Thursday, October 18, 2018

Teachableness

Proverbs 15:31-33
[31] The ear that listens to life-giving reproof
will dwell among the wise.
[32] Whoever ignores instruction despises himself,
but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.
[33] The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom,
and humility comes before honor. 

The Book of Proverbs says much about how the fear of the Lord leads to wisdom. One way the the fear of the Lord does so is that it cultivates a habit of teachableness. This theme is repeated multiple times throughout the book of Proverbs (10:17, 12:1, 13:18, 15:5, 27:5-6, 28:23). It is at the root of our Christian identity as disciples and takes self-conscious effort to pursue. Proverbs 15:33 explicitly connects this trait with the fear of the Lord: “The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom.”

The precise relation between the “fear of the Lord” and “instruction of wisdom” can seem a little ambiguous. Some translations take this to say that the fear of the Lord “is what wisdom teaches” (HCSB), while others, that the fear of the Lord “provides wise instruction” (NET). While both are true, if we compare it with the rest of the verse we find that just as humility comes before honor, so the fear of the Lord comes before the instruction of wisdom. It enables us to receive instruction. Combining this with the preceding two verses, we can paraphrase this passage by saying: “The one who fears the LORD will humbly accept instruction and reproof and thus gain life and honor.” The fear of the Lord is life-giving because it makes one teachable and open to correction and instruction. The fear of the Lord (1) gives us a desire for instruction, (2) directs our response to instruction, and (3) frees us to accept instruction.

1. It gives us a desire for instruction. If we fear the Lord, we submit ourselves to Him. This is not the fear that causes us to run from God, but rather the fear that causes us to draw near to serve and worship Him. We realize how awe-inspiring and powerful our God is, and we therefore bind ourselves to His service. This was the reaction of the disciples when they saw their risen Lord in Galilee (Matt. 28:16-20). They worshipped. Then Jesus gave them their marching orders, a life-long mission of discipleship. If we fear the Lord, we will take His word as law. His word of justification and his word of command is final. The fear of the Lord subdues us to teachableness.

It is unfortunate that the word “discipleship” is not used in the culture at large. It makes its meaning more difficult to grasp. It is sometimes used today as just another word for “being a Christian.” Its true meaning is more precise. It refers to a learner, a student, a follower, an intern. As disciples, we are all interns of Christ. We are learning on-the-job, ever looking for correction and counsel, seeking to improve. Internships are interactive. Reading books are helpful, but we need interaction as well. As an Old French proverb has it: "All things can be learned in solitude except character." The Bible is active and living – it is not an ordinary book – but Jesus does not disciple us by the book alone. We, as the body of Christ, disciple each other in the ways of Christ. The Bible is preached and taught by people. We bring Jesus’ word of justification and command to one another. This is the meaning of the Great Commission. In Colossians 3:16, the word of Christ dwells richly among us when we teach and admonish one another. We find Christ among His people. Some, such as parents and pastors, have a special charge to teach and disciple those under them. 1 Thessalonians 5:12 tells Christians to respect those who are “over you in the Lord and admonish you,” but then in verse 14 he also seems to tell Christians generally to “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” Ephesians 4 also speaks of the importance of pastors and teaches to equip the saints, but then it says that the saints should work together, speaking the truth in love to one another.

Being discipled by Christ through His body is intrusive. Being corrected and critiqued–being told where I have failed or where and what I can do better–these things can hurt at the moment. They are not easy. But if we are going to get anywhere in life–if we are going to be serious about loving our God and loving one another–these things need to happen. Taking personal offense at every correction will hinder our discipleship. Pride is so worthless, counterproductive, and foolish. You and I need to grow. May we love our God and one another more than our pride.

2. The fear of the LORD directs our response to instruction. A potential objection to teachableness is that it leads to being led astray by whoever catches your ear. You want to find something substantial and lasting, and it seems that if you open yourselves up to correction or counsel you will loose your stability. If we become open to advice, how do we know we won’t end up like a tumbleweed, blown every way? Yet, this is not the openness taught here in Proverbs. Proverbs refers to a willingness to receive instruction and reproof that is rooted in the fear of the Lord. 

Can you picture someone who is eager to be discipled by his God and to receive this instruction from a brother, but hears instead some strange opinion or novel invention? He raises an eyebrow and says, “Thank you for your advice, but where does my Lord say that?” If I fear the Lord, I will evaluate instruction by the word of the Lord and I was especially desire instruction that is based on His word. I am not bound by everything my friend tells me. The fear of the Lord helps me interpret the advice I receive – it is the lens through which we see the advice. Without the fear of the Lord, advice is worthless. A fool can make terrible use of wonderful advice and be led astray by bad advice. If you truly fear the Lord, you will not be consumed by debatable opinions or deceived by falsehood. The fear of the Lord anchors us so that we may receive correction without the fear of being led astray.

When we receive instruction in the fear of the Lord, this instruction is "life-giving" and leads to "intelligence," "wisdom," and "honor" (Prov. 15:31-33). It is the one who refuses to hear instruction and reproof who is more likely to go his own way, "tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes" (Eph. 4:14). 

3. The fear of the LORD frees us to accept instruction. Another reason we are hesitant to accept instruction is because we sometimes fear man more than we fear the Lord. We fear man when we look to man for justification, when our sense of worth and identity is based on the words of man. We fear man when we become people-pleasers and serve the opinions of man. The fear of man leads to flattery, hypocrisy, and anxiety. 

