An Interesting Post On Thomas Merton

February 12th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

I’d never heard of Thomas Merton before my wife sent me a link to an interesting post on him:

7 Reasons Why Evangelicals Should Read Thomas Merton

There are parts of of the article I love.  One line, however, I found disconcerting:

sola scriptura ecclesiology easily leads to an iconoclastic view of history. Or to say it another way, if you skip over two thousand years and use Acts as a blueprint to recreate a pure church, your cloud of witnesses will be on the small side. That’s the tradition I grew up with, and it left many people feeling untethered.

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/fuller/2015/01/7-reasons-why-evangelicals-should-read-thomas-merton/#ixzz3RYt5EBNB

I believe some touting sola scripture ecclesiology are iconoclastic, narrow-minded pharisees.  No doubt.  But to say that sola scriptura “easily” leads to issues any more than those who don’t have the bedrock of Scripture as their base is ridiculous.

That being said, I highly recommend reading the blog post and letting the rest of what he has to share soak in.  I might just need to read a little more about and from this Thomas Merton character.

The Antidote to Anemic Worship

August 19th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

The antidote to anemic worship, if bottled, could also be the elixir for a suffering generation.  My friend Shane Vander Hart posted the following article on Facebook and I appreciated the overall message in the post.  You can click the following link.  It’s a quick read:

Expository Preaching—The Antidote to Anemic Worship

A few things about this post:

1. The author, Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., rightly describes the problem facing evangelicals: that they have bought into the entertainment culture of the church and are so focused on music and multi-media that the teaching of the Scriptures has taken a back seat – or been kicked out the door in many cases.

2. He makes an interesting statement:

“Thanks be to God, evangelism does take place in Christian worship. Confronted by the presentation of the gospel and the preaching of the word, sinners are drawn to faith in Jesus Christ and the offer of salvation is presented to all.”

It’s hard to argue with that…except to discuss what is supposed to happen at “church.”  Are we there to evangelize or is the purpose of our church gatherings to “equip the body/saints for the work of ministry?” (Eph. 4:12)  Can you conclude from Ephesians 4 that the gathering of the saints on Sunday (or whenever the Church meets) is not for the work of the ministry itself but to equip the body of Christ for the work of the ministry?

If so, then I fully agree with Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. that evangelism often takes place when a person attends a church service and the Holy Spirit moves them to the point of salvation or repentance.  I simply would postulate that this act of “evangelism” is incidental to the purpose of the gathering and is a wonderful thing that God often does in the midst of the equipping work of the church service.

3. I could not agree more with his final paragraph:

“The anemia of evangelical worship—all the music and energy aside—is directly attributable to the absence of genuine expository preaching. Such preaching would confront the congregation with nothing less than the living and active word of God. That confrontation will shape the congregation as the Holy Spirit accompanies the word, opens eyes, and applies that word to human hearts.”

A church fellowship without solid expositional teaching is like a person who is never weaned from spiritual milk and refuses to mature past weekly playdates.  We are created for so much more.

I hear many people who attend mega-churches, “seeker-driven churches,” “emerging churches” (does anyone still use that term?), or churches with plenty of bells and whistles and little meaningful teaching justify their choice by saying: “I feel like I’ve found a church where I finally get fed.”  They are insinuating that they are getting what they need to mature as believers.  Maybe.

I would argue that most choose such places to worship because we have fallen into the trap described in 2 Timothy 4.  Here Paul exhorts:

“Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” 2 Tim. 4:2-5

Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers must, by way of example, “preach the word,” “be watchful,” “endure afflictions,” and “do the work of an evangelist” before we can expect the Church as a whole to follow suit and fulfill its ministry.

Thank you to Dr. Mohler Jr. for hitting the nail right on the head.

How Then Should We Advocate?

November 12th, 2012 § 1 comment § permalink

The 2012 Election is behind us.  Now the question remains:  whether as an active citizen or a professional activist, how then should we advocate for the things we care about after any election result?  I’ve written about much of this before but wanted to get some additional thoughts off my chest for my own benefit if nothing else.

First, what is advocacy and activism?  Issue advocacy and activism can include writing a letter to your legislator, showing up for an event at the Capitol, running for office, posting political opinions on Facebook or Twitter, lobbying, writing letters to the editor, walking in parades for candidates, or discussing politics at a friend’s house over dinner.

If you are a Christ-follower and looking to contribute to a political organization or considering getting involved in any way, here are the top five things you must keep in mind in order to be a good advocate:
» Read the rest of this entry «

Perseverance Of The Saints

August 15th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

This is my last post on the individual doctrines of T.U.L.I.P. (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints).  I believe the doctrine of “eternal security” or “perseverance of the saints is – more than any of the others – unable to stand on its own.  It is like the clincher in a good story or a flower to the rest of the plant.  If we are elected, if we react to His grace, and if His action on the cross was efficacious, than doesn’t it make sense that God would “…complete it…?” (Phil. 1:6).  The doctrines of election and grace lead us to the logical (and Biblical) conclusion that there is certainty in salvation.

