Blogging the Institutes–1.10.1–In creation and word, God is the same

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

In Creation and Word, God is the Same

God displays the knowledge of Himself even more clearly in His word than He does through created things. In His word, God presents Himself in exactly the same way as He does through the knowledge which comes through creation. A full discussion of God’s knowledge found in the Scriptures would be way too long to capture in one book like this. So what I’m going to do is give you a “snapshot” of the knowledge of God which can be found in Scripture. I will also lay out a method for studying the Scripture to come to know God. I am not going to explain at length God’s gracious dealing with Abraham yet. Because when God chose a pagan man to be bound in covenant with and even adopted evil sons into His family, it was an act of sheer grace and He was acting in the character of the Redeemer. Right now, we are merely considering the kind of knowledge which comes from creation and we’re not getting into studying Christ as the Mediator quite yet. Although I will have to quote passages from the New Testament soon, I do not want the reader to get sidetracked by other discussions.

It will be sufficient at this point to understand first how God rules over and runs the world that He created. In every part of the Bible, you can find many descriptions of God’s kindness and goodness. You will also find examples of God’s judgment, which demonstrates that He is the just punisher of the wicked, especially when they continue to do evil and do not heed His warnings.

Suburban Ministry–The Challenges of Reaching Men

The church has a manhood problem. Or most of the statistics say so. Whether or not the statistics are true, the Christian publishing industry has certainly churned out many books speaking to the issue (For example, see Why Men Hate Going to Church). I think I can say that the anecdotal evidence at LBC may point in the direction that men are harder to engage with. I wouldn’t say necessarily that women are more sensitive to spiritual things. All people are sinners and no one has the capacity to pursue Christ outside of the Holy Spirit’s work in their life.

I think a few obstacles stand in the few of really reaching men in the suburbs of New Jersey. These are things I have found:

1. Busyness: Men are busy. Extremely busy. They are building families and careers. They have projects at work, projects at home. They handle the finances, plan vacations, and pursue hobbies. They are busy. The predominant view of church, then, is that it is one more responsibility to juggle.

2. Schedule: Tied into the busyness is the issue of schedule. Many of the men in the church commute to New York City, at least an hour a day if not more. So most men will leave the house before 7am and return after 7pm! How do you reach those men who have such limited time during the week? How do you reach men who have such limited time with their wives and families? Complicating things is the fact that since their weekly workload is so heavy many other projects get pushed to the weekends. There are also family events. How do you call busy men to sacrifice for the church on a weekend, when they rarely have time for themselves?

These are just some of the questions that I have been grappling with in how to reach men in and through our local congregation.

Blogging the Institutes–1.9.3–The Word and the Spirit Form an Unbreakable Bond

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

The Word and the Spirit Form an Unbreakable Bond
When these false teachers criticize us for clinging to the “dead letter” of Scripture, they are actually bringing judgment upon themselves for despising God’s word. In the passage about the “dead letter,” Paul is talking about the false apostles who speak of the Law without Christ (2 Corinthians 3:6). When they recommend the Law apart from Christ, they are cutting people off from access to the New Covenant by which the Lord promises that He will write His Law on our hearts. Therefore, we speak of the letter being “dead” because the Law of the Lord kills its readers, severing them from the grace of Christ. The Law only gives hearing to the ear without touching the heart.
But if God’s word is effectively impressed upon a person’s heart by the Holy Spirit–if it is shows off Christ–then it is the word of life which converts people. In the very same passage, Paul calls his own preaching a “ministry” of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:8). What he means is that the Holy Spirit holds fast to the truth about Himself as expressed in Scripture that He will only put forth His strength and save people when the word is rightly honoured and accepted.
What was said earlier in chapter 7 is reaffirmed here: we can have no certainty of God’s word unless the Spirit confirms to us in our hearts. The Lord has tied together the certainty of His word and the Holy Spirit so closely together that we will revere the word when the light of the Spirit shines upon us and enables us to see Christ’s glory in the Scriptures. On the other hand, we embrace the Spirit when we recognize Him in the word.
God did not intend to get rid of His word as soon as the Spirit steps onto the scene. Rather, He employs the Holy Spirit, through whom He wrote the Scriptures, to confirm His word. When Christ was talking with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, He did not encourage them to do away with the Scriptures. Rather, they should seek to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:27). Furthermore, Paul tells the Thessalonians not to “quench the Spirit” and also to not to “despise prophecy” (1 Thessalonians 5:19, 20).  What Paul means is that the Spirit will be quenched when prophesying is despised. How can those who despise Scripture answer this? They say goodbye to the Scriptures but hold fast to any “illumination” which happens to spring into their minds.
God’s children are much more sober minded than that. Just as they know that without the Spirit, they are utterly devoid of truth; so also, they know that it is the word of God which by which the illumination of the Spirit is given to them. They know no other Spirit except the One who dwelled in and spoke through the apostles. This is the Spirit who they seek to hear when they listen to the word.

