Advice to Young Pastors

I often feel guilty for how much I enjoy my job. Full time ministry is a rare opportunity; few people have the chance to do what they love the most in the world full time. I am so thankful for my job.

However, it has not come without growing pains, mistakes, and learned lessons. I decided to write a brief blog about some lessons I have learned, specifically in regards to preaching.

I do not write this as an expert. I am young and still learning the life-long skill of crafting and preaching excellent sermons. Instead, I write this as a novice: someone who has learned from godly, skilled pastors. I write as someone who has grown from mistakes. My target audience are fellow novice preachers, and anyone who has the desire and call to preach, granted their call has been affirmed by their local church.

Here are four pieces of advice I have for young, developing pastors:

1. Sanctify Your Language

One of the quickest lessons I learned was to sanctify my language outside of the pulpit because bad habits follow you into the pulpit. Unless you preach full manuscript (which I do not recommend), much of your sermon diction is on the fly. Your theological points are in your notes (unless you preach without notes),  but your language is not.

The problem arises with the fact that there are some words we might feel comfortable using outside of the pulpit, but would not use in the pulpit. However, habits die hard.

I once found myself using a word that would not have brought me conviction in normal conversation, but from the pulpit, seemed crass and distracting. I realized that I needed to forfeit some words from my everyday common use in order to improve as a preacher.

This is not only relevant to vocabulary words unfit for the pulpit, but extends to more basic elements of sloppy speech. Filler words need to be filtered out of common speech. Meaningless utterances like “Um,” and “like,” are abused in every day conversation. Those habits will chase you into the pulpit.

Sanctify your speech outside of the pulpit so you can bring mature speaking habits with you into the pulpit.

2. Avoid Obsessive Theology

Much of my early theological training came from my Roman Catholic apologetics. For three years I was regularly engaged in debating the issues that divide Roman Catholics and Protestants.

I love discussing these issues, and through my debates, I became well versed in the texts of Scripture related to each of the major points of contention. Through rigorous encounters with Roman Catholics and through reading a load of books on the subject, I gained a deep knowledge of these texts and issues. I thoroughly enjoyed the debates and knew the texts at hand well.

Because of this, I had the temptation early on to try and force those theological issues into every text I preached, or to reference Roman Catholicism often. Some of my leaders, as well as trusted lay members, noticed that all of my sermons were sounding less like a sermon, and more like the rebuttal portion of a formal debate. My preaching would often come across as aggressive and confrontational, debating all of the non-existent papists.

Avoid constantly teaching and referencing your favorite doctrines. This is the breeding grounds for sloppy exegesis and irrelevancy. It is not exegesis to turn every text into an issue you love talking about, and it does the congregation no good to refute ideas they are not flirting with, or to answer questions they don’t have. This is not to say that anticipating possible questions and objections is wrong. That is a great thing to do in a sermon. But those need to be based on the text, and your understanding of your own congregation specifically.

This habit is important to kill now. Soon, the young preachers I am addressing will not only be preaching more often, but will be choosing the preaching texts and topics. If you have the habit of addressing the theology you enjoy, you will not be giving your congregation the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20: 27). Preaching on the same issues repeatedly can make a congregation grow tired and bored, and it starves them of the whole of Scripture.

The way to combat this is to preach through books often, and be faithful to the text; do not allow hobby-horse theology to creep in to every single sermon. I have listened to preaching that obsesses over one point of doctrine regularly, and even when it was doctrine I agreed with, I still grew tired.

The pulpit it is not a time to obsess over your favorite doctrines, nor to slam your least favorite. If  your favorite talking points are in the text at hand; so be it. If the serious theological errors you want to dismantle are relevant to the text you’re preaching, go for it.  Preach the text in front of you; that is always what your congregation needs, and nothing else. The whole counsel of God was the Apostle Paul’s interest; therefore, it should be ours as well.

3. You Have Nothing to Prove

As a very young pastor, I struggled with (and continue to struggle with) insecurity. Most of this is self-imposed. I have a church that has been nothing but kind, supportive, and gracious to me. After all, this is the church that called me. It is a church that has always been understanding of my youth, and has encouraged me in my strengths. However, it continues to remain a struggle to feel confident, equipped, and suited for my work. I often seek refuge in Paul’s words to Timothy regarding this (1 Timothy 4:12).

One of the temptations I experienced early on in my preaching was the desire to load my sermon with heavy, academic thoughts and jargon in order to establish credibility and prove my worth. Anything I could dig out of a commentary that was rigorous and sophisticated would find its way into my sermon.

The fact of the matter is that with every text comes some academic information that is irrelevant to the congregation. Discussions involving higher textual criticism, or the semantics of the Greek language, and many other topics do not need to be in the vast majority of sermons.

I have been paralyzed in the past with fears that my sermon would be “too shallow” or “too simple.” I wanted every single sermon to “wow” and impress the members. However, like my father used to always tell me, “You’re not going to hit a home run every time.

The fact of the matter is, some theology is simple, but if it’s the Word of God, it is still profound. If the text before you is communicating simple theology, then preach a simple sermon. Simplicity is not a synonym for “shallow,” nor is it an antonym to “profound.”

Even the theological concepts that are not simple need to be made clear and simple; that’s your job. In a certain sense, all of our sermons will be “simple.” The aim of a sermon should always be to create a simple, clear thesis that the church can understand, remember, and articulate (outside of fidelity to the text and the exaltation of Christ).

The interest of the pulpit is not to prove how smart you are, but how wonderful Christ is. The aim of every sermon is to faithfully communicate God’s Word in an intelligible way, not to make much of a preacher’s intellect.

It is crucial to preach the meaning and application of the text; that is what the sheep need. To go down academic rabbit trails often only confuses people and distracts from the overall thesis of the sermon. There is a time and a place to know those issues and discuss them, but rarely is the Sunday morning sermon that time and place.

4) Utilize Commentaries after Studying

Especially when coming to a difficult text with many loose ends and complicated passages, the temptation to rush to the commentaries and online study tools is powerful. But I have learned there is far too much value in reaching your own conclusions, studying the text, and praying, before turning to the commentaries. I have experienced two reasons for this:

  1. The Calling is Yours

Commentaries are a gift from God. They should be utilized. They are helpful, corrective, challenging, and they keep us tethered to the church historic. However, any person can regurgitate study notes from academic researchers. Most college students do this very thing in their classes.

The church has recognized God’s gifting in you and has called you to be pastor; they have called you to preach.

