Praying in Light

I am currently enjoying a free trial of The Banner of Truth magazine.  In my first free issue there was a particularly helpful article with respect to prayer by Peter Barnes.  This brief post is inspired by that article.

Prayer is a constant struggle for the Christian.  Our lives are so busy, our minds so preoccupied, and our world so noisy.  To find time, energy, and (if we are honest) the desire is difficult.  Here are four ways to pray better:

Pray in light of the gospel

As alluded to above, motivation is the key to our prayer life.  One way to ensure we are motivated correctly is to pray in light of the gospel.  As Peter Barnes writes: “We are not trying to climb the ladder to heaven, but responding to the grace of the triune God in silence-867434-mreaching down to earth to save sinners.” (BoT, Oct 2016, pg. 5).  Prayer is not something we have to do, it is something we get to do because of Jesus and the cross.  Prayer is not a demand, but a reward for the work of another.  Seeking God in prayer is not our attempt to please, find, or satisfy God; it is the irresistible outpouring of a gratefully renewed heart.  Praying in light of the gospel helps us find and keep our motivation.

Pray in light of the Psalms

The Psalter is a rich book; through them we are “taken into the depths of the human soul and raised to the heights of the glories of God” (BoT, Oct 2016, pg. 5).  The whole gamut of human emotions find expression in the Psalms, and yet through these intensely human poems there is a magnificent theology of God.  Sometimes we face circumstances in life that we do not have words for.  Due to sorrow, fear, or anger we simply don’t know how to address God.  But for those who pray in light of the Psalms they are “helped thus to understand themselves, and also taken out of themselves, to draw near to God” (BoT, Oct 2016, pg. 5).

Pray in light of structure

There is not necessarily anything wrong with impromptu prayer.  Spontaneous prayer is often enlivening and exhilarating.  To pray without preparation reveals our true hearts and minds.  However, this spontaneity can lead to repetition, clichés and mindless babble.  As Barnes illustrates:

Two lovers may sigh at each other, but a relationship consists of more than sighs.  So too with God.  It is too easy for us to resort to set phrases or fill-in words that do not mean much. (BoT, Oct 2016, pg. 5)

It is good to think about the structure of our prayer, to move through our worship and requests orderly.  This is especially true when praying publicly so that others can pray with you as they listen.  Doing this also allows our prayers to differ each time and therefore become more engaging for our own hearts, minds and souls.

Pray in light of others

Being a Baptist my tradition is to avoid liturgy, but I do fear that me and my separatist friends lose something by avoiding liturgy at all costs.  One of the most profitable aids to my prayer life has been the little book The Valley of Vision.  Praying written prays is hugely helpful in widening our horizons, broadening our praying vocabulary and diversifying our topics of prayer.  This is something that the Anglican liturgy does well.  We can indeed be helped by reading the prayers of others and praying the prayers of others.

Reading Ruth: Four Lessons

tumblr_lz6p2aMgTT1qc3cl1o1_1280The book of Ruth is a popular and well known book of the Bible.  However, sometimes it is a little misunderstood; and all too often the true depths of this rich book are not plumbed.  There is no way I can do justice to the riches contained in the book of Ruth in a blog post, but hopefully we can re-orientate ourselves enough to point us in the right direction in future.  Here are the four deep truths that have struck me as I have preached through the book of Ruth.

God is Sovereign

Rather remarkably God is only explicitly credited with directing the events of this story twice.  First, in 1:6 where he visits his people to give them food; and second, in 4:13 when he gifts Ruth and Boaz with a child.  However, God’s hand is presupposed everywhere in the book of Ruth.  As Longman & Dillard (An Introduction to the Old Testament, pg. 149-150) point out for us ‘the attentive reader finishes the book knowing that God’s hand guided the events of this story’.  God’s invisible guidance is oozing out of the book of Ruth.  Indeed, God’s sovereignty is made abundantly evident by the narrator at the beginning of chapter 2.  The narrator tells us:

So she [Ruth] set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to some to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech.  And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem.  (ESV, vv. 3-4)

The brief phrase ‘she happened’ tells us that this was no coincidence.  In Hebrew this phrase means ‘her chance chanced upon’, or as many people would say today ‘as luck would have it’.  But it is not luck at all, the narrator of the story is actually screaming SEE THE HAND OF GOD AT WORK HERE!  This is reinforced by the beginning of verse 4, ‘And behold, Boaz came’.  In other words, ‘as luck would have it Ruth ended up in Boaz’s field, and wouldn’t you know it Boaz turned up!’

One of the doctrines that the book of Ruth teaches us is that God is sovereign, and that is vitally important to comprehend as we move onto the second lesson.