The Westminster Confession of Faith sums up the doctrine that has been held by most of the Church throughout history until recently this way:

They whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.

The confusion in this doctrine rarely comes from Scriptural back-and-forth but from how people “feel.”  We see people live the Christian lifestyle, profess a faith, walk as we walk, and then fall away.  We see people who were once pillars of faith renounce it altogether.  We have good friends, family, and church members slowly slip away as they make poor choices and succumb to modern-day idolatry.  We point to Jesus’ story of the seeds falling on different soil and figure that the state of being a plant is being saved instead of the state of being a seed means being human.

No where in the Scriptures does it say that everyone who professes the Christian faith are certain of heaven.  Only those who truly believe and are called as Saints persevere.  Many will profess or “pray the prayer” or whatever it is that modern evangelicals think equals salvation only to fall away, but they don’t fall away from salvation for they never had it!  Believers are tempted, fall into temptation, sin horribly, but are restored by their status as saints with new hearts that long after God even as it battles the “old man.”

Consider the covenant made between God and Abraham: God did all the work and promised the result.  Abraham was, at times, a real putz, but God made a promise.  We are his children because we believe in His Son.  We are the elect, the atoned for, and the grace-filled responding because we both have to and want to by loving our brother, our neighbor, and our Savior – imperfectly but as those sanctified.

John 3:36 – He who believes in the Son has eternal life…

John 10 – Jesus is the good Shepherd and no one can snatch us from his hand.

Romans 5:8-10 – He said those He died for shall be saved.

Romans 8

Unconditional Election

March 16th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

The “second point” in the Synod of Dordt’s response to the Remonstrance written by the followers of Arminius was that of “Unconditional Election.”  Remember, the “five points” are simply a direct response to the five main points in the Remonstrance, or Arminian positions.  it isn’t fair to the Scriptures or their Author to boil down the God-story to five points and each point should be taken into consideration within the whole context of the Scriptures.

Because Adam transgressed, God made it clear that he and all his decedents are guilty.  The sentence for that guilt is eternal death.  God was under no obligation to save Adam or a single decedent of Adam. His justice would have been completely satisfied by saving no one or obliterating His creation at the moment of Adam’s transgression and started over.

The doctrine of election, however, articulates the Scripture’s position that God, before He even created the world, chose some of Adam’s decedents upon whom He’d bestow amazing mercy.  These were those He would “save” from eternal punishment.  He could have chosen to save all men or none.  He, instead, chose to save some.  The fact that He chose only some is in no way unfair unless “…one maintains that God was under obligation to proved salvation for sinners – a position which the Bible utterly rejects.” (David Steele, The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, Documented)

Election doesn’t actually save anyone.  The Father elects, the Son gives Himself as redemption to save, and the Spirit renews the heart and instills that saving faith in the Elect.

Some interesting verses that highlight this election:

Revelation 13:8 – “And all who dwell on earth will worship it, every one whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lam that was slain.”

Matthew 11:27 – “…no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

1 Peter 1:1-2 – “…chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with blood…”

God’s choice is not based on any foreseen merit or action by man:

Romans 9:11-13 – “Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad, in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call, she was told, ‘The elder will serve the younger.’  As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'”

Romans 9:16 – “So it depends not upon man’s will or exertion, but upon God’s mercy.”

God didn’t choose us because he foreknew we’d choose Him:

Acts 13:48 – “And when the Gentiles heart this, they were glad and glorified the word of God; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.”

Philippians 1:29 – “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake.”

Exodus 33:19 – “…I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”

Ephesians 1:5 – “He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will.”

There are countless others.  This was the doctrine that I stumbled upon.  The other doctrines of salvation I knew I was wrong about as a young believer (I didn’t always believe this way!  I was an Arminian believer for years!) were easy to overcome.  This one was hard.  He isn’t “fair?”  He “chooses” hell for some?

As the image of my daughter dying in my arms was still very fresh and as I considered the ridiculous books that some well-meaning people handed me full of unBiblical junk about salvation and how it happens, it hit me: If He created the universe, set the standard, and works out His will and personality through His creation; perhaps I should re-read the Scriptures without the lens of human preference and see what He is really saying.  The whole counsel of the Scriptures is about the Author, the Potter, and the Lord writing His story, molding His clay, and ruling over His creation.  Who am I to question His plan or his will?  Who am I to read into the Scriptures some effort, work, or decision I must make to be saved?  It sits well with my current base nature…but not with His eternal truth.