Establish your own voice. Create and craft your own sermons. Allow the Lord to speak to you primarily through His Word. Your sermons are yours to preach, and the gifting required to read the text, understand it, craft it in a sermon, and communicate it has been given to you from God.

I recommend a good amount of study, sermon outlining, and prayer before turning to the commentaries (and I do recommend turning to commentaries).

2. Commentaries are a Gauge

One of the most fulfilling things I have experienced in sermon preparation is coming to a conclusion about a text, especially a difficult one, and then seeing the commentaries I read all affirming my conclusion. The commentaries and other resources we use to prepare a sermon are a great way to gauge our understanding of the text. The point is not to say that all commentaries are infallible and never disagree. But when our interpretations of passages are falling into good company, both modern and historic, that is an encouraging sign that we are seeing these texts the way God’s church and God’s pastors have seen them too.

Commendations

Lessons I have learned in my short tenure of preaching, which I pass on to fellow novice preachers, are to develop sanctified speaking habits, preach the whole counsel of God, be content with the Word of God itself impressing people (rather than your intellect or charisma), and trusting in the gifts God has given you.

The pulpit is a sacred place, and it is truly an honor to be able to mount the pulpit within the context of a local church. And so, as a young preacher, I would like to commend all the local churches out there who are able to invest in young men. All of the churches who are humble enough to submit to men younger than them for the sake of developing leaders for the future of God’s kingdom, I commend you.

All of the pastors who give up their pulpit to allow young men to develop and be trained for the sacred and noble task of shepherding a church, for those men who aspire to hold the office of an elder, I commend you.

For all the congregations that have sat through the growing pains of young pastor’s sermons and biblical teachings, I commend you. This is kingdom work, and the Lord is pleased with your humility, your love, and your desire to send mature, experienced men into the world.

Keep calling us, keep encouraging us, keep training us, and continue to model righteousness for us, that we might then do the same for other young Christians when our time for that has come.

Three Things To Be Thankful for this Thanksgiving

A worship song I enjoy singing with my local church is the song 10,000 Reasons.  The thesis of the song is that God has done so much for us that there is an inexhaustible list of reasons to bless and worship His. I subscribe wholesale to that notion, and so it is an understatement in mind to say Christians have a lot to be thankful for, and no Christian on the face of earth is exempt.

I preface this post that way as a means of saying this is not in exhaustive list of what to be thankful for. These three things are, however, things I see Scripture making a big deal about in terms of thankfulness, and so I want to make much of them on the holiday which promotes giving thanks. Here then are three things every Christian ought to be thankful for. As the old hymn proclaims, the Lord is the Fount of every blessing. May He come tune our hearts to sing His praise.

1) The Local Church

Taking the apostle Paul as an example, it is hard to find anything he was more thankful and grateful for than his churches. Paul simply loved the local bodies of Christ. To really drive the point home, let us take the church in Corinth as a case study.

The church in Corinth gave Paul plenty of reasons to pull his hair out; this was a very unlovable church. When reading through Paul’s first letter to this church, Paul had much to rebuke and correct, issues pertaining to both practice and doctrine.

He had to rebuke them for their divisions and disunity among one another (1: 10-17). Paul told them they were worldly, jealous, divisive, and immature Christians (3: 1-3). Paul subtly implied they were ignorant and ungrateful (4: 6-7). They refused to follow Jesus’ instructions about church discipline, and had to be confronted for allowing an unrepentant sinner to remain in good standing in the church, and associating with the sexual immoral, which Paul already told them once not to do (5: 1-13). Apparently, they were suing one another and taking each other to court (6: 1-8). Theologically, they were way off on sexuality and marriage (7: 1-24). They were causing one another to stumble over issues of conscience (8: 1-13). Possibly their most embarrassing issue was in regard to the Lord’s Supper. They abused communion so badly, the rich getting drunk and not allowing the poor who came in late to participate (11: 17-29). They were so much dishonoring the table and each other, God was literally heaping judgment on them by killing them (11: 30-33). They were abusing and mishandling the spiritual gifts, causing their church to be one of chaos and disorder (14: 26-33). They were allowing women to take up roles God reserves for men (14: 33-35). Another doozy of a blunder was that some of them were entertaining the idea denying physical resurrection (15: 12-19). You heard that right, one of the most basic doctrines of the faith, that Christ Jesus rose from the dead, and will resurrect the saints physical, the Corinthians church was questioning.

That is quite the laundry list of immaturity, sins, and theological shipwreck. Paul’s Corinthian church was sloppy and immature. Surely, one would be hard-pressed to find reason to be thankful for this one, right? Notice how Paul begins this letter,

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus,  that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord ” (1: 4-9).

Paul was thankful to God for them. Paul loved them. That is the lesson here.

No local church is perfect, but every local church in Christ Paul loved, and we must too. I exhort you this Thanksgiving: drop the criticisms. Look past the frustrations. Stop focusing on the things you’re not happy with in your local church, and find those things (which are absolutely there) and give thanks to God for your church. They are bought by the blood of Christ. They are edifying you, loving you, teaching you, and sanctifying you. Even a church like the church in Corinth was a church to be thankful to, because it was filled with Christians.

In fact, nearly all of Paul’s corporate letters begin with his thankfulness and love for that church. The one exception being the Galatian church, and in that letter we read that they lost the Gospel.

If your church denies the Gospel, it is not a Christian church. You must leave. But, if you are in a Christian church which believes the Gospel, that means you have a church filled with the Spirit, and filled with good, kind, Christian people, whom Jesus loves and died for. Your church loves you and loves God. So, be thankful for your church.

2. Every Circumstance 

This is one which I should allow Scripture to do most of the talking. It can be easy for me, in my comfortable, American home, surrounded by food, family, and friendship, to tell others to be thankful for whatever are their circumstances. Who I am I to tell the poor, persecuted, or downtrodden, that their current circumstances should swell up within them a heart of thankfulness? Well, I have no authority in and of myself to do such a thing, but I know someone who does. 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18,

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Paul tells us that all our present circumstances call for thanks-giving. Perhaps it has something to do with that whole “for those who love God all things work together for good” thing.

3) God Himself

Thanksgiving 2This one was likely met with an aggressive eye roll, or a giant “duh” from my humble reader, but hear me out.

Certainly, for the Christian, this one seems a bit obvious. One would only need to survey the book of Psalms to find a legion of verses giving thanks to God for who He is and what He has done. However, allow me to try and put a new spin on this one.

