A Time for Choosing

A Time for Choosing

 

In Jeremiah 26 we read an account of Jeremiah standing before the Temple preaching the word of the Lord to the people of Judah. He did this because the Lord commanded it so:

“Thus says the Lord: Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the Lord all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word.” – Jeremiah 26:2

Notice the Lord’s command was not only to speak, but to speak everything – not to hold back a single word of God’s commands.

We never have the option of truncating or soft-selling God’s word. Our job is not to make it palatable but to make it clear. Unfortunately when you do that, people don’t like it.

In Jeremiah’s case, they wanted to kill him:

“When the officials of Judah heard these things, they came up from the king’s house to the house of the Lord and took their seat in the entry of the New Gate of the house of the Lord. Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, “This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.” – Jeremiah 26:10-11

This will always be the result of sharing the truth of God’s word with a lost and dying world. They will not only not like you for it, they will in some cases actively seek to do you harm.

The problem with much of the church today is we can’t handle that. We want everyone to like us. We’ve confused loving people with making them feel good about themselves. And, as much as we say we do this out of a desire not to offend or to be loving, the reality is we do it for ourselves because we worship the idol of popularity and being liked. We are people pleasers (Galatians 1:10) rather than people lovers.

When we present God’s word and get the reaction Jeremiah got (or that Jesus got, for that matter), we think we’ve done something wrong when, in fact, we’ve done something right. We measure our effectiveness by people’s reactions rather than by our faithfulness to the message of scripture. We think by softening the edges or not speaking of things like sin or God’s wrath and judgment we will obtain a hearing for the gospel. But, with no understanding of sin or God’s wrath there can be no understanding of the gospel.

The irony is, the more we try to be inoffensive, the more we compromise with the world, the more they dislike us – because nothing short of complete capitulation will satisfy the wicked.

That’s the choice we have, complete capitulation or faithfulness to the word of God. If our goal is to be honored by the world, we must choose the first, if our goal is to honor God we must choose the second. There is no in between. We must either be cold or hot (Revelation 3:15).

The Christian life is difficult. That’s a promise from the Lord (John 16:33). If we seek to make it easy and non-confrontational, we will end up being unfaithful. But, if we stand firm in the face of opposition and are uncompromising on the truth of the gospel, the reward is great (Matthew 5:11-12).

The time has come for the church of Jesus Christ to choose this day whom they will serve.

 

Photo credit: Sebastian Anthony via Visual hunt / CC BY-ND

Apple Pie Theology

Apple Pie TheologyOne of the questions that inevitably comes up when you study church history, especially the history of the Reformation, is whether the Roman Catholic Church should be considered Christian. On the one hand, they affirm the Nicene Creed which places them within the pale of historic Christianity along with Protestants and the Eastern Orthodox. On the other hand, they reject the notion of salvation by grace through faith alone. This puts them in the position of preaching a gospel other than the one affirmed by the apostles which, in turn, puts them under condemnation according to the Apostle Paul (Galatians 1:8-9).

So what are we to think about the Roman Catholic Church? Are they Christian because they are within the pale of Nicene orthodoxy or are they not Christian because they preach a false gospel? Additionally, how do we understand the difference between Nicene Roman Catholicism and something like Mormonism?

The answer lies in understanding the purpose of the creeds. The Nicene Creed in particular was not intended to be an exhaustive theological statement. It was formulated to address particular issues the church was facing at the time it was written – primarily the challenge to the divinity of Christ being put forth by the Arians. The Creed says nothing about the nature of the atonement, justification, etc. But, it does put up some boundaries beyond which a belief system cannot be Christian. So, from a historical and sociological perspective, religions within Nicene boundaries are considered Christian. But, this does not mean everyone who affirms Nicaea can be considered Christian from a theological perspective, as it is merely a starting point.

