Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

the-den-of-lions-1348656076_b

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the quality of the preaching [in my pulpit and] in the pulpits within the Church currently, and I am growing increasingly concerned about the Church moving further and further away from the unique strengths of Gospel preaching as we have received it from generations previous to ours. I’m going to frame my concerns by referring to temptations preachers face. I’m coming at this, of course, from my perspective and convictions as a Spirit-filled, confessing, orthodox Christian, committed to the Sacred Scriptures, having vowed to preach and teach the Word of God in conformity to the Word of God. This is no mere finger pointing exercise, this is a chance for me to reflect on how these temptations impact me when I preach.

The Therapeutic Temptation
The “Therapeutic Temptation” is one that would have preachers use their sermons to give what amounts to little more than a pep talk, often in the context of cute, touching, emotional or an otherwise manipulative story, either real, or made up. I’m referring to the infamous, “There was once a little boy who…” or the, “There was a man who said/did…” These sermons will be marked by a preaching of Law that is soft and squidgy around the edges, it’s not a preaching of God’s holy, righteous wrath against sin and a warning against it and a rebuking of sin and sinners. It is Law preached in such a way that bad things, bad people or bad situations are lamented in doleful tones. It sounds often like this, “Isn’t it sad when….” or “Have you ever…..” and the tone is one of sounding “oh, so sorry about that” and “shouldn’t we all feel bad” about this problem. Then the sermon goes on to offer encouragement and support for getting out of our bad and negative feelings and circumstances. The Law is soft, the Gospel therefore comes across as antidote to feeling sad and bad. I face this temptation when I preach. I want so much to make people feel better, to feel good, to leave feeling positive. That can get in the way of good Law/Gospel preaching. I would say this is what I’m hearing more and more in pulpits. Law becomes simply lament. Gospel becomes simply encouragement and reassurance.

Let Me Entertain You Temptation
Public speaking, once one becomes fairly good at it, is a place where one’s personal ego can really get in the way of God’s Word. It is so tempting to get wrapped up in the moment and begin to feel a need to amuse, delight and entertain the listeners. Now, granted, the use of the classic art of rhetoric is important, but it is tempting for preachers to work very hard to elicit a laugh, a chuckle, to amuse, to entertain. They mistake audience reaction with effective preaching and they mistake emotionally manipulating the congregation with preaching God’s Word effectively. The problem with the entertainment temptation is that often the effort to entertain and elicit a positive emotional reaction from the congregation causes the preacher to neglect the doctrine in the text he is preaching on, to neglect, frankly, the Scriptures, and to spend an inordinate amount of time developing his story that he just knows will get the kind of response he is looking for. Public speaking is heady stuff. I have been tempted to go for the cheap line, the little quip, the comment I know will get chuckle and spend too much time on that, than on preaching God’s Word. And here again, in this context, Law is neglected, or ignored, because, after all, the Law is not “upbeat” it is not “entertaining.” It will not delight and amuse people to hear that they, by nature, are poor, miserable sinners who have nothing but wicked, evil deeds to offer to the holy and righteous God. And when the Law is neglected, the Gospel then loses the force of its power to convert and regeneration. In such a context, the Gospel is watered down to be part of an entertaining experience for the listeners.

The Hurry Up Temptation
This is quite an insidious temptation that I think we all have fallen into, nearly totally. For many centuries, and even millennia, in the church’s history, sermons, where they were taken seriously, were thirty, forty or even sixty minutes long. The sermon was the opportunity for the pastor to preach and teach God’s Word carefully and thoroughly, from Sunday to Sunday, but then, sermons that were forty-five minutes long, became only thirty minutes, then they dropped to twenty minutes, and now it is often the case that sermons now are only twelve, or ten or even eight minutes long. Simply put, these are no longer sermons, they have become rather formulaic quick devotional thoughts. There is not enough time carefully to delve into the text, and open it up to hearers. A text become more a pretext for the sharing of what becomes quite repetitive themes: some talk of something bad, some talk of Jesus taking care of it all for us, and then there may be a reference to the Sacraments. Preachers are tempted to do this when they know that there is a full service with Holy Communion. It is tempting to skip lightly over the text and instead use the short time I have to make a couple devotional points and then get on to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. I love the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and love that we celebrate it every corporate gathering on Sundays. The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper must never become an excuse to make our sermons shorter and less substantial. We are the Church, the Body of Christ, and the fellowship of Word and Sacrament. I think that we are forgetting this.

The Axe to Grind Temptation
This temptation is characterized by a preacher managing to “find” in any Biblical text, a pretext for him to yet, once more, grind his axe on his hobby-horse issue, or subject, or theme, no matter what it might be. The hobby-horse might be quite correct and what the preacher says about it is quite true, but it is a temptation preachers face to turn nearly every sermon they give into an opportunity once more to repeat the same issues, over and over again. Perhaps he will be wanting to talk always about the liturgical practices in the parish, to turn every sermon into a little discourse on some point of church history, or to keep referring to some particular event or trend in society. Every sermon manages to include a reference to the issue that is really “bugging” the preacher and it comes out in his sermon. I am tempted to do this when I find myself wanting to warn people against the “feel good/health and wealth” prosperity preachers. I find that I can easily find myself bashing this error in every sermon. And while I’m perfectly correct in my warning, it is not appropriate for me to hijack every sermon on every Biblical text, to interject my own particular agenda. The Lectionary is a good corrective, and if the preacher resolves actually to preach on the subjects, issues and topics that flow naturally from the Lectionary readings, there is much less of a chance that the preacher will fall victim to the “Axe to Grind” temptation.

