Archive for October, 2009

With this post I am able to kill two birds with one stone.  First off, I’m able to point you towards a site that I’m pretty excited about.  Erik Kowalker is a courier at Fedex in the day, while by night he is a reformed vigilante propagating Gospel ministry through the writtings of the one and only J.C. Ryle.  He posts short quotes from the great Bishop of Liverpool on an almost daily basis.  Go check him out here. Secondly, with this post I get to point out the dangerous error of “unsanctified knowledge of Christianity.” As Dante and a few others (C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce) show us, hell is full of Christian theologians. Anyone can learn Christian theology, but a sign of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian is that knowledge must have influence over our hearts, our minds, our emotions and our bodies. That is “sanctified” knowledge.

“Let us beware of an unsanctified knowledge of Christianity. It is a dangerous possession, but a fearfully common one in these latter days. We may know the Bible intellectually, and have no doubt about the truth of its contents. We may have our memories well stored with its leading texts, and be able to talk glibly about its leading doctrines. And all the time the Bible may have no influence over our hearts, and wills, and consciences. We may, in reality, be nothing better than the devils.”

~ J.C. Ryle

Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke, volume 2, 125.

check it out on Erik’s blog here

This was sent to me by my good friend Sami. I have no bibliographical info on this quote and would like to provide it if anyone could contribute it. It is a fantastic excerpt on free will. Thanks Sami!

Consider a new mother, her infant and the approach of a madman with a dagger. Like most mothers, this new mother adores her baby so much that she would be willing to sacrifice her own life if it would save her child. But, in this instance, she faces a choice. A madman approaches her and holds out a dagger and orders her to sacrifice her baby. In fear she chooses to flee from him and, of course, refuses to kill her child. But the question, which seems ridiculous because the answer is so obvious, is why doesn’t she plunge the dagger into the child? She has the physical capacity to do so, right? She could easily plunge the knife into the child with her physical ability but she refuses, and in fact in incapable of doing so. Why? It is because her great affection for the child makes it morally impossible for her to carry out such an act under any circumstance. In the same way, we naturally (while unregenerate) refuse to plunge the dagger into the sin which we so love and join ourselves to Christ. Our disposition and affections determine the necessity of our choices.

John Frame once said in regard to the difference between Determinism & Fatalism: Determinism means that all events are rendered unavoidable by the cause, which include our choices. Fatalism says all events will happen, regardless of our choices. We believe that apart from a supernatural work of the Spirit to change our disposition, to disarm our natural hostility and illumine our hearts and minds to the truth, we would always turn our affections away from Christ toward darkness (John 3:19, 20). We have the physical ability to say a prayer or walk an aisle, but our hearts are filled with hostility toward God and we naturally suppress the truth in unrighteousness as Paul asserts in his epistle to the Romans. Our inability is simply a matter of the affections and we chose accordingly. Some persons, when they see Christ immediately have affection for him and others despise Him. The question we must all ask is, what makes the two to differ? Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ who has disarmed our hostility, forgiven our sins and adopted us into His own family.

John Hendryx

“The Mind of Christ” (Phil 2.5-11)

Posted: October 27, 2009 by limabean03 in Uncategorized
preached by Iain Boyd on 10-25-09

Off Topic: The Unperfect Hymn

Posted: October 26, 2009 by limabean03 in Uncategorized

all I have to say is “yikes”. Save this till your kinda down and use this as a pick me up. Shout out to Ham Smith who showed this to me recently

We sang this hymn as the final song of worship to our communion service at the Diocesan Convention this past weekend. After singing it together, Iain leaned over to me and said “That’s the perfect hymn.” I agree. I sang it at both of my ordinations (deacon, priest), at my institution as Rector of Trinity Church, and at my son’s Baptism. I also remember singing it at Andrew Pearson’s ordination to the deaconate just before I preached. After sining that I hymn I thought to my self, “why even preach? We have already said everything that we need to? Two weeks ago I sang it at a wedding. Just this past weekend, under immense spiritual pressure we sang it together at Diocesan Convention. It is indeed the perfect hymn.

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Kendall was kind enough to post this. It is worth a watch. The time says 40 minutes, it seemed like half that. Clearly one of Mark’s strongest words to the church. A must watch.

This is just a short sketch of something that requires much fuller treatment. On top of that, this is a statement about just one aspect of this problem, and not an attempt to minimize the other problems that might be in play.

