Friday, August 26, 2005

Calvinism vs. Arminianism...vs. Biblicism?

As I have indicated in a few recent posts, I am a Calvinist. I have some friendly debates with some friends every once in a while, but generally I'm not an "in your face" type. I'll leave that to James White. He gets a little mean for my taste, though he does have a lot of good information to share. But I digress.

As I said, I'm generally not a confrontational, "in your face" kind of guy, but I have heard something that some non-Calvinists have said that sends me into convulsions. In order to set the scenario, let's say that a Calvinist is dialoguing with non-Calvinist. Often the Calvinist will draw a dichotomy between Calvinism and Arminianism on the grounds that you can either be monergistic of synergistic with no third option available. We'll leave the question of the adequacy of these definitions to the side for now. There is a response to this that kills me, and I've heard it several times now. Some of you other Calvinists may have heard this before as well.

"I'm not a Calvinist or an Arminian. I'm a Biblicist."


There are several things that get me fired up when I hear this. First, it's a cop-out that doesn't recognize what the Calvinist is saying. You fall into one of the two camps no matter what. Second, it's insulting to the Calvinist (and to Arminians, I suppose). In essence, the non-Calvinist is saying, "You're following the teachings of some man." Are we supposed to ignore the exegetical work that has been done? Do they think that we venerate Calvin so much that we do not question his teaching? We are Calvinists because we believe in the Bible. Third, it drips of pseudo-humble arrogance. "You can have your fancy theological systems. I'll stick with the Bible." Friend, this "fancy theological system" is derived from the Bible. Please tell me how you've transcended the debate such that neither label applies to you.

Bottom line: You are monergistic or synergistic, end of story. Denying a title because it has a man's name in the title gets you no points.

Phew. I feel better.

Friday, August 19, 2005

One New Link

I just added another link to the blogroll. Idea Soup is the name, and with a guy named "Josh" at the helm it's gotta be good. There was a bit of a delay between his last post and this one, so I was waiting to see if he would post again before I linked him. He did. So I did. Welcome to the blogroll, Josh!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

I Want an iPod and YOU can Help!!!

Maybe I'm a doofus, but I've been itchin' to get my hands on an iPod lately, so when I saw a chance to get one for free I decided to go for it. So, if you have an ounce of compassion in your heart :p, click this link:

and sign up for one of the free offers. You have to click on that link otherwise I won't get credit for referring you. I need five people to sign up for offers, so dive in!

Don't you love people you don't know asking you to sign up for stuff so they can get something for free?

Friday, August 12, 2005

Some Notes on the Music in My Life

I have officially discovered another band...or artist, I guess, since he's really only one guy. If you have a thing for melancholy music with breathy vocals and poetic lyrics (and I know you do), you will love Iron and Wine. Iron and Wine is actually a guy from Miami named Samuel Beam. A lot of his stuff is very simple (at least partly because it was recorded on a 4-track recorder), which I like. It seems that lately he has been doing some more complex stuff, like in the song "Woman King." I didn't care for it at first, but I'm starting to come around. Anyway, Iron and Wine comes highly recommended.

Beyond that, my brother and I are going to form a "band" of sorts. We've actually been working on some songs for over a year, but I kind of...well...quit working on anything. But I'm back on the wagon now, so who knows what sort of greatness we'll achieve!!! We've gone through several "band names" but nothing seems to really grab us, so if anyone has any suggestions feel free to offer them up.

Monday, August 08, 2005

I'm Going to JAIL!!!!

I was sitting at my desk at work, minding my own business when I get this phone call. It seems there is a warrant out for my arrest. Thursday, September 1st, I will be going to jail for an hour in support of the MDA telethon. Who swore out my warrant? Not a clue, but I'll tell you this: I look fantastic in black and white stripes. There will be a website through which people can make donations to "bail me out," so I'll post that link as soon as possible.

Heh. I wonder what made someone pick me? I was under the impression that people usually picked their bosses or department managers for this sort of thing. I have exactly zero employees under me. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I get to assist in MD research, not to mention that I think the whole thing sounds kind of fun.

I'll keep everyone updated.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Totally New Ministry Paradigm!!!!