Suburban Ministry–The challenges

I am inspired to write about doing pastoral ministry in the suburbs from a set of tweets by author/blogger Hannah Anderson, who was encouraging her husband to blog about pastoral ministry in rural VA, I believe. I also find that it can helpful to talk out my ideas (hopefully a few successes and probably a bunch of failures). I have also found that there aren’t a ton of resources talking specifically about the issues and challenges that suburban churches face.

Now, I know that some people could easily object to the claim about the lack of resources for suburban churches: “99.9% of what is written and sold to Christians is specifically for suburban Christians and/or churches!!” But here’s why I think most books written through Christian publishers fall flat for actually helping suburban churches.

1. Theologically Shallow. Let’s be honest, if you take a quick glance at any of the sales brochures from Christian Book Distributors or even take a look at the Amazon best seller for Christian Books and Bibles you should be…well…underwhelmed. I can’t ever remember in my whole life as a Christian when a problem was solved with shallow theology.

2. Focus on Externals. Someone left a book in our church’s lost and found entitled something to the effect of, “12 Keys for Church Growth.” The cover indicated that it was clearly a book from the 80’s. So I cracked it open, curious to see what someone promoting “church growth” in the 80’s said were the keys. And predictably, it was pretty much was the same externally-focused things as you might find in a church growth book today: have a big enough parking lot, enough seating, etc. etc.

This doesn’t help. It really doesn’t help because churches thrive all over the place, some with adequate parking, some with terrible parking situations. When Heather and I attended Sojourn Community Church at its Midtown Campus, the parking was less than ideal. And yet, the church was still packed out inside. Sure, it can be helpful to have a large facility and a large budget. But what I have been finding is that, just like in helping the poor, throwing money at a ministry “problem” doesn’t necessarily fix it. How does money make a difference when a wife finds out about her husband’s adultery? Only solid, supportive relationships and sound words from the Bible over the long haul can really make a difference. I know that I need to forego the temptation to believe that money solves problems. It can be a help, for sure, but it doesn’t replace ministry to real people.

3. Models Don’t Work. Being the Community Groups pastor, I have read numerous books, blog posts, and articles on small groups. After all that reading I have come to one conclusion: models don’t work. If you read over at Christianity Today, their small group site offers ten different models for small groups. The problem is that what works in one context may not work in another. There can even be wide variances of culture, socio-economic status, and race even within the same town! So merely reading up on a few good models and then selecting the “right one” for your context probably won’t work. Or least it hasn’t for me.

Furthermore, real ministry has a ton of exceptions. Since we’ll on the topic of small groups, let’s stay right there. We try to be loosely geographically-based. That way people don’t have to commute to small group just like they commute everywhere else. What do you do with the exceptions, however? How strict do you keep your geography? For example, someone visits the church and gets plugged into serving in the Children’s Ministry. Hitting it off with another one of the volunteers, they are invited to a small group. It’s on the opposite side of the county. Do we still allow them to attend even though they’re not close geographically?

So what I have come to believe is that models don’t really matter. People matter. Training competent leaders, who are have high character, matters the most. Investing in people yields way more spiritual fruit than building a certain structure or model. What matters is the discipling of people.

Our take missions. If you closely examined our  church’s missions budget, you’d find it a veritable history of the different missiological emphases from the 1980’s until today: the 10/40 Window, indigenous missionaries, unreached people groups, etc. It’s hard to know who to support in missions when tied to a particularly strategy, especially when so many good candidates cross your desk. So we decided as a missions committee to have a strategy tied to people not to a particular method of evangelism, church planting, or missions. This provides for us enough flexibility to support those people we believe that God is working through to advance the gospel across the globe. We could miss out on tremendous ministries if we become too tied to a particular way of doing missions. Methods do matter, but not as much as people.

