Friday, June 30, 2006
We have seen in the three previous posts that many people will find a reason to reject Jesus Christ sooner or later. Christ knew this and wasn't shy about stating how difficult it can be to be his follower. Today we are treated with the fourth kind of heart/soil, that of the faithful disciple.
4. Some folks become disciples that abide.
Jesus expounds on the fourth type as follows:
"And another portion fell in rich soil and grew and yielded a crop of a hundredfold.' As He said this, He exclaimed, 'Let him who has ears to hear with, listen!'" (Luke 8.8)
I hope the previous three posts haven't been too depressing because Jesus did tell us that a remnant will persevere, will endure with him to the end. These are the faithful Christians who multiply blessings on the earth with their integrity and love.
No, Christianity isn't easy but with Christ's help it is possible. Imagine the blessing of entering into God's presence as a faithful follower! And understand this: it is your decision if you will do so. The pages of your book aren't completed yet (so to speak) and you determine how it will end.
No, living for Jesus Christ isn't easy in this life but his rewards to his Christians are extravagant. Consider his rewards to the the faithful Christians of Asia Minor:
"Let everyone who has ears listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. I will give to him who conquers the privilege of eating the fruit of the tree of life that stands in the paradise of God." (Rev 2.7)
"Let everyone who has ears listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be hurt at all by the second death." (Rev 2.11)
"Let everyone who has ears listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. I will give to him who conquers some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone with a new name written on it which no one knows except the man who receives it." (Rev 2.17)
"To him who conquers and continues to the very end to do the works that please me, I will give authority over the heathen; he will govern them with a scepter of iron and shatter them like earthen jars -- just such authority as I have received from my Father -- and I will give him the morning star." (Rev 2.26-28)
"Whoever conquers will be clothed this way -- in white clothes -- and I will never blot his name out of the book of life, but I will own him as mine in the presence of my Father and His angels." (Rev 3.5)
"I will make him who conquers a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall never again go out of it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God, and my own new name." (Rev 3.12)
"I will give to him who conquers the privilege of taking his seat with me on my throne, just as I have conquered and taken my seat with my Father on His throne." (Rev 3.21)
Don't you want a happy ending?
Thursday, June 29, 2006
Today we will look at the third type of heart/soil; Christ warned that a third kind of believer was inevitable:
3. The Folks Who Are Here Today--Barely-- and Gone Tomorrow
Perhaps you've known someone who came to faith in Christ. All seemed to be going well with him. He attended worship and other church activities multiple times a week. He carried his new study Bible (with genuine leather, no less) quite proudly.
Then he disappeared. You don't know why but he was no more to be seen. For all intents and purposes he fell off of the face of the Christian planet. Maybe you later heard why he quit, or at least rumors of why he quit. For whatever reason, he is sleeping in on Sunday morning.
Why do some folks, having put their hands to the plow, look back and become unworthy of the kingdom of God? Jesus speaks of such a group as he expands his parable:
"And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature." (Luke 8:14 ESV)
Here is another group that started running when the referee shot the gun but, for some reason, perhaps a spiritual hamstring injury, they pull up short and stop the race.
Like the second group these people needed to count the cost of following the Lord. What is worse is how lamentably easy it is to make a profession of faith these days...and the slightest breeze of conflicting priorities can blow them away from the elect of God.
It's terribly easy to get snagged on the thorns of life--lust for money, lust for pleasure, lust for entertainment--and remain caught in the thicket. People who won't find the time to help serve the church because their children have football or soccer practice. People who won't surrender a few activities to devote themselves to the work of the church are legion today. And we let them get away with it!
It's time for people to take a good, hard look at what they really consider is important. Do they really consider themselves "sojourners and exiles" (2 Peter 2.11b) in this world? Perhaps they will decide that God is just too inconvenient for their busy lives and they'll ditch church.
If this seems harsh, consider James' words:
"You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." (James 4.4 ESV)
Listen to Clarke's blistering rebuke from his Commentary concerning James 4.4b:
"Whosoever - will be a friend of the world - How strange it is that people professing Christianity can suppose that with a worldly spirit, worldly companions, and their lives governed by worldly maxims, they can be in the favor of God, or ever get to the kingdom of heaven! When the world gets into the Church, the Church becomes a painted sepulchre; its spiritual vitality being extinct."
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Yesterday we examined the first soil which represented people who don't understand the gospel and aren't concerned with it. Today we will consider the second soil...
2. The Folks Who Check In Then Check Out
As we saw in the last post, Jesus didn't paint a rosy picture of Christianity but, rather, a realistic one. This second group of believers didn't consider what Jesus may cost them--and the price may be costly.
Jesus comments on this type of believers:
"The portion of them on the rock illustrates those who accept the message, bubbling over with joy when they first hear it, but it takes no real root. They believe for awhile, but in the time of testing they fall away." (Luke 8.13)
Matthew's parallel of this account records this:
"And what was sown upon the thin rocky soil illustrates the man who hears the message and bubbling over with joy at once accepts it, but it takes no real root in him, and he lasts only a little while, and just as soon as suffering and persecution come for the truth's sake, he at once yields and falls." (Mat 13.20-21)
Jesus never promised an easy life; sometimes people are punished for doing right, not wrong. In fact, the Apostle Peter went so far as to say that if anyone is going to suffer punishment as a Christian then it should be unfair and not because he deserved it!
(1 Peter 4.12-16)
Jesus didn't want half-hearted disciples; he warned people to count the cost before deciding to follow him (Luke 14.25-35). Concerning part of Luke 14.28, Clarke observes in his Commentary:
"This parable represents the absurdity of those who undertook to be disciples of Christ, without considering what difficulties they were to meet with, and what strength they had to enable them to go through with the undertaking. He that will be a true disciple of Jesus Christ shall require no less than the mighty power of God to support him; as both hell and earth will unite to destroy him."
Yes, I do believe this second group of believers were true Christians at one time yet they forfeited their salvation by denying their Lord.
When one receives the Lord he should receive God with joy...but he should receive God with open eyes and a clear head, too.
He who has ears to hear...
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
"'A sower went out to sow his seed. As he was sowing, some of the seed fell along the path, and were trodden down, and the wild birds ate them up. Another portion of them fell upon the rock, and as soon as they sprang up, they withered, because they had no moisture. Still another portion fell among the thorns, and the thorns grew up with them and choked them out. And another portion fell in rich soil and grew and yielded a crop of a hundredfold.' As He said this, He exclaimed, 'Let him who has ears to hear with, listen!'"
Have you ever wondered why apparently so few people become settled in the Christian life? Since we believe the gospel truly is the good news then why do so many sleep in on Sunday morning and so few sit next to us in the pew?
In this passage Jesus shows us that he was a realist; he never promised that the gospel would be accepted universally with applause and a ticker-tape parade. In fact, if the apostles are any model, Christians can expect bitter opposition.
Realize that a crowd stuffed into a congregation's sanctuary will react differently to the sermon. Their minds are in different places, the soil of their hearts are of varying composition. Today we will examine the first type of person Jesus mentions in his parable.
1. The Folks Who Just Don't Get It
Have you ever run across a person who has no interest in the gospel whatsoever? He doesn't seem ruffled by the warning of the destructive nature of sin and the neverending torment of hell. He doesn't appear concerned to hear how right it is to live the Christian ethic and how wrong it is to live in the world's immorality. He prefers the darkness and doesn't wish to step into the light.
Consider Jesus' words as he explains the first part of the parable:
"This is what the story means: The seed is God's message. Those along the path illustrate those who hear it, but then the devil comes and carries off the message from their hearts, so that they may not believe it and be saved."
In the parallel account of this parable, in Matthew 13.19 Jesus announces that this group of people don't understand the gospel. As amazing as it may seem, some people just won't get it. Christianity won't make sense to them and they won't be bothered enough to investigate further. The soil of their hearts isn't receptive to the things of God; they won't break a sweat during a hymn of invitation and won't take a second look at the beckoning church altars. You will find some people numb to the gospel.