Brothers and sisters, we are on the cusp of something huge. Once in a generation a new idea comes along that is so innovative, so amazing, that it provides a new ministry paradigm for the Church. I don't mean to toot my own horn, but I think I just may have stumbled across such a paradigm, ladies and gentlemen.

You might be thinking, "Is he talking about the Emergent Church?"

Heh. Not even close.

No, this idea is so revolutionary it makes Brian McLaren look like a clone of John R. Rice. It makes Robert Schuller sound like Jerry Falwell. Prepare yourself for the future of Christian ministry, my friends. Let this essay mark the kickoff of the Brass Pole Movement!

I was first alerted to this idea by the estimable theologian and exegete Dr. Jessica Simpson. As many know, Dr. Simpson has quite a distinctive method of outreach. She has been ministering in non-traditional ways for a while, but she really began pushing the envelope in her video entitled, "These Boots Were Made for Walking." Some close-minded Christian organizations began criticizing her, saying that her methods were inappropriate (see this Softpedia article). A prophet is without honor in her hometown, Dr. Simpson.

At first I agreed with the criticisms, but then I read Simpson's devastating biblical defense of her new methodology:

"I think that if they're really good Christians the judgment wouldn't be there."

How can one argue with such resistless logic? Notice how succinct she is in stating her position! Sometimes one sentence is all it takes to show what a clear thinker you are, eh Dr. Simpson? You have revealed to us all exactly how deep your Christian worldview has impacted your thinking. Good for you.

However, this is just the tip of the iceberg! Simpson's new model for outreach has changed the way I will view ministry for the rest of my life. The Brass Pole Movement (hereafter BPM) is a cutting edge way to draw in those who are not interested in traditional church. Every Sunday morning Frat Houses would sit empty, with young college men lining the front rows of our churches. And all because of the new "ushers" on the church's staff! What an opportunity!

Consider also how this could impact fundraising! Do you need to get your youth group to Central America for a summer mission trip? Three words: Bikini Car Wash. In the BPM, which is much more compassionate and far less judgmental, such things are possible! Even encouraged!

Won't you join me in moving toward this groundbreaking paradigm for ministry? It is a sad fact that upbeat music and therapeutic preaching just don't draw in some types of people, friends! We need to push the ministry envelope to draw them in. Otherwise, all we will have left is the Gospel, and we all know that won't work!

Monday, August 01, 2005

A Couple of New Links

I've been adding links at an alarming rate lately! Here are the latest: First I broke down and added James White's Alpha and Omega Ministries. Also, Tom Ascol started a Founders Ministries Blog, and has some excellent series of posts examing an article by Dr. Steve Lemke that conflates Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism. That error is disturbingly common...

Thoughts on My First Sermon

If you've read my blog over the last week or so you know that last night I delivered my first full length sermon. I preached on 1 John because I had taught on it before and was relatively familiar with the content. The text of my sermon is below, but I thought I'd give you an account of how the evening went down, as well as my impression of how the sermon went.

My wife and I found Kenwood Missionary Baptist Church with no problem. It's a small, semi-rural church in the Ashland/Russell area of Kentucky. We were met by Mark Thompson, a man in his early fifties who had only been a Christian two years. I loved talking to him because I could see a love for God's word in him that few Christians have today. He was hungry. I ended up looking at him for most of the time I spent in the pulpit because I could see his eagerness.

The service itself was a bit of a blast from the past. There were a number of similarities between this church and the church I attended as a boy. Even one of the special songs reminded me of something my grandmother would have loved. Before long, though, it was time for me to speak.

My intention was to go about 25-30 minutes, but I missed that mark a bit. My wife told me it was probably about 45 minutes long. Oops! And here I was worried that I wouldn't have enough material. The people, though, were kind and loving and they didn't seem to mind the sermon's length. I even got a hug from a 3 year old little girl in the audience.

The sermon itself was a mixed bag. Before I continue with my remarks, let me say that I fully believe that God can do whatever He wills with any sermon. I don't mean to indicate my efforts were the most important thing yesterday evening. But let's get on with it. My sermon wasn't as tight as I would have wanted. It didn't flow that well in places, particularly from the introduction to the actual body of the sermon. For some reason in the introduction I focused on others recognizing our Christianity rather than gaining assurance ourselves.