The Worst of Times are not Wasted in God’s Economy

We must be ever so careful not to get caught up too quickly in the romantic whirlwind of the second and third chapters of Ruth.  Naomi can hardly be blamed for the bloodcurdling cry “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty.” (ESV, 1:20-21).

The setting of the book is the dark days of the Judges (1:1) – the land of Israel was rife with spiritual adultery and in addition there was a famine (1:1).  Therefore, Naomi and her family head to a foreign land.  After a decade in this foreign land though, Naomi finds herself standing at three graves – her husband and her two sons.  She is now widowed and childless in Moab.  Indeed, Ruth has been widowed too.  We cannot and we must not minimise the pain that these two women experienced.  They are not just fictional characters in a soap opera – they are real historical people living in the worst of times.

But, these worst of times are not wasted!  How come?  Because through Ruth (who travelled back to Bethlehem with Naomi) Boaz fathered Obed, Obed then fathered Jesse, and finally Jesse fathered David…except that wasn’t finally.  After many generations this family line led to Jesus Christ (4:21-22; Matt. 1:1-17).  For this reason alone the worst of times were not wasted in God’s economy.

Radical Obedience is Necessary

There are two striking instances of radical obedience in the book of Ruth, and they both occur in chapter 3.

First, try to picture the scene as Ruth approaches Boaz in the middle of the night.  A man and a woman, deeply attracted to each other, alone in the middle of the night, lying down together, no prying eyes, agreeing to marry one another, perhaps even under a romantic starlit sky and they REFRAIN FROM HAVING SEX.  No one would ever know, they are going to get married anyway and it is o so difficult to refrain just now…but they do.

Second, even though Boaz is keen to marry Ruth there is a bump in the road, a stumbling block for the plan.  Boaz explains, “And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I” (ESV, 3:11-12).  Boaz certainly is a remarkable man, a woman he clearly desires is there with him but he will not overrule God’s law.  There is someone else who is more closely related and so has the first option on redeeming the family.

Radical obedience is necessary from the characters of the story if God’s sovereign purposes are going to be achieved, and gratefully we find that they are faithful.  Mark Dever (Message of OT, pg. 232) writes: ‘We may never perceive what future results will come from our present acts of faithfulness, regardless of how small they are.’  This is certainly evidenced in the book of Ruth.

Redemption

Redemption is a key theme for the book.  The climax is evident in chapter four where the root for ‘redeem/redemption’ is used twelve times in twelve verses to speak of Ruth’s marriage to Boaz.  In those opening twelve verses of chapter four we see Ruth redeemed by a man of character (Boaz) and redeemed into a community (the people of Israel).

Now we must be careful about just jumping from Boaz to Jesus, after all the New Testament never speaks of Boaz being a foreshadowing of Jesus (in the same way it does of Melchizedek for example).  However, what Scripture teaches is that Yahweh is a redeemer.  Indeed, Yahweh is both the redeemer in the Old Testament and the redeemer in the New Testament.  In the Old Testament he redeems his people through many different individuals, and in Ruth we find Naomi and Ruth being redeemed by Yahweh through Boaz.  As we move to the New Testament though we find that all kinds of people are redeemed by Yahweh through one individual – the God-man, Jesus Christ.

Again, Ruth’s redemption was a physical one, but we enjoy a spiritual redemption won by Jesus Christ with benefits that exceed and surpass all that Boaz did for Ruth.  Are we prepared to declare: Redeemed, How I Love to Proclaim It.

Conclusion

My suggestion is that by keeping these four big ideas in our mind while we read, study, and teach the book of Ruth we will avoid the pitfalls of reading just the romantic aspects of the story.  There can be no doubt that the narrator of Ruth is a gifted storyteller, and we are certainly encapsulated by the way the story is told.  However, we must not lose sight of God’s sovereignty, which orders the worst of times and requires our radical obedience, for it leads eventually to our redemption.

For further help see Top Five Commentaries on Ruth.

Top Five Books from Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is undoubtedly one of the up and coming voices in the world of Christianity.  He is a widely known preacher, conference speaker, author and notably has Kevin-DeYoung-color-preferred.jpghis blog hosted on The Gospel Coalition website.  He also pastors University Reformed Church, Michigan.  Although I wouldn’t sign-up to DeYoung’s ecclesiology – he is a lucid, winsome and helpful writer.  In God’s grace he will likely be a key voice for many years to come.  Here are the top five books from DeYoung that I have read recently.

  1. Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible is worth knowing, trusting and loving (2014)

This is an excellent book.  It is a well written, brief, accessible and important introduction to the theology of Scripture.  For anyone wanting to know why we can know, trust and love Scripture – this is the book to start with.  This book also tops my list because the doctrine and nature of Scripture is an important debate now within evangelicalism.  It will be necessary for all Christians to defend the nature of Scripture in coming days.  This book will help us to do this.

