September 29, 2009

I strongly dislike the sound of Rap and Hip-Hop music; but...

Over at Psalm 45 Publications Blog, I read a review of a new CD entitled "Didactic Music, Vol. I". The title caught my eye--love it! Although, I will not be purchasing the CD for myself--I am thrilled to see how the Lord is using some gifted young people today. Read the entire interview and especially the review that follows. It will, without a doubt, shock you--of that I am pretty certain.

Interview with "Christcentric"

There are several different reasons for writing and producing music: songs can be used to express worship to God, they can be more horizontally-focused, and attempt to say something worthwhile to other people, they can be artistic expressions of the different gifts that God has given us – what would you say your primary purpose is in producing music, and how does that affect the way that you go about your work?

Evangel: I think our music can sort of be a combination of all of the above. Our music tends to reflect the heartbeat of our convictions at the time of writing and recording. Each project we have released signifies where we were in our faith at that point in time, and shows our progression in our faith. The ultimate goal of each project is to edify the believer, offer material that they can share with non- believers, as well as reflect on the truths of Scripture and inspire worship to the Lord. Often times in this particular genre, Christian Hip Hop or Holy Hip Hop, unrealistically proclaims to be making music “for the streets,” or for the urban culture. I say it’s unrealistic, because the majority of our listeners and supporters are believers. Therefore, we intentionally make music that can “stir up one another to good works,” and encourage them in their faith (Hebrews 10:24).

The title of your album is “Didactic Music”. What does that mean about what you’re doing? What kinds of things are you trying to teach your listeners, and why is it important that they know those things?

Evangel: The word “didactic” comes from the Greek word didaktikos, which means designed to teach or give instruction. Evidently, the nature of our music is to teach scripture to the listener. As mentioned earlier, our primary audience is believers. Our experience has been that the age of hip hop supporters tend to be young, and Christian Hip Hop is no exception. Unfortunately, with youth comes a lack of maturity, and sadly, a lack of studying God’s word. We sincerely hope to challenge our listeners to be like the Bereans and search the scriptures and see whether what we say is derived from Scripture or not. Paul wrote that we should “speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19), and that is our intent. When we look at the actual Psalms that were written in the Old Testament, they are rich with theology! By no means do we equate our music with inspired Scripture, but we see the beauty of including theology as a way of indoctrinating and inspiring reverent worship. We tend to cover topics that would be considered essential Christian doctrine, but we also like to present thought provoking songs covering topics that may be misunderstood or misrepresented. We have gotten some encouraging feedback from people who have heard some of our material and were challenged to look up verses in scripture and reconsider misunderstandings they held. We praise the Lord for reactions like that because that is our purpose! Another side of what we do is to pay tribute to our Christian heritage and the many servants of the Body throughout it’s history. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears went forth so that we can have the privilege of doing music ministry centered around the Word of God. It has been said that if we don’t learn from the mistakes of our past, we’re doomed to repeat them. The reformers risked a lot to grant us the privilege of having bibles for the common man, so let’s use them to the glory of God!

A lot of your material seems pretty far removed from an audience of contemporary Americans. Your music contains Latin phrases from the sixteenth century and spends time dealing with doctrinal conflicts more than fifteen hundred years old. Does that make it less relevant to your audience? Why do you see historic creeds and confessions so important that you would spend so much time on them?

The Apologist: Just like Evangel said, if we don’t learn from the mistakes of our past, we’re doomed to repeat them. The same doctrinal conflicts our forefathers dealt with such as the deity of Christ and how is mankind made right with God, we are dealing with now. You ask the average American Christian if it is important to believe in the trinity and you would get an answer that would make the apostle paul turn over in his grave. We as Christians need to know how holy GOD is and how sinful we are and how much it cost GOD to redeemed us from the mess we got ourselves in. This is why creeds and confessions are so important because they help us declare and understand what we believe and why we believe it. We like to use certain theological phrases like “semper reformanda” because this is our history and we need to know these things, we need to know about Augustine vs. Pelagius, Luther vs. Erasmus, Wycliffe vs. Rome, the Arian controversy, the great schism, this is our history.

Two of your tracks are formulated as a boxing match, and showcase a debate between two Christian brothers, one more Calvinistic and one more Arminian in doctrine. This difference of opinion must mean a lot to you, if you’re willing to don the boxing gloves (so to speak) to defend your position. Why is it important? What do you say to people who find it unloving to speak strongly about debated doctrinal positions? Is it incompatible with Christian love to be firm on secondary matters? What do you say to the common slogan, “doctrine divides!”?

Evangel: The interesting thing is, it appears John Calvin has re-emerged as a very important theologian in our present day. Time magazine and Newsweek have recently done articles about the popularity of Calvinism in the church. Honestly, I was pretty amazed to see that! We see that the scriptures teach we should earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, and that we have one Lord and one faith. We should vigorously try to make sure that what we believe is what the Bible teaches. Even secondary matters have only one correct interpretation. However, we don’t have to divide over it. We think it is important to try to spark conversation and leave the listener with something to think about regarding the never ending debate between man’s free will and God’s sovereignty. Each of us began our Christian lives with our free will understanding, but through careful study of the Word, couldn’t help but see God’s sovereignty woven throughout the scriptures. From God’s choosing of Israel, without basing it on anything significant about them, to Jesus’ choosing Paul on the road to Damascus fresh off of persecuting believers. God is in the heavens and does as He pleases! The scriptures are clear when it comes to disagreements between the brethren. Paul confronted Peter to his face when he saw his hypocrisy with the circumcised believers versus how he acted with the Gentile believers.

Furthermore, Peter thought it necessary for Gentiles to submit to some of the Jewish law. These were apostles that had a difference of opinion on this matter, but they were still brothers. Salvation is by grace and not the law, and Paul wanted no confusion. Similarly, this boxing series pits sides against each other to, hopefully, emphasize grace in our salvation.

Now, I’m sure you’ve talked to people who don’t think hip-hop could be used as an appropriate vehicle of worship because it’s so different from traditional hymns and music styles, and because hip-hop has typically been used to portray some very debased and godless sentiments. What do you say to that argument?

The Apologist: I think we have to be careful not to make hip-hop an idol like we do with everything else. We don’t see a problem with our hymns and any need to replace them with hip-hop music, it’s funny to us because we grew up listening to hip-hop music 24/7 but we love singing hymns on Sunday mornings. We have attended churches where they use hip-hop music for worship and the people seem to like it but we just not there at the moment, I for one just love the hymns.

Israel Felix: We see hip-hop as a vehicle, not as a spiritual entity that has a tilt away or even towards God. We labor not only to “rap the bible”, but to lift Christ so explicitly in our music that we are above the reproach common to this style of music. This was one of the founding ideas of our group mission statement and is shown in the diversity of our fan base. Some are die hard hip hoppers and some actually hate rap music, but all are members of the same body with a mutual love of the Scriptures.

If you could tell your listeners one or two vital things you would like them to keep in mind before listening to your album, what would they be?

The Apologist: That God loves art that points to his glory, and as artists we should be creating art that speaks of his love, beauty, wisdom, and power.

The review:

Review: Didactic Music, vol. 1

As of today, Christcentric’s new album, Didactic Music, vol. 1, is available on iTunes. I already had the privilege of listening, and I have to say, the name is definitely well chosen. “Didactic” means “intended for teaching,” “suitable for doctrinal instruction” — and the album certainly is all of that. There’s a treasure-house of Reformed Theology in its tracks. The hip-hop style may have come from urban America in the twenty-first century, but the doctrine came from Geneva in the sixteenth. This is classic and unashamed Reformation truth, applied with exegetical skill and emotional fervency.

The one thing about this album that stands out most poignantly is its historic rootedness with orthodox Christianity. Not only does it contain a heavy dose of the most important truths trumpeted in the Protestant Reformation, but there is also a deep-seated dependence upon the great doctrinal affirmations that the early Church fathers labored to establish. There are tracks dedicated to the Reformation slogans of “semper reformanda” (“always reforming”) and the five solas (the Latin phrases meaning that our foundation for faith and practice is “scripture alone,” and that salvation is by “grace alone,” through “faith alone,” “in Christ alone,” and “to the glory of God alone”). But there are also tracks unpacking the great Creed of Nicaea, and the orthodox formulations of the trinitarian nature of God, which were clearly stated in the doctrinal struggles of the early Church.

The album, then, is rooted in historic orthodoxy; but it is likewise applied to modern situations within the Church. For example, two tracks, in the style of a debate, lay out both sides of the doctrinal struggle between the Calvinistic and Arminian conceptions of God’s grace in salvation; and the scriptural truth of monergistic regeneration is shown to provide a powerful defense of the former.