The fear of God frees us from the fear of man. God’s word of justification is final. If we no longer seek justification from people, we are free to be confronted by them. Since we no longer depend upon each other for our justification, a word of challenge from them no longer threatens our identity. Rather than shrinking back in terror, we can receive it with sober teachableness. This is similar to our relation to the law. Because the law does not condemn us, we are free to be confronted and discipled by it. Because we are sons, and not slaves, we can willingly accept the Lord’s discipline.

Proverbs 29:25 says that “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.” The fear of man brings worry, deception, distrust, shallow relationships, and retreat. But the fear of the Lord brings life, honor, intrusive but deep relationships, and growth. We are safe in the word of our Lord. We are so safe, that we can accept the instruction of our brother. We are secure.


Reproof gives life, and one despises it at the peril of their life. This is the way to honor, this is the way to prosperity. The peaceful and fulfilled life comes through the intense and intrusive path of discipleship. Teachableness may not sound fun, but it is a joy when one sees the big picture. We get discontent with shallow relationships, community that is not authentic, church that brings no change to our lives. If you want deep, loving relationships and a church that grows and matures, you need to make yourself available and open. We cannot put all the responsibility on others to confront us. We need to encourage this atmosphere by our own words and deeds. If someone has insight, if someone has wisdom for us, let them speak. To reach life and honor we need to commit ourselves to stay when corrected, to not flee when things become uncomfortable. It is then that we will dwell among the wise, as fellow interns of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

Thy Kingdom Come

"Thy kingdom come" (Matthew 6:10a).

Commenting on this part of the Lord's Prayer in his Commentary on Matthew, Mark, Luke, John Calvin says the following:
"We must first attend to the definition of the kingdom of God. He is said to reign among men, when they voluntarily devote and submit themselves to be governed by him, placing their flesh under the yoke, and renouncing their desires....There is still another way in which God reigns; and that is, when he overthrows his enemies, and compels them, with Satan their head, to yield a reluctant subjection to his authority, 'till they all be made his footstools' (Hebrews 10:13).  
The substance of this prayer is, that God would enlighten the world by the light of his Word, — would form the hearts of men, by the influences of his Spirit, to obey his justice, and would restore to order, by the gracious exercise of his power, all the disorder that exists in the world. Now, he commences his reign by subduing the desires of our flesh. Again, as the kingdom of God is continually growing and advancing to the end of the world, we must pray every day that it may come: for to whatever extent iniquity abounds in the world, to such an extent the kingdom of God, which brings along with it perfect righteousness, is not yet come."
When we pray "Thy kingdom come," we pray for this kingdom to grow and advance now, as well as for its ultimate consummation. While Calvin roots the kingdom in God's work of redemption among His church, he has a broad view of the kingdom's claims and expectations. The kingdom is present, the kingdom is growing and advancing in breadth and depth, and the kingdom calls for the absolute submission of ourselves and the world. To the extent that there is disorder, injustice, and iniquity in this world, to that extent the kingdom is not yet come, and to that extent do we desire the kingdom to come. As Isaac Watts had said, Christ came "to make his blessings flow / far as the curse is found." Only Jesus can save us from the reign of sin and misery. May Christ so extend the gracious power of His word and the powerful arm of His judgment to overthrow the domain of darkness and restore to peace and submission all the rebellion and disorder that exists in the world.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

A Survey of Revelation 20:1-6

Revelation 20:1–6
"[1] Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. [2] And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, [3] and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
[4] Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. [5] The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. [6] Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years."

Revelation 20:1-6 has been a much debated passage in discussions about what the Bible teaches about the future. Its mention of a "thousand years" has given rise to the common labels for eschatological views (i.e. views of the future): premillennialism (i.e. Christ returns before the thousand years), amillennialism (i.e. there is no literal or earthly thousand year reign), and postmillennialism (i.e. Christ returns after the thousand years, whether literal or figurative). Here I give a brief survey of this passage, first giving the premillennial explanation (Mounce, Bauckham, Keener), and then responding with the amillennial (Beale) and postmillennial (Mathison, Chilton) explanation. 


How bound is Satan? Is this a total or partial restriction of activity?

Some would interpret the binding of Satan in this passage to be a “complete cessation of his influence on earth.” They would appeal to the way words like “bound,” “threw,” “shut,” and “sealed” are used in this passage (Mounce, 360-362).

Others, though, point out that the binding of Satan is defined and qualified by the purpose clause, "so that he might not deceive," in verse 3 (Mathison, 155; Beale, 428-429; Chilton, 499-504). Satan is bound in such a way as to not deceive the nations anymore. He is unable to prevent the spread of the gospel. Satan is defeated, although not inactive. Scripture is quite capable of speaking this way about Satan current condition resulting from Christ’s work during his first coming (binding of the strong man: Matt. 12:19, Mark 3:27; fall of Satan and the authority given to disciples to trample him: Luke 10:18-19, John 12:31, Rom. 16:20; disarming demonic forces: Col. 2:15; rendering Satan powerless: Heb. 2:14). This passage also seems to describe the same events of Revelation 12:7-12, which would place the timing immediately following Christ’s ascension (Rev. 12:6).


When are the thousand years? Are they literal or figurative?

A number of people will take this passage to refer to a literal 1,000 year period (many premillennialists and some postmillennialists). Others, on the other hand, take it as a symbol that teaches us a truth, without reference to how it works out historically. “John expected the martyrs to be vindicated, but the millennium depicts the meaning, rather than predicting the manner of their vindication” (Bauckham, 108; see also Mounce, 369).