This group bewilders me; perhaps my upgrowing as a pastor's son helps me to think it incredible that folks can so disregard the most important thing in the world. Of this group Adam Clarke elaborates in his Commentary:
"A careless inattentive hearer is compared to the way side - his heart is an open road, where evil affections, and foolish and hurtful desires, continually pass and repass, without either notice or restraint. 'A heart where Satan has' (as one terms it) 'ingress, egress, regress, and progress: in a word, the devil’s thoroughfare.'"
Now, it begs a question: if a person's heart isn't receptive now does that mean he'll never be receptive? We can't make that assumption; prayer and witnessing is certainly in order. What is yesterday's frozen ground may be tomorrow's fertile soil.
Monday, June 26, 2006
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith.'" (Rom 1.16-17 ESV)
This short statement by Paul controls his letter; in it he tells his audience in Rome what to expect. What has followed his thesis statement has captivated, inspired and puzzled generations of Christians following! Let's break it down together:
1. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel" (Rom 1.16a ESV). Our English word "gospel" is our rendition of the Greek word euaggelion or "good news". Paul will be declaring wonderful news to the Roman Christians when he elaborates on the gospel. He isn't ashamed of it, either. Paul did arrive at Rome as he prayed--but not as he hoped. He came in chains as a prisoner. Still, he was not ashamed of his Lord or his predicament to hinder his good witness to the Praetorian guards who were chained to him (Phil 1.12,13).
2. "...for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (Rom 1.16b ESV)
Notice this careful observation by Paul. His Greek is captivating--dunamis gar theou estin, "for it is [the] power of God." When we think of power we may visualize something immense, like Hoover Dam's hydroelectric plant or that errant lightening bolt that scared us silly during a thunderstorm.
Paul, though, declares the gospel to be God's power. It's an interesting concept, really. Think of it: God the Son himself also becomes man during his conception in the virgin, Mary. He lives a life as a carpenter and then as an itinerant rabbi who ultimately is conspired against by the religious elite and murdered by Rome. However, he rises from the dead early Sunday morning and later ascends to heaven, shortly thereafter sending the Holy Spirit in a new way--filling the saints with himself.
Power is a changed life. Power is a depraved sinner becoming a saint. Power is a child of hell becoming a child of God. This is power! It came first to the Jew (Christianity was, in the beginning, exclusively Jewish) and later to everybody else on the planet. Power!
3. "For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, '"The righteous shall live by faith.'" (Rom 1.17 ESV)
Quoting Habbakuk 2.4b, Paul states that God's salvation (deliverance) that the Lord offers people will come by way of their faith/trust in Christ. We will be looking at this concept repeatedly in our Romans study but, for the moment, let me speak of "the righteousness of God" (Rom 1.17a). It's monumental in scope.
There are differing views for understanding this phrase; in his Commentary Clarke spoke of it succinctly as, "God’s method of saving sinners." In other words, "the righteousness of God" is the gospel, with its conditions, spelled out.
A. T. Robertson disagrees; in the Greek there is no "the" before "righteousness of God" that different English translations add. in his Word Pictures he paints a different explanation:
A righteousness of God (dikaiosunē theou). Subjective genitive, 'a God kind of righteousness,' one that each must have and can obtain in no other way save 'from faith unto faith' ( ek pisteōs eis pistin), faith the starting point and faith the goal (Lightfoot).However one believes the phrase should be nuanced, Paul will be speaking on the only way people can be saved.
If you've stayed with me for the entire post, give yourself a hand! You deserve it!
Saturday, June 24, 2006
When one thinks of Wesleyanism one often either thinks, "He's not a Calvinist" or one thinks of the doctrine of Christian perfection, both of which were covered in earlier posts. However, there is another Wesleyan distinctive: the witness of the Spirit. Listen to Wesley's words from his Sermons, number 11, "The Witness of the Spirit":
It more nearly concerns the Methodists, so called, clearly to understand, explain, and defend this doctrine; because it is one grand part of the testimony which God has given them to bear to all mankind. It is by this peculiar blessing upon them in searching the Scriptures, confirmed by the experience of his children, that this great evangelical truth has been recovered, which had been or many years well nigh lost and forgotten.For John Wesley himself to say that God has given the Methodists the obligation of teaching the witness of the Spirit to the world is a fascinating statement. Wesley surely felt the weight of responsibility on his shoulders to announce his belief before others.
What is the witness of the Spirit? It's like trying to grab a wet fish; you know he's there but he's hard to grab hold of! Wesley attempts a definition:
I observed many years ago, 'It is hard to find words in the language of men, to explain the deep things of God. Indeed there are none that will adequately express what the Spirit of God works in his children. But perhaps one might say, (desiring any who are taught of God, to correct, soften, or strengthen the expression,) By the testimony of the Spirit, I mean, an inward impression on the soul whereby the Spirit of God immediately and directly witnesses to my spirit, that I am a child of God; that Jesus Christ hath loved me, and given himself for me; that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled to God.'If the venerable evangelist defined it with difficulty we should approach it with caution. However, another question arises--is the witness of the Holy Spirit the same for everybody? Wesley replies in the negative:
After twenty years' further consideration, I see no cause to retract any part of this. Neither do I conceive how any of these expressions may be altered, so as to make them more intelligible. I can only add, that if any of the children of God will point out any other expressions, which are more clear, or more agreeable to the word of God, I will readily lay these aside."
Meantime let it be observed, I do not mean hereby, that the Spirit of God testifies this by any outward voice; no, nor always by an inward voice, although he may do this sometimes. Neither do I suppose, that he always applies to the heart (though he often may) one or more texts of Scripture. But he so works upon the soul by his immediate influence, and by a strong, though inexplicable operation, that the stormy wind and troubled waves subside, and there is a sweet calm; the heart resting as in the arms of Jesus, and the sinner being clearly satisfied that God is reconciled, that all his 'iniquities are forgiven, and his sins covered.'Wesley leaves things a bit indefinite, doesn't he? He recognized that the Spirit is sovereign and may choose different methods for making his children aware that they belong to him and are saved.
Do you have this Holy Spirit witness? Do you know without a doubt that you are born again? If not, please continue to seek the Lord until he blesses you with this grace. It is a blessed doctrine that the late Calvinistic Methodist, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones of the Whitefieldian school of thought, emphasizes so strongly in his book, Joy Unspeakable.
"Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!"
(Psa 105.4 ESV)
Friday, June 23, 2006
What exactly is this belief? In A Plain Account Wesley unfolds it. While in Germany in 1738 John Wesley received the following definition by Arvid Gradin:
Repose in the blood of Christ; a firm confidence in God, and persuasion of his favour; the highest tranquility, serenity, and peace of mind, with a deliverance from every fleshly desire, and a cessation of all, even inward sins.Let's break down Gradin's definition together:
1. Repose in the blood of Christ—resting in the merits of Christ's sacrificial death on the cross
2. A firm confidence in God—a mature faith, not a double-minded or frail faith
3. Persuasion of his favour—the witness of the Holy Spirit that one is a child of God
4. The highest tranquility, serenity, and peace of mind—due to the relationship with the Trinity
5. A deliverance from every fleshly desire—an end to the sin-repent-sin-repent vicious cycle
6. A cessation of all, even inward sins—an end to the war within, no more back and forth tug of war with sin.
Wesley believed that every Christian already is freed from outward sin but a perfected Christian is one who is further cleansed of inward sinful thoughts and attitudes. Christian perfection, according to Wesley,
...is the complying with that kind command, 'My son, give me thy heart.' It is the 'loving the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind.' This is the sum of Christian perfection: It is all comprised in that one word, Love. The first branch of it is the love of God: And as he that loves God loves his brother also, it is inseparably connected with the second: 'Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself:' Thou shalt love every man as thy own soul, as Christ loved us. 'On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets:' These contain the whole of Christian perfection. (Sermons, number 76, "On Perfection")This is an impressive doctrine; however, does such a thing happen when we want it to happen? In other words, can we have it when we choose to experience it? Listen to Wesley's words from A Plain Account:
This was the first account I ever heard from any living man, of what I had before learned myself from the oracles of God, and had been praying for, (with the little company of my friends,) and expecting, for several years.He had been waiting for years to receive this blessing. This is where classic Wesleyanism differs from the Methodist Phoebe Palmer and, later, the holiness movement of the 1800's.