A few various tracks round out the doctrinally heavy assortment: there’s a track providing a biblical theology of and introduction to the book of Acts; a re-telling of the parable of the Prodigal Son from the older brother’s point of view; and a reflection on Christ’s passion in the Garden of Gethsemane, among others.

Basically, this album will do much to clarify your doctrinal understanding, and ground you in the scriptural truths of the Reformation. It is truly a didactic project.


September 27, 2009

Are you a “Marrow Man” or a “Neonomian"?

The Marrow Controversy—

Do you know anything about the Marrow Controversy? If you were raised in a "Fundamental" church or perhaps a "Reformed" church where you saw little joy, yet a great deal of head knowledge; perhaps you will see the parallel between your experience and observations and what was going on in the Church in 1717 in Scotland. This is just one of thousands of examples of why knowing Church history can help guard against getting sucked into error and heresy. As you read this brief outline, think about your own attitudes and your own past experiences. You may be surprised how much you have been influenced by error which is veiled in pseudo piety.

1717 and 1722: Controversy in the Church of Scotland (reformed & Presbyterian church)

1717 Presbytery of Auchterarder—William Craig ordination trials. He would not affirm this statement, known as the Auchterarder Creed:

“It is not sound and orthodox to teach that we must forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ.”
The creed was later condemned by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland as “unsound and detestable doctrine.” This exposed a division within the Church of Scotland between groups who came to be known as the “Marrow Men” and the “Neonomians.”

Marrow Men
Group of 12 objected to the condemnation of the creed by the Assembly. Included Thomas Boston, Ralph Erskine & Ebeneezer Erskine. Boston said the creed was a bit poorly worded, but true. He didn’t say anything about it on the floor of Presbytery, though.

The majority of the Presbytery who held that the gospel is a "new law" (neonomos), replacing the OT law with the legal conditions of faith and repentance needing to be met before salvation can be offered. They maintained the necessity of forsaking sin before Christ can be received, whereas the Marrow Men replied that only union to Christ can give us power to forsake sin. The Neonomians considered the Marrow men’s view of the preaching of free grace to be dangerously antinomian.

In 1718 James Hog reprinted The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher (1645). The short book articulated the same view of free grace that Boston and the Erskines were preaching. In 1720 the General Assembly prohibited recommending the book or advocating it, and said ministers must warn against its use. In 1721 Thomas Boston wrote published an annotated version of Marrow . The Marrow men were formally rebuked by the church's General Assembly in 1722 but not removed from their ministries.

The Issues of the Controversy:
1. Must a person forsake his sins in order to come to Christ?

Auchterarder Creed: “It is not sound and orthodox to teach that we must forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ.”

Thomas Boston:
"That it is the duty of all those that hear the gospel to instantly believe in Him without looking for any qualification from within." "That it is impossible for any to forsake their sins until the Spirit had determined him to come to Christ as a Prince and Savior exalted to give repentance and remission of sins. "

Are faith & repentance meritorious good works?
Repentance as the magic good work for the neonomians
Faith as the magic good work in modern Lordship controversies

Over the years in Scotland, the reformed understanding of how someone becomes a Christian (the ordo salutis) in terms of personal experience (not doctrinally) had changed. The Marrow men said grace always preceeds faith and repentance.

Repentance is not a condition of the gospel offer nor a condition of salvation, strictly speaking. Repentance is never a cause of grace or a condition of grace but always a consequence of grace.

The Neonomians were insinuating that someone’s penitence would merit God’s grace and forgiveness. The Marrow men called this bondage and legalism. For instance, in the parable of the prodigal son, the son was returning home wondering in his heart, have I repented enough, felt sorrow enough that the father might accept me? In the father’s embrace any talk of conditions for the unconditional love he has for his son is silenced. But, the older brother said, “Have I not met all of the conditions? Haven’t I merited such a feast?” The father says, “It is yours unconditionally, but your legal heart will never set you free to enjoy it. On those conditions you can never have it.” There is always the danger that the spirit of the elder brother, of the legalist, will invade the preaching and application of the gospel. (See the Legal Spirit section under #3.)

Let all that love to wear the gospel-dress,
Know that as sin, so dastard righteousness
Has slain its thousands, who in tow'ring pride
The righteousness of Jesus Christ deride;
A robe divinely wrought, divinely won,
Yet cast by men for rags that are their own.
But some to legal works seem whole deny'd,
Yet would by gospel-works be justify'd,
By faith, repentance, love, and other such:
These dreamers being righteous overmuch,
Like Uzza give the ark a wrongful touch.
By legal deeds, however gospeliz'd,
Can e'er tremendous justice be appeas'd?
Or sinners justify'd before that God,
Whose law is perfect and exceeding broad?
Nay, faith itself, that leading gospel-grace,
Holds, as a work, no justifying place. (Ralph & Ebeneezer Erskine)

2. Is the Gospel to be offered to all or only to those who show signs of being elect?

Question of the Free Offer of the Gospel

Thomas Boston:
"That there is no universal atonement yet there is warrant to offer Christ to all mankind whether elect or reprobate and a warrant for all to freely receive Christ however great sinners they are or have been. "

The offer bears the sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ for all. This does not imply a universal atonement or redemption. The marrow men also stood for the confessional standards. Yet they believed that the offer of the gospel is to be published to all men everywhere.

The neonomians were orthodox Calvinists, but theirs was a reformed orthodoxy that was thoroughly lifeless and cold and dead. Boston saw while he agreed with the neonomians in preaching a doctrine of unconditional election, they were also preaching a doctrine of conditional and conditioned grace, and there work was therefore tearing the feet from under the fullness and freeness of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Basic Neonomian teaching:
The grace of God in Christ saves the elect
The elect are known by the forsaking of sin
Grace is therefore given to those who forsake sin

The neonomians preached a conditional offer of the gospel. If you have sufficiently repented you may receive grace. But, only the grace of Jesus enables us to forsake sin. That repentance can’t be the condition of hearing the gospel. When we make the offer dependent upon conditions we disgrace the gospel.

The vital distinction is between conviction as a means that God employs and conviction as a condition that we fulfill. Conviction of sin is never a condition for the free offer of the gospel.

Hence Neonomians spring, as sundry callThe new law-makers, to redress our fall.The law of works into repentance, faith,Is chang'd, as their Baxterian Bible saith.Shaping the gospel to an easy law,They build their tott'ring house with hay and straw;Yet hide, like Rachel's idols in the stuff,Their legal hands within a gospel-muff.

Nor make the law a squaring rule of life,But in the gospel-throat a bloody knife. (Erskines’ Sonnet)

A story about Pilgrim’s Progress.

John Newton: “If you tarry ‘til you’re better, you will never come at all.”

3. How can orthodox Christians wind up with a legal spirit?

Neonomians called the marrow men antinomian.
Marrow men said the neonomians were legalistic.

Legal Spirit

We encounter not only doctrinal legalism but also, often along with it, an experimental legalism. Possible to have an evangelical head and a legal heart.

Neonomians had mastered the pattern by which grace works. Knew the ordo salutis and Westminster Confession inside out. Yet knowing the pattern by which grace works, they had never been mastered by the grace of God in the gospel in their hearts. They were Calvinists with the minds and hearts of natural men as far as these truths were concerned. They were masters of Calvinism who had never been mastered by God’s grace.

But the Auchterarder smoked out the heart of legalism in these orthodox men. The marrow controversy was a litmus paper for legalism.

They failed to distinguish between the law as a covenant of works and the law as a rule of life. But Boston said: “There is a wide difference between the law as a rule of life and a covenant of works. That as a rule of life God can have no vindictive or legal anger at them for their sins but a Fatherly anger and displeasure over their sins. Therefore Christians ought to mourn as those who have sinned against a reconciled Father.

Attitudes of Legal Spirit
Attitude towards the lost:
Sinclair Ferguson: "Until grace and God himself masters a man, that grace will never flow out to other people. He will become Jonah under his tree with a heart shut up against sinners in need of grace because he thinks of God in conditional terms. The hearts of the neonomians had been shut to the lost. "

E.g., parable of the elder brother. Legalism shows itself in the light of the exposure of free grace. The gospel produces in us a gracious heart pursuing the prodigal, loving the sinner.

Attitude towards other Christians:
E.g., parable of the laborers in vineyard 11th hour. Murmuring against their fellows. Sign of self-righteous temper with legality at its roots.

o Mentality that speaks of us and them.
o Zeal for church discipline, disguised as zeal for justice and truth but is an unwillingness to welcome those whom Christ welcomes, temper of a heart never delivered and mastered by God’s free grace.