I would agree with Beale in understanding this millennium as figurative and historical, referring to the time between Christ’s first and second comings. Beale describes several reasons to take the millennium figuratively, such as the figurative use of numbers in the context and in Revelation in general, the use of “thousand years” figuratively elsewhere in Christian and Jewish literature, and the fact that this is the only time that a millennium is mentioned in Scripture (Beale, 435).


Are the thousand years before or after Christ’s coming? 

Some would argue that the millennium follows Christ’s coming and precedes the final judgment (Keener, 463). This view depends on a reading of Revelation that takes the visions John sees as describing events that all happen one after another. They will point out that chapter 19 describes Christ’s second coming, so Revelation 20:1-6 must describe a period after this.

On the other hand, I believe that the visions of Revelation sometimes describe the same events. Even in our passage, verses 1-3 describe the whole millennium and then verses 4-6 (introduced by another “and I saw”) describe the same millennium, this time focusing on the faithful, rather than on the dragon. Likewise, it is argued that Revelation 20:1-6 does not follow after the events of 19:11-21, but that it recaps the events from Christ’s first coming to His second. Beale argues that 19:11-21 is parallel to 20:7-10, and that the vision of 20:1-6 is therefore prior to 19:11-21 (Beale, 420-426). Chilton argues that 19:11-21 presents the spread of the kingdom in general, especially against Rome, and that it parallels the millennium (Chilton, 506-507; Mathison, 154-155; in favor of this, it can also be said that Christ describes his activity in the 1st century in 2:16 in the same terms as are used in 19:11-21). Either way, the millennium does not follow Christ’s coming. (See also the discussion of Satan’s binding, above.)


Who is ruling with Christ?

Some would argue that only the martyrs participate in this millennial reign, reading verse 4 to refer to one group of people (Mounce, 365-368; Bauckham, 106-108). Others would argue that all deceased Christians participate in this reign (Beale, 437). More convincing is the idea that the whole church, on earth and in heaven, shares in this reign, although the passage emphasizes the reign of the martyrs because they in particular appear defeated (Mathison, 156; Chilton, 508-515; Osborne, 703-704). Verse 4 seems to speak of two groups: (1) the martyrs in particular and (2) whoever had not worshiped the beast. This would also fit with what other passages say about the authority and heavenly position given to all believers (Luke 10:19, Dan. 7:22-27, Eph. 2:6, Rev. 12:11, 15:2).


What is the “first resurrection”? In what way do the martyrs and faithful come to life in verse 4?

This first resurrection is taken by some to be the bodily resurrection of the martyrs (or all Christians), while unbelievers await resurrection unto the second death at the end of the millennium.

Beale argues that this first resurrection is a spiritual exaltation in the intermediate state (Beale, 438-451). He describes it as the “ascent of the soul at the time of death into the Lord’s presence” (Beale, 443). The reference to the “souls” of the martyrs coming to life (rather than the body) would be part of the argument for this position.

Others would agree that there is only one general bodily resurrection, but explain the first resurrection as our regeneration and coming to new life in Christ (Mathison, 156). John, the author of Revelation, made a similar point in his gospel when he recorded that Jesus spoke of some of the dead coming to life now and all the dead coming to life in a bodily resurrection later (John 5:25, 28-29). The first resurrection is therefore not merely a sign that one is blessed and holy, free from the second death, and priests and kings, but it is what actually makes them so. Being born again in this age is the key to your spiritual position now and your destiny following the general resurrection on the last day.

------------------------------------- 

Bibliography
- 
Bauckham, Richard. The Theology of the Book of Revelation. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1993.
- 
Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999.

- Chilton, David. The Days of Vengeance. Horn Lake, MS: Dominion Press, 2006.
- Keener, Craig S. Revelation. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000. 
- Mathison, Keith A. Postmillennialism. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Pub, 1999.

- Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub., 1977.

- Osborne, Grant R. Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Church and Culture: What is the Church Supposed to Do?


In political and cultural discussions, I have often heard Christians say that the root problem (and solution) is the church. I agree. The church is the salt and light of the earth (Matthew 5:13-16). Society decays when its salt is removed or its light dimmed. Yet, people’s view of what the church is doing wrong (or should do right) varies. Sometimes it isn’t clear. Sometimes it seems that “the church” is simply an easy general target. This reformation of the church is important, so I thought I’d examine a few areas where the church should focus. 

- Prayer and Repentance. A verse that is often quoted with regard to social distress is 2 Chronicles 7:14, where God comes to Solomon after the dedication of the temple and says, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Obviously this had a specific context, but the principle is found throughout the Bible (e.g. Gen. 18:22-33, Jonah 3:6-10). Sometimes it is God’s will that the righteous suffer, but we cannot expect prosperity unless we repent of sin and turn in true devotion to the Lord. God is still sovereign over history, and He still holds His people to covenantal faithfulness. 

When we recognize that things are going badly, our first reaction should be to repent of our sins and turn in faith and obedience to Christ, knowing that it is God who sends curses and blessings. Then, as those who take refuge in Christ’s righteousness, we can turn to remove the speck out of our brother’s eye. If we believe that history is random and that God doesn’t judge sin in history, we will be prone to react in a self-righteous or apathetic manner. What we need is a stout doctrine of God’s sovereignty and a biblical pattern for earnest prayer. The Psalms would be a great place to start. In the end, we are lost unless we have heart-felt repentance and religious devotion to the triune God.