Pastors are usually husbands as well, and this means that when a pastor has a wandering eye, he is insulting his wife in exactly the same way that other husbands are insulting their wives through the same behavior. Every Christian husband is the head of his wife in a way analagous to the way that Christ is the head of the church (1 Cor. 11:3Eph. 5:23). This means that every husband is constantly speaking about Jesus, whether he wants to be or not. He does not have the option of being silent about Jesus. His behavior is a statement about his theology of headship. He is saying that “this is an appropriate way for a head to act.” And because Christ is the ultimate Head, the behavior of lesser heads are statements about the nature of His headship. Just as abusive fathers are lying statements about God the Father, so unfaithful heads are a lying statement about the fidelity of Christ to His bride.

So of course a pastor needs to be faithful for that reason alone. He took his marriage vows independently of his ordination vows. But is there any additional level to this? I believe so.

When worship is being conducted in a fully biblical way, the minister and the congregation enact (in a liturgical way) a dialogue between Christ and His bride. The minister is standing in for Christ as His herald, His ambassador, His representative. This means that a pastor who has a problem with porn is lying about Christ in two ways. The first is in the way that every husband would be lying, because every husband represents Christ in some way. But the second way is at a much higher level — the minister is set apart in another unique way, and he has been set apart in this way in order to represent Christ in a more heightened way than all husbands do.

Working from the other direction, what will a secret porn problem do to the preaching and teaching? The minister who has a radical inconsistency between his enactment of Christ in his private life and his enactment of Christ in his official capacity is aware (as others are not) of the inconsistency. But people are not built to live with such inconsistencies. We don’t like walking with rocks in our shoes. So the two ways to remove the inconsistency would be 1. to repent of the porn use and deal with it appropriately or, 2. begin to teach and preach in ways that create more and more wiggle room for everybody.

read the whole thing here

Could Jesus Really Change My Life?

Posted: October 22, 2009 by limabean03 in Uncategorized
The fifth in an eight part introduction to Christianity called “Awakenings”

In a bizarre little episode last week, the Presiding Bishop accepted Bishop Ackerman’s “renunciation of his ordained ministry.” The only problem is, Bishop Ackerman never renounced his orders. He just retired, much like former Diocesan Bishop Ed Salmon. Retired Bishops can still function in the church, providing pastoral oversight, preaching, confirming, administering the sacraments and even participating in the House of Bishops. But a person who is deemed to have “renounced his orders” is no longer even regarded as a Bishop. He is a layman. So why was this done? Even though Bishop Ackerman expressed his desire to remain an Episcopal Bishop, his retirement was understood as a renunciation because Bishop Ackerman signed a document “affirming that Bishop Duncan was the Archbishop of the ACNA” (those are actually the Presiding Bishop’s words).  Notice that Bishop Ackerman did not place himself under the authority of the ACNA, nor did he accede to their constitution and cannons.  He is an Episcopal Bishop in fellowship with the ACNA.  Is that really a deposable offense?  Bishop Ackerman’s letter is posted in full below. 

October 19, 2009

I greet you in the precious Name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, whose servant I am.

When I retired one year ago as the Bishop, Diocese of Quincy, the Episcopal Church, I did so for reasons of physical, spiritual and emotional distress, related to the ongoing demise of the Episcopal Church.

When promised assistance with my health insurance was denied by the Episcopal Church Center in freezing invested funds in Quincy, my health insurance was cancelled. It, therefore, became necessary for me to seek part time employment that would provide the money necessary to have health insurance.

I accepted a position counseling the homeless, and the unemployed, in a Christian non-profit organization in Dallas, Texas. It became necessary for me to learn Spanish since 95% of the people with whom I am counseling speak only Spanish.

I did so and this experience made it possible for me to respond positively to the kind invitation of the Bishop of Bolivia, to minister part time, in addition to assisting part time in the Diocese of Springfield (IL). Both dioceses are duly recognized members of the Anglican Communion. I saw no conflict of interest with The Episcopal Church, but wrote the Presiding Bishop for clarification in July, 2009 and believed that there would be no problem with this extension of ministry.

This letter was handwritten, sharing with the Presiding Bishop my current health, my new ministry with the homeless, my desire to assist another Anglican partner in ministry in Bolivia and, at their invitation, to participate informally (seat but no voice and no vote) in the House of Bishops of the Southern Cone. At no time did I express dissatisfaction with the Episcopal Church, or make any statement of a desire to be separated from it.

