On Unity in the Community of Faith

Gregg Allison commenting on the Spirit as creator and sustainer of unity in the community of faith:

“Churches do not have to attempt to create unity among their members; the Spirit provides that for them (Eph. 4:3). What must instead happen is that churches are to work hard to maintain that unity, which seems to be fragile and undergo breakdowns because of the sinfulness of church members (Eph 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19).

Mindful that they are natural enemies who have been brought together not naturally but by the grace of God through Jesus Christ, church members rely on the Holy Spirit to be able to express genuine love toward one another (Rom. 15:30; Col. 1:8) in an atmosphere of righteousness, peace, and joy fostered by the Spirit (Rom. 14:17).”

-from Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church (118-119)

Two Conditions

“Here we see two conditions that, in the Scriptures, always go together, for it is in knowing and serving the Lord that the people of God find blessings, and are freed from masters that bring harm, not good. As Israel forsakes the Lord she ends up serving others, whether Philistines, the Midianites, the Assyrians or the Babylonians, masters that oppress. Jesus’ words ‘no one can serve two masters’ is that everyone will serve one, a truth that Paul addresses foundationally in his claim that unless one is a servant of Christ, he as a servant of sin. (Rom. 6:15-19). The plight of Israel in Egypt illustrates this larger truth that runs throughout the Scriptures.”

-from The God Who Makes Himself Known (34)

Parent-Priests

I started reading Beeke’s excellent book Parenting By God’s Promises some time ago and have just recently picked it back up. It’s quite a hefty read, weighing in at over 300 pages, but it’s loaded will valuable wisdom to parents. I’m in the second part of a section where he talks about the parents job of prophet, priest, and king. This section on parent-priests focuses on the life of Job and how the Scriptures say of Job,

when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually. (Job 1:5 ESV)

Praying for our children is important. Daily prayer as Job modeled. Beeke says that our children must know that we continually intercede for them, privately as well as in their presence.

There are limitations of this service for our children. Our intercession has no power to save them, and our children cannot save themselves. The worst thing we can do is tell our child, “Do your best, and God will do the rest.” Rather, we should say to them: “Children, we have an alter in this family that is set apart to the Lord and to His service. Here we bow our knees every day. Here we confess our iniquities. Here I bring my corrupt nature as your parent, and you bring the corrupt natures you inherited. Here I lift you up and lay you in the arms of almighty God. Only through God’s power, grace, and mercy am I saved by the sacrifice of the Messiah. He may also save you by that sacrifice. I will pray for you until this happens. Even after it happens, I will pray you. I will bring the sacrifices of prayer every day to the living God.” (pg. 117-118)

Church Life

51TM98P3V1L._SS500_.jpgI stumbled across this 9Marks leadership interview yesterday as I was searching for a copy of Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life for my pastor, though sadly, it is no longer listed on their site for purchase. I do hope they plan to offer this volume in the future. It is a real service to Baptist Churches. The interview of the same title of the book actually uses the book a lot for jumping off points into the discussion of what Polity is.

It was a helpful interview, and as I haven’t read through the whole volume, pointed me to a few specific places that may be worth highlighting here. The following is from P.H. Mell’s chapters on “Corrective Church Discipline” which he wrote in 1860. In this section he is making a distinction between “Private” and “Public” offenses.

(2.) Refusal, after admonition, to attend upon the stated conference-meetings of the Church, is a “public offense.” … the object affected by the act is … the Church in its organized capacity.

He says this is a “public offense” because

it is committed against the authority of the Church, which the member is bound and pledged to regard.

What a high view of church membership they had, and what accountability they held their church members to. That we would have such submission to the authority of the body that we submit ourselves to.

“Understanding” the Scriptures

Here’s a paragraph from Luther’s The Bondage of the Will, responding to Erasmus:

If you speak of the internal clearness, no man sees one iota in the Scriptures, but he that hath the Spirit of God. All have a darkened heart ; so that, even if they know how to speak of, and set forth, all things in the Scripture, yet, they cannot feel them nor know them : nor do they believe that they are creatures of God, nor any thing else : according that of Psalm xvi, 1. “The fool hath said in his heart, God is nothing.” For the Spirit is required to understand the whole of Scripture and every part of it.

What does it mean to “understand” the Scriptures? Robert Stein has some good advice from his A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible in which he questions just exactly how are we understanding the use of the term knowledge and how its intended meaning from the NT may be slightly different. He cites 1 Cor. 2:14

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
(1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV)

as an example stating that it isn’t that we can’t mentally grasp what Scripture is saying, rather we simply don’t “accept it as truth.”

Robert Plummer has a slightly different view of the Spirit’s role in interpretation. Look for that post in the near future.

Amend Your Life?

Luther’s response to Erasmus in The Bondage of the Will:

“Who (you say) will endeavour to amend his life?”–I answer, No man! no man can! For your self-amenders without the Spirit, God regardeth not, for they are hypocrites. But the Elect, and those that fear God, will be amended by the Holy Spirit; the rest will perish unamended.

So, what is the source of growth and sanctification? Nothing but the sovereign free gift of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian. Our vain strivings will get us nowhere. However, this is not to say that effort isn’t involved.

