Monday, March 30, 2009

The Family of Christ

Then His mother and brothers came to Him, but they could not meet with Him because of the crowd. He was told, “Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see You.” But He replied to them, “My mother and My brothers are those who hear and do the word of God.”

Luke 8:19-21 (HCSB)

Yesterday, Sunday afternoon, my two oldest sons were late on their homework and were diligently seeking to finish their work before Monday. However, a kink was thrown into their plans: the evening service at our church was scheduled to celebrate communion. I explained to the oldest boy that Christ commanded us to celebrate the Lord's Supper until He comes again and that our church practiced communion at set times but with less frequency than my own desire. There was no way any of us were going to miss out on obeying the Lord's command when given opportunity. Without delay, the three of us packed into the car and joined my wife with the other three children for worship.

Over the last two years, during previous celebrations of communion, I was in the practice of whispering to my youngest son, who is now a 9-year-old, what the Lord's Supper means. The Lord's Supper is a memorial celebration performed as a communal confession of the atonement of Christ worked upon the Cross. The fundamental reality of the body broken and the blood that Jesus Christ, the sinless one, voluntarily poured out on behalf of our sins is powerfully represented in the bread and the cup. The accompaniment of the visual practice with the audible Word has a powerful effect upon the observer of this second of the great Christian ordinances.

But participation in the second of the great ordinances commanded by Christ for His church to practice in its worship is reserved for those that have been born again and witnessed to that regeneration through participation in the first of the great ordinances commanded by Christ for His church: baptism. Previously, my youngest son had requested permission to participate in the Lord's Supper in our church. He understood the meaning of the Lord's Supper and his Christian faith prompted him to desire to participate in this great communal confession. Unfortunately, he had not yet followed Christ in the first public act of a Christian believer: baptism by immersion. He was definitely part of my family, but not yet visibly part of the family of Christ, and Jesus Christ had set certain standards for membership in His family, standards over which we have no authority to dispense or alter.

In our age, as in previous days, there is a thoroughgoing antinomianism at work with regard to the commands of Christ. This is true with regard to personal ethics and with regard to communal ethics, ecclesiology. Indeed, whole churches have bought into ecclesiological antinomianism. They dispense with the commands of Christ in mission and in communion. Mind you, many individual members do so out of ignorance, but disobedience is still disobedience, whether performed by churches or by individuals, who have been misled by churches. The family of Christ is identified not by blood kinship, but, according to Jesus, it is composed only of those who "hear and do," that is, "hear the Word" and "do the Word." The antinomian confesses that he or she has heard God's Word, but then refuses to carry out God's Word.

Antinomians, whether individuals or organized into communities, have the fundamental problem that they say they know Christ but then dispense with His commands entirely or alter His commands to their own liking. This hypocrisy is usually excused through some type of man-made theological innovation: for instance, in the doctrines of baptismal regeneration, covenantal infant baptism, sprinkling or pouring rather than immersion, etc. More closely to home, this hypocrisy is often propagated by those who hold (correctly) to the Reformation doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone. The problem these sincere Christians have is that they seem to forget that true discipleship is not just properly confessed in word, it is also properly confessed in deed, both personally and communally.

The Great Commission of Jesus Christ explicitly includes the practice of baptism, and the ordering given by our Lord and subsequently practiced by the apostles was that baptism succeeds faith but precedes further instruction in our Lord's commands (Matt. 28:18-20: 1-going, 2-making disciples, 3-baptizing, 4-teaching all things commanded by Christ). "Baptism," of course, means "immersion" in the original Greek, so proper Christian baptism occurs after conversion and is by immersion. As with the Lord's Supper, the visual act of Christian baptism accompanied by the confession, "Jesus is Lord," is a powerful memorial to one's personal faith in the God who is Jesus, who died and rose again. This is the way Jesus intended it to be and those who dispense with His commands by attenuating the Great Commission or by altering its order will stand before God to give an account of their disobedience.