  1. The Hole in our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness (2012)

This book was an incredibly timely book when first published.  It was vital that this challenge of holiness rung out in the shadow of the ‘young, restless, and reformed movement’.  Even though that ‘movement’ is perhaps a little less pervasive now, this thinking is ever present.  So many Christians claim that freedom in Christ means that we can live however we want, and yet gospel passion is imperative to the pursuit of godliness.  This will be a formative book for anyone who takes the time to read it.

  1. What is the Mission of the Church? Making sense of social justice, shalom, and the great commission (2011)

This book was co-written with Greg Gilbert (who has written a few good books too).  This is one of DeYoung’s larger books, but it is no less readable then his other books.  There are several important topics discussed and explained in this book that are imperative for Christians to grasp.  There is an excellent discussion on the nature of the Kingdom of God, profitable exegesis of significant texts for the great commission, and most importantly a very good explanation of the place of social action in the mission of the church.

  1. What does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? (2015)

This is another topical book by DeYoung, released at the height of the debate, and yet DeYoung enters the debate winsomely and gracefully.  This book surveys the most important and pertinent texts on the issue of homosexuality.  This book does not always go on to apply the teaching of the Bible into the vast array of pastoral situations that one may find themselves, but then that is not DeYoung’s aim in it.  Rather, it simply and straightforwardly sets out what the Bible teaches on the issue.  It is a must read at the moment!

  1. Just Do Something: How to make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, writing in the sky, etc. (2009)

The title of this book reveals something of DeYoung’s sense of humour.  Discerning God’s will is one of those things which preoccupies Christians.  What decisions should we make?  Where should we go?  What should we do?  Is this God’s will, or is that?  We are so afraid of making decisions in case it is not the one which God has purposed for us.  DeYoung’s book offers an important and helpful corrective.  This is an excellent book (and very short which aids in getting through it).

If you have never read one of DeYoung’s book I would thoroughly encourage you to make time in the next few weeks to read one of the books mentioned above.  Why not get in contact with me and let me know what you thought about it.

The Cessationism Debate

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Image by SMBCollege

Readers of this post will probably be a little disappointed due to the fact that I am not seeking to stoke the fires of this debate.  Rather, this is a plea for humility.  I wish to endeavour to breed a little humility in this often heated debate.  As I see it there are primarily two stumbling blocks with respect to achieving agreement on the topic.  The cessationist has an exegetical problem, while the continuationist has a theological problem.  In identifying these weaknesses in the argument I trust it will aid us in breeding humility.

The Cessationist has an Exegetical Problem

In some sense both the cessationist and the continuationist have an exegetical problem, in that neither can point to a particular verse, passage or chapter of Scripture which definitively supports either case.  However, the cessationist has a slightly bigger stumbling block to overcome as nowhere in Scripture is there an explicit statement that the miraculous speaking gifts will cease at the end of a particular age (nor indeed that they had ceased during the New Testament era).

Those who favour the continuation of the miraculous speaking gifts can clearly point to a number of different parts of Scripture which either record, document or rule on the use of these gifts in the context of the local church.  The following are just a sample:

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:4)

For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. (Acts 10:46)

And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. (Acts 19:6)

Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up. (1 Cor. 14:5)

Cessationists need to concede that they cannot point to any particular verse, passage or chapter that documents the cessation of these gifts.  This should foster a degree of humility as there is the acknowledgement that there is no final nail for the continuationists coffin.

The Continuationist has a Theological Problem

This may of course encourage some continuationists to become a little proud in their position, since it is clearly documented in the New Testament era and more importantly present within the canon of Scripture.  However, the continuationist should not be so quick to jump to conclusions.  There is a significant theological problem which lies along their pathway.  As O. Palmer Robertson correctly observes:

No further words, ideas, or supposed visions and prophecies shall supplement the completed revelation of Scripture.  It is not just that the written canon is closed, meaning that no more words are to be added to the Bible.  The end of revelation means that all those former ways of God’s making his will known to his church have now ceased. (The Final Word, pg. 60)

With the exception of perhaps the first sentence most continuationists would agree that God’s authoritative revelation has ended with Scripture, the closing of the canon.  The continuationist, however, would simple argue that the miraculous speaking gifts are not revelatory in the same way today.  And here-in lies the theological problem.  It is very difficult to argue that tongues and prophecy are of a different nature in different eras of church history.

Humility

I am sure that as people from either ‘camp’ read through the above words that a whole host of arguments flooded to mind to defend their position.  My aim is not to encourage you to leave those arguments at home, rather my aim is to encourage you to hold your position fiercely but with humility.