Romans 1: 18-21,

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 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. 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.”

In Paul’s epic profile of the unbelieving condition, he describes mankind as knowing God exists, and knowing He is worthy of our devotion and affection, but rejecting that, and instead choosing to suppress that knowledge and worship false gods.

In this, Paul describes the condition of the rebel as not honoring God, nor giving thanks to Him. Of all the things Paul could have said (love, obey, enjoy, etc.) he chose to insert thanklessness. Thanklessness is the condition of heathen hearts, not regenerate hearts. To not give thanks to God for who He is and what He does is the manifestation of idolatry.

For one, we ought to be thankful simply for who God is. One of the common praises of the Psalmists is to praise God for His love.

Psalm 138: 1-6, “I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased. All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O Lord, for they have heard the words of your mouth, and they shall sing of the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord. For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar.”

The outflow of God’s character His is goodness and kindness to us. He has been gracious to His people in ways that can only be responded to with thanksgiving.

At the very top of the list is our salvation. If God has saved your soul for eternity, what temporally ought to steal your thankfulness?

In fact, Paul expressly states that God saves in order to increase thankfulness.

2 Corinthians 4:15, “For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”

Our salvation naturally leads us to glorify God through our thankfulness. Paul says elsewhere that our ever-growing faith in Christ, the faith which God bestows, ought to also produce thankfulness within us.

Colossians 2: 6-7,Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

God saves us, and sanctifies us, rooted in Christ. This is why we are a thankful people. Our salvation, the person and work of Christ, and the peace with God which He provides, is why Paul continues in this letter with this theme of thankfulness, declaring that one of the primary reasons we sing songs in church is to express thankfulness.

Colossians 3: 15-17, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Clearly, Christian people are called to thankfulness. God has saved us, God has rooted us in Christ, God has given us His Son. No gift can even be imagined which is worth more.

Notice the primary place Christ has in thankfulness. In Colossians, genuine thankfulness is always attached with a person’s relationship to Christ. Only when rooted in Christ may we abound in thankfulness that pleases the Lord, only when the peace of Christ rules in our hearts, and when the Word of Christ dwells within us, can we sing songs and be thankful.

The only kind of thankfulness that pleases God is the kind that is mediated through Christ.

As a Christian, and a as creature, you have much to be thankful for this year. Enjoy this day. May you be filled with the peace and love that are found only in Christ Jesus the Lord, and may you never cease to give the Lord thanks for all He is and all He does. May all our hearts be consumed with gratitude, for all good things come from our Father above (James 1:17).

The Unthankful God

One of the most interesting things about thankfulness is that this is an emotion and behavior unique to creatures. We experience it, but God never does. We serve a God who is never thankful.

However, this is not to say we worship a God who is bitter and selfish. Rather, we serve a God who is entirely independent, and that is a good thing. The very nature of thankfulness presupposes a state of dependency. To be thankful is to admit some level of need.

When my car breaks down, and someone fixes it for free, I am thankful. I am thankful because I needed my car fixed, and was dependent upon someone else to do it for me.

Even the within things we do for ourselves, we are still forced into a position of thankfulness, because our abilities are not our own. We are thankful for our jobs and paychecks. Although we worked hard for them, our abilities, skills, and talents were things we were dependent on God for. Thankfulness always presupposes some level of need and dependency. And God needs and is dependent upon nothing.

God does not need our worship, and He is not dependent on His subjects to fulfill, assist, or complete Him or His decrees in anyway. Therefore, He never has to be thankful to or for us. He is far too powerful to be thankful.

 

Pray for the Persecuted Church

November 5th is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. This comes in the wake of a developing story of a local church in Texas that just lost 25 members to an evil gunman. One of those murdered was the pastor’s 14 year old daughter. Although the gunman’s motives are still unclear, it is difficult to believe the shooter’s motive was not faith-based. The fact that this was a church is not irrelevant, or was not likely to have been coincidental or unknown to the shooter.

Whether it’s Texas or Iran, Christians all over the world are being imprisoned, tortured and killed for their faith. Not only does the Bible tell us to expect this (2 Timothy 3:12), but martyrdom actually advances the Gospel and changes the world.

The very Gospel itself is the story of a martyr, and look at all it accomplished (Colossians 1: 19-23). In light of that, it is not surprising that every major advancement of Christianity was preceded by faithful men and women sacrificing their blood for the sake of the kingdom.

Although these great sacrifices are great victories, this does not mean we ought not to pray for the persecuted church. Here are three reasons to pray for the persecuted church today.

1) The Bible Commands It

One of the most powerful verses in Scripture is possibly one of the most neglected commandments among God’s people. Hebrews 13:3,

“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”

Be honest with yourself, how often to you even attempt this command? How often to do you pray for the persecuted church? This verse commands us to pray, and it commands how we must pray also. We are to pray as if we were with them. How passionate and how often would you pray for yourself provided you were currently being persecuted in Egypt, or North Korea? That is how you should pray now.

If you’re like me, you have been disobedient. Let us pray for our brothers and sisters rightly today.

2) Prayer Works

We pray because it can actually do something for the circumstances of the persecuted. Prayer can cause change.

Notice what Paul says to Timothy in 1 Timothy 2: 1-2,

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

Paul called Timothy to pray for people who have power over our lives because Paul believed prayer could influence how they use that power.

Prayer is not a tip of the hat. Prayer is not sentimentality. It is an effectual, powerful action of the believer which can bring about the power of God to make real changes in history.

Pray for the persecuted church because you can help them in their affliction.

3) They Deserve it

One of the greatest compliments ever given in Scripture to God’s people is found in the famous passage about the victors and martyrs of faith in Hebrews 11. After the writer of Hebrews lists all of the men and women who accomplished and endured much through faith, he describes these people, specifically the martyrs, in verse 38 as those “of whom the world was not worthy.” This is a description I covet.

These brothers and sisters receiving their martyr’s crowns are those this world is not worthy to be around. These brothers and sisters are heroes. They deserve much from us; they have earned much from us. But for many of us, the honor and love they deserve cannot be given. They are nameless, faceless, and distant from us. We don’t know them all, and cannot be near them all. The one thing, of the many things they deserve from us which we can give, is prayer. We can pray for them, and they deserve our prayers.

Pray for them, and thank God for them.

pp

Protestant Resolutions: The 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation

What an honor it is to experience the 500th year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. On such an important day as this, I felt the only blog that could possibly do justice to the many issues that divided us in the 16th century, and still divide us today, is to write my personal confession. Below is a list of theological resolutions which clearly explain the differences between biblical Christianity, and Roman Catholicism. 

