Transitions

transitions

Over the last 7 and a half years, what started out as an occasional hobby with for 4 or 5 nominally interested followers turned into a community where we’ve made friends and sparked conversations.

With my recent call to the pastorate at Mount Carmel Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and my wedding date soon approaching, I feel that it is time that I let something go. I’m a pastor, and soon I will be a husband. That being said, I will still make posts from time to time, and occasionally offer commentary on theological issues of the day… RIGHT HERE ON LNT! (*cue a cheap Mick Foley pop*)

But for now, I feel that it is time to hand to reins over my friend and colleague, Jay Sawrie. He will be taking on the role of lead contributor.

Followers, thank you for all your love and support.

Why Fundamentalism and the Prosperity Gospel are Different Manifestations of the Same Thing

When you hear the phrase “Prosperity Gospel,” you might imagine the luxurious mansions and perfect health supposedly promised to any person with faith enough to claim it. The term “Fundamentalism,” on the other hand, may conjure images of stern people in conservative clothing threatening others into good behavior. What could these possibly have in common? Quite a lot, actually.

Both Fundamentalism and the Prosperity Gospel see good things as a reward for good people who make good choices. For the Prosperity Gospel, faith and positivity unlock wealth and health. For Fundamentalism, holiness and submission lead to happiness and success. In essence, the Prosperity Gospel says, “If you have enough faith, then you will be happy and successful,” while Fundamentalism says, “If you make good choices, then you will be happy and successful.” But God doesn’t work that way, and nowhere does he promise health in exchange for faith or happiness in exchange for holiness.

There are some unsettling and heartbreaking implications to this way of thinking. For one, trials in life are seen as the result of personal failure, whether failure of faith or of holiness. Success, on the other hand, is a reward for those who do enough or believe enough. If a person struggles, it is because they are inadequate. And if a person is happy and life is going great, it is because they are great. Those who experience difficulty, therefore, can be judged and should be fixed. And those who are successful can be honored and should be followed.

Let’s look at some examples. In the case of sickness, the Prosperity Gospel urges people to “just have faith” that a reversal of fortunes is just around the corner. A person who believes such nonsense will tell the sufferer to believe better so they can get better, rather than compassionately sitting with the sufferer in the midst of the mess. In fact, when people with this view encounter suffering, they must either believe that the sufferer lacks sufficient faith or reexamine their entire worldview!

In another example, Rachel Joy Welcher recently spoke on Twitter (@racheljwelcher) about Fundamentalism’s view that abstinence guarantees a happy and problem-free marriage. The idea is that abstaining from sexual activity before marriage earns you the reward of blissful marital intimacy and lack of relational conflict. In other words, do good to earn happiness. One problem with this is that when these rewards do not manifest, people feel confused and guilty. Here’s what Rachel says:

Common in Christian dating and purity books from my teen years was the promise that waiting until marriage for sex guaranteed a good marriage. Included in this promise was the idea that the greatest trial your relationship would endure was this waiting. The expectations this creates. The turmoil and fear and false-guilt when marriage is difficult – more difficult than abstinence. One book I read last night promised that “if you wait…you’ll make babies with great celebration” and that sex will be “a blast.” What happens when starting a family is full of loss and pain? When your sex-life is not “a blast”? When those who did all the “right things” and wrote the “lists” are getting divorced?

There are other commonalities between the Prosperity Gospel and Fundamentalism besides false if-then promises. These include the idealization of leaders and a theology that is too enmeshed with a specific cultural context. However, these are topics for another time. For now, let’s look at what the Bible actually teaches and how it challenges these faulty beliefs. 

First of all, the Bible teaches that all people, including good Christians, will experience difficult times (take a look at the book of Job!) and the full range of emotions (see the book of Psalms or Jesus in the Gospels). It does not promise that we will see happy resolutions to our suffering in this lifetime or that we will be successful if we work hard enough. To teach otherwise is inconsistent with what is true.

