Thursday, November 6, 2014

Two Prerequisites of a Good Prayer

“A good prayer that is heard by God has two prerequisites. First, we must consider God’s promise that he will hear us. By reminding him of his promise, we can dare to pray confidently.”

“Second, we must not doubt what the true and faithful God promises to do. He promises to hear our prayers—yes, he even commands us to pray. He promises this so that we might firmly believe that our prayers will be answered.”

Martin Luther in FAITH ALONE: A DAILY DEVOTIONAL, October 30

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Spiritual Gifts and Spiritual Maturity

“To each one gifts are given.  The possession of spiritual gifts is therefore in no sense a measure of Christian maturity.  Spiritual gifts are received as presents from God by every Christian who will accept them in childlike faith.”

--from Arnold Bittlinger, GIFTS AND GRACE: A COMMENTARY ON 1 CORINTHIANS 12-14

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Reformation Principle

“For the Protestant even the empirical Church is an all too human institution. It is a common Protestant belief that human institutions are always in need of reformation, that human pride and sin pervert even our best efforts, and that the perversion of the best is the very worst. For that reason men must operate with a large margin for error. No man, even the finest Christian leader, is infallible, and no human institution is perfect. Methods must be built into the organizational structure of the Christian community that will tend to correct the errors that are certain to arise in every generation.

In other words, Protestants are well aware of the fact that the
Reformation is not merely something that was necessary in the
sixteenth century, but they realize and insist the the Reformation is a principle that must cleanse the Church again and again.”

From THE PROTESTANT FAITH by George Forell

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Protestant Faith: Grace and the Sovereignty of God

“The stress on God's grace and sovereignty means that Protestants assert that in the relationship between God and man it is God who takes the initiative. In this respect Protestantism differs from religion in general. Religion has often been defined as man's way to God, the result of human aspirations and human hopes.”

“Against this view, so very common in the world's religions,
one of the Protestant emphases ... is the conviction that man's salvation is the result of what God has done and not the result of anything man can do.”

From THE PROTESTANT FAITH by George Forell

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Second-, Third-, Fourth-, or Fifth-Blessing Theology

In short, I see biblical support for the thesis that although all true believers have received the Holy Spirit and have been baptized in the Holy Spirit, nevertheless the Holy Spirit is not necessarily poured out on each individual Christian in precisely equivalent quantities (if I may use the language of quantity inherent in the metaphor of “filling”). How else can we explain the peculiar unction that characterizes the service of some relatively unprepossessing ministers? Although I find no biblical support for a second-blessing theology, I do find support for a second-, third-, fourth-, or fifth-blessing theology. Although I find no χσµα (charisma) biblically established as the criterion of a second enduement of the Spirit, I do find that there are degrees of unction, blessing, service, and holy joy, along with some more currently celebrated gifts, associated with those whose hearts have been specially touched by the sovereign God. Although I think it extremely dangerous to pursue a second blessing attested by tongues, I think it no less dangerous not to pant after God at all , and to be satisfied with a merely creedal Christianity that is kosher but complacent, orthodox but ossified, sound but soundly asleep.

Carson, D. A. (1996-08-01). Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians, 12-14 (Kindle Locations 2654-2662). Baker Book Group - A. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Christ Redeemed All People

A key element in my sermon today is the teaching that Christ has redeemed all people (universal atonement).  Here’s an excellent summary of this teaching.

When Paul writes that Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25), he does not limit the redemption to the church, the believers, or the elect. Although it is true that these are the only ones who actually receive the benefit of Christ’s redemption, the Bible explicitly states that Christ redeemed all people. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2; 1 Timothy 2:6). He reconciled the world to God (2 Corinthians 5:19). “All people” even includes those who are ultimately lost in hell. They were bought by Christ too (2 Peter 2:1). There is no human being that was overlooked; Christ tasted death for every person (Hebrews 2:9). Although there is no redemption for the fallen angels, there is a perfect redemption for all people, including the worst of them. The apostle Paul declares: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15). All nations and races may gather under the cross of Christ and find redemption there.

Koehler, Edward W.A. (2006-06-28). A Summary of Christian Doctrine: A Popular Presentation of the Teachings of the Bible, 3rd Edition (Kindle Locations 2906-2909). Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Spiritually Strong Church Devotes Itself to the Teaching Ministry

In my last post I pointed to fellowship as one of the signs of a spiritually strong church (Acts 2:42).  My focus was on rooting out judgmentalism and seeking an environment of genuine acceptance based on who we are in Christ.  It’s in a such an atmosphere that we can confess our faults to one another and be healed (James 5:16).  It’s in such an atmosphere that true love is known (John 15:12).

Another mark of a spiritually effective church is strong preaching and teaching.  Acts 2 says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (42a NIV).  In fact, teaching is listed first among the marks of the church, and in that day items were placed first in the list for emphasis.  The point is clear: a church must be a teaching church if it is to be what it is supposed to be.

