Thoughts to ponder

“Those most passionate about the gospel of God’s free grace should be the most passionate about the pursuit of godliness.”

~ Kevin DeYoung

“If love does not mark your church, then it may attract spiritual hobbyists and theological accountants who like to play at religion and theology, but not people of real Christian love who inconvenience themselves for others.”

~ Mark Dever

“If we are desensitized to the horror of sin, we will be desensitized to the glory of righteousness.”

~ Thabiti Anyabwile

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Being a member of a local body is biblical

Although I changed his title this article is important because it reminds us that being an active part of a church family is important and biblical. The author is Thabiti Anyabwile of Pure Church blog.

Just the other day, I received another email from someone protesting the entire idea of church membership.  These come semi-regularly and usually with the same basic charge: “The NT does not require church membership!  Show it to me!”  I declare, all these folks must be from Missouri.  If only they all wrote with the eloquence and flair of Willard Duncan Vandiver.  But, alas, we seem to no longer live in a day of public eloquence but of crude, judgmental, ad hominem diatribe.  But I digress.

Today’s favorite bit from the creeds and catechisms also comes from The Belgic Confession.  It’s article 28, “Every One Is Bound to Join Himself to the True Church.”  This one has 9Marks written all over it.  I couldn’t be a part of the club if I failed to rejoice at this statement.  Somehow I think Mark Dever found a DeLorean time machine to smuggle this article into the creed for those Johnny-come-lately naysayers about church membership.

Article 28: Every One Is Bound to Join Himself to the True Church

We believe, since this holy congregation is an assembly of those who are saved and out of it there is no salvation, that no person whatsoever state or condition he may be ought to withdraw himself to live in a separate state from it; but that all men are in duty bound to join and unite themselves with it, maintaining the unity of the Church; submitting themselves to the doctrine and discipline thereof; bowing their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ; and as mutual members of the same body, serving to the edification of the brethren, according to the talents God has given them.

And that this may be the more effectually observed, it is the duty of all believers, according to the Word of God, to separate themselves from those who do not belong to the Church, and to join themselves to this congregation wheresoever God hath established it, even though the magistrates and edicts of princes be against it; yea, though they should suffer death or any other corporal punishment.  Therefore, all those who separate themselves from the same of do not join themselves to it, act contrary to the ordinance of God.

Yep.  Amen.  There you have it.  Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Notice how the article just cuts through so many things that seem to plague us today:

1.  The opening sentence flatly rejects the notion that one can safely think of themselves as “saved” and live the faith outside the congregation.

2.  The second half of the first sentence refuses the idea that there’s ever a good reason for anyone to withdraw from every local fellowship–a particular congregation unfaithful or abusive, yes.  But whether hurt by another local church, frustrated with the failures of the church, moving to another area, or whatever, we should be able to find a local church to join and serve.

3.  And there will be none of that weak appeal to the “universal Church” as a substitute for unity in the local church; men are “duty bound” to join the local church as an expression of maintaining the unity of the big-C Church.

4.  Then there is the often-reviled notion of submitting to the doctrine and discipline of the church–a necessary commitment consistent with “bowing their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ” and compatible with mutual service and edification of the body.

5.  Contrary to much that the “insider movement” advocates, the creed insists we understand that it’s our duty to “come out from among them,” “to be separate,” and to maintain a regenerate membership contrasted with the unredeemed not yet brought in.  The second paragraph helps us see the flip-side of membership–the world, “those who do not belong to the Church,” and reminds us that joining with other Christians in church membership actually has a witnessing and evangelistic effect.

6.  Further, we should join a visible local church and separate from non-believers even with the prospect of persecution.

7.  And, yes, failing to join a local assembly, according to the confession and the Scripture, is failure to obey God’s word.  In other words, it’s sin.

I love these paragraphs.  They say so much in such short compass.  I’m sure there is someone still saying, “Show me!”  The next time I’m in Missouri, let’s get together.

Until then, you might really enjoy Jonathan Leeman’s new book, Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus and Bobbie Jamieson’s new Bible study guide, Committing to One Another: Church Membership.

Run the Race

from Pure Church by Thabiti Anyabwile

The Bible frequently likens the Christian life to a race.  The Christian is a runner in a test, not of speed, but of endurance or perseverance.  It’s a helpful metaphor for understanding the life we’re called to live in Christ.

Thomas Schreiner and Ardel Caneday’s The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance offers a good examination of perseverance and the race metaphor used in the Bible.  The opening paragraph of chapter one succinctly outlines the race:

“God calls us to this race.”

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14).

“We train for this race.”

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come (1 Tim. 4:7-8).

“Our training entails strict self-control.”

Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable (1 Cor. 9:25).

“Anyone who runs this race must compete according to the rules.”

An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules (2 Tim. 2:5).

“There is a prize to be won.”

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it (1 Cor. 9:24).

“Anyone who seeks to win the prize must run with singular devotion, with one’s eyes set on the prize who is Jesus Christ.”

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:1-2).

How’s the race coming?  Keep running until you receive the prize!

