Wednesday Wanderings

I’ve two pressing matters uppermost on my mind today. The first derives from a book I’m reading. I posted earlier that I was enjoying this book. Now, all of a sudden, I’m not enjoying it anywhere near as much. The problem? Carnal Christianity versus Spiritual Christianity.

The passage of Scripture usually cited regarding this dilemma is 1 Corinthians 2.14–3.4, more specifically, verse 1-3 of chapter 3.

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 1Corinthians 2:15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 1Corinthians 2:16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

1Corinthians 3:1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 1Corinthians 3:2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 1Corinthians 3:3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 1Corinthians 3:4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?” (1 Corinthians 2:14–3:4 ESV)

The author of the book takes these verse to imply that there are three types of people: non-Christians, carnal Christians and spiritual Christians. Obviously, the non-Christians are the ones more accurately described in 2.14 – “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to undestand them because they are spiritually discerned.” This one is relatively easy: a person without the Spirit of God is an unbeliever. No debate here.

The problem arises in 3.1-3, where Paul speaks of those who are fleshly, or “of the flesh.” Clearly, they are believers. Paul addresses them as “brothers” and he never does this for non-believers. Yet his concern for these “believers” is that they are acting like babies, “infants in Christ.” They’re not ready for solid teaching, but still “drinking milk,” even thought by now they should be well past that (that’s the tone of his remarks in 3.2).
My question for Mr. Baker (who is very clearly a student of L. S. Chafer and his “He Who Is Spiritual” teaching is this: how long can one be considered a “carnal Christian”? Does he ever “grow up?” And what if he doesn’t? What if a “carnal Christian” dies in this state of “carnality?”

In order to preserve your attention on this matter and not get lengthy here, I’ll keep a running post on this matter. I’ll also be posting a review of the book, Spiritual Maturity early next week (most likely on Monday; that’s my book review day).

Let me return to my opening: I stated that I had two problems that were uppermost on my mind. The second is a more pragmatic matter – How does the leadership of a church motivate said church to pray together? On the one hand, I’m sure some would simply say, “Lay out the commands that we should pray. Let them feel and sense their disobedience.”

I could do that, but my elders and I knew we’d appear like Moses descending from Mt. Sinai, with tablets in hand and a new 11th commandment inscribed upon them, “Thou Shalt Pray Together or your prayers won’t count.” That might work for a few people and it might work for a short time, but it hardly creates genuine pray-ers with a heart’s passion for seeking God.

On the other hand, we could just let grace rule and hope for the best. However, the struggle I have with that approach is this: that’s where we’re at now and I don’t think it’s biblical or helpful.

So there must be another hand here somewhere. I’ll leave you with this quote and address this issue at another time very soon:

Francis Schaeffer once asked his wife:

“Edith, I wonder what would happen to most churches and Christian work if we awakened tomorrow, and everything concerning the reality and work of the Holy Spirit, and everything concerning prayer, were removed from the Bible. I don’t mean just ignored, but actually cut out—disappeared. I wonder how much difference it would make?” We concluded it would not make much difference in many board meetings, committee meetings, decisions and activities.

—Edith Schaeffer, The Tapestry: The Life and Times of Francis and Edith Schaeffer (Waco: Word, 1981), 356.

Technorati Tags:
, , , , , , , , , ,


The Greatest Story Ever Told

Well, you know this one is just starting to make the rounds in the blogosphere and I thought I might as well add to it.
I’ve never cared for rap music. Not because of style (although, the redundancy of the beat, the mundanity of it’s “music” in the background are really not in my universe of tastes in music – and for those who know me fairly well, I’m very eclectic in my musical tastes, so there’s a pretty big musical universe floating around in my head). No, it has to do with the entire sub-culture that rap represents: the evil, the smut, the bigotry, the nearly pure reverse racism, the underlying hatred – especially of women – that is so pervasive.
It’s always amazing, however, how God can use His power to redeem something man has so thoroughly corrupted – like a form of music, such as rap. Shai Lynne is one of several Christian rap artists who God is using to make a name for Himself (please, please, please note the capital “H” there). Here’s a very good example of what rap can be and should be: used to tell a story – the Story, actually – that brings all the glory to God. The lyrics are included so you can follow along as well as read them later.