- Prophetic Proclamation. Something else that is mentioned in this context is the church’s duty to speak forth God’s word in a way that confronts the sin of man. An often-quoted statement that typifies this point is “Every abortion clinic should have a sign in front of it saying, ‘Open by the permission of the local church’” (attributed to Francis Schaeffer). The relative silence of the church on ethical issues is a problem. If “repentance and forgiveness of sins” is to be preached to all nations (Luke 24:47), then we will need to preach the law of God. We will have sermons like Paul’s sermon on “righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” (Acts 24:25) and John the Baptist’s practical message on the fruits of repentance as applied to tax collectors, soldiers, kings, and everyone (Luke 3:7-22). The law of God leads to repentance, restrains evil in society, and disciples Christ’s followers. From the preaching of Enoch and Noah to the visions of Revelation, the law has been preached to the world for its good. 

Some churches have tried to relevantly proclaim God’s ethical demands to our society. The church has not been totally silent. Yet, we can heed a few things that have hindered them. First, we must be careful to avoid being subsumed by non-Christian ideologies or parties. We can work with non-Christian groups and individuals on issues, but we must remain fundamentally loyal to the Bible rather than other ideologies or institutions. Second, we must also proclaim God’s redemptive promises in Christ alongside His law. Love and law, inseparable. Third, we must realize that those who reject biblical morals can appeal to the mainline churches who proclaim “peace, peace” when there is no peace (Jer. 8:11), soothing their consciences. Civil society feels free to disregard biblical preaching because Christianity lacks clear boundaries and unity. We will need to take seriously the unity of the church in the truth before the church will be taken seriously. 

- Charity. Health and welfare become corrupted when they are centralized in the hands of impersonal civil government bureaucracy. Not only does welfare suffer, but civil government gains more power and moves closer to totalitarian control. To limit civil government, we need to disperse the power of government by fulfilling our duty as the church to care for those in need. Christians should start by taking responsibility for the care of their households and relatives (1 Tim. 5:8). The church, privately and as an institution, should work to share its goods with other Christians who are in need: “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?” (1 John 3:17). The church should also seek to “do good to everyone” (Gal. 6:10). Just as God gives rain and sun to the unjust, so we ought to have compassion on all men, not just our brothers (Matt. 5:42-48).

This charity requires Christians who faithfully fund the diaconate with their tithes (Num. 18:21ff, Acts 6:1-7) and who are personally generous with their resources (Deut. 14:28-29, Luke 14:12-14). This also means speaking of the poor in compassionate, even if honest and unromantic, terms. “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him” (Prov. 14:31). Many Christians do this work, often behind the scenes, but many of us (myself included) could benefit from greater emphasis on this point. 

- Community. R.J. Rushdoony insightfully describes the situation:
“The stress on individualism has meant man’s unwillingness to live in community with others unless he finds it to his advantage. The modern answer thus to personal problems is not to resolve them but to move on to another group...If a problem with another person develops, that person is either cut out of the group, or one or more people leave to find a new association. Clubs, churches, and various associations thus have a continual floating population because of the lack of community…As a result, we all become “difficult” people, fixed in our ways and unwilling to live with the faults or failings of other people, which means also our unwillingness to change our own….Nisbet has pointed out how the decline of community means also the rise of totalitarianism…Totalitarianism is seen by many as freedom, because the irritating ties of man to man are replaced by the impersonal functionings of a statist bureaucracy.  
Practically, what this means is that if we do not enjoy too close a contact with people, and if we break with them readily if they do not suit us, then, whatever our politics, we are helping create a totalitarian regime. Whenever and wherever men’s lives are closely enmeshed with the lives of others, and where there is a strong mutual forbearance among people, the basic government is exerted by society…Our sensitivity to the standards of our group or community make us more restrained in our behavior. Where there is a strong community influence, there is less anarchistic liberty but more essential freedom” (The Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. 2, p. 65-66). 
If this is true of community in general, so how much more in the church, which is bound together by God’s word and covenant? If the church was a self-disciplined and functioning community it would work as a cultural core, an anchor or backbone for the rest of society and its values (or a clear witness against its rebellion). At the very least, the church would not be a burden or liability for society. It would be more likely that the liberty of the church and Christians would be respected. Irresponsibility and anarchic individualism leads to the necessity of totalitarian coercion. Freedom and blessing is found in submission, forgiveness, service, and discipline. This kind of community is found in Christ. May the church proclaim it by its words and deeds.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

The work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament is one that perhaps need more attention. Because the Spirit is often associated with the greater blessings of the new covenant, it is often assumed that the Spirit did not operate on believers, or at least most of them, in the old covenant. But this raises some difficulties. How could people believe and have faith without the Spirit? Aren't we dead until He regenerates us to new life? Isn't He by definition given to all believers? How could any Old Testament saint have been circumcised in the heart without the Spirit operating within? 

Also a problem is that David speaks of being regenerated and sanctified by the Spirit in Psalm 51:10-12. 
"Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit."
Some say that this was a kingly anointing of the Spirit that David was speaking about, but David seems to be talking of a clean heart, God's presence, and salvation, not his kingship. Also, the Psalms were not merely David's private devotional. They were (and are) meant to be sung by the people of God. All Israel (i.e. all the church) was to identify with this kind of repentance and longing for the Holy Spirit.