There is nothing sadder than Christians who are flippant about their views on important matters such as this debate; except perhaps that brother or sister who holds their position so dogmatically that they query the salvation of those who disagree with them.  The above arguments are in no way conclusive arguments, but simply an illustration of how precarious the debate really is – no one has an ace up their sleeve.

Therefore, can we enter the cessationism debate with humility?  By all means continue to debate, read, study and pray – but do it all knowing there are subtle flaws in your own argument.


Author’s note: In case you are wondering, I lean toward the cessationist side of the debate.

The Summer Report Back

Summer Report Back Season

It is that time of year again when church ministries kick-off; all of the holidays are over; the short-term mission teams have ended; and our church calendars are full of Sunday evenings and midweek meetings of summer work report backs.  Lots of nervous youngmeeting-1502045 (and not so young) people are sharing with everyone their acts of service over the summer.  Many people are delighted and encouraged to hear what others got up to.  Those who supported and prayed faithfully are keen learn about the ways in which God used that support.

But despite the support and interest of our home churches, the reality is that it is very difficult to make a report back interesting, and encouraging (unless of course you fought a lion bare-handed and 4,000 people were converted).  So here are five things that could help us make our report backs a little more interesting and encouraging:

  1. Tell us why you went with a particular agency

Virtually all summer work takes place through the medium of a particular agency.  It might be a parachurch organisation; a denominational structure; or perhaps some kind of mission agency.  For some reason though we chose one (or perhaps two or three) of these agencies to serve with as opposed to the other options.  It would be beneficial for your church to know who you served with, and why you chose them.

For example, for the past number of summers I have served with Baptist Youth – a department of the Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland.  The reason I serve with them is probably connected to the fact I am a Baptist.  However, they also operate a profitable policy of only sending teams to work with established Baptist Churches or Baptist Mission’s work.  The reason for this is so that all ministry undertaken in the summer by a visiting team can be followed up by the local congregation.  This seems wise and sensible to me.  So, tell your church why you served with a particular agency.

 2. Don’t simply run through the schedule

There is little that is more tedious than listening to five report backs in a row which all follow the same pattern – rehearsing the schedule.  “On Monday at 9 we had breakfast, at 10 we had Bible study, at 12 we handed out invitations…” and so on and so forth!  Don’t get me wrong it is important to let people know what the components of your week was made up off.  Some teams/camps do things a little differently than others and so it is beneficial to share the differences.  However, no-one is going to enjoy your reading out your schedule for the week.  Instead share a highlight, or something which was particularly difficult, or an unusual activity which peeked interest with the team members or children.  It is important that we don’t simply run through the schedule.

 3. Share what you learned, or ways in which you were challenged

If you’re not going to run through the schedule what should you share?  Share what you learned, or some way in which you were challenged.  By and large your church doesn’t want you to return from summer service exactly the same as before you left.  The church desire and pray that through service we will be changed, transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ and develop in our discipleship.  Offer them encouragement to continue those prayers by sharing how you have been changed.

I once led a team through a five-part study of the letter of Jude.  One of Jude’s focuses is the judgement that will certainly be unleashed on false teachers and those who abandon the faith.  I waxed eloquent about God’s justice and the comfort that God’s justice should be to Christians facing difficulties.  While taking this on board, the team challenged me as they were deeply moved at thinking about unbelievers who faced this same punishment.  I learned that there was a hardness to my heart which had prevented me from seeing things from that angle.  I changed as I grew more compassionate when meditating on God’s justice.  Let your church know that your service has changed you in some way.

 4. Offer specific prayer points

One of the helpful things about short-term service over the summer is that it is often away from your usual circle of friends and acquaintances.  This means that there is usually an anonymity for the people you are working with.  While praying for all the children who heard the gospel, and all the leaders who helped out is a good thing – it is also vague.  Pick an individual, an event, a story which will capture people’s attention and ask for specific prayer for the specific scenario.

 5. Share Scripture

This final one is usually left out, and that’s a shame.  God’s word feeds God’s people, so encourage and exhort those listening to your report back with Scripture.  Tie what you were doing in the summer to what Scriptures teaches, prays, encourages or promises.

I have served in London over the past few summers, in an increasingly ethnically, religiously, and culturally diverse area.  Therefore, this year when I reported back I read Psalm 67 to those present.  This Psalm presents the scandalous picture of the God of Israel enjoying a relationship with the nations (the Gentiles).  It prays that God may be known among the nations (v. 3), that the peoples, all the peoples, would praise Him (v. 3, 5) and that the nations would be glad and sing for joy in God (v. 4).  It ends with the somewhat certain hope that all the ends of the earth will fear God (v. 7).