I made no copies of my letter because I wanted it to be clear that this was a very personal communication. She responded by written letter by telling me that she would send the appropriate documentation. After two months with no communication, I sent another handwritten, unduplicated letter in early October asking about this matter.

This past Friday, October 16, 2009, I received an e-mail from the Presiding Bishop, “indicating that there is no provision for transferring a bishop to another Province.” At no time did I request transfer to the Southern Cone. Her letter concluded, “I am therefore releasing you from the obligations of ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church”.

I did not ask for release and have never considered ministry in this Church an obligation, since it has been the source of my greatest joy.

I have not renounced, and in fact, in my first handwritten letter indicated that my intention was not to be seen as either “abandonment of the Communion” or “Renunciation.”

I have never received telephone calls from either the Presiding Bishop or any member of her staff asking for clarification. I can only conclude that assumptions were made in the press of events, which are incorrect. It is my prayer that the Presiding Bishop, will upon further consideration, withdraw her action. I also hope that our once cordial relationship will be restored to one of mutual respect and further action in the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I intend to continue my ministry wherever possible.

Yours in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Keith L. Ackerman,
Bishop of Quincy, retired

GOSPEL-CENTERED – Acts 15: This is the next strategic principle for ministry in the 21st (and the 1st!) century. I do not simply mean by ‘gospel-centered’ that ministry is to be doctrinally orthodox. Of course it must certainly be that. I am speaking more specifically. (1.) The gospel is “I am accepted through Christ, therefore I obey” while every other religion operates on the principle of “I obey, therefore I am accepted.” (2.) Martin Luther’s fundamental insight was that this latter principle, the principle of ‘religion’ is the deep default mode of the human heart. The heart continues to work in that way even after conversion to Christ. Though we recognize and embrace the principle of the gospel, our hearts will always be trying to return to the mode of self-salvation, which leads to much spiritual deadness, pride and strife, and ministry ineffectiveness. (3.) We must communicate the gospel clearly–not a click toward legalism and not a click toward license. Legalism/moralism is truth without grace (which is not real truth); relativism is grace without truth (which is not real grace). To the degree a ministry fails to do justice to both, it simply loses life-changing power.

Text: 15:1-25 Here we see Paul, in the middle of a church-planting career, going to Jerusalem for a big theological debate. Now, why do that? Surely we ministers need to be about the work of evangelism, not going in for theological discussions! But Paul makes no bifurcation here. Chapter 15 is down the middle of Paul’s mission! It’s clarifying the gospel itself. (1) The cause of the debate is that the earliest Gentile converts to Christianity had already become Jewish culturally. That is, many of them were “God-fearers” who had been circumcised and/or abided by the clean laws and the Mosaic legislation. (2) Then Paul began bringing in real pagans or God-fearers who had not become culturally Jewish. And he was not demanding that, when they became Christians, that they had to adopt Jewish cultural patterns. (3) Then a group arose (15:1) saying, “unless you are circumcised according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved”. They had taken cultural norms and promoted them to be matters of virtue and spiritual merit. When they did that, they lost grasp on the gospel of grace and slid into ‘religion’. (4) The Council on the one hand in Peter, got hold of one end of the stick: v.6-11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we [Jews] are saved, just as they are.” (5) But, wouldn’t you know it- -James gets a hold of the other end of the stick. He agrees with Peter, but rightly asserts that Gentile Christians, though free from any requirements as to salvation, are not free to live as they like as members of a Christian community. They are obliged to live in love and to respect the scruples of culturally different Jewish brethren. So they are ordered (we tend to miss this) to live in such a way that does not offend or distress their brethren who are culturally different. (They are not to eat raw meat, they are to abide by Levitical marriage laws, and so on.) There could hardly be a better case study of the old Luther-proverb that expresses the balance of the gospel. We are “saved by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone.” We are not saved by how we behave, but once we are saved we behave in love.

So “religion” just drains the spiritual life out of a church. But you can “fall off the horse” on the other side too. You can miss the gospel not only through legalism but through relativism. When God is whoever you want to make him, and right and wrong are whatever you want to make them–you have also drained the spiritual life out of a church. If God is preached as simply a demanding, angry God or if he is preached as simply an all-loving God who never demands anything–in either case the listeners will not be transformed. They may be frightened or inspired or soothed, but they will not have their lives changed at the root, because they are not hearing the gospel. The gospel shows us that God is far more holy and absolute than the moralists’ god, because he could not be satisfied by our moral efforts, even the best! On the other hand the gospel shows us that God is far more loving and gracious than the relativists’ god. They say that God (if he exists) just loves everyone no matter what they do. The true God of the gospel had to suffer and die to save us, while the god of the relativist pays no price to love us.