Psalm 143:9-10 also speaks of the Spirit's work in the life of individual believers:
"Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord!
I have fled to you for refuge.
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God!
Let your good Spirit lead me
on level ground!"
Additionally, Isaiah 63:10-14 recounts the Spirit's work in the redemption of Israel under Moses. 

I do believe that the New Testament brought about a significantly greater indwelling of the Spirit (Ezek. 36:25-27, Joel 2:32, Deut. 30:6, Acts 2, etc...) and that this is the root of many of the discontinuities between the testaments. With a greater abundance of the Spirit, we should be more mature than we were in the Old Testament. We were children then, we should be grown up now (Gal. 4:1-7), not needing the shadows and elementary principles of the old covenant. 

John 14:16-17 should probably be mentioned: 
"And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you."
Jesus here teaches that the Spirit is not someone totally new, but someone that the disciples already had in a way. In fact, the reason why the disciples could receive the Helper was because (unlike the world) they were already in relationship with Him because He dwelt with them.

The greater outpouring is not only in strength, but also in inspiration (of the New Testament), expansion (to the Gentiles), and gifts.

On the topic of gifts, perhaps we can make it a little easier by making this distinction: the Spirit regenerates/sanctifies people (John 3:1-8) and He gives them gifts for the edification of the body (1 Cor. 12). In the Old Testament, all believers were renewed and sanctified by the Spirit, but not all were given gifts, which seemed to have been more restricted to special offices and tasks (e.g. Ex. 31:30-35). Some, like Saul, seem to even have been given the gift without the saving renewal. The highest anointing of the Spirit was given to Jesus for His role as the Messiah (Messiah and Christ mean "anointed one"). Now with the NT outpouring of the Spirit, Joel prophesied that a distinctive character of it would be that it would be on all kinds of flesh: sons, daughters, young, old, slave, free (Acts 2:16-21). In other words, all believers are given special gifts for the edification of the body (1 Cor. 12). There are still special (and important) gifts of leadership (Eph. 4:1-16), but even these are for the empowering of the body (so they can use their gifts better).

This is obviously an important and difficult topic, and it can be explored much more. I'm still learning and hope to continue to grow in knowledge. This is my best shot at the topic for now. Whatever the case may be, we should rejoice that God has given us His Spirit and saved us into a loving relationship with the triune God. Praise the Holy Spirit! We would be dead men without Him. 

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P.S. I couldn't help but notice the interesting connection in Ezekiel 36:25-27 between "I will sprinkle clean water on you" in verse 25 and "I will put my Spirit within you" in verse 27. Perhaps this has something to say about the mode and meaning of baptism? Also, when Deuteronomy 30 prophesies the new covenant, it says that God will "circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring." It seems like the children of believers are included under the new covenant as they were under the old.  

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Importance of Christian Community to the Christian Life

Christian community used to be taken for granted, but with the dissolution of Christendom, we now wonder if it is even possible or desirable. Does the Christian life consist of private piety unrelated to society and culture, or is it inescapably related to one’s community? The growing discouragement about today’s society has many Christians backing away from the idea of a Christian community. Either they retreat from community altogether, or they decide we can play around in the world’s community without being distinctively Christian. I am taking the word "community" here to mean not merely people who like each other, but an organic system of people who live with each other, sharing a common culture. How we view this kind of system has great impact in how we think and live. As the concept of Christian community is examined, it should be evident that it is thoroughly interwoven into the Christian life.

The Christian life does not happen in a vacuum. A Christian does not arrive on the scene without any background or relations. The fifth commandment is foundational for a successful Christian life and culture. “Honor your father and mother...that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land” (Eph. 6:2-3). Proverbs is full of exhortations to pay heed to one’s parents’ instruction and training. What a person receives from his parents will form the initial context and position for his life. Our glory and status is our fathers (Prov. 17:6), and some of us have been given more from them than others. What a person receives will determine, in part, his culpability and responsibility. “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12:48). Of course, parents are not the only authorities and influences in our lives. The command to honor parents has been traditionally understood to extend to the general principle found throughout the Bible of “preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to everyone in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 305). Our community gives us a context in which to live and a heritage on which to improve. Obedience does not merely require a knowledge of our motivations and God’s revealed will. It also requires an understanding of our situation and who we are. In other words, our obedience to God requires a biblical understanding of our community.

The development of a distinctively Christian community is important since our life and work will often reflect the values of our community. Our formal worship of God is a corporate expression of worship as we gather with His people. Our liturgy, if it is done biblically (1 Cor. 14), will be done in a way understandable to the congregation, and thus will start with their culture. “Good communication will be rendered when the listener's own language is used, when his cultural world is penetrated by the communicator” (Lee, 6). This will likely cause problems because ungodly cultures will have formerly been in rebellion to God, suppressing the truth. A renewal of culture by transforming society will be necessary for a mature liturgy. The same happens with economics and art. An ungodly community will have ungodly values determining its work and commerce. For a Christian to participate in economics, he will need to communicate and interact with this ungodly economy to some extent. Art, as a special kind of communication, generally reflects the cultural values and shared experiences of a community, and it runs into problems when faced by a rebellious culture. With nothing less than a Christian community operating with biblical values will we be able to produce mature worship, economics, and art.

