Archive for November, 2008

Conserving the Gospel – 2

November 24, 2008

 The gospel is threatened when its intention is misrepresented or misunderstood. Paul is quite clear what the gospel deals with in I Corinthians 15:1-4:

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you — unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,

According to Paul, the gospel deals with our sins. This is what the gospel centres around. Therefore, by implication is gospel is about reconciliation with God, which suggests enmity with God is the default situation. This means the gospel is about a holy God’s gracious work of reconciling individual sinners to Himself.

It is not about social renovation. The gospel is not primarily food to the hungry, money to the poor, employment to the unemployed, social advance for the oppressed. It might result in such benefits, but such things do not constitute the intention or purpose of the Gospel.

It is not about social revolution. The gospel is not a paradigm for the revolt against forms of political tyranny or oppression as Liberation Theology in own country suggested.

It is not about a psychological innovation. The gospel does not provide some kind of internal therapy to affirm ‘the self’ or to liberate you from ‘misplaced shame’.

It is not about moral influence. The gospel is not simply a revelation of God’s love teaching people to sacrificially love one another.

It is not about a potential supply of grace, which by human merit and cooperation (and about a thousand years in purgatory), we access and experience.

It is not about realising your own godhood, coming to worship the divine within.

It is not a ransom paid to Satan to release his clam on man.

It is not some kind of mixed political, social and even ecological effect which brings in ‘the Kingdom’ (whatever the speaker in question decides that to be).

The gospel is about individual salvation from the penalty, power and eventual presence of sin, so as to enjoy restored fellowship with the Triune God. This is achieved through the substitutionary atonement of the God-man Jesus Christ, and the application of it to those who place repentant faith in Him.

To capitulate to these false theories of the gospel is to lose the gospel. To lose the gospel is to lose the Christian faith itself. Therefore, conservative Christians will ‘earnestly contend’ (Jude 1:3) for the meaning and purpose of the gospel : Christ came to save sinners (I Tim 1:15).

Conserving the Gospel – 1

November 18, 2008

 Conservative Christians conserve the gospel. This is because the gospel is the boundary of Christianity and true Christian fellowship.

How does one become a Christian? By being baptised into the Roman Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant wings of Christendom? By growing up in an ostensibly Christian country? By feeling closer to the Christian religion than to say that of Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism?

The fact is, people become Christians, in the biblical sense, when they believe the gospel. The Bible makes it plain that the gospel is the message by which people are saved (I Cor 15:2, Rom 1:16). If there is no gospel, there can be no salvation (Romans 10:14).

Therefore, conserving the gospel is foundational to conservative Christianity. If we lose the gospel, we will become like Roman Catholicism – preserving various forms (some beautiful and pious), but without the power and life of the gospel itself. Once again, the reason for this conservation is because the gospel is continually under threat. The gospel comes under threat in numerous ways.

First, when its intention is misrepresented or misunderstood. People have often tried to take the message of our Lord or of the apostles and use it for their own ends – political revolution, social renovation, psychological theory, or any one of countless theories which have been advanced as the true ‘purpose’ of the gospel.

Second, when its meaning is warped. Since the gospel rests on actual historical events, the meaning of those events needs to be interpreted and explained. That is just what the Bible does. However, if the wrong interpretation is given to those events, the result is a corrupted gospel (Gal 1:6-8).

Third, when its centrality is undermined. When professing Christian leaders act as if there is fellowship with someone who denies the gospel, they undermine the gospel itself. They act as if there is a place in Christianity for those who deny the gospel itself.

Fourth, when its proclamation is neglected. When the church fails to preach the gospel, it will certainly not be conserved, but will die with those who presently believe it. (And if they truly believe it, why would they not declare it?)

As we take time to consider each of these threats, we will see the struggle that exists in our time to conserve the Gospel.

Conserving What?

November 17, 2008

 As detailed in a previous post, true conservative Christianity seeks to conserve authentic, biblical Christianity. This is because conservatives see themselves as simply one link from the past to the future. We want to conserve something for two reasons: It was fought, bled for and refined by our ancestors and handed to us; and because we are commanded to pass it on to the next generation.

However, authentic, biblical Christianity can be a group of words into which the beholder inserts his or her personal, stylised version of Christianity. Kevin Bauder suggests that to understand what conservative Christians seek to conserve, we must break it down into five categories: the gospel, the whole counsel of God, biblical worship, ordinate affection, and reforming the moral imagination. Undergirding these will be two attitudes: a complete trust in the sovereignty of God, and an ongoing, deepening connection to historic Christianity.