Many of these doctrines deal directly with the Gospel itself. Our eternity hangs on which of these beliefs we accept. The issues could not be more severe. 

We Affirm that the 66 books of the Old and New Testament make up the Sacred Scriptures, commonly referred to as the Holy Bible, and that this Bible is the authoritative Word of God, and is alone infallible, and therefore functions as a sufficient rule of faith for the Church of Jesus Christ.
We Deny that any other rule of faith, whether it be church or tradition, is infallible and operating as a rule of faith for the church.

We Affirm the 66 books of the Old and New Testament are the God-breathed Scriptures.
We Deny the additional books known as the Apocrypha (or deutorocanonical ) are inspired by God and have been accepted by the historic Christian church.

We Affirm that Holy Scripture reveals God-ordained authorities such as the church, the government, and the family, and that these institutions have authority over us, and assist us in understanding the Scriptures, and are subject to serve the supreme rule of faith, the Bible.
We Deny that the church, the government, or the family are God-breathed, and can function as an infallible rule of faith.

We Affirm that church history is a valuable tool for assisting the Saints in interpreting the Scriptures.
We Deny that church tradition functions as an infallible, oral tradition, serving as a rule of faith over God’s people.

We Affirm that the office of the Papacy is an illegitimate and blasphemous office, which was not established by Christ, His apostles, nor by the Sacred Scriptures.
We Deny that the Bishop of Rome has any authority over the people of God, or over any political office either.

We Affirm that the Holy Spirit of God is the Vicar of Christ on earth.
We Deny that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth.

We Affirm that the Church being built by Christ is a now invisible, eschatologically visible, congregation of redeemed saints, made up of both Jews and Gentiles, who are called from every nation, tribe, and tongue.
We Deny the church is an infallible, visible organization, with a temporal location on earth.

We Affirm the Scriptures speak of the Church catholic, the invisible assembly of Christ from every generation, as well as the church local, a visible congregation consisting of professing believers who worship the Lord together. 
We Deny that the Church is ever defined in Scripture as an ecclesiastical magysterium with infallible interpretive powers.

We Affirm that a person is saved by grace alone, through faith alone, and that no human works merit favor, justification, or final salvation from God.
We Deny that the works of the Roman Catholic system merit justification or favor with God.

We Affirm that justification is a once for all, forensic, declaration which God performs on behalf of a repentant sinner.
We Deny that justification is a process.

We Affirm that sin is a transgression of God’s holy Law.
We Deny the categorization of sin, commonly referred to as venial and mortal. 

We Affirm the cross of Christ sufficiently cleanses us of all guilt due sin through faith.
We Deny confession to a priest is necessary to expiate guilt.

We Affirm Christ Jesus’ death was substitutionary in nature, that the punishment for sin was altogether absorbed by Him.
We Deny that temporal guilt can remain on the soul of the justified, and thus atoned for either in this life or the next.

We Affirm that God disciplines believers for sanctification purposes.
We Deny that a distinction can be made between guilt and temporal punishments.

We Affirm good works are responsive to salvation, wrought in the saint by the Holy Spirit, referred to as Sanctification.
We Deny that works are meritorious.

We Affirm that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.
We Deny the existence of a realm called Purgatory where sins are expiated and a person cleansed prior to final glorification.

We Affirm God is capable of saving whom He pleases.
We Deny the existence of Limbo, a realm for unbaptized infants.

We Affirm that the righteousness of Christ, His passive and active obedience, is imputed to a person through faith alone. 
We Deny that righteousness is an any way something a person can merit or accomplish.

We Affirm that the death of Christ was a once for all sacrifice, never to be repeated. 
We Deny that the Mass, often repeated, is a propitiatory sacrifice, and is in any way related to the death of Christ at Calvary.

We Affirm that the death of Christ was altogether sufficient to save a sinner to the uttermost.
We Deny that a person can still suffer eternal judgment after being cleansed by the blood of Christ.

We Affirm that the often repeated sacrifice of the Mass is blasphemous. 
We Deny that people can be forgiven of sins through the Mass.

We Affirm that the elements of the Lord’s table are symbolic in nature, and no substantive change takes place to the elements in communion.
We Deny that the bread and wine are physically and literally transformed in a non-visible, non-bloody way, into the body and soul of Christ Jesus, commonly referred to as transusbtantiation.

We Affirm that the Lord’s table is a holy and blessed ordinance of the Church, commanded by Christ and the Apostles to be performed regularly.
We Deny that the Lord’s table merits salvation in any way.

We Affirm that baptism is a holy and blessed ordinance of the Church, commanded by Christ and the apostles to be performed.
We Deny baptism justifies a sinner before God.

We Affirm the Priesthood of all believers. 
We Deny the office of the Priest is a separate, ecclesiastical role, given the powers  to consecrate the Mass as “another Christ,” and forgive sins.

We Affirm the office of deacons and elders (elders being also referred to as pastors, shepherds, or bishops) are the offices in the church prescribed and defined by the New Testament.
We Deny that priests, cardinals, and regional bishops are biblical offices of the church.

We Affirm that Christ Jesus alone is the one mediator between God and man.
We Deny that any person, dead or alive, mediates on behalf of men before God.

We Affirm that God alone is worthy and able to receive prayer.
We Deny the practice of praying to the dead. 

We Affirm that all worship and religious service is due to God alone.
We Deny the distinction commonly made between latria and dulia, and that veneration of the Saints is a virtuous christian practice.

We Affirm that idols and graven images of God or men are never to be worshiped.
We Deny the religious veneration of images and relics.

We Affirm that Mary, being a daughter of Eve, was born with original sin, and committed acts of sin during her life-time.
We Deny that Mary was immaculately conceived, free from the stain of original sin, and lived a perfect life. 

We Affirm that Jesus had brothers and sisters born to Mary.
We Deny that Mary was a perpetual virgin throughout her life.

We Affirm that Mary died and was buried. 
We Deny that there is any historical or biblical warrant for believing she bodily assumed into heaven.

We Affirm that Christ alone mediates salvation, and that He uses no one to mediate His mediation on His behalf.
We Deny that Mary is a Co-Mediatrix with Christ.

We Affirm that Mary, being a faithful believer, is in the presence of the Lord worshiping Christ for all eternity, after playing a vital role in God’s plan of redemption.
We Deny that Mary is the queen of heaven.