The influence of community can be used for good or evil. While its evil influence in our current culture has often been pointed out, the Bible also teaches its use for good (e.g. Prov. 5:12-14, 6:20-24). The man who seeks to isolate himself from others “breaks out against all sound judgment” (Prov. 18:1). While evil company can lead people astray into death, a Christian community is a vital support for the Christian. For a man to cut himself off from community is to cut off the past and future for the mere enjoyment of the present. This is a proud way of dying. Even to cut one’s self off from weak and young Christians, at least if done on principle, can be a danger because it tends to replace the reality of unity in Christ with a community defined by human qualifications. “The exclusion of the weak and insignificant, the seemingly useless people, from a Christian community may actually mean the exclusion of Christ” (Bonhoeffer, 37-38).

As we pointed out above, God has designed the family to play a large part in the development of Christians, bringing up children in the Lord’s discipline, in His way of life (Eph. 6:4, Prov. 22:6). Individuals and families are also strengthened by the church, where the Spirit has given each person gifts for the benefit of all (1 Cor. 12:7). The ordained preachers of the church are the gifts given by Christ to build up His church so that the members may minister to one another (Eph. 4:16). This close community of believers will give Christians strength to face the task of interacting with the larger community. As we seek to create broader communities that operate on Christian principles, we need to start with a community that does so self-consciously and in opposition to the general culture. We need the church if we are going to lead.
“Deviant subcultures can survive only if they form permanent and effective communities to stand in opposition to the larger society. In sociological terms, they need to have ‘plausibility structures’ that will support their deviance and that can only come from a close community of like-minded deviants” (Schlossberg, 321).

Not only does the church support each individual in his or her life, but the whole body is on a unified mission: the global dominion of Christ (Matt. 28:18-20). Christ ascended on high and gave His gifts to His church that “that he might fill all things” (Eph. 4:10). To live the Christian life apart from the church and her mission is inconceivable. We have been saved into an organically connected body and given gifts for her benefit. This is not just so that each member (e.g. eye, ear, hand, etc...) is healthy, but so that the whole body works together to accomplish its job. This mission given in Matthew 28:18-20 is to make the nations Christ’s disciples. Thus, the church’s mission is to create Christian communities. We create Christian communities through the Christian community of the church.

Christian community, then, is not only a context and support, but is a goal of the Christian life. This all gets back to the two greatest commandments: to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbor. There is a reason that visiting widows and orphans in their affliction is one of the highest expressions of the Christian life (James 1:27). We love because God first loved us. Love is the mark of the Christian. We cannot love God and hate our brother–that is a contradiction (1 John 4:20-21). We are to constantly exhort our brothers (Heb. 3:13), building unity and love between us and worshipping God together. Even beyond our Christian brothers, we are to do good to all men (Gal. 6:10) and love our enemies (Matt. 5:44). We are to let our lights shine before men, bearing witness to the gospel to all those around us. As peace is made between us and God through Christ’s sacrifice, peace should follow between men, uniting what Adam’s fall into sin broke apart.

The church’s mission is to make the nations Christ’s disciples by baptizing and teaching them. As members of these nations being discipled, we must apply what is taught. The church has a comprehensive mission, but it is not comprehensive itself. The church is not in the business of the actual economic production, political administration, etc... per se, but the members of the church are to live the Christian life in all areas, according to all that Christ commanded. These cultural activities would then form the basis of the broader Christian community and nation. “As the number of converts increase, this providentially leads to the subsuming under the authority of Christ whole institutions, cultures, societies, and governments” (Gentry, Jr., 54). Even non-Christians, by the fact of their participation in the same community, would begin to take on the habits and assumed cultural values of the Christians. Christianity would become the primary reference point and shared experience by which people would communicate and think.

And not only would the community be more Christian, but Christians would become more communal. People who see one another for a few hours once a week will not be able to love each other very deeply compared to those who also work together six days a week. People who sing, eat, dress, dance, and play together will have relationships sealed with the beauty of art. The shared reference point of the Bible will give culture stability and meaning, enabling it to flourish. The culture will in turn reenforce the community as a means of fellowship. This will not work without the love of Christ in believers to hold people together, but this is where the love of Christ leads.

In short, the Christian life aims at nothing less than the reign of Christ over the nations, and that is nothing less than Christendom. We should never lose sight of the origin of this reign: the Spirit’s work in the heart of the individual. However, we must not stop there. Christ has called us to a life which is shaped by our relations to people and things around us. He has given us our families and churches to provide mutual support and a unified force. He has given us a task of creating Christian communities by the right of His kingly authority. This is both a grand and an eminently practical mission. It gets down to the simple decisions of everyday life. This vision, though, does not occur naturally. It will take a self-conscious love for others that breaks out of the anti-Christian trends of society. It may feel awkward because it will challenge the premises of modern society. It may feel dangerous because it will deal with real human relationships. It may feel insignificant because it will start like a mustard seed, hidden in local communities and neighborhoods. Nevertheless, this is the life to which we were called by Christ, and so let us joyfully pursue it.