It’s the greatest story ever told.
A God pursues foes whose hearts turned cold.
The greatest story ever told.
Restoring all that the enemy stole.
The greatest story ever told.
The glory of Christ is the goal, behold.
The greatest story ever told.
It’s the greatest.

Alright check it: let’s go back in time, brethren. Divine lessons always keep your mind guessing. The glory of the Triune God is what I’m stressing. The origin of humankind was fine. Blessings were plenteous. God is amazingly generous. Crazy benefits in a state of innocence. God told the man what he could taste was limited. Not long after came our nemesis in Genesis. He scammed well, man fell, damned to hell. The whole human race—he represented it. Fooled by the serpent, man through his work, woman through birth—even the earth ruled by the curses. But instead of a wake immediately. God said her Seed would be the One to crush the head of the snake. Yo, wait what is this? Whoa, a gracious gift! In Jehovah’s faithfulness He clothed their nakedness. This was so they would know their Savior’s kiss and bliss. But first, many growing pains exist suffering in the worst form, ugly deeds. Eve’s firstborn seed made his brother bleed. Indeed things got progressively worse. Every section of the earth is been affected by the curse. And though God’s judgments against sin were gory, praise the Lord! It’s not the end of the story.

Next scene: man’s sin was extreme. God gets steamed, man gets creamed. The Lord is so Holy that He drowned them in the water. Fire in the valley of slaughter – Sodom and Gomorrah. But at the same time, He’s so gracious and patient that from one man He created a whole nation. Eventually enslaved by the mentally depraved, they cried out to the only One with the strength that He could save. He brought them out with signs and wonders – satisfied their hunger. Then He appeared on Mount Sinai in thunder. Where He laid down the law for God-ruled government. Commonly referred to as the Mosaic covenant. Sin was imputed. So for man to know he’s unrighteous, God instituted animal sacrifices. This was to show our constant need for atonement. And when it came to sin, the Lord would never condone it. And when His people disobeyed and went astray, He raised up prophets and kings to lead them in the way. But they would get foul with their idolatry—wet and wild prophecy—send them into exile. To take their punishment like a grown man. Then with His own hand He placed them back in their homeland. And while in their forefather’s land they dwelt, they awaited the arrival of Emmanuel.

After 400 silent years filled with sighs and tears. In Bethlehem the Messiah appears. God in the flesh—Second Person of the Trinity. At thirty begins His earthly ministry. Baffling cats with accurate, exact facts and back-to-back miraculous acts. A stumbling block to the self righteous. But the humbled—His flock, said “There’s no one else like this.” He came from heaven to awake the numb. Demonstrated His power over nature, son. A foretaste of the Kingdom and the age to come. But the reason He came was to pay the sum for the depths of our wickedness, our wretched sinfulness. Bless His magnificence! He is perfect and innocent. Yet He was wrecked and His death. He predicted it. Next He was stretched, paid a debt that was infinite. He said that He finished it. Resurrected so the elect would be the recipients of its benefits. Through faith and penitence we get to be intimate. His grace is heaven sent, it never diminishes. Now the Holy Spirit indwelling is the evidence for heaven’s future residents who truly represent Jesus, the Author, Producer, Director, and Star of a story that will never, ever end!

Free Grace – You Get What You Pay For

I serve on the North Central District’s Council for Ministerial Standing. The Grace Evangelical Society came up as a topic of discussion a while back and during our last meeting we talked about whether a pastor who held to the G.E.S. Statement of Faith could be credentialed in the EFCA.

I will be the first to admit that I’ve not read extensively on this issue of "Free Grace" vs. "Lordship Salvation". I read Zane Hodges, Absolutely Free, shortly after it first came out and haven’t gone back to it since then. MacArthur’s book, The Gospel According to Jesus, pretty much decided the issue for me and I haven’t had to deal with this much at all until now.

As I understand it, the intent behind Free Grace (FG from this point onward) was to guard and protect the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Works were not to be a part of the equation in what is required for salvation. Admirable. Sadly, I think many who hold to this position have gone far beyond what Scripture even says, have brought about much confusion within churches and, even more sadly, have misled many who thought they were coming to genuine saving faith, only to find their "faith" is greatly lacking something (at best) or inadequate (at worst).