I believe entire sanctification may be had in a moment and I support my conclusion from Romans 6. Consider Paul's thought:
I. First Step: Realization
Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (vvs. 1b-2 ESV)Every believer has died to sin without exception.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (vvs. 3-4 ESV)Paul uses the imagery and symbolism of baptism (by immersion, I believe) that points to a spiritual reality: just as Christ was buried physically in the grave following his crucifixion so, too, were our old sinful selves were done away with, buried, finished. As Christ was raised physcially so, too, were we regenerated and became new creations in Christ Jesus.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. (vvs. 5-10 ESV)Our old lives in the flesh are dead. Our new lives in the Holy Spirit are alive; sin's reign is broken!
II. Second Step: Consideration
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (vs. 11 ESV)The word "consider" is λογίζομαι which means to reckon, calculate, account or deem.
1. If you are a Christian you are dead to sin already.
2. So consider yourself dead to sin already.
It's that simple! But why do so many sincere believers think they cannot stop sinning until they are in heaven? Because they don't know their privilege as a child of God; they don't know the promise. And because they are ignorant of the privilege and promise they don't appropriate it by faith. They think they are enslaved to sin until death and their experience matches their expectations.
III. Third Step: Consecration
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (vvs. 12-14 ESV)Let me share Charles B. William's translation of this passage:
Accordingly, sin must not continue to reign over your mortal bodies, so as to make you continue to obey their evil desires, and you must stop offering to sin the parts of your bodies as instruments for wrongdoing, but you must once for all offer yourselves to God as persons raised from the dead to live on perpetually, and once for all offer the parts of your bodies to God as instruments for right-doing. For sin must not any longer exert its mastery over you, for now you are not living as slaves to law but as subjects to God's favor. (vvs. 12-14)This can be broken into two parts:
Negatively, Paul says stop giving yourself over to sin. Determine that it's over. Period.
Positively, Paul says to consecrate yourself to God in all things for all time.
What happens when a person realizes the Bible says he's dead to sin, appropriates the promise by faith, completely decides to stop the sin game and unconditionally surrenders to God? He is empowered by God and is entirely sanctified.
Christians can get in trouble if they expect certain things to happen to them that happened to other believers. The Bible doesn't promise everybody will act the same and experience the same things. The Bible does promise that a person will live free from rebellion to God's will. Be entirely sanctified and let God determine your experience. You may experience ecstasy...or no deep emotion. You may see a vision...or see nothing. You may feel electricity flow through you...or you may feel nothing.
Living free from sin is enough. That's entire sanctification.
Here are some Scriptures to substantiate a deeper move of the Spirit in the life of a Christian:
...may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1Th 3:12b,13 ESV)Realize that these verses were written to Christians, not sinners. There is more for the believer than "just" salvation. (I put "just" in parentheses because I don't want to devalue it; salvation is the beginning of a relationship with God in which we become partakers of the divine nature. That's not something to be taken lightly! I'm only saying that there is more for the Christian to experience.)
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1Th 5:23-24 ESV)
Has your heart been cleansed of inward sin? If not then seek the Lord for the deliverance from a divided heart.
Additional sources for your consideration:
How Entire is Entire Sanctification? by Howard Culbertson, Roger Hahn, and Dean Nelson
Sanctification Revisited by Susie Stanley (.pdf download)
Theology of Love: The Dynamic of Wesleyanism by Mildred Bangs Wynkoop (.pdf download)
Thursday, June 22, 2006
I don't pretend to be an expert on Wesley, only a student of the man. Further, I don't accept uncritically everything the English evangelist taught because he was a High Church Sacramentalist Anglican priest and I am a Low Church Anabaptist, though I am pleased to be called a "Wesleyan."
Also, it's complicated because there would be a great divergence of opinion among people who align themselves with Wesley as their chief theological influence.
These days we Wesleyans may be defined (by others) by what we don't believe (or what they perceive we don't believe):
1. We don't believe in Total Depravity. (Well, some don't. I do but it may come down to semantics. While we believe that mankind is seriously warped by sin we don't believe that people are so sinful they—aided by prevenient grace—are still unable to choose or reject the Lord. John Wesley held to total depravity but it didn't lead him to Calvinism. )
2. We don't believe in Unconditional Election. (We don't believe that God chooses us to be saved without our participation.)
3. We don't believe in Limited Atonement. (We don't believe that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of only a preselected few.)
4. We don't believe in Irresistible Grace. (We don't believe that God has preselected some people to be saved and so they will be.)
5. We don't believe in Perseverance of the Saints. (We don't believe that all who are truly saved at one point automatically will remain Christians.)
In other words, we aren't Calvinists. That doesn't actually define us, though, does it? Here are some things we believe:
1. We believe that all of the world is under the power of Satan (1 John 5.19) but, aided by God's grace (John 6.44), we can choose to be saved. (Acts 2.40)
2. We believe that we have the ultimate choice as to whether we are saved from our sins or not; God wants us all to be saved.
(2 Peter 3.9)
3. We believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross as an atoning sacrifice for all of the sins of the world. (John 3.16; 1 John 2.2)
4. We believe that we, aided by God's grace, are free to choose to become Christians or free to choose to remain in a life of sin.
5. We believe that salvation is freely accepted and (sadly) freely can be rejected later by a Christian (i.e. "forfeit his salvation"). (John 15.4-6; Romans 11.17-23; Hebrews 6. 4-6; 10.26-31; 12.25)
This is a foundation of Wesleyan thought; we will look at Wesleyan distinctives in following posts. At this point you may ask yourself, "What do I believe?" If someone asked you for a summary of your beliefs, can you answer him cogently?
Remember Peter's admonition:
In your hearts be consecrated to Christ as Lord, and always be ready to make your defense to anyone who asks a reason for the hope you have. But you must do it in gentleness and reverence, and keep your conscience clear, so that those who bitterly abuse your excellent conduct as Christians may be ashamed of slandering you." (1Pe 3.15b-16)
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph 3.14-19 ESV)In the last blog entry concerning Paul's prayer, I want to spend some time on the wonderful phrase, "that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph 3.19b ESV). Praise the Lord! Think of the implications! Wesley expounds in his Explanatory Notes:
That ye may be filled - Which is the sum of all. With all the fulness of God - With all his light, love, wisdom, holiness, power, and glory. A perfection far beyond a bare freedom from sin.Adam Clarke is staggered by the statement and writes in his Commentary:
That ye might be filled with all the fullness of God - Among all the great sayings in this prayer, this is the greatest. To be Filled with God is a great thing; to be filled with the Fulness of God is still greater; but to be filled with All the fullness of God, παν το πληρωμα του Θεου, utterly bewilders the sense and confounds the understanding.Clarke nevertheless attempts to put into words what he declares to be sense bewildering and understanding confounding! Note his elaboration:
By the fullness of God, we are to understand all those gifts and graces which he has promised to bestow on man, and which he dispenses to the Church. To be filled with all the fullness of God, is to have the whole soul filled with meekness, gentleness, goodness, love, justice, holiness, mercy, and truth. And as what God fills, neither sin nor Satan can fill; consequently, it implies that the soul shall be emptied of sin, that sin shall neither have dominion over it, nor a being in it. It is impossible for us to understand these words in a lower sense than this. But how much more they imply, (for more they do imply), I cannot tell. As there is no end to the merits of Christ, no bounds to the mercy and love of God, no limits to the improvability of the human soul, so there can be no bounds set to the saving influence which God will dispense to the heart of every believer. We may ask, and we shall receive, and our joy shall be full.Are you filled unto the fullness of God? If not, continue to do what Paul did for the Ephesian Christians: pray.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (Eph 3.14-19a ESV)Yesterday we examined the crucial theological reality that a relationship with the Holy Spirit isn't static in nature. A believer can grow closer to the Spirit and can shrink back from him. We saw that Paul held out a deeper life in the Spirit for the Ephesian church than they were currently experiencing.