Attitude towards sinners:

Alexander White: "There is such a thing as sanctification by vinegar. It makes a man accurate and hard. When people come being tempted by sin, broken by it, ashamed to confess the mess they made, it is not a Calvinistic pastor who has been sanctified by vinegar they need, but a pastor who has been mastered by the unconditional grace of God, and from whom iron clad orthodoxy has been torn away and the whole armor of a gracious God has been applied; the armor of him who would not break the bruised reed or quench the dimly burning wick. "

Attitudes toward God

John Owen:
“Unacquaintedness with our mercies & our privileges is our sin as well as our trouble. We harken not to the voice of the Spirit which is given unto us that we may know the things that are freely bestowed on us of God. This makes us go heavily when we might rejoice. And to be weak where we might be strong in the Lord. How few of the saints are experimentally acquainted with this privilege of holding immediate communion with the Father in love? With what anxious doubtful thoughts do they look upon him? What fears what questionings are there of his goodwill and kindness? At the best many think there is no sweetness at all in God towards us, but what is purchased at the high price of the blood of Jesus. It is true that that alone is the way of communication, but the free fountain and spring of all is in the bosom of the Father.”

Attitudes in the face of temptation & accusation:

Satan uses the law to twist our minds in rebellion against God. He drives us back to the law as a works covenant. He confirms our worst legal fears. He distorts what we once knew of the free grace of God in the gospel. All Christians know the accusers voice, “you are not good enough to be a believer, far less a pastor.” Our refuge is our confession that nothing good dwells in us and we fly to Jesus.

John Newton: “Bowed down beneath a load of sin, by Satan sorely pressed. By war without, and fears within, I come to thee for rest. Be thou my shield and hiding-place; That, sheltered near thy side, I may my fierce accuser face, And tell him, thou hast died!”

So which one are you?

The Gospel Coalition (An Answer to Prayer)

Theological Vision for Ministry
Click HERE for complete statement

"We do not, however, see enough individual churches that embody the full, integrative gospel balance we have outlined here. And while, in God’s grace, there is an encouraging number of bright spots in the church, we see no broad movement yet of this gospel–centered ministry. We believe such a balance will produce churches with winsome and theologically substantial preaching, dynamic evangelism and apologetics, and church growth and church planting. They will emphasize repentance, personal renewal, and holiness of life. At the same time, and in the same congregations, there will be engagement with the social structures of ordinary people, and cultural engagement with art, business, scholarship, and government. There will be calls for radical Christian community in which all members share wealth and resources and make room for the poor and the marginalized. These priorities will all be combined and will mutually strengthen one another in each local church.

What could lead to a growing movement of gospel–centered churches? The ultimate answer is that God must, for his own glory, send revival in response to the fervent, extraordinary, prevailing prayer of his people. But we believe there are also penultimate steps to take. There is great hope if we can unite on the nature of truth, how best to read the Bible, on our relationship to culture, on the content of the gospel, and on the nature of gospel–centered ministry. We believe that such commitments will drive us afresh toward Scripture, toward the Christ of Scripture, toward the gospel of Christ, and we will begin to grow in our ability, by God’s grace, as churches, to “act in line with the truth of the gospel” (Gal 2:14). We are ashamed of our sins and failures, grateful beyond measure for forgiveness, and eager to see afresh the glory of God and embody conformity to his Son."

Council Members

Reddit AndrewsSenior Pastor of Soaring Oaks Presbyterian ChurchElk Grove, CA

Mike AndrusSenior Pastor of First Evangelical Free Church of WichitaWichita, KS

Thabiti AnyabwileSenior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand CaymanGrand Cayman Islands
Alistair BeggSenior Pastor of Parkside Church Chagrin Falls, OH

Conrad “Buster” BrownSenior Pastor of East Cooper Baptist ChurchMount Pleasant, SC

Mike BullmoreSenior Pastor of CrossWay Community ChurchBristol, WI

Robert (Ric) CannadaChancellor and Chief Executive Officer of Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC

D.A. CarsonResearch Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity SchoolDeerfield, IL

Anthony J. CarterLead Pastor of East Point ChurchAtlanta, GA

Bryan ChapellPresident of Covenant Theological SeminarySt. Louis, MO

Steven ChinSenior Pastor of Boston Chinese ChurchBoston, MA

K. Edward CopelandSenior Pastor of New Zion Baptist Church Rockford, IL

Andy DavisSenior Pastor of First Baptist ChurchDurham, NC

Mark DeverSenior Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist ChurchWashington, D.C.

Mark DriscollSenior Pastor of Mars Hill ChurchSeattle, WA

Ligon DuncanSenior Pastor of First Presbyterian ChurchJackson, MS

Joshua HarrisSenior Pastor of Covenant Life ChurchGaithersburg, MD

David HelmPastor of Holy Trinity ChurchChicago, IL

David HornerSenior Pastor of Providence Baptist ChurchRaleigh, NC

Kent HughesSenior Pastor Emeritus, College Church in Wheaton, IL

Gary InrigSenior Pastor of Trinity Evangelical Free ChurchRedlands, CA

Tim KellerSenior Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian ChurchManhattan, NY

Paul KimSenior Pastor of Open Door Presbyterian ChurchHerndon, VA

Bill KynesSenior Pastor of Cornerstone Evangelical Free ChurchAnnandale, VA

Crawford LorittsSenior Pastor of Fellowship Bible ChurchRoswell, GA

Jeff LouieAssociate Professor at Western Seminary, Los Gatos, CASan Francisco, CA

Erwin LutzerSenior Pastor of The Moody ChurchChicago, IL

James MacDonaldSenior Pastor of Harvest Bible ChapelRolling Meadows, IL

John MahaffeySenior Pastor of West Highland Baptist ChurchHamilton, Ontario, Canada

C.J. MahaneyPresident of Sovereign Grace MinistriesGaithersburg, MD

Albert MohlerPresident of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY

Tom NelsonSenior Pastor of Christ Community ChurchLeawood, Kansas

John NeufeldSenior Pastor of Willingdon ChurchBurnaby, BC, Canada

Ray Ortlund Jr.Pastor of Immanuel ChurchNashville, TN

Richard D. PhillipsSenior Minister of Second Presbyterian ChurchGreenville, SC

John PiperPastor for Preaching and Vision at Bethlehem Baptist ChurchMinneapolis, MN

Eric RedmondSenior Pastor of Reformation Alive in Temple Hill, MD

Harry ReederSenior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian ChurchBirmingham, AL

George RobertsonSenior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church Augusta, Georgia

Phil RykenSenior Pastor of Tenth Presbyterian ChurchPhiladelphia, PA

Juan SanchezSenior Pastor of High Pointe Baptist ChurchAustin, TX

Tim SavageSenior Pastor of Camelback Bible ChurchParadise Valley, AZ

David ShortRector of St. John's Shaughnessy Vancouver, BC Canada

Colin SmithSenior Pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free ChurchArlington Heights, IL

Scotty SmithSenior Pastor of Christ Community ChurchFranklin, TN

Stephen UmSenior Pastor of CityLife ChurchBoston, MA

Greg WaybrightSenior Pastor of Lake Avenue ChurchPasadena, CA

Sandy WillsonSenior Pastor of Second Presbyterian ChurchMemphis, TN

John YatesSenior Pastor of The Falls ChurchFalls Church, VA

Paul ZahlRector of All Saints ChurchChevy Chase, MD

September 25, 2009

"Compel Them To Come In"

"I feel in such a haste to go out and obey this commandment this morning, by compelling those to come in who are now tarrying in the highways and hedges, that I cannot wait for an introduction, but must at once set about my business......

If the minister chooses to take his proper rank, girded with the omnipotence of God, and anointed with his holy unction, he is to command men, and speak with all authority compelling them to come in: "command, exhort, rebuke with all long-suffering."But do you turn away and say you will not be commanded? Then again will I change my note. If that avails not, all other means shall be tried.

My brother, I come to you simple of speech, and I exhort you to flee to Christ. O my brother, dost thou know what a loving Christ he is? Let me tell thee from my own soul what I know of him. I, too, once despised him. He knocked at the door of my heart and I refused to open it. He came to me, times without number, morning by morning, and night by night; he checked me in my conscience and spoke to me by his Spirit, and when, at last, the thunders of the law prevailed in my conscience, I thought that Christ was cruel and unkind. O I can never forgive myself that I should have thought so ill of him. But what a loving reception did I have when I went to him. I thought he would smite me, but his hand was not clenched in anger but opened wide in mercy. I thought full sure that his eyes would dart lightning-flashes of wrath upon me; but, instead thereof, they were full of tears. He fell upon my neck and kissed me; he took off my rags and did clothe me with his righteousness, and caused my soul to sing aloud for joy; while in the house of my heart and in the house of his church there was music and dancing, because his son that he had lost was found, and he that was dead was made alive.