Pick a passage of Scripture which is related to your area of service and share it with the congregation.

Enjoy it

Sometimes the report back season can be tedious and tiresome – for both those tasked with reporting back and those listening.  It should not be so.  Those reporting back should be enthused by their opportunity to join the work of the kingdom, proclaiming Christ and praying for transformed lives.  Those listening should have their hearts warmed by faithful servants, glorious reports of God at work and the realisation that the individual standing in front of them has been changed by God through their service.

Have a think through the things mentioned above and enjoy sharing your experiences with your loving home church!

Top Five Piper Books

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Dr John Piper is a name that almost all evangelical Christians have come across at some point or another.  Whether or not you’re a fan of his work, it would be difficult to deny that he has been one of the most influential voices in modern Christianity.  Piper served as Senior Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist for 33 years, until his retirement in 2013.  Currently, he is chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary and continues to serve the Christian community at large through Desiring God.  Here are my top five reads from the pen of Piper.

  1. Let the Nations Be Glad!: The Supremacy of God in Missions (2004)

This was a formative book for me with respect to a theology of mission.  In Let the Nations Be Glad! Piper effectively develops a theology of mission, while at the same time offering a rallying cry for the church, and the individual Christian, to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.  No one can consider mission without reading this book and taking on board the huge task that faces us in obeying the Great Commission, but huge resources we possess in Jesus Christ, our glorious Saviour.  A worthy compatriot to this book from Piper is Jesus: The only way to God.

  1. Don’t Waste Your Life (2003)

I will never forget he picture Piper paints of the elderly couple offering Jesus a handful of sea-shells as the fruit of their retirement!  God forbid that any faithful disciple squanders their final years in ‘rest’ before reaching our eternal rest.  The honest truth is that this life throws so many distractions at us that living a life fully devoted to Jesus Christ is increasingly difficult.  Indeed, this book is probably more pertinent now than when it was first published 13 years ago.  If you desire to be chided for your lethargy, but in a gracious and encouraging manner then this book is for you.

  1. Seeing and Savouring Jesus Christ (2001)

This delightful book has thirteen brief studies/meditations on various aspects of the character of Jesus Christ.  It is easily accessible, pastorally rich and quite frankly worship inducing!  Piper, through this book, aids us in seeing Jesus for who he truly is as presented in Scripture.  However, he doesn’t just plant that in our minds, but forces it down into our hearts.  Feeling bored or exasperated with Christianity?  See and Savour Jesus.

  1. Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (2003)

This is effectively the definitive work by John Piper.  Why does it come fourth on my list then?  Well, that is perhaps a subjective judgement.  This book did not captivate me in the same way that other books of Piper’s have done, and this is probably because it wasn’t one of the first Piper books I read.  However, it is necessary reading for those who are appreciative of Piper’s work as it lays out the underpinnings for his philosophy of ministry.  For that reason, even if it is a little more difficult to get through than some of his other books, this is a must read.

  1. The Supremacy of God in Preaching (1990)

The preacher can never read too many books on preaching, but he can read bad books on preaching.  This thankfully is not one of those bad books.  Supremacy of God in Preaching is akin to Let the Nations Be Glad in that it offers a lofty theology (albeit briefly) while not neglecting the hugely practical aspects of the task.  Lots of this book takes its example from Jonathan Edwards also which is helpful as there is someone to ‘see’ this worked out in.

There should also be honourable mentions for Piper’s writing on gender issues.  There is far too much to list here but you’ll find all his books at Desiring God.  Perhaps for starters see What’s the Difference? Manhood and Womanhood defined according to the Bible.  That would be a good entry point into his work on gender issues – something which is extremely pertinent today.  Another group of books which are well worth perusing are his biographical sketches.  Books such as Contending for Our All or Filling up the Afflictions of Christ are excellent as they not only introduce to important figures in various ages of church history, but also draw out implications from their lives for ours.

In all of Piper’s writings he reminds us again and again that the only way to enjoy true happiness is to forsake the pursuit of our own joy and give all in the pursuit of God’s glory.  No matter what you read of Piper’s you will inevitably be drawn into desiring God.

Why Study the Biblical Languages?

This week I have the responsibility of introducing the latest Irish Baptist College student intake to New Testament Greek.  Undoubtedly one of the first questions in their minds (as it was in my mind when I started six years ago) will be ‘why study the Biblical languages?’  There are many answers to that question, but here are four brief reasons for studying the Biblical languages.

