A word to reformed evangelicals looking for a church

Who is this article for? More than likely it is not for a Presbyterian or Reformed Christian. Your denominational ties most likely make an article like this irrelevant. Rather, this article is aimed at those evangelicals- Baptist, Pentecostal, Missionary, Methodist, Wesleyan, etc.- who have discovered through one way or another the “doctrines of grace.” You have begun the journey of rejecting man-centered worship and embarked on the “God-entranced vision of all things.” And now, for whatever reason, you are looking for a church. Here are some things to consider.

Remember the semper  

More than likely you are familiar with the five solas of the reformation.[1] But are you aware of their close cousin semper reformanda? Semper reformanda means, “always being reformed.” What does this mean? Strictly speaking there is no such thing as a “reformed” church because the work of Scripture never ceases. There are only “reforming” churches. Are you looking for a perfect church? One that has everything just right? You will not find it.

Be bold

The work of the Reformation was not achieved by consumers, but by doers. Men like Luther, Zwingli, Calvin et al were not used because they were looking for a church that was just right. They were used by the Lord because they went about making a church that was faithful to the Word. As Teddy Roosevelt said,

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”[2]

In looking for a reformed church you are simply following the contemporary consumer culture. Might the Lord have something more for you? Will you not rather commit yourself to long, hard, dirty work of reforming the church? Do you see what a church is or what it might become? It is easy to sit back and criticize everything that is lacking. The noble task is to work for perfection.

Be patient

The letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 offer fascinating material. There are several churches with crippling moral and doctrinal errors. Yet within those churches is a faithful remnant. Christ’s word to them is illuminating. He does not tell them to leave. He does not tell them to start a new church. He does not tell them to look for a better church. Such people are told to “hold fast”[3] and to continue to “walk worthy”[4] of the Lord. The work will never be done. There will always be more to be done. But above all you must remember one thing: it is the work that Christ has pledged to accomplish himself.[5] He will do the work. He offers you the privilege of joining him in it.


[1] Sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria

[2] “Citizenship in a Republic,” Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

[3] 2:24-25

[4] 3:4

[5] Ephesians 5:25-27

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A Church Father walked into a chapel service in Wisconsin…

“On Thursday, March 15, a plethora of special student-led activities heralded the opening day of the NCAA tournament. The chapel hour was dedicated to the festivities, with the entire Northland family gathering in the gym to hear members of the Athletic Department staff discuss their bracket picks, to watch clips of tournament highlights from the past several years, and to cheer on fellow students who attempted close-up, free-throw line,and half-court shots for a chance to win various prizes. After chapel, pizza was served picnic-style, encouraging students to enjoy the bright sunshine and each other’s company. Dinner was served the same way and was followed by Quartermania in the Rec.Hall, with root beer floats, shaved ice, and various other treats available for $.25 throughout the evening.” (http://ni.edu/about-us/news/spring-2012/march-madness/)

We renounce all your spectacles, as strongly as we renounce the matters originating them, which we know were conceived of superstition, when we give up the very things which are the basis of their representations. Among us nothing is ever said, or seen, or heard, which has anything in common with the madness of the circus, the immodesty of the theater, the atrocities of the arena, the useless exercises of the wrestling-ground. Why do you take offense at us because we differ from you in regard to your pleasures? If we will not partake of your enjoyments, the loss is ours, if there be loss in the case, not yours. We reject what pleases you. You, on the other hand, have no taste for what is our delight.

Tertullian, Apology, 38

Fundamentalism: The way forward

Can Fundamentalism survive? Even those who answer in the affirmative recognize that it will not happen if things continue as they are. What are some of the things that must change for Fundamentalism to survive, or, even thrive?

First, the name will have to be abandoned. The term “fundamentalist” is poisoned by Islamists and Christians alike. Whether the fundamentalist has explosives strapped to his chest and is preaching on the evils of the great Satan; or has a KJV in hand preaching on the evils of pants on women; one thing the world knows is that fundamentalists are nut jobs.

This seems like a bitter pill: how can fundamentalism survive if it is not even known as fundamentalism? But the biblical fundamentalist should be committed first and foremost to truth, not the labels that are applied to truth. This is not to say that we can simply call evil “good” and good “evil.” Names, labels, terms are important, but unless designated as such by Scripture they are not inerrant or eternal.

