year. I was struggling with what should motivate me to try to win people to Christ. I asked myself "What's the goal of winning people to faith in Christ?" And I answered, uncomfortably, "So that they can help win others." But then I translated that purpose into an actual witnessing experience. Suppose a person asks me: "Why do you want me to become a Christian?" And I say, "So you can win others." Won't a thoughtful person look at me and say, "Well now, that's strange. You mean the goal of your religion is to recruit people to recruit other people to recruit other people on and on? Where's the substance? Where's the content?" I remember how miserable I felt as I realized how empty and mechanical my life with Christ had become. I could never have suggested such an empty answer to "Why evangelize?" if my own life or worship had been a real end in itself. Of course the purpose for winning people to Christ is not that they might win others. It's that they might bring honor to God in worship and that they might experience the joy of trusting God's mercy. We do not recruit people to recruit others. We recruit people for God! The content, the substance, the life, the goal, the end is God and the joyful experience of ascribing glory to him. Evangelism is not an end in itself. Worship is an end in itself.

From that point on, all my thinking about the church revolved around the uniqueness of worship. Of all the activities in the church, only one is an end in itself: worship. Horizontal fellowship among believers is not an end in itself. Fellowship in scripture is considered to be very largely for the purpose of encouraging faith and stirring up love: "Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another all the more as you see the Day drawing near." It is right to seek fellowship specifically with the aim of being encouraged in faith and stirred up to love. But even though a genuine experience of worship can produce those same results (of stronger faith and zeal to love), yet the genuineness and authenticity of our worship is threatened if we treat it as a means to some other experience.

So fellowship is not an end in itself, and the same can be said of all other ministries in the church. Christian education is not an end in itself, because knowing is not an end in itself. We seek to know God so that we might be moved to hope in God. The aim of Christian education is stated in Psalm 78:5-7: "God established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children so that they should set their hope in God …" The Bible does not present knowledge for its own sake, but rather for the kindling of faith and hope in God. As Romans 15:4 says, "Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scripture we might have hope." Education is not an end in itself.

Nor is financial stewardship an end in itself. We would be very upset if our money were ceremonially burned after the collection. We expect it to be a means to the sending of missionaries, the care of the distressed, the preservation of our meeting place. And so on, down the line, the same point could be made about all the things we do as believers. They are not ends in themselves. Only worship is an end in itself. Only worship should not be done as a means to achieving something other than itself.

But now a question arises. Are not the communion of saints in fellowship and the dissemination of Christian knowledge in preaching and the giving of tithes and offerings -- are not all these parts of our worship services? How can you say that none of these is an end in itself and yet have them as integral parts of our worship which is an end in itself? That's a good question, and to answer it we need to examine now what worship is. We will begin with the morning text, Matthew 15:8, 9.

Jesus quotes from Isaiah 29:13 in order to express the root problem with the Pharisees' way of life. "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men." The first thing I want us to see from these two verses is that the parallel between "this people honors me" in verse 8 and "they worship me" in verse 9 shows that at the essence of all worship is the act of honoring God. That does not mean making God honorable. We don't improve upon God in the least when we worship him. Honoring God means recognizing his honor, feeling the worth of it and ascribing it to him in all the ways appropriate to his character. "Honor and majesty are before him, strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name (Ps. 96:6-8). That is the first thing I want us to see: that worship involves an act of reflecting back to God in praise the glories emanating from his presence.

The second thing I want us to see in Matthew 15: 8, 9 is that worship can be thought of in two different ways. When God says, "In vain do they worship me" or, "with their lips they honor me," he implies that worship can be thought of as a series of acts or words that are performed in obedience to Biblical commands or liturgical tradition. Worship throughout Biblical history always involved action. The main word for worship in Biblical Hebrew means "to bow down." Worship was performed in bowing, lifting the hands, kneeling, singing, praying, reciting scripture, etc. All this can be called worship. But all this can also be done when the heart is far from God.

We all know this sort of experience in our ordinary life. One man retires from the firm loved by all, respected by his colleagues, admired by the junior executives. When the party is given to honor him everyone knows that the hand shakes, and speeches and congratulations and gold watch are sincere. They come from the heart. But then a few years later old Grumble-Full retires and out of duty the party is given with the same handshakes and speeches and gold watch, but everyone knows this time that honor was paid with the lips but the heart was far away. Or haven't you sat through a school talent show and observed how some applause comes from internal appreciation, but other applause comes from external expectation.

Those two different experiences correspond to two different senses in which we use the word "worship." The one is a series of activities performed by the body and mind. The other is an experience of the heart which may or may not find outward expression. It seems clear to me that when the Bible commands us to worship, it is not commanding us to honor God with our lips while our heart is far from him. When David says, "Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness" (Psalm 29:2), and when Jesus says, "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou serve (Matt. 4:10), and when the angel says to John in Revelation 19:10, "Don't worship me; worship God," we can be sure that they did not mean perform liturgical acts regardless of your heart's condition. In those commands worship refers to an experience of the heart that is anything but far from God. This is the second meaning of worship implied in our text and this is the worship I have in mind when I say worship is an end in itself.

Now what is this experience of the heart like? We've seen already that it is more than action; it is more than kneeling and praying and singing and sitting and reciting scripture and eating the Lord's Supper. But it is also more than willing. Genuine worship is never a mere act of will-power. All those activities of worship require the exertion of our will. But they do not become genuine worship by virtue of that. When God says, "Their heart is far from me," he does not mean they don't have the will power to go through the motions. Sure they do. But their heart is still far away from God. The reason is that the drawing near of the heart to God means the coming alive of our feelings for God. Worship is an affair of the heart. It is an affair of feeling and of emotion.

I feel right now in an almost impossible pastoral position. What I want to say can be so easily categorized and dispensed with as emotionalism on the one hand or dead decency on the other, depending on your personality and experience. We live in a peculiar time. On the one hand, fascination with feelings is rampant. Psychology is the science of our era. Book after book helps us analyze our emotions and cope with their ups and downs. On the other hand, there is a widespread suspicion of emotion and embarrassment about expressing feelings, especially in the mainline churches (like ours). In response to this situation I want to say first that genuine worship is based on the mind's perception of historical and Biblical truth. It has solid intellectual content. It is not the frenzied emotional product of manipulation or gimmickry. But that is not our problem. We are not in danger of emotionalism. Far from it. Our problem -- and not ours only, but the problem of our Conference and of most evangelicals nationwide -- is that we do not realize that there is no genuine worship where feelings for God are not quickened. There is not true worship where the heart is far from God. But the heart's approach to God happens in the quickening of our feelings for God. Therefore, where feelings are dead, so is worship.

Now let's be specific. What are these feelings that make the outward acts of worship authentic? What are the feelings toward God that turn learned forms into genuine worship? For a sampling of the extraordinary rich emotional responses in worship, we do best to look into the world's richest book of worship, the book of Psalms. Some of the highest worship begins with the feeling of brokenness and contrition and grief for sin. "The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise" (Psalm 51:17). I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin"(Psalm 38:18). Mingled with the feeling of genuine contrition is the feeling of longing or desire. "As a hart longs for the flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God" (Ps. 42:1,2). Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides thee. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:25, 26). Also mingled with our sense of sin and our longing for his mercy is the feeling of fear and awe before the holiness and magnitude of God. "I will worship toward thy holy temple in the fear of thee" (Psalm 5:7). "Let all the earth fear the Lord, let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him" (Psalm 33:8). And as he approaches, forgiving all our iniquity, crowning us with honor, satisfying us with good (Ps. 103:3-5), our hearts well up with the feeling of gratitude. "Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him, and bless his name!" (Ps. 100:4). And mingled with our gratitude are the feelings of joy and hope. "Be glad in the Lord and rejoice and shout for joy all you upright in heart" (Ps. 32:11). "Why are you downcast, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God" (Ps. 42:5). These are examples of some of the feelings that come from God and move us to God in genuine worship: contrition, sorrow, longing, desire, fear, awe, gratitude, joy, hope. When these feelings are quickened, the heart is no longer far from God. Worship is no longer lip-service. It is genuine and authentic.

And now perhaps, coming full circle, it is clearer why I must say true worship is an end in itself. If that which turns habitual forms into true worship is the quickening of these feelings in the heart, then true worship cannot be performed as a means to some other experience. Feelings are not like that. Genuine feelings cannot be manufactured as stepping stones to something else. If the telephone rings and the voice on the other end says, "Johnny, this is Bob, good buddy; your mother and dad were in a serious bus accident. Your mom didn't make it and your dad is hurt bad," you don't sit down and say, "Now to what end shall I feel grief? What can I accomplish if I cry for the next half-hour?" The feeling of grief is an end in itself. It is not performed as a means to anything.

If you have been floating on a raft without water for three days after a shipwreck on the sea, and there appears a speck of land on the horizon, you don't say, "Now to what end shall I feel desire for that land? Even though the longing in your heart may give you the power to get there, you do not perform longing in order to get there. The longing sweeps into you from the value of the water that is on that land. Even though longing is always for something we do not yet have, nevertheless it is not an artificial concoction of the will; it is not planned and performed as a means to getting what we desire. It rises spontaneously in the heart and as a feeling is an end in itself.

If you are camping in the Boundary Waters and awaken to the sound of snorting outside your tent, and then see in the moonlight the silhouette of a huge bear coming toward your tent, you do not say, "Now to what end shall I feel fear?" You do not calculate the good ends to which fear can be a means and then perform the act to accomplish those ends. When you stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon and watch the setting sun send the darkness down through the geological layers of time, you don't say, "Now to what end shall I feel awe before this beauty?" It is an end in itself. When a little child on Christmas morning opens his first gift and finds his "most favoritest" rocket he has wanted for months, he does not think, "Now to what end shall I feel happy and thankful?" And when that little boy enters kindergarten and starts getting picked on by some second graders, but then his big third-grade brother comes over and stands beside him, he doesn't decide to have confidence and hope swell up in his heart. They just do. They are not an act performed as a means to some other end. And so it is with all genuine emotion (i.e. emotion springing from appropriate causes) and therefore, all true worship. 'Worship is an end in itself; because God is the voice on the phone. God is the island on the horizon. God is the bear. God is the setting sun. God is the "most favoritest" rocket. God is the big brother.

And now to go back and pick up our earlier question: if fellowship, preaching and giving of offerings are not ends in themselves, why are they integral parts of our worship service, since worship is an end in itself? The answer is this: what makes a worship service authentic and genuine and pleasing to God is the quickening of our hearts with appropriate emotions. But this quickening does not happen in a vacuum. On the one side, it is caused by true perceptions of God's manifold glories. And so there must be substantial theological content in the service: in the lyrics of our hymns, in the prayers, in the scripture, the sermon. And right here is where the communion of the saints plays a crucial role. A heart-quickening truth may be heard from a hymn but perceived with power when seen in the face of a sister or a brother across the room. So on the one side, there are elements of a worship service which are necessary in order to help the heart perceive the life-quickening reality of God. On the other side, the heart quickened with feeling for God must often express itself. And, therefore, our worship service must include vehicles of that expression: opportunities to give, sing, recite, pray and probably a good bit more that we have never tried.

In conclusion, by way of summary, Jesus said, "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me." Therefore, even though worship can refer to a form of activity in which the heart is distant, yet true worship which delights God is the drawing near of the heart to God, or, to put it another way, the quickening of the heart with genuine feelings in response to God's glory. Such feelings are never performances of will power calculated to accomplish other ends. They are ends in themselves. Therefore, since they constitute the heart of genuine worship, worship is an end in itself. And our Sunday morning service is unique in its focus on God who is greatly honored in such worship. And it is for his name's sake that I ask you all very earnestly to take time Saturday night and Sunday morning to prepare yourselves to meet him here, praying with the psalmist, "Open my eyes that I might behold wondrous things in your word (Ps. 119:18). And: "Unite my heart to fear thy name" (Ps. 86:11).

Copyright ©1981, 1997 John Piper
Used by permission.
Piper Notes



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Q. What is the Ultimate Priority of the Church?

First Things First
by Ronn Man -
Presented to the Summit on Church Music Ministry - Cedarville College, March 3-5, 1997

 

 The Great Commission

The Great Commission which Jesus gave to His disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) shows us God’s heart for the world and His desire for all of His children to be faithful instruments in carrying the message of the gospel to all peoples. The Commission does not stop with evangelism, however, and includes in its scope the full-orbed ministry of disciplemaking: that process by which people are not only brought to saving faith but are also mentored in the faith, with the goal of seeing believers brought to maturity, that they might obey the commands of Jesus and ultimately become disciplemakers themselves.

Many churches (as well as other Christian organizations), recognizing the pivotal importance of the Great Commission, have built it into their mission or purpose statements, either explicitly or implicitly. Considered the following examples of actual church mission statements:

1. "Our Mission: To cause God great joy by sharing His love with others as we have seen it in Jesus Christ."

2. "Our Mission: Developing fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ."

3. "[First Church] exists in order that we may glorify the Lord God through the means He has established in His Word: Evangelism (introducing people to Jesus Christ) and Edification (building believers to maturity in Jesus Christ)."

4. "For God’s glory, [Second Church] is committed to developing disciples in our area and throughout the world so that in all things Christ might have the preeminence."

5. "To the glory of God: to win, build, and equip disciples of our Lord Jesus through loving, Bible centered ministry at home and abroad."

It is commendable that so many of these groups desire to do all that they do for the glory of God. But the question arises: how do churches and individual believers most glorify God? Are the evangelization of the world and the edification of the saints the ultimate expressions of God’s purposes in creating us and saving us and calling us into His service? Does the Great Commission encompass all which we are to be about as believers?

The Great Commandment

 

Our answer must be no. The Great Commission, as pivotal as it is, is not the cornerstone of our Christian walk and service; it is not the bottom line. The Great Commandment is. Jesus explained in Mark 12:30 that the "great commandment in the law," that is, the sum and focus of all its provisions, is to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength." We are to be first and foremost lovers of God; and we are to express that love through a life and lifestyle of worship. Many have pointed out that the Great Commandment is indeed talking about the priority of worship. Sally Morgenthaler, for instance, writes relative to this passage: "Jesus knew and taught that God desires our worship above anything else. It should be number one on each of our agendas" (Worship Evangelism, p. 38).

Worshippers are what God is seeking. Morgenthaler writes: "It is significant that in John 4:23 Jesus did not say that God is seeking evangelists. He said that God is seeking worshippers" (p. 39). Throughout the Scriptures we see God’s great quest for worshippers: as He looks for Adam and Eve in hiding, as He provides in the Old Testament sacrificial system the means for a sinful people to approach Him, as He sends His Son to the cross that the way into His presence might be opened once and for all, as He sends His blood-bought church into all the world with the gospel — it is all because He is seeking worshippers, those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4: 23-24 ).