Baptism is the first act of the public Christian life and thus should be obeyed before one is able to participate in the other commands of Jesus Christ for His churches, including the Lord's Supper. Again, note the order laid down by Jesus: 1-going, 2-making disciples, 3-baptizing, 4-teaching all things (inclusive of the Lord's Supper) that Christ has commanded. When I explained this to my son, he accepted the biblical order of close communion, a logic confessed in my own denomination's Baptist Faith & Message. However, it took some time before he was able to overcome his fear of standing before the church to request entrance into the church covenant and the right of participation in the Lord's Supper.

I praise God that my son overcame human frailty by the power of the Holy Spirit and obeyed Christ by requesting public baptism in the name of his Triune Lord. I praise God that I was prompted last evening to remember His command that we participate in the Lord's Supper until He comes again (Matt. 26:26-29 and par.; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). After the service, I asked my oldest son, "Aren't you glad we obeyed Christ and came to see your brother profess Him as Savior?" His reply, of course, was in the affirmative, though the homework still remained to be done.

I praise God that my family of blood kin includes members of the family of Christ, too. I praise God that He has given us the grace of salvation, a grace confessed visibly and necessarily in the grace of obedience. I praise God that He has led our church to recognize that baptism is to precede communion and that it is a confession and not a magical rite that is disconnected from the individual human will. (I also praise God that He has led our church not to affirm those improperly baptized, for to affirm an error is to participate in that error.)

Oh, Lord, help us to hear your Word clearly, and do your Word diligently! And where we have erred, please illumine the Bible so that we may understand correctly and empower us by your Spirit so that we may live correctly! I thank you that You have led my son into Your family, whose Father is so much superior to his earthly father. Your ways truly are effective. Your truth truly is invincible.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Relevance of the Word of God

By Malcolm Yarnell
Mar 13, 2009

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)--We often hear today that Christians must make the Word of God relevant to their culture. During my first full-time pastorate, I learned a difficult lesson that challenges such an idea. Because of prior training in finance and economics, my assumption was that it was the essential actions of the pastor and the people that determined how successful the church would be.

More specifically, I assumed that man was the effective agent rather than the instrument in the health and growth of the church. I knew better than that in my formal doctrine but not in my lived doctrine. With this assumption of human power in heart, I set off to grow that first church through man-generated evangelistic fervor and organizational manipulation. In the process I learned a lesson in the relevance of God's Word.

Now, mind you, God honored that activity and that active spirit; however, He did so not because of my man-centered assumption but in spite of it. What I discovered, experientially and scripturally, was that all my efforts to make God's Word relevant to the people failed week after week. However, when I reached the end of my own efforts and relied only upon the Word of God, the church thrived. I may not be the sharpest tack on the board, but the repetition of 1) failure through my efforts, followed by 2) success through focus on preaching the Word alone, demonstrated a pattern.

When I began to cry out to God as to why there was so much heartache with my own efforts on His behalf but marvelous and often unexpected results from focusing on preaching His Word, He opened my eyes to the relevance of His Word. Indeed, the Bible declares the utter relevance and power of the Word, even as it teaches the temporal and weak nature of human action.

Is the proclaimer of the Word a necessary agent in God's redemptive plan? Absolutely! Is it the teacher of the Word who makes the Bible relevant to contemporary culture? Absolutely not! A review of Scripture's witness to the relevance of the Word may be helpful here.

THE OLD TESTAMENT WITNESS

The Hebrew uses of "Dabar" and related terms for "word" are important in Old Testament theology. The book of Genesis begins with a Trinitarian work: in verse 1, God creates; in verse 2, the Spirit of God forms that creation; and in verse 3, the Word of God speaks creation into existence. Thence onward, the Word of God is considered in dynamic terms.