For us to understand conservatism will be to give careful thought to each one, study the relevant material, and be prepared for ongoing study related to these matters. Beyond that, it will be to progress to a place of familiarity with these matters, such that we are able to teach others also.

The next series of posts will be related to these five categories and two attitudes.

Ancient Innovators

November 11, 2008

 

1 Kings 3:2-4 Meanwhile the people sacrificed at the high places, because there was no house built for the name of the LORD until those days. And Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David, except that he sacrificed and burned incense at the high places. Now the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place: Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar.

Something is very striking about this passage. Solomon was no idolater. His worship was directed solely towards Yahweh, and Him alone. It is clearly stated: Solomon loved the LORD. In spite of all this, the Bible places the word ‘except’ in verse 3. The one exception to Solomon’s unspotted record was that he burned incense at the high places.

To whom did Solomon burn incense at the high places? Baal? Ashtoreth? Beelzebub? Dagon? No, Solomon clearly offered incense and sacrifices to no one except the true God of Israel – Yahweh.

Why then does the Bible say, ‘except that he sacrificed and burned incense at the high places’?

The answer is clear: ‘the high places’ were an innovation in worship. God had not instructed Israel to worship ‘at the high places’. This was instead a practice they had observed in the surrounding Canaanites.

Deuteronomy 12:2 “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations which you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. “And you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and burn their wooden images with fire; you shall cut down the carved images of their gods and destroy their names from that place.  “You shall not worship the LORD your God with such things. “But you shall seek the place where the LORD your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go.

 

Once again, we see an Old Testament illustration of the Regulative principle. God does not appreciate innovations in worship. To adopt a pagan practice, and then ‘dedicate it to God’, ‘enlist it in God’s service’ is displeasing to the Lord. Particularly when He has instructed how, and in the case of Old Testament Israel – where, He wishes to be worshipped.

Israel no doubt thought that the direction or object of worship made the circumstances irrelevant. After all, why would God quibble over details like place and elevation when He is an omnipresent, invisible, all-knowing God? Surely the sincerity of the worshippers would turn those high places into places that God delighted in.

1 Kings 15:14  But the high places were not removed. Nevertheless Asa’s heart was loyal to the LORD all his days.

2 Kings 12:3 But the high places were not taken away; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places.

2 Kings 15:3-4 And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father Amaziah had done,  except that the high places were not removed; the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places.

2 Kings 17:32 So they feared the LORD, and from every class they appointed for themselves priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places.

2 Chronicles 33:17 Nevertheless the people still sacrificed on the high places, but only to the LORD their God.

Funny, God never seemed to get over it.

In fact, the reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah specifically targeted the destruction of the high places – even when these had been used to worship Jehovah.

Does God care about what we include in our corporate services? Does it matter if we innovate in worship? Is it not acceptable to use something of the world ‘for Jesus’? Does it ever offend God when we use the music, dance, or entertainment of pagans in His service?

Does God really ignore everything about our worship except motive?

The Toys – Coventry Patmore (1823-1896)

November 6, 2008

My little Son, who look’d from thoughtful eyes
And moved and spoke in quiet grown-up wise,
Having my law the seventh time disobey’d,
I struck him, and dismiss’d
With hard words and unkiss’d,
—His Mother, who was patient, being dead.
Then, fearing lest his grief should hinder sleep,
I visited his bed,
But found him slumbering deep,
With darken’d eyelids, and their lashes yet
From his late sobbing wet.
And I, with moan,
Kissing away his tears, left others of my own;
For, on a table drawn beside his head,
He had put, within his reach,
A box of counters and a red-vein’d stone,
A piece of glass abraded by the beach,
And six or seven shells,
A bottle with bluebells,
And two French copper coins, ranged there with careful art,
To comfort his sad heart.
So when that night I pray’d
To God, I wept, and said:
Ah, when at last we lie with trancèd breath,
Not vexing Thee in death,
And Thou rememberest of what toys
We made our joys,
How weakly understood
Thy great commanded good,
Then, fatherly not less
Than I whom Thou hast moulded from the clay,
Thou’lt leave Thy wrath, and say,
‘I will be sorry for their childishness.’