One way I’ve sorted this out is thinking of an apple pie. There are certain ingredients that must be present for a pie to be considered an apple pie. For argument’s sake, let’s say those ingredients are apples, sugar and nutmeg. Pies that contain apples, sugar and nutmeg can be classified as Apple Pies:

Nicene Apple Pie

Of course, we can add other things to the pie like rhubarb, for example, and it would still be an apple pie. But, are there things we can add that are so contrary to the pie’s purpose that, while technically still an apple pie, it becomes worthless as such? I think so:

A pie containing apples, sugar, nutmeg, sardines and garlic may be in the apple pie category technically but will not function as an apple pie in any meaningful sense.

Roman Catholicism is like an apple pie with sardines and garlic added – technically in the category of Christian but containing so many extra ingredients that are in conflict with the basics that it ceases to be Christian in reality.

For Mormonism and other anti-Nicene cults who call themselves Christian, the apple pie looks like this:

Mormon Apple Pie

They use peaches but call it an apple pie even though it is nothing of the kind and never has been. Mormonism began, not with Nicene orthodoxy from which they’ve strayed, but with heresy in which they’ve continued. They’re a peach pie masquerading as apple.

So while the Nicene Creed addresses essential beliefs it is not an exhaustive list of those essentials. The crux of Christianity is the gospel. If I affirm the divinity of Christ and the reality of the Trinity in sync with Nicaea but deny that the work of Christ alone is sufficient for my salvation, I have denied the gospel and forfeited the right to call myself a Christian. That is why, though we don’t place Roman Catholicism in the category of a cult like Mormonism, we must still place it outside the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credit: WinstonWong* via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

The Insufficient Christ of Roman Catholicism

The Insufficient Christ of Roman CatholicismHow can a sinful man be reconciled to a Holy God?

The answer to this question was the hinge on which the Reformation turned. Martin Luther and the later reformers answered that question differently than did the Roman Catholic Church of their day and churches in the Protestant tradition continue to answer it differently than the Roman Catholic Church does in our day.

The Protestant answer is by faith alone (sola fide) in Christ alone (solus Christus). In other words, Christ is sufficient. In His active and passive obedience, Christ did all the work necessary for the justification of His people. As Jonathan Edwards said “You bring nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.”

There is ample scriptural evidence for this position but none more clear than Ephesians 2:8-9:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

The Roman Catholic answer, however, is that Christ is necessary and very, very helpful to be sure, but He’s not sufficient. His work must be supplemented by men for them to be reconciled to God.  In fact, the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century declared that salvation by grace through faith alone was an “anathema,” meaning those who believe that are cursed. The pronouncements of Trent remain Roman Catholic doctrine today.

This idea that Christ’s work must be supplemented was brought home to me when I read the eulogy for Justice Antonin Scalia delivered by his son, a Roman Catholic priest, who said in part:

We are here, then, as he would want, to pray for God’s inexplicable mercy to a sinner; to this sinner, Antonin Scalia. Let us not show him a false love and allow our admiration to deprive him of our prayers. We continue to show affection for him and do good for him by praying for him: that all stain of sin be washed away, that all wounds be healed, that he be purified of all that is not Christ. That he rest in peace.

Heartfelt words but troubling words as well. Notice we are to “continue to do good” for Scalia by praying for him, praying specifically that “all stain of sin be washed away.” Friends if “all stain of sin” is not “washed away” at the moment I pass from this life into the next I have no hope. No amount of prayers can help me at that point. The writer of Hebrews tells us “…man is appointed to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). There is no opportunity to get right with God after the door of death closes behind us.

Thankfully, because of the finished work of Christ, we don’t have to face the moment of death unsure if our sins have been washed away, unsure if we’ve done enough. If we’ve trusted in Christ alone they have been washed away because He’s done enough. In John 19:30, Jesus said “it is finished.” He didn’t say “My part’s done, now get to work,” He said “It is finished” – full stop.

