Monday, July 31, 2006

God Forgives Sinners Through Christ (Romans № 7)

In our last entry we began to get into the heart of the Apostle Paul's gospel. We have seen already that both Gentile (Rom 1.18-32; 2.12-16) and Jew (Rom 2.1-29) are all sinners--the Gentiles have violated their consciences and the Jews have violated Torah. Both groups are thoroughly ruined and damned by sin (Rom 3.9-20).

It's been bleak! However, the great news is that rebellious sinners can be reconciled to God. This is accomplished through the gospel of Jesus--his sinless life, his death and his resurrection.

Today let's look at some great terms from Rom 3.21-26:

"But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe." (Rom 3.21-22a ESV)

1. The Righteousness of God (δικαιοσυνη θεου)

We're not 100% sure how to translate this wonderful phrase. It can mean:

A. "the righteousness of God", i.e.

"That is, the manner of becoming righteous which God hath appointed" [Wesley, Explanatory Notes]
"God's method of saving sinners" [Clarke, Commentary]

B. "a righteousness of God", i.e.

Subjective genitive, "a God kind of righteousness," [Robertson, Word Pictures (Rom 1.17)]

In any case, it is apparent that salvation from sin is apart from our own effort; we cannot earn our way to heaven by racking up celestial brownie points. Our faith must be in Christ, not ourselves.

"For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus," (Rom 3.22b-24 ESV)

2. Justified (δικαιουμενοι)

"Being justified (dikaioumenoi). Present passive participle of dikaioo, to set right, repeated action in each case, each being set right." [Robertson]

How can a person be "[p]ardoned and accepted" [Wesley]? Wesley elaborates in his Sermons, # 20, "The Lord Our Righteousness":

"But do not you believe inherent righteousness? Yes, in its proper place; not as the ground of our acceptance with God, but as the fruit of it; not in the place of imputed righteousness, but as consequent upon it. That is, I believe God implants righteousness in every one to whom he has imputed it. I believe 'Jesus Christ is made of God unto us sanctification,' as well as 'righteousness;' or, that God sanctifies, as well as justifies, all them that believe in him. They to whom the righteousness of Christ is imputed, are made righteous by the spirit of Christ, are renewed in the image of God, 'after the likeness wherein they were created, in righteousness and true holiness.'"

3. Redemption (απολυτρωσεως)

This is "a releasing effected by payment of ransom" [Thayer, Greek Definitions]

We were imprisoned by sin but God "sprung" us out of jail! We were purchased by a priceless thing, the death of Jesus.

"whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins." (Rom 3.25 ESV)

4. Propitiation (ιλαστηριον)

This atoning sacrifice upon the cross was to satisfy divine justice against sin. The death of Christ was "[t]o appease an offended God. But if, as some teach, God never was offended, there was no need of this propitiation." [Wesley]

In short, God is satisfied with his Son's death at Calvary; we know this because he raised Christ from the dead. Let us rejoice with the author of Hebrews:

"For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, 'Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, 'Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.'' When he said above, 'You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings' (these are offered according to the law), then he added, 'Behold, I have come to do your will.' He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." (Heb 10:4-10 ESV)

I hope you can look past the Greek lesson and feast on the meat of God's Word. We find forgiveness through faith in Christ.

Christianity is as broad as the cross, but it is also as narrow, too. God will accept anyone who comes to him through his Son's atoning sacrifice--but it must be through Jesus only (John 14.6).

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Homo Unius Libri

What is your spiritual lighthouse that shows you the way to heaven?

After quoting some from his tract, "The Character of a Methodist", John Wesley penned these words in his grand work, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection:

"These are the very words wherein I largely declared, for the first time, my sentiments of Christian perfection. And is it not easy to see, (1.) That this is the very point at which I aimed all along from the year 1725; and more determinately from the year 1730, when I began to be homo unius libri, "a man of one book," regarding none, comparatively, but the Bible?"

I do not trust the ancient creeds to be the Word of God. I do not trust the Ante-Nicene Fathers to be the Word of God. I do not trust a Magisterium of bishops or Tradition to be the Word of God.

I trust the Bible to be the Word of God.

May I study many scholarly and devotional works in my life but, in the end, may I be Homo Unius Libri--"A Man of One Book".

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Are Your Ducks In a Row?

The last Journal entry that John Wesley ever made was on October 24, 1790. The aged Anglican cleric penned these words:

"Sunday, 24.--l explained, to a numerous congregation in Spitalfields church, 'the whole armor of God.' St. Paul's, Shadwell, was still more crowded in the afternoon, while I enforced that important truth, 'One thing is needful'; and I hope many, even then, resolved to choose the better part."

This phrase, "One thing is needful" is from a meal Jesus attended:

"Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, 'Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.' But the Lord answered her, 'Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary [needful, KJV]. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.'" (Luke 10.38-42 ESV)

Wesley's Explanatory Notes is quite direct; he writes, "Mary hath chosen the good part - To save her soul. Reader, hast thou?"

Reader, hast thou?

Do you have a direct relationship with the Triune God made possible only by the death and resurrection of the incarnate God-Man, the Lord Jesus? If you were to slip into Eternity in the next moment, would you be ready to give an account of your life before Christ? Could you say that you were busy about his business, or would you feel shame at a squandered life?

In his Sermons, # 17, "The Circumcision of the Heart", Wesley preached:

"Have no end, to ultimate end, but God. Thus our Lord: 'One thing is needful:' And if thine eye be singly fixed on this one thing, 'thy whole body shall be full of light.'"

Are your priorities correct? Is God at the top of the list? Is God your ultimate end? To use a modern colloquialism, do you have your ducks in a row?

Friday, July 28, 2006

World On Your Shoulders?

There is a myth that keeps re-occurring among Christians. It can crush you if you believe it. It is so dangerous that you never should indulge in it for a second.

The myth is that Christianity takes away all of your problems. Just rebuke it in Jesus' name. If it's still there then just pray it away, claiming the promises. If that doesn't work, then pray and fast it away. It just has to leave then!

If you think that's true you could be in for a rude awakening. Consider the Apostle Paul's own words to the Corinthian congregation:

"...serving Him with labors greater by far, with far more imprisonments, with floggings vastly worse, and often at the point of death. Five times I have taken thirty-nine lashes from the Jews, three times I have been beaten by the Romans, once I was pelted with stones; three times I have been shipwrecked, and once I have spent a day and a night adrift at sea. I have served Him on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from the heathen, dangers in the city, dangers in the desert, dangers at sea, dangers from false brothers, through toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, through hunger and thirst, through many a fasting season, poorly clad and exposed to cold. Besides all other things, there is my concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak too? Who is caused to fall without my being fired with indignation?"
(2Co 11.23b-29)

Make no mistake; becoming a Christian made Paul's life difficult, not easy. It added problems. (Of course, it's worth it in the end...but his end came at the point of a sword severing his head from his body.)

In contrast to this spiritual reality is the myth perpetrated by superficial commercialized Christianity. It's message is simply, "Trust Jesus and you'll be more than a conqueror!" Well, that is true (Romans 8.37) however, to be called a "conqueror", by definition, means there are things to conqueror!

Concerning Romans 8.37 John Wesley said, "We more than conquer - We are not only no losers, but abundant gainers, by all these trials. This period seems to describe the full assurance of hope."

Ouch. Trials. Maybe it won't sell a gazillion books but it's honest. Before we get to heaven Christianity is often hard, hazardous and down-right inconvenient.

Paul, though, wasn't derailed by his problems. He adds, "If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness!" (2Co 11.30)

Elsewhere we find him telling the Corinthians:

"But [Christ] said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2Co 12:9-10 ESV)

The power of Christ flows through the humble of heart.