Secondly, there must be a greater emphasis on obedience to Scripture than interpretation of Scripture.  Fundamentalism has been a house built on sacred cows and shibboleths. All this was well and good when the surrounding culture still held to more-or-less the same values. Such externalism is no longer sustainable, and that is a good thing. No longer should spirituality be measured by the length of hair or hem. No longer should a drink of alcohol be condemned while frequent visits to Old Country Buffet are ignored.

This in no way denigrates the importance of believing right doctrine. Quite the opposite, this sharpens the focus on right doctrine. Fundamentalists would never go along with the argument of Christopher Hitchens that one can be devoted to the pursuit of truth, but never have a claim on it. Yet they must realize that belief in an infinite God demands that truth can only be apprehended, not comprehended. Dispensationalism is not a fundamental of the faith. Which is more biblically necessary: the belief that Jesus will rapture the church before a seven-year tribulation; or the pursuit of personal holiness in the light of Christ’s return? There are plenty who seek the second while having nothing to do with the first. But who is more likely to accepted in a fundamentalist church: a worldly pre-tribulationist or a spiritually growing post-millennialist?

Third, the independent church model must be radically overhauled. Christ did not die for a bunch of little churches each with her own peculiarities. He died for only one church. All the churches were to obey the decision of the Jerusalem counsel (Acts 15). The Corinthians were admonished to consider the custom of the whole church (1 Cor. 11:16). What Paul (Col. 4:16) and John (Rev. 2-3) wrote to one church was good for all. Fundamentalism has sacrificed the nurture and accountability of true ecclesiastical fellowship so that each church can have her own voice. As a result fundamentalism has no voice. What can fundamental churches and pastors do when other self-professed fundamentalists teach deviant doctrine or practice sexual predation? Nothing, except say we are not like them, we just call ourselves the same thing. As a result, the group is judged and known by its most vulgar species. Why can 20/20 lump together Hyles fundamentalism and BJU fundamentalism? Because they both claim to be fundamentalists.

Fourth, effectual change must be led by pastors. Christ has not promised to build his college, university, or seminary. Christ has not promised to build his missionary board or evangelistic crusade. Christ has promised to build his church. For fundamentalism to survive it must do so as a church movement led by the leaders Christ has ordained for his church.

In each of these things, the one needed thing is a focus upon biblical truth. I have written these things as an outsider. Yet as an outsider who wants to see biblical fundamentalism reform and thrive. I did not grow up in a church that identified itself within the fundamentalist movement. I do not pastor a church that identifies itself in the fundamentalist movement. To some, this serves as a disqualification for such judgments. I understand the sentiment. Yet I went to college and seminary at two of fundamentalism’s flagship institutions. Why? I did so in part because I wanted to learn the Bible in places that at least claimed to honor the Bible as God’s infallible word to mankind. In many ways, or at least in the most important ones, the survival of fundamentalism is as simple as just living up to what the name represents: belief and practice of what the Bible explicitly commands and teaches.

 

 

Is the Church the New Israel?

Old Testament- Israel

New Testament- Church

Genesis 12:1-3  Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Gal 3:7  Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

Gal 3:9  So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Gal 3:14  so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Galatians 3:29  And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Genesis 26:1-5  Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines. And the LORD appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed,   because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” Galatians 4:21-28  Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?  For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.  But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.” Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.
Genesis 17:12-13  He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Philippians 3:3  For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh–

Romans 2:28-29  For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

Exodus 19:5-6  Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” 1 Peter 2:9  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Hosea 2:21-23  “And in that day I will answer, declares the LORD, I will answer the heavens, and they shall answer the earth, and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil, and they shall answer Jezreel, and I will sow her for myself in the land. And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.'” 1 Peter 2:10  Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Romans 9:24-25  even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.'”

Ezekiel 16:4-7  And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born. “And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment. Ephesians 2:4-7  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

 

 

Jeremiah 31:31-34 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

 

 

Hebrews 8:6-13 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.  or I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

 

Wilhelmus á Brakel on the Benefits of Christ’s Three-Fold Office

Jesus is “the Christ.” Jesus is anointed by God to carry out all those Old Testament offices for which men were anointed for: prophet, priest, and king. What does this mean for the believer?