Repeatedly, the Word of the Lord was said to come upon the prophets and compel them to speak. The Word of God "came" to Jeremiah bringing joy and delight (Jeremiah 15:16), except when the people rebelled against the Word and persecuted the prophet. Yet, when the prophet tried to remain silent, the Word would literally consume his inner self like a fire in his bones (Jeremiah 20:9). The prophet was an instrument that the Word employed in order to proclaim God's will and ways to humanity.

According to Isaiah, the Word of the Lord is eternal while man is temporal and quickly passes away (Isaiah 40:6-8). Moreover, the eternal Word comes down from the Father in heaven in the same manner that rain or snow falls. And just as the rain brings forth the harvest, "so shall My Word be that goes forth from My mouth." The Word comes from the Father and does not return to Him without accomplishing what God sent the Word to do (Isaiah 55:10-11). The Word of God is presented as actively accomplishing the Father's will.

WHY IS THE WORD OF GOD POWERFUL?

The Word of God, as we know, was not only spoken through the prophets; the prophets also recorded the Word of God in writing. They did this because they were inspired by the Holy Spirit to do so (2 Peter 1:21). God inspired the written Word so that, even today, people might hear Him and be redeemed, instructed, and perfected by God (2 Timothy 3:15-17). This is why many theologians speak of the Word of God as being both the Word intoned or spoken and the Word inscribed or written. The Word of God, whether written or spoken, speaks actively to people.

A third way to speak of the Word of God -- next to the Word intoned and the Word inscribed -- is as the Word incarnate. The eternal Word, participating in the very nature of God, came to this earth and assumed to Himself our humanity, thus participating also in the very nature of Man.

The Word of God is therefore powerful because the Word of God is first and foremost the Second Person of the Trinity. Moreover, the Word of God is known clearly today through the written Word of God, which is the inspired and inerrant Bible. Finally, the Word of God is clearly proclaimed when believers speak the Bible to others. God the Word speaks powerfully through the proclamation of the book that His Spirit inspired.

THE NEW TESTAMENT WITNESS

In the New Testament, the Greek words for "word" are "Logos" and "Rhema." According to the Gospel of John, the Word is both "God" and "with God." This is true in the very beginning or from eternity (John 1:1). Moreover, in the person of Jesus Christ, the Word "became flesh" (John 1:14). Thus, in all three ways of speaking of the Word -- spoken, written, and enfleshed -- there is a definite active meaning. There is no hint whatsoever that the Word of God lacks power or relevance; God acts in His Word.

The relevant nature of the Word of God becomes absolutely clear in Hebrews 4, where we are told that the Word is "zon" ("living") and "energa" ("active"). This energetic Word is neither passive nor impotent. Like a Machairan, a double-edged surgical knife, in the hand of the Great Physician, God approaches the human person and pierces down into the deepest part of his or her being.

God's Word penetrates and probes into the inseparable aspects of the human soul and spirit, delivering divine judgment upon what He finds there. For the Word is "a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" and nobody can hide from Him (Hebrews 4:12-13). In this passage, the Word is not seen as a static object that man dissects; rather, the Word is the subject that reads and dissects man!

The activity of the Word in Hebrews 4 is to judge man, while the activity of the Word in Romans 10 is to present salvation to man. Drawing upon a number of Old Testament texts, the Apostle Paul presented the Word as coming from God through the preacher to the human ear. But the Word does not stop there, for the Word engages a person by coming "near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (Romans 10:8).

And there, when the Word is believed it is by reason of its proximity to the heart. The Word is also confessed, having come into the proximity of the mouth (Romans 10:9-10). Thus, the Word that has been called out by God in turn empowers human faith, enabling a person to call back to God (Romans 10:13). The truth that faith comes through hearing is supplemented by the truth that hearing itself is an activity empowered by the Word of God as the effective agent (Romans 10:17).

Yet, God has also ordained that the churches and their preachers are the chosen instruments of God in the proclamation of the Word. The churches send the preachers as they are led by God's Spirit (cf. Acts 13:2-4); the preacher preaches the Word; the listener hears the Word; the believer believes the Word and calls back to God in faith, and is thus saved.