Bible Translations Aren’t Perfect

There is an inherent difficulty in translation work – that difficulty is that something is always lost in translation.  Lots of English translations of very good and accurate.  However, there is always a choice to be made – should the translation follow a word-by-word philosophy or a functional (phrase-by-phrase/meaning) philosophy.  Either the translators sacrifice the flow of the English language or they make an interpretive decision (which isn’t always accurate).

The question is how can we have an assurance on what the Biblical text says and means?  The answer is read it in the Greek or Hebrew – in doing so you don’t have to rely on a translator’s interpretation or attempt to decipher an awkward English sentence.  Instead,

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if you know the Biblical languages, you can make those decisions yourself.

Develops a deeper Biblical Understanding and Discernment

Being competent in the Biblical languages also leads to a developing of a deeper Biblical understanding and discernment.  This is of course predicated on the above point.  In being able to go to the original language instead of relying on a translation gets us closer to the Biblical text.  As we do so our understanding and discernment grows with our familiarity.

The benefit of this is that we are capable of assessing new Bible translations, the next innovative theological trend and the novel developments in Church and culture.  There won’t be the same necessity to go seeking for other’s opinions and assessments of particular translations, theological trends and developments in Church and culture.  (That being said listening to other experts is always advisable – just not necessary as such).

Offers Confidence in Preaching and Teaching

The previous two reasons give rise to this.  Knowing the Biblical languages offers us confidence in preaching and teaching the truths of Scripture.  This is not just something for pastors and preachers, but for all of us who have responsibility in opening God’s word and explaining it to others.  Instead of relying on commentators or scholars to explain things for you, to in turn explain things for others.  To be able to speak with first-hand knowledge of issues offers a confidence that can’t be found as we offer second-hand opinions!

The Church Need Textual Critics

This final reason isn’t perhaps the first thing that might come to mind.  The church is in vital need of pastors, missionaries, Bible Teachers, elders, deacons, ministry leaders, and so on and so forth.  However, the church also need textual critics.  Textual critics are the people who seek out ancient manuscripts, spend endless hours reading and reproducing them and finally deciding which variants and the best options.  It is textual critics who offer us the latest information for our ever better Bible translations.  But this skill requires a deeply intimate knowledge and understanding of the Biblical languages.  Being a textual critic is not glamourous, but it is ever so important for the church as they ensure we have the most accurate manuscripts informing our Bibles.

Conclusion

In 1524, six years after posting his “Ninety-five Theses,” Martin Luther (1483–1546), father of the Protestant Reformation, charged his contemporaries:

Let us be sure of this: we will not long preserve the gospel without the languages. The languages are the sheath in which this sword of the spirit [Eph. 6:17] is contained; they are the casket in which this jewel is enshrined; they are the vessel in which this wine is held; they are the larder in which this food is stored…if through our neglect we let the languages go (which God forbid!), we shall…lose the gospel.

Also see Bitzer was a Banker!

Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 30 ~ The Final Judgement

Today we conclude our 30 part series on the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.  I hope and trust that you have benefited from looking at doctrines in Scripture thematically and systematically.


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The Confession fittingly ends with the climactic event which will end human history as we know it, the Final Judgement.  In doing so, the Confession answers three questions for us.

What is the Final Judgement?

In answering the first question the Confession straight-forwardly asserts: ‘God hath appointed a day wherein He will judge the world in righteousness’ (pg. 122).  The Final Judgement is a moment in time (‘a day’) when God will judge everyone, everywhere, for everything.  If that sounds a little stark, then consider that this is exactly the point that Paul makes to the Athenians listening to him on Mars Hill (Acts 17:31).

On that day we are told that all of the apostate angels with be judged.  After all, as Jude reminds us, ‘the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgement of the great day’ (v. 6).  Not only the angels but all people throughout history too.  This is one of the closing exhortations that Paul leaves with the church in Rome.  He writes ‘we will all stand before the judgement seat of God…each of us will give an account of himself to God’ (Rom. 14:10, 12).

This Final Judgement will be conducted by Jesus, the one to whom all power and judgement has been given to by the Father (Acts 17:31).  As we noted last week then, depending on our standing in Christ, this judgement will lead to one of two destinations:

[F]or then shall the righteous go into everlasting life and receive that fullness of joy and glory with everlasting reward, in the presence of the Lord; but the wicked, who know not God and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments and punished with everlasting destruction, from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power. (pg. 122-123)

Why is there a Final Judgement?

The answer to this second question is perhaps beyond the full comprehension of our finite human minds.  However, it is not beyond stating in our finite human language.  The Confession unashamedly proclaims:

The end of God’s appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of His mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of His justice, in the eternal damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient (pg. 122)

There is a Final Judgement for the glory of God’s mercy to the elect, and the glory of God’s justice to the reprobate.  Yet, in Romans 9, an equally black and white statement of God’s election and rejection contains the same emphasis.  It is all ‘in order to make known the riches of his glory’ (v. 23).  There is a Final Judgement for God’s glory.