I was fairly happy with the rest of the sermon. I think I got to cover the basics of 1 John fairly well. It just needs some refining. As I said, the text of the sermon is posted below, pretty much as it was preached. The only alteration I made was to replace the King James Biblical citations with English Standard Version ones. I hadn't used my KJV for a long time, but many churches around here still prefer it, so I used it so as not to offend people. I don't think they're King James Only at Kenwood, but it is still used in most churches around here.

Hopefully you'll enjoy reading the sermon below, and I'd welcome your comments.

1 John: A Sermon on Christian Assurance

Bumper stickers. Fish symbols. Sloganeering bracelets. T-Shirts that adapt popular brand names with Christian words. I’ve seen a shirt where the clothing company “Abercrombie & Fitch” becomes “A Breadcrumb and Fish,” referring to the feeding of the 5000. These are the sorts of things that many people use to demonstrate their Christianity. Yet some polls indicate that a great number of self-professed born again Christians do not live differently than non-Christians. I don’t think bumper stickers and bracelets are wrong in and of themselves, but we must admit to ourselves that these are shallow ways to show Christ to people. It’s a sort of “non-committal commitment.” It allows us to soothe our consciences that we are publicly Christian without having to really invest in the lives of other people or say something considered offensive.

But what about things that seem less shallow? How about carrying your Bible to school or work? Or praying over your meal? What about a five minute morning devotion? Surely these are excellent ways to demonstrate you commitment to Christ! Well, though they are commendable on some level, they too fall short of demonstrating one’s Christianity and providing assurance for you personally. It would be easy for a non-Christian to do this, don’t you think? We could probably envision a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness doing these things.

Introducing 1 John and Establishing Context
Since we are running out of options, here, let’s go ahead and turn to the Bible for the true answer to how we demonstrate our Christianity to ourselves and others. Let’s turn to the book of 1 John. It’s my hope that we will be able to cover the book in its entirety tonight. I may have bitten off more than I can chew, but I really like the idea of preaching on a book of the Bible as a whole. When we do that we get a better picture of what the author, be he Paul, John, or whomever, intended to communicate in his writings. I think sometimes we read the Bible as though the verses aren’t connected to each other, and that’s a problem. It is very important to understand the context of a passage before we can fully understand what the human writer and God Himself wanted to say.

Something else I like to do for messages like this one is establish the historical context in which the book was written. What event or events motivated the writer, other than the urging of the Holy Spirit? For instance, we know the book of Philemon was written because Paul had met Onesimus, a slave of Philemon’s, and led him to Christ. Onesimus had wronged Philemon and Paul wanted to make amends. But what motivated John to write his letter? I’ll try to keep my historical remarks brief and then get on to the Word itself.

It is pretty well established that John was writing his first epistle at least partially in response to some false teaching, as well as the conduct of the teachers, who were once part of the church, and were spreading the aforementioned falsehood. These teachers, later called “Gnostics,” believed that anything physical was evil. The spirit, they thought, is good, but anything physical, like a human body, is evil. It doesn’t take long, if you claim to be a Christian, to run into trouble if you believe a physical body is evil. Jesus Himself had a body. For these Gnostic teachers it would be impossible for God to actually have a body, so they denied that He did. Some of them believed that it just seemed as though Jesus had a body.

Not only did they have problems with Jesus’ human body, they had trouble with what to do with their own bodies. “If the body is evil,” some of them thought, “then it doesn’t matter what I do with it!” Some Gnostics took advantage of the opportunity to indulge in their own sins, and John directly attacked the Gnostics on both of these fronts. Without further ado, let’s dive into 1 John.