The primary way a Christian glorifies God is in worship, which at its root is the response of the heart to the Lord’s gracious initiative in one’s life, a response of adoration and love for God for who He is and what He has done (worship in truth) which wells up into outward expression out of the inner man (worship in spirit). Both the Old and New Testaments are clear that true worship begins on the inside, where only God can see (Romans 12:1; Hebrews 13:15; Philippians 3:3; I Samuel 15:22).

Worship is then "the most important activity that we can be involved in," as it has been put by John MacArthur, whose book about worship is fittingly titled The Ultimate Priority. John Piper says it this way: "Worship is the only Christian activity which is an end in itself." That is, every other spiritual endeavor — evangelism, edification, fellowship, teaching, disciplemaking — has as its ultimate aim the development of more and better worshippers.

The Great Commandment speaks of worship in that it is purely vertical in its focus; its utter God-centeredness reflects the doxological purpose of all creation. It also rightly subsumes under its expanse the Great Commission which is (by definition) more man-focused. (Look again at the mission statements quoted earlier to see just how man-focused those statements are.) Fittingly, we find worship preceding the Great Commission even in its own immediate context, where we are first told that the disciples "worshipped" the risen Jesus (Matthew 28:17).

Jesus identifies as the second greatest commandment: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:31). The Great Commission actually grows out of the interworking of the first and second greatest commandments, to love God and to love our neighbor: if we truly love God, we will follow through with the love of neighbor which He commands and enables; and the greatest love we can show to our neighbor is to help him become a lover of God, a worshiper, in his own right. John Piper begins his book on missions with this magnificent statement:

"Missions is not the ultimate priority of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. . . . [Missions] is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever." (Let the Nations Be Glad! p. 11).

Our outreach and disciplemaking must flow out of a heart which is full of worship —otherwise, as Piper points out, "How can we commend to others that which we do not ourselves cherish?" (p. 11) And our outreach and disciplemaking must lead ultimately to more worship being offered up for God’s own pleasure. (It should also be said that a church which genuinely worships will reach out -- for if the people do not grow to share God’s heart for the lost, we may wonder how close they have really come to Him in worship!)

While the sample mission statements mentioned earlier are strong on the Great Commission and rightly concerned with the glory of God, yet they are woefully lacking when it comes to acknowledging worship as the primary and ultimate focus of the church and of the individual believer. Following are some mission statements which come closer to giving worship its proper due:

1. "As a local expression of the universal body of Christ, we desire to corporately love God with all our being by worshipping Him and loving others through relevant ministry both locally and around the world."

2. "[Third Church] exists for the purpose of: magnifying Jesus through worship and the Word; making Jesus known to our neighbors and the nations; and moving believers in Jesus toward maturity and ministry."

3. "The priorities of ministry of this church flow from the vision of God’s glory revealed in Jesus Christ. We exist to savor this vision in worship (John 4:23), strengthen the vision in nurture and education (I Corinthians 14:26, II Peter 3:18), and spread the vision in evangelism, missions, and loving deeds (I Peter 2:9, 3:15, 5:16; Matthew 28:18-20)."

These statements put worship in its proper place: first. And I believe thereby God is honored, because it is clear that when we are putting worship first, we are in fact putting Him first.

Implications

This understanding has two profound implications for what we will be about the next two days.

First, we must remember that church music is, as Dr. Hustad has stressed, a "functional art." Luther called music "the handmaid of theology;" it must serve the truth which it proclaims. Church music is a means to an end, indeed the most glorious of ends: the worship of Almighty God.

The second implication has to do with how we plan our church services, for a proper understanding of the ultimate priority of worship should govern our selection of forms and styles and music used in our services. Our first question must be, not "What can we do so as to best attract and reach people," but rather "What can we do to best facilitate the corporate adoration and praise of God?" (in line with the vertical, God-centered focus which is the overriding purpose for gathering in the first place). That does not mean that we should ignore issues of contextualization and culture; but our aim must be to please God, not to please men. And our ministry to people must always have as its ultimate goal the producing of more and better worshippers.

Conclusion

By all means, let us be about fulfilling the Great Commission — but first things first! Let us first and foremost seek to love God with our entire being — heart, soul, mind and strength — and to be "filled with all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:19). May our lives of worship then overflow with a grateful aspiration to "make disciples of all the nations" — that they too might worship Him and love Him and serve Him — to the glory of His name. Amen.



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Q. What is the Biblical Case for Blended Worship

The Biblical Case for Blended Worship

Ron Man

Convergent, or blended, worship refers to the mixing and blending of both historic and contemporary expressions of worship into a diverse mosaic of praise which enfranchises and encourages the participation of all of God’s people. As such it seems to be staging a “comeback” in our day as congregations tire of providing multiple choices and dividing the congregation along generational or preferential lines.

There are sound biblical reasons for such an approach:

  1. The Nature of the Church: The Body of Christ is blended. There is room in the church for people of all races, nationalities, ages, backgrounds and temperaments. The connecting thread is the redemptive work of Christ in our lives.

“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)

  1. The Goal of the Church: Unity in Christ. The goal of the church is a unity which only the Holy Spirit can engender, molding a disparate people into one in purpose and love for the Lord.

Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
(Ephesians 4:1-3)

  1. The Goal of Worship: Worship is for God.  The issue in worship is not our pleasure, or our preferences, or our comfort, but rather the honor and praise of God. We should never presume to know conclusively what God does and not does find acceptable in the worship of Him.

“Praise Him with trumpet sound . . . .  with lute and harp . . . . with tambourine and dance . . . .
with strings and pipe . . . . with sounding cymbals . . . .  with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!”
(Psalm 150:3-6)

  1. God’s Perspective: He loves diversity. This is seen in His works of creation, and in the world of people He has made. Down through the centuries, and all around the world today, we find incredible variety in worship—in its forms, styles, music, dress, architecture, etc. We can see what a wide variety of expressions He has accepted when they are offered to His glory.

“Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.”
(Ephesians 5:18-19)

  1. God’s Priority: The heart of the worshiper.  He is much, much more concerned about the heart attitude of the worshiper than He is about the outward expression, form or style.

    “To love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding
    and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself,  is much more
    than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
    (Mark 12:33)

  1. The New Testament Warrant: No one right way.  The New Testament does not prescribe one form or style of worship for all churches. The absence of detailed guidelines suggests that God allows for considerable freedom in shaping worship to fit a particular local congregation. There are definitely consistent biblical principles which must shape and guide our worship, yet there is latitude as well.

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.” (John 4:23)

  1. A Higher Calling: The common good.  Rather than dividing our congregation along the lines of worship preference, we are committing ourselves to listen to one another and learn from another and tolerate one another’s worship tastes in the name of Christ. This is an exercise in true spirituality and discipleship in the body of Christ, as we purpose with God’s help to fulfill Paul’s mandates to “give preference to one another in honor” (Romans12:10) and to “consider one another more important than ourselves.” (Philippians 2:3) God will grow us in maturity as a body as we joyfully make concessions to one another for the common good.

This is not a new idea: in fact, from the very beginning of the church, we see Jews and Gentiles (as diverse a pairing as you will find anywhere!) joined together in the church. They learned to respect and love one another in gathered worship and in congregational life—to the glory of God and the spreading of the gospel!

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you
to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus,
that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
(Romans 15:5-6)



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Q. Why is Blended Worship Good for the Body?

Blended Worship: Good for the Body

Blended worship has as its goal the joining together of the people of God in all their diversity, under one roof and in one service, to glorify God through the offering up of corporate praise. The term "blended" speaks of the artful weaving together of varying musical styles and other elements into a seamless tapestry which honors the Lord without alienating any particular group.

The strongest argument which can be marshalled in favor of blended worship (as opposed to offering different types of services, such as "traditional" and "contemporary," or only one specialized type) is a biblical and theological one. It relates to the very nature of the church: worship should rightly be blended because the body of Christ itself is blended (see I Corinthians 12). By definition the church gathers into one living organism people from all different backgrounds and walks of life; in fact, unity within the kind of diversity seen in the church is in itself a testimony to the divine nature of the institution (Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 4:1-6) -- for, while by nature "birds of a feather flock together," Christ's body invariably includes an unusual combination of quite disparate individuals, who have in common only their faith in and love for Christ.

But that is the whole point! In order for corporate worship (unarguably the most important thing the church does together) to accurately reflect the nature and the unity of the body, it must include the people of God in all of their diversity, unified in the worship by the common focus of that worship: the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of glory.

That Christ-centered focus is the key which allows us to transcend petty, man-centered squabbles over musical taste and preference. For if we are united in our commitment to the glorification of our Lord through our worship, we will be blessedly distracted from lesser things which might divide us. And it is in our corporate worship of all places, as the most purely God-directed activity of the church, that our unity should be most in evidence. It is a scandal that worship has too often engendered the most divisiveness among God's people (in what one writer has referred to as "worship wars")!

In fact, for true blended worship to really work, all of God's people must be willing to make concessions relative to their own personal preferences - no one will get just the kind of music he or she likes all the time, but that becomes an acceptable sacrifice in light of the common good. (But it is important that all are called upon to make stylistic concessions, not just one group.) And even beyond the worth of harmonious corporate worship, the process of making such concessions is in itself a spiritual exercise of inestimable value. It is well-pleasing to the Lord when we prefer one another in such a way (Romans 12:10; Philippians 2:3) and "consider one another as more important than ourselves."

So may we focus in our worship on the One who alone is worthy of our worship, and in so doing bring to expression the oneness which all we who have trusted in Christ genuinely share. May we seek to please the Lord with our worship, bringing our humble gifts of praise and esteeming as well as the gifts which others bring, to the end that He might be honored not only by our outward expressions but also by the attitudes of hearts (which are much more important to Him anyway!). May our worship reflect the unity within diversity which is the beauty of Christ's body, blending "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs" (Ephesians 5:19) in a harmonious symphony of praise.



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Bible


Q. I want to know God's Word better. Can you provide me with a plan to help me get there?

by John MacArthur © -  www.gty.org

Here are five helpful steps to ensure you are effectively studying God's Word.

Step 1 — Reading

Begin by developing a plan on how you will approach reading through the Bible. Unlike most books, you will probably not read it straight through from cover to cover. There are many good Bible reading plans available. Here is one John recommends:

  • Read through the Old Testament at least once a year. As you read, note in the margins any truths you particularly want to remember, and write down separately anything you do not immediately understand. Often as you read you will find that many questions are answered by the text itself. The questions to which you cannot find answers become the starting points for more in-depth study using commentaries or other reference tools.
  • Follow a different plan for reading the New Testament. Read one book at a time repetitiously for a month or more. That will help you retain the New Testament so you will not always have to depend on a concordance to find things.

If you want to try that, begin with a short book, such as 1 John, and read it through in one sitting every day for thirty days. At the end of that time, you will know the book. Write on index cards the major theme of each chapter. By referring to the cards as you do your daily reading, you will begin to remember the content of each chapter. In fact, you will develop a perception of the book with your mind’s eye.

When you come to longer books, divide them into short sections and read each section daily for thirty days. For example, the gospel of John contains twenty-one chapters. Divide it into three sections of seven chapters. At the end of ninety days, you will finish John. For variety, alternate short and long books, and in less than three years you will have finished the entire New Testament—and you will really know it!

Step 2 — Interpreting

In Acts 8:30, Philip asked the Ethiopian eunuch, "Do you understand what you are reading?" Or put another way, "What does the Bible mean by what it says?" It is not enough to read the text and jump directly to the application—you must first determine what it means, otherwise the application may be incorrect.

As you read Scripture, always keep in mind one simple question: "What does this mean?" To answer that question requires the use of the most basic principle of interpretation, called the analogy of faith, which means you should interpret the Bible with the Bible.

Letting the Holy Spirit be your teacher (1 John 2:27), search the Scripture He has authored, using cross references, comparative passages, concordances, indexes, and other helps. For passages that remain unclear, consult your pastor or godly men who have written on the issues involved.

Step 3 — Evaluating

You have been reading and asking the question, "What does the Bible say?" Then you have interpreted, asking the question, "What does the Bible mean?" Now it's time to consult others to ensure that you have the proper interpretation. Remember, the Bible will never contradict itself.

Read Bible introductions, commentaries, and background books that will enrich your thinking. In your evaluation, be a true seeker. Be one who accepts the truth of God's Word even though it may cause you to change what you have always believed, or cause you to alter your life pattern.

Step 4 — Applying

The next question is: "How does God’s truth penetrate and change my life?" Studying Scripture without allowing it to penetrate to the depths of your soul would be like preparing a banquet without eating it. The bottom-line question to ask is, "How do the divine truths and principles contained in any passage apply to me in terms of my attitude and actions?"

Jesus made this promise to those who carry their personal Bible study through to this point: "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (John 13:17).

Having read and interpreted the Bible, you should have a basic understanding of what the Bible says, and what it means by what it says. But studying the Bible does not stop there. The ultimate goal should be to let it speak to you and enable you to grow spiritually. That requires personal application.

If there is a command to be obeyed, obey it. If there is a promise to be embraced, claim it. If there is a warning to be followed, heed it. This is the ultimate step: submit to Scripture and let it transform your life.

Step 5 — Correlating

This last stage connects the doctrine you have learned in a particular passage or book with divine truths and principles taught elsewhere in the Bible to form the big picture. Always keep in mind that the Bible is one book in sixty-six parts, and it contains a number of truths and principles, taught over and over again in a variety of ways and circumstances. By correlating and cross-referencing, you will begin to build a sound doctrinal foundation on which to live.



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Q. There are so many different interpretations of what the Bible is saying. How do I know which one is right?

©1996 by R.C. Sproul. Used by permission of Tyndale.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.
http://www.ligonier.org/questions_answered.php?question_id=17

That’s a problem that plagues all of us. There are some theoretical things we can say about it, but I’d rather spend time on the practical. 

The Roman Catholic Church believes that one function of the church is to be the authorized interpreter of Scripture. They believe that not only do we have an infallible Bible but we also have an infallible interpretation of the Bible. That somewhat ameliorates the problem, although it doesn’t eliminate it altogether. You still have those of us who have to interpret the infallible interpretations of the Bible. Sooner or later it gets down to those of us who are not infallible to sort it out. We have this dilemma because there are hosts of differences in interpretations of what the popes say and of what the church councils say, just as there are hosts of different interpretations of what the Bible says. 

Some people almost despair, saying that “if the theologians can’t agree on this, how am I, a simple Christian, going to be able to understand who’s telling me the truth?” 