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Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Life Together. New York, NY: HarperOne, 1954.
Gentry, Jr., Kenneth L. The Greatness of the Great Commission. Tyler, TX: Institutes for Christian Economics, 1990.
Holy Bible (ESV), The. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003.
Lee, F. Nigel “Lecture 6: Language, Folklore, and Communication” SOC208 Sociology. Lakeland, FL: Whitefield, 2008.
Schlossberg, Herbert Idols for Destruction. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1990.
Westminster Confession of Faith. Glasgow: Free Presbyterian Publications, 1994.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Loving the Hard-to-Love Church

I am currently reading, among other things, John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. I am in the beginning of book 4 where Calvin teaches concerning the church. It is a wonderful book, and in one section Calvin makes a helpful point about patience with erring brothers and churches which I hadn't thought of before:
"They exclaim that it is impossible to tolerate the vice which everywhere stalks abroad like a pestilence. What if the apostle’s sentiment applies here also? Among the Corinthians it was not a few that erred, but almost the whole body had become tainted; there was not one species of sin merely, but a multitude, and those not trivial errors, but some of them execrable crimes. There was not only corruption in manners, but also in doctrine. What course was taken by the holy apostle, in other words, by the organ of the heavenly Spirit, by whose testimony the Church stands and falls? Does he seek separation from them? Does he discard them from the kingdom of Christ? Does he strike them with the thunder of a final anathema? He not only does none of these things, but he acknowledges and heralds them as a Church of Christ, and a society of saints. If the Church remains among the Corinthians, where envyings, divisions, and contentions rage; where quarrels, lawsuits, and avarice prevail; where a crime, which even the Gentiles would execrate, is openly approved; where the name of Paul, whom they ought to have honoured as a father, is petulantly assailed; where some hold the resurrection of the dead in derision, though with it the whole gospel must fall; where the gifts of God are made subservient to ambition, not to charity; where many things are done neither decently nor in order: If there the Church still remains, simply because the ministration of word and sacrament is not rejected, who will presume to deny the title of church to those to whom a tenth part of these crimes cannot be imputed? How, I ask, would those who act so morosely against present churches have acted to the Galatians, who had done all but abandon the gospel (Gal. 1:6), and yet among them the same apostle found churches?"
May we have the patience of Paul to work with erring Christian churches, speaking the truth in love, hoping all things in the process (1 Cor. 13:7). May we remember that no church will be perfect, but that all churches will require love and patience. Would you have remained at the church at Corinth?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Council of Gangra

The council of Gangra was an eastern church council held in the 300s A.D. (between the councils of Nicaea and Constantinople) and directed to suppress a schismatic, ascetic movement in Armenia. It has some very interesting, biblical points. Here are a couple of them:
Canon I: If any one shall condemn marriage, or abominate and condemn a woman who is a believer and devout, and sleeps with her own husband, as though she could not enter the Kingdom [of heaven] let him be anathema. 
Canon II: If any one shall condemn him who eats flesh, which is without blood and has not been offered to idols nor strangled, and is faithful and devout, as though the man were without hope [of salvation] because of his eating, let him be anathema. 
Canon XIII: If any woman, under pretence of asceticism, shall change her apparel and, instead of a woman’s accustomed clothing, shall put on that of a man, let her be anathema. 
Canon XV: If anyone shall forsake his own children and shall not nurture them, nor so far as in him lies, rear them in becoming piety, but shall neglect them, under pretence of asceticism, let him be anathema. 
Canon XVI: If, under any pretence of piety, any children shall forsake their parents, particularly [if the parents are] believers, and shall withhold becoming reverence from their parents, on the plea that they honour piety more than them, let them be anathema. 
Canon XVII: If any woman from pretended asceticism shall cut off her hair, which God gave her as the reminder of her subjection, thus annulling as it were the ordinance of subjection, let her be anathema. 
Canon XVIII: If any one, under pretence of asceticism, shall fast on Sunday, let him be anathema.

The whole thing is beneficial to read and can be found here: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf214.viii.v.iii.html

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Family Economy of Daniel Boone

Seeing the family as central to work and economics has been a very common view throughout time. An example of this can be found in the life of one of America’s frontier heroes. In the life of Daniel Boone we can see a family that worked as a unified economy and built a multigenerational legacy of creative and diligent dominion taking. It was families like these that formed the economic foundation for our country.

Daniel Boone was born in 1734 in the Schuylkill Valley of Pennsylvania. He was the sixth of eleven children. He was raised in an enterprising home that took on tasks such as weaving, blacksmithing, and farming. Each family member had a job to do and contributed in his/her own way to the family’s work. Daniel’s mother, Sarah Boone, took care of the family’s dairy industry. From his tenth to his seventeenth year, Daniel’s chief occupation was to be her assistant. He was to watch, take care of, and herd the cows. Daniel, as a ten year old who spent much time in the woods, would carry a club and would hunt birds and small game with it. A few years later he got a gun and became a good marksman and hunter as well as a herdsman. During this time Daniel was “homeschooled” by his older brother, Samuel, and Samuel’s wife. They taught him to write a little, read, and spell. After the Boone family moved to North Carolina, Daniel worked in his father’s blacksmith/gunsmith shop for a time. After that, he used his hunting and trapping skills for profit in the winter, and would work as a teamster for his family in the summer, bringing in their diverse produce into market. The lessons he learned of responsibility, initiative, and literacy were to prove very important as he grew to be a man and a leader.