We Affirm that Jerusalem above, commonly referred to as the church, is the mother of individual saints.
We Deny that Mary is the mother of the church.

We Affirm the issues that divide us from Roman Catholicism are severe, and that Roman Catholic theology rejects the Gospel of Christ Jesus.
We Deny that any spirit of ecumenism ought to be embraced which causes a disparaging of the severity of these abundant doctrinal differences.

 

 

solas

Bracing for the Inevitable Rape Culture

John Calvin rightly identified one of the primary purposes of the Law of God being the restraint of evil. The Law of God is like a damn which holds back the waters of sin.

America’s culture has for many years now been taking hammers to the concrete, and water has been spilling out. The water being held back is a ferocious force, capable of more than we dare to imagine, and the problem for those releasing the damn is that they live in villages below.

harveyWhat we are witnessing in the Harvey Weinstein incident is the realization that once the damn has been broken, water is going to get into our homes. Harvey Weinstein, for those who have not heard, has been, for years, a person of great importance in Hollywood, primarily as a producer, but was successful in other areas too. He also was well-known in the political arena as he was a prominent financial donor and advocate for liberal politicians like Hillary Clinton.

Recently, he has fled out of the nation for “rehabilitation” as a number of women have come out and accused him of sexual assault and rape. Weinstein was, at worst, a serial rapist, and a serial sexual assailant at best, and the testimonies support the former. Using the power of his position, he abused and preyed upon young women desperate to make it into the industry, of which he had so much authority.

In the continued wake of this, a movement has started online known as the “Me, Too” movement. The #metoo began as a way for women to publicly admit that they have been victims of sexual assault.  The goal (I am assuming) is to bring awareness to just how many women have been victims of sexual cruelty, with little to no justice being obtained in the process.

What This Post Is Not Saying

Let me be clear with my intentions for this post right from the get-go as I try and anticipate how some may be tempted to interpret me. Allow me to explain what is not happening in this post.

First, I am not condoning rape or sexual abuse of any kind. God hates it and will punish it severely. In fact, I hate sexual abuse more than the many folks who inhabit this American culture alongside me, because I call it sin. I call those guilty of this sin sinners. It’s not a “mistake” of the “ill,” but a wicked sin of a sinner.

Second, I am not condemning any woman who has participated in the “Me Too” fad, nor am I trying to communicate women do not have the right to express grievances over sexual abuse. I do have issues with a lot of what’s going on with the hashtag, but I am not addressing those concerns here.

Third, I am not claiming that rape did not exist prior to secularized America. Sexual sin existed long before the novel religion of Secularism came into being. However, sin is always caused by people and religions refusing to bow their knee to God’s Law. Thus, Secularism is not the only factory of sexual sin, but it is our factory for sexual sin. It is not responsible for all sexual sin everywhere, but it is responsible for our current state of affairs. All false religions reject God in different ways, and that rejection always leads to sins which are common to man. My contention is that Secularism is the generator of sexual sin, and remains a slippery slope for a continued slide into more sexual sin.

Secularism’s Crusade

The Secular worldview in this nation has been on a crusade against God’s righteous decrees of human sexuality. Our nation runs rampant with fornication (pre-marital), adultery, and lust. Some married couples have “open-marriages,” which is ecclesiastical jargon for what we in the Christian tradition call “unfaithfulness.” They principles established the growing acceptance of “gay-marriage” have opened up the floodgates for the abolition of marriage. Now, through the “love is all that matters” approach to sexuality, even things like polygamy, incest, and pedophilia are on the table.

Perhaps nothing demonstrates our lack of sexual ethics as the widespread pornography usage in our country. Today professional marriage counselors will encourage couples to watch pornography together. And let’s not even get started on the pornography. This is an industry more lucrative and powerful than most in the world. And the reason is because of such a high demand.

Porn is one of the greatest means toward the abuse and enslavement of women, but never mind that. Sexual promiscuity is too important for “feminists” to care about all that stuff. That is why we live in such a pornographic culture. From the rampant use of porn, to the gradual decline of Hollywood movies, and their constant need to sell tickets by putting in raunchy, inappropriate sex scenes, it is clear that lust is as natural and accepted in our culture as is breathing.

Homosexuality was the first sacred cow. The Bible clearly prohibits that and warns us of the dangers of that lifestyle. But men have been unashamedly sleeping with men for a long time, and women have done the same. Now, it’s nearly a legal crime to express disapproval of that fact. However, the LGBTQ hysteria has evolved into something almost more difficult to comprehend, transgenderism.

All this wonderful “progress” has created a system where manhood and womanhood are archaic words we scratch our heads at and try to remember what they mean. Are those words from Shakespeare or something?

We now find ourselves in a nation where boys can be girls and girls can be boys, and since those words have no objective definition, that sentence hardly stands on its own.

Allegedly, gender is a “social-construct” and is therefore fluid and relative. We have lost all sense of what a men and women are. We cannot even define sexuality, let alone create sexual standards.

Douglas Wilson put it this way,

“We have spent millions [of dollars] on sex education and to what result? The whole country has now officially descended into the maelstrom condition of not knowing the difference between boys and girls, and not a few young people are lining up at AMA-approved hospitals to have their genitalia mutilated for ready money. In the old days, professionally-trained doctors would fix you for money. Now they fix you for money.”

The transgender movement is the nail in the coffin for Secularism’s sexual ethics. The worldview is so hollow and false, that when all of its presuppositions are carried out consistently, there ceases to be men and women. Seventy genders and counting must be added to the English language thanks to the rejection of Scripture over our lives.

The anthem of this nation is that people can have sex whenever they want, with whomever they want, as whatever they want.

To top it all off, when people sin the natural way, heterosexually, sometimes their bodies do what God designed them to do, which is work. Our bodies were made to create children.

And when our bodies work those natural consequences that arise from natural unions can be swiftly terminated. Beautiful babies are created from these out-of-context unions, and then people murder them.

Not only does this nation allow and promote any kind of sexual perversion, it engages in further immorality to cover up all consequences of its perversion.

And what has been the foundation for all of this? Autonomy and hedonism. Whatever feels good is good, and no external law is allowed to have any authority over someone’s life and body.

Secularism’s Impotency

Weinstein’s behavior is the inevitable outcome of presuppositions established by the current sexual revolution, and so any attempt to destroy this behavior and change men like him will require the destruction of many other sexual activities our culture has recently decided to celebrate.