We find these same differences of opinion in medicine. One doctor says you need an operation, and the other doctor says you don’t. How will I find out which doctor is telling me the truth? I’m betting my life on which doctor I trust at this point. It’s troublesome to have experts differ on important matters, and these matters of biblical interpretation are far more important than whether or not I need my appendix out. What do you do when you have a case like that with variant opinions rendered by physicians? You go to a third physician. You try to investigate, try to look at their credentials to see who has the best training, who’s the most reliable doctor; then you listen to the case that the doctor presents for his position and judge which you are persuaded is more cogent. I’d say the same thing goes with differences of biblical interpretations. 

The first thing I want to know is, Who’s giving the interpretation? Is he educated? I turn on the television and see all kinds of teaching going on from television preachers who, quite frankly, simply are not trained in technical theology or biblical studies. They don’t have the academic qualifications. I know that people without academic qualifications can have a sound interpretation of the Bible, but they’re not as likely to be as accurate as those who have spent years and years of careful research and disciplined training in order to deal with the difficult matters of biblical interpretation. 

The Bible is an open book for everybody, and everybody has a fair shot of coming up with whatever they want to find in it. We’ve got to see the credentials of the teachers. Not only that, but we don’t want to rely on just one person’s opinion. That’s why when it comes to a biblical interpretation, I often counsel people to check as many sound sources as they can and then not just contemporary sources, but the great minds, the recognized minds of Christian history. It’s amazing to me the tremendous amount of agreement there is among Augustine, Aquinas, Anselm, Luther, Calvin, and Edwards—the recognized titans of church history. I always consult those because they’re the best. If you want to know something, go to the pros. 



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Doctrine of God


Q. Is God Responsible for Evil?

If God is sovereign, is He responsible for evil?

By John MacArthur - http://www.gty.org/resources.php?section=issues&aid=176388

If God is sovereign, is He responsible for evil?

No. Scripture says that when God finished His creation, He saw everything and declared it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Many Scriptures affirm that God is not the author of evil: “God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13). “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33)–and if that is true, He cannot in any way be the author of evil.

Occasionally someone will quote Isaiah 45:7 (KJV) and claim it proves God made evil as a part of His creation: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things” (emphasis added).

But the New American Standard Bible gives the sense of Isaiah 45:6-7 more clearly: “There is no one besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these.” In other words, God devises calamity as a judgment for the wicked. But in no sense is He the author of evil.

Evil originates not from God but from the fallen creature. I agree with one historic theologian, who wrote,

. . . the Lord had declared that “everything that he had made . . . was exceedingly good” [Gen. 1:31]. Whence, then comes this wickedness to man, that he should fall away from his God? Lest we should think it comes from creation, God had put His stamp of approval on what had come forth from himself. By his own evil intention, then, man corrupted the pure nature he had received from the Lord; and by his fall drew all his posterity with him into destruction. Accordingly, we should contemplate the evident cause of condemnation in the corrupt nature of humanity–which is closer to us–rather than seek a hidden and utterly incomprehensible cause in God’s predestination. [Institutes, 3:23:8]

It is helpful, I think, to understand that sin is not itself a thing created. Sin is neither substance, being, spirit, nor matter. So it is technically not proper to think of sin as something that was created. Sin is simply a lack of moral perfection in a fallen creature. Fallen creatures themselves bear full responsibility for their sin. And all evil in the universe emanates from the sins of fallen creatures.

For example, Romans 5:12 says that death entered the world because of sin. Death, pain, disease, stress, exhaustion, calamity, and all the bad things that happen came as a result of the entrance of sin into the universe (see Genesis 3:14-24). All those evil effects of sin continue to work in the world and will be with us as long as sin is.

First Corinthians 10:13 promises us that God will not permit a greater trial than we can bear. And James 1:13 tells us that God will not tempt us with evil.

God is certainly sovereign over evil. There’s a sense in which it is proper even to say that evil is part of His eternal decree. He planned for it. It did not take Him by surprise. It is not an interruption of His eternal plan. He declared the end from the beginning, and He is still working all things for His good pleasure (Isaiah 46:9-10).

But God’s role with regard to evil is never as its author. He simply permits evil agents to work, then overrules evil for His own wise and holy ends. Ultimately He is able to make all things–including all the fruits of all the evil of all time–work together for a greater good (Romans 8:28).


 



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Q. How can God be for us if he pursues his glory above all things?

By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: www.desiringGod.org. Email: mail@desiringGod.org. Toll Free: 1.888.346.4700.

Listen


By DG Staff August 31, 2006

 

The ultimate ground of our joy is the fact that God's chief goal is to glorify himself forever.

John Piper writes in Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (p. 31):

God's saving designs are penultimate, not ultimate. Redemption, salvation, and resotration are not God's ultimate goal. These he performs for the sake of something greater: namely, the enjoyment he has in glorifying himself. The bedrock foundation of Christian Hedonism is not God's allegiance to us, but to himself.

If God were not infinitely devoted to the preservation, display, and enjoyment of His own glory, we could have no hope of finding happiness in him. But if he does employ all his sovereign power and infinite wisdom to maximize the enjoyment of his own glory, then we have a foundation on which to stand and rejoice.

This can be perplexing at first glance. Listen to John Piper discuss this more fully in the above audio link. Also, see especially the related link to the right for the message, "Is God for Us or for Himself?"


© Desiring God

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 1,000 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be explicitly approved by Desiring God.



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Q. What is the doctrine of the Trinity?

What is the doctrine of the Trinity?
By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: www.desiringGod.org. Email: mail@desiringGod.org. Toll Free: 1.888.346.4700.


By DG Staff January 23, 2006

 


The doctrine of the Trinity is foundational to the Christian faith. It is crucial for properly understanding what God is like, how He relates to us, and how we should relate to Him. But it also raises many difficult questions. How can God be both one and three? Is the Trinity a contradiction? If Jesus is God, why do the Gospels record instances where He prayed to God?

While we cannot fully understand everything about the Trinity (or anything else), it is possible to answer questions like these and come to a solid grasp of what it means for God to be three in one.

What Does it Mean That God is a Trinity?
The doctrine of the Trinity means that there is one God who eternally exists as three distinct Persons--the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Stated differently, God is one in essence and three in person. These definitions express three crucial truths: (1) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons, (2) each Person is fully God, (3) there is only one God.

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons. The Bible speaks of the Father as God (Phil. 1:2), Jesus as God (Titus 2:13), and the Holy Spirit as God (Acts 5:3-4). Are these just three different ways of looking at God, or simply ways of referring to three different roles that God plays?

The answer must be no, because the Bible also indicates that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons. For example, since the Father sent the Son into the world (John 3:16), He cannot be the same person as the Son. Likewise, after the Son returned to the Father (John 16:10), the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit into the world (John 14:26; Acts 2:33). Therefore, the Holy Spirit must be distinct from the Father and the Son.

In the baptism of Jesus, we see the Father speaking from heaven and the Spirit descending from heaven in the form of a dove as Jesus comes out of the water (Mark 1:10-11). In John 1:1 it is affirmed that Jesus is God and, at the same time, that He was "with God"-thereby indicating that Jesus is a distinct Person from God the Father (cf. also 1:18). And in John 16:13-15 we see that although there is a close unity between them all, the Holy Spirit is also distinct from the Father and the Son.

The fact that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons means, in other words, that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. Jesus is God, but He is not the Father or the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God, but He is not the Son or the Father. They are different Persons, not three different ways of looking at God.

The personhood of each member of the Trinity means that each Person has a distinct center of consciousness. Thus, they relate to each other personally--the Father regards Himself as "I," while He regards the Son and Holy Spirit as "You." Likewise the Son regards Himself as "I," but the Father and the Holy Spirit as "You."

Often it is objected that "If Jesus is God, then he must have prayed to himself while he was on earth." But the answer to this objection lies in simply applying what we have already seen. While Jesus and the Father are both God, they are different Persons. Thus, Jesus prayed to God the Father without praying to Himself. In fact, it is precisely the continuing dialog between the Father and the Son (Matthew 3:17; 17:5; John 5:19; 11:41-42; 17:1ff) which furnishes the best evidence that they are distinct Persons with distinct centers of consciousness.

Sometimes the Personhood of the Father and Son is appreciated, but the Personhood of the Holy Spirit is neglected. Sometimes the Spirit is treated more like a "force" than a Person. But the Holy Spirit is not an it, but a He (see John 14:26; 16:7-15; Acts 8:16). The fact that the Holy Spirit is a Person, not an impersonal force (like gravity), is also shown by the fact that He speaks (Hebrews 3:7), reasons (Acts 15:28), thinks and understands (1 Corinthians 2:10-11), wills (1 Corinthians 12:11), feels (Ephesians 4:30), and gives personal fellowship (2 Corinthians 13:14). These are all qualities of personhood. In addition to these texts, the others we mentioned above make clear that the Personhood of the Holy Spirit is distinct from the Personhood of the Son and the Father. They are three real persons, not three roles God plays.

Another serious error people have made is to think that the Father became the Son, who then became the Holy Spirit. Contrary to this, the passages we have seen imply that God always was and always will be three Persons. There was never a time when one of the Persons of the Godhead did not exist. They are all eternal.

While the three members of the Trinity are distinct, this does not mean that any is inferior to the other. Instead, they are all identical in attributes. They are equal in power, love, mercy, justice, holiness, knowledge, and all other qualities.

Each Person is fully God. If God is three Persons, does this mean that each Person is "one-third" of God? Does the Trinity mean that God is divided into three parts?

The Trinity does not divide God into three parts. The Bible is clear that all three Persons are each one hundred percent God. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all fully God. For example, it says of Christ that "in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form" (Colossians 2:9). We should not think of God as like a "pie" cut into three pieces, each piece representing a Person. This would make each Person less than fully God and thus not God at all. Rather, "the being of each Person is equal to the whole being of God."[1] The divine essence is not something that is divided between the three persons, but is fully in all three persons without being divided into "parts."

Thus, the Son is not one-third of the being of God, He is all of the being of God. The Father is not one-third of the being of God, He is all of the being of God. And likewise with the Holy Spirit. Thus, as Wayne Grudem writes, "When we speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together we are not speaking of any greater being than when we speak of the Father alone, the Son alone, or the Holy Spirit alone."[2]

There is only one God. If each Person of the Trinity is distinct and yet fully God, then should we conclude that there is more than one God? Obviously we cannot, for Scripture is clear that there is only one God: "There is no other God besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other" (Isaiah 45:21-22; see also 44:6-8; Exodus 15:11; Deuteronomy 4:35; 6:4-5; 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:2; 1 Kings 8:60).

Having seen that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct Persons, that they are each fully God, and that there is nonetheless only one God, we must conclude that all three Persons are the same God. In other words, there is one God who exists as three distinct Persons.

If there is one passage which most clearly brings all of this together, it is Matthew 28:19: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." First, notice that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinguished as distinct Persons. We baptize into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Second, notice that each Person must be deity because they are all placed on the same level. In fact, would Jesus have us baptize in the name of a mere creature? Surely not. Therefore each of the Persons into whose name we are to be baptized must be deity. Third, notice that although the three divine Persons are distinct, we are baptized into their name (singular), not names (plural). The three Persons are distinct, yet only constitute one name. This can only be if they share one essence.

Is the Trinity Contradictory?
This leads us to investigate more closely a very helpful definition of the Trinity which I mentioned earlier: God is one in essence, but three in Person. This formulation can show us why there are not three Gods, and why the Trinity is not a contradiction.

In order for something to be contradictory, it must violate the law of noncontradiction. This law states that A cannot be both A (what it is) and non-A (what it is not) at the same time and in the same relationship. In other words, you have contradicted yourself if you affirm and deny the same statement. For example, if I say that the moon is made entirely of cheese but then also say that the moon is not made entirely of cheese, I have contradicted myself.

Other statements may at first seem contradictory but are really not. Theologian R.C. Sproul cites as an example Dickens' famous line, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Obviously this is a contradiction if Dickens means that it was the best of times in the same way that it was the worst of times. But he avoids contradiction with this statement because he means that in one sense it was the best of times, but in another sense it was the worst of times.

Carrying this concept over to the Trinity, it is not a contradiction for God to be both three and one because He is not three and one in the same way. He is three in a different way than He is one. Thus, we are not speaking with a forked tongue-we are not saying that God is one and then denying that He is one by saying that He is three. This is very important: God is one and three at the same time, but not in the same way.

How is God one? He is one in essence. How is God three? He is three in Person. Essence and person are not the same thing. God is one in a certain way (essence) and three in a different way (person). Since God is one in a different way than He is three, the Trinity is not a contradiction. There would only be a contradiction if we said that God is three in the same way that He is one.

So a closer look at the fact that God is one in essence but three in person has helped to show why the Trinity is not a contradiction. But how does it show us why there is only one God instead of three? It is very simple: All three Persons are one God because, as we saw above, they are all the same essence. Essence means the same thing as "being." Thus, since God is only one essence, He is only one being-not three. This should make it clear why it is so important to understand that all three Persons are the same essence. For if we deny this, we have denied God's unity and affirmed that there is more than one being of God (i.e., that there is more than one God).

What we have seen so far provides a good basic understanding of the Trinity. But it is possible to go deeper. If we can understand more precisely what is meant by essence and person, how these two terms differ, and how they relate, we will then have a more complete understanding of the Trinity.

Essence and Person
Essence. What does essence mean? As I said earlier, it means the same thing as being. God's essence is His being. To be even more precise, essence is what you are. At the risk of sounding too physical, essence can be understood as the "stuff" that you "consist of." Of course we are speaking by analogy here, for we cannot understand this in a physical way about God. "God is spirit" (John 4:24). Further, we clearly should not think of God as "consisting of" anything other than divinity. The "substance" of God is God, not a bunch of "ingredients" that taken together yield deity.

Person. In regards to the Trinity, we use the term "Person" differently than we generally use it in everyday life. Therefore it is often difficult to have a concrete definition of Person as we use it in regards to the Trinity. What we do not mean by Person is an "independent individual" in the sense that both I and another human are separate, independent individuals who can exist apart from one another.

What we do mean by Person is something that regards himself as "I" and others as "You." So the Father, for example, is a different Person from the Son because He regards the Son as a "You," even though He regards Himself as "I." Thus, in regards to the Trinity, we can say that "Person" means a distinct subject which regards Himself as an "I" and the other two as a "You." These distinct subjects are not a division within the being of God, but "a form of personal existence other than a difference in being."[3]

How do they relate? The relationship between essence and Person, then, is as follows. Within God's one, undivided being is an "unfolding" into three personal distinctions. These personal distinctions are modes of existence within the divine being, but are not divisions of the divine being. They are personal forms of existence other than a difference in being. The late theologian Herman Bavinck has stated something very helpful at this point: "The persons are modes of existence within the being; accordingly, the Persons differ among themselves as the one mode of existence differs from the other, and-using a common illustration-as the open palm differs from a closed fist."[4]

Because each of these "forms of existence" are relational (and thus are Persons), they are each a distinct center of consciousness, with each center of consciousness regarding Himself as "I" and the others as "You." Nonetheless, these three Persons all "consist of" the same "stuff" (that is, the same "what," or essence). As theologian and apologist Norman Geisler has explained it, while essence is what you are, person is who you are. So God is one "what" but three "whos."