And that's the truth.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Axe to Grind Series № 2

This second entry into the lighthearted Axe to Grind Series comes by way of Wesley's Journal entry for Wednesday, January 16, 1760. It shows that even our venerable evangelist wasn't immune from a would-be prophetess giving a worthless "prophecy" around 250 years ago. Listen to the exchange:

"One came to me, as she said, with a message from the Lord, to tell me that I was laying up treasures on earth, taking my ease, and minding only my eating and drinking. I told her God knew me better; and if He had sent her, He would have sent her with a more proper message."

This is one of my favorite zingers in all of his Journal! I'd love to have a DVD of that moment in time! Can you imagine the look on Wesley's face as he said it? Or on her face after she heard it?

Be alarmed when either of these two things occurs:

1. God's voice is no longer heard
2. false prophets claim to hear him

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Christianity That Means Something

Many have a strange view of Christianity. Many apparently feel that if anyone, anywhere at anytime "prayed the Sinner's Prayer" or if he attends church then he is good to go for eternity. We demand precious few proofs for a person's profession these days.

What's up with that?

In his Sermons, # 24, Discourse 4, "Upon our Lord's Sermon on the Mount", John Wesley taught:
First, it has been often objected, that religion does not lie in outward things, but in the heart, the inmost soul; that it is the union of the soul with God, the life of God in the soul of man; that outside religion is nothing worth; seeing God 'delighteth not in burnt-offerings,' in outward services, but a pure and holy heart is 'the sacrifice he will not despise.'

I answer, It is most true that the root of religion lies in the heart, in the inmost soul; that this is the union of the soul with God, the life of God in the soul of man. But if this root be really in the heart, it cannot but put forth branches. And these are the several instances of outward obedience, which partake of the same nature with the root; and consequently, are not only marks or signs, but substantial parts of religion.
Christianity is public; the religion of Jesus is a Community of Faith. Wesley stressed that inward religion cannot help but be seen externally in fruit and good works. It's inevitable.

However, what about people who make Christianity nothing more than love--that is, self-defined and autonomous love that doesn't need the Church--that is all about "personal spirituality". Wesley has an answer for that, too:
A Second objection, nearly related to this, is that love is all in all; that it is 'the fulfilling of the law,' 'the end of the commandment,' of every commandment of God; that all we do, and all we suffer, if we have not charity or love, profiteth us nothing; and therefore the Apostle directs us to 'follow after charity,' and terms this 'the more excellent way.'

I answer, It is granted, that the love of God and man, arising from faith unfeigned, is all in all, the fulfilling of the law, the end of every commandment of God. It is true, that without this, whatever we do, whatever we suffer, profits us nothing. But it does not follow, that love is all in such a sense as to supersede either faith or good works. It is 'the fulfilling of the law,' not by releasing us from, but by constraining us to obey it. It is 'the end of the commandment,' as every commandment leads to and centres in it. It is allowed, that whatever we do or suffer without love, profits us nothing. But withal, whatever we do or suffer in love, though it were only the suffering reproach for Christ, or the giving a cup of cold water in his name, it shall in no wise lose its reward.
Wesley continues to define his terms for public Christianity:
'Let your light so shine:' — Your lowliness of heart; your gentleness, and meekness of wisdom; your serious, weighty concern for the things of eternity, and sorrow for the sins and miseries of men; your earnest desire of universal holiness, and full happiness in God; your tender good-will to all mankind, and fervent love to your supreme Benefactor. Endeavour not to conceal this light, wherewith God hath enlightened your soul; but let it shine before men, before all with whom you are, in the whole tenor of your conversation. Let it shine still more eminently in your actions, in your doing all possible good to all men; and in your suffering for righteousness' sake, while you 'rejoice and are exceeding glad, knowing that great is your reward in heaven.'

'Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works:' — So far let a Christian be from ever designing or desiring to conceal his religion! On the contrary, let it be your desire, not to conceal it; not to put the light under a bushel. Let it be your care to place it 'on a candlestick, that it may give light to all that are in the house.' Only take heed, not to seek your own praise herein, not to desire any honour to yourselves. But let it be your sole aim, that all who see your good works may 'glorify your Father which is in heaven.'
Something tells me that John Wesley held the bar for Christian profession pretty high.

How strange that so many could disagree.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Interesting Moments in Church History

How important is sound, orthodox Christian faith? Read an early church father, Irenaeus, on the matter:

"There are also those who heard from [Polycarp] that John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, 'Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.'"

Despite the gravity of the situation, I find it funny that the Apostle John would yell, "Hey, let's get out of here before this place caves in!"

Irenaeus continues:

"And Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, 'Do you know me?' 'I do know you, the first-born of Satan.'"

Marcion is my favorite historical heretic; I mean, that guy really knew how to be a false prophet! With Polycarp's zinger I have to judge that he had one of the best one-liners in eccleciastical history!

Irenaeus then comments:

"Such was the horror which the apostles and their disciples had against holding even verbal communication with any corrupters of the truth; as Paul also says, 'A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sins, being condemned of himself.'" (Tit 3:10) (Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 3.4)

May the gospel be so clear to us that we know from whom to run!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Jews Are Joining the Trip (Romans № 6)

[Let me preface my remarks by thanking you for staying with me as we walk through Paul's letter to the Romans. It's become rather tragic and it's going to get worse before it gets better! Stick with me and we'll see the light at the end of the tunnel together!]

A week ago we examined Paul's estimation of the pagan world--and he esteemed it spiritually bankrupt. Last night at church we saw Rabbi Paul of Tarsus target his own brothers, the Jews.

It may be difficult, if not impossible, for contemporary Gentiles to appreciate fully the relationship ancient Jews had with Torah (the Law of Moses). To them, Torah was the means of their very identity, their way of explaining their significance in the world. It made them separated/different/sanctified. They where The Chosen Ones. Torah proved it.

Paul, however, is about to upturn the apple-cart; to him, Torah--if not obeyed perfectly--was a death-trap.

"But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth-- you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision." (Rom 2.17-25 ESV)

To Paul, having the Torah didn't make you a special person; you were a special person only if you kept Torah. Of course, it was impossible to keep Torah perfectly--and that was Paul's point.

He bluntly says, "For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God" (Rom 2.28-29 ESV). This would seem incredible to the ears of a Jew in the first century. Paul is saying, "If you're looking to Torah for acceptance with God, you're in trouble."

Again, before a person can be found he first must know that he is lost. Paul is backing both Jew and Gentile up against a corner and telling them, "You're going to hell."

The word "gospel" is from the Greek word ευαγγελιον which means "good news". Simple logic dictates that news can be good only if other news is bad. Before he presents the gospel of Jesus Christ Paul is presenting the bad news. All are damned apart from Christ.

How bad did Paul see it? Read his words and judge for yourself:

"What is our conclusion then? Is it that we Jews are better than they? Not at all! For we have already charged that Jews and Greeks alike are all under the sway of sin, as the Scriptures say: 'Not a single human creature is upright, No one understands, no one is searching for God; They all have turned aside, all have become corrupt; No one does good, not even one! Their throats are just like open graves, with their tongues they have spoken treachery; the poison of asps is under their lips. Their mouths are full of bitter cursing. Their feet are swift for shedding blood, Ruin and wretchedness are on their paths, They do not know the way of peace. There is no reverence for God before their eyes.'" (Rom 3.9-18)

Adam Clarke elaborates in his Commentary:

"There is none righteous - This is true, not only of the Jews, but of the Gentiles; of every soul of man, considered in his natural and practical state, previously to his receiving the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no righteous principle in them, and, consequently, no righteous act can be expected from them; see on Rom 3:12 (note). God himself is represented as looking down from heaven to see if there were any that feared and sought after him; and yet he, who cannot be deceived, could find none! And therefore we may safely conclude there was none to be found."