The current worldview propping up sexual autonomy does not have an arsenal capable of equipping anyone to fight against the lustful behavior of men like Harvey Weinstein without undoing all it sought out to establish. To put it in cliché terms, you cannot have your cake and eat it too…

The only foot that can be put down with the size and power necessary to stop the behaviors of Weinstein from going any further would have to necessarily be big enough to crush all of the paper-mache idols that have recently been erected along the way. We cannot maintain the principles of Secularism and condemn sexual abuse at the same time. The principles of secular sexual ethics are counterproductive to establishing proper authoritative guidelines.

Jacob and Joseph Philips say this,

“Whatever laudable goals secularists might set as they seek to eliminate rape culture, they will not fully realize their goals so long as their desire to protect victims and destroy misogyny is limited by the confines of hedonism and autonomy.”

Our society has set in motion a sexual revolution, and Secularism cannot destroy what it itself is responsible for upholding. All of us must now must now reap the fruit of its impotence.

When a bowler hurls a bowling ball down those greased ally lanes, he does not do so expecting the ball to obliterate the first three rows of pins, only to abruptly and immediately stop at the last row, never making contact. It does not take being in the P.B.A. to know that’s not how it works.

American culture has greased the lanes, and we are now speeding ahead with full momentum. All of the pillars of sexual ethics God has established are coming down, and coming down hard. This bowling ball has destroyed almost all of the vestiges of Biblical sexual ethics remaining. Some remain standing, but are under assault (i.e. incest). But, there is one pin still standing firm: consent.

Weinstein’s “illness” caused him to cross the one sexual boundary we still have. He was trying to sleep with women without their consent. That last vestige of sexual ethics we all agree on is this pillar consent. We may not sleep with a person against their will. The Bible certainly is not silent on the issue. But I ask, why do we expect this principle to remain standing? Why are we expecting this ball to suddenly stop before hitting this last pin? We already discussed this: it doesn’t work that way.

There is no reason to expect the pillar of consent to remain much longer. Many in the culture are trying to pump the breaks, which is exactly what the “Me Too” hashtag is attempting. But, in reality, they are merely kicking their foot around looking for a brake pedal that does not come with this model of religion.

Potentially, the most thrilling scene in Christopher Nolan’s Batman movie, The Dark Knight, is an interrogation scene between Batman and the Joker. In this interrogation, the Joker states a haunting truth.

After describing the general public’s moral code as “a bad joke” and predicting that, when push comes to shove, “they’ll eat each other,” the Joker describes himself, seemingly wicked and evil, this way:

“You see, I’m not a monster, I’m just ahead of the curve.”

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the exact description of men like Harvey Weinstein provided we continue on this trajectory.

To many, this notion may sound like a wild conspiracy theory. The idea that rape would ever be justified in our societal garden, especially one with such strong feminist weeds growing out of the ground, is simply unfathomable. But hear me out….

There was a time in the nation when someone who was not a prophet by trade could have predicted that America would one day legalize, sanction, and even celebrate, murdering little tiny babies, by the tune of over 60 million. These “conspiracists” may have predicted a nation where mothers would decapitate, burn, dismember, or drown their babies, and they would even pay good money to willing doctors to do so. And to top it all off, the government would know this is going on, and do nothing to stop it.

“Are you insane? America would never do that! We would never get to a point where we are slaughtering our own children, how dramatic!”

That is not a direct quote, but it can be easily deduced that it would be the echo of many past generations had someone predicted the current state of affairs we have found ourselves in today.

The details may not be what would have been expected. Very few people are killing their babies in the streets with guns and knives, which the fictional prediction above would likely insinuate. But Secularism has provided a way of tearing down one of the most important pillars of any society under the authority of Christ: the right to life. Innocent people should not be murdered, especially precious babies, and yet, that is exactly what is going on, in broad daylight. And it’s largely due to the sexual revolution. The secularist sacraments of abortion stems from their theological commitment to sexual and bodily autonomy.

I may not know what it will look like, I may not know the details of how it will be arranged, but the idea that “consent” can remain standing, when every other sexual pillar has collapsed under the weight of Secularism is illogical. It must come down along with the rest.

And if the Lord, in his patience toward sinners, allows us to get there, we will find out that Harvey Weinstein was not actually a monster, he was just ahead of the curve. He was simply acting more consistently with the worldview of his day, the one we teach our children in schools. He was simply more progressed and enlightened than the Neanderthals trying to maintain the ethics from “the good ol’ days.”

And speaking of abortion, none of those children are receiving any hashtag-sympathies. That is a hashtag fad that would have 60 million retweets, but those “Me Toos” won’t be retweeting anything, ever.

We killed them.

The Hope of the Gospel

The condemnation of Weinstein’s behavior requires a transcendental. His actions are wicked precisely because of transcendental truths.

Sex has a proper context.

Human beings deserve love and respect because they bear the image of God.

Physical abuse of the innocent is objectively wrong.

Weinstein’s behavior denied all of these things. He made contrary transcendental claims.

This is why Secularism cannot fight. It cannot provide the necessary transcendental foundations to condemn this man.

What it is that can derail this locomotive? What is it that can stop this momentum? None of the principles of Secularism can stop this train; they fuel this train. The answer is, and always will be the Gospel.

The Gospel is the immovable rock that must come into violent collision with the tides of sexual revolution. It is only Christ crucified and Christ ascended that can change the hearts of men, and establish a consistent, unchanging, objective Law for all men in every nation to obey.

No hashtag can right the wrongs of sexual abuse, only the blood of Christ or the fires of hell can do that.

Weinstein’s secular, European rehabilitation efforts cannot bring him peace, cannot change his heart, and do not have the authority to forgive him what he has done. But Christ Jesus can do all those things.

Pray for our nation. Pray that we would turn to God. Pray for repentance. And pray for personal humility. For those of us not on board this train, full steam ahead, driving off a cliff, refusing our ticket was by God’s grace alone. Had it not been for His mercy toward us, we would be satisfied customers, indulging in every avenue of sin we could find, and giving hearty approval to all those engaged in the same behavior.

We are not better, but we are better off. So, pray for our nation and preach the Gospel. Through the message of the risen Messiah who conquered death and reconciled the world to himself by the blood of His cross, we can stop this train.

 

On Singleness in Heaven

I had the privilege this last weekend to officiate the wedding of one of my most cherished friends, and roommate of nearly four years.

The ceremony was as lovely as it was sacred, and for all of us fortunate enough to be involved in such an event, marriage has been thoroughly saturated on our minds.