The divine essence is thus not something that exists "above" or "separate from" the three Persons, but the divine essence is the being of the three Persons. Neither should we think of the Persons as being defined by attributes added on to the being of God. Wayne Grudem explains:

But if each person is fully God and has all of God's being, then we also should not think that the personal distinctions are any kind of additional attributes added on to the being of God . . . Rather, each person of the Trinity has all of the attributes of God, and no one Person has any attributes that are not possessed by the others. On the other hand, we must say that the Persons are real, that they are not just different ways of looking at the one being of God...the only way it seems possible to do this is to say that the distinction between the persons is not a difference of `being' but a difference of `relationships.' This is something far removed from our human experience, where every different human `person' is a different being as well. Somehow God's being is so much greater than ours that within his one undivided being there can be an unfolding into interpersonal relationships, so that there can be three distinct persons.[5]

Trinitarian Illustrations?
There are many illustrations which have been offered to help us understand the Trinity. While there are some illustrations which are helpful, we should recognize that no illustration is perfect. Unfortunately, there are many illustrations which are not simply imperfect, but in error. One illustration to beware of is the one which says "I am one person, but I am a student, son, and brother. This explains how God can be both one and three." The problem with this is that it reflects a heresy called modalism. God is not one person who plays three different roles, as this illustration suggests. He is one Being in three Persons (centers of consciousness), not merely three roles. This analogy ignores the personal distinctions within God and mitigates them to mere roles.

Summary
Let us quickly review what we have seen.

1. The Trinity is not belief in three gods. There is only one God, and we must never stray from this.

2. This one God exists as three Persons.

3. The three Persons are not each part of God, but are each fully God and equally God. Within God's one undivided being there is an unfolding into three interpersonal relationships such that there are three Persons. The distinctions within the Godhead are not distinctions of His essence and neither are they something added on to His essence, but they are the unfolding of God's one, undivided being into three interpersonal relationships such that there are three real Persons.

4. God is not one person who took three consecutive roles. That is the heresy of modalism. The Father did not become the Son and then the Holy Spirit. Instead, there have always been and always will be three distinct persons in the Godhead.

5. The Trinity is not a contradiction because God is not three in the same way that He is one. God is one in essence, three in Person.

Application
The Trinity is first of all important because God is important. To understand more fully what God is like is a way of honoring God. Further, we should allow the fact that God is triune to deepen our worship. We exist to worship God. And God seeks people to worship Him in "spirit and truth" (John 4:24). Therefore we must always endeavor to deepen our worship of God-in truth as well as in our hearts.

The Trinity has a very significant application to prayer. The general pattern of prayer in the Bible is to pray to the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:18). Our fellowship with God should be enhanced by consciously knowing that we are relating to a tri-personal God!

Awareness of the distinct role that each Person of the Trinity has in our salvation can especially serve to give us greater comfort and appreciation for God in our prayers, as well as helping us to be specific in directing our prayers. Nonetheless, while recognizing the distinct roles that each Person has, we should never think of their roles as so separate that the other Persons are not involved. Rather, everything that one Person is involved in, the other two are also involved in, one way or another.

Notes

1.Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, (InterVarsity Press and Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), p. 255, emphasis added.
2. Ibid, 252.
3. Ibid, p. 255. While I believe that this is a helpful definition, it should be recognized that Grudem himself is offering this as more of an explanation than definition of Person.
4. Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God, (Great Britain: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1991 edition), p. 303.
5. Grudem, pp. 253-254.

Further Resources

Augustine, On the Trinity
Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God, pp. 255-334
Edward Bickersteth, The Trinity.
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, chapter 14
Donald Macleod, Shared Life: The Trinity and the Fellowship of God's People
R.C. Sproul, The Mystery of the Holy Spirit
R.C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, pp. 35-36
J.I. Packer, Knowing God, pp. 57-63.
John Piper, The Pleasures of God, chapter 1
James White, The Forgotten Trinity


© Desiring God

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 1,000 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be explicitly approved by Desiring God.



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Q. Does God love himself above all else (including mankind)?

from Shepherd's Scrapbook by

The motive of God, as displayed in Scripture, is central to Reformed theology (i.e. Calvinism). God acts for the sake of His own glory. Does this make God a narcissist? Much of what is written on blogs sinks quietly into the electronic void (sometimes that’s a good thing). I think it’s worth our time to pause here to listen carefully to this contemporary debate.

It all started last Monday.

Ben Witherington initiates (11.20.07)

The recent discussion was ignited by Bible scholar Ben Witherington, Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Asbury Theological Seminary. Witherington was reading Schriener’s new book (New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ) and came across Schriener’s thesis: “God magnifying himself through Jesus Christ by means of the Holy Spirit.”

Witherington took offense and wrote a critical blog post on Nov. 20th (“For God so loved Himself?” Is God a Narcissist?). In part he writes,

“There were various nuances and amplifications to the discussion, but the more one read, the more it appeared clear that God was being presented as a self-centered, self-referential being, whose basic motivation for what he does, including his motivation for saving people, is so that he might receive more glory. Even the sending of the Son and the work of the Spirit is said to be but a means to an end of God’s self-adulation and praise.”

Witherington defended his view of God as one who acts out of self-sacrifice for the good of others. God’s glory stems from His selflessness and sacrifice not his self-centeredness.

And Witherington ended his critique with a left hook.

“I suppose we should not be surprised that in a culture and age of narcissism, we would recreate God in our own self-centered image, but it is surprising when we find orthodox Christians, and even careful scholars doing this.”

Ouch.

With this one post, Witherington challenged centuries of Reformed theology and especially Jonathan Edwards. But his rifle also took dead aim at contemporary ministries of men like John Piper and Sam Storms.

Especially given Witherington’s scant exegetical basis for his arguments there were responses to be expected. And it didn’t take long for them to begin.

Denny Burk responds (11.21.07)

Denny Burk, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Criswell College (that cooperates with the SBC I think) in Dallas, was the first to respond. His response was centered around two main points.

1. Scripture does not present God’s “love” as an end in itself. God’s love and redemption shown towards sinners is frequently used to show that God acts in these things for His own glory (Exodus 9:16; 2 Samuel 7:26; Psalm 79:9; Isaiah 42:8; 48:9; Ezekiel 36:22, 32; John 17:5; Romans 9:17; 11:36; Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14).

“God’s love (manifested supremely in Jesus Christ crucified and raised for sinners) is a means by which His glory is manifested to the world. This is the common Arminian error. They mistakenly regard God’s means (His love and redemptive acts) as ends in themselves. But the Bible simply does not bear this out. The ultimate end or purpose of everything is God’s glory.”

2. Calvinists do not call God “narcissistic” (an “inordinate fascination with oneself”). After citing Isaiah 42:8, Burk writes,

“When sinful humans exalt themselves, it is not loving because it is a distraction from the One who truly can meet the deepest needs of fallen humanity. It is a vice for sinful people to call others to admire them and so to distract them from admiring God. God is love. Therefore He must exalt Himself so as to draw people into worship. This is not narcissistic because it is no vice for Him to exalt the beauty of His own perfections for His creatures’ enjoyment and blessing. Witherington misses all of this, and like other Arminians, removes the firmest grounding that we have for God’s love — God’s own desire to exalt the glory of His own perfections.”

In other words, God acts in love towards sinner because He is motivated for His own glory. God magnifying His own glory is the foundation for the love given to me as a sinner.

Bottom line, Burk calls Witherington out on the simple fact that God’s love towards sinners in redemption is not at odds against God acting for His own glory. Sinners like myself enjoy God forever because God is most concerned about His eternal glory.

John Piper responds (11.24.07)

It was only a matter of time before Piper responded. Piper is John Piper is the Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota and featured at desiringGod.org. Glorious and profound truths (like the motives of God!) are his lifelong study.

And his thoughts on Witherington’s critique? “Astonishing.” As expected, Piper’s response was exegetical. Piper posted a list of passages under the title “Biblical Texts to Show God’s Zeal for His Own Glory.” These passages include

Exodus 14:4; 1 Samuel 12:20-22; 2 Samuel 7:23; 2 Kings 19:34; Isaiah 43:6-7, 25; 48:9-11; 49:3; Jeremiah 13:11; Ezekiel 20:14; 36:22-23; Psalms 25:11; 106:7-8; Habakkuk 2:14; Matthew 5:16; John 5:44; 7:18; 12:27-28; 14:13; 16:14; 17:1, 24; Acts 12:23; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Romans 1:22-23; 3:23-26; 9:22-23, 17; 11:36; 15:7; Ephesians 1:4-6; Philippians 1:9,11; 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10; 1 Peter 2:12; 4:11; Revelation 21:23.

In succinct bullet points, Piper adds the following.
  • “God’s exaltation of his own glory is not narcissistic but loving, because it directs our attention away from ourselves to the one glorious reality that can satisfy our souls forever.”
  • “God’s self-glorification is not the alternative to our glorification but the foundation and goal of it, as Schreiner will make plain.”
  • “The real cultural bondage today is not that too many people are making God radically God-centered, but that most people cannot conceive of his being loving unless he is man-centered.”

    And then came the zinger.

    • “To suggest that Tom Schreiner is ‘creating God in our own self-centered image’ because he says, with the apostle Paul, that God saves us ‘for the praise of his glory’ (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14) is less an indictment of Tom than of Ben.”

     

Sam Storms responds (11.26.07)

For such an important topic of debate, Piper’s response seemed a bit short. With a new generation of blog readers interested in Reformed theology and these topics of debate, bloggers need to clearly and carefully articulate issues for them.

So I was thankful to hear Sam Storms (a long-winded blogger) jump into the discussion. Storms — a scholar of Jonathan Edwards, former professor and the man featured by Enjoying God Ministries — took time to more fully explain how we benefit from God seeking to glorify Himself.

Storm’s “brief response” was likely the longest of the three.

Because God is our greatest good, God’s seeking to magnify His glory does not impede our good. This is a fascinating argument Jonathan Edwards presented. It’s worth reading Storm’s argument at length:

“The question I most often hear in response to this is that if God loves himself pre-eminently, how can he love me at all? How can we say that God is for us and that he desires our happiness if he is primarily for himself and his own glory? I want to argue that it is precisely because God loves himself that he loves you. Here’s how.

I assume you will agree that your greatest good consists of enjoying the most excellent Being in the universe. That Being, of course, is God. Therefore, the most loving and kind thing that God can do for you is to devote all his energy and effort to elicit from your heart praise of himself. Why? Because praise is the consummation of enjoyment. All enjoyment tends towards praise and adoration as its appointed end. In this way, God’s seeking his own glory and God’s seeking your good converge.

Listen again. Your greatest good is in the enjoyment of God. God’s greatest glory is in being enjoyed. So, for God to seek his glory in your worship of him is the most loving thing he can do for you. Only by seeking his glory pre-eminently can God seek your good passionately.

For God to work for your enjoyment of him (that’s his love for you) and for his glory in being enjoyed (that’s his love for himself) are not properly distinct.

So, God comes to you in his Word and says: ‘Here I am in all my glory: incomparable, infinite, immeasurable, unsurpassed. See me! Be satisfied with me! Enjoy me! Celebrate who I am! Experience the height and depth and width and breadth of savoring and relishing me!’

Does that sound like God pursuing his own glory? Yes.

But it also sounds like God loving you and me perfectly and passionately. The only way it is not real love is if there is something for us better than God: something more beautiful than God that he can show us, something more pleasing and satisfying than God with which he can fill our hearts, something more glorious and majestic than God with which we can occupy ourselves for eternity. But there is no such thing! Anywhere! Ever!”

Very well stated.

Conclusion

Like cutting open the chest and uncovering a beating heart, to understand that our sovereign God acts in all things, and at all times, for His own glory gets at the very heart of God’s motivation. I simply cannot think of a truth more clearly presented throughout Scripture, nor can I think of a more radical worldview-changing truth.

God always acts for His own glory.



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Jesus Christ


Q. How can Jesus be God and man?

By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: www.desiringGod.org. Email: mail@desiringGod.org. Toll Free: 1.888.346.4700.

The early church considered the Incarnation to be one of the most important truths of our faith. Because of this, they formulated what has come to be called the Chalcedonean Creed, a statement which sets forth very what we are to believe and what we are not to believe about the Incarnation. This creed was the fruit of a large council that took place from October 8 to November 1, 451, in the city of Chalcedon and "has been taken as the standard, orthodox definition of the biblical teaching on the person of Christ since that day by" all the major branches of Christianity.[2] There are five main truths with which the creed of Chalcedon summarized the biblical teaching on the Incarnation.

1. Jesus has two natures -- He is God and man.
2. Each nature is full and complete -- He is fully God and fully man.
3. Each nature remains distinct.
4. Christ is only one Person.
5. Things that are true of only one nature are nonetheless true of the Person of Christ.

A proper understanding of these truths clears up much confusion and many difficulties we may have in our mind. How can Jesus be both God and man? Why doesn't this make Him two people? How does His Incarnation relate to the Trinity? How could Jesus have hungered (Matthew 4:2) and died (Mark 15:37) when He was on earth, and yet still be God? Did Jesus give up any of His divine attributes in the Incarnation? Why is it inaccurate to say that Jesus is a "part" of God? Is Jesus still human now, and does He still have His human body?

Jesus has two natures -- God and man

The first truth we need to understand is that Jesus is one Person who has two natures a divine nature and a human nature. In other words, Jesus is both God and man. We will look at each nature accordingly.

Jesus is God

The Bible teaches that Jesus is not merely someone who is a lot like God, or someone who has a very close walk with God. Rather, Jesus is the Most High God Himself. Titus 2:13 says that as Christians we are "looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus." Upon seeing the resurrected Christ, Thomas cried out, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28). Likewise, the book of Hebrews gives us God the Father's direct testimony about Christ: "But of the Son He says, 'Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever" and the gospel of John calls Jesus "the only begotten God" (John 1:18).