Kevin DeYoung drew out this distinction at length in his recent T4G address, Spirit-Powered, Gospel-Driven, Faith-Fueled Effort.

His message was helpful in that he shows us what this growth in holiness “looks” like. Often the people in the pews are left with cliches that infer this growth, but are never actually helped in “connecting the dots,” as DeYoung says.

I would encourage you to listen and be edified and built up by his message.

Seminary Life

I came across an interesting quote in a book I’m reading for a class on the History of Baptists. In particular, this book is talking about seminary life during the late 19th century at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. It really caused me to think about the differences of our times compared to those roughly 100 years ago. See how this relates to your seminary experience:

“Students attended classes for eight months straight. The seminary held recitations and lectures six days a week. On Sundays students were encouraged to preach or teach Sunday school or both. In 1894 thirty-six students were serving as pastors, and forty-eight others were preaching and teaching in Louisville-area mission points. Baptists put little store by such holidays as Christmas and Easter, and the seminary was no exception. By 1875 students got one day of rest on Christmas. In 1894 the faculty rejected a student petition to observe Christmas Eve also as a vacation.”

-from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859-2009 by Gregory Wills

How the times have changed.

The Opinions of Man or God?

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I’m reading my way through Courtney Anderson’s To The Golden Shore for the second time now. And it’s one of those I can definitely see myself reading again. If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s a biographical account of the Baptist missionary, Adoniram Judson, who is most notably remembered for his mission to Burma and the translation of the Scriptures into Burmese.

I’m a good ways into the book already but I wanted to try to post a few thoughts about it along the way this time. This first excerpt occurs when the missionaries (the first American missionaries) were sent out and were attempting to decide on their final destination. Burma was where Judson had always intended to go, but it was proving difficult. And now, they finally get their chance. They’ve found a boat headed towards Rangoon! But…

Everyone had the same opinion: stay away from Burma. Let yourselves be taken to England. Lose a few years. For the sake of yourselves, for the child you are to have, for the sake of your mission, a few years lost are better than losing all to no purpose in the living hell of Burma.

This argument did not convince Adoniram. He felt that they should at least try Burma, to find out whether a mission could exist there…

Nancy [his wife] agreed. They should at least attempt a mission among “a people who have never heard the sound of the Gospel, or read, in their own language, of the love of Christ.”

…The poor Burmans are entirely destitute of those consolations and joys which constitute our happiness; and why should we be unwilling to part with a few fleeting, inconsiderable comforts, for the sake of making them sharers with us in joys exalted as heaven, durable as eternity! We cannot expect to do much, in such a rough, uncultivated field; yet, if we may be instrumental in removing some of the rubbish, and preparing the way for others, it will be a sufficient reward. I have been accustomed to view this field of labor, with dread and terror; but I now feel perfectly willing to make it my home the rest of my life.

Thus they decided. And, as Adoniram remarked, “dissuaded by all our friends at Madras, we commended ourselves to God, and emarked the 22nd of June.”

-from To The Golden Shore by Courtney Anderson, pg. 165-166

What an amazing testimony. That we would be such a people, to not count our fleeting, inconsiderable comforts to be comparable to sharing in the joys of heaven with those who haven’t heard. Lord, this is our prayer.

Justice and Union with Christ

“We ought to embrace the whole human race without exception since all [persons] should be contemplated in God, not in themselves.” -Calvin

Viewed in themselves, one’s neighbors may not appear worthy of love. But just as Christians are called to live not in themselves but in Christ, the law of God calls Christians to consider their neighbors not in themselves but in relation to God. For Calvin this sets a very high standard for neighbor-love. Just as God’s law in the garden evokes a voluntary, grateful response, our love of neighbor should be motivated by a genuine and “sincere feeling of love.” Obeying the law of neighbor-love means that ones’ delight and trust in God overflow to a genuine love and regard for one’s neighbor, regardless of where they are “worthy or unworthy, friend or enemy.”

-Billings, Union With Christ, pg. 111

Filled With the Knowledge of the Lord

This is a great section where Athanasius proceeds to describe scenarios in which the Word of God is revealing himself to be Lord over all. Listen,

“For I take up now the point I made before, namely that the Savior did this in order that He might fill all things everywhere with the knowledge of Himself, just as they are already filled with His presence, even as the Divine Scripture says, “The whole universe was filled with the knowledge of the Lord.” (Isa. 11:9)

If a man looks up to heaven he sees there His ordering; but if he cannot look so high as heaven, but only so far as men, through His works he sees His power, incomparable with human might, and learns from them that He alone among men is God the Word.

Or, if a man has gone astray among demons and is in fear of them, he may see this Man drive them out and judge therefrom that He is indeed their Master.

Again, if a man has been immersed in the element of water and thinks that it is God—as indeed the Egyptians do worship water—he may see its very nature changed by Him and learn that the Lord is Creator of all.

And if a man has gone down even to Hades, and stands awestruck before the heroes who have descended thither, regarding them as gods, still he may see the fact of Christ’s resurrection and His victory over death, and reason from it that, of all these, He alone is very Lord and God.”

-Athansius, On the Incarnation, pg. 82 (paragraphing mine)