As I have been musing marriage of late, a couple Scriptural texts seemed oddly relevant to matrimony.

Psalm 139: 16, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

Job 14: 5, “Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass…”

These texts indicate that our deaths belong to God just as much as our lives do. In Scripture, we see that God is just as much in control of how our lives end as He is how they begin. No one dies a day later than God intended, and no one’s death catches God off guard, takes Him by surprise, and forces Him to rummage through His notes wondering where He went wrong in His calculations. God is sovereign over death.

To state the obvious, no one comes into existence because they asked for it. God is in control of that. Although procreation is the human means He uses to accomplish that purpose, He does not have to (Genesis 2: 7). In fact, many couples have participated in that means and have still been unable to bear fruit. Ultimately, creation belongs to the Lord (Psalm 139: 13-14).

The reason this is all relevant to marriage is because it has a direct impact on how we understand one of the most iconic passages about marriage in all of Scripture.

In Matthew 19: 4-6, from the lips of our Lord,

He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Marriage’s weight largely rides on its incredible permanence. Marriage is a big deal because it’s a long deal. However, we know that marriage is not eternal. It is not everlasting. It’s heavy, but not that heavy. This is found implicitly in Jesus’ words “let not man separate.”

Marriage may not be separated by the decree or will of man. It’s too big for us; it’s too sacred for that. Marriage is resolved in heavenly courtroom, one where the courts of men have no jurisdiction. However, when a spouse dies, that is not the works of men (even if they are involved in the means), but ultimately is decided and allowed by God.

Death can separate husband from wife because death is determined by no man. When a spouse dies, that is God separating what God has joined together, and since God is the one Jesus credits with joining the marriage together, He retains the right to separate it.

Paul makes this explicitly clear in Romans 7: 2-3,

For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

So, death does separate the wedding union. And one theological doctrine, of which can be quite discouraging to the un-initiated, is Jesus’ teaching to the Sadducees that this separation through death is actually more permanent then the marriage itself ever was. Matthew 22: 23-33,

The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.” But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.”

The Scriptures ultimately give two reasons for the separation of marriage, with the possibility of giving only one. Paul and Jesus make explicit that death ends a marriage, and that this is a rightful termination. Jesus does seem to explicitly state that divorce is permissible when one spouse commits adultery (Matthew 5: 32; 19: 9). That is the majority opinion of the Church today, but the Church historic largely rejected this, and compelling arguments as to why that is not actually the case are made today.

It is not my intention here to get into the divorce/remarriage debate, but is instead to remind us of this important thing: marriage is not eternal. Marriage will eventually be undone by something. And when separated by death, it will never be re-enacted.

In a certain light, this can seem dreadful and dire. Here we stand at the ceremonies of these holy unions, and emphasize the glory, wonder, and permanency of the marriage covenant. We then turn to Scripture to find out that it is not so permanent after all. Marriage is as fleeting as life itself is given that is in inextricably tied to this fleeting life. When life is gone, so is marriage. But this is a glory of the marriage covenant, not disrepute.

For one, it reminds wedded couples that marriage is a design with purpose. It is not a casual act of life all human beings are bound to wander into as they stroll through their journey. It is not some societal construct human beings created as a pragmatic genius. Marriage, however, is designed by God, and given to men with specific purposes. The temporal nature of marriage makes those specific purposes more intensified and perspicuous.

This is why Christians, in part, must stand so firmly opposed to “gay-marriage.” We do so, not just on the basis that it is sinful, but because this mentality of marriage is missing the point. The point is that marriage has a definition which was objectively defined, not by any nation or government, but by God. And thus, any view of marriage which alters that definition, is then altering the specific purposes marriage is designed to fulfill.

You cannot redefine how engines work, and expect your car to run and operate as all the others do. To take apart an engine, try and duct-tape pieces together where they don’t fit, and attempt to call the mangled, mechanical mess “an engine” will leave you disappointed when it comes time to head to work.

Marriage does not work when we misunderstand it. When couples keep in mind the temporary and intensely specific purposes of marriage, it allows them to set proper expectations, and deal more appropriately with the joys and trials which accompany their union.

Second, this more firmly establishes the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 about the blessings of singleness, and the life that he, and our Lord Jesus, lived.

They both were single. And knowing that the single lifestyle is the eventual, permanent destination for all the Saints, singles on earth can establish the proper sentiment that singleness is a stage of life which has more than enough room to welcome in contentment.

Related to this is that heavenly singleness keeps God the focus. When we get too lost in the wonders, pleasures, and satisfactions of marriage life, our hearts, which are prone to wander, begin to scamper off like undisciplined children in a grocery store. If marriage were an eternal relationship, it would become increasingly difficult to avoid obsession on earth. After all, we are missing out on an eternal blessing. Thus, the desire to be married intensifies, and what comes with that territory is the construction of a new idol within a world already plagued with a plethora of false gods to go around.

Marriage is not merely augmented, and nor is it disparaged, by its temporal nature; it is enhanced. Remembering that it is a temporary union enables us to better glory in the relationship our marriages were designed to reflect: our union with Christ.

What makes heaven so great is not reunion with our wives, our husbands, or our children. Certainly, the prospect of being with loved ones is an incentive and delight of heaven, but these non-marital reunions do not make heaven desirable. Many people will be reunited with loved ones in hell, and their company is no consolation there. The true delight of heaven is Christ.

He will be the fountainhead of all joy, and He already is that now, even during our present condition, whether we sojourn single or married. The channels of that Fountain flow just as ferociously and intensely through the unmarried heart as they do through the married. Christ is our joy.

To the married saint: revel in this glorious, pleasurable, and altogether necessary-for-life, union. It is good, it is holy, and God wants you to enjoy it. But it is not eternal. Your wife is not your everything; your husband is not your everything; your children are not your everything. These earthly relationships are surpassed by a superlative covenant vow much more permanent, and much more consequential then the vow you made to your spouse, the vow of faith you made to God. Your baptism is a symbol of the faith-vow you made to the Lord.

No sins are ever forgiven at the altar of a wedding. All our sins are forgiven at the altar of the cross, where the Lamb of God was slain. The faith we express to God there joins us in a spiritual marriage more satisfying than anything the mind can imagine.

To the single saint: This present condition is glorious, as it was Paul’s condition, Jesus’ condition, and is the future condition for all of God’s people. Pray to the Lord that He might give you a heart which refuses to idolize a temporary design. Refuse to desire the gift over the Giver.