Another way the Bible teaches that Jesus is God is by showing that He has all of the attributes of God. He knows everything (Matthew 18:20; 28:20; Acts 18:10), is everywhere (Mt 16:21; Luke 11:17; John 4:29), has all power (Mt 8:26, 27; 28:18; Jn 11:38-44; Lk 7:14-15; Revelation 1:8), depends on nothing outside of Himself for life (Jn 1:4; 14:6; 8:58), rules over everything (Mt 28:18; Rev 19:16; 1:5) never began to exist and never will cease to exist (John 1:1; 8:58), and is our Creator (Colossians 1:16). In other words, everything that God is, Jesus is. For Jesus is God.

Specifically, Jesus is God the Son

In order to have a more complete grasp of Christ's incarnation, it is necessary to have some sort of understanding of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity states that God is one being, and this one God exists as three distinct Persons. This means, first of all, that we must distinguish each Person of the Trinity from the other two. The Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, the Son is not the Holy Spirit or the Father, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son. They are each a distinct center of consciousness, a distinct form of personal existence. Yet, they all share the exact same divine nature/essence. Thus, the three persons are one being. The divine being/essence is not something that is divided between the Persons, each Person receiving one-third. Rather, the divine being is fully and equally possessed by all three Persons such that all three Persons are each fully and equally God.

How does the fact that God is three Persons in one Being relate to the incarnation? To answer this, let's consider another question. Which Person became incarnate in Jesus Christ? All three? Or just one? Which one? The Biblical answer is that only God the Son became incarnate. The Father did not become incarnate in Jesus, and neither did the Holy Spirit. Thus, Jesus is God, but He is not the Father or the Holy Spirit. Jesus is God the Son.

The truth that it is only God the Son who became incarnate is taught, for example, in John 1:14, which says "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." In context, the word is God the Son (cf. vv. 1, 18, and 3:16). Thus, it wasn't the Father or the Holy Spirit who became man, but God the Son.

Likewise, at Jesus' baptism we see the Father affirming "Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased" (Luke 3:22). He did not say, "You are me, and with myself I am well-pleased." Rather, the Father affirmed that Jesus is the Son, His Son, and that Jesus is well-pleasing to Him. In this same verse we also see that the Holy Spirit is distinct from the Father and the Son, for the Holy Spirit is present in "bodily form like a dove."

Why is it important to know that Jesus is specifically God the Son? For one thing, if we do not understand this we will be mistaken about the very identity of our savior. Further, it greatly affects how we relate to our triune God. If we think that Jesus is the Father and/or the Holy Spirit, we will be greatly misguided and confused in our prayers. Last, it is considered heresy to believe that the Father became incarnate in Jesus.

Jesus is man

It should be obvious that if Jesus is God, then He has always been God. There was a never a time when He became God, for God is eternal. But Jesus has not always been man. The fantastic miracle is that this eternal God became man at the Incarnation approximately 2,000 years ago. That's what the Incarnation was--God the Son becoming man. And its this great even that we celebrate at Christmas.

But what exactly do we mean when we say that God the Son became man? We certainly do not mean that He turned into a man, in the sense that He stopped being God and started being man. Jesus did not give up any of His divinity in the Incarnation, as is evident from the verses we saw earlier. Rather, as one early theologian put it, "Remaining what He was, He became what He was not." Christ "was not now God minus some elements of His deity, but God plus all that He had made His own by taking manhood to Himself."[3] Thus, Jesus did not give up any of His divine attributes at the Incarnation. He remained in full possession of all of them. For if He were to ever give up any of His divine attributes, He would cease being God.

The truth of Jesus' humanity is just as important to hold to as the truth of His deity. The apostle John speaks strongly anyone that denying that Jesus is man is of the spirit of the anti-Christ (1 John 4:2; 2 John 7). Jesus' humanity is displayed in the fact that He was born as a baby from a human mother (Luke 2:7; Galatians 4:4), that He became weary (John 4:6), thirsty (John 19:28), and hungry (Matthew 4:2), and that He experienced the full range of human emotions such as marvel (Matt. 8:10), weeping, and sorrow (John 11:35). He lived on earth just as we do.

Jesus is a sinless man

It is also essential to know that Christ does not have a sinful nature, and neither did He ever commit sin -- even though He was tempted in all ways (Hebrews 4:15). Thus, Jesus is fully and perfectly man, and has also experienced the full range of human experience. We have a Savior who can truly identify with us because He is man, and who can also truly help us in temptation because He has never sinned. This is an awesome truth to cherish, and sets Christianity apart from all other religions.

Each nature is full and complete

Having seen the biblical basis that Jesus is both God and man, the second truth that we must recognize is that each of Christ's natures is full and complete. In other words, Jesus is fully God and fully man. Another helpful way to say it is that Jesus is 100% God and 100% man.

Jesus is fully God

We saw earlier that each Person of the Trinity is fully God. The three Persons of the Trinity are not each one-third of God, but are each all of God. Thus, Jesus is fully God since He is God the Son incarnate. This means that everything that is essential to being God is true of Jesus. Jesus is not part of God, or one-third of God. Rather, He is fully God. "For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form" (Colossians 2:9).

Jesus is fully man

It is also important to recognize that when we say that Jesus is man, we do not simply mean that He is partially man. We mean that He is fully human -- everything that belongs to the essence of true humanity is true of Him. He is just as truly human as the rest of us.

The fact that Jesus is truly and fully human is clear from the fact that He has a human body (Luke 24:39), a human mind (Luke 2:52), and a human soul (Matthew 26:38). Jesus does not just look like a man, He does not just have some aspects of what is essential for true humanity but not others, but possess full humanity.

It is helpful to be aware of the false views concerning Christ. For if we have a grasp of what we are not to believe, it will give us a fuller picture of what we are to believe. One of the false views that was rejected at the council of Chalcedon taught that "the one person of Christ had a human body but not a human mind or spirit, and that the mind and spirit of Christ were from the divine nature of the Son of God."[4] Since this view did not believe that Jesus has a human mind and spirit, it in effect denied that Christ is fully and truly man. Rather, it presented Christ as a sort of half-man who has a human body, but whose human mind and soul were replaced by the divine nature. But as we saw earlier, Jesus is just as fully human as the rest of us, for just as He has all of the essential elements of Godhead, He has all the essential elements of human nature a human body, a human soul, a human mind, a human will, and human emotions. His human mind was not replaced by His divine mind. Rather, He has both a human and divine mind. For these reasons, it can be misleading to use phrases such as "Jesus is God in a body" or "Jesus is God with skin on."

Jesus will be fully God and fully man forever

For most people it is obvious that Jesus will be God forever. But for some reason it escapes a lot of us that Jesus will also be man forever. He is still man right now as you read this and will be forever. The Bible is clear that Jesus rose physically from the dead in the same body that had died (Luke 24:39) and then ascended into heaven as a man, in His physical body (Acts 1:9; Luke 24:50-51). It would make no sense for Him to have done this if He was simply going to ditch His body and stop being man when He arrived in heaven.

That Christ continued being man, with a physical body, after His ascension is confirmed by the fact that when He returns, it will be as man, in His body. He will return physically. Philippians 3:21 says that at His Second Coming, Christ "will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory." This verse is clear that Jesus still has His body. It is a glorified body, which Paul calls "the body of His glory." And when Christ returns, He will still have it because this verse says that He will transform our bodies to be like His. Both Jesus and all Christians will then continue living together in their bodies forever, because the resurrection body cannot die (1 Corinthians 15:42) because it is eternal (2 Corinthians 5:1).

Why did Jesus become man, and why will He be man forever? The book of Hebrews says that it was so that Christ could be an adequate Savior who has all that we need. "He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people" (2:17). First, notice that Jesus became man so that He could die for our sins. He had to be human in order to pay the penalty for humans. Second, this verse says that because Jesus is human like us, He is able to be a merciful and faithful high priest. His humanity enables Him to more fully sympathize with us and identify with us. I cannot help but believe that it is very destructive to our comfort and faith to not know that Jesus is still man and in His body. For if He is not still man in heaven, how could we have comfort knowing that He can fully sympathize with us? He can sympathize and be a faithful high priest and know what we are going through not just because He was once on earth as a man, but because He continues forever as that same man.

Each nature remains distinct

The truths of Christ's two natures full manhood and full Godhood are pretty well understood and known by Christians. But for a right understanding of the Incarnation we must go even further. We must understand that the two natures of Christ remain distinct and retain their own properties. What does this mean? Two things: (1) They do not alter one another's essential properties, and (2) neither do they mix together into a mysterious third kind of nature.

First, it would be wrong to think that Christ's two natures mix together to form a third kind of nature. This is one of the heresies that the early church had to fight. This heresy taught that "the human nature of Christ was taken up and absorbed into the divine nature, so that both natures were changed somewhat and a third kind of nature resulted. An analogy to [this] can be seen if we put a drop of ink in a glass of water: the mixture resulting is neither pure ink nor pure water, but some kind of third substance, a mixture of the two in which both the ink and the water are changed. Similarly, [this view] taught that Jesus was a mixture of divine and human elements in which both were somewhat modified to form one new nature."[5] This view is unbiblical because it demolishes both Christ's deity and humanity. For if Christ's two natures mixed together, then He is no longer truly and fully God and truly and fully man, but is some entirely different kind of being that resulted from a mixture of the two natures.

Second, even if we acknowledge that the natures do not mix together into a third kind of nature, it would also be wrong to think that the two natures changed one another. For example, it would be wrong to conclude that Jesus' human nature became divine in some ways, or that His divine nature became human in some ways. Rather, each nature remains distinct, and thereby retains its own individual properties and does not change. As the council of Chalcedon stated it, "...the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved..."[6] Jesus' human nature is human, and human only. His divine nature is divine, and divine only. For example, Jesus' human nature did not become all knowing through its union with God the Son, and neither did His divine nature become ignorant of anything. If any of the natures underwent a change in its essential nature, then Christ is no longer truly and fully human, or truly and fully divine.

Christ is only one Person

What we have seen so far about the deity and humanity of Christ shows us that Christ has two natures -- a divine nature and a human nature -- , that each nature is full and complete, that they remain distinct and do not mix together to form a third kind of nature, and that Christ will be both God and man forever.

But if Christ has two natures, does this mean that He is also two people? No, it does not. Christ remains one person. There is only one Christ. The church has historically stated this truth in this way: Christ is two natures united in one person forever.

At this point we find another heretical view to beware of. This view, while acknowledging that Jesus is fully God and fully man, denies that He is only one Person. According to this view, there are two separate persons in Christ as well as two natures. In contrast to this, the Bible is very clear that, while Jesus has two natures, He is only one Person. In other words, what this means is that there are not two Jesus Christ's. In spite of the fact that He has a duality of natures, He is not two Christs, but One. While remaining distinct, the two natures are united together in such a way so as to be one Person.

To put it simply, there is a certain sense in which Christ is two, and a different sense in which Christ is one. He is two in that He has two real, full natures one divine and one human. He is one in that, while remaining distinct, these two natures exist together in such a way as that they constitute "one thing." In other words, the two natures are both the same Jesus, and thus are one Person. As the Chalcedonean creed says, Christ is "to be acknowledged in two natures...concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God, the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ..."

Evidence that Christ is Only One Person

We will look at three pieces of the biblical teaching that while Christ has two distinct and unchanged, He nonetheless remains one Person.

1. Both natures are represented in Scripture as constituting "one thing," that is, as united in one Person. We read in John 1:14, "And the word became flesh and dwelt among us." Here we see the two natures: the Word (His deity) and flesh (humanity). Yet we also see that there is one Person, for we read that the Word became flesh. "Became" requires that we acknowledge a unity of the two natures such that they are one thing--that is, one Person. For in what sense could John write that the word became flesh if they do not constitute one Person? It surely cannot mean "turned into" flesh, for that is against the Scriptural teaching on the distinctness of the natures. Additional Scriptures relating to this line of evidence are Romans 8:3, Galatians 4:4, 1 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 2:11-14, 1 John 4:2,3.

2. Jesus never speaks of Himself as "We," but always as "I"

3. Many passages refer to both natures of Christ, but it is clear that only one person is intended It is impossible to read the following passages, which clearly affirm Christ's two natures, and yet conclude that Christ is two Persons. "For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh..." (Romans 8:3). "But when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law..." (Galatians 4:4). "...who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped [that is, exploited to His own advantage], but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men" (Philippians 2:6-7).

Having seen that Christ is two natures in one person, and having also seen what is involved in this, we will now examine one of the major implications of this, which should help us to complete the picture and our understanding.

Implication: Things that are true of one nature but not the other are nonetheless true of the Person of Christ

As we have seen earlier, the fact that Christ is two natures means that there are things that are true of His human nature that are not true of His divine nature. And there are things true of His divine nature that are not true of His human nature. For example, His human nature hungered, but His divine nature could never be hungry. So when Christ hungered on earth, it was His humanity that hungered, not His divine nature.

But the truth that we are now in a position to understand, is that by virtue of the union of the natures in one Person, the things that are true of and done by only one of Christ's natures, are nonetheless true of and done by the Person of Christ. In other words, things which only one nature does can be considered to have been done by Christ Himself. Likewise, things that are true of one nature but not the other are true of the Person of Christ as a whole. What this means, in simple terms, is that if there is something that only one of Christ's natures did, He can still say, "I did it."

We have many instances in Scripture which demonstrate this. For example, Jesus says in John 8:58, "...before Abraham was born, I am." Now, Christ's human nature did not exist before Abraham. It is Christ's divine nature that eternally exists before Abraham. But since Christ is one Person, He could say that before Abraham was, He is.

Another example is Christ's death. God cannot die. We should never speak of Christ's death as the death of God. But humans can die, and Jesus' human nature did die. Thus, even though Jesus' divine nature did not die, we can still say that the Person of Christ experienced death because of the union of the two natures in the one Person of Christ. Because of this, Grudem says, "by virtue of union with Jesus' human nature, his divine nature somehow tasted something of what it was like to go through death. The person of Christ experienced death."[7]

Have you ever wondered how Jesus could say that He did not know the day or hour of His return (Matthew 24:36) even though He is omniscient (John 21:17). If Jesus is God, why didn't He know the day of His return? This is solved by our understanding that Christ is one Person with two natures. The answer is that in regards to His human nature, Jesus does not have all knowledge. Thus, in His human nature He really did not know the day or hour of His return. But in His divine nature, He does have all knowledge and thus in His divine nature He did know when He would return.

Here comes the most fascinating part. Since the two natures are united in one Person, the fact that Christ's human nature didn't know when He would return means that the Person of Christ did not know when He would return. Thus, Jesus the Person could truly say, "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone" (Matthew 24:36). At the same time, by virtue of His divine nature, we can also say that the Person of Christ did know when He would return. Knowledge and ignorance of the time of His return are both true of the Christ, but in different ways. In His human nature, the Person of Christ was ignorant of when He would return. In His divine nature, the Person of Christ did know when He would return. Thus, Christ Himself both knew and did not know when He would return.