He removes blindness by His prophetic office,
enmity with God by His priestly office,
and inability by His kingly office.[1]


[1] Willhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 1, (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 1992), 518.

King’s Way: Does Rick Warren believe Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?

Rick Warren has again caused a stir in certain circles of the blogosphere. The newest occasion of controversy is the announcement of an agreement with a Muslim organization. The original article, Christian bloggers, and Islamic bloggers all understand the agreement to say that Christians and Muslims believe in the same God. Warren has answered that the agreement only states Muslims and Christians believe in one God. A few observations…

First, I find it particularly interesting that there are certain places that are saying nothing about this issue. In the past few months there has been considerable fallout about James MacDonald and his Elephant Room conversation with T.D. Jakes. MacDonald and the Gospel Coalition parted ways as members of the Coalition simultaneously equivocated (Justin Taylor) and criticized (Carson, Keller, Anyabwile) MacDonald’s conversation. At issue, supposedly, was the Trinity. There was never really a clear pronouncement on whether or not MacDonald was a heretic for hosting a heretic, but there was plenty of discussion. Now, in an even clearer example of someone who supposedly believes in the Trinity dialoging with people who have a clear denial of the Trinity there is nothing. Nothing from the Gospel Coalition or the men at Reformation21…why is this? Is it because of the past engagements of Warren and John Piper? As long as there is silence the void will only be filled by supposition.

Secondly, does Rick Warren believe Christians and Muslims worship the same God? I have tried to find the actual document in question and I have not been able to. Therefore, I can only take Rick Warren at his word that the statement agreed upon was that Christians and Muslims believe in “one” God and not the “same” God. There are still numerous problems with such a statement.

In the context of an interfaith agreement the statement seems to be rhetorically useless as it is parsed by Warren. A rough outline of the document’s three main points are: 1) We believe in one God; 2) We love God and our neighbor; 3) We will not seek to proselytize each other. In this context, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that Muslims and Christians believe in the same God.

There is no logical necessity that flows from believing in one God to loving your neighbor. What if someone believes in the Hindu god of destruction?

If we both believe in one God and we agree not to proselytize one another there are only two options. We both believe in the same “one God” so there is no need to proselytize. Or we do not believe that our “one God” is the “only God;” thereby implying that there is in fact no such being as “one God.” In either of these two options Warren is surrendering the farm. In an interfaith agreement you cannot say “one God” without meaning “same God.” If you protest this, then you should have agreed that you believe in “a God.”

That this argument is correct demonstrated by the common reaction to the agreement. Once again, an impartial journalist, Christian bloggers, and Muslim bloggers, have all understood this to an agreement that Christians and Muslims believe in the same God. When representatives from these diverse groups agree on this implication, can Rick Warren really say they have all misunderstood the meaning?

Rick Warren has built his life on communication. He has sold millions of books. He is the pastor of one of the largest churches in the world. He knows how to speak and write clearly and persuasively. For him to protest that everyone has misunderstood his meaning is rather remarkable.

Warren’s assertion that Muslims and Christian’s believe in “one God” but not the same God violates the intended meaning of the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 8:5-6: “For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth–as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”– yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”

Warren’s interpretation of the joint statement makes him unbiblical. Everyone else’s interpretation makes him heretical. Neither option seems particularly appealing.

******UPDATE: 3/3/12 7:30 A.M.*******

Rick Warren has offered a rebuttal to the reports. Transcript of interview may be found by clicking here

A few observations:

  1. Everything he says to a member of the Christian media seems orthodox. But that doesn’t really address the issue at hand. All he has to do is make publicly available the text of the King’s Way agreement. My three year-old can tell me one thing and tell my wife something completely different, the question is what really happened?
  2. I praise the Lord for any and all souls saved as a result of Warren’s ministry. But evangelism is not a sign of orthodoxy- Matthew 23:15.
  3. Again, the simplest way to make this stop is to make public the King’s Way agreement. I find it interesting that the reporter who supposedly has or has seen the agreement has not changed his story. This is even after Warren accused him of false reporting. Why would the reporter continue to stand by what to him probably seemed a rather insignificant story?
  4. So Rick Warren has told Christians he believes in the Trinity and that Jesus is God. Great, but what has he told his Muslim friends and “brothers”?