Today we look at the second of my main points from Sunday night's sermon. First, we observe the realization that "Christ may dwell in [our] hearts through faith" (Eph 3.17a ESV). On the surface, this seems confusing; doesn't Christ live in our hearts the moment we believe?
However, Paul speaks of a deeper relationship with the Son of God. Wesley defined "dwell" in his Explanatory Notes as, "constantly and sensibly abide." Let me ask you some questions. Does Jesus refuse to remove his coat because he never knows when he might be asked to leave? Or is his coat hanging in the closet of your heart and his shoes kicked off as he enjoys his residency in your heart? Does he feel at home in your heart?
Second, we notice that Christians can "know the love of Christ" although the full comprehension of it "surpasses knowledge" (Eph 3.19a ESV). This is fertile ground for exploration! The Greek word for "know" here is ginōskō which can be translated, "to know by experience" or even, "to feel." Here Paul tells the Ephesians that they can know personally that Christ loves them--they can point to specific things that proves it and they can even feel it.
As John Wesley concluded his sermon, "On the Discoveries of Faith" on June 11, 1788, he expounded on the topic of Christian perfection. His closing paragraph, located in his Sermons, number 110, is as follows:
These are they to whom the Apostle John gives the venerable title of Fathers, who 'have known him that is from the beginning;' the eternal Three-One God. One of these expresses himself thus: 'I bear about with me an experimental verity and a plenitude of the presence of the ever-blessed Trinity.' And those who are fathers in Christ, generally, though I believe not always, enjoy the plerophory, or 'full assurance of hope;' having no more doubt of reigning with him in glory than if they already saw him coming in the clouds of heaven. But this does not prevent their continually increasing in the knowledge and love of God. While they 'rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks,' they pray in particular, that they may never cease to watch, to deny themselves, to take up their cross daily, to fight the good fight of faith; and against the world, the devil, and their own manifold infirmities; till they are able to 'comprehend, with all saints, what is the length, and breadth, and height, and depth, and to know that love of Christ which passeth knowledge;' yea, to 'be filled with all the fullness of God.'Do you know Christ's love for you? I'm not speak abstractly, I'm speaking practically. Can you point to historical and personal events and say, "I know Jesus loves me?" Can you feel his love for you? If you cannot, I advise you to seek the Face of God until you can.
Monday, June 19, 2006
My main text was Ephesians 3.14-19, my favorite of all of the Apostle Paul's prayers recorded in Scripture. Today we will consider the first of three main points that I made during my sermon.
Let's look at the first division together:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, (Eph 3.14-16 ESV)The Spirit of God is mysterious. We can visualize the God-Man, Jesus Christ. We can understand something of the nature of the heavenly Father due to Christ's description of him and our native understanding of human fatherhood. The Spirit, however, is different. It is hard to fathom a spirit, even so glorious a Spirit as God, himself.
Paul prays for the Ephesians that they are "strengthened with power through [God's] Spirit in [their] inner being" (Eph 3.16b ESV).
Please understand this point--Paul was praying for Christians, not sinners. Since all Christians already are in relationship with Christ's Spirit (Romans 8.9) Paul teaches us here that there remains a depth of a relationship we can sound with the Holy Spirit beyond initial salvation. We can go deeper, higher, farther in our relationship with the Spirit of the Lord.
Christianity isn't static but dynamic. Our relationship with the Spirit can be blazing hot, gently crackling the firewood or cooling like the dying embers of a soon spent fire.
We need the Holy Spirit's strength. Consider Adam Clarke's words in his Commentary:
Ye have many enemies, cunning and strong; many trials, too great for your natural strength; many temptations, which no human power is able successfully to resist; many duties to perform, which cannot be accomplished by the strength of man; therefore you need Divine strength; ye must have might; and ye must be strengthened every where, and every way fortified by that might; mightily and most effectually strengthened."Let me ask you--how is your relationship with the Spirit? Is he a powerful reality in your life or do you tend to think of him in theological abstractions? Is he your friend or do you treat him like a distant acquaintance? You will never be satisfied with your life in God without a powerful infilling of the Holy Spirit (unless you are deceived and oblivious of your spiritual bankruptcy).
When Paul writes, "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit," (Eph 5:18 ESV) he uses some specific Greek grammar (present passive imperative) to make his point. Paul wrote, "Keep on being filled with the Spirit." In other words, it's not a once for all time deal. You must live surrendered to the powerful Spirit of God.
Are you filled?
Sunday, June 18, 2006
Verse 21 is hard to believe. His family thought he lost his senses! In his Word Pictures in the New Testament A. T. Robertson comments on the Greek phrase hoi par' autou which here is translated as "his family" (ESV):
"The phrase means literally 'those from the side of him (Jesus).' It could mean another circle of disciples who had just arrived and who knew of the crowds and strain of the Galilean ministry who now come at this special juncture. But the idiom most likely means the kinspeople or family of Jesus as is common in the lxx."
It seems to mean his family because verses 31-32 make it clear that his family is attempting to reach him. Now, it doesn't shock me that his brothers would try to grab him and take him home forcibly because we learn from John 7.5 that they didn't believe in his Messiahship at this point. However, Jesus mother (verse 31) is in the group wanting to grab him!
How could Mary question a son who was born when she was a virgin? Announced by an angel? We humans are quirky and inconsistent beings!
In his Commentary Adam Clarke elaborates on the phrase "He is out of his mind." (Mark 3.21b ESV):
"It was the enemies of Christ that raised this report; and his relatives, probably thinking that it was true, went to confine him. Let a Christian but neglect the care of his body for a time, in striving to enter in at the strait gate; let a minister of Christ but impair his health by his pastoral labors; presently 'he is distracted;' he has 'not the least conduct nor discretion.' But let a man forget his soul, let him destroy his health by debaucheries, let him expose his life through ambition, and he may, notwithstanding, pass for a very prudent and sensible man!"
Isn't it sad? In this world the sinners look sane and the saints look crazy!
Now, if Jesus' family could be so dead wrong about him then it should warn us. Let us be careful before we judge because our judgments can be fallible. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!
Saturday, June 17, 2006
"Tuesday, 3 (Leeds).--I was reflecting on an odd circumstance, which I cannot account for. I never relish a tune at first hearing, not till I have almost learned to sing it; and as I learn it more perfectly, I gradually lose my relish for it. I observe something similar in poetry; yea, in all the objects of imagination. I seldom relish verses at first hearing; till I have heard them over and over, they give me no pleasure; and they give me next to none when I have heard them a few times more, so as to be quite familiar. Just so a face or a picture, which does not strike me at first, becomes more pleasing as I grow more acquainted with it; but only to a certain point: for when I am too much acquainted, it is no longer pleasing. Oh, how imperfectly do we understand even the machine which we carry about us!"
Isn't that strange? Wesley didn't love music, poetry, faces or pictures until he grew to know them and then, after a time, he grew tired of them all!
That's quirky; Wesley admitted it about himself and further confessed that he didn't know why he was that way. I'm quirky, too...and so are you! Everyone has at least one thing weird thing about himself. It isn't a problem, it's just quirky.
Learning to live in a community of faith--a local congregation--is about learning to live with all the quirkiness. Yes, sometimes another person's quirks could drive you up the wall if you allowed them to. So don't allow them to!
Richard Weymouth translated Romans 15.7b as, "give one another a friendly reception, just as Christ also has received you, and thus promote the glory of God."
Embrace the family of God. Even the quirky ones.
Friday, June 16, 2006
It's a short Scripture, isn't it? Still, it packs a theological punch. It meant much to Wesley. Consider his words on this verse in his Sermons, # 113, "The Difference Between Walking by Sight, and Walking by Faith":
"How short is this description of real Christians! And yet how exceeding full! It comprehends, it sums up, the whole experience of those that are truly such, from the time they are born of God till they remove into Abraham’s bosom. For, who are the we that are here spoken of? All that are true Christian believers. I say Christian, not Jewish, believers. All that are not only servants, but children, of God. All that have 'the Spirit of adoption, crying in their hearts, Abba, Father.' All that have 'the Spirit of God witnessing with their spirits, that they are the sons of God.'"