How many more temptations could be added to this list?

~ Originally written by Rev. Paul McCain, edited by Rev. Gary DeSha

advent_wordle1

Perhaps during some late November, you have given or received an Advent calendar. Chances are, it was decorated with a religious picture and twenty-five perforated windows for each day in the month of December. When the window was opened, you could read a Bible verse or religious thought for that day. In more expensive calendars, a small piece of chocolate might be found. Parents in particular find that Advent calendars can help children “wait” during the interminable 24 days preceding Christmas, by giving them a little treat each day in December.

The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means coming. Christians celebrate the four weeks before Christmas as a time to reflect on and anticipate the “coming” of Christ at Christmas as well as the “coming” of Christ at the end of time. Preparing for the birth of Christ is a reminder of God’s great love for us—a love so vast that Christ lived and died as one of us. Preparing for the final coming of Christ is a reminder of the glory and grandeur that we will one day share in the Kingdom of God.

Customarily in the Christian tradition, the focus has been on these two “comings” of Christ. However, St. Bernard in the 11th Century identified a “third coming” that Advent leads us to await—the coming of Christ in our own soul. While the birth of Christ and the second coming of Christ are important to Christians, we must all still move through this earthly life on a day-to-day basis with Christ in our hearts.

Keeping a watchful Advent reminds us that we do not tread these days in isolation. We can live in expectation of the movement of Christ in and through every moment of those days. Even though we are frequently distracted and diverted from attention to this movement within us, the season of Advent reminds us to turn inward yet again and seek God, the Holy Spirit within us.

Advent is a time to notice the longing that runs through the silent crevices in our souls. It helps us learn to wait in patience for that longing to be filled rather than hiding it or numbing it by shuffling through the mall, standing in front of the open refrigerator, or sitting stone-like in front of the television. Advent is also a time to embrace silence and stillness in order to see more clearly and hear more keenly the movement of the Spirit of God. Finally, Advent is a time to rejoice with hope and expectation that what we say we believe will, in fact, be revealed in the ordinary and extraordinary moments of our lives.

advent-wreath-third-sunday

The Season of Advent

Advent is the beginning of the Church Year for most churches in the Western tradition. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which is the Sunday nearest November 30, and ends on Christmas Eve (Dec 24). If Christmas Eve is a Sunday, it is counted as the fourth Sunday of Advent, with Christmas Eve proper beginning at sundown.

The Colors of Advent

Historically, the primary sanctuary color of Advent is Purple. This is the color of penitence and fasting as well as the color of royalty to welcome the Advent of the King.  Purple is still used in some traditions (for example Roman Catholic).  The purple of Advent is also the color of suffering used during Lent and Holy Week.  This points to an important connection between Jesus’ birth and death. The nativity, the Incarnation, cannot be separated from the crucifixion. The purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world, of the “Word made flesh” and dwelling among us, is to reveal God and His grace to the world through Jesus’ life and teaching, but also through his suffering, death, and resurrection. To reflect this emphasis, originally Advent was a time of penitence and fasting, much as the Season of Lent and so shared the color of Lent.

In the four weeks of Advent the third Sunday came to be a time of rejoicing that the fasting was almost over (in some traditions it is called Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for “rejoice”). The shift from the purple of the Season to pink or rose for the third Sunday Advent candles reflected this lessening emphasis on penitence as attention turned more to celebration of the season.

In recent times, however, Advent has undergone a shift in emphasis, reflected in a change of colors used in many churches.  Except in the Eastern churches, the penitential aspect of the Season has been almost totally replaced by an emphasis on hope and anticipation.

In many churches the third Sunday remains the Sunday of Joy marked by Pink or Rose. However, most Protestant churches now use blue to distinguish the Season of Advent from Lent. Royal Blue is sometimes used as a symbol of royalty. Some churches use Bright Blue to symbolize the night sky, the anticipation of the impending announcement of the King’s coming, or to symbolize the waters of Genesis 1, the beginning of a new creation. Some churches, including some Catholic churches, use blue violet to preserve the traditional use of purple while providing a visual distinction between the purple or red violet of Lent.

This does not eliminate any sense of penitence from the Season.  With the focus on the Advent or Coming of Jesus, especially in anticipating His Second Advent, there remains a need for preparation for that coming. Most liturgical churches incorporate confessional prayers into the services of Advent that relate to a sense of unworthiness as we anticipate His Coming. It is appropriate even in more traditional services of worship to incorporate confessional prayers as part of the anticipation and preparation of the Season.

With the shift to blue for Advent in most non-Catholic churches, some churches retain pink among the Advent colors, but use it on the Fourth Sunday of Advent.  It still remains associated with Joy, but is sometimes used as the climax of the Advent Season on the last Sunday before Christmas.