If you desire marriage, then desire marriage. Pray for a spouse, hope for one, but do so within the perspective of eternity.

The Westminster Confession of Faith famously answered the question about man’s purpose on earth this way:

“Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever.”

Notice that absent from this answer is anything related to human marriage. No one was put on this earth to be married. Mankind was put here to enjoy Jesus Christ, and this is a purpose which can be achieved through marriage, or apart from it.

How do I know this? Because the now-married will glorify and enjoy God for all of eternity, and they will do it without a spouse. And in the presence of the glory of the Lord, that is not a disappointing eschatology.

When kneeling before the risen Lord, basking in His glory, with a perfect and resurrected body, no person will lament the fact that they are no longer wearing their wedding ring. I do not know much about heaven, but I doubt that in Jesus’ presence the thought could even cross our minds.

Jesus DOES Offer You Your Best Life Now

The “prosperity gospel” has been a contagion slowly infecting much of the nation, and many places around the world, for over a decade now. I add the quotation marks for many reasons. First of all, it offers only the leaders of the movements prosperity. The masses get ripped off and grow poorer. So it is false advertisement as it offers no one prosperity of any kind. The more important reason behind the quotation marks is the fact that it is a false gospel, and that there is not actually another Gospel, as Paul makes clear in Galatians 1: 6-9,

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Paul’s words make clear the kind of hostility we ought to have toward anything which sets itself up as the Gospel, when it is in fact not the Gospel. It is Paul’s desire for Christian churches that they not be so gullible as to accept false gospels, rather than anathematize them. 2 Corinthians 11: 3-4,

But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.

However, what also must be noticed about the false-gospels Paul deals with within Galatia and Corinth is that they are very Christianesque. They distort the true Gospel more than they present a completely novel way of thinking. This means that typically false-gospels which parade around as sound Christian doctrine is typically more devastating that those false-gospels which openly repudiate Christianity all together. A wolf in sheep’s clothing is more dangerous than a wolf in a wolve’s clothing. creflo

Because of this principle, much of the false teaching today has some truth to it. It has principles which are biblical and true, and that is what makes them so tantalizing to so many people. Just like the false-gospel in Corinth, the falsity is covered in Christian like language. There is a lot of “Jesus,” lots of “the Spirit,” and lots of “the Gospel.” The problem is that Paul says they are all the wrong ones.

bennyI find this to be genuinely true of the “prosperity Gospel” and all of it’s many forms today. It is a false gospel that cannot save. It does seek to bring Jesus into people’s lives, but it does so in a way which keeps idols on the throne, and asks Jesus to bow His knee to them.

“For what is idolatry if not this: to worship gifts in the place of the Giver Himself?” – John Calvin

The prosperity gospel is a virus, and the true apostolic Gospel is the only successful vaccination. However, given all that, there is a kernel of truth in this message that must not be lost. The phrase which has come to be so vintage to the prosperity movement, that God wants us to have our best lives now, is in some way true.

The issue came up for me during a staff discussion, and the theological question of what God desires for His people needs to be thought of in certain ways as to reject the prosperity heresy, but maintain God’s love and good desires for His covenant people at the same time. We never want to be a people that adopt and confess the prosperity gospel. But may we also never be a people who maintain a fundamental attitude that our loving and gracious God is apathetic and disinterested toward us. May we never accept a version of God wherein He so much delights in our misery that He cares nothing about our well being.

Jesus calls out to His sheep this way,

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” 

Jesus offers us a light yolk. He extends to us a life that is less burdensome and less wearisome then any we are currently living. Jesus wants to give us a better life. That is true.

This is consistent with much of the Old Testament. The Law given to Moses (although the New Testament reveals much about the impossibility fulfilling it) was given in many ways to bless God’s people. Most of the covenants made and Laws given were accompanied with promises from God to bless and remain faithful to His people. Many of those Laws were for the protection and perseverance of the people and their nation. Following God’s Law made life better.

By giving us a holy Law, God is offering us something good. God’s Law is not arbitrary. The Law of Christ (1 Corinthians 9: 21) is objectively good. It is good, so by therefore enabling us to do His will, and by revealing His will, He has offered us a better life. James 1: 25 says,

“But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

A life lived in obedience to God’s holy and righteous Law will be a better life than one lived in direct opposition to it. The Law is freedom!

So, if the Law is good, and if Jesus wants us to submit to His Law, then Jesus offers us a good life. The best life now is one of forgiveness, holiness and obedience. Jesus’ commands for us to know Him, be His disciple, and obey His Law, is Jesus offering us the best life possible.

This is why Peter describes communion with Jesus as causing us to be filled with inexpressible joy. 1 Peter 1: 8,

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory…”

That is what Jesus offers: goodness, holiness, glory, and joy. Even in the midst of pain and trials, we have a joy so great it cannot be expressed. That’s a best life, and we can have it now; Jesus wants you to have your best life now.

The fundamental difference then becomes one of an objective good over and against a subjective good.

The difference between the true Gospel’s version of “your best life now” and the modern prosperity proponents’ is who gets to define what “best” means. The latter insists that we get to define what our best life would be, and that Jesus is obliged to accomplish that for us as if He is the brand new intern taking our coffee orders in the office of our lives.

The former says that Jesus not only wants to give us our best life, but that He gets to define and decide what that life looks like and consists of. Jesus does not offer you the best version of your life that you can envision; Jesus offers you the best version of your life that He can envision.

And that version of life can come through riches or poverty. The trail of that journey can pass through sickness or health. But it always leads to holiness, it always leads to obedience, and it always leads to Christ. And that is why every step of the way is one taken with “inexpressible joy.”

In one story, we decide, subjectively, what life ought to be like, and then expect God to come up with it in prime-time. In the Bible’s version, Jesus gets to define what our best life would be, and then hands it to us, expecting the Spirit to conform us to it. He opens our eyes and compels us to embrace the new understanding of what we actually want and need.

Discipleship is, in one way, the process whereby Christians are conformed into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Christ does not offer us a life contrary to His image, and that is why the life He offers can be riddled with much of the poverty and pain He was acquainted with, but that is also why this life is so much superior to any fantasy concocted in the deep recesses of the feeble and finite minds of men.

A life of discipleship is the best life you can have, and it’s available now. Your life will be better in Christ, both on earth and in eternity.

Repent of your sins, follow Jesus everyday, and love Him whom you have not seen. And it is there that you will find your best life, one better than any you previously desired.