If things really are this bad then people are going to hell.

And that is Paul's point.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Is Unity Within Christianity Possible?

My last few blog entries have been pessimistic, I'll admit. They were needed, though, to purge us of any notion that we can have unity with sinners.

[Some may be offended that I use the word "sinners" instead of "unchurched", etc. I use it deliberately because it is a biblical word. What are people in rebellion to God but sinners? If that makes me old-fashioned or politically incorrect then so be it; I'm a self-professed theological dinosaur and I'm not budging.]

Can Christians have unity? Well, there has to be a compelling reason to be unified in the first place--to speak with one voice, to share one vision and implement one mission. I am convinced unity can come only through an orthodox presentation of the gospel. If it doesn't come through the Triune God then it won't come at all.

Consider Paul's words:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
(1Co 15:1-8 ESV)
The gospel isn't ooey-gooey-feel-good stuff. It has content, it is the gospel. There are non-negotiables. If people don't believe them then they may be church-goers but they aren't Christians.

The gospel is our rallying cry and it is the basis for our unity. We are one of a group, The Elect. We are The Remnant. We are The Saints. All of this comes through our worship of the God-Man Jesus Christ.

We may never resolve some issues this side of heaven; Wesley and Whitefield disagreed over TULIP and neither convinced the other that he was wrong. However, in the end they could hold fellowship through their love of Jesus. It was rocky, yeah, but they could do it.

Will denominations be a thing of the past one day? I sure hope so but I recognize that such a miracle would come only from the Trinity--humanity will never achieve it alone. By an end to denominations, I do NOT mean that we sweep our theological differences under the rug. As I said in an earlier post, there is a reason why I am Church of God (Anderson). I won't insult you by expecting any less for you.

Can Christianity come to consensus one day on important but secondary matters?

Only God knows--literally.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Christ or Belial?

God's Church has a problem with wolves.

For the past two posts Awakening Theology pondered the question of unity for a disunited Church. Today we will look further at what I spoke of toward the close of my second post in the series:
Own who you are. What if your congregation/church affiliation has gone south theologically? Well, if you can't reform your congregation/church affiliation to how it used to be then do you need to find a place you can own?
When do you allow for a "big tent" of differing opinions and when do you say, "Enough!" Consider Wesley's words in A Plain Account:
Suffer not one thought of separating from your brethren, whether their opinions agree with yours or not. Do not dream that any man sins in not believing you, in not taking your word; or that this or that opinion is essential to the work, and both must stand or fall together. Beware of impatience of contradiction. Do not condemn or think hardly of those who cannot see just as you see, or who judge it their duty to contradict you, whether in a great thing or a small. I fear some of us have thought hardly of others, merely because they contradicted what we affirmed. All this tends to division; and, by everything of this kind, we are teaching them an evil lesson against ourselves.
As important (and true) as this instruction is for us today, we must remember that Wesley was talking about fellow believers, not unregenerate sinners who falsely claimed to be Christians and were bringing churches to ruin through their debauchery. Wesley would suffer no fool gladly. In his Sermon # 81, "In What Sense We Are to Leave the World," Wesley preaches on the Scripture:
Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty. (2Co 6:17-18 ESV)
It is clear he wouldn't allow false Christians to run amok in his Societies. Read parts of his sermon:
What is it then which the Apostle forbids? First, the conversing with ungodly men when there is no necessity, no providential call, no business, that requires it: Secondly, the conversing with them more frequently than business necessarily requires: Thirdly, the spending more time in their company than is necessary to finish our business: Above all, Fourthly, the choosing ungodly persons, however ingenious or agreeable, to be our ordinary companions, or to be our familiar friends. If any instance of this kind will admit of less excuse than others, it is that which the Apostle expressly forbids elsewhere; the being 'unequally yoked with an unbeliever' in marriage; with any person that has not the love of God in their heart, or at least the fear of God before their eyes. I do not know anything that can justify this; neither the sense, wit, or beauty of the person, nor temporal advantage, nor fear of want; no, nor even the command of a parent. For if any parent command what is contrary to the Word of God [in telling the child to marry a sinner], the child ought to obey God rather than man.
And this:
Here is the sum of this prohibition to have any more intercourse with unholy men than is absolutely necessary. There can be no profitable fellowship between the righteous and the unrighteous; as there can be no communion between light and darkness,--whether you understand this of natural or of spiritual darkness. As Christ can have no concord with Belial; so a believer in him can have no concord with an unbeliever. It is absurd to imagine that any true union or concord should be between two persons, while one of them remains in darkness, and the other walks in the light. They are subjects, not only of two separate, but of two opposite kingdoms. They act upon quite different principles; they aim at quite different ends. It will necessarily follow, that frequently, if not always, they will walk in different paths. How can they walk together, till they are agreed?--until they both serve either Christ or Belial?
Now, it may be argued that the English evangelist wasn't speaking of a church group or local congregation but, rather, Christian conduct in general. That nuance, however, is groundless because can anyone (who isn't deluded) really think for a New York minute that John Wesley would receive unrepentant sinners/false Christians into a Methodist Society with good standing?
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)
I doubt Wesley's "Christian" England was anything close to our "Christian" America. (At least most people then didn't debate the authority of the Scriptures or the Bible's long accepted interpretations on sexual morality). Today false Christians have slipped in unawares (or awares!) and are calling evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5.20). These depraved sinners claim to be holy yet live like the devil and have slid their church groups or congregations into heresy/heterodoxy.

We are wilting under the raging sin of πορνεια which Joseph Thayer defines in gloss 1a as "adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, intercourse with animals etc." What is so bad, though, is that we've got people claiming to be Christians who are celebrating porneia!

In such a state the Remnant within have a difficult question to ask themselves:

"Does God want us to re-claim our church or does he want us to shake the dust from our shoes as a witness unto them and turn and walk away?"

I can't answer that question. It would be a case-by-case decision. Still, the Remnant of Christ cannot fellowship with Belial.

After all, what fellowship does light have with darkness?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Owning Who You Are

Yesterday Awakening Theology began looking at the complicated matter of unity. We saw from Christ's high priestly prayer that he wants us as one. However, the Church is splintered into many parts. Can it be undone?

Today we will look at unity from the standpoint of a local church. Wesley wanted strong bonds holding together his Methodist Societies. He wrote in A Plain Account:
Likewise, if you would avoid schism, observe every rule of the Society, and of the Bands, for conscience' sake. Never omit meeting your Class or Band; never absent yourself from any public meeting. These are the very sinews of our Society; and whatever weakens, or tends to weaken, our regard for these, or our exactness in attending them, strikes at the very root of our community. As one saith, `That part of our economy, the private weekly meetings for prayer, examination, and particular exhortation, has been the greatest means of deepening and confirming every blessing that was received by the word preached, and of diffusing it to others, who could not attend the public ministry; whereas, without this religious connexion and intercourse, the most ardent attempts, by mere preaching, have proved of no lasting use.'
Notice what Wesley exhorts his Methodists, so called, to observe:

1. all the rules of the Society
2. constant attendance at Society gatherings
3. sharing the blessings with others who couldn't come

I'll risk oversimplification and distill his wisdom this way: Own it!

First of all, if you're going to call yourself a Christian then be a Christian!

I confess I am bewildered by liberal "Christianity":

Denial of Adam, Eve, and other figures before King David
Denial of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch
Denial of the Exodus
Denial of demons
Denial of Christ's divinity
Denial of Christ's miracles
Denial of Christ's physical, bodily resurrection from the dead

In its place...