We have a historically bloody faith

A reminder by Thabiti Anyabwile at Pure Church blog

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If anyone sins unintentionally in any of the LORD’s commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them, if it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, then he shall offer for the sin that he has committed a bull from the herd without blemish to the LORD for a sin offering. 4He shall bring the bull to the entrance of the tent of meeting before the LORD and lay his hand on the head of the bull and kill the bull before the LORD. And the anointed priest shall take some of the blood of the bull and bring it into the tent of meeting, and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle part of the blood seven times before the LORD in front of the veil of the sanctuary. And the priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense before the LORD that is in the tent of meeting, and all the rest of the blood of the bull he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And all the fat of the bull of the sin offering he shall remove from it, the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins and the long lobe of the liver that he shall remove with the kidneys (just as these are taken from the ox of the sacrifice of the peace offerings); and the priest shall burn them on the altar of burnt offering. But the skin of the bull and all its flesh, with its head, its legs, its entrails, and its dung—all the rest of the bull—he shall carry outside the camp to a clean place, to the ash heap, and shall burn it up on a fire of wood. On the ash heap it shall be burned up. (Lev. 4:1-9)

Try to imagine the scene.  Day after day.  Week after week.  Sinner after sinner.  Progresses before the altar to offer bulls, goats, lambs, pigeons to God as an atonement for sin.  The prescription for slaughter is precise.  Instruction for removal of organs and fat detailed.  With your hands.  All day long.  Breaking open animal bodies.  Removing organs.  Separating fat.  Awash in blood.  Sprinkling blood on the altar.  Rubbing it on the horns of the altar.  Watching it drain into the basin of the altar.  All the while, the constant smell of burning flesh, charred to ashes.

That’s the Old Testament sacrificial system.  It’s bloody.

But do we imagine Christianity to be an less bloody?  Do we imagine the fulfillment of those patterns and prophesies to bring a more sanitary, sterile, cleaner religion?  If we do, we’ve lost sight of significant realities.

Is not our salvation purchased with blood? The blood of the Son of God still flows.  It flows to the chief of sinners.  It still washes and cleanses.  It doesn’t drain into a basin, but reaches the nations.  And without the shedding of His blood, there is no remission of sins.

What about you Christian?  Are not our lives living sacrifices?  All day long, are you not counted as sheep for the slaughter?  Our gathering is not a country club, but a slaughter house.  Your life is not dry and clean; it must be bloody.

What about you, pastor?  Does not our continuing ministry require blood?  Do your daily ministrations involve less blood than the blood Old Testament priests once put their hands in?  If so, you’re doing it wrong.  Are our people any less broken by sin?  Do they need repentance less?  Can they leave off confession and forget to seek a good conscience?  Certainly not.  But how will they be comforted?  How will they be assured of their forgiveness?  What will they do with their guilt?  Do we not return them to that precious fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins?  Do we not stand awash in blood and with our hands of counsel rub blood–not on an altar–but on our people?  And are they not cleansed of all unrighteousness when they’re taught to confess, repent, and return to a faithful and just God who is pleased at the sight of His Son’s blood?  We remind them that atonement has been made, which is to remind them of blood–Jesus’ blood.

Ours is a bloody religion.

The Complex Posture of Love

by Thabiti Anyabwile

From Jonathan Leeman’s The Church and the Surprising Offence of God’s Love: Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline (pp. 85-86):

Does God love humanity because of something intrinsically valuable or lovable in us?  Logically, that would be impossible.  He created us, and in his omniscience and sovereignty he wrote down every day of our lives before one of them came to be (Ps. 139:16).  He is the source of everything we have, including every good gift that’s been given since creation (James 1:17).  As such, there is literally nothing that God could behold with affection in us that he did not give us in the first place (cf. 1 Cor. 4:7).  (Can we create anything that our omniscient God did not think of first?)  God loves everyone because God beholds his own handiwork, image, and glory in everyone.  God’s love is God-centered.  When we as humans then love in a God-centered way, we love–as Augustine said–with respect to him, or for his sake.  That means we burn to see his character and glory expressed everywhere–in ourselves, in our friends and family, in our enemies, in creation, in everything.  From the vantage point of creation, God-centered love bears no judgment and draws no boundaries.  It knows only pleasure and delights in the gift of itself.

On the other hand, God’s God-centered love bears a posture that opposes everything that opposes God, just as you and I will oppose anyone who opposes the human objects of our love such as a friend or spouse.  I love my daughters, so I have an affection for their good.  How then can I not oppose anyone or anything that intends for their ultimate ill?  So it is with God’s love for God, and so it is for any true love of God that we have.  Loving him means having affection for his glory and honor.  A complex posture is therefore required.  God loves all sinners insofar as they reflect his glory; he opposes them insofar as they don’t.  What that means is that a God-centered love must discriminate; it must have preferences; it must make judgments, and it must do so in light of sin and the fall.  It is not universal, because it does not love anything that opposes God.  God-centered love does not love sin.  What is sin?  Sin is anything that opposes God and intends God’s ultimate ill.  Therefore, God’s God-centered love will discriminate between that which is sin and that which is not; between those who belong to sin and those who do not; between those who love him and seek his glory and those who do not.