Are you trusting in Christ alone for salvation? If not, I urge you to do so and to rest in His finished work. As Lord’s Day 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism says that is our only comfort in life and in death.

 

Photo credit: jayneandd via Visual hunt / CC BY

 

 

How to Fire Up Your Spiritual Growth

How To Fire Up Your Spiritual Growth

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. – John 17:17

When my boys were in Cub Scouts (back before the gender and sexuality warriors made such innocent places ground zero in their war on manhood) we learned how to make a fire. We explained to the boys that fire requires three things: oxygen, heat and fuel. If one of those things is missing you will never start a fire.

As I read Jesus’ words in John 17:17, I had similar thoughts about our growth as Christians. As with fire, certain things must be present or it won’t happen.

The first is prayer. Jesus is praying here for the sanctification of his disciples. We too must pray for the sanctification of ourselves and others. God has ordained prayer as one of the ways He works out his will for His people.

Second is truth. Christ says we are sanctified by truth. But he doesn’t stop there. He goes on to tell us what truth is. Truth is the word of God. Again, one of the means God uses to grow His people in the faith is His word. We must be continually in the scriptures if we are to grow.

Finally, while not directly mentioned in this verse but taught directly in scripture as a whole (Hebrews 3:13, Colossians 3:16), is other people. We’re not called to practice our faith in isolation. That is one of the reasons Christ created the church – to be a place where believers are taught the faith, loved and equipped to do the same for others.

Prayer, truth and people. If any one is missing, I won’t grow in the faith as I should.

Should Christians Buy A Lottery Ticket?

Should Christians Buy A Lottery Ticket?As the Powerball jackpot reaches new highs, so does discussion in Christian circles about whether it’s something believers can / should participate in. I’ve seen a few posts similar to Seven Reasons Not to Play the Lottery by John Piper.  Here Piper all but says “no Christian should buy a lottery ticket” and is adamant that he wants no contributions to his church from lottery winnings. But the underlying question is not “should Christians play the lottery?” but “Is gambling a sin?” If it is a sin then the lottery issue is settled. If it’s not, then rather than call it “spiritual suicide” a more nuanced approach is called for.

If something is sinful in and of itself then it is forbidden to all Christians, at all times in all circumstances. To think this through, let’s use something no one would disagree is sinful: use of pornography.

This is not a “wisdom issue.” There is no circumstance under which pornography can be used legitimately by Christians. It is wrong for all people, at all times, in all circumstances. So far so good. But, there’s more to it than that. If pornography use is a sin, then not only can Christians not use it, neither can they facilitate it. So, for example, a Christian accountant cannot keep the books for a studio that produces pornographic movies. Nor can a Christian makeup artist work on the set preparing the actors for the camera – even if he or she never watches what the company produces. The same can be said for abortion. While working for a company that provides abortion as part of its health care plan is an issue of individual conscience, working for Planned Parenthood in any capacity is a sin and should not be done by anyone who claims the name of Christ.

Now let’s apply this to gambling. If gambling is sinful for all people, at all times, in all circumstances then a Christian in Las Vegas cannot work as an accountant at Caesar’s Palace or as a maid or waiter at a casino – even if they never gamble themselves. If a Christian has such a job, they should quit and find something else, just like the accountant at the porn studio should. If someone is willing to apply the same standards to gambling that they would to something like pornography then I’m willing to entertain their argument that it is sinful in and of itself. If not, we must say, while it may not be wise in many circumstances, it is not an area where we can bind the consciences of all Christians. Can gambling be sinful? Sure. Is it always so?  I don’t believe so.

On another note, the government sponsored lottery is certainly no less evil than the government sponsored social programs which, unlike the lottery, forcefully separate people from their money to give it to those who did not earn it – also undermining the virtues of work and personal responsibility democratic societies require. More people would be helped financially by being allowed to keep a higher percentage of their paycheck than by stopping them from spending a few dollars a week on lottery tickets.