The Documentary Hypothesis (JEDP)
Deutero or Trito-Isaiah
a late date for Daniel
Paul was a Misogynist
Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and fathered a child
Marcion and Gnostics weren't heretics, simply another branch of Christianity

What's wrong with liberal Christianity? It's a broken wheel and it won't take you anywhere. Why does someone embrace a Faith and then spend his time undermining and destroying it? It makes no sense to me. Either be a Christian or don't. Take a stand. Believe it or not.

After someone has determined to be a biblical Christian then he needs to find a local congregation/church affiliation he can believe in and jump in! He needs own it and be who he is without apology.

I am an ordained minister in the Church of God (Anderson). There are reasons why I am Church of God. There are other reasons why I am not a Lutheran, or a dispensationalist, or a paedobaptist (forgive me, Wesley!) or a charismatic.

In other words, I've owned the fact that I am Church of God. I own it, faults and all. Its history hasn't been perfect (and neither has mine). Still, I carry my Church of God ordination card with honor and don't consider myself inferior to any other clergy.

Further, I am a Wesleyan--not simply in heritage but also in belief. That means I am not a Calvinist or a later Augustinian. I've taken a stand.

Own who you are. What if your congregation/church affiliation has gone south theologically? Well, if you can't reform your congregation/church affiliation to how it used to be then do you need to find a place you can own?

What do you think?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

That They All May Be Divided?

In his classic work, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, John Wesley writes part of his book in question and answer fashion. In answer to # 37, Wesley records his view:
"Beware of schism, of making a rent in the Church of Christ. That inward disunion, the members ceasing to have a reciprocal love `one for another,' (1 Cor. 12:25,) is the very root of all contention, and every outward separation. Beware of everything tending thereto. Beware of a dividing spirit; shun whatever has the least aspect that way. Therefore, say not, `I am of Paul or of Apollos;' the very thing which occasioned the schism at Corinth. Say not, `This is my Preacher; the best Preacher in England. Give me him, and take all the rest.' All this tends to breed or foment division, to disunite those whom God hath joined. Do not despise or run down any Preacher; do not exalt any one above the rest, lest you hurt both him and the cause of God. On the other hand, do not bear hard upon any by reason of some incoherency or inaccuracy of expression; no, nor for some mistakes, were they really such."
Let's face it: Christianity is a divided mess today. You have your branches of Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, etc. Then you have your historic (mainline) Protestant denominations that have fallen into liberalism. Finally, you have the rest of us, be it a staunch fundamentalist AV-KJV1611 Baptist to a pew-jumping Pentecostal. We're a divided mess.

Can it be repaired? It's a complicated question that my church affiliation, The Church of God (Anderson) has attempted to answer. However, honesty forces me to admit that in the 125 years of our existence we haven't been able to reverse the trend.

We know the Lord doesn't want it this way. In his high priestly prayer Christ interceded:
"I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me." (Joh 17.20-23 ESV)
It doesn't look well to an unbelieving world; Jesus' testimony is hindered by our unwillingness or inability to get along.

In a few more posts we will be examining this concept of unity. How much can we repair the schism in Christianity, if at all? What is expendable? What is too important to compromise? When do we have to say, "No more!" and stand our ground?

But let us pray as Jesus did, that we all may be one.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Calling in Sick

I'm not taking the time to write a new blog for Fetter Lane because I'm under the weather. :-( I'm still thinking about you guys! I'll be back later.


Monday, July 17, 2006

Gentiles Are Going to Hell (Romans № 5)

In our study of Romans we've begun looking at a very pessimistic view of humanity. Paul doesn't mince words; the world is sinful and ruined.

After taking an apostolic shot at those who would be self-righteous and judgmental of other people's sins when, in fact, the critical ones are sinful, too (Rom 2.1-11), Paul then determines who will be guilty before God:

"For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. " (Rom 2.12-13 ESV)

Do you notice the stark reality here? Paul says that...

1. Gentiles who sin will be held responsible for their sin.

Paul says they ανομως και απολουνται ("also will destroy themselves without Law"). The word for "destroy" is απολλυμι, a very strong (and unambiguous) word. They will destroy/ruin/perish themselves in hell.

2. Jews will be held accountable to the Law of Moses.

Clarke elaborates at his point in his Commentary:

"For as many as have sinned without law, etc. - They, viz. the Gentiles, who shall be found to have transgressed against the mere light of nature, or rather, that true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world, Joh 1:9, shall not come under the same rule with those, the Jews, who have in addition to this enjoyed an extraordinary revelation; but they shall be dealt with according to the inferior dispensation, under which they lived: while those, the Jews, who have sinned against the law - the positive Divine revelation granted to them, shall be judged by that law, and punished proportionably to the abuse of such an extraordinary advantage."

We will consider this in greater depth in another blog entry. Just know that Paul places the responsibility on his Jewish brothers as much as he does Gentiles.

Now, at this point, someone may say, "Gentiles go to hell without having the Law? What about that tribal native in [insert exotic place] who never knows the Law of Moses?

Well, for one thing, a tribal native--as a Gentile--isn't under the Mosaic Law, anyway. Still, he is held responsible before God for his conduct because of another thing: a violated conscience. Read Paul's thoughts on the matter:

"For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus." (Rom 2.14-16 ESV)

A tribal native (or any other Gentile) is held accountable even if he hasn't heard of the Law because he has violated his conscience and has done what he knows (in his heart) isn't right. He knows he's violated an unwritten moral law.

You may think, "But that's not fair!" Yes, it is fair--exactly fair and nothing but fair. It is fairness in the strictest sense. You sin once--you go to hell, be it Gentile or Jew. You don't sin once--you go to heaven, be it Gentile or Jew.

If you are planning on getting to heaven based on your own good words, how good do you have to be? Paul's answer is blunt: you must be sinlessly perfect or you go to hell. Since we have all sinned, we have to find another way to heaven. Our good works aren't going to cut it. It's sinless perfection or it's everlasting damnation.

Or, it's the gospel. But we're not there in Romans yet.

For now, Paul lets us in on an important truth: before a person can be saved he has to know that he is lost.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

When Only Heaven Knows Your Name

Yesterday Awakening Theology began commenting on the phenomenon of popularity (or unpopularity) of preachers. Today we will continue our topic. Below are some generalities. No, they aren't universal truths; there will be exceptions. However, I don't think I'm being unfair in mentioning what I believe to be unwritten "rules" that govern Christian thinking today:

1. the more spiritual a pastor, the larger his church will be

Put another way, the most godly ministers always rise to the top. If you are a small church pastor then you aren't holy enough.

2. the larger the church, the greater God's pleasure is with the minister and congregation

In other words, if your church is large, you must be in God's will; if your church is small, you must be out of God's will.

These two unwritten and unspoken "rules" in many Christians' hearts reveal that God's pleasure with a minister and congregation can be gauged by how popular the preacher is and how large the church is.

What's wrong with this thinking? It's wrong.

Notice God's words to Ezekiel:
"And he said to me, 'Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.' And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. And he said to me, 'Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, 'Thus says the Lord GOD.' And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.'" (Eze 2.1-5 ESV)
Quite an ordination service for a prophet! God told Ezekiel, "whether they hear or refuse to hear...they will know that a prophet has been among them" (Eze 2.5 ESV).

In other words, the popularity/holiness of a preacher or the favor of God toward a congregation can't be measured only by the size (or lack, thereof) of a church.

Size and popularity alone isn't a yardstick to measure the worth of a minister or church.

John Wesley made this own observation. A few days after he preached atop his father's tomb, he recorded on June 13, 1742 in his Journal:
At six I preached for the last time in Epworth churchyard (planning to leave the town the next morning) to a vast multitude gathered together from all parts, on the beginning of our Lord's Sermon on the Mount. I continued among them for nearly three hours, and yet we scarcely knew how to part. Oh, let none think his labor of love is lost because the fruit does not immediately appear! Nearly forty years did my father labor here, but he saw little fruit of all his labor. I took some pains among this people too, and my strength also seemed spent in vain; but now the fruit appeared. There were scarcely any in the town on whom either my father or I had taken any pains formerly but the seed, sown so long since, now sprang up, bringing forth repentance and remission of sins.