I’m sure I’m guilty of overstating the case, erecting a straw man for the sake of knocking him over easily, but it’s how FG comes across to me in the matter of seeking the conversion of a non-Christian. When they say, in their Affirmation of Belief (August 8, 2005): "No act of obedience, preceding or following faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, such as commitment to obey, sorrow for sin, turning from one’s sin, baptism or submission to the Lordship of Christ, may be added to, or considered part of, faith as a condition for receiving everlasting life." – when they say this, what I hear is: "We really, really want you to believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, but if you live a life of a complete profligate afterwards, well, at least you’ll get into heaven." They go on to say, under the heading of "Motivation": "The believer is assured of everlasting life and is thus eternally secure, since that life is guaranteed by the Lord Jesus Christ to all who believe in Him, and is based upon HIs substitutionary death, burial, and resurrection. [No problem here, so far; but they do go on in the same statement] Therefore, it is inconsistent with the gospel and with Scripture to seek to gain or keep everlasting life by godly living [I agree with the "gaining" part, but it’s the "keeping" part I’m so troubled by]. The Scriptures, however, do present several motivations for obedience in the Christian life." Does this not sound like: Please become a Christian; you don’t have to live like one to "get in" but you’ll certainly be rewarded with lots more if you do; but it’s not important nor necessary. The key thing: believe that Jesus died for your sins.

Someone from G.E.S. would have to help me here: What do you do with a verse like Hebrews 12.14 (ESV) – "Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord"? That seems pretty clear to me: Strive, pursue, dioko (diw¿kw), – very active verb here (with heavy overtones in the NT of "to persecute" and I don’t think you persecute someone halfheartedly). Holiness is not an option for the Christian. It’s not a condition of his salvation, but it’s not an option once you’ve come to Christ.

I think, if I’m right in this, that G.E.S. puts far too much separation between justification and sanctification. It’s as if the two were completely separate from one another. The one is mandatory to enter heaven (as if that were the final goal of conversion – it is not); the other, while helping you and those around you on this earth, and while helping you pile up the rewards you’ll receive upon entering heaven, is still just an add-on in this life. You’ll get to heaven even if you live a completely depraved life, as long as you confess that Jesus died for your sins.

Bishop Ryle, in his book, Holiness, in the chapter on Sanctification, lists some visible evidences of sanctification (without which no one will see the Lord – and you don’t even have to know Greek to know that this means: won’t get to heaven!).In contrasting what are not true evidences of sanctification, he says: "Genuine sanctification will show itself in habitual respect to God’s law, and habitual effort to live in obedience to it as the rule of life; genuine sanctification will show itself in an habitual endeavour to do Christ’s will, and to live by His practical precepts; genuine sanctification will show itself in habitual attention to the active graces which our Lord so beautifully exemplified; and in habitual attention to the passive graces of Christianity. I would highly recommend Ryle to you, especially chapter 2.

So, can someone who affirms the G.E.S. S. of F. which presents FG in its entirety, belong to the EFCA? Personally, I’m not so sure. While reluctant to say an outright "No," I also see this position promoting great confusion within the larger body of Christ, stirring up needless controversy (there’s a subject for another time) since the very few people I’ve ever met who hold to this position are usually divisive and argumentative, and, would likely not be able to wholeheartedly affirm the EFCA’s Statement of Faith (especially in its revised form).

Not sure where I’ll go with this from here. I may blog a couple more posts for clarification, but that may depend upon comments on this post.

Tags: , , ,

Life With True Purpose – God’s

The words were said, the prayers offered, memories shared and it was time to leave. Short. Simple. I had to trust that it ministered to the few standing there.

Julie was unaware of the impact her life had made. That might be said of many of us, but it was literally true for Julie. She’d been born without the mental capacity to recognize or respond to anyone or just about any stimulus. She was dearly loved by her parents, but was a growing burden upon a young family working hard to live in the dirt of Minnesota farming. Her mother got to a point where she could no longer carry her or move her easily. Caring for Julie began to take its toll. It must have been a heartbreaking decision to finally realize they would need a great deal of assistance to care for her; help they couldn’t provide. Julie was placed in a state home for the mentally disabled.

And yet, despite what many would say today, Julie didn’t live in vain. For many young couples today, if they would have had an amniocentesis that revealed a defect of this nature, abortion would barely have been a second thought. Statistics show that the number of just Down syndrome babies has dropped dramatically, largely based on pre-birth tests and the “choice” to not keep a child that would be a burden, a hardship and have no purpose or quality of life.