Conclusion

We have seen the biblical evidence for the fact that Christ is God the Son, He has both a divine and human nature, that each nature is full and complete, that each nature remains distinct, that Christ is nonetheless one Person, and that things which are true of one nature are true of the Person.

The relevance of these truths to us should go without saying. For they go to the very heart of who Christ is. Knowing these truths will greatly affect the way you view Christ and will make the gospel accounts of His life come more alive. As such, this understanding will deepen our devotion to Christ.

Second, having this richer understanding of the Incarnation of God the Son should greatly enhance our worship. We will have great marvel and gladness at the fact that the eternal Person of God the Son became man forever. Our recognition of Christ's worth will be heightened. And our faith in Him will be strengthened by having this deeper understanding of who He is.

The union of Christ's deity and humanity in one Person makes it such that we have all that we need in the same Savior. How glorious. Because Jesus is God, He is all-powerful and He cannot be defeated. Because He is God, He is the only adequate Savior. Because He is God, believers are safe and can never perish; we have security. Because He is God, we can have confidence that He will empower us for the task that He commands us for. And because He is God, all people will be accountable to Him when He returns to judge the world.

Because Jesus is man, He has experienced the same things that we do. Because He is man, He can identify with us more intimately. Because He is man, He can come to our aid as our sympathetic High Priest when we reach the limits of our human weaknesses. Because He is man, we can relate to Him--He is not far off and uninvolved. Because He is man, we cannot complain that God does not know what we are going through. He experienced it first-hand.

Finally, we need to be ready to defend the truth of Jesus' deity, Jesus' humanity, and their joining inconfusedly in one Person . Therefore, consider committing to memory many of the verses which teach that Jesus is both God and man, and be able to explain the relationship between Christ's two natures to others.

May we look forward to the day when we see Him face to face, and until then may the joyful hope of this day inspire in us a great diligence in serving and worshiping Him.

Notes

1. J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1993 edition), p. 53.
2. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (InterVarsity and Zondervan Publishing, 1994), p. 556.
3. Packer, p. 57.
4. Grudem, p. 554.
5. Grudem, p. 556.
6. Chalcedonean Creed, quoted in Grudem, p. 557.
7. Grudem, p. 560.


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Man


Q. How Free is our Will?

Our Will- Free to as we please 

In a capsule, the book “Freedom of the Will”, Jonathan Edwards argues that…

“God’s moral government over mankind, his treating them as moral agents, making them the objects of his commands, counsels, calls, and warnings… is not inconsistent with a determining disposal of all events, of every kind throughout the universe, in his providence; either by positive efficiency or permission. (p. 431)

There is no such thing as freedom of the will in the Arminian sense of a will that ultimately determines itself.  The will rather is determined by “that motive which, as stands in the view of the mind, is the strongest.” (p.141)

But motives are given, not ultimately controllable by the will.

For Augustinian it is the delight that Guides the Will
Here Edwards found himself squarely in the great Reformed Augustinian tradition. Augustine, the African Bishop of Hippo, had analyzed his own motives down to this root: Everything springs from delight.  He saw this in a universal:

“Every man, whatsoever his condition, desires to be happy.  There is no man who does not desire this, and each one desires it with such earnestness that he prefers it to all other things; whoever, in fact, desires other things, desires them for this end alone. (Thomas A. Hand, Augustine On Prayer, p. 13 (sermon 306))

This is what guides and governs the will, namely, what we consider to be our delight.  But the catch that made Pelagius, Augustine’s antagonist, so angry was that it is not in our power to determine what this delight will be.  Thus Augustine asks,

Who has it in his power to have such a motive present to his mind that his will shall be influenced to believe?  Who can welcome in his mind something which does not give him delight?  But who has it in his power to ensure that something that will delight him will turn up?  Or that he will take delight in what turns up?  If those things delight us which serve our advancement toward God, that is due not to our own whim or industry or meritorious works, but to the inspiration of God and to the grace which he bestows. (Quote from Augustine’s to Simplician in T. Kermint Scott, Augustine: His thought in Context, p. 203)

So Saving Grace, Converting grace, for Augustine is God’s giving us a sovereign joy in God that triumphs over all other Joys and therefore sways the will.  The will is free to move toward whatever it delights in most fully, but it is not within the power of our will to determine what that sovereign joy will be. (John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory, p. 87)

Therefore Augustine concludes, “A man’s free will, indeed, avails for nothing except sin.  If he knows not the way of truth; and even after his duty and his proper aim shall begin to become known to him, unless he also take delight in and feel a love for it, he neither does his duty, nor sets about it, nor lives rightly.  Now, in order that such a course may engage our affections, God’s ‘love is shed abroad in our hearts’ not through the free-will which arises from ourselves, but ‘through the Holy Ghost, which is given to us’ (Romans 5:5) (T. Kermint Scott, Augustine: His thought in Context, p. 208)

An Inability that leaves Responsibility in place.
In this tradition, Jonathan Edwards explained that all people are enslaved, as Saint Paul says, either to sin or to righteousness (Romans 6:16-23); see also John 8:34; 1 John 3:9); but slavery to sin, inability to love and trust God (see Romans 8:8), does not excuse the sinner , for this inability is moral, not physical.  It is not an inability that prevents a man from believing when he would like to believe; rather, it is a moral corruption of the heart that renders motives to believe ineffectual.  The person thus enslaved to sin cannot believe without the miracle of regeneration, but is nevertheless accountable because of the evil of his heart, which disposes him to be unmoved by reasonable motives in the Gospel 



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Q. Is God's sovereignty and man's responsibility a contradiction?

God's Sovereignty And Man's Responsibility Is Not A Contradiction

Part of an article by John Piper entitled:
A Response to J.I. Packer On the So-Called Antinomy Between The Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility

The other point of disagreement with Packer was his assumption that the two-fold presentation in scripture of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility sounds to everybody like a contradiction. It didn't sound like one to Jonathan Edwards after he thought about it long enough and it doesn't sound like one to me. I think anyone who is going to dogmatically assert that humans can't understand this "antinomy" must first show that Jonathan Edwards has not understood it. I will try to develop in the briefest possible way how Edwards attempts to show that God's moral government over mankind, his treating them as moral agents, making them the objects of his commands, counsels, calls, warnings, expostulations, promises, threatenings, rewards and punishments, is not inconsistent with a determining disposal of all events, of every kind, throughout the universe, in his providence: either by positive efficiency, or permission" (The Freedom of the Will, Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Co. Inc., 1969 p. 258. All page numbers below are from this edition.)

First, Edwards argues that the thing which determines what the will chooses is not the will itself but rather motives which come from outside the will. More precisely, "it is that motive, which, as it stands in the view of the mind, is the strongest, that determines the will" (p. 9).

He defines motive like this: "By motive, I mean the whole of that which moves, excites or invites the mind to volition, whether that be one thing singly, or many things conjunctly" (p. 9). By "strongest motive" he means "that which appears most inviting" (p. 10). Or as he puts it later, "the will always is as the greatest apparent good is" (p. 10), in which case "good" means "agreeable" or "pleasing" (p. 11).

Hence the determination of our will does not lie in itself. It is determined by the strongest motive as we perceive it, and motives are given. Therefore all men are in a sense enslaved - as Paul says - either to righteousness or to sin (Rom. 6:16-23), or as Jesus put it, "Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin" (John 8:34). We are all enslaved to do what we esteem most desirable in any given moment of decision. We are enslaved to do what we want to do most. We are unable to do otherwise provided we are not physically hindered.

Edwards describes this situation with the terms moral necessity and moral inability on the one hand and natural necessity and natural inability on the other. Moral necessity is the necessity that exists between the strongest motive and the act of volition which it elicits (p. 24). Thus all choices are morally necessary since they are all determined by the strongest motive. They are necessary in that, given the existence of the motive, the existence of the choice is certain and unavoidable. Moral inability, accordingly, is the inability we all have to choose contrary to what we perceive to be the strongest motive (p. 28). We are morally unable to act contrary to what in any given moment we want most to do. If we lack the inclination to study we are morally unable to study.

Natural necessity is "such necessity as men are under through the force of natural causes" (p. 24). Events are naturally necessary when they are constrained not by moral causes but physical ones. My sitting in this chair would be necessary with a "natural necessity" if I were chained here. Natural inability is my inability to do a thing even though I will it. If I am chained to this chair my strongest motive might be to stand up (say, if the room is on fire) but I would be unable.
This distinction between moral inability and natural inability is crucial in Edwards' solution to the so-called antinomy between God's sovereign disposal of all things and man's accountability. The solution is this: Moral ability is not a prerequisite to accountability. Natural ability is. "All inability that excuses may be resolved into one thing; namely, want of natural capacity or strength; either capacity of understanding, or external strength" (p. 150).

But moral inability to do a good thing does not excuse our failure to do it (p. 148). Though we love darkness rather than light and therefore can't (because of moral inability) come to the light, nevertheless we are responsible for not coming, that is, we can be justly punished for not coming. This conforms with an almost universal human judgment, for the stronger a man's desire is to do evil the more unable he is to do good and yet the more wicked he is judged to be by men. If men really believed that moral inability excused a man from guilt then a man's wickedness would decrease in proportion to the intensity of his love of evil. But this is contrary to the moral sensibilities of almost all men.

Therefore moral inability and moral necessity on the one hand and human accountability on the other are not an antinomy. Their unity is not contrary to reason or to the common moral experience of mankind. Therefore, in order to see how God's sovereignty and man's responsibility perfectly cohere, one need only realize that the way God works in the world is not by imposing natural necessity on men and then holding them accountable for what they can't do even though they will to do it. But rather God so disposes all things (Eph. 1:11) so that in accordance with moral necessity all men make only those choices ordained by God from all eternity.

One last guideline for thinking about God's action in view of all this: Always keep in mind that everything God does toward men - his commanding, his calling, his warning, his promising, his weeping over Jerusalem, - everything is his means of creating situations which function as motives to elicit the acts of will which he has ordained to come to pass. In this way He ultimately determines all acts of volition (though not all in the same way) and yet holds man accountable only for those acts which they want most to do.



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Sin


Q. What is the biblical evidence for the imputation of Adam's Sin?

By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: www.desiringGod.org. Email: mail@desiringGod.org. Toll Free: 1.888.346.4700.


By DG Staff January 23, 2006

 


The doctrine of the imputation of Adam's sin means that when Adam first sinned, that sin (and its blame) was rightly regarded by God to be our sin as well. John Piper writes:

The problem with the human race is not most deeply that everybody does various kinds of sins—those sins are real, they are huge and they are enough to condemn us. Paul is very concerned about them. But the deepest problem is that behind all our depravity and all our guilt and all our sinning, there is a deep mysterious connection with Adam whose sin became our sin and whose judgment became our judgment. (John Piper, "Adam, Christ, and Justification: Part 1")

God ordains that that there be a union of some kind that makes Adam's sin to be our sin so that our condemnation is just. ("Adam, Christ, and Justification: Part 5")

The biblical basis for this doctrine of imputed sin is discussed thoroughly in John Piper's five sermons on Romans 5:12-21. Here we will simply seek to summarize some of the primary evidence from this text.

Sin Entered the World Through One Man
First, Paul states in 5:12 that all sinned in Adam: "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned." Paul seems to be equating the "because all sinned" with "through one man sin entered into the world."

Sin is Not Imputed Where There is no Law
Second, in verses 13-14 Paul adds a clarification which confirms that he does indeed have the imputation of Adam's sin in view in the phrase "because all sinned" rather than our individual sins. He states: "For until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come." In other words, Paul concedes that personal sin was prevalent in the world before Moses ("until the Law sin was in the world..."). But he adds that these personal sins were not the ultimate reason people died in that time period: "But sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses." As Piper summarizes:

People died even though their own individual sins against the Mosaic law were not the reason for dying; they weren't counted. Instead, the reason all died is because all sinned in Adam. Adam's sin was imputed to them. (John Piper, "Adam, Christ, and Justification: Part 2")

Death Reigned Even Over Those Who Did Not Sin Like Adam
Third, Paul's statement at the end of verse 14 further clarifies that he does not have personal sins in view as the reason for human death: "Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam." Piper notes:

In other words, yes Paul concedes that there are other kinds of laws before the Mosaic Law, and yes people broke those laws, and yes, one could argue that these sins are the root cause of death and condemnation in the world. But, Paul says, there is a problem with that view, because death reigned "even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam." There are those who died without seeing a law and choosing to sin against it.

Who are they? I think the group of people begging for an explanation is infants. Infants died. They could not understand personal revelation. They could not read the law on their hearts and choose to obey or disobey it. Yet they died. Why? Paul answers: the sin of Adam and the imputation of that sin to the human race. In other words, death reigned over all humans, even over those who did not sin against a known and understood law. Therefore, the conclusion is, to use the words of verse 18: "through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men." (Ibid)

So the purpose of verses 13 and 14 are to clarify verse 12 in this way:

At the end of verse 12 the words, "death spread to all men, because all sinned" mean that "death spread to all because all sinned in Adam." Death is not first and most deeply because of our own individual sinning, but because of what happened in Adam. (Ibid)

Paul's Emphasis Upon the One Transgression
Fourth, at least five times in the following verses Paul says that death comes upon all humans because of the one sin of Adam:

Verse 15: by the transgression of the one the many died

Verse 16: the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation

Verse 17: by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one

Verse 18: through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men

We are all condemned not ultimately because of our individual sins, but because of one sin (verse 18). We die not ultimately because of personal sins, but because of Adam's one transgression (verse 17). It is not ultimately from our personal sins that we die, but rather "by the transgression of the one the many died." Paul states over and over again that it is because of one sin that death and condemnation belong to us all. In other words, we are connected to Adam such that his one sin is regarded as our sin and we are worthy of condemnation for it.

The Direct Statement of Verse 19
Fifth, verse 19provides us with a direct statement of imputation:

For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

Paul here says that we are made sinners by the sin of Adam. Due to his disobedience, we are regarded as sinners. We cannot take "made sinners" here to be referring to original sin in which we become inherently sinful because it is paralleled with "made righteous." The phrase "made righteous" in this context is referring to the great truth of justification. Justification does not concern a change in our characters, the infusion of something inherent in us. Rather, it involves a change in our standing before God. In justification, God declares us righteous because He imputes to us the righteousness of Christ--not because He makes us internally righteous (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). Thus, when Paul says "made righteous" here, he means "imputed with righteousness" not "infused with righteousness." Since "made sinners" is paralleled with "made righteous," it must also be referring to imputation. Thus, Paul is saying that we are all made sinners in the sense that we are imputed with Adam's sin.