And what was that teaching?  The teaching of the apostles.  A spiritually healthy church is an apostolic church, a church devoted to the apostles’ teaching.  For us today this means receiving the apostolic witness of the New Testament as authoritative for how we are to believe and behave.  (This includes the Old Testament because the apostles’ based their teachings in the New Testament on the 39 books we call the Old Testament.)

In just a few weeks we return to our normal Sunday School routine and to confirmation classes.  This is a good time to remind ourselves how important the teaching ministry is to the health of our church.  We will only be as healthy as our teaching ministry.  Let us be praying for our Sunday School teachers and for me as your pastor-teacher, that all of us will be faithful stewards of the trust we’ve been given.  Let us pray for the guidance of THE teacher who alone can guide us into the fullness of truth.  John tells us that this teacher is the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:27). 

Likewise, may we all commit to growing in our understanding of the Scriptures.  The Bible commends the people of Berea for checking for themselves whether Paul’s teaching was in line with Scripture (Acts 17:11).  Nothing builds faith like coming to understand what the Bible teaches for ourselves.

One of my favorite Luther quotes:

“We must ourselves know what we believe, namely, what God has said and not what the Pope or the councils decree or say. For you dare not trust in men, but must trust in the bare Word of God" (St L. IX:1235 f., quoted in Christian Dogmatics by Francis Pieper).

It’s when we know why we believe what we do that faith is strengthened, and we’re moved to action.  It becomes our own possession, instead of something outside ourselves.  That’s why the best preaching and teaching helps people see clearly what the Bible teaches and points people to trust God’s word (rather than the word of a mere man).

And when we trust God’s word by acting on it lives change, and we become a spiritual potent people.  May God increasingly make this true of us here at Salem!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Judgmentalism: Prescription for a Spiritually Weak Church

A healthy church is a place of life transformation.  One of the great hindrances to life transformation is an atmosphere of judgmentalism.  In such an atmosphere people are encouraged to hide their stuff, and that which is hidden can never be dealt with.  Oh, the spiritual power that comes when the people of a church live into Jesus’ command, “Judge not, lest you be judged” (Matthew 7:1)!  But how does this happen?

One of the best bits of practical advice I picked up from seminary is the admonition of a pastoral care and counseling professor.  He admonished us to learn to be shockproof.  He said that when people confess to you their past sins or present state learn to hear it without conveying the least bit of being shocked by what you have heard.  In so doing you are creating an atmosphere of trust. 

By learning to be shockproof we are fulfilling the words of Galatians 6:1-5 which tell us to recognize we’re just as susceptible to the power of temptation as anybody else, and we truly shouldn’t be shocked by what we hear.  Our being shockproof is grounded in reality.  We’re all sinners dealing with constant temptations to sin.  We shouldn’t be shocked by those who find themselves having gone down a destructive path.  Truth be told we all have.

Which brings me to another practical bit of advice from seminary.  This time from a preaching professor.  He admonished us to speak not so much in terms of “you” as in “we”.  By including ourselves in the sermon we are acknowledging the truth that we have no ability to speak from a position of being above others.  We are in this together.

All of this is grounded in a right doctrine of the human condition.  It’s not an empty acceptance based on overlooking sin.  In fact, a church where members are shockproof and think in terms of “we” should have a greater ability to call sin what it is because people will know they’re not going to be judged for having sinned.  They know their past and present sins are going to be treated in a matter-of-fact manner, as that which is common to all humanity. 

It’s in this atmosphere of genuine acceptance that people can be led to life change, and real life change happens only as people are personally convicted about a particular thought or desire, word or deed.  Only when a person is personally convicted about something can they genuinely change.  The process goes like this: genuine conviction leads to sorrow and confession, renunciation of sin, and longing for grace (Evangelical Catechism question 79).

Only the Holy Spirit can bring about the gift of genuine repentance (John 16:8), and the Holy Spirit works by means of the word.  As people become open and vulnerable to the word (in an atmosphere that breeds trust) they will become convicted about sinful attitudes and actions (and they’ll have to do something about it one way or another).  God does the work in and through us, and we get to participate in seeing lives changed!

The word for the church atmosphere I’m describing is fellowship (koinonia).  Fellowship means we’re in this thing together.  It is “we” and so we bear each other’s burdens.  We refuse to be shocked because to be shocked would be to undermine God’s work among us and would convey a lie (the lie that it’s somehow shocking to us that people sin).

Friday, July 18, 2014

What is the Spirit-filled Life?

“A Spirit-filled and Spirit-directed life is nothing other than a life that day by day turns away from reliance on self to trust Christ in everything.”

“The Effects of Faith” in Welcome, Holy Spirit

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Spirit and Truth (Both/And NOT Either/Or)

“As some see it, a humble, spiritual attitude means little. According to others, truth or doctrinal soundness is of no importance. Both are one-sided, unbalanced, and therefore wrong. Genuine worshipers worship in spirit and truth! For such are the very people whom the Father is seeking as his worshipers …” (Baker New Testament Commentary on John 4:23).

Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to John (Vol. 1, p. 167). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.