While I won’t make the argument for every baby born with such defects, because I don’t know these individual situations, Julie didn’t live in vain. While the heartache of having a child that couldn’t recognize him or ever respond to him weighed heavily upon Jack, her father, Julie was used by God in powerful ways. When he would come in from the field work, the other children would greet him joyfully. Julie, on the other hand, didn’t even know her dad had come in the room. And even if she did, she couldn’t acknowledge it in any way. Jack didn’t know the Lord, but he began to wonder if this wasn’t how God felt about him – a father that loved the child that was his, yet  wouldn’t acknowledge or respond to this loving father in any way.

Through a sovereign ordering of events, God drew Jack, his wife Martha and their children to Himself through faith in Christ Jesus. Yet this wasn’t all God had planned for this newly saved family. Jack & Martha knew God’s call upon their life to go and share this life-changing message of the Gospel with others who needed to hear of a loving Heavenly Father. God works in wonderful ways, for their children all knew they were to serve God on the mission field as well.

Only God will fully know the number of His chosen ones He drew to Himself because Julie was used, by God, to draw her family to Christ. Perhaps in eternity, an accounting will be revealed and the glory given to God will be all the greater.

Julie passed away in Rochester. Her aging parents, unable to make the long trip from Florida, requested that I have a short & simple graveside service. The funeral director who made all the arrangements, brought his own personal video camera, taped the few moments we gathered there and sent this to the family. Not a few tears of sorrow and joy were shed, God was praised and Christ was exalted.

Who Do You Say That I Am?

My great-grandfather was waiting in a long line of cotton wagons in far northern Texas. Upon realizing that the line would not get completed in the emptying process, he spoke with the driver nearest him, “Hey, would you like to hitch our wagons together, and come home to my place for dinner?” The stranger thanked him, but declined the nice offer. Within about 15 minutes great-granddad asked again, “We’ll not get through here today; why don’t you head on over with me to our place for dinner?” Again, the man declined. Finally, after two more requests, the man asked great-granddad, “You just keep asking and I keep declining… why is that?”
“Well,” said great-grandpappy, “my wife of 10 years told me that if I ever meet a man uglier than me, I was s’pposed to bring’em home for dinner so she could see’im too.”

That was the kind of story my distant relative Charles Curtsinger would tell about family members. Don’t know how truthful that one was, but when you’d listen to him tell stories and anecdotes about family, you could never be to sure there wasn’t some truth in the telling, mixed nicely with a li’l bit of Oklahoma exaggeration. I loved to hear him tell about my great-great-great-grandfather’s run-away trip from Ireland to the States. Seems g-g-g-grandad didn’t want to become a priest, so he left Ireland for the “freedom” of the U.S. Having stowed away on a sailing ship, he landed in the States, around the Gulf region of Texas, enlisted in Gen. Sam Houston’s army, won himself some land there and married a Spanish woman, thus mixing that Irish blood for good.

Charles & his second wife, Joybelle, (his first wife died several years ago) loved to travel. It was while traveling to see relatives in Kentucky that they were both killed in a car accident. My parents and I will be traveling to Pryor, Oklahoma tomorrow to attend the funeral service. Charles’ service will be held at the funeral home; he wanted nothing to do with the church and just didn’t have much time for God or religion. Joybelle’s service will be held at the Nazarene Church in Claremore, OK. She was a believer and a kind, gentle woman.

This past Sunday, I preached from Luke 9.18-20 (I’m going through a series from Luke’s gospel account). The theme centered upon Jesus’ question to His followers: “Who do you say that I am?” To which Peter spoke on behalf of the others, “You are the Christ of God.” Joybelle would have been able to respond likewise. She knew this Christ of God. He was her Deliverer from her slavery to sin. He was the Forgiver of her sins and debt of guilt. Christ was the Provider of righteousness that was truly not her own. He was the Appeaser of God’s justified, righteous wrath. Jesus was her savior and she was escorted into His presence last week.

Sadly, Charles will appear before the Lord, but the words he’ll hear will not be “Come and enter into My rest.” Rather, he will only hear, “Depart from me, for I never knew you.” He’ll have all of eternity to contemplate the question: Who is Jesus?