I must confess, I've never looked at this verse the way Wesley described it; to him, it was a description of Christianity...and Christianity alone. In his view, nobody else could claim such a thing. Wesley says further:
"In order thoroughly to understand this important truth, it may be proper to consider the whole matter. All the children of men that are not born of God 'walk by sight,' having no higher principle. By sight, that is, by sense; a part being put for the whole; the sight for all the senses; the rather, because it is more noble and more extensive than any, or all the rest."
Imagine all of the world in one of two categories---the believing and the seeing---with the former superior and the latter inferior.
It is not as though we are without light; rather, we walk by an inner light, a revelation of God that sinners don't have. Consider Paul's words to the Thessalonians:
"For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness." (1Th 5.5 ESV)
There it is, the strong contrast of two different groups of people. Some may consider it simplistic to place all of humanity in only one of two groups but I will counter with the argument that it is biblical. If one accepts the Scriptures as the last word then he will have to deal with the implications of the division.
So, do you live by inner light or by outer light?
Thursday, June 15, 2006
...to this day both my brother and I maintained, (1.) That Christian perfection is that love of God and our neighbour, which implies deliverance from all sin. (2.) That this is received merely by faith. (3.) That it is given instantaneously, in one moment. (4.) That we are to expect it, not at death, but every moment; that now is the accepted time, now is the day of this salvation.Wesley didn't think that Christians had to die physically before they stopped sinning! (Not stop making mistakes but stop deliberate sinning.) While this is nothing new in holiness quarters, I fear it's new to Evangelicalism as a whole.
Whatever else he was, Wesley was a realist. He understood that some Christians didn't receive this grace the moment they prayed for it. He adds a question and answer section later in the work, including these statements from Plain Account:
Q. Is this death to sin, and renewal in love, gradual or instantaneous?Wesley gives us much to digest, doesn't he? I'll tell you bluntly, he convicts me! What about you?
A. A man may he dying for some time; yet he does not, properly speaking, die, till the instant the soul is separated from the body; and in that instant he lives the life of eternity. In like manner, he may be dying to sin for some time; yet he is not dead to sin, till sin is separated from his soul; and in that instant he lives the full life of love. And as the change undergone, when the body dies, is of a different kind, and infinitely greater than any we had known before, yea, such as till then it is impossible to conceive; so the change wrought, when the soul dies to sin, is of a different kind, and infinitely greater than any before, and than any can conceive till he experiences it. Yet he stills grows in grace, in the knowledge of Christ, in the love and image of God; and will do so, not only till death, but to all eternity.
Q. How are we to wait for this change?
A. Not in careless indifference, or indolent inactivity; but in vigorous, universal obedience, in a zealous keeping of all the commandments, in watchfulness and painfulness, in denying ourselves, and taking up our cross daily; as well as in earnest prayer and fasting and a close attendance on all the ordinances of God. And if any man dream of attaining it any other way, (yea, or of keeping it when it is attained, when he has received it even in the largest measure,) he deceive his own soul. It is true, we receive it by simple faith: But God does not, will not, give that faith, unless we seek it with all diligence, in the way which he hath ordained.
This consideration may satisfy those who inquire, why so few have received the blessing. Inquire, how many are seeking it in this way; and you have a sufficient answer.
Prayer especially is wanting. Who continues instant therein? Who wrestles with God for this very thing? So,`ye have not, because ye ask not; or because ye ask amiss,' namely, that you may be renewed before you die. Before you die! Will that content you? Nay, but ask that it may be done now; to-day, while it is called to-day. Do not call this `setting God a time.' Certainly, to-day is his time as well as to-morrow. Make haste, man, make haste! Let
Thy soul break out in strong desire
The perfect bliss to prove;
Thy longing heart be all on fire
To be dissolved in love!
Do you want God more than you want your next breath of air?
Do you want God so badly you hunger and thirst for his righteousness?
Do you want the will of God more than you want your own plans to succeed?
Do you want a heart perfected in love?
Many people in the Church don't even believe such a relationship with God is possible. My guess is that many more don't want to think about it too deeply. Call him an enthusiast, call him a fanatic, call him what you will, John Wesley shook England. If the Lord Jesus waits in his Day of Resurrection and Judgment, long after I'm dead people still will be talking about him.
Because he dared to preach about loving God ferociously.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
I think the word "Christian" is thrown around way too carelessly. A Christian is a Christ-disciple, an obedient student at the feet of his Master.
I hunger and thirst to see a Wesleyan revival in which sinners are saved, saints are perfected in love and the devil is worried. More William Carvosso read and experienced.
I want to see a Wesleyan revival that is the most irrelevant move of God in ecclesiastical history. (By "irrelevant" I mean a revival transcendent from culture, the ability to stand outside and prophetically call the world to come out and "be ye separate"!) Any strategy or program that makes the Church look like a bad knock-off copy of the world makes me leery; here's a motto that won't: "Holiness unto the Lord!"
I want us to remember that the world is full of sinners (and we can't be afraid of telling them they are depraved and only the Lord Jesus can save them). I want to call saints to entire sanctification. I want to see the word "worldliness" brought back into the common vernacular---but without the legalistic trappings.
Demographics studies, charts and figures may have their place but they don't replace the move of the Spirit. Read this from Wesley's Journal for September 20-21, 1743:
Tuesday, 20.—At Trezuthan Downs I preached to two or three thousand people on the 'highway' of the Lord, the way of holiness. We reached Gwennap a little before six and found the plain covered from end to end. It was supposed there were ten thousand people, to whom I preached Christ our 'wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.' I could not conclude till it was so dark we could scarcely see one another. And there was on all sides the deepest attention; none speaking, stirring, or scarcely looking aside. Surely here, though in a temple not made with hands, was God worshiped in 'the beauty of holiness.'That is revival--plain and unflinching. Preaching the Bible. Living in the Spirit. That's what I want. The salvation of burdened sinners, the perfecting of clear-cut saints in holiness and love by the Holy Spirit.
Wednesday, 21.—I was awakened between three and four by a large company of tinners who, fearing they should be too late, had gathered round the house and were singing and praising God. At five I preached once more on 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.' They all devoured the Word. Oh, may it be health to their soul and marrow unto their bones!"
What do you think?
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
My answers are:
First, the answer is "no" most strongly---if one sees Holy Spirit appointment as an automatic divine reaction to a human meeting of predetermined requirements. In other words, this belief says that anyone will/must become the next Wesley if he just jumps through all the hoops.
You may fast and you still may not be chosen.
You may pray without ceasing and you still may not be chosen.
You may preach like Amos on his most fiery day and you still may not be chosen.
You may witness to sinners and you still may not be chosen.
You may hold "watch meetings" and "love feasts" and you still may not be chosen.
You may read Wesley until you're sick of him and you still may not be chosen.
God is sovereign. What made the Wesleys and Fletcher, well, the Wesleys and Fletcher? Not a thing but a person: God. Any true revival occurs because the Trinity says, "I pick that one," and the Spirit appears with a winnowing fork, separating him from the chaff.
Second, the answer is "maybe" most intriguingly---if one sees Holy Spirit appointment as a sovereign choice but in concert with human preparation.
You may fast and you may be (or have been) chosen.
You may pray without ceasing and you may be (or have been) chosen.
You may preach like Amos on his most fiery day and you may be (or have been) chosen.
You may witness to sinners and you may be (or have been) chosen.
You may hold "watch meetings" and "love feasts" and you may be (or have been) chosen.
You may read Wesley until you're sick of him and you may be (or have been) chosen.
My point is this: be ready in case God says of you, "I pick that one," and the Spirit appears with a winnowing fork, separating you from the chaff.
Now, does God in part say, "I pick that one" because one is already ready to be separated from the chaff, or does one become ready to be separated from the chaff because God already has said, "I pick that one"? That's a question I can't answer but I exhort us all to be ready because holiness requires it, nonetheless.