God’s love is for everything that glorifies God.  God’s love is against everything that opposes His glory.  Both His being for and His being against are love because both make much of the supreme Object of all possible exultation: God himself.

If we love this way, then we do everything to posture ourselves to magnify God’s glory in Christ.  As Leeman puts it, “we burn to see his character and glory expressed everywhere–in ourselves, in our friends and family, in our enemies, in creation, in everything.”

Are you burning to see God’s character and glory expressed everywhere?

 

Review: What is a Healthy Church Member? by Thabiti M. Anyabwile

from The Domain for Truth by EvangelZ

church member

M. Thabiti Anyabwile.  What is a Healthy Church Member? Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008. 120 pp.

There are many simple and profound books out there concerning the pastor, church leader, and expository preaching, but often minimal resources that are solid when it comes to church membership. This is one book that is simple and profound which constitutes what is a healthy church member.  You could be serving in some ministry capacity in pastoral ministry, missions, etc., but you may not be a healthy church member.  A healthy church member at the start is the right approach for any Christian before they start filling in the shoes for leadership.  As Anthony J. Carter states, “A faithful pastor is also a good church member.”  This is one book that will help fill the gap concerning the literature of Christian living.  Any church or Christian that endeavors to implement the principles listed in the book will be a church that will experience Gospel growth.

The rest is at: https://veritasdomain.wordpress.com/2015/01/05/review-what-is-a-healthy-church-member-by-thabiti-m-anyabwile/

Reading the Bible Like Jesus: Matt. 22:31

by THABITI ANYABWILE at Pure Church

Reading the Bible is difficult work. Or at least it can be if we intend to do more than simply read it for enjoyment or duty. There are many things we have to overcome in order to read effectively: the flesh, fatigue, distractions, time pressures from various sources, cold hearts, clogged ears and so on. Even when we overcome all these obstacles of the world, the flesh and the devil, we still find our Bible reading needs adjustment in order to read as Jesus read.

Consider for example Jesus’ interaction with the Sadducees about the resurrection inMatthew 22:23-33. The Sadducees try to trip Jesus up with a question about a woman who marries seven brothers. They don’t believe in the resurrection and suppose that such a situation would obviously falsify the resurrection since she can’t be the wife of seven men in heaven. Here’s how Jesus replied:

29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you  not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at His teaching.

“Ouch” to verse 29. That must have stung the Sadducees.

Then notice what Jesus does. In verse 30 he answers the silly question about marriage in heaven. If they knew the Scriptures and God’s power they would know that marriage is earthly but our heavenly existence is of another sort altogether when it comes to relationships.

But verse 31 is where Jesus teaches us to read the Bible. Notices specifically the question, “have you not read what was said to you by God…?” Jesus presupposes two things here that help us to read our Bibles.

First, Jesus suggests we should read our Bibles as a present tense, personal address. “What was said to you….” The text he quotes is Exodus 3:6, where God speaks to Moses from the burning bush. But Jesus says the Sadducees should have understood that as an address to them centuries later! That text had their names on it. And so every text we read, properly interpreted, has our name on it, too. It is addressed to us personally, even though it is not primarily about us. How would we read our Bibles differently if we approached it as if it were addressed to us? At the very least we would be enabled to approach the Bible with a new sense of personal investment and a sense of the Bible’s enduring relevance.

Second, Jesus suggests we should read our Bibles as a conversation with the living God. Notice again: “What was said to you by God…”. Then consider the Master’s quote of Exodus 3:6 to prove that God “is not the God of the dead, but the living.” God lives and He speaks. Most fundamentally we are not being addressed by human authors when we read the Bible. We are being addressed by the living God. At least that’s how Jesus read the Bible. The Exodus account becomes a word from God in print addressed to Sadducees and Christians centuries later. Jesus presumes we should hear God’s voice and discover God’s mind when we read our Bibles. Our reading is God speaking. That makes sense if we understand that God breathed out the Scriptures as the true Author (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

There are a couple things I have to do in order to hold onto these realities.

First, I have to keep reminding myself that God is alive and that He is talking to me. I find it so easy to approach the Bible as a book written by dead men. That’s not my self-conscious approach; it’s a creeping assumption that keeps dulling my mind. I keep forgetting that God is speaking to me, personally, as I read His word. I find myself thinking that God is speaking generally, to no one in particular, about things in general. I need to ready my mind with a sense of His addressing me personally and specifically or my Bible reading grows cold.

Second, I need to speak more often of my Bible reading as “talking to God.” I should more frequently say about my Bible reading, “God told me…” or “God said….” I tend to say, “he Bible says” or “Paul says,” which is fine, but it misses the deeper spiritual reality. If  I have read my Bible well–as a personal address from God to me with a prayerful response and consideration–then I have been in conversation with God.  We shouldn’t use the phrases “God said” or “God told me” to speak primarily of subjective impressions, as so many do. We should primarily speak this way about our Bible reading, where God speaks infallibly and most clearly. I need to remind myself that I not only talk to God a lot in prayer, but He talks back to me in Bible reading.

Jesus is teaching me to read the Bible better than I have. I don’t know about you… but I need it.