Conclusion

Investment in people is what matters. It’s almost as if the Great Commission is true! The essence what the church should do is “make disciples.” We do that by proclaiming the gospel to people (“Go” and “baptizing”–the logical follow up evangelism). Then “teaching” them all about who Jesus is and what he’s done. That must occur primarily in the context of relationships found within the church.

 

Blogging the Institutes–1.9.2–The Spirit in the Word, not Against the Word

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List.

Spirit in the Word, not Against the Word

Because the Spirit speaks through the Bible, it is important that we give our due diligence to reading and hearing the Word. Reading and hearing the Word with diligence provides us with the benefits that come from God’s Holy Spirit. Now, it could be easy to think that portions of the Bible aren’t important anymore, especially now that Christ has come. Yet, the apostle Peter praises those who attentive study the teachings of the Old Testament prophets, indicating the importance of God’s Word (2 Peter 1:19). Any person who bypasses the wisdom of God’s Word and suggests another source of divine teaching proves his/her teaching is prideful and false.

Since the devil can transform himself into any angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), how could we ever know that a “revelation” came from the Spirit unless His work is stamped with the mark of God? Thankfully, the Lord shows us the Spirit with sufficient clarity. These false teachers, then, are bent on their own destruction because they seek the “Spirit” in their own making rather than from the Lord. They argue that it is insulting to the Holy Spirit to say that He is subject to the Scripture since all things are to be subject to Him. But it is not insulting if the Scriptures give an accurate  and consistent representation of the Spirit. Furthermore, if the Spirit were subject to a human being, an angel, or any other standard outside of God, then yes, the Spirit would be subordinate–that is, brought into bondage to something.

But if you see the Spirit in the Scriptures and compare Him with what He is actually like, you will find a consistent and harmonious picture. How can it be said that seeing the Spirit in the Word devalues the Spirit, when the picture is accurate and true? I do admit that seeing the Spirit in the Scriptures is a test of some kind. But it is through this very test that His majesty is confirmed. It ought to be enough for us to hear His voice in the Bible. To keep Satan from deceiving us, however, the Spirit wants us to recognize Him by the image of Himself which He has stamped on the Scriptures. The author of Scripture cannot change or change His likeness. As He appears in Scripture, so He will always be that way. There is nothing insulting about this, unless we go so far to say that the Spirit likes to degenerate or rebel against Himself.

Blogging the Institutes–1.9.1–The Spirit Speaks Through the Word, Not Apart From It

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

The Spirit Speaks Through the Word, Not Apart From It

Some people reject Scripture in favor of some other way of connecting with God. I don’t just call them wrong; I call them insane! Certain giddy people have come on the scene and make a big deal about the Holy Spirit. But they end up pitting the Spirit against the Scriptures and reject all readings of Scripture. They criticize those who delight in reading Scripture by calling Scripture the “dead letter.” I want them to answer this question, however: “What ‘spirit’ inspires them to demean the Scriptures?” If they answer that it is the Spirit of Christ, they are exceedingly ridiculous. They must admit that the apostles and other believers in the early church were not illuminated by any other Spirit, except the Spirit of Christ. None of them despised the Scriptures. In fact, they showed great reverence for them.

Indeed, it was foretold by the prophet Isaiah: “ ‘As for Me, this is My covenant with them,’ says the Lord: ‘My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,’ says the Lord, ‘from now and forever.’” (59:11). Isaiah shows that the people of God would not only be ruled by the Spirit but also the Word. It is Word and Spirit together. Therefore, these false teachers tear apart what God has joined together. Furthermore, even though the apostle Paul was carried up to the third heaven in a vision, he still profited spiritually from the Law and the Prophets. He also exhorts Timothy to give attention to the reading of Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13). Paul’s words concerning Scripture must be remembers: Scripture is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness so that the man of God may be complete, fully equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Therefore, it is devilish to claim that Scripture plays only a temporary and transient role in the formation of God’s people. Again, I want those people to tell them whether they have taken in any other “spirit” than the Spirit which Christ promised to His disciples. Though their foolishness is extreme, it will barely hold up in scrutiny. But what kind of Spirit did our Savior promise to send us? A Spirit who would not speak for Himself, but only the truth which He would speak through the Word (John 16:13). Therefore, the Holy Spirit doesn’t invent new doctrines or give us new truths which will lead us away from the gospel, but rather, He seals upon our minds the very doctrine which is taught in Scripture.