What difference does the Final Judgement make now?

This is a rare chapter in the Confession that contains some practical application (however, this is justifiable given the aim of the Confession).  There are two reasons why it has been revealed to us that there is a Final judgement:

  1. To deter sin. The knowledge of one day giving an account and being judged for all of our actions is to encourage us to flee from sinful passions.  After talking about God’s judgement Paul acknowledges, ‘knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others’ (2 Cor. 5:11).  The Final Judgement should deter us from sin, and force us to deter others.
  2. To console those in adversity. The knowledge of one day God’s perfect justice being executed should be of some consolation to those who are facing adversity in their life.  Paul encourages the Thessalonian Christians, who are suffering, that God will repay those who have afflicted them with affliction but only ‘when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven’ (2 Thess. 1:5-7).

However, there are also two reasons why we do not know when this Final Judgement will occur:

  1. To avoid carnal security. The unknown date of the Final Judgement should discourage individuals from revelling in their carnal security – living how their sinful desires dictate knowing that there is time to repent before judgment.  Of course this is antithetical to Biblical teaching, and yet we know that our twisted sinful souls would justify it to us if only we knew the date of the Final Judgment.
  2. To aid watchfulness. The unknown date of the Final Judgement should provoke us to watchfulness, knowing that it could begin at any given moment.  We dare not get caught red-handed.

Jesus taught this to his disciples explicitly:

But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake. (Mark. 13:32-37).

We end this series as the Confession ends: Come Lord Jesus, come quickly.  Amen.

Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 29 ~ The State of Man in Death and Resurrection

This is the penultimate post in our series on the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.  I hope and trust that you have benefited from looking at doctrines in Scripture thematically and systematically.


1689 - Final

Benjamin Franklin is credited with the now famous assertion that in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.  It is to death that the Confession now turns its attention.  There are three groups of people that the Confession addresses.

Everyone

The Confession agrees with Franklin that death is a certainty for everyone – there is no exception.  Everyone’s final destination on this earth is death (if the Lord does not return).  What is the state of man in this certainty?  To begin with our bodies return to dust.  From dust they came, and to dust they return (Gen. 3:19).  Even the greatest Israelite King, David, saw corruption and decay (Acts 13:36).  However, we are not only physical bodies, but also eternal souls.  And so, our “souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them” (pg. 120; Ecc. 12:7).  The implication here is that there is something beyond the grave, of which we are conscious.  It is at this point that we must consider the second group of people.

The Righteous

Everyone’s bodies return to dust, and all their souls return to God, but everyone does not enjoy the same treatment.  The righteous (or Christians, believers in Christ) are immediately received into Paradise (Luke 23:43; Phil. 1:23).  It is here that the righteous await their full redemption at the end of time.

Of course, the reality is that there will still be people living when the end of time arrives.  These people will not experience death per se, but they will experience resurrection.  Scripture clearly teaches that these people will be caught up into the air and changed in the blinking of an eye (1 Cor. 15:51-52; 1 Thess. 4:17).

For the righteous who have experienced death, at the end of time they will enjoy having their souls reunited with their resurrected bodies (1 Cor. 15:42ff.).  In this we will be raised to be made like Christ (Jn. 5:28-29; Acts 24:15; 1 Jn. 3:2).  This is the glory which awaits the righteous in death and resurrection.

The Unrighteous

Sadly, there is a third group of people – the unrighteous.  These people have spurned Christ and his love throughout their life, and so face a very different experience on the other side of death.  As mentioned above their souls return to God, but not to be welcomed into Paradise.  Instead, these individuals are cast into a place of suffering and torment until the final judgement which will occur at the end of time (Luke 16:23-24; 1 Pet. 3:19; Jude 6-7).

At the end of time, however, the unrighteous will be brought before God again and will be judged for their rebellion and hatred against God (Jn. 5:28-29; Acts 24:15).