Don't rush past the importance of Wesley's words: "Nearly forty years did my father labor here, but he saw little fruit of all his labor."

Now, are we to conclude that because little visible results happened after four decades of pastoral work that Samuel Wesley, John's father, was out of the will of God? Perish the thought! We just can't make such judgments. We must leave such judging to the Lord.

Conversely, just because someone pastors a huge church, earns a huge salary, is in demand to preach all over the place and makes a mint off of the royalties of runaway bestsellers doesn't automatically mean that he is in the will of God.

It brings up another point, perhaps a sharp and disappointing one to most preachers today: most will never find great "success" in ministry. Most won't have huge salaries, won't have people begging to hear them and won't make a killing off of the royalties of national bestsellers. Most won't be pastor-executives of sprawling multi-million dollar, multi-acre church complexes and most won't come close to making names for themselves like John Wesley did.

For every one person who earns a page in Church history there are a myriad of ministers who are forgotten by Earth. Why? Only God knows. A minister is called to be faithful to God--even though he may live (and die) in obscurity.

All that matters is that Heaven knows his name.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

A Preacher Too Popular For His Own Good

Being a reformer never is an easy task because, by definition, a reformation is trying to upset the status quo and blaze a new trail. Change demanded by reformation scares some people. Popularity of some reformers makes some preachers envious of their appeal.

Today we will examine a sobering account in the early ministry of John Wesley. On June 5, 1742 Wesley asked Mr. Romley, the curate of the Anglican church in Epworth, if he could preach or read prayers during the worship service. Romley flatly denied him the pleasure.

That afternoon, people stuffed the church building because a rumor floated around that Wesley would be preaching. He did not; it was Romley who preached. Specifically, Romley preached against "enthusiasm", a charge often laid against Wesley in his early years. (Some people became visibly upset when Wesley or Whitefield preached; they would quake, fall down, groan or cry.)

To understand the moment, one must understand the church's history; John Wesley's father, himself, pastored the congregation for 40 years. Therefore, Romley was denying the son's desire to speak in his father's old pastorate.

Wesley relates the following in his Journal:

"After sermon John Taylor stood in the churchyard and gave notice as the people were coming out, 'Mr. Wesley, not being permitted to preach in the church, designs to preach here at six o'clock.'

"Accordingly at six I came and found such a congregation as I believe Epworth never saw before. I stood near the east end of the church, upon my father's tombstone, and cried, 'The kingdom of heaven is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost' [Rom.14:17]."
(Copyrighted Picture Courtesy of Wesley Center Online. Used With Permission.)

I can't speak to Romley's motives; I don't know what was in his heart. He genuinely may have been concerned that the congregation at Epworth not be led astray. Nevertheless, Wesley had a powerful church service, ironically preaching atop his father's tomb.

It won't do us any good to pretend that all preachers are equally popular. We know better. Some draw bigger crowds than others. Some garner more attention than others. Some clergy write books that become bestsellers because the ministers themselves are famous. Obscure ministers may write better books but find it hard to land a publisher.

Tomorrow we will look further at popularity in the ministry; in and of itself, popularity doesn't mean a minister is in God's will and, well, unpopularity doesn't mean a minister is out of God's will.

What matters is God's will.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Other Wesley

In this blog I've spoken about John Wesley and quoted from him considerably. However, this semi-historical blog concerning the Wesleyan part of the Great Awakening would be incomplete without mention of John's younger brother, Charles.

Charles Wesley surely is the most prolific hymn writer in Church history. He is a significant player in the 1700's because he took his brother's theology and placed it into words to be sung by the Methodist societies.

I feel a bit sad for Charles. I don't know if this occurred, but I wonder if anyone asked him, upon meeting the Anglican, "Is your brother coming?" I must confess that, yes, when I call myself a "Wesleyan" I am referring to John, not Charles.

Still, it would be a grave error if we forget the hymnist of the Great Awakening. Charles, himself, was ordained a minister in the Church of England. Charles, not John, started the "Holy Club" with Oxford friends, the group that others mocked by calling them "Methodists".

Consider this one song of Charles Wesley. Feel the power of theology in poetry:

1 AND can it be, that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour's blood?
Died he for me, who caused his pain?
For me, who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

2 'Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies!
Who can explore his strange design?
In vain the first-born seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine!
'Tis mercy all! let earth adore,
Let angel-minds inquire no more.

3 He left his Father's throne above,
(So free, so infinite his grace!)
Emptied himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam's helpless race:
'Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For, O my God, it found out me!

4 Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature's night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

5 No condemnation now I dread,
Jesus, and all in him, is mine!
Alive in him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

He wasn't his brother, John, and God didn't call him to be. He was Charles Wesley.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Axe to Grind Series № 1

In this first entry of the Axe to Grind Series--meant to be taken lightly--we will delve into the world of literary criticism. Literary criticism is the process of evaluating the written words of another writer. Many factors account for how one critic will appraise the merits or demerits of an author's work. On October 23, 1737, John Wesley gives us one of the most succinct literary criticisms ever recorded. Concerning a new book by William Law our evangelist pens the following in his Journal:

"Tuesday, 23.--In riding to Bradford I read over Mr. Law's book on the new birth. Philosophical, speculative, precarious; Behemish, void, and vain!"

If anyone thinks Wesley to be a wilting personality then he's got the man all wrong. John Wesley was many things and one of them was a holder of firm opinions!

I don't know if Wesley ever changed his mind about this book or not. I do know that it's impossible to go through life without having opinions. We all mentally judge things or ideas whether we voice them or remain silent. Where we must be careful of is in judging people, a thing all too easy to do rashly.

It just doesn't feel good to be judged.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Earthquakes and Spiritual Revolutions

Today Awakening Theology returns to our revival theme. We've already seen in the books of Ezra and Haggai that God's proaction → our reaction. Today we'll consider a New Testament example of this principle.

It wasn't easy being a Christian in the early Church; opposing established religious authorities is never easy and God's leaders felt the heat of jail.

On one occasion priests, the captain of the temple guards presently on duty, and Saducees arrested Peter and John. They retaliated against Peter's extemporaneous sermon on the temple complex following a man's healing (Acts 4.1-3). After spending the night imprisoned, the two apostles gave a good witness before the Sanhedrin. Wesley comments on this event in his Explanatory Notes:
So wisely did God order, that they should first bear a full testimony to the truth in the temple, and then in the great council; to which they could have had no access, had they not been brought before it as criminals.
They were threatened and released (Acts 4.4-22). Once released the men go to their fellow Christians and an impromptu prayer meeting begins. Listen to the words:
"Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, 'Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed'-- for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus." (Acts 4.24b-30 ESV)
The Congregation, motivated by external circumstances (through the Spirit's work), breaks out into prayer. Note, however, that they don't ask to be relieved of the pressure. Instead, they pray for God's involvement in their cause with a new zeal and power.

God answered their prayer. Luke records the result:
And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4.31 ESV)
Speaking of this infilling, Adam Clarke elaborates in his Commentary:
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost - And, in consequence of this, they spake the word of God with boldness; a pointed answer to a second part of their request, Act 4:29. A right prayer will always have a right and ready answer. Though these disciples had received the Holy Spirit on the day of pentecost, yet they were capable of larger communications; and what they had then received did not preclude the necessity of frequent supplies, on emergent occasions. Indeed, one communication of this Spirit always makes way and disposes for another. Neither apostle nor private Christian can subsist in the Divine life without frequent influences from on high. Had these disciples depended on their pentecostal grace, they might have sunk now under the terror and menaces of their combined and powerful foes. God gives grace for the time being, but no stock for futurity, because he will keep all his followers continually dependent on himself.
This example parallels the Old Testament examples already seen on last Saturday's blog entry.