Second, life’s challenges–ill health, marital strife, or other difficulties–are sometimes the result of our own sin or foolishness. But other times they are because of the brokenness of this world, another person’s sin, a corrupt society, or the Devil. Most often, difficulties occur because of some combination of these reasons. To assume the cause of suffering is always just one of these is not fair to the teaching of Scripture.

Third, the Bible urges us to have faith, to trust in God’s character and God’s promises. However, it is not our faith that unlocks God’s character or allows him to keep his promises. He is who he is regardless of our belief or unbelief; our faith does not create reality. The very fact that God’s character and promises are not dependant on us is the one of the reasons he is worthy of our trust!

Fourth, God does call us to holiness in all areas of life, both as individuals and as communities (see Romans 12-16, Ephesians 4-6). The Book of Proverbs even enumerates the ways that living according to goodness and wisdom may lead to blessings! But our right choices do not guarantee blessings and may even lead to more difficulties (again, see Job).

And finally, regarding motivations for holiness, the Bible provides several motivations beyond the potential happy outcomes. There is the hope of reward in heaven, the call to live according to our new life in Christ (Romans 12:2-2), and the desire to bring God glory. Again, Rachel Joy Welcher has some excellent thoughts on this specifically as relates to sexual purity.

Lovers of God, do we need more motivation (great marriage, lots of babies, great sex, easy-sailing after the alter, etc.) to obey our Savior, than His glory? These books. So full of promises. Dangled carrots. Cultural references. There are lots of reasons people practice abstinence before marriage. Christians should not pursue purity to ensure a trial-free future (this is never a promise in Scripture) or their own personal fulfillment. Christians pursue purity for the glory of God. Because He is our King. And we fail & fumble at this. Some endure theft & rape. Purity isn’t virginity, fitting into a white dress or having the same story, history or future as everyone else. It’s about loving God so much that obeying Him is worship, failing Him is repentance & accepting grace is daily.

Rather than promising escape from earthly trials either through faith or through holy living, the Bible promises that God is with his people in the midst of difficult times. Christians may or may not see success and happiness on this Earth, and we do a disservice when we promise otherwise. Instead we can walk in faith and obedience, coming alongside those who are hurting in order to be a tangible reminder of God’s presence with them in their troubles.

So let us not fall prey to the lies of if-then religiosity in any of its forms. Instead may we embrace the whole counsel of Scripture, walking in holiness and putting our faith in God, not because we believe we are guaranteed happy results, but in order to live as those who are in Christ and whose destination is heaven, where all things will be made whole. ❤️

~Hannah

Check out Rachel Joy Welcher (@racheljwelcher): https://twitter.com/racheljwelcher?s=09 A big thank you to her for her insights and inspiration! 

A Mental Buffet // 12 January 2018

Mental Buffet

 

Deliver Us from “Dynamic Equivalence” – Charlotte Allen

“So what happened to make a clause that had been understood for centuries as not really meaning that God tempted people to sin suddenly too difficult for ordinary people to take in? Blame a theory known as “dynamic equivalence,” which has afflicted biblical and other religious translations (such as the Catholic Mass) since the 1960s. The idea is that most modern people can’t make heads or tails of ancient diction—so instead of formally rendering phrases of the sacred languages into precise English, French, or whatever, the translator tries to figure out what the authors of those phrases generally meant to say and then puts that meaning into lowest-common-denominator vernacular, even slang, which may in no way resemble the original phrasing. This seems to have been the thinking behind the French bishops’ alteration of the Lord’s Prayer.”

 

A H.A.N.D.S. Approach to Showing Jesus is God – David Graeig

“In conclusion, we should rejoice that Jesus is the one true God. This is the same Jesus who died on a cross for our sins – He knows our pains and struggles and He understands us and is here to help us. This is the same Jesus who rose from the grave and will come again, to take home all who confess Him as He truly is. As such we should have confidence in Him and should share with others the good news about who Jesus is and what He has done.”