I exhort you, then, to look to Jesus Christ and to be lightened. Sinner, you will never regret,--I will be bondsman for my Master that you will never regret it,--you will have no sigh to go back to your state of condemnation; you shall go out of Egypt and shall go into the promised land and shall find it flowing with milk and honey. The trials of Christian life you shall find heavy, but you will find grace will make them light. And as for the joys and delights of being a child of God, if I lie this day you shall charge me with it in days to come. If you will taste and see that the Lord is good, I am not afraid but that you shall find that he is not only good, but better than human lips ever can describe.

Now I turn for one moment to some here. There are some of you here members of Christian churches, who make a profession of religion, but unless I be mistaken in you--and I shall be happy if I am--your profession is a lie. You do not live up to it, you dishonour it; you can live in the perpetual practice of absenting yourselves from God's house, if not in sins worse than that. Now I ask such of you who do not adorn the doctrine of God your Saviour, do you imagine that you can call me your pastor, and yet that my soul cannot tremble over you and in secret weep for you? Again, I say it may be but little concern to you how you defile the garments of your Christianity, but it is a great concern to God's hidden ones, who sigh and cry, and groan for the iniquities of the professors of Zion.

Now does anything else remain to the minister besides weeping and prayer? Yes, there is one thing else. God has given to his servants not the power of regeneration, but he has given them something akin to it. It is impossible for any man to regenerate his neighbour; and yet how are men born to God? Does not the apostle say of such an one that he was begotten by him in his bonds. Now the minister has a power given him of God, to be considered both the father and the mother of those born to God, for the apostle said he travailed in birth for souls till Christ was formed in them. What can we do then? We can now appeal to the Spirit.

I know I have preached the gospel, that I have preached it earnestly; I challenge my Master to honour his own promise. He has said it shall not return unto me void, and it shall not. It is in his hands, not mine. I cannot compel you, but thou O Spirit of God who hast the key of the heart, thou canst compel. Did you ever notice in that chapter of the Revelation, where it says, "Behold I stand at the door and knock," a few verses before, the same person is described, as he who hath the key of David. So that if knocking will not avail, he has the key and can and will come in. Now if the knocking of an earnest minister prevail not with you this morning, there remains still that secret opening of the heart by the Spirit, so that you shall be compelled.

I thought it my duty to labour with you as though I must do it; now I throw it into my Master's hands. It cannot be his will that we should travail in birth, and yet not bring forth spiritual children. It is with him; he is master of the heart, and the day shall declare it, that some of you constrained by sovereign grace have become the willing captives of the all-conquering Jesus, and have bowed your hearts to him through the sermon of this morning."

Spurgeon (Excerpts from "Compel Them to Come In" preached December 5, 1858 on Luke 14:23)

September 24, 2009

Do you really understand why you were created and why your sins have been forgiven--if you are in Christ?

Ponder these passages from Isaiah. Read each one and think on it. Really mediate on what God is saying through the prophet.

I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.

Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.

The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever. Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?

Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD, or being his counsellor hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing. And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering.

All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity. Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in: That bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity.

September 22, 2009

"...having formed in their minds such a God as suits them..."

"Now, sometimes when you talk about God being a God of wrath, certain people get disturbed. And they don’t understand how God can be a God of anger and God can be a God of wrath and God can be a God of fury, a God of terror. But that’s because they don’t understand God.

Let’s see if we can’t help ourselves to a deeper understanding of His wrath in perspective with all of His other attributes. God’s attributes are balanced in His divine perfection. And they are perfectly balanced. If God did not have wrath and God did not have anger then He would not be God. God is perfect in love, on the one hand, and He is equally perfect in hate, on the other hand. Just as totally as He loves, so totally does He hate. As His love is unmixed, so is His hate unmixed. Of Christ, it says in Hebrews 1:9, “Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity.” And there is that perfect balance in the nature of God.

As I mentioned, one of the tragedies of Christianity in our time is a failure to preach the hatred of God, the judgment of God. We’re so saccharine. We’re so sentimental. We’re so kind of mushy in our Christianity.

When is the last time you heard a new song on the wrath of God? Heard one lately? I haven’t. Just to prove a point in my own mind I have an old Psalter, an old hymnal from the end of the nineteenth century and I pulled it off the shelf and started to go through the hymnal and I found hymn after hymn after hymn on the wrath of God, on the anger of God, on the vengeance of God, on the judgment of God. Hymns that sounded very much like the imprecatory Psalms, where the psalmist is asking God to come down and condemn His enemies. People don’t write hymns like that anymore. People don’t extol the wrath of God. We don’t want to talk about that in our Madison Avenue approach to presenting the message. But we will never understand at all the profound reality of God’s love until we comprehend His hate." John MacArthur

It is sad to find so many professing Christians who appear to regard the wrath of God as something for which they need to make an apology, or at least they wish there were no such thing. While some would not go so far as to openly admit that they consider it a blemish on the Divine character, yet they are far from regarding it with delight, they like not to think about it, and they rarely hear it mentioned without a secret resentment rising up in their hearts against it. Even with those who are more sober in their judgment, not a few seem to imagine that there is a severity about the Divine wrath which is too terrifying to form a theme for profitable contemplation. Others harbor the delusion that God’s wrath is not consistent with His goodness, and so seek to banish it from their thoughts.

Yes, many there are who turn away from a vision of God’s wrath as though they were called to look upon some blotch in the Divine character, or some blot upon the Divine government. But what saith the Scriptures? As we turn to them we find that God has made no attempt to conceal the fact of His wrath. He is not ashamed to make it known that vengeance and fury belong unto Him. His own challenge is, "See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god with Me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal; neither is there any that can deliver out of My hand. For I lift up My hand to heaven, and say, I live forever, If I whet My glittering sword, and Mine hand take hold on judgment; I will render vengeance to Mine enemies, and will reward them that hate Me" (Deut. 32:39-41). A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury, and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness. Because God is holy, He hates all sin; And because He hates all sin, His anger burns against the sinner: Psalm 7:11.

Now the wrath of God is as much a Divine perfection as is His faithfulness, power, or mercy. It must be so, for there is no blemish whatever, not the slightest defect in the character of God; yet there would be if "wrath" were absent from Him! A.W. Pink

Jonathan Edwards states: "Self-love, through the exercise of mere natural gratitude, may be the foundation of a sort of love to God many ways. A kind of love may arise from a false notion of God, that men have been educated in, or have some way imbibed; as though he were only goodness and mercy, and not revenging justice; or as though the exercises of his goodness were necessary, and not free and sovereign; or as though his goodness were dependent on what is in them, and as it were constrained by them. Men on such grounds as these, may love a God of their own forming in their imaginations, when they are far from loving such a God as reigns in heaven.

Again, self-love may be the foundation of an affection in men towards God, through a great insensibility of their state with regard to God, and for want of conviction of conscience to make them sensible how dreadfully they have provoked God to anger; they have no sense of the heinousness of sin, as against God, and of the infinite and terrible opposition of the holy nature of God against it: and so, having formed in their minds such a God as suits them, and thinking God. to be such a one as themselves, who favours and agrees with them, they may like him very well, and feel a sort of love to him, when they are far from loving the true God. And men's affections may be much moved towards God, from self-love, by some remarkable outward benefits received from God; as it was with Naaman, Nebuchadnezzar, and the children of Israel at the Red Sea."

September 21, 2009

A Sly and Subtle Enemy

One of our most heinous and palpable sins is PRIDE. This is a sin that hath too much interest in the best of us, but which is more hateful and inexcusable in us than in other men. Yet is it so prevalent in some of us, that it inditeth our discourses, it chooseth our company, it formeth our countenances, it putteth the accent and emphasis upon our words. It fills some men’s minds with aspiring desires, and designs: it possesseth them with envious and bitter thoughts against those who stand in their light, or who by any means eclipse their glory, or hinder the progress of their reputation. Oh what a constant companion, what a tyrannical commander, what a sly and subtle insinuating enemy, is this sin of pride.

Hence also it is that men do so magnify their own opinions, and are as censorious of any that differ from them in lesser things, as if it were all one to differ from them and from God. They expect that all should conform to their judgment, as if they were the rulers of the Church’s faith; and while we cry down papal infallibility, too many of us would be popes ourselves, and have all stand to our determination, as if we were infallible.

It is true, we have more modesty than expressly to say so; we pretend that it is only the evidence of truth, that appeareth in our reasons, that we expect men should yield to, and our zeal is for the truth and not for ourselves: but as that must needs be taken for truth which is ours, so our reasons must needs be taken for valid; and if they be but freely examined, and be found fallacious, as we are exceedingly backward to see it ourselves, because they are ours, so we are angry that it should be disclosed to others. We so espouse the cause of our errors, as if all that were spoken against them were spoken against our persons, and we were heinously injured to have our arguments thoroughly confuted, by which we injured the truth and the souls of men.