Further Resources

John Piper, "Adam, Christ, and Justification"

John Murray, The Imputation of Adam's Sin

John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 5:12-21.

Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 5:12-21.


© Desiring God

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Salvation


Q. Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?

by John MacArthur - www.gty.org 

No. Let’s examine what the Scriptures teach on this issue:

First, it is quite clear from such passages as Acts 15 and Romans 4 that no external act is necessary for salvation. Salvation is by divine grace through faith alone (Romans 3:22, 24, 25, 26, 28, 30; 4:5; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 3:9, etc.).

If water baptism were necessary for salvation, we would expect to find it stressed whenever the gospel is presented in Scripture. That is not the case, however. Peter mentioned baptism in his sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38). However, in his sermon from Solomon’s portico in the Temple (Acts 3:12-26), Peter makes no reference to baptism, but links forgiveness of sin to repentance (3:19). If baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sin, why didn’t Peter say so in Acts 3?

Paul never made water baptism any part of his gospel presentations. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Paul gives a concise summary of the gospel message he preached. There is no mention of baptism. In 1 Corinthians 1:17, Paul states that “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel,” thus clearly differentiating the gospel from baptism.

Those passages are difficult to understand if water baptism is necessary for salvation. If baptism were part of the gospel itself, necessary for salvation, what good would it have done Paul to preach the gospel, but not baptize? No one would have been saved. Paul clearly understood water baptism to be separate from the gospel, and hence in no way efficacious for salvation.

Perhaps the most convincing refutation of the view that baptism is necessary for salvation are those who were saved apart from baptism. The penitent woman (Luke 7:37-50), the paralytic man (Matthew 9:2), the publican (Luke 18:13-14), and the thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43) all experienced forgiveness of sins apart from baptism. For that matter, we have no record of the apostles’ being baptized, yet Jesus pronounced them clean of their sins (John 15:3—note that the Word of God, not baptism, is what cleansed them).

The Bible also gives us an example of people who were saved before being baptized. In Acts 10:44-48, Cornelius and those with him were converted through Peter’s message. That they were saved before being baptized is evident from their reception of the Holy Spirit (v. 44) and the gifts of the Spirit (v. 46) before their baptism. Indeed, it is the fact that they had received the Holy Spirit (and hence were saved) that led Peter to baptize them (cf. v. 47).

One of the basic principles of biblical interpretation is the analogia scriptura, the analogy of Scripture—we must compare Scripture with Scripture in order to understand its full and proper sense. Since the Bible doesn’t contradict itself, any interpretation of a specific passage that contradicts the general teaching of the Bible is to be rejected.

Since the general teaching of the Bible is, as we have seen, that baptism and other forms of ritual are not necessary for salvation, no individual passage could teach otherwise. Thus we must look for interpretations of those passages that will be in harmony with the general teaching of Scripture.

With that in mind, let’s look briefly at some passages that appear to teach that baptism is required for salvation.

In Acts 2:38, Peter appears to link forgiveness of sins to baptism. But there are several plausible interpretations of this verse that do not connect forgiveness of sin with baptism. It is possible to translate the Greek preposition eis—”because of,” or “on the basis of,” instead of “for.” It is used in that sense in Matthew 3:11; 12:41; and Luke 11:32.

It is also possible to take the clause “and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” as parenthetical. Support for that interpretation comes from that fact that “repent” and “your” are plural, while “be baptized” is singular, thus setting it off from the rest of the sentence. If that interpretation is correct, the verse would read “Repent (and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ) for the forgiveness of your sins.” Forgiveness is thus connected with repentance, not baptism, in keeping with the consistent teaching of the New Testament (cf. Luke 24:47; John 3:18; Acts 5:31; 10:43; 13:38; 26:18; Ephesians 5:26).

A third possibility exists, as Wallace explains in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics:

It is possible that to a first-century Jewish audience (as well as to Peter), the idea of baptism might incorporate both the spiritual reality and the physical symbol. In other words, when one spoke of baptism, he usually meant both ideas—the reality and the ritual. Peter is shown to make the strong connection between these two in chapters 10 and 11. In 11:15-16 he recounts the conversion of Cornelius and friends, pointing out that at the point of their conversion they were baptized by the Holy Spirit. After he had seen this, he declared, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit…” (10:47).

The point seems to be that if they have had the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit via spiritual baptism, there ought to be a public testimony/acknowledgment via water baptism as well. This may not only explain Acts 2:38 (viz., that Peter spoke of both reality and picture, though only the reality removes sins), but also why the NT speaks of only baptized believers (as far as we can tell): Water baptism is not a cause of salvation, but a picture; and as such it serves both as a public acknowledgment (by those present) and a public confession (by the convert) that one has been Spirit-baptized.

Mark 16:16, a verse often quoted to prove baptism is necessary for salvation, is actually a proof of the opposite. Notice that the basis for condemnation in that verse is not the failure to be baptized, but only the failure to believe. Baptism is mentioned in the first part of the verse because it was the outward symbol that always accompanied the inward belief.

I might also mention that many textual scholars think it unlikely that vv. 9-20 are an authentic part of Mark’s gospel. We can’t discuss here all the textual evidence that has caused many New Testament scholars to reject the passage. But you can find a thorough discussion in Bruce Metzger, et al., A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, pp. 122-128, and William Hendriksen, The Gospel of Mark, pp. 682-687.

Water baptism does not seem to be what Peter has in view in 1 Peter 3:21. The English word “baptism” is simply a transliteration of the Greek word baptizo, which means “to immerse.” Baptizo does not always refer to water baptism in the New Testament (cf. Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; 7:4; 10:38-39; Luke 3:16; 11:38; 12:50; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; 11:16; 1 Corinthians 10:2; 12:13).

So Peter is not talking about immersion in water, as the phrase “not the removal of dirt from the flesh” indicates. He is referring to immersion in Christ’s death and resurrection through “an appeal to God for a good conscience,” or repentance. Again, it is not the outward act that saves, but the internal reality of the Spirit’s regenerating work (cf. Titus 3:4-8).

I also do not believe water baptism is in view in Romans 6 or Galatians 3. I see in those passages a reference to the baptism in the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:13). For a detailed exposition of those passages, I refer you to my commentaries on Galatians and Romans, or the transcripts my sermons on Galatians 3 and Romans 6.

In Acts 22:16, Paul recounts the words of Ananias to him following his experience on the Damascus road: “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” It is best to connect the phrase “wash away your sins” with “calling on His name.” If we connect it with “be baptized,” the Greek participle epikalesamenos (”calling”) would have no antecedent. Paul’s sins were washed away not by baptism, but by calling on His name.

Water baptism is certainly important, and required of every believer. However, the New Testament does not teach that baptism is necessary for salvation.



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Q. How is Election God's Gracious Choice?

God’s Gracious Choice: Election
By John MacArthur - http://www.gty.org/resources.php?section=articles&aid=232266

The Doctrine of ElectionElection is the act of God whereby in eternity past He chose those who will be saved. Election is unconditional, because it does not depend on anything outside of God, such as good works or foreseen faith (Romans 9:16). This doctrine is repeatedly taught in the Bible, and is also demanded by our knowledge of God. To begin with, let’s look at the biblical evidence.

The Bible says prior to salvation, all people are dead in sin — spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-3). In this state of death, the sinner is utterly unable to respond to any spiritual stimulus and therefore unable to love God, obey Him, or please Him in any way. Scripture says the mind of every unbeliever “is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8, emphasis added). That describes a state of total hopelessness: spiritual death.

The effect of all this is that no sinner can ever make the first move in the salvation process. This is what Jesus meant in John 6:44, when He said, “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” 

This is also why the Bible repeatedly stresses that salvation is wholly God’s work. In Acts 13:48 we read, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.”

Acts 16 tells us that Lydia was saved when, “the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.”

Romans 8:29-30 states, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”

Ephesians 1:4-5,11 reads, “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will . . . also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.”

Ephesians 2:8 suggests that even our faith is a gift from God.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:13, the apostle Paul tells his readers, “God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation.”

Second Timothy 1:9 informs us that God “has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.”

QuoteOccasionally someone will suggest that God’s election is based on His foreknowledge of certain events. This argument suggests that God simply looks into the future to see who will believe, and He chooses those whom He sees choosing Him. Notice that 1 Peter 1:2 says the elect are chosen “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father,” and Romans 8:29 says, “whom He foreknew, He also predestined.” And if divine foreknowledge simply means God’s knowledge of what will happen in advance, then these arguments may appear to have some weight behind them.

But that is not the biblical meaning of “foreknowledge.” When the Bible speaks of God’s foreknowledge, it refers to God’s establishment of a love relationship with that person. The word “know,” in both the Old and New Testament, refers to much more than mere cognitive knowledge of a person. Such passages as Hosea 13:4-5; Amos 3:2 (KJV); and Romans 11:2 clearly indicate this. For example, 1 Peter 1:20 says Christ was “foreknown before the foundation of the world.” Surely this means more than that God the Father looked into the future to behold Christ! It means He had an eternal, loving relationship with Him. The same is true of the elect, whom we are told God “foreknew” (Romans 8:29). That means He knew them — He loved them — before the foundation of the world.

If God’s choice of the elect is unconditional, does this rule out human responsibility? Paul asks and answers that very question in Romans 9:19-20. He says God’s choice of the elect is an act of mercy. Left to themselves, even the elect would persist in sin and be lost, because they are taken from the same fallen lump of clay as the rest of humanity. God alone is responsible for their salvation, but that does not eradicate the responsibility of those who persist in sin and are lost — because they do it willfully, and not under compulsion. They are responsible for their sin, not God.

The Bible affirms human responsibility right alongside the doctrine of divine sovereignty. Moreover, the offer of mercy in the gospel is extended to all alike. Isaiah 55:1 and Revelation 22:17 call “whosoever will” to be saved. Isaiah 45:22 and Acts 17:30 command all men to turn to God, repent and be saved. First Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9 tell us that God is not willing that any should perish, but desires that all should be saved. Finally, the Lord Jesus said that, “the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37).

In summary, we can say that God has had a special love relationship with the elect from all eternity, and on the basis of that love relationship chosen them for salvation. The ultimate question of why God chose some for salvation and left others in their sinful state is one that we, with our finite knowledge, cannot answer. We do know that God’s attributes always are in perfect harmony with each other, so that God’s sovereignty will always operate in perfect harmony with His goodness, love, wisdom, and justice.



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Q. Why should the Gospel be preached to Christians?

Preaching the Gospel to Yourself 
CREDITS: The pastors of Harbor, Tim Keller @ Redeemer and David Fairchild at Kaleo. 

At Kaleo Church we teach that the Gospel isn't just a means of salvation, but it is the very way we grow as Christians.  When Paul writes his letters to the Galatians or Corinthians, he addresses each problem in the Christian community with the gospel.  (eg., Peter, who eats stops eating with the Gentiles isn't told to 'stop' which would be legalism, but is told that his actions aren't walking in line with the gospel.  His motivation for change is a reminder of who Christ is and what he has done for us and how that sets us free by grace.)

preaching-gospel-diagram.gif From this a term used is, 'I need to preach the gospel to myself'.  It refers to the need to go through the same process Paul does when he addresses sin.  But how do we preach the gospel to ourselves, what exactly is the process?  I decided to create a diagram to illustrate it (click on thumbnail for larger Preaching the Gospel diagram)

 UPDATE: David Fairchild preached an excellent sermon based on this, you can see the sermon at Sermon Cloud: How to Preach the Gospel to Yourself.  It includes (1) a Word document handout that outlines the process, a (2) PowerPoint slide (click on image to the right), (3) the sermon notes and (4) the mp3 for you to download.

How to Preach the Gospel to Yourself

The two critical events are repentance and faith.  Errors people commonly fall in are (1) only dealing with the surface sin instead of the root sin and (2) preaching moralism to ourself instead of the gospel.    preach-gospel.gif

PART I  DOWN THE SLOPE OF REPENTANCE - Objective: To see and confess that I am a bigger sinner than I thought. 

1. See and Own Your Sin:  Examine yourself in the mirror of God's Word, your negative emotions and attitudes, and the responses of others to you.  Guard yourself against sin's deceitfulness: the tendency to water down God's standard, compare yourself to others, shift the blame or commit ourselves to trying harder.

2. See the Sin Beneath the Sin: Don't move too quickly to confess and receive forgiveness for the surface sin (cheap grace, "I'm just a sinner" attitude.  If you are anxious, yes go to Phil. 4, but what is causing your anxiousness?)  Push the 'Why?' question until you find what you are looking to other than Jesus (your functional messiah) for meaning and value in life.

3. Expose the Idols of your Heart: Idols always disappoint 

They are weak: They can't deliver when you succeed; they can only raise the bar. They can't forgive you when you fail; they can only lower the boom.
They are harmful: They hurt you spiritually, emotionally and physically.  They hurt others by undermining your ability to love.
They are Grievous: Most importantly, by going after these idols/other lovers you are saying to God: "Jesus is not enough.  I also need _________ in order to be happy.

EXAMPLE: Athletics
Sin: I get frustrated when I don't win at sports.
Sin beneath the sin: I need the approval of others to feel better about myself.
IDOL: ACCEPTANCE of others/Self Worship

Weak: The approval is always based on your performance.  If you fail, you get angry/rejected.  When you succeed you need more/to continue to perform and receive value.

These idols will lead you into slavery James 4:1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? 2You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. 4You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

CONCLUSION: I am a much bigger sinner than I thought.  I am a worthy recipient of God's judgment.  Trying harder won't cut it.  I am helpless and hopeless in myself.  BUT there is One… 

PART II UP THE SLOPE OF FAITH - Objective: To thank God that Jesus is a much bigger Savior than I thought.  

1. Repentance is a gift: Pray for the gift of repentance.  Do not 'try' to stop sinning, but ask God to change your heart.  If the Holy Spirit does not address your heart, your repentance is only 'horizontal' and true gospel change will not happen.  You may change for a season by your own 'will-power' but eventually you will become resentful or fall back into worshiping your false idols, which are your true 'functional messiahs'.

2. See Jesus as the only true Savior

Jesus lived for me.  Think about and give thanks for specific ways Jesus has lived obediently where I have failed.

Jesus died for me. Think about Jesus' death on the cross for my specific sins and idolatry.  Thank God that my sin has been punished once and for all.

God sees me in Jesus. Think about how God sees me in Jesus, clothed with His perfect righteousness.  Thank Him specifically for how He provides for me in Christ that all my idols promised but could not deliver.

Jesus lives in me.  Thank God that He does not leave me to live the Christian life on my own, but the Spirit of Christ now dwells in me.  Ask Him to live His righteous life through me, specifically in the areas where I have confessed sin.