 

A Theology of Sex and Gender–Pt. 6–Consummation

This is the sixth installment of A Theology of Sex and Gender. Parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Consummation

 God’s plan begins with man and woman living in His sacred space (Garden of Eden) under His rule (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15-24). This is the kingdom of God. United in marriage, the man and the woman are “living pictures” of the coming union between Christ and His people (Ephesians 5:31-32). Human marriage not only testifies to the current reality of Christ’s relationship to His people, but also looks forward to the complete consummation of God’s plan in eternity. In the new creation, Christ will feast with His bride at the marriage supper of the lamb (Revelation 19:7-10). In the new creation, the dwelling place of God will be among humanity. The new humanity will be His people, and He will be their God. The two will become “one flesh” in a sense that God presence is now no longer hindered to the church because of her sin (Revelation 21:1-8).

Marriage in the New Creation

Before tackling that question of gender in the new creation, an easier question to answer would be: “Will there be marriage in heaven?” The Bible teaches us that  there will be no longer any human marriages in the new creation. Jesus argues that in the new creation people will neither “marry” or “be given in marriage.” Instead, believers will be like the angels in heaven (Matthew 22:29-30). Jesus seems to be saying that marriage as we know it won’t exist.[1] Scripture gives us a principle for interpreting itself: when the reality comes, the shadow passes away (Hebrews 10:1). Applying this principle to the issues of marriage, it shows us that when the reality comes (Christ) then the human institution of marriage passes away because it has reached its fulfillment. The picture (human marriage) is not the end-all, be-all. Christ is.

Sexuality and Gender in the New Creation

So what about gender? Will it pass away also since marriage will pass away in the new creation?  A likely answer is “no” for the following reasons. God created two sexes even before uniting men and women in marriage. So although marriage is a picture of the gospel and will pass away, it seems that our inherent humanness represented as male and female will persist into the new creation.

Furthermore, the Bible gives us very concrete, physical pictures of the new creation. The Old Testament, especially, gives us images of people building houses, eating and drinking, and even infants being born (Isaiah 65:17-23; cf. Zechariah 1:17; 2:4; Amos 9:11-15). Although God’s people are “one” in this new creation, the Old Testament seems to indicate that ethnic Gentiles will retain their ethnic identity alongside ethnic Jews (Isaiah 19:24-25; 66:19-20). Being “one” in Christ as Galatians 3:28 says does not obliterate the distinct way that God created us ethnically. There seems to indications in Revelation that ethnicity prevails in the new creation (Revelation 7:9; 21:24-26). If ethnicity continues into the new creation, it seems reasonable to conclude that our gender will not be done away with either.

Now, some complementarians argue that the principle of male headship continues into the new creation.[2] I believe this is mistaken. The Bible speaks of husband headship over the wife, not male headship over the woman. Thus, the authority-submission dynamic between husbands and wives will cease because the marriage relationship will receive its terminus in the coming of Christ and His consummated relationship with His people. Furthermore, in the consummation all people (whether male or female) are considered the “bride” and the “wife” and so all people (whether male or female) will be eternally submissive to the true husband, Christ.

As Wendy Aslup writes:

While the categories of male and female endure into the New Creation, the earthly roles of being husbands and wives do not. Or to be more eschatologically accurate, these earthly roles are finally fulfilled. Our earthly marriages—and the submission that happens within them—are but mere shadows of the one great marriage between Christ and His bride that will exist for all eternity. As our roles shift from being individual husbands and wives so too will the submission that flows from our individual relationships. As the collective Bride of Christ, we will all submit to Jesus as our Bridegroom. Christ remains the head of both man and woman. His supremacy (which Philippians 2 tells us is the direct result of his obedience to the Father) will govern our relationships with each other, male and female alike.

In God’s great design, He has made us to as complex creatures, able to glorify Him a multitude of ways both with our genders and with our marriages for those of us who are married. In all things, glory to God.

[1] Carson, Matthew 13-28, 461.

[2] Walton, “Roles and Relationships in the New Creation,” 15.