Red and Green are more secular colors of Christmas. Although they derive from older European practices of using evergreens and holly to symbolize ongoing life and hope that Christ’s birth brings into a cold world, they are never used as liturgical colors during Advent since those colors have other uses in other parts of the church year.

The Meaning of “Advent”

The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent. Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000 year old event in history. It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. That is a process in which we now participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate. Scripture reading for Advent will reflect this emphasis on the Second Advent, including themes of accountability for faithfulness at His coming, judgment on sin, and the hope of eternal life.

In this double focus on past and future, Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of individuals and a congregation, as they affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power. That acknowledgment provides a basis for Kingdom ethics, for holy living arising from a profound sense that we live “between the times” and are called to be faithful stewards of what is entrusted to us as God’s people. So, as the church celebrates God’s inbreaking into history in the Incarnation, and anticipates a future consummation to that history for which “all creation is groaning awaiting its redemption,” it also confesses its own responsibility as a people commissioned to “love the Lord your God with all your heart” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

The Spirit of Advent

Advent is marked by a spirit of expectation, of anticipation, of preparation, of longing. There is a yearning for deliverance from the evils of the world, first expressed by Israelite slaves in Egypt as they cried out from their bitter oppression. It is the cry of those who have experienced the tyranny of injustice in a world under the curse of sin, and yet who have hope of deliverance by a God who has heard the cries of oppressed slaves and brought deliverance!

It is that hope, however faint at times, and that God, however distant He sometimes seems, which brings to the world the anticipation of a King who will rule with truth and justice and righteousness over His people and in His creation. It is that hope that once anticipated, and now anticipates anew, the reign of an Anointed One, a Messiah, who will bring peace and justice and righteousness to the world.

Part of the expectation also anticipates a judgment on sin and a calling of the world to accountability before God. We long for God to come and set the world right! Yet, as the prophet Amos warned, the expectation of a coming judgment at the “Day of the Lord” may not be the day of light that we might want, because the penetrating light of God’s judgment on sin will shine just as brightly on God’s people.

Because of this important truth, especially in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Season of Advent has been a time of fasting and penitence for sins similar to the Season of Lent. However, a different emphasis for the season of Advent has gradually unfolded in much of the rest of the church. The season of Advent has come to be celebrated more in terms of expectation or anticipation. Yet, the anticipation of the Coming of the Messiah throughout the Old Testament and Judaism was not in connection with remembrance of sins. Rather, it was in the context of oppression and injustice, the longing for redemption, not from personal guilt and sin but from the systemic evil of the world expressed in evil empires and tyrants. It is in that sense that all creation groans for its redemption as we witness the evil that so dominates our world (Rom 8:18-25).

Of course, there is the problem of longing for vindication from an evil world when we are contributors to that evil. This is the power of the images of Amos when he warns about longing for the “Day of the Lord” that will really be a day of darkness (Amos 5:18-20). Still, even with Amos’ warning the time of Advent is one of expectation and anticipation, a longing for God’s actions to restore all things and vindicate the righteous. This is why during Advent we as Christians also anticipate the Second Coming as a twin theme of the season. So, while some church traditions focus on penitence during Advent, and there remains a place for that, the spirit of that expectation from the Old Testament is better captured with a joyous sense of expectancy. Rather than a time of mourning and fasting, Advent is celebrated as a time of joy and happiness as we await the coming of the King.

There will be time enough during the rest of the journey through the Church Year to remember our sins. It begins in Epiphany when we hear about the brotherhood of the Kingdom, and realize our failure to effect it. Then as we move toward and through Lent we realize that the coming of Jesus served more to lay bare our own sin than it did to vindicate our righteousness. There will be time to shed Peter’s bitter tears as we realize that what started with such possibility and expectation has apparently ended in such failure.

It is only as we experience that full cycle, beginning with unbridled joy in Advent that slowly fades into the realization of what we have done with and to the Christ, that the awful reality of Good Friday can have its full impact. And in that realization we can finally be ready to hear the Good News on Resurrection Sunday! That is the journey that the disciples took. And so there is value in taking the same journey beginning with the anticipation and joy of Advent!

So, we celebrate with gladness the great promise in the Advent, yet knowing that there is also a somber tone as the theme of threat is added to the theme of promise. This is reflected in some of the Scripture readings for Advent, in which there is a strong prophetic tone of accountability and judgment on sin. But this is also faithful to the role of the Coming King who comes to rule, save, and judge the world.

Because of the dual themes of threat and promise, Advent is a time of preparation that is marked by prayer. While Lent is characterized by fasting and a spirit of penitence, Advent’s prayers are prayers of humble devotion and commitment, prayers of submission, prayers for deliverance, prayers from those walking in darkness who are awaiting and anticipating a great light (Isa 9)!

The spirit of Advent is expressed well in the parable of the bridesmaids who are anxiously awaiting the coming of the Bridegroom (Matt 25:1-13). There is profound joy at the Bridegroom’s expected coming. And yet a warning of the need for preparation echoes through the parable. But even then, the prayer of Advent is still:

Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel!