Lame Ambassadors…

March 6th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

I think the emailer in this semi-humorous video obviously holds to Arminian soteriology.  🙂  Let’s be careful how we share the Gospel…

Some Things I Believe

March 6th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Although no one has asked, I feel compelled (perhaps for my own benefit and reference) to write out some of the things I believe to be true.  Comments are welcome:

I believe that I’m probably an evangelical by definition but I hope I never act like one.

I believe that the Church is the Elect and is not an institution or location.

I believe in an inerrant Scripture (we can argue about translations and church tradition) that is capable of speaking for itself, interpreting itself, and speaking to every issue.

I believe there is no timeline in the Scriptures for spiritual gifts.  I believe that all the gifts are for today.  I believe, however, human nature tends to swing too charismatic or too stoic (the “frozen chosen”) and the burden is on us to find the appropriate balance.

I believe that if the Church stopped building multi-million dollar buildings, paying mega-church pastors mega-sized salaries, combatted relativism, and invested our money in meeting the practical needs of others instead of bolstering what we call our “ministries;” we’d win over the hearts of the unchurched.   Because our time and resources would be vested in our communities; we’d become so passionate about them that our love for our neighbors would win far more souls than any church service, outreach program, multi-media presentation, or under-sized missions budget ever could.

I believe the Church has been hijacked by pastor/teachers, we’ve ignored (in large part) the role of the other gifts (Eph 4:11) in Church leadership, and have made the mistake of setting up our churches like corporations (thanks to the 501 (c) 3 and our Roman statist heritage) instead of being communities living out “Kingdom spirituality.”

I believe the assembling of ourselves together as believers is primarily for the encouraging and equipping of each other – not for “gettin’ people saved.”  In many cases, bringing new believers to church is a sure-fire way to ruin their potential as ambassadors for Christ.

I believe the Church is capable and responsible for the welfare of its community – not government.  Government should supplement the Church’s benevolence, not supplant its role as caregiver to the broken, poor, and needy.  Our ability to turn into pansies when the IRS threatens us for proclaiming truth, discussing issues, or teaching on the intersection of faith and public policy is one of our greatest areas of shame.

I believe that, since the Scriptures teach us to obey the laws of man, that a Republic like ours in America that is dependent on our engagement to function well turns out civic engagement into a spiritual necessity.

I believe one God-fearing man or woman can change the world, change culture, change public policy, or even a church.  You never know if it’s you until you live your whole life pursuing the opportunity and never grow weary in the work.

I believe most doctrinal differences, although important, are far less important than choosing to work together to practice pure and undefiled religion (James 1).

I believe I spent too much time in Western Christendom and therefore stink at living a missional and relevant spiritual life.  I am, however, working on it.

Catholics, Protestants, and Eternal Salvation

February 13th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

The debate on salvation and baptism between Catholics, mainline denominations, evangelicals of various stripes, and other Christian sects has always fascinated me.  Outside of some liberal mainline denominations, most Christian churches share two things in common: Jesus is the Messiah and the Scriptures mean what they say as the inspired Word of God.

Our Enemy is good at injecting men and women full of pride, spite, and divisiveness into our churches to divide us and cause schism.  Our human depravity (our Old Man – Col. 3:9), even as believers, rears its ugly head in the institutional church too often.  Our churches (little “c”) often hamstring the Church (capital “C”) with man-centered disputes.  One of the age-old  ways we are complicit in this division is the perpetual debate between Catholics and protestants and even between mainline protestants and evangelicals regarding how we are saved, especially surrounding the issue of baptism.

Soteriology, or the doctrines of salvation, is so contested between segments of the Church, it’s amazing anyone outside the Church would know what to believe if they wanted to.  I’ve had Catholics tell me I’m not part of the “Church” because I have not been baptized in the Catholic Church and can therefore not take communion with Catholics.  I’ve had Lutherans tell me they aren’t sure if I’m saved because I wasn’t baptized the way they would have been.  So what role does baptism play?

Many Catholics are ignorant of the Catholic teachings on baptism and salvation.  They clearly believe baptism is a Sacrament and is required for salvation (unless you have not had the opportunity) but too often believe that it has to happen in a prescribed manner in a Roman Catholic Church to really count.

Let’s look at some passages from the Catholic Catechism (any emphasis is mine):

1257 The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are “reborn of water and the Spirit.” God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.”

1258 The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament.”

1259 For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament.”

1260 Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery.” Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.”

In number 1257, it references John 3:5 after stating that the Lord Himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation.  They hinge everything on that passage.  Read it.  The whole story of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, when taken in context, is about belief, not baptism!  We are born of water (physical birth) and then of Spirit (faith conversion).  If the physical act (or Sacrament) of Baptism was what He was talking about, would He not have clarified that fact when Nicodemus asked for just such a clarification?  Instead, we are told that whoever “believes” will have eternal life.  Jesus reiterates that the second birth is belief/faith!  This may have turned on a light in Nicodemus as he ran through the Law, the historical accounts, and the prophets and remembered that God was clear He desired faith, not the blood of animals or other works.