God's prompting → Prayer → God's action → human reaction

This is the way to a church's empowerment, a minister's empowerment or a Christian's empowerment.

Keep praying. God will act. You'll react.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

When God Allows Depravity (Romans № 4 Part 2)

In our last blog entry we began examining God's anger. He was angry because people didn't want to accept him but, rather, turn to paganism. As a result...

"Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen." (Rom 1.24-25 ESV)

God, in his holy anger (1.18), left them alone to their sin. That's an unexpected twist, isn't it? When we think of anger we think of punishment. To be sure, that will come to each sinner but, here, the wrath of God is different. In effect, God said, "You want to be sinners? Fine, you've chosen idolatry so go ahead, live in sin and reap the results of it."

That, to me, is incredibly scary--a person tells God, "Go away!" and the Lord honors his wishes!

Paul gets more specific:

"For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error." (Rom 1.26-27 ESV)

This is so politically incorrect that it's off the charts but Paul said that a result of people choosing to be paganizing idolaters was a perversion of sexual expression that degenerated into homosexual behavior.

However, anyone taking a look at the history of the Roman Empire is going to have to admit that it was a time of really, really low standards. Adultery, fornication, temple prostitution and homosexual behavior were normal during this time. Sounds like today.

You must understand that the New Testament teachings concerning morality would've sounded strange to the ears of the pagans. What some today dismiss as "Victorian" or "repressed" was radical to debauched Rome!

"And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them." (Rom 1.28-32 ESV)

This rounds out the Apostle Paul's list on his estimation of pagan society. Whether people agree with him or not (I most certainly do) they can't accuse him of being vague!

What's worse, I don't think our condition has changed. This never will be a popular view but orthodox Christianity has it right: the heart of humankind is sinful. It has been since the Fall of Adam in the garden (yes, I believe that was an historical event) and it always will be until the end of time.

Unless one accepts the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Is God Angry? (Romans № 4 Part 1)

Paul pulled no punches in his rebuke of the godless paganism of the Roman Empire around him. God was angry. Let's look at some Scripture:

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth." (Rom 1.18 ESV)

Whether it's "God's wrath" or it's οργη θεου as Tertius, Paul's secretary (Rom 16.22) wrote it originally, it's not a pretty sight. Yes, God was angry.

God isn't allowed to be angry anymore, at least in the minds of many people. Oh, he's allowed to be angry at murderers or Roman Catholic priests gone bad but not at much of the world. My guess is that many people think there's a hell--but they're sure they're not going there.

However, Paul is blunt, "For the wrath of God is revealed..." (Rom 1.18a ESV). Revealed against whom? All of the sinners of the world and their sin that hinders God's truth.

Doesn't God love us all? Yes, indeed. John 3.16 makes that quite clear; still, God can love sinners and yet be angry at them and their sin simultaneously.

Why is he angry? Look at some more Scripture:

"For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." (Rom 1:19-20 ESV)

Have you ever been in a beautiful place, perhaps the Grand Canyon, and, overwhelmed at the sight, you thought, "I know there's a God." This is what Paul is speaking about. A person can look at the clock-work efficiency of this universe and deduce that there is a Clock Maker, and Intelligent Being who created an intelligent design.

Instead, many people study the physical properties of this world, galaxy or universe and think, "There is no god...there is nothing transcendent about this; this isn't a creation, this is a mathematical impossibility that existed out of nothing."

Others see this world but get carried away into strange religions. The Greeks and Romans were obsessed with their gods and goddesses. Pagans once even mistook Paul for the god Hermes (Acts 14.12). Here he reveals the world's slide into darkness:

"For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles." (Rom 1.21-23 ESV)

Considering thanksgiving to God, Clarke wrote bluntly in his Commentary:

"Neither were thankful - They manifested no gratitude for the blessings they received from his providence, but became vain in their imaginations, διαλογισμοις, in their reasonings. This certainly refers to the foolish manner in which even the wisest of their philosophers discoursed about the Divine nature, not excepting Socrates, Plato, or Seneca. Who can read their works without being struck with the vanity of their reasonings, as well as with the stupidity of their nonsense, when speaking about God? I might crowd my page with proofs of this; but it is not necessary to those who are acquainted with their writings, and to others it would not be useful. In short, their foolish, darkened minds sought God no where but in the place in which he is never to be found; viz. the vile, corrupted, and corrupting passions of their own hearts. As they did not discover him there, they scarcely sought him any where else."

Pagan idolatry is one result of people who don't want to obey God. Ugly and repulsive. It gets worse. I'll leave that for tomorrow.

Sunday, July 9, 2006

The Theology of Revival's Fire

About two I preached in a house well filled with plain, loving people. I then took a walk to the cathedral, one of the most beautiful I have seen. The western tower is exceedingly grand, and the nave of an amazing height. Hence we went through a fruitful and pleasant country, though surrounded with fens, to Sutton. Here many people had lately been stirred up: they had prepared a large barn. At six o'clock it was well filled, and it seemed as if God sent a message to every soul.(John Wesley, Journal, November 23, 1774)
Yesterday I stated the dependence the church has on the Holy Spirit for revival. Today I will attempt to prove it from the Scriptures. To do this, let's take a trip back over 2,500 years ago.

Because King Solomon, son of David, fell away from the worship of Yahweh alone, the Lord declared through Ahijah that the kingdom of Israel would split into two kingdoms (1 Kings 11.30-36), the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. This occured shortly after Rehoboam, son of Solomon, assumed the throne (1 Kings 12).

All of Israel's kings were bad and the kingdom was destroyed in 721 BC. Judah was somewhat better but defection from the pure worship of God led to its downfall, too. Judah's enemies picked the kingdom apart a piece at a time. Judah already had suffered under two previous waves of forced deportation. The third and last deportation occured when the Babylonian Empire finally demolished Judah with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 586 BC.

Jeremiah the prophet announced that Judah would be in exile for 70 years (Jer 25.11). At the right time God moved the heart of Cyrus, king of Persia, to allow Jews to return home and begin rebuilding their destroyed temple:
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: "Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel--he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem." (Ezra 1.1-4 ESV)
Notice carefully what Ezra says, "the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that..." (1.1b ESV). This is significant! Cyrus makes his decree for the return of the Jews to their homeland and the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem because God first acted on his heart. If God had not proacted then Cyrus would not have reacted. In other words, God did a work in Cyrus' heart, thus the king responded favorably.

Let's look further at Scripture:
Then rose up the heads of the fathers' houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the LORD that is in Jerusalem. (Ezra 1.5 ESV)
Do you see it again? People went home to Judah, "everyone whose spirit God had stirred..." (Ezra 1.5b ESV). Again, because the Lord first acted then people reacted.

Well, it started well but they stopped their work, leaving the temple unfinished for years. It sounds like the Jews needed to be roused from their sleep again, right? That's what happened:
And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the LORD of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king. (Hag 1.14-15 ESV)
This is the best description I can give for the nature of revival. God rouses us from our spiritual slumber and, filled with his Spirit, we awake in awe of the power of the Almighty! Further, this is why I believe revival can be prayed for and prepared for but it only comes when the Holy Spirit revives souls. Why? Because we can't react until God acts.