Evergreens and The Advent Wreath

The beginning of Advent is a time for the hanging of the green, decoration of the church with evergreen wreaths, boughs, or trees that help to symbolize the new and everlasting life brought through Jesus the Christ. Some churches have a special weekday service, or the first Sunday evening of Advent, or even the first Sunday morning of Advent, in which the church is decorated and the Advent wreath put in place. This service is most often primarily of music, especially choir and hand bells, and Scripture reading, along with an explanation of the various symbols as they are placed in the sanctuary.

The Advent wreath is an increasingly popular symbol of the beginning of the Church year in many churches as well as homes. It is a circular evergreen wreath (real or artificial) with five candles, four around the wreath and one in the center. Since the wreath is symbolic and a vehicle to tell the Christmas story, there are various ways to understand the symbolism. The exact meaning given to the various aspects of the wreath is not as important as the story to which it invites us to listen, and participate.

The circle of the wreath reminds us of God Himself, His eternity and endless mercy, which has no beginning or end. The green of the wreath speaks of the hope that we have in God, the hope of newness, of renewal, of eternal life. Candles symbolize the light of God coming into the world through the birth of His son. The four outer candles represent the period of waiting during the four Sundays of Advent, which themselves symbolize the four centuries of waiting between the prophet Malachi and the birth of Christ.

  • 1st CANDLE– (purple) THE PROPHECY CANDLE or CANDLE OF HOPE – We can have hope because God is faithful and will keep the promises made to us. Our hope comes from God. “And again, Isaiah says, ‘The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.’ May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:12-13)
  • 2nd CANDLE– (purple) THE BETHLEHEM CANDLE or THE CANDLE OF PREPARATION – God kept his promise of a Savior who would be born in Bethlehem.  Preparation means to “get ready”. Help us to be ready to welcome YOU, O GOD! “As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: ‘A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God’s salvation.‘ (Luke 3:4-6)
  • 3rd CANDLE– (pink) THE SHEPHERD CANDLE or THE CANDLE OF JOY – The angels sang a message of JOY! “…and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:7-15)
  • 4th CANDLE– (purple) THE ANGEL CANDLE or THE CANDLE OF LOVE – The angels announced the good news of a Savior.  God sent his only Son to earth to save us, because he loves us! “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)
  • 5th CANDLE– (white) “CHRIST CANDLE” – The white candle reminds us that Jesus is the spotless lamb of God, sent to wash away our sins! His birth was for his death, his death was for our birth! “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!‘” (John 1:29)

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.’ In reply Jesus declared, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’ ‘How can a man be born when he is old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.‘” (John 3:1-8)

– Adapted from various sources.

“Come, Follow Me!” – A Gospel Journey

 Come Follow Me

Click here for audio version

To follow Jesus Christ means:

  1. We are chosen by Him

After Jesus temptations in the wilderness and preaching begins…

Matthew 4:19* And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (“Come, follow Me!” means His call is effective and He equips us)

John 1:43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” (Present active imperative – it is a direct command to Philip to follow Him)

Jesus speaks about those who are really His, and Who the real Shepherd is…

John 10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (God chooses us we do not choose Him)

  1. We are to deny and die

While Jesus deals with many crowds and a centurion…

Matthew 8:21-22 Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” (The spiritually dead bury their own dead, while the spiritually alive follow Christ, and preach the Gospel – when God regenerates the one He calls, they become spiritually alive.) cp. Luke 9:60

There are two types of followers:

  1. Those that are chosen
  2. Those who are fans or groupies

Matthew 10:38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Taking up your cross is not a metaphor; it means to be willing to deny yourself and die for Christ)

After speaking to the crowds and Pharisees, Jesus explains…

Mark 10:21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Following Christ means giving up all you have and all you are)

Now look at verses 28-30:

“Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”

After doing many miracles and healings, Jesus sees Levi…

Luke 5:27-28 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi (who is Matthew), sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.  (When God calls us to Himself, the call is irresistible. {Note: Greek imperfect active tense meaning Matthew began at once to follow Jesus and kept following Him}

After feeding the 5000, Jesus explains what it means to follow Him…

Luke 9:23** And he said to all, “If anyone would come (present tense) after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (God calls us to denial of self {i.e. totally reject ourselves} and to death, i.e., take up our own cross – daily.)

     3. We are never to look back

Luke 9:59-62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (There is a reluctance to break from the world system; whoever looks back to the world is not appropriate for the Kingdom of God)

  1. We are equipped to serve and multiply

Jesus explains to Andrew and Philip that He must be sacrificed and glorified…

John 12:26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. (We must follow Christ before we can serve Him)

Jesus tells Peter of his responsibilities…

John 21:19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” {Greek describes a union of a particle with a word; You, Peter, follow me!}

John 21:22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (In this verse, John uses a primary pronoun; You, Peter, keep on following me!)

Jesus is saying here that:

  1. Our main concern is to follow Him.
  2. There are areas of the disciple’s life upon which we exercise a proud and presumptuous curiosity. Jesus reproves all that curiosity.
  3. Jesus assures us that He will take care of all His true disciples, and that we should not be unduly concerned about anything or anyone else.
  4. To follow Him means we should go forward to whatever He calls us to, whether persecution or death – not envying any other person, and anxious only to do the will of God.

5. We are to possess certain “qualities” – 2 Peter 1:1-10:

“Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.