How Do I Know I Am a Christian?
One major problem that arose from the error of the false teachers is that some people began doubting their salvation. For one thing, these false teachers had strange view of salvation, and since these were people who may have had a great deal of influence and charisma, it caused doubts to creep into the minds of the Christians to whom John was writing. He wanted to reassure them that they could know for certain whether they were truly saved or not. As 5:13 states, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” In fact these teachers who had left the church were demonstrating that they were not saved. John uses their actions as a “how to demonstrate that you’re a non-Christian” so we could know the sorts of actions that should provide assurance for a Christian. John chooses three areas to put his readers’ minds at ease. First, according to John, the Christian must hold to the basic doctrines of the faith. As we said, these false teachers did not believe that Christ came in the flesh. Second, the Christian should love his brothers and sisters in Christ. Finally, we must be obedient to the commands of Christ. Let me stress that John is not saying that these things are prerequisites for salvation, or that you must do these things to keep your salvation. The Bible is clear that we are not saved by works, nor is it our job to “keep our salvation” through our actions. God takes care of that. Incidentally, all three of these ideas are woven into the fabric of 1 John. They don’t appear in just one place, they appear and reappear as John writes, so we’ll be bouncing around in the text a bit.

Upholding the Basic Doctrines of the Faith
As we’ve already pointed out, John was battling against the idea that Christ did not actually have a human body. Dispensing with traditional greetings, he wastes no time in attacking that idea in 1:1-2. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-- 2the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us--” John was leaving no doubts in the minds of the readers of this letter; he was there with Jesus, and Jesus really had a physical body. Later, in 4:2-3 John has chilling words about these false teachers.: “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.”

Some of you may be wondering, “what does it matter if Jesus had a physical body or not?” As it turns out, if Jesus was not human like us, then He could not have died for our sins. As Hebrews 2:17-18 states, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” What this is saying is that it was necessary for Christ to become like us, that is, human, so that He could reconcile us to God. So the denial of Christ’s humanity was no small matter. It means everything to our salvation.

Now let’s take this in a bit of a more general direction. Some people don’t want to bother with doctrine at all. Why not just, “love God,“ they ask. “Doctrine divides,” they say. They think that as Christians we should be unified, and we should, as John will point out. However, it is also vital to note that 1 John, which I think of as one of the most love and unity oriented books of the New Testament, actually encouraged division over essential doctrines. Why? Because when people reject the basic doctrines of Christianity they reveal that they were never a part of the family of God to begin with. Read 1 John 2:22-23: “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” These false teachers denied Christ by trying to strip Him of His humanity. In the process, they lost the father as well.

I don’t mean to indicate that every little disagreement merits a heresy trial. For instance, if we have two hypothetical men, Mr. Thompson and Mr. Jackson, and they disagree over whether pastors should receive a salary from the Church or not, that they should declare each other heretics and never speak to one another again. That would be extreme because the doctrine is not central to the faith. Unfortunately, however, that sort of thing happens in far too many churches. So doctrine, we see, is quite useful in dividing the true Church from the false professors.

Christian Unity and Love
As we read on in 1 John, we begin to discover other things about these false teachers. For instance, their love for this false teaching had caused them to leave the Church. Ultimately, as we saw, their departure was a good thing. I’m going to take a chance and state the obvious here: It is never a good idea to have influential people teaching falsehoods in your Church, especially about the nature of Christ Himself. However, simply focusing on kicking the bad guys out does not reveal the sort of Christian character that can aid in giving us assurance of our own salvation. We can mentally assent to any doctrinal statement without having a truly regenerate heart. Have you ever run across someone who delights in finding reasons to run people out of a church? Such a person is dangerously out of balance in his or her spiritual life. Were I this person I would examine myself closely and carefully to make certain of my salvation, because John indicates a lack of love for Christian brothers and sisters is something to be taken seriously.

John states over and over that love for our family in Christ is an essential component of the Christian life. Chapter 2:9-11 reads, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”

If we carry hatred in our hearts for Christian people, John indicates that the reality of our salvation is in doubt. But by the same token, if we love our fellow Christians, we can be sure of our salvation. This is a beautiful truth. Look at 3:10: “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.” It is manifest that we are God’s children when we love our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We’ve spent a decent amount of time talking about the love we should have for our fellow Christians, but we need to address what this love should look like. Should we follow the world’s perception of love and just let everyone fulfill their own desires? John reveals how we are to demonstrate our love in 3:16-19: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him;”

These verses can surprise a lot of people. “This is how we show Christian love?” they think. It seems incredibly unspiritual at first glance. Providing for physical needs? Of course John would encourage things like prayer for those in need, but giving to a brother who needs it is, I think, putting your money where your mouth is. Anyone can mouth words to someone, but it takes a real Christian, someone like Barnabas, to give away goods. Do you want to show your Christian brother you love him? Mow his lawn. Buy his dinner. Pay a bill he is late on, as long as that is not a habitual problem. These acts need to grow out of a compassion in your heart that only God can provide. I know, I’ve experienced it. God can put a love in your heart even for that guy who gets on your last nerve.