What person can say where the wind of the Spirit will blow? I pray all through me and mine, and you, too!
I won't attempt to cloak myself in false humility; I want to be sent out in the spirit and power of Wesley (ref. Luke 1.17) but that's not my choice. That decision (at least in part) rests with the Triune God.
In his Sermons, number 46, Wesley notes the importance of prayer in "The Wilderness State":
“Perhaps no sin of omission more frequently occasions this [wilderness state] than the neglect of private prayer; the want whereof cannot be supplied by any other ordinance whatever. Nothing can be more plain, than that the life of God in the soul does not continue, much less increase, unless we use all opportunities of communing with God, and pouring out our hearts before him.”
In short, be prayed up, prayed through and hope that the Trinity threshes you from the chaff.
Will there ever be another John Wesley?
You just never know.
Monday, June 12, 2006
"Indeed, my witness is God, whom I serve in my spirit by telling the good news about His Son, that I never fail to mention you every time I pray, always entreating God that somehow by His will I may some day at last succeed in getting to see you. For I am longing to see you, to impart to you some spiritual gift, that you may be strengthened; in other words, that we may be mutually encouraged, while I am with you, by one another's faith, yours and mine. Furthermore, I want you to know, brothers, that I have often planned to come to see you (though until now I have been prevented), in order that I may gather some fruit among you too, as I have among the rest of the heathen. To Greeks and to all the other nations, to cultured and to uncultured people alike, I owe a duty. So, as far as I can, I am eager to preach the good news to you at Rome, too." (Rom 1.9-15)
This expresses the Apostle Paul's desire to visit the Church of God in Rome; he has never done so, though he knows several individuals in the congregation (chapter 16). Constant prayers have been prayed that he may be allowed to visit them, first so they can share fellowship and then Paul hopes that they will be a financial base of operations for missionary work in Spain (Romans 15.20-24). Paul mentions that he has one thing to do before joining them--he must drop off an offering in Jerusalem for the needy Christians (Romans 15.25-28).
As we know, though, history records that things didn't go the way Paul wanted them to go. After his arrest in Jerusalem through the instigation of some fellow Jews, Paul was imprisoned for a few years before he finally arrived in Rome; however, he came as a prisoner--having appealed his case to the emperor--and not as a free man.
Life often doesn't go the way we plan it, does it? We may pray continually about some concern, hoping God will give us what we ask and how we ask it. However, God is sovereign and he keeps his own counsel as to what he will allow in our lives.
John Wesley comments on Romans 15.28 in his Explanatory Notes:
"When I have sealed to them this fruit - When I have safely delivered to them, as under seal, this fruit of their brethren's love. I will go by you into Spain - Such was his design; but it does not appear that Paul went into Spain. There are often holy purposes in the minds of good men, which are overruled by the providence of God so as never to take effect. And yet they are precious in the sight of God."
Being a Christian, then, means that we have to learn how to deal with disappointment. I'm not trying to say that God is unfair or unjust or any other "un" I can recollect. I simply submit to you that what he pray for and what we receive may be two different things. Since the judge of all the earth does right (Genesis 18.25) we can rest assured that we do not receive evil from the Lord though we may receive evil from the world. Sometimes, we must rest in God's unfathomable sovereignty, often inscrutable.
Sunday, June 11, 2006
Survey of Old Testament
Survey of New Testament
History and Interpretation of the English Bible
New Testament Greek
Dr. Shelton was a man of learning with post-graduate work at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. (He traveled to Israel 16 or 17 times.)
One could tell his love for Ha'aretz, The Land. He would show slides of biblical places and fight back tears. He seemed to have his deepest love in teaching Tanach so it truly blessed me when my mentor honored me with the Old Testament Studies award my senior year of college; taking the plaque from his hand is one of the highlights of my academic career.
Dr. Shelton wasn't "cool" in today's world but, rather, old with a wrinkled face and slicked back hair. The running joke among students was that Dr. Shelton either was Moses or at least knew him personally. Still, a Giant walked among us in those days.
One of the greatest compliments I have ever received came from him. It came at the close of my time at MBC. Shelton, the Nazarene, told me, a minister in the Church of God (Anderson), "I wish we had you." If I live to be 100 that will still be one of my proudest moments.
Lest this homage sound too cozy, I'll tell you about my lowest grade I ever received from him. I received a "C" in Minor Prophets class. He told me that I probably would've received an "A" if I had completed all of my collateral reading. (In my thinking, if I could get an "A" without reading the material, why penalize me? Still, he was the professor!)
Dr. Shelton was King of the Land of Hand-Outs. He apparently never met a hand-out he didn't like and enjoyed passing them out. We would use little to none of them in our classes but that didn't deter him from distributing them, I suppose for our general knowledge. (Don't quote me on this but I heard one student quit Pentateuch class after the first day due to the sheer volume of hand-outs.)
The venerable Doctor loved giving tests; he seemed genuinely giddy as he unloaded some of the hardest tests ever given in the history of the school.
A tribute to the scholar is incomplete without a mention of his humor. On a couple of occasions I heard him say (at our amillennial college) that if the Rapture occurred before test day then he would leave the tests with Doctor Trick (or Neal) to pass out! Oh, that glorious laugh. I can still hear it.
One Greek class did horribly on a test. Posted on his door was a note:
Alexander the Great is hanging his head in shame that his attempt to Hellenize the world ended on [insert date] in Beginning Greek class at Mid-America Bible College.Dr. Shelton's translation of choice was the Revised Standard Version. He really didn't like the paraphrased Living Bible. He used to say, "A person won't learn anything about the Bible by reading the Living Bible!" The Doctor died before the New Living Translation appeared but I doubt he'd have much good to say about that one, either. He taught Greek from the formal equivalency philosophy, not dynamic equivalency variety.
There were two phrases he repeated many times. The first was "Now, this isn't something I'll be asking you on a test..." and the other was "On that."
Yes, "On that." For some reason he repeated this countless times during my four year education with him. I think it might have been his version of "Uh..." It may have been his personal "selah" expression.
The greatest zinger I ever heard in the four years of college chapel services came from Shelton. He preached on entire sanctification and delivered this line from the podium:
First Peter is a paraenetic letter to diaspora Jews on an eschatalogical journey from their New Birth to the return of Jesus Christ...uh...on that.He pronounced his Greek with a Sooner accent. I truly loved the man. He now lives in heaven with the Lord he faithfully preached and taught about.
God bless you, Malcolm.
This is quite a statement; an apostle, one who has seen the risen Lord, admits that his knowledge (and his prophesying) is incomplete...there are gaps in knowledge and in prophecy. John Wesley comments on this admission in his Explanatory Notes:
"For we know in part, and we prophesy in part - The wisest of men have here but short, narrow, imperfect conceptions, even of the things round about them, and much more of the deep things of God. And even the prophecies which men deliver from God are far from taking in the whole of future events, or of that wisdom and knowledge of God which is treasured up in the scripture revelation."
In other words, we're ignorant; I mean that in a good way! :-) we are incomplete in our information concerning things spiritual.
Now, I'm not saying we have an incomplete knowledge of the necessities--I completely believe God's Word from Genesis to Revelation is complete for our lives on this earth. The Spirit reveals Christ in the Word, and Christ glorifies God. However, the Bible doesn't contain all of the mind of God (which is impossible) or all the things that could be known (which is unnecessary). God revealed what he wished to reveal and that is limited; it leaves us in ignorance, and that's just fine because God wanted it that way!
Saturday, June 10, 2006
"After preaching at Oakhill about noon, I rode to Shepton and found them all under a strange consternation. A mob, they said, was hired, prepared, and made sufficiently drunk, in order to do all manner of mischief. I began preaching between four and five; none hindered or interrupted at all. We had a blessed opportunity, and the hearts of many were exceedingly comforted. I wondered what was become of the mob. But we were quickly informed: they mistook the place, imagining I should alight (as I used to do) at William Stone’s house, and had summoned, by drum, all their forces together to meet me at my coming: but Mr. Swindells innocently carrying me to the other end of the town, they did not find their mistake till I had done preaching: so that the hindering this, which was one of their designs, was utterly disappointed.