 

Thomas Cranmer and the Book of Common Prayer – Simonetta Carr

“Cranmer’s greatest achievement, the Book of Common Prayer, was issued in March 1549. It included a new liturgy in English, as opposed to the old liturgy in Latin. It was also much simpler than the old Roman Catholic missal, giving prominence to the reading of Scriptures, and restoring the Lord’s Supper to a distribution of both bread and wine to the laity. By emphasizing prayer, praise, and study, he was hoping to bring a greater knowledge of God and His Word to a people who were used to delegating those activities to the clergy.”

When Your Sin is Exposed, Run to Jesus

When Your Sin is

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
– Hebrews 4:12-16, NIV

Every pastor has a pastor – someone that they can talk with and go to for spiritual advice. If you’re a pastor, and you don’t have a pastor, then get one. You’ll go insane. At the very least, get a therapist. I don’t really recommend that option because therapists tend to charge by the hour and ask you about your feelings in a very unfeeling way, but I digress.

I was listening to a recent sermon my pastor (which can find at this link), and he briefly expounded on Hebrews 4:12-16, and I wanted to share with you my take away from his exposition.

Notice, first of all, that our passage tells us of the sharpness of God’s word, and how it is that sharpness that tears into the root of our being. And what is it that is at the core our being? Sin. We’re sinful, and the word of God exposes that sin before a holy God. The same holy God before whose presence Isaiah feared that he might die because he was a man of unclean lips. So, if this is the case, then what hope is there for us?

Our hope is that Jesus is a faithful high priest who has taken upon Himself the sins of those who run to Him for light and life. Because He always lives to intercede for us (Hebrews 7:25), we are able to approach the throne of grace and receive mercy in the time of need. And when do we need mercy? All the time, especially when we see our sin exposed before Him, and do you know what? We can rejoice because it has all been laid on Christ.

“Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid”
– Keith Getty & Stuart Townsend

“And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
– Revelation 5:9-10, NIV

Jesus paid for you, and He continually intercedes for you. Go in peace.

Don’t Just Do Something! Stand There!

The greatest threat facing the Church isn’t political Evangelicalism. It isn’t the loss of religious liberty, the Democrats or Darwinism. Our greatest threat isn’t George Soros, the “Gay Agenda”, or mainstream media. It isn’t Donald Trump, Arminianism, Dispensationalism, Federal Vision, or even John Piper’s really bad Sanctification views. The greatest threat we face is that we stop preaching the Gospel. The worst thing that we could do is to think that Christ is more glorified in something else. This includes social justice.

Yes, social justice is sexy right now. It is tangible, we can see who’s acting for justice and who isn’t. Caring for the poor, speaking up for those who are oppressed due to their race or socioeconomic condition; when we perform these works, they are true, tangible acts of mercy. To deny that we are called to perform these works is to outright deny one of the logical applications of the Gospel. The Gospel calls us to seek the justice of those around us.

But social justice isn’t the Gospel.

Which is essientially what Tim Keller tweeted yesterday.

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But judging by the response from the Mainline liberals (PCUSA, ELCA, Rachel Held Evans was pretty aggressive with it, but she wasn’t the only one) you’d have thought that Keller denied the virgin birth, the authority of Scripture, that homosexuality is a sin, and that miracles exist. I’m not saying the mainline liberals are making social justice a bigger issue than all of these. I’m just saying that’s apparently the hill to die on.

But isn’t it interesting that this is apparently the bill to die on. While they may all use this flowery language: “Christ didn’t come to merely forgive sins but also to bring shalom to all of creation and restore justice”. While that sounds really good they give up their hand. Mainline liberalism has not just denied the virgin birth, the reliability of Scripture, or the deity of Christ. They’ve denied the fundamental human problem. It’s not so much that you and I are sinners. That’s not the real issue. The real issue for them is all this injustice in the world. So then justification is not something Christ has done for us. It’s something he’s initiated that we must then work out. Granted that seems rather odd because the New Testament writers seem to have left that out. But this imperative driven call isn’t new. Isn’t it interesting? The same duty based, “do this because it’s the most important thing” psudeo-piety of the Mainliners is the same Pharisaical, don’t dance, drink, or chew, if there’s hair on your ears there’s sin your heart, legalism they hate in the Hyper-fundamentalists. They hate each other so much, but really they’re just cousins of the same imperative driven “gospel”.