The idea here is not making sure that we retain our salvation by doing something, but the fact that we do possess salvation! Peter says; “doing these things,” testify that we are indeed followers of Christ.

To recap:

There are five ways to illustrate what it means to follow Jesus Christ in the Gospels.

To follow Jesus Christ means:

  1. We are chosen by Him.
  2. We are to deny and die.
  3. We are never to look back.
  4. We are equipped to serve and multiply.
  5. We are to possess certain “qualities.”

For the audio message only: Come, Follow Me

Seal-Sun-black-Red-Moon

Darkness At Noon: The Commission of a Post-Compliant Church

As the late Allan Bloom noted, a mind resolutely determined to be absolutely open is
often, in actuality, quite closed. The closing of the postmodern mind will present a
challenge for the church in this post-Christian age. Swirling worldviews and a
reflexive relativism come together to form a mentality often closed to all substantive truth
claims. Gathering clouds of darkness and the eclipse of truth present the believing church
with a great challenge – will we surrender in a spirit of cultural compliance?
We must recognize that the church has been compliant for far too long, and if we are
effectively to challenge the prevailing worldview of postmodern culture, the church must
become a post-compliant people. What will it take for Christians in this generation to be
awakened out of complacency and compliance? If we are complacent in this culture, if we are
compliant in the face of its demands and expectations, then there will be no preaching of the
gospel. There will be no authentic church. There will be no authentic Christian witness. We
will withdraw into our Christian cave, and we will cower there. We will not witness, we will
not work–we will simply retreat.

A recent debate between Robert Audi and Nicholas Wolterstorff is very revealing. In a book
entitled Religion in the Public Square, Robert Audi takes the secular argument–which is the
prevalent position in the academy–and argues that Christians have no right to make
Christian arguments in the public square. It is fine for Christians to make arguments, he says;
they just cannot show up as Christians. Following in the work of the philosopher John Rawls,
Audi goes so far as to say that when we enter the public square, we must bring with us a
purely secular rationale. In other words, any argument we make must be essentially and
purely secular, and such arguments are to be motivated by secular concerns alone. They
cannot even be spiritually motivated.

Think about what this means on the issue of homosexuality and homosexual marriage, to
take just one example. I believe historians will one day point to this issue as the catalyst for a
great and lamentable cultural revolution in America. The world will be categorically different
the moment homosexual marriage is normalized in this country. Then we will find out how
many Christians there are. We will find out how many churches there are. Who is going to
recognize these same-sex unions? Who is going to solemnize these same-sex unions? Not the
faithful church of the Lord Jesus Christ! Any church that would normalize and celebrate
what Scripture condemns has set itself in direct opposition to revelation, reason, and the
witness of the martyrs. Those who gave their lives for the sake of the Gospel did not do so in a
spirit of cultural compliance.

Think for a moment about this issue of same-sex marriage in the context of Audi’s secular
rationale. I was in Washington recently and heard a presentation in which a very wellinformed
person–one of the nation’s leading researchers on the issues of the day, said,
“Look, we have to understand that we are not going to be able to bring God into the same-sex
marriage debate. We are not going to be able to use spiritual and biblical arguments, so you
Christian people are just going to have to understand that.” I was up next to speak, so I said in
response, “Here is everything I know about marriage apart from God – nothing of binding
significance. Now that that is out of the way, I can tell you that everything I know about
marriage, everything I know about sex, everything I know about gender, everything I know
about homosexuality, I know from the Word of God. That is all I know. That is all I can know,
and I am not going to not talk about it. And if we lose this battle while preaching the
Scriptures, then brothers and sisters, we lose gloriously!”

There are many who will say that what must be pressed in this debate over same-sex
marriage are the deleterious social effects of undermining marriage – and leave all
theologically-based arguments out of the picture. That argument, however, is not only
wrong in principle, it is a pragmatic failure. We will never get anywhere with that, because
the people driving the movement for normalizing homosexuality really aren’t primarily
concerned about those issues. A culture that will compromise itself into accepting
homosexual marriage will never really be convinced by such arguments. In the final analysis,
all we have is the authority of the Word of God. We Christians are the world’s most eccentric
people in a postmodern age. We are committed to a faith that is structured by a book that is
two thousand years old. Beyond eccentric, we are increasingly seen as dangerous. A people
who live by the light of an ancient book – and who dare to call it the very Word of God – will
look exceedingly dangerous to the prevailing worldviews of this age.

The entire biblical truth claim is under assault in today’s culture. We see the tightening grip
in the tenacity of all this onslaught. We see a culture that increasingly loves darkness rather
than the light. We can see the logic of the culture, and we can see that the church has been
compliant too long. Thus, when we turn to Hebrews chapter 12, we are confronted with an
exhortation that instructs is that the reality must be different for us. The prophet Joel warned
of that apocalyptic day of judgment that is coming–a day when the sun will turn to darkness
and the moon will be turned to blood. In Hebrews 12, we are confronted with another
warning of judgment–this time addressed to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. The writer
of Hebrews writes of two mountains, Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. One represents the
covenant of old, and the other represents the New Covenant in Christ. Sinai represents
thunder and shaking and fear; Zion represents the festive joy of the people of God in the
work of Christ, in the Kingdom of the Redeemer.