Now, to be sure, the people of God won't begin praying for revival, a new Great Awakening, until the Lord first rouses us in the first place. They won't see their spiritual apathy until God moves. They won't believe such a wonderful thing, such a Great Awakening is possible, until the Lord places such hope in their hearts. Therefore, when people begin to pray sincerely and seriously for a powerful revival of holiness and love it is because the Trinity already has acted in their hearts to pray!

It works out like this:

1. God rouses us from spiritual sleep to pray for revival.
2. Because he rouses us from spiritual sleep, we begin praying for revival.
3. Because we begin praying for revival, God comes in revival when and how he chooses.

Is revival automatic? No, I don't believe that it is. First, we can't order God to bring revival when we want it. Second, we can choose (sadly) to fall back asleep and never see revival.

God told Solomon,
if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2Ch 7.14 ESV)
How often life comes down to "if".

Saturday, July 8, 2006

The Move of the Holy Spirit

"Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?" (Psa 85.6 ESV)
You know what concerns me? Not "business as usual" but "church as usual":

* Talent-driven worship services that are well scripted but don't have the Spirit's touch to move anyone to worship God in fear and awe.

* Doctrinally correct sermons that are well delivered by popular preachers but are devoid of the Spirit's unction to stir anyone to repent with tears.

* Impressive church buildings that are comfortable and modern but aren't locations where the Spirit is known to congregate powerfully, thus faithful church attenders who go to worship services each week but don't show evidence of being changed by the Spirit.

Do you see the problem here? Without marked change, something is terribly wrong.

I'm much less concerned with style and much more concerned with the Presence of the mighty ocean of the Holy Spirit that transforms the congregation swept up in his current.

The Holy Spirit is the X-Factor, the catalyst of all revival. You can't order him to move through a congregation. You can't bribe him to come. You can't bargain with him into a visitation. You can only pray and prepare for his arrival, leaving his operations and sovereign counsel to himself.

On Friday, October 19, 1739, Wesley recounts a sermon in his Journal:
At four I preached at the Shire Hall of Cardiff again, where many gentry, I found, were present. Such freedom of speech I have seldom had as was given me in explaining those words, 'The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.' At six almost the whole town (I was informed) came together, to whom I explained the six last beatitudes. But my heart was so enlarged I knew not how to give over, so that we continued three hours.
This spontaneous move of the Spirit, evidenced by Wesley, is either there or it is not. I want change; thus, I want revival.

We will look at the biblical theology of revival in the next blog entry, but let me emphasize this point at the outset: We can pray and prepare for the Spirit's arrival.

But we must leave his operations and counsel to himself.

Friday, July 7, 2006

Out-wesleying Wesley

Here's a brain-teaser for the philosphically minded ones among us: can someone be a greater Wesleyan than John Wesley, himself? In short, is it possible to out-wesley Wesley?

Intellectually speaking the answer may be no. However, in practice, there may be one man in the running. He was layman from England--a contemporary of Wesley--who became a Methodist, so called, with all of his might. His name was William Carvosso.

(Copyrighted Picture Courtesy of Wesley Center Online. Used with Permission.)

Never ordained a minister, Carvosso was a Class Leader of Methodist societies. He loved Wesleys' sermons and the Methodist Hymn-Book. He was just a regular man--except for the fact that he remains one of the greatest soul-winners in Methodist history.

Saved and perfected in love, Carvosso left behind Life of William Carvosso, a gripping retelling of this dedicated servant's life in God. (E. M. Bounds mentions Carvosso in his work The Weapon of Prayer, Chapter 11, "Modern Examples of Prayer".)

You can read his story for free. Click on my link to the Wesley Center Online. On their website, search the right part of the screen under "Popular Links" until you come to "Holiness Classics Library". Click on the link, register with the website (that's free, too) and download his book under the "Index by Author - C" section. Find "Carvosso" and his Life of William Carvosso title.

Now, the book is copyrighted so respect the rules and use it only for personal use, but enjoy the story of an entirely sanctified layman in the Methodist societies. Let the Holy Spirit inspire you, convict you, encourage you and convince you today. With all seriousness intended, you may fight back a few tears of joy and wonder.

William Carvosso remains one of my favorites in early Methodism. Please read Life of William Carvosso and see if he becomes one of your favorites, too.

Perhaps he out-wesleyed Wesley.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Wesleyans Need Apply Within

I am convinced American Christianity needs Wesleyans desperately. Why? Because we are nowhere to be seen. I'll give you two examples:

Can you think of one―just one―prominent author (on the popular level) who writes from a distinctively Wesleyan viewpoint? I can't think of one.

Can you think of one―just one―nationally syndicated Christian television ministry that features a strongly Wesleyan pulpit? I can't think of one.

Now, we owe a debt of thanks to George Whitefield, the Wesley brothers' Calvinistic Oxford friend, because he introduced John to the concept of open-air field preaching to the masses. Still, with all due respect to Whitefield, I want Wesley's theology spread across the land.

Yes, America needs Wesleyans. Our message of Perfect Love and the Witness of the Spirit must be proclaimed to the people who stagger about like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9.36).

Heed John Wesley's comment on this verse from his Explanatory Notes:

"Because they were faint - In soul rather than in body. As sheep having no shepherd - And yet they had many teachers; they had scribes in every city. But they had none who cared for their souls, and none that were able, if they had been willing, to have wrought any deliverance. They had no pastors after God's own heart."

God, help us. Give us many Wesleys, Fletchers and Clarkes. Amen.

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

When What You Hold Together is Crumbling

My copy of The Journal of John Wesley has some more information on his love life...and it's tragic news. Read this quotation:
Had Wesley married Grace Murray, he would have escaped the matrimonial disaster that overtook him when he married Mrs. Vazeille, wealthy widow of a London merchant. The most charitable construction that can be placed on her malicious, unreasonable behavior is that she was at times mentally unbalanced. She took papers and letters from his desk, changed the wording in his letters, then put them into the hands of his enemies or had them published in the newspapers. She is known to have driven a hundred miles in a jealous rage to see who was traveling with him. One of Wesley's preachers, John Hampson, said, after observing one of her tantrums, 'More than once she laid violent hands upon him, and tore those venerable locks...'
To be blunt, John Wesley had a horrible marriage. It's the truth. He lost his love, Grace Murray, to another man and Wesley replaced her with a living terror.

Folks, life ain't always easy. The Bible doesn't promise us such a comfortable life. We have to deal with problems--sometimes severe ones--and keep marching up the highway of holiness.

You would think that an apostle's life would have been glamorous, but think again! Listen to Paul's words on the subject:
For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. (1Cor 4.9-13 ESV)
Sometimes those closest to God are the ones who suffer the most.

It's easy to be awed at The Reverend John Wesley, M.A., preacher of the Great Awakening. However, we have to think of the man, John Wesley, who suffered at the hands of a "mentally unbalanced" wife. That brings him down to the rest of us, doesn't it? Saints don't walk on water; often saints do all they can to tread water.

The important thing is to keep on treading.

Monday, July 3, 2006

When Your Dreams Are Crushed

My public domain edition of The Journal of John Wesley records a personal tragedy in the evangelist's life; this heartbreak came in the form of a lost love.

Wesley wanted to marry Grace Murray, a 32 year old widow and devoted servant of God. She was a Methodist, so called, in the best sense of the term. In August of 1748 Wesley proposed to her. She replied, “This is too great a blessing for me; I can’t tell how to believe it. This is all I could have wished for under heaven.” As a bachelor, trust me, those words would sound like music from heaven to my unmarried ears.

However, there were two problems, both of them men: the first was one of his Methodist preachers, John Bennet, and the second, tragically, was his very own brother, Charles Wesley.

Wesley wanted to marry her but Grace Murray believed she was duty-bound to marry John Bennet instead because he loved her so much. However, during a time of ministry in Ireland with Wesley she accepted his marriage proposal.