As Machen said

“Here is found the most fundamental difference between liberalism and Christianity–liberalism is altogether in the imperative mood, while Christianity begins with a triumphant indicative; liberalism appeals to man’s will, while Christianity announces, first, a gracious act of God.”

While the mainline liberals will say “Don’t just stand there! Do something!” Christ calls out to us, “Don’t just do something! Stand there!” Stand strong, grounded that Christ has redeemed us; yes us as individuals. Stand firm! The Gospel not only matters, but is the only hope we have. Five years ago I was told I had no place in the Baptist Missionary Association partly because beer tastes good, but also because I had the nerve to tell the Dean of Spiritual Life at Central Baptist College that people weren’t preaching the Gospel in Chapel. I was called a “preaching snob” because I thought Scripture was more important than motivation speaking and “catching my vision”. But we shouldn’t give up the Gospel for motivational speaking and we shouldn’t give it up for social justice. Because motivational speaking or social justice isn’t the Gospel. It’s about time we started acting like it.

The Exilic Identity of Believers (Part 2)

In The Exilic Identity of Believers (Part 1) I listed the four reasons that Peter gave concerning why Christians must endure persecution and continue to live as exiles. In part two I want to elaborate on those reasons, and hopefully provide you with the groundwork for a robust theology of living as a Christian in a fallen world.

First, your exilic identity is “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father”. This should give you an immense amount of peace, because the sovereign God, creator and sustainer of the world is not taken by surprise that you are being persecuted, that you are suffering, that you feel misplaced in this world. Rather, it is precisely because of His foreknowledge that you are living in this world. It is not by mistake that Christians endure suffering and persecution in this world. Do you remember Jesus’ words in John 15:18? “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you.” Throughout history believers have been martyred for their faith. Peter, Paul, James, Huss, Tyndale, the list goes on and on. Contrary to what tv “pastors” say, the purpose of the life of the Christian isn’t to go through life without pain. The purpose of the life of a Christian is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 1).

Second, your exilic identity is for “the sanctification of the Spirit”. The Christian life is a life of sanctification. It is a life spent becoming more and more like Christ. Sanctification is a process, not merely a one time event. As you live your life and you battle sin, you are being sanctified by the Spirit. The Spirit is molding you and making you into what God designed you to be, namely, in His image.

Third, your exilic identity is for “obedience to Jesus Christ”. Being obedient to Jesus means that we must forsake the things of the world. It is living a life fully devoted to pursuing holiness and killing sin. Becoming a Christian is more than just a “get out of hell free” card, its a call to obedience and that obedience is holiness.

Last, your exilic state is “for sprinkling with blood”. It is for your purification. The things you endure, by the power of the Spirit, cleanse you. Just like gold is refined by fire, so the Christian is refined by things we endure in this life.

As you wake up every day and embark into a world that hates Christ, remember the words of Paul to Timothy: “Fight the good fight. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (1 Timothy 6:12). The fight is worth it. Your reward is eternal. Jesus is enough.

In Defense of Intinction: A Response to Joe Thorn

Intinction

I highly respect Joe Thorn as a preacher, and his podcast “Doctrine & Devotion” is one of the better Christian podcasts out there despite the some of the less than pointless banter between he and his brother in arms, Jimmy Fowler. However, I’m writing this article because Thorn published an article on the Doctrine & Devotion blog entitled, “Sip It, Don’t Dip It.

In his article, Thorn makes an attempt to dissuade Christians from practicing the Lord’s Supper via intinction.  For those of you who don’t know, intinction is the practice whereby you take the bread, dip it into the wine, and eat it. Apparently, this is an offensive practice within the ranks of the Reformed community, and until I read Thorn’s article and did the research, I didn’t realize that this was such a big deal.