3. Gospel-motivated living: Embrace and know that the gospel is how you change (2 Cor. 3:18b), it is the gospel that empowers you to serve (2 Cor 3:5) and it is through the gospel that you meet God (2 Cor 3:18a; 4:6)



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Q. How should we understand God's love for his people in Christ?

Although some may not think so, we really do work hard to accurately represent those whose positions differ from us in regards to the work of Christ in our salvation. Recently I gave an illustration which highlighted the differences between the Arminian traditions' view of God's love and the traditional Augustinian view, which at least one visitor said misrepresented both sides ... It has two parents whose children run out into the street when a car is coming. The first parent calls to his child to get out of the way but stays on the curb hoping he will obey, while the other parent sees the danger and runs out to scoop up the child to make certain he/she is safe. We believe this demonstrates two radically different conceptions of love. Synergists often challenge us that we put God's holiness over His love, but this illustration attempts to highlight that this is not the case, but rather, reveals a vastly different view of God's love and the message of salvation: one type of love is intensive and the other extensive. One loves makes certain that the job is done - that the child is safe, while the other love does not make this a certainly but sees love in the giving of a choice itself ... and consequently values more highly the will of the child as the final determiner of salvation.

To clarify this illustration so you can see how it explicitly explains the two positions:

First of all, both positions believe that Christ died for sinners .... but there are clear differences in what Christ's death actually accomplishes for His children:

1) The Arminian position believes that Christ does a great deal to bring salvation to His people, but His death does not actually secure that salvation. It is not sufficient of itself to save lost people. There is still a requirement that sinners themselves must meet if Christ's death is to be effectual ... in other words, what Christ does for sinners in the Arminian scheme is really conditioned upon man fulfilling another requirement that is in addition to Christ's death ... in this case, faith.

2) The Augustinian position, in contrast, believes that Christ's death and resurrection actually secures the salvation of His people. It is completely sufficient in itself to save sinners. God does require faith of His people but Christ's death even pays for the sin of our unbelief and thus He meets all the requirements necessary for our salvation ... requirements that we were morally impotent to meet ourselves. Thus, Jesus Christ gives His children everything necessary to secure salvation. This is an unconditional love ... salvation by grace alone in Christ alone. Christ plus nothing. Salvation is, therefore, not conditioned upon our prior faith but Christ actually even secures our faith. The finished work of Christ guarantees that none of his children will be lost and will all be raised up at the last day (John 6:37-39, 44)



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Evangelism & Missions


Q. How Do We Make our Evangelism "God-Centered?"

Putting First Things First
by
 Ron Man - www.worr.org

The Great Commission which Jesus gave to His disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) has rightly been a motivating force and rallying cry for churches and other Christian organizations. In it we find expressed God's heart for the world and His desire for us to be His faithful instruments in carrying the message of the gospel to all peoples. The Commission also instructs us in the full-orbed ministry of disciplemaking, which involves not only evangelism but also the teaching and mentoring of converts into lives of obedience, maturity, and finally disciplemaking themselves.

As such, the Great Commission is a tremendous exhortation to followers of Jesus Christ and one which is well worth our attention and humble submission. However, many churches, missions organizations, and parachurch groups write the Great Commission into their philosophies and purpose statements as if it were a statement of the ultimate goal for Christians. (One fine and effective parachurch group has expressed its mission as "to restore to the heart of the local church a Great Commission passion;" its materials also indicate that it views the purpose of the local church as being to see the Great Commission fulfilled.) That is unfortunate because, as important as the Commission's focus is, it is not the ultimate expression of why God has made us and saved us and called us to serve Him.

The Great Commission is not the cornerstone of our Christian walk and service; it is not the bottom line. The Great Commandment is. Jesus explained in Matthew 22:37 that the "great commandment in the law" is to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." Through a life and lifestyle of worship we are to be filled with adoration of and love for God and to give it expression from the heart. The New Testament, as well as the Old Testament is clear that true worship begins on the inside (Romans 12:1; Hebrews 13:15; Philippians 3:3; I Samuel 15:22) and that outward expressions are only acceptable as they reflect an inner reality. A scribe whom Jesus said was "not far from the kingdom of God" recognized that observing the Great Commandment is "much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices" (Mark 12:32-33).

While the Great Commission seeks to promote the glory of God through the believer by enlisting him in the task of bringing others to faith and lives of obedience; yet the primary way a Christian glorifies God is in the response of his own heart and life and walk, not in what he does for others. Actually, spiritual service to others is the essence of the second greatest commandment, which Jesus identifies in Matthew 22:39 as "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." In fact, the Great Commission is a natural outgrowth and expression of both of these greatest commandments - if we truly love God and our neighbors, we will seek to win and equip those neighbors for the glory of God.

Even the context of the Great Commission suggests the secondary nature of the Commission: when the disciples saw Jesus, "they worshipped Him" (Matthew 28:17); and Jesus bases His Commission on the fact that "all authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (28:18) The utter God-centeredness of these statements reflect that of the Great Commandment, and is consistent with the observation that the more man-focused nature of the Great Commission is dependent on and subordinate to the doxological focus of the Great Commandment. As John Piper has written, "Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn't." (Let the Nations Be Glad p. 11)

Let us first and foremost seek to love God with our entire being (heart, soul, mind, strength) and to be "filled with all the fulness of God" (Ephesians 3:19), that our lives of worship might then overflow with a grateful aspiration to "make disciples of all the nations" -- that they too might worship Him and love Him and serve Him -- that in all things God might be glorified.



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Q. How can I learn about God-centeredness in Missions?

Let the Nations Be Glad:
The Supremacy of God in Missions
(2nd ed.; Baker, 2003)

From the time John Piper (Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis) shook up a missions conference at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon in the early nineties by declaring that missions was not the main purpose of the church, his emphasis that missions is a vital means to a more glorious end (worshipers from all nations) has become well known and well taken. Indeed, from the very first paradigm-shattering words of the book (see below) Piper lays out this view; indeed, the Lord used these words to transform this writer’s view of God, missions and worship, and indeed the entire first chapter of the book is an excellent summary of his view of the priority of worship as the ultimate goal and trajectory of all life and ministry (including missions). And in the second edition he adds a chapter (chap. 7) expounding on his view of worship as something far bigger than Sunday morning services (in order to clarify his insistence on worship being the Church’s ultimate goal).

Other chapters on prayer and suffering contribute also to Piper’s God-centered, Word-saturated treatment of missions—and the whole endeavor succeeds remarkably in demonstrating the book’s subtitle: “The Supremacy of God in Missions.” Missions is His work (in which we get to participate by grace) which He will sovereignly accomplish to His everlasting glory.

EXCERPTS FROM CHAPTER I
“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn't. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.
“Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal in missions. It's the goal of missions because in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white-hot enjoyment of God's glory. The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God. ‘The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!’ (Psalm 97:1). ‘Let the peoples praise Thee, O God; let all the peoples praise Thee! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!’ (Psalm 67:3-4).

“But worship is also the fuel of missions. Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching. You can't commend what you don't cherish.”  (p. 17)

“God is pursuing with omnipotent passion a worldwide purpose of gathering joyful worshipers for himself from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. He has an inexhaustible enthusiasm for the supremacy of His name among the nations. Therefore let us bring our affections into line with His, and, for the sake of His name, let us renounce the quest for worldly comforts, and join His global purpose.”  (p. 43)



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The Church


Q. How do I join the BCBC as a member?

How to Join

If the Bible is the cornerstone of our church, then membership is the cement that holds us all together. Both Christ and Paul pointed us toward membership for our encouragement, our protection, and our instruction. We seek to carry out this vision through our four-step process by which to join Grace Covenant Community Church.

Membership Class All prospective members must attend our Membership Matters class. The curriculum is composed of seven one-hour classes entitled:

  • Statement of Faith
  • Church Covenant
  • Why Join a Church?
  • Church History
  • Who Put the Southern in Southern Baptist?
  • Nuts and Bolts

Courses are offered in a Friday night/Saturday morning format periodically through the year and weekly on Sunday mornings. Upon completion, those who attended all seven classes are able but not obligated to sign up for a membership interview, the second step of the membership process.

Membership Interview (If not already fulfilled in the interaction in the Membership Matters Class) In a 35-40 minute meeting, the prospective member meets with a pastor to provide basic biographical information and recount God’s converting work in his or her life. After signing the church statement of faith and covenant, the prospective member may move to the next step in membership: elder recommendation.

Elder Recommendation At a regularly scheduled elders’ meeting, the pastor will review the applicant’s testimony with the other elders. Upon receiving their collective approval, the candidate’s application proceeds to the next step: congregational affirmation.

Congregational Affirmation During our Quarterly members meetings, our senior pastor briefly describes the applicants desiring to be admitted to membership. Questions are fielded, a vote is taken, and with a majority secured, candidates are admitted into membership.



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Family


Q. How to understand Family Integrated Churches

Questions and Answer on the Family Integrated Church (FIC)

1. Define family integrated church and would you define your church as one?

I would define “Family Integrated Church” as a church that is committed to keeping families together and not breaking them up at an institutional level. Within this broad definition, there is, of course a spectrum.

At the strictest end of the spectrum would be a church whose mission statement would be along the lines of “discipling dads to disciple families.” Such a church might not have Sunday School classes divided by ages–so the children and the teens and the adults might all be in the same Sunday School class together. Churches on this stricter end might lean toward having fathers leading their own families in taking communion as families.

At the looser end of the spectrum are those who would say that the mission of the church is not simply to “disciple dads” but to “make disciples.”

These churches would probably have “age-appropriate” instruction, and they would probably take communion as a whole church and avoid breaking the church up into family units at communion (I hope I’m not misrepresenting the more strict versions of FIC groups here).

Those who are much more Family Integrated might not regard these “looser” groups as being Family Integrated at all, but what would put them on the spectrum would be that they are much more intentional about encouraging fathers to lead their families in family worship and disciple their children, much more intentional about protecting and cultivating biblical gender roles (no embarrassment here about 1 Timothy 2:12 and Ephesians 5:22-33), and there will be a more “family-friendly” culture at such churches.

Those on the stricter end might say we’re not Family Integrated at Grace Covenant Community Church, and in their sense I would agree. We do, however, go after everything I stated about the “looser” end of the spectrum, and in that sense I would say that we’re family integrated in the way that all healthy churches were family integrated in, say, the 1600’s through the 1800’s.
 

2. How does a church that is not structured as an F.I.C. in the strictest differ and what is the reasoning for structuring a church as a F.I.C at the looser end? Do you have graded Bible study for children through adult?

I don’t think the best way to describe the mission of the church is “discipling dads to disciple families.” Our mission statement at G3C is as follows: Building communities who treasure Christ above all things in order to spread the Kingdom of God for the joy of all peoples.   

One aspect of this is discipling dads, but it also means that we disciple single people, divorced people, widowed people, mothers, children, etc.

So, whereas a strictly “Family Integrated Church” might be inclined to view the family as God’s program for evangelism, discipleship, and world missions, we at G3C believe that the church is God’s program for evangelism, discipleship, and world missions.


3. My research seems to indicate that most churches that hold to a F.I.C. model embrace Reformed theology as their doctrinal stance. Why is this? Does one flow from the other?

The two are not necessary corollaries, but there are points of overlap. For instance, while most of American Evangelicalism is more American than Evangelical, both Reformed theology and a high view of the family go against the inclinations of the secular culture, where everyone has a vote and where children are viewed as an obstacle in the career path. Both Reformed theology and Family Integrated Churches are seeking to base everything they think and do on the explicit statements of the Bible, but you could embrace one and not the other.


4. F.I.C. churches place a high emphasis on the Biblical mandate of parents, the fathers in particular, taking ownership of the evangelization and discipleship of their children. Where along the way did parents abdicate their responsibility?

This is a huge issue. . . Not all fathers have abdicated their responsibility, but I think it’s safe to say that in the culture at large many people have slipped into thinking that it’s the youth director’s job to disciple their children, and to this the Family Integrated movement objects.


5. Youth departments get a bad wrap by some F.I.C. proponents, and many youth pastors admit that the poor baptism records indicate something isn’t working in SBC youth departments.  Many youth pastors say they are determined to effect a change (making youth ministries more “parent friendly” is one example).  But do we throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water with regard to youth ministries? Is it an Either/Or situation or a Both/And - should kids be only with parents Sunday morning and during the week as homeshoolers. Or can they be in the culture while being influenced at home and church?

Different people are going to come to different conclusions on this, and I think this is an area of Christian freedom–as long as the fact that parents are responsible for their children is recognized and embraced. Youth ministries can be a huge blessing, but even youth ministers will tell you that the kids most likely to keep the faith are those whose parents are training them in the faith. For these kids, the youth ministry is a supplemental help, not the whole show. Of course, God is a surprising God who saves even those with un-Christian parents for his own glory.


6. Did youth departments taken the discipleship role from parents or have parents abdicated that responsibility?

I think it’s a both/and.  I know that when I was more heavily involved in youth ministry I knew that the parents needed to take a larger role in the disciplemaking of their children, but no one from whom I was learning “youth ministry” ever suggest to me any strategies or ministry philosophies of family integration that would actually help the parents disciple their own kids.  These things are often overlooked by both parents and kids, and some youth ministries get so caught up in building skate parks, having cool lighting and great music, and going on big trips to fun places that “discipleship” gets overlooked, too.


7. While the F.I.C. focuses on evangelizing and discipling children and equipping parents to do that, are F.I.Cs deficient in evangelizing the community.  And is this a common deficiency in F.I.Cs, or have I just not yet found an example of a church that does both well?

I think that we have to be careful drawing such conclusions. A more traditional youth ministry might have a bunch of big events to which a bunch of non-believers come. While a Family Integrated Church might never have one of those big events, a kid in a Family Integrated Church might actually know and share the gospel–being able to actually articulate the facts that God is holy, people are sinful, God provides a way for people to be forgiven of sin if they will trust in Jesus, who died on the cross to satisfy God’s justice against sin, and was raised from the dead because it had no power to hold him. A kid in an FIC church might know this message and talk about it with lost friends a whole lot more than a kid in a church with a bunch of big events (where the gospel might not be very clear at all). So which is more evangelistic? The kid who actually knows and speaks the gospel or the kid who may not be all that clear on it but whose church has a bunch of big shows?

Every FIC church I’m personally acquainted with is very strong on both teaching the gospel to their children and emphasizing the importance of sharing it with others. And, in my experience, kids in FIC churches are much more likely to recognize the difference between a Christian world view and secular ones. In my experience, more traditional approaches to youth ministry tend to perpetuate the secular worldview while trying to strain out the overtly sinful stuff. Again, the danger is that sometimes things look more American than Evangelical.



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