Conclusion

I want to conclude with three implications for what I assume will be a Christian readership:

  1. First, we should note the great comfort that Scripture affords the Christian in death. While we will suffer death like everyone else – and for some that will be painful, undignified and brutal – we will not enter some strange abyss.  To be absent from the body, to die, is to be with the Lord.  For those who have lost loved ones in Christ this is a great comfort as we know they are now present with God.  As the Confession reminds us they “behold the face of God in light and glory” (pg. 120).  For those perhaps facing death and their final days, know this: when you close our eyes for the final time God will be the next person you see!
  2. Second, we must think again what heaven (or to be more accurate the new heaven and new earth) will be like. This is somewhat difficult as Scripture uses lofty imagery to describe the indescribable, but so often our ideas are mistaken (and badly informed by media).  In resurrection we will be given back our bodies, only they will be glorified.  We will be perfect representations of Jesus Christ.  We will experience what Adam and Eve enjoyed all too briefly.  We will not have some bodiless, floating experience.
  3. Third, can we really it back in our comfortable churches and not cry out to the world in darkness about the dangers that lie ahead of them? To die, to be raised, to be put in a ‘holding cell’, to be brought before God, to be judged and condemned eternally is a frightful prospect.  We alone hold the remedy to that in the gospel of Jesus Christ – and thus, we must proclaim it!  Again there is comfort to be found here, because it is never too late to trust in Christ while there is breath in your lungs.  After all, Jesus promised the thief on the cross that that very day he would be with him in Paradise!

Reflections on The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689: Part 28 ~ The Ordinances

We are nearing the end of our Gospel Convergence series on the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.  I would still encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me. 1689 - Final

The Ordinances

This blog post covers chapter 28, 29 and 30 of the Confession which deal with Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (28), baptism (29) and the Lord’s Supper (30).  The reason that we are taking these chapters together is because these two ordinances belong together in the Church.  As Mark Dever makes clear, in numerous places, the ordinances serve as doors to the church – baptism the front door and the Lord’s Supper the back door (see for example The Deliberate Church, pp. 105-108).

In dealing with both of these ordinances the Confession is careful to remind us that they are positive, instituted by Christ and for those who belong to the church (pg. 113).  Christ is recorded as instituting these ordinances in the Gospels:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matt. 28:19-20)

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. (Matt. 26:26-29)

Baptism

How then does the Confession go about defining baptism?

Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with Him, in His death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into Him; of remission of sins; and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of live. (pg. 114)

This is exactly the picture painted in the New Testament.  Perhaps one of the clearest statements found on baptism is that of Paul’s in Romans 6:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him be baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (vv. 3-4)

There are then three assertions posited by the Confession with respect to baptism.  First, the only proper subjects for baptism are those who profess Christ and evidence faith in and obedience to Jesus Christ.  Second, that the outward element to be used in baptism is water, and that it is to be done in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (see Matt. 28:19-20 above).  Third, the Confession claims ‘immersion, or dipping of the person in water, is necessary to the due administration of this ordinance’ (pg. 115).  In defence of this claim Matthew 3:16 and John 3:23 are cited.

Space precludes a detailed defence of the Confession’s version of baptism (otherwise known as believer’s baptism or credo-baptism).  The verses cited are familiar and there are pat answers on both sides of the argument.  Nonetheless, for credo-baptists looking for a more robust defence, or peado-baptists wanting to read a solid defence of believers baptism I would point the reader to Believers Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ by T. R. Schreiner and S. D. Wright.

The Lord’s Supper

The Lord’s Supper, argues the Confession,

Was instituted by him the same night wherein he was betrayed, to be observed in His churches, unto the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance and showing forth of the sacrifice of Himself in His death, confirmation of the faith of believers and all the benefits thereof, their spiritual nourishment and growth in Him, their further engagement in and to all duties which they owe to Him; and to be a bond and a pledge of their communion with Him and with each other. (pg. 116)

What then are the facets of this remarkable meal that Christians are to share in?  The Confession notes six:

  1. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial. The Confession states it is ‘only a memorial of that one offering up of Himself by Himself upon the cross, once for all’ (pg. 115).  While I would query the use of the term ‘only’ here, there can be no denial that the Lord’s Supper is to be a memorial to that awesome sacrifice.
  2. Written against the background of the battle with the Catholic Church it is perhaps unsurprising to find that the Confession makes it explicitly clear that to deny the cup to any believer is contrary to Scripture.
  3. Again, the Confession also makes it clear that to worship or adore the elements in any way is likewise contrary to Scripture.
  4. There is then a clarification that, even though it is justifiable to speak of the elements as Christ’s body and blood (for that is what they represent), in no way and by no means do the elements ever change their nature from bread and wine. Indeed, it is ‘repugnant not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense and reason’ (pg. 118).
  5. Happily the Confession proceeds to state that the Lord’s Supper is indeed more than just a memorial. ‘Spiritually [believers] receive and feed upon Christ crucified and all the benefits of His death’ (pg. 119; see John 6:52-58).
  6. While the Lord’s Supper is a glorious feast for those who are Christ’s, it is a judgement and damnation on those who partake of it ignorantly and in their unregenerate state.

All six of these facets are found to a greater or lesser extent in the longest section of Scripture to treat the issue of the Lord’s Supper, 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.

But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgement. About the other things I will give directions when I come.