The matter is come to this pass, through our pride, that if an error or fallacious argument do fall under the patronage of a reverend name, (which is nothing rare,) we must either allow it the victory, and give away the truth, or else become injurious to that name that doth patronize it; for though you meddle not with their persons, yet do they put themselves under all the strokes which you give their arguments; and feel them as sensibly as if you had spoken of themselves, because they think it will follow in the eyes of others, that weak arguing is a sign of a weak man.

If, therefore, you consider it your duty to shame their errors and false reasonings, by discovering their nakedness, they take it as if you shamed their persons; and so their names must be a garrison or fortress to their mistakes, and their reverence must defend all their sayings from attack.

So high indeed are our spirits, that when it becomes the duty of any one to reprove or contradict us, we are commonly impatient both of the matter and the manner. We love the man who will say as we say, and be of our opinion, and promote our reputation, though, in other respects, he be less worthy of our esteem. But he is ungrateful to us who contradicteth us and differeth from us, and dealeth plainly with us as to our miscarriages and telleth us of our faults. Especially in the management of our public arguings, where the eye of the world is upon us, we can scarcely endure any contradiction or plain dealing.

I know that railing language is to be abhorred, and that we should be as tender of each other’s reputation, as our fidelity to the truth will permit. But our pride makes too many of us think all men contemn us, that do not admire us, yea, and admire all we say, and submit their judgments to our most palpable mistakes.

We are so tender, that a man can scarcely touch us but we are hurt; and so high-minded, that a man who is not versed in complimenting, and skilled in flattery above the vulgar rate, can scarcely tell how to handle us so observantly, and fit our expectations at every turn, without there being some word, or some neglect, which our high spirits will fasten on, and take as injurious to our honor.

September 20, 2009

Is Your Love for God Merely "Self-Love"

Do you love God? If so, tell me why you love God? It would be interesting to pose these questions to an entire body at a local church. I fear most would respond that they love God for what He has done for them, not for who He is. Being thankful for His mercy and grace is far different then loving Him because of His mercy and grace towards men. Jonathan Edwards explains the importance of understanding the difference between love (as a fruit of the Spirit) versus natural love.:

"There is such a thing as a kind of love or affection that a man may have towards persons or things, which does properly arise from self-love; a preconceived relation to himself, or some respect already manifested by another to him, or some benefit already received or depended on, is truly the first foundation of his love, and what his affection does wholly arise from; and is what precedes any relish of, or delight in the nature and qualities inherent in the being beloved, as beautiful and amiable.

When the first thing that draws a man's benevolence to another, is the beholding those qualifications and properties in him, which appear to him lovely in themselves; and the subject of them, on this account, worthy of esteem and good will, love arises in a very different manners than when it first arises from some gift bestowed by another or depended on from him, as a judge loves and favours a man that has bribed him; or from the relation he supposes another has to him, as a man who loves another, because he looks upon him as his child. When love to another arises thus, it does truly and properly arise from self-love.

That kind of affection to God or Jesus Christ, which does thus properly arise from self-love, cannot be a truly gracious and spiritual love, as appears from what has been said already: for self-love is a principle entirely natural, and as much in the hearts of devils as angels; and therefore surely nothing that is the mere result of it can be supernatural and divine, in the manner before described.

Christ plainly speaks of this kind of love, as what is nothing beyond the love of wicked men: Luke 6:32 , "If ye love them that love you, what thank have ye? For sinners also love those that love them." And the devil himself knew that that kind of respect to God which was so mercenary, as to be only for benefits received or depended on (which is all one), is worthless in the sight of God; otherwise he never would have made use of such a slander before God, against Job, as in Job 1:9, 10: "Doth Job serve God for nought? Has not thou made a hedge about him, and about his house."

Nor would God ever have implicitly allowed the objection to have been good, in case the accusation had been true, by allowing that that matter should be tried, and that Job should be so dealt with, that it might appear in the event, whether Job's respect to God was thus mercenary or no, and by putting the proof of the sincerity and goodness of his respect upon that issue.

It is unreasonable to think otherwise, than that the first foundation of a true love to God, is that whereby he is in himself lovely, or worthy to be loved, or the supreme loveliness of his nature. This is certainly what makes him chiefly amiable. What chiefly makes a man, or any creature lovely, is his excellency; and so what chiefly renders God lovely, and must undoubtedly be the chief ground of true love, is his excellency. God's nature, or the divinity, is infinitely excellent; yea it is infinite beauty, brightness, and glory itself. But how can that be true love of this excellent and lovely nature, which is not built on the foundation of its true loveliness?

How can that be true love of beauty and brightness which is not for beauty and brightness' sake? How can that be a true prizing of that which is in itself infinitely worthy and precious, which is not for the sake of its worthiness and preciousness? This infinite excellency of the divine nature, as it is in itself, is the true ground of all that is good in God in any respect; but how can a man truly and rightly love God, without loving him for that excellency in him, which is the foundation of all that is in any manner of respect good or desirable in him?

They whose affection to God is founded first on his profitableness to them, their affection begins at the wrong end; they regard God only for the utmost limit of the stream of divine good, where it touches them, and reaches their interest; and have no respect to that infinite glory of God's nature, which is the original good, and the true fountain of all good, the first fountain of all loveliness of every kind, and so the first foundation of all true love.

A natural principle of self-love may be the foundation of great affections towards God and Christ, without seeing anything of the beauty and glory of the divine nature. There is a certain gratitude that is a mere natural thing. Gratitude is one of the natural affections of the soul of man, as well as anger, and there is a gratitude that arises from self-love, very much in the same manner that anger does. Anger in men is an affection excited against another, or in opposition to another, for something in him that crosses self-love: gratitude is an affection one has towards another, for loving him, or gratifying him, or for something in him that suits self-love. And there may be a kind of gratitude, without any true or proper love: as there may be anger without any proper hatred, as in parents towards their children, that they may be angry with, and yet at the same time have a strong habitual love to them.

This gratitude is the principle which is an exercise in wicked men, in that which Christ declares concerning them, in the 6th of Luke, where he says, sinners love those that love them; and which he declares concerning even the publicans, who were some of the most carnal and profligate sort of men, Matt. 5:46. This is the very principle that is wrought upon by bribery, in unjust judges; and it is a principle that even the brute beasts do exercise; a dog will love his master that is kind to him. And we see in innumerable instances, that mere nature is sufficient to excite gratitude in men, or to affect their hearts with thankfulness to others for kindnesses received; and sometimes towards them, whom at the same time they have a habitual enmity against.

Thus Saul was once and again greatly affected, and even dissolved with gratitude towards David, for sparing his life, and yet remained a habitual enemy to him. And as men, from mere nature, may be thus affected towards men; so they may towards God. There is nothing hinders but that the same self-love may work after the same manner towards God as towards men. And we have manifest instances of it in Scripture; as indeed the children of Israel, who sang God's praises at the Red Sea, but soon forgot God's works: and in Naaman the Syrian, who was greatly affected with the miraculous cure of his leprosy, so as to have his heart engaged thenceforward to worship the God that had healed him, and him only, excepting when it would expose him to be ruined in his temporal interest. So was Nebuchadnezzar greatly affected with God's goodness to him, in restoring him to his reason and kingdom, alter his dwelling with the beasts.

September 19, 2009

"Doing" Church

I would highly recommend that one study the history of Christian worship, before forming strong and binding convictions. I mean really study--Don't just read someone's summary or overview.

While studying Church liturgy, as it pertains to singing during worship service, I came across this quote by Tertullian (as he was defending the Christian Agape Feast from the accusations that during these “love” feasts all kinds of immorality took place, including excessive drinking) [A.D. 145-220]: Hopefull, the following will (at the very least) wet the appetite for further research and study so that those who have opinions and pontificate those opinions, do so based on some level of truth and understanding.

“We sup as servants that know we must wake in the night to the service of our Master, and discourse as those who remember that they are in the hearing of God. When supper is ended, and we have washed our hands, and the candles are lighted up, every one is invited forth to sing praises to God, either such as he collects from the Holy Scriptures, or such as are of his own composing: and by this you may judge of the measures of drinking at a Christian feast. And as we began, so we conclude all in prayer, and depart not like a parcel of heated bullies, for scouring the streets and killing and ravishing the next we meet, but with the same tenor of temperance and modesty we came, as men who have not so properly been a drinking as imbibing religion.”