"However, they attended us from the preaching house to William Stone’s, throwing dirt, stones, and clods in abundance; but they could not hurt us. Only Mr. Swindells had a little dirt on his coat, and I a few specks on my hat."
This is a fascinating account in the life of the busy evangelist; however, it wasn't to be over. The drunk mob didn't disperse but continued their riotous behavior. Wesley continues:
"After we were gong into the house, they began throwing great stones, in order to break the door. But perceiving this would require some time, they dropped that design for the present. They first broke all the tiles on the penthouse over the door and then poured in a shower of stones at the windows. One of their captains, in his great zeal, had followed us into the house and was now shut in with us. He did not like this and would fain have got out; but it was not possible; so he kept as close to me as he could, thinking himself safe when he was near me: but, staying a little behind—when I went up two pair of stairs and stood close on one side, where we were a little sheltered—a large stone struck him on the forehead, and the blood spouted out like a stream. He cried out, 'O sir, are we to die tonight? What must I do? What must I do?' I said, 'Pray to God. He is able to deliver you from all danger.' He took my advice and began praying in such a manner as he had scarcely done ever since he was born."
I must confess that I've never been in a house where people who hated me were stoning it! Wesley sure knew how to attract hatred. What is hilarious is that a drunk leader of the mob, accidentally locked inside, stayed close to Wesley because he believed he would be safe! However, a rock to the head told him otherwise. Back to Wesley's account:
"Mr. Swindells and I then went to prayer; after which I told him, 'We must not stay here; we must go down immediately.' He said, 'Sir, we cannot stir; you see how the stones fly about.' I walked straight through the room and down the stairs; and not a stone came in, till we were at the bottom. The mob had just broken open the door when we came into the lower room; and exactly while they burst in at one door, we walked out at the other. Nor did one man take any notice of us, though we were within five yards of each other."
The Lord Jesus never promised Christians an easy life. In fact, he carefully explained that the slaves of Satan would afflict the Church of God. Notice his warning:
"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me." (John 15.18-21 ESV)
About eight months before this experience Wesley commits to paper another experience in a Journal entry for Tuesday June 30, 1747, in which he sounds perplexed (perhaps uneasy) that he isn't receiving persecution in a place where things got rough for him before:
"We came to St. Ives before morning prayers, and walked to church without so much as one huzza. How strangely has one year changed the scene in Cornwall! This is now a peaceable, nay, honorable station. They give us good words almost in every place. What have we done that the world should be so civil to us?"
Christianity records a warning for those who never stir up opposition:
"Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets." (Luke 6.26 ESV)
Now, John Wesley had his share of persecution; I'm not suggesting that he was a false prophet. Still, I wonder if he felt uncomfortable in the absence of opposition in Cornwall!
I'm not suggesting we try to instigate trouble for ourselves but others may attempt to do just that toward us. Are we never opposed for the Truth? Do we never feel the sting of rejection because we stand for the Truth? Have we never had people refuse to associate with us because we are different than they are? Does everybody like us? Is that a good thing?
Friday, June 9, 2006
My readers will naturally expect that I should either give a decided preference to some one of the opinions stated above, or produce one of my own; I can do neither, nor can I pretend to explain the book: I do not understand it; and in the things which concern so sublime and awful a subject, I dare not, as my predecessors, indulge in conjectures. I have read elaborate works on the subject, and each seemed right till another was examined. I am satisfied that no certain mode of interpreting the prophecies of this book has yet been found out, and I will not add another monument to the littleness or folly of the human mind by endeavoring to strike out a new course. I repeat it, I do not understand the book; and I am satisfied that not one who has written on the subject knows any thing more of it than myself.Clarke writes further, "I had resolved, for a considerable time, not to meddle with this book, because I foresaw that I could produce nothing satisfactory on it".
And yet again:
Shall I have the reader’s pardon if I say that it is my firm opinion that the expositions of this book have done great disservice to religion: almost every commentator has become a prophet; for as soon as he began to explain he began also to prophesy. And what has been the issue? Disappointment laughed at hope’s career, and superficial thinkers have been led to despise and reject prophecy itself.Isn't that fascinating? A scholar writing a set of commentaries covering the entire Bible shrugs his shoulders at the book of Revelation and says, in effect, "It beats me!" This elevates the famed scholar, Adam Clarke, LL.D., in my mind. It takes a great person to say, "I don't know." May we all get used to saying it!
Thursday, June 8, 2006
What's a pastor to do about specific thorny problems that grow in the garden of the Church of God? He can't say, "I'm going to sit out on this one." He has to make tough choices that may offend a group of people, if not multiple groups.
Earlier I laid down a principle: if something isn't found in the word of God then you can't create a tradition that is as binding as Scripture itself. That is certainly true. However, ministers often have to make judgment calls as different problems surface.
For example, suppose a man in his twenties started bringing a cola with him to Sunday morning worship? His pattern was to open the cola somewhere between the first song and the offering. The cola would be consumed before the preacher began the second point of his sermon.
What do we do with that? There's no New Testament teaching that says, "Thou shalt not drink a beverage during worship." However, it would likely cause a disturbance around him and irk the pastor because of the cola drinker's apparent cavalier attitude toward something as serious as the worship of the Triune God!
What should the pastor do? I submit that the minister should talk to him privately and explain that we should "be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire." (Heb 12.28-29 ESV)
Wesley wrote, "For our God is a consuming fire - in the strictness of his justice, and purity of his holiness." To me, that means we should put our cola cans down and act like we are in the presence of the King of Kings!
No, there isn't a specific Scripture for precisely this event; however, I believe the eldership of a church has the responsibility (and authority) to instruct members from general principles in the Bible, applying them to specific occasions as the need arises.
Here's another scenario. A young lady in the congregation is going to have a baby out of wedlock. There's no hiding that sin because the results of her choice grows with each month! (We applaud her that she hasn't chosen abortion.) Some ladies in the church want to host a baby shower for the young lady. Now, here's the rub: where should it be held?
Should it be allowed in the church fellowship hall? If so, is that making light of fornication? If a minister decides that it should be held in a church member's home, is that making light of redeeming grace and adding to the unwed mother's shame (if she's repentant)?
What if the poor pastor isn't comfortable with either choice because he can list pros and cons for each side? That is a scenario that pastors don't like and don't want.
Do you catch my drift? Church leadership is forced to make judgment calls all of the time, and each decision may bring angry phone calls or visits!
I can't tell you that these judgment calls are easy to make but they are unavoidable. When do extemporaneous judgment calls by elders cross over the line and become traditionalism? There isn't an easy answer to that question so we just have to try to do the best we can.
Wednesday, June 7, 2006
In this post I want to provide examples of what I consider to be the difference between proper traditions and improper traditionalism.
The Bible says: we must worship God by singing to one another
Traditionalism says: we must sing only hymns, Southern Gospel, contemporary Christian, or praise choruses. The rest is either worldly or God dishonoring.
The Bible says: we are to dress modestly and appropriately (2 Ti 2.9)
Traditionalism says: it is sinful to wear shorts, short sleeves, loud ties, clerical collars, etc.
The Bible says: we must be biblically literate (Ro 15.4; 1 Ti 3.15-17).
Traditionalism says: we must study the Bible using only the King James Version, New International Version, New Revised Standard Version, etc.
The Bible says: we must conduct our services in decent order
Traditionalism says: we must order our services with the following...welcome and announcements; opening prayer; opening song; tithes and offering collection; song; prayer concerns; prayer song; prayer; song; special; sermon; song of response; prayer; dismissal.
The Bible says: we must evangelize the sinful
(Mt 28.18-20; Lk 10.1-2).
Traditionalism says: we must have an "altar" and invite sinners to be saved after the sermon.
The Bible says: we must be obedient to government
(Ro 13.1-7; 1 Pe 2.13-17).
Traditionalism says: we must be obedient Republicans or Democrats.
The Bible says: we must shun evil things (Php 4.8,9; 1 Th 5.22).