Our hearts should be moved by stories of our brothers and sisters in need. I think sometimes American Christians, because of the plenty we experience here, forget about the need of Christians around the world. Let me encourage you to forgo buying that latest gadget or beautiful skirt. Search your heart and see if you can find something better to do with that money. I’m not saying don’t buy anything nice for yourself, but if we’re honest we will admit that we have plenty. Open your heart to the needs of your fellow Christians.

The flip side of that is that sometimes we get too prideful to ask for help. Christian, if you are in some sort of difficult situation, don’t try to go it alone. We are called to bear each others’ burdens. Let go of your individualistic pride and give your brother the opportunity to serve you. Not only can this be a confirmation of what John said about Christian love and assurance, but it can also commend Christ to people quite well. We are to be known for our love for each other.

Obedience to the Commands of Christ
John has now provided two ways in which a person can gain assurance of their salvation. Do you believe in sound doctrine? Do you love your brothers and sisters in Christ? If you said yes on both accounts, that should provide a great degree of assurance in your own heart. There is, however, one final way which John indicates can be an avenue of assurance. Read 2:3-5: “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4Whoever says "I know him" but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him:”

How many people do you know that tell you, “Oh, I’m a Christian. I prayed some prayer when I was seven,” or, “I went forward at a revival,” or something else of that nature, but when you take a look at their life they live no differently than they did before their conversion? I’ve seen a lot of that. According to John, that sort of thing should cause us to stop and think. Are such people truly saved? Ultimately we don’t know anyone else’s heart, so we can’t say for certain, but John’s words should be a wakeup call for everyone.

A life characterized by sin is good evidence against someone’s salvation. Listen to what John says to that effect in 3:4-6: “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” When reading these verses we have to be careful because it can sound like a Christian will never sin if we don’t take investigate further. I can hear someone say, “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not? Are you saying that a Christian will never sin?” Of course not, because that would contradict statements John himself made, such as this one in 1:8- “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” What, then, does John mean? In the original languages the word “sinneth” means “a lifestyle of sin.” It is someone who lives continuously in sin.

To be sure of our own salvation, and to demonstrate our salvation to others, we must be obedient to the commands of Christ. Since this is the case, it is only natural that we should go on to discover these commandments. Fortunately, John offers us some help. In 3:24 John says “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.”

Conclusion and Application
How beautiful! John gives us three things; three seemingly separate areas in which we should be able to gain assurance of our salvation. But then he comes and shows us that these three things, doctrine, love for the brethren, and obedience, are really one.

I believe in the power of the Word of God. Whenever we dig into the Bible and ask God to change us to His standard, to make His character our character, these three things will grow in our lives and we will know that, to quote 5:13 again, “that ye have eternal life.” I want you to be encouraged, Christian. In your darkest moments reflect on your life. Is it characterized by sin? No? Be assured. Do you love your brothers and sisters in Christ? Yes? Be assured. Do you believe in Jesus Christ, both God and man, as your savior? Yes? Then above all else, be assured. Jesus has prepared a place for you in heaven.

Some of you may be thinking, “I don’t have all of these things. Are you saying I’m not a Christian?” That is not something I can know for certain, but I do know what John has said in this epistle, and you should examine your life to make certain of your salvation. This is too important to let pride or stubbornness stand in the way.

Still others of you may say, “I’m not a Christian at all, and I don’t claim to be. What does 1 John say to me?” Well, friend, you still need to take that first step. You need to believe the truth about Jesus. He is the Son of God, and He is truly man. He died to deliver His people from their sins, and this salvation is offered to you tonight.

If you take anything home with you tonight, take this phrase, which I think captures the essence of 1 John. It is our obedience to Christ in loving our brothers, and our love of true doctrine, that will demonstrate our Christianity. To God be the glory.