Another interesting discovery was that, from the fourth to the early-fifth century, a new melodic style of singing the psalms caused some church leaders (most notably Athanasius) to outlaw the practice. However, the style was welcomed in Milan by Ambrose and grudgingly accepted by Augustine. Augustine confessed that he was prone to be moved more by the melody than the words of the scriptural texts that were sung and therefore sometimes considered that it would be safer if the church adopted Athanasian's practice. Nevertheless, in the end, he accepted the style because of its ability to elevate souls to devotion.

The controversy that is going on in the church today is nothing new. Imagine thinking that singing the psalms might be dangerous. Well, to some, it may have been.

I would encourage everyone to read the following. It is the entire Chapter 39 from “The Apology”. Tertullian speaks of how they "did" church and how they lived. It is a powerful summary of the beauty of early Christianity and a powerful rebuke to many of us. Church discipline and tithing are touched upon, as well as, a very strong statement to the philosophers of that time for their practice of wife swaping. Hard to believe it was written over 1,800 years ago.


HAVING vindicated our sect from the calumnies of rebellion, etc., I come now to lay before you the Christian way and fashion of living.

We Christians then are a corporation or society of men most strictly united by the same religion, by the same rites of worship, and animated with one and the same hope. When we come to the public service of God, we come in as formidable a body as if we were to storm heaven by force of prayer, and such a force is a most grateful violence to God. When this holy army of supplicants is met and disposed in godly array, we all send up our prayers for the life of the emperors, for their ministers, for magistrates, for the good of the State, for the peace of the empire, and for retarding the final doom.

We meet together likewise for the reading of Holy Scriptures, and we take such lessons out of them as we judge suit best with the condition of the times, to confirm our faith either by forewarning us what we are to expect, or by bringing to our minds the predictions already fulfilled. And certainly our spiritual life is wonderfully nourished with reading the Holy Scriptures, our hopes thereby are erected, and our trust fixed and settled upon God.

However, besides the bare reading, we continually preach and press the duties of the gospel with all the power and argument we are able; for it is in these assemblies that we exhort, reprove, and pass the divine censure or sentence of excommunication; for the judgments in this place are delivered with all solemnity, and after the maturest deliberation imaginable, as being delivered by men who know they are pronouncing God's sentence, and act with the same caution as if God stood visibly among them; and the censures here pronounced are looked upon as an anticipation of the judgment to come, and the sinner pre-condemned by God, who has sinned to such a degree as to be shut out by his ministers from the fellowship of the faithful, the communion of prayers and sacraments, and the rest of that sacred commerce.

The presidents or bishops among us are men of the most venerable age and piety, raised to this honour not by the powers of money, but the brightness of their lives; for nothing sacred is to be had for money. That kind of treasury we have is not filled with any dishonourable sum, as the price of a purchased religion; every one puts a little to the public stock, commonly once a month, or when he pleases, and only upon condition that he is both willing and able; for there is no compulsion upon any.

All here is a free-will offering, and all these collections are deposited in a common bank for charitable uses, not for the support of merry meetings, for drinking and gormandizing, but for feeding the poor and burying the dead, and providing for girls and boys who have neither parents nor provisions left to support them, for relieving old people worn out in the service of the saints, or those who have suffered by shipwreck, or are condemned to the mines, or islands, or prisons, only for the faith of Christ; these may be said to live upon their profession, for while they suffer for professing the name of Christ, they are fed with the collections of His Church.

But strange! that such lovely expressions of Christian charity cannot pass with some men without a censure; for look ye, say they, how these Christians seem to love each other, when in their hearts they hate each other to death ! How forward are they to stake down their lives for one another, when inwardly they could cut one another's throats ! But the true reason of this defamation, upon the account of styling ourselves brethren, I take to be this, because the name of brother is found with these men to be only a gilded expression of a counterfeit friendship.

But you need not wonder at this loving title among Christians, when we own even you your- selves for brethren by the right of one common nature; although indeed you have cancelled this relation, and by being inhuman brethren have forfeited the title of men; but by what diviner ties are we Christians brethren ! We who all acknowledge but one and the same God as our universal Father, who have all drunk of one and the same Holy Spirit, and who are all delivered as it were from one common womb of ignorance, and called out of darkness into His marvellous light.

But maybe we cannot pass for right brothers with you, because you want a tragedy about the bloody feuds of the Christian fraternity; or because our brotherly love continues even to the division of our estates, which is a test few brotherhoods will bear, and which commonly divides the dearest unions among you.

But we Christians look upon ourselves as one body, informed as it were by one soul; and being thus incorporated by love, we can never dispute what we are to bestow upon our own members. Accordingly among us all things are in common, excepting wives; in this alone we reject communion, and this is the only thing you enjoy in common ; for you not only make no conscience in violat- ing the wife of your friend, but with amazing patience and gratitude lend him your own.

This doctrine, I suppose, came from the school of the Grecian Socrates, or the Roman Cato, those wisest of sages, who accommodated their friends with their own wives, wives which they espoused for the sake of children of their own begetting, as I imagine, and not of other folks.

Whether the wives are thus prostituted with their own consent, in truth I cannot tell, but I see no great reason why they should be much concerned about that chastity which their husbands think not worth keeping. Oh, never-to-be-forgotten example of Athenian wisdom ! Socrates the great Grecian philosopher, and Cato the great Roman censor, are both pimps.

But is it any great wonder that such charitable brethren as enjoy all things in common should have such frequent love-feasts ? For this it is you blacken us, and reflect upon our little frugal suppers, not only as infamously wicked, but as scandalously excessive. Diogenes, for aught I know, might have us Christians in his eye when he said that the Megarensians feast as if they were never to eat more, and build as if they were to live for ever ; but every one sees a straw in another's eye sooner than a beam in his own ; or else you must be sensible of your own beastliness in this case; for the very air in the streets is soured with the belches of the people coming from their feasts in their several wards.

The Salii cannot sup without the advance of a loan, and upon the feast of tithes to Hercules the entertainment is so very costly that you are forced to have a bookkeeper on purpose for expenses. At Athens likewise when the Apaturia, or feasts in honour of Bacchus for a serviceable piece of treachery he did, are to be celebrated, there is a proclama- tion for all the choice cooks to come in and assist at the banquet; and when the kitchen of Serapis smokes, what baskets of provisions come tumbling in from every quarter!

But my business at present is to justify the Christian supper; and the nature of this supper you may understand by its name; for it is the Greek word for love. We Christians think we can never be too expensive, because we think all is gain that is laid out in doing good; when therefore we are at the charge of an entertainment, it is to refresh the bowels of the needy, but not as you gorge those parasites among you who glory in selling their liberty for stuffing their guts, and can find in their hearts to cram their bellies in spite of all the affronts you can lay upon them; but we feed the hungry, because we know God takes a peculiar delight in seeing us do it. If therefore we feast only with such brave and excellent designs, I leave you from hence to guess at the rest of our discipline in matters of pure religion; nothing earthly, nothing unclean, has ever admittance here; our souls ascend in prayer to God before we sit down to meat; we eat only what suffices nature, and drink no more than what is strictly becoming chaste and regular persons.

We sup as servants that know we must wake in the night to the service of our Master, and discourse as those who remember that they are in the hearing of God. When supper is ended, and we have washed our hands, and the candles are lighted up, every one is invited forth to sing praises to God, either such as he collects from the Holy Scriptures, or such as are of his own composing: and by this you may judge of the measures of drinking at a Christian feast. And as we began, so we conclude all in prayer, and depart not like a parcel of heated bullies, for scouring the streets and killing and ravishing the next we meet, but with the same tenor of temperance and modesty we came, as men who have not so properly been a-drinking as imbibing religion.

This assembly of Christians therefore is deservedly ranked among unlawful ones, if it holds any resemblance with them ; and I will not say a word against condemning it, if any man will make good any one article against it which is charged upon other factions.

Did we ever come together to the ruin of any one person? We are the same in our assemblies as at home, and as harmless in a body as apart; in neither capacity injuring or afflicting any person whatever. When therefore so many honest and good, pious and chaste people are met together, and regulated with so much discipline and order, such a meeting, I say, is not to be called factious, but as orderly an assembly as any of your courts.

September 17, 2009

The Sovereignty of God

The doctrine of God’s sovereignty is an anchor for the troubled soul, a hope for the praying heart, a stability for fragile faith, a confidence in pursuing the lost, a guarantee of Christ’s atonement, a high mystery to keep us humble, and a solid ground for all praise. And oh so much more. O Lord, turn this truth for the triumph of your saving and sanctifying grace.

We believe that God upholds and governs all things—from galaxies to subatomic particles, from the forces of nature to the movements of nations, and from the public plans of politicians to the secret acts of solitary persons—all in accord with His eternal, all-wise purposes to glorify Himself, yet in such a way that He never sins, nor ever condemns a person unjustly; but that His ordaining and governing all things is compatible with the moral accountability of all persons created in His image.