You can check out the Greek word used for “believe” in the John 3 passage at Blue Letter Bible.  It doesn’t imply anything but a transformation of the heart…not an outward sign like baptism.

So I believe, with all due respect to my Catholic brethren, that they – like Nicodemus – struggle to get past the demands of tradition and the needs of the institution to see the plain words of Jesus on this subject: believe!  He’s not calling us to lean on any work, action, or ceremony.

The very fact that the Vatican teaches that an un-baptised person can be saved or that those ignorant of the requirement but “seeks truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved” is proof that Catholics, although misled on baptism in general, do not teach that you have to be Catholic to be saved.

Baptism is not the action Jesus focused on in his ministry.  He focused on belief!  He didn’t tell those he healed to go get baptized.  As a matter of fact, he often told them to tell no one and go about their business.  Baptism doesn’t save anyone in my reading of the Scriptures.  Jesus, Paul, and the Law would have been more clear if it does!  If you moved to sections 1267 to 1271 of the Catholic Catechism, you get to the real reason the institutional church teaches baptism is necessary for salvation, in my humble opinion (membership and tithes).

Lutheran, Anglican, and a few other denominations share this view that baptism saves and this is a remnant of Roman Catholic teaching carried on by Martin Luther and others whose initial goals were to reform the Catholic Church, not split from it.  The Church of Christ and the Methodist Church also teach some form salvation through baptism or spiritual transformation through it.

So what is baptism for?  I fall more in line with the Westminster Confession’s definition of baptism than I do with the Catholic catechism.  I believe that the following excerpt from the Westminster Confession puts more power in baptism than the Scriptures do and I don’t believe the baptism of infants has any Biblical basis, but it sums up the overall purpose rather well:

“CHAPTER XXVIII. Of Baptism.

I. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church, but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, or his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life: which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in his Church until the end of the world.

II. The outward element to be used in the sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the gospel, lawfully called thereunto.

III. Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but baptism is rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water upon the person.

IV. Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptized.

V. Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it, or that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.

VI. The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinancy the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in his appointed time.

VII. The sacrament of Baptism is but once to be administered to any person.”

The key is that in section V it is clear that it saves no one.  I don’t even believe it is a sin to ignore it anymore than I think baptizing infants is helpful but…whatever.  The confession isn’t perfect nor is it Scripture any more than any catechism is but it points to the divisions within the Church on the subject.

Others in the Christian faith note that Paul never mentions baptism or any requirement for baptism to be saved.  Interesting!

I was baptized as a teenager in the Pacific ocean at Long Beach, California with my family.  I was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and I took the act of being immersed in baptism very seriously.  I am a Christ-follower who clings to Scripture over church traditions instituted by men.  I take Jesus’ command to love God and love my neighbor seriously, and therefore believe I’m as much a member of the Holy “Catholic” Church as any devout Roman Catholic, Protestant, or isolated jungle inhabitant who is following Jesus as He has been revealed to him.  I also agree with the Apostle Paul when he cautions believers to take communion seriously in 1 Cor. 11.  In this way, I am confused and frustrated by religious people who would question my salvation; deny me the ability to participate in communion with fellow members of His Church; or share in any other act of fellowship, ministry, or sacrament laid out in the Scriptures.  I don’t see a separate kid’s table at the Lord’s Supper for those that don’t baptize the “right” way.  If the Catholic teaching that church tradition is equal to the Scriptures is a stumbling block of fellowship between Catholics and other believers, isn’t the burden on Catholics to address their offense?  Why should they expect me to compromise on extra-Biblical matters like traditions of men (aka: church)?

Institutional Churches have long instituted traditions that serve the institution.  Purgatory, Pontifical bulls, indulgences, veneration of saints and relics, religious wars, schism, Inquisitions, complex leadership hierarchy, etc.  Organized religion generally serves the church, not the Church.  I’ll stick with what I see in the Scriptures.

1 Corinthians 1:10-17 addresses the issue of salvation, baptism, and unity beautifully.  Paul made it clear that he was was not sent to the Corinthians to baptize, but to proclaim the Gospel.  He took it a step further and said that strife over this issue is wrong.  I stand ready to accept variation in teachings on Baptism within a Biblical framework.  Are you?  Being divided on the basics of salvation has to be something that grieves the heart of God more than most anything else.  I’ll fellowship and co-labor with any true Christ-follower regardless of whether or not he/she goes to a church I understand or agree with.  That is the only way I know how to be someone the Vatican would say “…seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it…”