Traditionalism says: it is flat-out wrong to listen to secular music (be it country, rock, anything else), watch television, movies, go to public pools, dance, etc.
The Bible says: we must not be greedy and money loving
(Jas 5.1-6; 1 Ti 6.10).
Traditionalism says: it's sinful to be rich.
The Bible says: God can heal a sick person (Jas 5.13-16).
Traditionalism says: God will heal any Christian if he has enough faith.
I hope this diverse list gives you a grasp of what I'm trying to convey. Adherence to tradition is wrong if it is based on an incorrect interpretation of Scripture or if it goes beyond the Bible's broad principles and makes demands never made by the Word.
So, what are some pointers you can learn to avoid the Tradition Trap? Please consider these:
1. Know the Bible forward and backward.
How do you know the difference between what traditionalism merely dictates and what the Word of God actually supports? There's only one way: thoroughly know the Bible. If you don't, you are literally at the mercy of what others say the Bible teaches...and remember, some of them can be far from the truth!
Hear Wesley's warning from his sermon, "On Corrupting the Word of God":
The First and great mark of one who corrupts the word of God, is, introducing into it human mixtures; either the errors [heresies] of others, or the fancies of his own brain. To do this, is to corrupt it in the highest degree; to blend with the oracles of God, impure dreams, fit only for the mouth of the devil! And yet it has been so frequently done, that scarce ever was any erroneous[heretical] opinion either invented or received, but Scripture was quoted to defend it. [2.] And when the imposture was too bare-faced, and the text cited for it appeared too plainly either to make against it, or to be nothing to the purpose, then recourse has usually been had to a Second method of corrupting it, by mixing it with false interpretations. And this is done, sometimes by repeating the words wrong; and sometimes by repeating them right, but putting a wrong sense upon them; one that is either strained and unnatural, or foreign to the writer’s intention in the place from whence they are taken; perhaps contrary either to his intention in that very place, or to what he says in some other part of his writings. And this is easily effected: Any passage is easily perverted, by being recited singly, without any of the preceding or following verses. By this means it may often seem to have one sense, when it will be plain, by observing what goes before and what follows after, that it really has the direct contrary: For want of observing which, unwary souls are liable to be tossed about with every wind of doctrine, whenever they fall into the hand of those who have enough of wickedness and cunning, thus to adulterate what they preach, and to add now and then a plausible comment to make it go down the more easily.2. Obey everything the New Testament explicitly commands (in culturally transcendent matters).
I want you to approach the Bible as a thirsty man approaches an oasis in the desert. The Bible is the authority in your life; obey it without question or reserve.
3. Develop a biblical mindset to decide on gray areas.
Some things are not explicitly commanded or forbidden in Scripture, nor can they be deduced easily. What do you do, then? You must know Scripture well enough to make up your mind about things not clear-cut from the Word. Obviously, you can only think in a biblical mindset if you have enough Bible in your mind sitting!
4. Keep your personal, private convictions to yourself.
After you have reached your conclusions on doubtful matters from a study of Scripture keep them tucked into your hat, but don't let them stick out for all to see! In other words, allow others the grace to come to their own conclusions about the nonessentials.
If you feel it's sinful for you to listen to secular music, God bless your sensitive conscience. Just don't try to force your view on another. Do you think Sunday is the best day to have worship services? Good for you for thinking it through to resolution. Just don't get mad if the leadership of the congregation wants to switch to Saturday night, for you don't have biblical allowance to become angry. Live in the Spirit and let live.
5. Don't flaunt your liberty in front of others with weaker consciences.
If you know someone would be hurt (or tempted to go against his conscience and, thus, sin) as a result of what you believe you are free to do, then don't do it in front of him...or, if need be, don't do it at all.
Paul addressed this principle:
To close this second part on tradition and the Bible, remember this paraphrased saying from Augustine, "In essential matters, unity; in nonessential things, diversity; in all things, charity!"
Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. (1Co 8.8-13 ESV)
Tuesday, June 6, 2006
Thursday, 29.—I left London and in the evening expounded to a small company at Basingstoke, Saturday, 31. In the evening I reached Bristol and met Mr. Whitefield there. I could scarcely reconcile myself at first to this strange way of preaching in the fields, of which he set me an example on Sunday; I had been all my life (till very lately) so tenacious of every point relating to decency and order that I should have thought the saving of souls almost a sin if it had not been done in a church. (Journal of John Wesley, entry in March 1739)In this rather humorous journal entry Wesley admits extreme reluctance to the thought of preaching outside. The prim and proper Anglican minister's scruple gives us an excellent opportunity to discuss a Church problem that has harassed us from the beginning, something I like to call tradition verses traditionalism.
Biblically speaking, the Greek word paradosis is used in the New Testament of both good and bad traditions. Paradosis means to give up or give over; it means to pass down instruction from one generation to another. For the sake of clarity, I use tradition to speak of good instruction verses bad traditionalism to speak of legalistic instruction.
For example, Paul could write such Scripture:
Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. (1Co 11.2 ESV)
So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. (2Th 2.15 ESV)I believe Paul is saying what Jude describes in another way:
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jud 1.3 ESV)The New Testament, then, teaches that good Tradition is the same as The Faith. There is nothing wrong with this; in fact, we should be passing down The Faith to others.
However, the Door of Paradosis swings both ways. Jesus could condemn religious leaders who taught wrong tradition:
"Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 'Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.' He answered them, 'And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.' But you say, 'If anyone tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is given to God, he need not honor his father.' So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'" (Mat 15.1-9 ESV)This is a prime and horrific example of traditionalism. It is legalism and it is deadly to the move of the Spirit in the life of a person or a congregation. Let me describe four dangers of traditionalism.
1. Traditionalism wrongly can become just as authoritative as Scripture itself.
Traditionalism may mean well, but it can come to command as high a level of obedience as the Bible. That is tragic, because nothing else is to be given the respect and authority of Scripture, which Paul said was "breathed out by God" (2 Ti 3.16b ESV). If God wanted more rules in his Word he would have inserted them as the Bible was written.
2. Traditionalism is molded by people who are fallible.
This society honors people who are sincere; the sticking point comes when sincere people are sincerely wrong. My case in point involves a person I knew. He (a Gentile) felt that women should not wear pants. Evidently he came across Deuteronomy 22.5 which said that men and women were not allowed to swap clothes. However, that passage says nothing about the modern fashion industry making male and female pants! I think his interpretation went well beyond what was actually written or could be logically deduced!
When people take it upon themselves to get too specific with hard and fast rules on how to obey general principles of the Bible, they place themselves in the precarious position of wrongly burdening others. This is called "spiritual bondage," and it is no laughing matter.
3. Traditionalism frequently is inconsistent and illogical.
Remember my illustration of the man at the last point? Well, he didn't have any problem eating a ham sandwich, with was also against Mosaic Law (Lev 11.7)! He was inconsistent and illogical in his rules.
4. Traditionalism often breeds a spirit of pride and criticism.
There's a dirty little secret about those who toe the fine line of traditionalism: they often become proud of their obedience. You see, the more folks think they are walking the straight and narrow, the more they feel they are upholding the moral standards of past, nobler generations, the easier it is for them to pat themselves on the back. After all, they should feel proud of themselves for keeping such a difficult, unwritten list of do's and don'ts, right? Who do they become? Saints misguided by traditionalism.
There's another dirty little secret about those who toe the fine line: they often become judgmental of others who won't follow their rules. They believe that they have the right answers, and so it goes that anyone who doesn't agree with them is wrong. It's easy to begin judging his spirituality at that point. It becomes perniciously easy even to question his salvation...and all based on rules not found in Scripture!
Don't forget the uncomfortable illustration given by the Lord:
"To some people who were confident that they themselves were upright, but who scorned everybody else, He told the following story: 'Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee stood and said this self-centered prayer, 'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of men, robbers, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast two days in the week. I pay a tithe on everything I get.' But the tax-collector stood at a distance and would not even lift his eyes to heaven, but continued to beat his breast, and say, 'O God, have mercy on me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man, and not the other, went back home forgiven and accepted by God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.'" (Luke 18.9-14)