Goals

First of all, I’m not writing this response to say that intinction is the only valid way to partake of the sacrament. That would be just as preposterous as saying that the only valid way to partake of the eucharist is by eating the bread first, and then drinking the wine. I’m simply defending the practice as being equally valid with the other ways in which the body of Christ has been known to partake throughout the ages.

Secondly, I’m going to kindly overlook the irony of a Baptist telling me that I shouldn’t ‘immerse’ the bread into the wine.

What I hope to accomplish is to start a conversation that might allow Joe Thorn and those who agree with him to reconsider their position of intinction as invalid. I could care less whether they personally practice intinction or not, but I feel holding to such a rigid position marginalizes brothers and sisters in Christ who hold to such a practice.

A Review of the Article in Question

Thorn starts out his article by saying that “rightly administering the Lord’s Supper is one of the marks of a true church.” Right out of the gate, Thorn is by implication stating that churches that practice intinction are not true churches because clearly he does not believe that this is a way to “rightly administer” the Supper.

As you continue reading the article you’ll find that Thorn has given us three reasons that he believes we should “sip it, don’t dip it” and I’ll examine all three of these reasons.

  1. The Command to Eat and Drink
    • Thorn brings up an interesting point that there seems to be a separation in distributing and partaking of elements, but we have to ask ourselves if our Lord’s thought process behind this was because He foresaw the alleged evils of intinction down through the annals of time, and He wanted to make sure to prevent such a catastrophe by keeping the elements of the meal separate, or are the authors simply giving unfolding the events as they happened?We have to be careful not to read into the text what is not there, and what Thorn seems to be reading into the Gospel accounts is a command to separate the elements. In his paper on Scripture’s Normativity, Grant Gaines shares with us a couple of thoughts from N.T. Wright concerning the use of Scripture which I find relevant.

      “As N. T. Wright reminds us, the Bible “is not a rule book; it is a narrative.” [1] To attempt merely to gather a collection of all the transcultural principles from Scripture is to “belittle the Bible” because it implies “that God has, after all, given us the wrong sort of book and [that] it is our job to turn it into the right sort of book by engaging in these hermeneutical moves.” [2]

  2. The Significance of the Blood Separated from the Body
    • Notice what Thorn says here:

      “Just as the Paschal lamb was sacrificed, its blood being poured out in death, so Jesus presents the Lord’s Supper as a separation of blood and body. This separation itself signifies death and points explicitly to the death of our Savior.”

      This is going to probably sound more flippant than how I intend for it to be, but if the Lord’s Supper is simply a representation (as most Baptists would assert), then why does it matter? I mean if we’re saying that when Christ said, “This is my body” he actually meant “This is a representation of my body” then why would it bother Thorn for someone to practice intinction?

      If we continue reading this section, we see Thorn again reading something into the text of Scripture that isn’t there. He argues that the Apostle Paul talks about the elements being separate and distinct in 1 Corinthians 10. If that’s the case, then let’s look at it. I’ll even play ball and look at it in the ESV.

      “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” – 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, ESV

      Paul certainly mentions the elements separately, but is this an explicit command for them to be taken separately? I’m not so sure. I think to say that this is a command for the elements to be taken separately is awfully akin to the Appalachian Pentecostals who believe that Mark 16 is a command to take up serpents and drink poison. I don’t see a command here. I simply see a statement about participating in Christ by partaking of the Supper.

      However, Joe Thorn is adamant that “each taken separately is a “participation” in Christ.” By implication, he seems to be saying that the elements taken separately is not a participation in Christ. So, if it’s not a participation in Christ, then what is it? Well, the Apostle Paul seems to tell us in the 21st verse of the same chapter.