At the age of 22 Daniel Boone married Rebecca Bryan and set to establish his own household. While the young family started out living on Daniel’s father’s land, they soon established themselves on their own land. They grew and made quite a bit of what they needed. Daniel also earned money by hauling goods by wagon for hire, hunting, and trapping. That way they could buy the things which they couldn’t produce themselves. Regrettably the hunting and trapping often required him being away from the family for weeks and even months at a time. But even when the family was separated, they still worked for their own household economy. As Daniel had done growing up, he had his own job and responsibility, but it fit into the larger plan of the whole family. And Daniel still sought to integrate his family, especially his sons, into his hunts as best he could. One of his sons later told how Daniel “started taking James [Daniel’s first son] on hunts when he was seven or eight years old; and sometimes during a cold, snowy spell, Father would have difficulty in keeping little James comfortably warm and could do so only by hugging him up to him.”

On the longer hunts Daniel took his younger brother, Squire Boone Jr., and with him started to explore Kentucky. In 1775 Daniel led his family and other families to this land. There weren’t many “job openings”, but there was a lot of work to do and abundant resources to improve. A new problem, though, faced them. This was the beginning of the American War for Independence. The British-allied Indian tribes (who had long disputed among themselves the ownership of Kentucky) began to attack the American settlers. The Boone family and the families with them now had to work together, not only to provide, but to defend themselves. These families worked, suffered, and sometimes died together. With hard work these families subdued and civilized the wilderness. As Daniel later said, “we behold Kentucky, lately a howling wilderness, the habitation of savages and wild beasts, become a fruitful field…in the midst of a raging war, and under all the disadvantages of emigration…Here, where the hand of violence shed the blood of the innocent, where the horrid yells of savages and the groans of the distressed sounded in our ears, we now hear the praises and adorations of our Creator.” After more than twenty years of frontier violence the Boones were even more tightly woven as a social economic unit.

As the Indian troubles died down, the Boone family continued to support themselves with various family businesses such as growing ginseng, farming, hunting, trapping, running a general store, surveying, etc… They had a weakness, though, in keeping up with their paperwork, and not all the new settlers in Kentucky were as virtuous and trustworthy as the Boones. It wasn’t long before the Boones were involved with land disputes and other financial claims made against them. Instead of spending the rest of his life defending his land claims, Daniel sold what he could, paid off his debts, relinquished his rights to his disputed lands, and moved to Missouri in 1799.

When Daniel moved to Missouri, it was a migration of a community. Not only his immediate household moved, but also his grown children, relatives, and friends. There Daniel spent the last twenty years of his life enjoying the fruits of his labor. While Daniel and Rebecca had land of their own, they spent most of their time with their children’s families who provided for and took care of the aging couple. Daniel still went hunting and trapping with his children and grandchildren, even into his eighties. He spent his time telling stories of the old days to his grandchildren, and anyone else that came by, up to his last day. He saw his children and children-in-law follow in his footsteps as military leaders in the War of 1812, and as those respected in the community with enterprising families of their own. He and his wife had 10 children, 70 grandchildren, and 364 great-grandchildren. This progeny formed an important part of the communities of Kentucky and Missouri. Even the deaths of the Daniel and Rebecca showed the strength of their family. Rebecca died after she and Daniel had aided their daughter’s family in making sugar. Daniel died after being cared for by his grandson-in-law, Dr. John Jones, in his son Nathan’s house with children, grandchildren, relatives, and friends gathered around. The funeral was preached by another grandson-in-law, Rev. James Craig.

The later western explorations would tend to become less family oriented. Although the family and covered wagon continued the tradition of family settlement, it would become more common for the explorations to be composed of mountain men employed by fur companies, military expeditions, miners with families back east, and cowboys. The life of Daniel Boone is a great example of using the family to take dominion and subdue the earth. May we learn from his example and remember to be diligent, flexible, creative; to train our children, and to honor our parents in their old age. May we see our families, as Daniel Boone saw his, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion” (Genesis 1:28).



Main Sources Used: 
Boone, Colonel Daniel Daniel Boone: His Own Story. Bedford, MA: Applewood Books, 1996. (Originally: The Adventures of Daniel Boone, 1784)

My Father, Daniel Boone: The Draper Interviews with Nathan Boone. Ed. Neal O. Hammon. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 1999.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Glory of Children is Their Fathers

"Grandchildren are the crown of the aged,
and the glory of children is their fathers." 
Proverbs 17:6

Somehow I have read this verse before and only noticed the first line. It is common for parents and grandparents to glory in their children and grandchildren. For example, we can think of the common bumper sticker: "My child is an honor student at _____." But how many children recognize that their fathers are their glory? How many recognize that to dishonor or honor their parents is to dishonor or honor themselves? 

As the child of my father, I bear his name, Bringe. He is my reputation and glory. I inherit a heritage from him, as he did from his father. My son will inherit it from me. We are not disconnected individuals, but are united with past generations in our families. While the idea of the honor of a family and the inheritance of glory and responsibility by right of birth may seem antiquated to us, it is biblical. While some family legacies may be better than others, the command to honor father and mother is given to all. Some of us are given two talents, some are given five (Matt. 25:14-30). Let us all improve on what we have been given, striving to both maintain the honor of our fathers and to leave an even better inheritance for our children. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Manly Sacrifice

There are two kinds of sacrificial men. The first is the man who sacrifices his duty, responsibility, and authority. The second is the man who sacrifices his pleasure, privilege, and life. The first is a lover of self, a slave, and a coward. The second is a lover of others, a man of authority, and a hero. The prime example of the first is the first Adam. The prime example of the second is the second Adam, Jesus Christ. We, as Christian men, are called to imitate Christ. The men of the Titanic, as products of a fading Christendom, did this on the night of April 14th/15th, 1912.

"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her..." (Ephesians 5:25)