In this passage, we are also told of a shaking that is about to come. In Hebrews 12:26, the
author quotes from the prophet Haggai in chapter 2, verses 6-7: “For thus says the Lord of
hosts: ‘Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and
the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in,
and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts.’” Then the writer of Hebrews picks
up by saying. “This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken–
that is, things that have been made–in order that the things that cannot be shaken may
remain.” (Hebrews 12:27)

We are now in a time of shaking, and there is more shaking yet to come. As we read the book
of Hebrews, this too is pointing towards an eschatological shaking and sifting. But just as in
Joel, there is both an eschatological and a present application. There is a shaking now
happening in this generation, and this shaking will be followed by more and more violent
shaking yet. We are about to see what remains and what falls. In this time of shifting and
sifting and shaking, we are going to be tested, and we are going to find out what we are made
of.

Look at Hebrews 12:28: “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be
shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God
is a consuming fire.” Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Yes,
there is a whole lot of shaking going on! But there is one kingdom that cannot be shaken,
and that is the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What does that kingdom look like? It is certainly a kingdom of victory, but it is sometimes a
victory that doesn’t look to observers like victory. Look at Hebrews 11:32: “And what more
shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and
Samuel and the prophets–who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice,
obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the
edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign
armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured,
refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered
mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were
sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats,
destitute, afflicted, mistreated–of whom the world was not worthy–wandering about in
deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Hebrews 11:32-38)

I think it is fair to say that to the casual, outside observer, this picture does not look much like
victory. But in the eyes of faith, it doesn’t get any more victorious than what this passage
declares. We don’t get to choose our times. We don’t get to choose our challenges. We didn’t
choose to live in a post-Christian age. We didn’t choose to confront the postmodern mind,
but this is where we are, and it is time that we become a post-compliant church. While all is
shaking and shaken around us, the one thing that cannot be shaken is the kingdom of our
Lord Jesus Christ, and this kingdom is visible in His church.

In a post-Christian age, confronted with the challenge of the postmodern mind, the Church
of the Lord Jesus Christ is called to be a post-compliant people. Anything less is just another
form of spiritual surrender.

~ by Dr. R. Albert Mohler

Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.

Seal-Sun-black-Red-Moon

Darkness At Noon: The Closing of the Postmodern Mind

The prophet Joel spoke of a day when the sun would be turned to darkness, and the
moon to blood. This picture–besides giving us a glimpse of that terrible, coming
Day of the Lord in judgment–is also a graphic picture of our own times. Even today,
in the gathering clouds of our culture, we see darkness at noon.

One of the central realities of this darkness is the dawning of a post-Christian culture – and a
central reality of our emerging culture is the closing of the postmodern mind. Something is
happening to the worldview, the mentality, and the consciousness of this age. If we listen
closely, we can hear something like the closing of a steel door — a solemn, cataclysmic
slamming of a door. We have been watching the postmodern mind in its development, and it
is now well developed. Not only do we see the themes of postmodernity taking hold of the
larger culture, but we understand the challenge this pattern of thinking poses to Christian
truth and Christian truth-telling. Tolerance is perverted into a radical secularism that is
anything but tolerant. There is little openness to truth, and growing hostility to truth claims.
Indeed, the postmodern mind has a fanatical, if selective, dedication to moral relativism, and
an understanding that truth has no objective or absolute basis whatsoever.

The late French philosopher Jacques Derrida shaped the postmodern mind by arguing that
the author of a text is effectively dead in terms of establishing the text’s meaning. One of the
fathers of literary deconstructionism, his concept of “the death of the author” exerts a
powerful influence on the culture at large. Derrida’s basically nihilistic philosophy suggested
that texts mean nothing in themselves. In other words, it is the reader who comes to the text
with meaning and determines what will be found within the text. The author is dead, Derrida
proclaimed, and can no longer dictate by his totalitarian authority what the text means.
Even before Derrida’s death, new debates about deconstructionism arose in the academy.
More significantly, these nihilistic philosophies have already filtered down into popular
culture. Even now, for example, many of our judges are practicing deconstructionists, seeing
the law not as what it was or what it was intended to be, but rather as a tool they can use for
their own agenda of social engineering. In the elite institutions of American academia,
deconstructionism is the order of the day. The text means what the professor says it means,
and it eventually means whatever each student would have it to mean. The reader reigns
supreme.

Unfortunately, deconstructionism has also found its way into many pulpits, sometimes in a
hard, ideological form, but more often in a soft and seductive form. In the hard form of
undiluted liberalism, it is simply the idea that this text, the Bible, may be a privileged text, but
the authors are dead. Thus, it is now up to us to decide what it should mean, so we can turn
the text on its head. And we can do so in the name of liberation, and freedom from
oppression. We are no longer bound to the oppressive truth of the text because we can now
twist the text to mean something it has never been understood to mean in the past – even the
opposite of what the words and grammatical structure would seem to mean. In so doing,
postmoderns seek to liberate themselves by deconstructing the text. After all, all the authors
are dead.