      “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.” – 1 Corinthians 10:21, ESV

      So, if the Paul is addressing intinction here (which he’s not) then that would mean that those who participating such a practice are eating and drinking at the table of Satan. I’m confident that Thorn did not mean to imply such a thing about well-meaning brothers and sisters, but that’s what happens when you read something into the text of Scripture that isn’t there.

  3. The Regulative Principle Cautions Us
    • This third and final reason that Joe Thorn gives us assumes that the Regulative Principle even works to begin with.For those of you who don’t know what The Regulative Principle is, the Westminster Confession of Faith defines it in these terms,

      “But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.”

      This means that we are to worship God only in the ways in which He has prescribed and not “according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan.” Sounds good, right? The problem is that Jesus Christ Himself did not follow the Regulative principle, as David and Tim Bayly point out here:

      “Scripture tells us that Jesus went to the synagogue in Galilee on the Sabbath as was His habit, and there publicly read the Word of God, explaining Isaiah’s significance to the assembled people. In any Reformed church such action would be viewed as the the height of worship. Yet where in the Old Testament do we find express biblical warrant for synagogue worship? Where is routine public worship outside the realm of temple worship and public feast days positively commanded?”

      Seeing as how Jesus didn’t observe this Puritanical practice, I’m not so sure that it’s useful for us to observe it either. Therefore, it’s not a valid reason to keep the elements separate in the Supper.

Concluding Thoughts on the Article

Joe Thorn concludes the article by trying to say that we are commanded to (in his words to “eat” and then “drink.” I find it humorous how he puts the the word “then” in there. It’s kind of like how one might put “a representation of” in between Jesus’ words, “is” and “my” in His statement, “This is my body.”

The last paragraph concludes with Thorn telling that us that “thought this isn’t a practice over which one should break fellowship with a church, it is a practice that should be evaluated by the word of God and replaced with a separation of the elements.” So, basically he’s saying “don’t divide, just do it this way.” While I agree that it’s not issue to divide over (because my own home church doesn’t even practice intinction), I don’t think it’s an issue that needs to be addressed in such manner as to imply that those who practice intinction are not “rightly administering the supper.”

Why Does it Matter to Me?

If you read Rev. Lane B. Keister’s paper, then you’ll see that intinction was a practice that was probably introduced in the 3rd or 4th Century as a way for those who were physically ill to receive the Lord’s Supper without great danger of spilling the elements.

When I get the opportunity to partake of the Sacrament at a congregation that practices intinction then I am reminded that I am sick and in need of a Savior. I am reminded there is healing for me when I “participate” in Christ because He has said, “This is my body” and “this is my blood.” He is there. He may not be there in the that our Romanist friends say that He is there. I do not believe that the broken bread and the poured out wine is a sacrifice as they do, but I’m driven to believe that Christ is there in a very real sense.

But, when I partake of the Supper at a congregation that doesn’t practice intinction, the Supper is equally valid and equally special for me because I’m reminded just as elements are given to me separately so too was the suffering of our Lord given to Him separately. First, His body was beaten and tortured, then His blood was spilled, and just as the natural eating of bread gives life the body so does the death and resurrection of Christ bring life to the soul.

____________________

  1. N. T. Wright, “How Can the Bible Be Authoritative?,” Vox Evangelica 21 (1991): 10.
  2. Ibid., 13. Elsewhere Wright states that “biblicistic proof-texting” is “inconsistent with the nature of the texts we have.” See N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God vol. 1 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 140. Wright contrasts the problematic approach of principlizing with what he considers to be a better way forward: “Rather than trying to filter out the actual arguments that Paul is mounting in order to ‘get at’ the doctrines that, it is assumed, he is ‘expounding,’ I have stressed that we must pay attention to those larger arguments and to the great story of God, the world, Israel, and Jesus, giving special attention to the ‘Israel’ dimension, within which the cross means for him what it means for him.” See N. T. Wright, “Reading Paul, Thinking Scripture,” in Scripture’s Doctrine and Theology’s Bible: How the New Testament Shapes Christian Dogmatics, eds. Markus Bockmuehl and Alan J. Torrance (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 70.