Why does it matter whether we believe this? Ten reasons.

1. The good news of God’s substituting his Son for us on the cross depends on it.
“Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” (Acts 4:27­–28)

2. The perseverance of the saints in the fear of God depends on it.
“I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” (Jeremiah 32:40)

3. Progress in holiness now, and the final perfecting of the saints in the end, depends on it.
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12–13)
“But you have come to Mount Zion . . . and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” (Hebrews 12:22–23)

4. The assurance of God’s final triumph over all natural and supernatural evil depends on it.
“I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’” (Isaiah 46:9­–10)

5. The comfort that there is a wise and loving purpose in all our calamities and loses, and that God will work all things together for our good, depends on it.
“Though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love. . . . Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” (Lamentations 3:32–38)
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” (Genesis 50:20)

6. The hope that God will give life to the spiritually dead depends on it.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4–5)
“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

7. Well-grounded expectation of answered prayer depends on it.
“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” (Romans 10:1)
“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. . . . For the promise is for . . . everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38–39)

8. Boldness in the face of seeming hopeless defeat depends on it.
“Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God, and may the Lord do what seems good to him.” (2 Samuel 10:12)
“Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him.” (2 Chronicles 32:7)

9. Seeing and savoring the revelation of the fullness of God’s glory depends on it.
“But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ . . . What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power . . . [acted] in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy?” (Romans 9:20–23)

10. Praise that matches the fullness of God’s power, wisdom, and grace depends on it.
“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. . . . We will bless the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.” (Psalm 115:3, 18)
“Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.” (Psalm 96:4)

John Piper

September 13, 2009

Let us start here...

Paedo vs. Credo baptism will continue to be a difference that will divide the church in terms of Church unity, as it relates to church membership. It is one of the few theological differences that is, not only held in the mind and conscience of it's adherents, but also requires an outward action be administered by church leadership and received by congregants. Therefore, holding differing views on baptism (as it is tied to a sacrament) will continue to necessitate a distinct separation in terms of "doing" church. However, many of the other theological differences that currently divide the church, when included in a local body's statement of faith, do not require outward actions be preformed. Therefore, let us not "throw the baby out with the bath water" so to speak--by using the difference between baptism to distract us from doing what we can to remove the sinful practice of further dividing the church by requiring that any individual desiring to join a local body also believe in, and adhere to, your particular view or opinion on non-essential doctrines, such as, a particular millennial view.

With the differing views that have been held by saints down through church history; the likelihood of all believers, who live close to a local church and who would wish to become a member of that church, holding to the same millennial view as that church, is nearly impossible and they, therefore, cannot be embraced in full unity by that local body. As Mark Dever states, "That is a sin"--not on the part of the lay person; but on the part of church leadership.

You have no idea how encouraged I was to have heard that Mark Dever (a pastor/teacher that many local pastors respect) said what I have been stating for several years. For I am one of those believers who has been kept from full fellowship and official membership because of the local church body's sinful inclusion of non-essentials in their statement of faith.

I pray that we can (at the very least) start here as we desire to be obedient to our Lord's command. If you are a pastor, guilty of causing/creating division in the body of Christ in your local church, I plead with you to hear the words spoken by Mark Dever in a sermon that he delivered in July 2009:

"You Are in Sin If You Lead Your Congregation to Have a Statement of Faith that Requires a Particular Millennial View"

I think that millennial views need not be among those doctrines that divide us. . . . I am suggesting that what you believe about the millennium—how you interpret these thousand years—is not something that it is necessary for us to agree upon in order to have a congregation together. The Lord Jesus Christ prayed in John 17:21 that we Christians might be one. Of course all true Christians are one in that we have his Spirit, we share his Spirit, we desire to live out that unity. But that unity is supposed to be evident as a testimony to the world around us. Therefore, I conclude that we should end our cooperations together with other Christians (whether near-ly in a congregation, or more at length in working together in missions and church planting and evangelism and building up the ministry) only with the greatest of care, lest we rend the body of Christ for whose unity he’s prayed and given himself.

Therefore, I conclude that it is sin to divide the body of Christ—to divide the body that he prayed would be united. Therefore for us to conclude that we must agree upon a certain view of alcohol, or a certain view of schooling, or a certain view of meat sacrificed to idols, or a certain view of the millennium in order to have fellowship together is, I think, not only unnecessary for the body of Christ, but it is therefore both unwarranted and therefore condemned by scripture.
So if you’re a pastor and you’re listening to me, you understand me correctly if you think I’m saying you are in sin if you lead your congregation to have a statement of faith that requires a particular millennial view. I do not understand why that has to be a matter of uniformity in order to have Christian unity in a local congregation."

Let us start here, as we strive to be obedient to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Much harm is being done to individual saints and to the honor and glory of our Lord's precious name because of our current disobedience in this area.

"Wicked Innovations?"

"Instead of music allowing us an active, personal response to God's truth, it has become background noise--filler to keep us occupied while the offering plates are passed. Instead of elevating our thoughts of God beyond what we would or could do alone, it's a mindless routine we hardly notice. Instead of extracting us from the trappings of daily life and drawing our thoughts upward, it's a seventh-inning stretch just before the preaching. Instead of glorifying God, it's a stroke to the egos of a few performers. Instead of engaging our minds to the truth of who God is and what He has done, it's an emotional merry-go-round we jump on and off at will.

But is the secret to making worship music more meaningful simply a matter of choosing older songs or a different style? Not necessarily. Martin Luther said music is a servant created and given by God. He was right.

The music itself--the notes, the sounds, the rhythm--is merely a tool to help communicate truth. As long as the style doesn't overshadow or contradict the message and the message is accurate, music is a matter of preference."

John MacArthur

Whether you want to accept it or not, your opinions and preferences; and, how you "feel" about worship music, i.e., what is acceptable and what is not for the church, depends on when and where you were born; how you were raised, your church tradition, and several other environmental factors. If you somehow think that God has given you a special gift that can determine what kind of music is right and what kind is wrong in terms of God's criteria, you are either incrediably arrogant or seriously deluded--and yet that is what so many who are writing on this topic actually think. Well, they indeed, need to think!

Controversies around forms and styles have plagued the Church throughout history and in different ways depending on the geographical location, the denomination, the traditional, etc. What you find acceptable now in a traditional Reformed Baptist church would be seen as worldly and sinful by someone born in Scotland in 1565.


When the lyrics of worship songs and hymns are Christ-centered, God exalting, and Biblically faithful; there can be a church full of people singing traditional hymns with (what most of us would consider beautiful sounding music) whose hearts are far from God; just as there can be a room full of young people singing contemporary worship songs whose hearts are fully focused on God. "Now, we must not allow that to happen".

It matters not what you or I think, what matters is what God knows. He, and He alone knows His true worshippers. You will always find those who agree and who disagree with your "preferences"--whether you are 63 years old and traditional or 23 years old and contemporary. We are all, in some ways a bunch of bigoted music censors. Just because you or I do not particularly care for the sound of a certain style of music, does not mean that God does not see it as true worship. What we are experiencing now is no different then what the early church experienced and what each generation experiences when the church goes through changes.

If you are going to form an opinion, and state that opinion as "doctrine" as many do, at least study church history and have an educated opinion--look beyond worship styles in America and during your short life time. There are Christians all over the world who worship much differently then your typical reformed baptist church in America and that has been the case down through Church history.

To be truly "safe" and to ensure that what we are doing is "right"; I think we should all go back to singing only the Psalms and not allow any instruments at all, as the sound of the violin can evoke inappropriate passions in many (she said sarcastically to illustrate a point). Read this historical overview and think about this. Your preference for style and form is and has been influenced by the culture you have been raised in and currently live in. All of the "modern" worship music contained in the hymnal you use every Sunday has been influenced by the music of the culture--not our current culture; but, indeed the secular culture at some point in history.

Periodically through history, the church has been confronted with the problem of the introduction of new elements into an existing tradition. In the context of congregational singing, this issue centered around the infiltration of secular elements. The purpose of this study is to present such situations, to show how people dealt with change in their time, and to draw lessons from it for today.

The resurgence of the popular element in church music has been a constant phenomenon throughout history. The Arian heretics already used the power of popular tunes to spread their false doctrines through singing. The fourth-century church father Ephraem Syrus (b.309) from Antioch did not hesitate to pick up these melodies, being aware of their "sweet" effect. Nine hundred years later, reacting to the heavy formalism of the church and wanting the hymns to be more Christ-centered, Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) also integrated the contemporary secular melodies and rhythms into his laude.