Of course, it is worth keeping in mind that such a hermeneutic must also assume that the
divine Author is dead. In its softer, subtler form, we find deconstructionism among some
who would never consider themselves liberals, and who would even claim to have what they
would characterize as a high view of Scripture. Yet when they encounter the text, they also
deconstruct it. The biblical text, they argue, has to be understood in terms of our modern
understanding. Modern psychology, anthropology, philosophy, and cultural studies have
something to bring to the interpretation of the text, they argue, something to tell us which
the human authors of Scripture missed. In other words, one may start with what it said, but
now we ourselves can decide what it means.

In both its hard and soft forms, deconstructionism has filtered down to the popular culture,
even to those who never heard of Jacques Derrida but have been nonetheless infected with
this postmodern mentality and this subtle form of subversive relativism and subjectivism.
You can hear Derrida in the discourse of adolescents in the mall. You can hear it in the
conversation on the nightly news.

The closing of the postmodern mind is the opposite of what postmodernism claimed to be its
aspiration. Postmodernism claimed that this new postmodern age–with the end of
modernity, the demise of scientific objectivity, and the openness to new forms and
understandings of truth–would lead to an opening of the mind. But as is always the case, the
totalitarian opening of the mind always ends with the radical closing of the mind. There is
nothing less tolerant than the modern ethos of tolerance. There is nothing less open than
the modern idea of open-mindedness. In the darkening sky and the gathering clouds, we see
the haunting closure of this supposedly open mind.

Sociologist Peter Berger reminds us that every single individual operates on the basis of
plausibility structures — certain frameworks of thought that are necessary for our
understanding of the world. For years, Berger and others have been telling us that the
plausibility structures of most Americans have little, if anything, to do with biblical
Christianity. The way most persons think about the world, the way they envision beauty, the
way they conceive love, the way they understand authority and marriage and structure and
principle and truth, all of these things are now basically secular in form. Not only so, but in
recent years we have witnessed the acceleration of this secularism into something that is
deeply dark, and increasingly nihilistic. What Karl Marx once promised would happen seems
to be coming to fulfillment–all that is solid melts into air. In the world of postmodernism, all
institutions are plastic, and all principles are liquid. We can reshape anything. Nothing is
given. Nothing is objective.

We can take the family, for example, and we can melt it down and make it something else. In
fact, we can turn it into an infinite number of liquid arrangements. We can take any
institution, be it government or church, or marriage, or family, and we can make of it what
we will. All principles are liquid, too. We can simply pour them out in a different way. Since
there is nothing really there anyway, we can reconfigure any principle according to our
desires. So we will reshape our entire worldview. We will shape our new philosophy. We will
be humanity come of age, and we will do this in the name of liberation and tolerance and
diversity–and open-mindedness. George Orwell never saw it so clearly, yet this is where we
live. Openness becomes closedness. Freedom becomes bondage, and tolerance becomes
intolerance.

The closing of the postmodern mind is not a pretty sight, nor is it friendly to human rights
and human dignity. We can look to Europe, where the post-Christian age is already
coalescing into a system of laws and a pattern of culture. Sweden, for example, already has
imprisoned a Pentecostal pastor, Ake Green, for preaching a sermon in which he spoke of
the sinfulness of homosexuality. He was recently acquitted of that “crime” by Sweden’s
highest court, but the fact remains that he was arrested and convicted by a lower court – and
the law remains in effect. Across much of Western Europe there is legislation in which it is
can be considered a crime to speak of the sinfulness of any sexual lifestyle, and of
homosexuality in particular.

In Belgium and the Netherlands, there are now official protocols for killing children and
infants in hospitals. Euthanasia has advanced to the point that, in the Netherlands, the
largest medical school in the country just reported that 31 percent of pediatricians have
admitted to killing babies, and 45 percent of neonatologists have admitted to euthanizing
infants–even without informing the parents that that is what happened to their child. And all
this is done, of course, in the name of health, even in the name of compassion. Then along
comes the Christian to say “We have a message about the dignity and sanctity of life,” and he
is told to be quiet. We can say, “Well, that is Europe. That is a post-Christian future that is an
ocean away.”

But even in the United States, we see all this coming together, and the clinched fist of a
closed postmodern mind is increasingly evident. In 1995, for instance, a U.S. District Court
judge in the state of Texas ruled against school prayer, afraid that some teenagers might in
the course of their graduation ceremony actually mention the name of Jesus, or mention the
name of God. When he handed down the ruling, the judge warned teenagers in the state of
Texas, saying, “If any of you shall mention the name of Jesus or God, or any other deity, you
will rue the day that you were born and will spend up to half a year in the Galveston jail.” That
is not Arthur Koestler warning in Darkness at Noon of the Soviet Union in 1941. It is the United
States of America in 1995. Legal observers may argue that this judge’s comments were not
indicative of a universal trend, but is this truly reassuring?

In the state of California, those who would be foster parents are now required to pledge that
they will say nothing that is in any way opposed to homosexuality or to any chosen sexual
lifestyle. Effectively, that means that Christians can no longer be foster parents in the state of
California. What a switch in ten years! Ten years ago, homosexual couples could not be foster
parents in the state of California. Now it is the Christians – who would raise their children as
Christians – who cannot be foster parents in that state.

A recently published book by Sam Harris entitled The End of Faith even claimed that faith
itself is a form of terrorism, and that the United States can no longer afford its long cherished
ideal of religions toleration and religious liberty. According to Harris, religious liberty is
simply too dangerous in a world like this.