This question never changes. Nor does it grow old for those of us who know Him as the Christ of God. How about you? Who do you say that Jesus is?

An Angry Calvinist

Shortly after I discovered the doctrines of grace, I began preaching from the book of Ephesians. I soaked myself in the Greek and then in Martyn Lloyd-Jones. From the pulpit, I longed to make sure people knew full well what the Scriptures really and truly said. But as I look back on that time at Midlands EFC,preaching I’m sure I came across as an angry calvinist. There was a part of me that was indeed angry: angry that I’d missed this while in seminary; angry that I’d “never been told” there were “other options” when growing angry calvinistup in my home church, and angry, I suppose, at my congregation because they, with the exception of a very small number, were all rank arminians.

I’ve since confessed these prideful, arrogant sins, repented of them (sadly, more than just once) and realized that while I had come to discover the doctrines of grace, while I embraced them wholeheartedly, I wasn’t not emulating them at all – especially to those I hoped to convince of their biblical glory.


Now, my goal in preaching is to simply open the Scriptures, let God speak for Himself through His Holy Spirit and in the faithful performance of this divine duty, my listeners will hear Scripture speak for itself. preachingAnd while they listen, they will become calvinists (of a sort). They will embrace thosetulip doctrines which I have found so lovely, so gracious, so uplifting, and they will do so without realizing that they have indeed become calvinists. For, in the words of Spurgeon (I’ll have to paraphrase; I didn’t look for the exact quote from a message he delivered “In Defense of Calvinism”): to be biblical is to be calvinistic.


Coming to the Doctrines of Grace

When I first read John Piper’s little book (based upon a lecture series on preaching) I was amazed and transfixed upon God’s glory and the goal of, not just preaching, but of everything. I had never taken this into consideration before. As I read, I came across quotes from men like Robert Murray M’Cheyene,Journey Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, and David Martyn Lloyd-Jones. These names were only familiar to me from my church history courses. But they were leaping off the pages into my heart, causing a yearning to learn more from them.

So, during the summer of 1992, I spent hours at the Grace College of the Bible library (the school is now known as Grace University). I found books by these men, and so many others. I began to try to absorb as much as I could from them about these “new” doctrines. And I learned, they weren’t new; just new to me. As I studied, I looked to the Word of God to see if these things were really true, if they could really be true; and, if they were true, what it would mean to my life, my preaching, my pastoring.

Some of the books/works I came across that summer were books such as:

Wrongly DividingWrongly Dividing the Word of Truth by John Gerstner John Gerstner(this one really rocked my world, since I had grown up in a typical Evangelical Free Church: very Arminian, very dispensational – one pastor I sat under spent at least 3-4 years in the book of Revelation and still wasn’t done!)

BoettnerThe Reformed Doctrine of Predestination by Lorraine Boettner. My, how this book helped answer so many questions about God’s electing grace. When I read Gerstner, I’d very rarely heard (translated: paid attention in doctrine class) such things and they troubled me deeply. As I continued to think on how God could “only choose some” and that Christ could not have died for all and not have all saved, I dug deep into this work.

Martyn Lloyd-JonesDavid Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ teaching from the book of Ephesians became a foundationalEphesians reading for me. If I was going to learn the doctrines of grace from any particular book of Scripture, it would be preeminently from Ephesians. The feast that was prepared for me in this epistle and through Lloyd-Jones exposition has fed me well for many years since.

When a group of pastors within the EFCA, who also loved the doctrines of grace, encouraged me to read Spurgeon's AutobiographySpurgeon’s Autobiography, I was reluctant at first. SpurgeonHowever, once I began that work, I once again marvelled at God’s grace, free and sovereign. I have since learned much of God’s grace sitting at the feet of C.H. Spurgeon.

There were so many others that I really can’t recall them all. The trek had begun. God was now taking me on a journey which would be all too wonderful to me. And yet, it may not always have started out well, especially for those to whom I ministered, in that church in Iowa. I’ll deal more in my next post on this journey with the notion of becoming an angry Calvinist.

BTW – if any who read this could direct me to some helpful resources on using ftp to upload pages to a web site, I’d like to start experimenting with creating my own site for this blog. I like WordPress, but I find the templates and use of images a bit more constraining than I’d like to be. TIA.