Back in England, though, Bennet came to talk to Wesley about the matter. Wesley then felt she should marry Bennet but Murray wanted Wesley to be her husband. Problem one appeared to be solved.

Problem two, however, was just beginning. John Wesley wanted to appease John Bennet and get Charles' blessing, as well as announce his intended matrimony to the Methodist societies. This brought about the downfall of his plans--at the hands of Charles Wesley, the famous hymn writer for the Great Awakening.

In socially conscious England, it bothered Charles that she came from a servant class--that is, socially beneath them. He further worried that this could cause a scandal and schism in the Methodist societies with preachers ditching the movement. John Wesley didn't care about her class, he cared about her heart. He was going to marry Grace Murray. Period.

Then Charles did something that I find unthinkable; he personally went to Grace and tried to split up the engaged couple. He rode with her to Newcastle where she asked Bennet for forgiveness. A week later Murray and Bennet were married.

Perhaps as a 21st century American I simply can't appreciate the gravity of social classes in 18th century England but it totally bewilders me that Charles would do this to his brother. Lesser men would never forgive a brother for this. John records his depressed state in a letter to Charles.
Leeds, October 7, 1749
My dear Brother,---Since I was six years old, I never met with such a severe trial as for some days past. For ten years God has been preparing a fellow laborer for me by a wonderful train of providences. Last year I was convinced of it; therefore I delayed not, but, as I thought, made all sure beyond a danger of disappointment. But we were soon after torn asunder by a whirlwind. In a few months the storm was over; I then used more precaution than before and fondly told myself that the day of evil would return no more. But it too soon returned. The waves rose again since I came out of London. I fasted and prayed and strove all I could; but the sons of Zeruiah were too hard for me. The whole world fought against me, but above all my own familiar friend. Then was the word fulfilled, ‘Son of man, behold, I take from thee the desire of thine eyes at a stroke; yet shalt thou not lament, neither shall thy tears run down.’

The fatal, irrevocable stroke was struck on Tuesday last. Yesterday I saw my friend (that was) and him to whom she is sacrificed. I believe you never saw such a scene. But ‘why should a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?’

I am, yours affectionately,
John Wesley
This letter saddens me almost 257 years later. Charles Wesley crushed his brother's heart.

Since I come from another century, another age and another society I can't say if others considered Charles as right or wrong but I can imagine it felt horrendous to John.

Still, John found his dream of a lost love forever gone but kept his brother in his ministry.

Because he was John Wesley.

Sunday, July 2, 2006

The Sacred Calling

On August 24, 1744, Wesley preached a sermon at St. Mary’s, Oxford, before the University. Part of his address is as follows:
Many of us are more immediately consecrated to God, called to minister in holy things. Are we then patterns to the rest, 'in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity' (1 Tim. 4:12)? Is there written on our forehead and on our heart, 'Holiness to the Lord?' From what motives did we enter upon this office? Was it indeed with a single eye 'to serve God, trusting that we were inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon us this ministration, for the promoting of his glory, and the edifying of his people?” And have we 'clearly determined, by God’s grace, to give ourselves wholly to this office?' Do we forsake and set aside, as much as in us lies, all worldly cares and studies? Do we apply ourselves wholly to this one thing, and draw all our cares and studies this way? Are we apt to teach? Are we taught of God, that we may be able to teach others also? Do we know God? Do we know Jesus Christ? Hath 'God revealed his Son in us?' And hath he 'made us able ministers of the new covenant?' Where then are the 'seals of our apostleship?' Who, that were dead in trespasses and sins, have been quickened by our word? Have we a burning zeal to save souls from death, so that for their sake we often forget even to eat our bread? Do we speak plain, 'by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God' (2 Cor. 4:2)? Are we dead to the world, and the things of the world, 'laying up all our treasure in heaven?' Do we lord over God’s heritage? Or are we the least, the servants of all? When we bear the reproach of Christ, does it sit heavy upon us? Or do we rejoice therein? When we are smitten on the one cheek, do we resent it? Are we impatient of affronts? Or do we turn the other also; not resisting the evil, but overcoming evil with good? Have we a bitter zeal, inciting us to strive sharply and passionately with them that are out of the way? Or is our zeal the flame of love, so as to direct all our words with sweetness, lowliness, and meekness of wisdom?
(Sermons, #4, "Scriptural Christianity")
Call the above what you will but you can't call it ambiguous! I freely confess that I fall short of his definition of a minister. I suspect many of my brothers in ministry would feel the same.

Wesley brings home a cardinal truth: the ministry is nothing less than a sacred calling; it is God who makes a minister, not an ordination committee. (I'm not against ordination committees, I'm simply pointing out that the calling must be divine in origin.)

However, the Christian life, itself, is a sacred calling. We are not like everybody else. We are no longer of the kingdom of the "first man Adam", we are of the kingdom of the "last Adam", Christ, himself (1 Cor 15.45 ESV). We are a new creation, not of the old order (2 Cor 5.17). We are a kingdom of priests (Rev 1.5b-6)

Consider the Apostle Peter's words:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
(1Pe 2.9 ESV)
As a Christian you are special; lift up your head and act like it!

Saturday, July 1, 2006

A Plea For Old Books

Yesterday I read much of John Fletcher's book Christ Manifested. Originally the book was a series of letters that Fletcher wrote to a Christian in need of spiritual guidance. They were made into a book years after Fletcher's death.

John Fletcher is a significant figure in the Great Awakening. He so impressed John Wesley that Wesley wanted Fletcher to become the next leader of the Methodist societies. Sadly, Fletcher--though younger--died before Wesley.

Christ Manifested is a spiritual classic concerning the manifestation/revelation of Christ to the believer. In other words, it's all about the "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" that Christian preachers commend to the congregation. According to Fletcher, God can manifest himself to a believer in three ways:

a. Extraordinary
b. Ordinary
c. Mixed

Let me provide three quotations from Christ Manifested:

"The only way to avoid this precipice [of pride], is for us to follow in the light of the first manifestation, and to look daily for new visitations from Christ, until He makes His abode with us, and until we walk in the light as He is in the light. A manifestation of the Holy Spirit last year will no more support a soul this year, than air breathed yesterday will nourish the flame of life today. The sun which warmed us last week, must shine again this week; old light is dead light; a notion of old warmth is a very cold notion; we must have fresh food daily, and though we need not a new Christ, we need—perpetually—new displays of His eternal love and power."

"If you, reader, ever seek a personal knowledge of Jesus, never stop seeking Him until you witness your sun going down no more. However, in the meantime, never slight the least ray of the heavenly light; the least of these may open into the broad day of eternity. Cease from your own false wisdom, and become as a little child, or you will not enter the kingdom of heaven, nor see the King in His beauty."

"Unfortunately, many professors of religion in these days are satisfied with what did not satisfy the two disciples [of Emmaus]. They understood the Scriptures, their hearts burned with love and joy, Jesus was with them; but they knew Him not, until the happy moment when He fully opened the eye of their faith, and poured the light of His countenance on their ravished spirits. Happy are those who, like them, constrain an unknown Jesus—by mighty prayers—to tarry with them, until the veil is taken away from their hearts, and until they 'know in whom they have believed'."

It's not a long book but it is a fascinating one!

This blog isn't a plea to read just Christ Manifested. It's a plea to read the old books of Wesleyanism. Sure, their English seems quaint and stilted compared to today but with the Spirit's help you'll get the hang of it. If you want to know what a Wesleyan is, then why not read Wesley? Click on my link at the right for the Christian Classics Ethereal Library; find "The Library" on the left of the screen then click "All (by author)" to come up with an A-Z alphabet. Click on "W" and then scroll down to find Wesley's works.

Why take my word for it? Read him for yourself!