We need to take notice of these developments in order that we might understand the
challenge we are about to face, because I fear that as evangelical Christians, we tend to swing
like a pendulum between a naive optimism and a wrongful pessimism. In reality, we have no
right to be either optimistic or pessimistic. To be either optimistic or pessimistic is to be
deluded, and in some sense to deny the sovereignty of God. We cannot be pessimistic because
Scripture tells us we are to be a people of hope. Of course, that does not mean that we are a
naive and ignorant people of hope who close our eyes to the reality around us. No, we find a
hope in something that is far more secure than anything this culture can secure.
But, on the other hand, we cannot be optimistic, either. Optimism is the message sent down
from public relations. Optimism is the happy face that tells us with a chipper voice that
everything is all right. Well, it is not all right, and everything will not be well, not in this age
or in this life. We have no right to be optimistic, but we have no right not to be hopeful.
Evangelicals, sometimes demonstrating a nearly breathtaking naivete, swing between these
pendulum extremes of pessimism and optimism, when Scripture calls us to reality. Be soberminded,
we are told. Gird up the loins of your thinking. Be ready, be alert, be watchful. Be a
watchman on the wall. Have your eyes open. Be ready for action. This is our calling as
Christians, even as the darkness gathers. We are to be the community of the open-eyed, the
intellectually alert, the broken-hearted, and the resolutely hopeful. Pulling that off will take
more than wishful thinking.

~ by Dr. R. Albert Mohler

Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.

the-four-gospels

When it comes to basic facts about the NT canon that Christians should memorize, one of the most critical is the statement by Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, around A.D. 180: “It is not possible that the gospels can be either more or fewer than the number they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live and four principle winds… [and] the cherubim, too, were four-faced.”[1]

Here Irenaeus not only affirms the canonicity the four gospels, but is keen to point out that only these four gospels are recognized by the church. Indeed, Irenaeus is so certain that the canon of the gospels is closed that he can argue that it is entrenched in the very structure of creation—four zones of the world, four principle winds, etc.

In an effort to minimize the implications of Irenaeus’ statement, some scholars have suggested that only Irenaeus held this view. He is thus portrayed as lonely, isolated, innovator who is trying to break into new and uncharted territory. This whole idea of a fourfold gospel, we are told, was invented by Irenaeus.

But, does this Irenaeus-as-innovator approach fit the facts? Not really. There are several considerations that raise doubts about it:

1. Irenaeus’ own writings. When Irenaeus talks about the fourfold gospel in his writings, he gives no indication that he is presenting a new idea, or that he is asking the reader to consider a new concept. On the contrary, he speaks in a manner that assumes the reader knows and follows these same gospels. He speaks of them naturally and unapologetically. In short, Irenaeus does not write like a person advocating the scriptural status of these books for the first time.

2. Irenaeus’ contemporaries. The idea that Irenaeus was alone runs into a serious challenge, namely that there were other writers at the end of the second century that affirmed these same four gospels as exclusive. The Muratorian fragment, Clement of Alexandria, and Theophilus of Antioch are examples. Apparently, Irenaeus was not the only one under the impression that the church had four gospels.

In addition, one should consider Tatian’s Diatesseron—a harmony of the four gospels written c.170. The Diatesseron not only tells us that these four gospels were known and used, but it tells us that they were seen as authoritative enough to warrant harmonization. After all, why would one bother harmonizing books that were not authoritative? If they weren’t authoritative, then it wouldn’t matter if they contradicted each other.

3. Irenaeus’ Predecessors. Although the evidence prior to Irenaeus is less clear, we can still see a commitment to the fourfold gospel. For instance, Justin Martyr, writing c.150, refers to plural “gospels”[2] and at one point provides an indication of how many he has in mind when he describes these gospels as “drawn up by His apostles and those who followed them.”[3] Since such language indicates (at least) two gospels written by apostles, and (at least) two written by apostolic companions, it is most naturally understood as reference to our four canonical gospels.[4]

This is confirmed by the fact that Justin cites from all three Synoptic Gospels,[5] and even seems to cite the gospel of John directly, “For Christ also said, ‘Except ye be born again, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’” (cf. John 3:3).[6] The fact that Justin was the mentor for Tatian (who produced a harmony of the four gospels) provides yet another reason to think that he had a fourfold gospel.

In the end, there are ample reasons to reject the idea that Irenaeus was the inventor of the fourfold gospel canon. Not only did his contemporaries have this same view, but this view was even shared by those before him. Thus, we must consider the possibility that Irenaeus was actually telling the truth when he says that the fourfold gospel was something that was “handed down”[7] to him.

——————————————————————————–

[1] Haer. 3.11.8.

[2] 1 Apol. 66.3.

[3] Dial. 103.

[4] G. Stanton, “The Fourfold Gospel,” NTS 43 (1997): 317–346.

[5] E.g., Dial 100.1; 103.8; 106.3-4. Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels, 38, declares that the citations in Justin “derive from written gospels, usually from Matthew and Luke, in one instance from Mark.”

[6] 1 Apol. 61.4.

[7] Haer 3.1.1.

by Michael Kruger