Martin Luther (1483-1546), again in reaction to the formalist worship style of the church in his time, used melodies and rhythms familiar to the people for his chorales. During the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the Pietists, in reaction against the scholasticism of the Protestant church, rejected the operatic style of art music, and adopted the subjective hymn featuring dance-like rhythms.

In England, John Wesley (1703-1791) had a burden that the tunes of the hymns be accessible to all, so that all could participate in the singing and thus express their personal acceptance of salvation. Much to the discontent of the church officials, he adapted popular tunes from many sources.

Closer to our times, hymn singing was a major element during camp meetings and the Great Awakenings. It was intended to be a means to communicate the gospel in a simple and direct language, and an effective manner, to the ordinary man and woman. The melodies of these spirituals or gospel songs were folklike, easy to teach and to catch, mostly adapted from well-known folk melodies. Some of the tunes used at the Moody-Sankey revival meetings (late nineteenth century) were taken over from Stephen Foster. William Booth (1829-1912), the founder of the Salvation Army, shared the same philosophy.

This desire to reintroduce the simplicity of folk music into the worship experience stemmed often from a reaction to the pomp and formality which characterized the official religion. Furthermore, at those moments in history, the congregation was geographically and often physically separated by a screen from the church choir, the part of the church where the office took place.

The luxurious style of the Byzantine church brought about Ambrose's simple antiphonal hymns; the sumptuousness of the Roman liturgy led to Luther's conviction for the necessity of hymns close to the people. These "reforms" correspond then to a time of renewal and revival, a time when the reformers decided to put music back into the hands of the people.

Official reaction from the church to these innovations most often resulted in partial or total prohibition of congregational participation in the service. Possible motives for such radical decisions could have been fear of syncretism or weakened ecclesiastical powers, suspicion of people's spontaneity which would compromise the transcendental character of the act of adoration, or simply a concern for tradition and continuity.

The Council of Laodicea, called by the church fathers in 367 A.D., decided to prohibit congregational singing in order to avoid the use of secular tunes and to prohibit the use of instruments in church in order to avoid pagan associations. A similar decision was taken on the occasion of the Council of Trent (1545-1563). Congregational singing was no longer to be part of the Mass, but was relegated to extra-liturgical moments of popular devotion. In addition to eliminating congregational participation from the Mass, the Council also prohibited the use of secular elements (seen as "lascivious and impure.") as a basis for Mass compositions, a practice that had been widespread for two hundred years.

Resistance to change in church was not, however, the sole domain of the officials of the church. Many protestations to the introduction of "new" elements in church music came from within the congregation itself. It is noteworthy that such reactions did not occur solely when change was concerned with theological truth and moral values. It seems if change per se was the problem the "new" was bad simply because it was new. Some of the arguments advanced at those times carry in fact a very contemporary flavor. In 1712, Thomas Symmes, who encouraged the "new way" of singing (by note) in reaction to the practice of "lining out" (singing by rote), relates some of reactions to this innovation:

Tho' in the polite city of Boston this design [the new way] met with general acceptance, in the country, where they have more of the rustic, some numbers of elder and angry people bore zealous testimonies against these wicked innovations, and . . . not only ... call the singing of these Christians a worshipping of the devil, but also they would run out of the meeting house at the beginning of the exercise.

Among the objections we find the following arguments:

It is a new way, an unknown tongue. It is not so melodious as the usual way ... The practice creates disturbances, and causes people to behave indecently and disorderly ... The names given to the notes [do, re, mi] are bawdy, yea blasphemous. It is a needless way, since our fathers got to heaven without it... They are a company of young upstarts that fall in with this way, and some of them are lewd and loose persons.

It is a well-known fact that introduction of "new" instruments also created turmoil in the church. Such was the situation in a late eighteenth-century New England church which had been offered an organ in 1713 by the treasurer of Harvard University, but turned it down. The general opinion was that "if organs were permitted, other instruments would soon follow, and then there would come dancing!"

Finally, the Brattle Street Church surrendered to the inevitable and decided to have an organ, but even after the order had been sent to England and the instrument was on its way, the congregation was tom with bitter strife. One wealthy member besought with tears that the house of God be not desecrated, promising to refund the entire cost of the organ if the evil thing might be thrown to the bottom of Boston harbor. But gradually opposition subsided.

In the same way the organ was considered a secular instrument for which there was no place in church, the instruments used by J.S. Bach in his St. Matthew Passion were a stumbling block to the congregation of his times.

When in a large town [Bach's] Passion Music was done for the first time, with 12 violins, many oboes, bassoons, and other instruments, many people were astonished and did not know what to make of it. In the pew of a noble family in church, many, Ministers and Noble Ladies were present, who sang the first Passion Chorale out of their books with great devotion. But when this theatrical music began, all these people were thrown into the greatest bewilderment, looked at each other and said: "What will become of this?" An old widow of the nobility said: "God save us, my children! It's just as if one were at an Opera Comedy!" But everyone was genuinely displeased by it and voiced just complaints against it. There are, it is true, some people who take pleasure in such idle things.

The foregoing examples demonstrate how change is difficult even when it is for the better. Indeed, change is in itself a painful process, for we like to hold on to the familiar, predictable and comfortable, the non-threatening. Furthermore, the value of the old is associated with "tradition," synonymous with stability and absence of change.

Tradition is often a matter of feeling at home with what we have grown up with, which then comes to be interpreted as the "truth." Old music carries also the aura of being consecrated by the past. Antiquity becomes a recommendation in itself. Today, the veneration of the past is essentially an outgrowth of Romanticism. It was indeed the Romanticist understanding of the world as an organic unity which aroused interest in the origins of things, and thus led to a consideration of bygone times as valuable and worthy of interest.

Ever since those times, the music of contemporary composers has been overshadowed at concert programs by historical works. Before the nineteenth century, it was not customary to perform works from times gone by, at church as well as at court. It is a well-known fact that J. S. Bach, for instance, was to produce a new cantata every Sunday which, by the way explains the numerous borrowings from his own works as well as from those of earlier composers, a practice that was widespread since the earliest times. These borrowings involved sacred as well as secular sources.

The examples also testify to the problem of borrowing musical elements familiar to the congregation from secular contexts. And yet, this is what great personalities of the church did all along. On closer examination, it seems that the reasons for this tension lie essentially in the conflict between two different ideals for church music. On one hand, we note the concern for a relevant means of congregational participation, a way for the people to join in and sing along without particular musical training (emphasis on the human aspect of religion); on the other hand, we note the concern for the lofty ideal of church music as a transcendental expression of God and the truth, a means to elevate human thoughts toward their Creator.

In fact, both concerns are legitimate and should work hand in hand in a healthy and necessary tension. In order for church music to be an authentic expression of worship, it should undergird both the transcendental and the anthropological aspects. It should be appropriate to the circumstance and hence translate the lofty character of worship; but it should also be relevant and be conveyed in a language that is readily understood for a more spontaneous participation.

The first lesson of history is therefore a lesson of openness and of flexibility. It remains, however, the burning question whether these principles are still applicable today; can history be used as a perfect model for today? In other words, how far can we use secular elements in our congregational singing? To answer this question in an appropriate manner, we should not only consider the parallels with past history described earlier but also be acutely aware of the differences. Indeed, the situation today carries specific new elements that make the process of change much more complex and certainly more delicate. I shall note at least two of them:

1. In historical times, the introduction of secular music was proposed and monitored by theologians, and realized by professional musicians; many of the reformers speak not only of adoption, but also of adaptation. Many of the church fathers were trained as musicians, and the same was true of Luther. In addition Luther worked closely with such eminent composers as Johann Walter; those composers were active in the fields of both secular and sacred music and knew how to manipulate the musical language for the one or the other.

Today's renewal of church music, initiated by Vatican II, is mostly the result of a grass-roots movement under the motto "by the people and for the people." The initiative for renewal often comes directly from the congregation and is actually realized by the people who form this congregation.

Our culture has developed a strong sense of democracy and, especially since the 1960's, young people have acquired their own voice and participate actively in various societal matters. It would be of no avail to ignore or deny this reality which can be observed in many other aspects of society.

The same phenomenon could not fail to happen in religion. The young people need to express their desire for participation through their own language in music. However, the enthusiasm of conviction, and the stimulation of action should not prevent them from reflecting on the nature of worship and the purpose of church music; they should also be concerned with the nature and the expressive power of music, as well as the need for high musical standards.

2. The strongest consideration, however, must be the changes which have transformed the modem world in regards to its understanding of the sacred and the secular. Here lies the principal difficulty in adopting secular elements for worship. Today's society is characterized by a great rift between the secular and the sacred.

Both a memory of history and a lucid observation of our times should inspire our approach to the problem. One may adopt, of course, the traditional attitudes of rejection or prohibition, but history has shown that those are not very effective in the long run.