The temporal ordering of Romans 10:13-15 is significant in this regard: sending—preaching—hearing—believing—calling. Through every step in the communication and reception of salvation, the Word of God is active. The Word by His Spirit provides the power of salvation; the preacher is instrumentally used to deliver the Word; and the believer receives the Word then in turn calls back to God.

THE RELEVANCE OF THE WORD OF GOD

The Word of God is energetic, being active in judgment and salvation. This Word is theological -- He is God Himself. This Word is scriptural -- the Bible is God's written revelation. And this Word is proclamatory -- the speech of God is on the lips of His gospel preachers. Because God is a living and active God, His Word is also living and active.

The active relevance of the Word is a reminder that His human instruments are both blessed and humbled. It is the greatest blessing to be the instrument by which God saves a human being -- "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace" (Romans 10:15). It is the greatest humbling to recognize that the initiating and effective agent alone is God Himself speaking in His Word.

We may add nothing to the Word of God to make the Word relevant. We may only speak the Word in the ears of the people of the world. When we speak from the Bible, the Word opens ears and hearts to God's truth. The Word reveals to the listener what is truly relevant: that God is sovereign, that man is sinful, that judgment is at hand, and that the cross of Jesus Christ is man's only hope.

Ever since I learned this lesson from Scripture and witnessed the life-transforming power of God's Word, I have found that there is no greater joy than being a preacher of the Word. Let us be instruments of the Word of God -- let us read it constantly for our minds and lives; speak it consistently to our families; bear witness of the Word boldly to lost souls everywhere; and, preach the Word faithfully and expositionally to His churches. When we do so, we shall rediscover that the Word alone provides relevance.

For the glory of God alone in the power of the Spirit alone, let us preach the Word alone.

--30--

Malcolm Yarnell is associate professor of systematic theology and director of the Center for Theological Research at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

© Copyright 2009 Baptist Press

Original copy of this story can be found at http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=30075

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

But Those Who Serve Christ Are Always Glad, Whether in Tribulation or Not


The Burning of Savonarola, Florence, Italy, 23 May 1498

The men of the world are without grace and and have no consolation above in that they are turned toward the things of the world, from which they draw no consolation, for the more you own, the more you are anxious. But those who are in the grace of Christ, grace enlightens, draws, and leads. And so you see, all those who love Christ are glad and joyful in their tribulations, while those others, among all their pleasures, do not have such joy, and even if they do, it lasts but a short time. But those who serve Christ are always glad, whether in tribulation or not.
Girolamo Savonarola, Sermon XLIV, 1 April 1496

And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God."
Paul and Barnabas, Acts 14:21-22

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Southern Baptists: "Our Problem Is That We Do Not Look Or Live Like Jesus"

Today, we do not know who we are. The world does not know who we are. Our lost friends and neighbors do not know who we are. In the New Testament world, believers lived differently than their neighbors. That is how they came to be called Christians, a term of derision, not respect. Our problem is not that more of us don’t witness to our neighbors. Our problem is that more of us do not look like and live like Jesus. How long has it been since you heard a joke about Baptists? This is not necessarily a good thing. If we do not produce children, youth, and adults who live out a biblical worldview, no strategy for doing church will make us salt and light in the world.
Dr. Charles (Chuck) S. Kelley, "The New Methodists: Reflections Upon the Southern Baptist Convention"

Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
The Lord Jesus, Mark 8:34

Monday, March 02, 2009

Freedom Begins with Seeing the Evil Within Us All


It was granted me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, the essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of my youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer, and an oppressor. In my most evil moments, I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was only when I lay there [in the Gulag Archipelago] on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes, not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either -- but right through every human heart -- and through all human hearts ... And that is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me: "Bless you, prison!"
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 312-13.

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

Paul the Apostle, To the Romans, 8:2.