The gospel produces a unique blend of humility and boldness/joy in the convert. If you preach just a demanding God, the listener will have “low self-esteem”; if you preach just an all-loving God, the listener will have higher self-esteem. But the gospel produces something beyond both of those. The gospel says: I am so lost Jesus had to die to save me. But I am so loved that Jesus was glad to die to save me. That changes the very basis of my identity- -it transforms me from the root.

read the whole thing here

Several groups within the Anglican Communion have responded to the recent statement from the Roman Catholic Church on receiving Anglicans into its fold.  I have excerpted several of those statements below.  Can you guess which one comes from the organization of which  famous reformed Anglican theologian J.I. Packer belongs to?  I will send a copy of John Owen’s “Death of Death in the Death of Christ” (with the finest introduction to any book I’ve ever read by the one and only J.I. Packer) to the lucky guy who guesses it.  If you can avoid it, don’t cheat.  Name the excerpt and why you think it is so.  Since it is only five options, I will be awarding not only the person who got it right, but the best answer.  What qualifies as best?  Could be most intelligent, could be most humorous.  It depends on what kind of mood I’m in.  Good luck.

Excerpt #1
“The virtues of the proposal as I understand it have to do with maintaining certain aspects of the Anglican way of worship, spirituality, and ethos while entering into full communion with the Pope. But of course, not all Anglo-Catholics can accept certain teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, nor do they believe that they must first convert to Rome in order to be truly catholic Christians.”

Excerpt #2
It represents a sweeping judgment on Anglicanism in particular. Rome believes, as John 17 says, that the world may know the gospel if Christians are one as Jesus and the Father are one. Such a unity is only possible through a church with catholic order and evangelical faith. Rome has watched global Anglicanism evolve and has seen the Instruments of Unity be used repeatedly, over a period of time, and they have judged that Anglicanism itself is not and will not work for the cause of real global Catholicism going forward.

Excerpt #3
We rejoice that the Holy Father intends now to set up structures within the Church which respond to this heartfelt longing. Forward in Faith has always been committed to seeking unity in truth and so warmly welcomes these initiatives as a decisive moment in the history of the Catholic Movement in the Church of England. Ut unum sint!

Excerpt #4
After hearing the news today, an ANiC priest wrote Bishop Harvey: “As for me and my house, we will remain ever faithful to the authority and primacy of the Holy Scriptures and the Faith and Order of the undivided Catholic Church. I need not become a Roman Catholic to be a Catholic Christian. As an Anglican, I am a Catholic Christian.”

Excerpt #5
While our historic differences over church governance, dogmas regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary and the nature of Holy Orders continue to be points of prayerful dialogue, we look forward to an ever deepening partnership with the Catholic Church throughout the world. We pledge our earnest prayers for all those touched by this initiative, as we look forward to the publication of the Apostolic Constitution detailing today’s announcement.

An excerpt from his paper “Fern seeds and elephants” critiques modernist theology in the Church of England and ends with this amusing sentence that rings oh so true in these days.

“Once the layman was anxious to hide the fact that he believed so much less than the vicar; now he tends to hide the fact that he believes so much more. Missionary to the priests of one’s own church is an embarrassing role; though I have a horrid feeling that if such mission work is not soon undertaken the future history of the Church of England is likely to be short.”

be sure to read the whole essay here

Found this article courtesy of DesiringGod. I have emboldened what I believe to be the most significant part of Piper’s critique of Russel.  I have read Russel extensively, and “bleak” is a charitable description of his worldview.  But was Russel really courageous enough to apply that worldview to his children?  A good question indeed.

One great benefit of going to a good Christian college is that you read important bad books with the help of wise Christian scholars. Most 19-year-olds are not ready to navigate the sophisticated arguments of seasoned skeptics. But with the guidance of a seasoned Christian thinker, the navigation can be profitable. It was for me.

Russell stressed the absoluteness of physical matter. In other words, if you trace the origin of everything all the way back, you arrive at impersonal matter, not personal spirit: Matter, not God, is absolute. This meant, for Russell, that there is only material existence.

This produced one of the bleakest views of human life imaginable. Here, he says, is “the world which science built for our belief.”

That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of the universe in ruins. . . . Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built (Why I Am Not a Christian, editor Paul Edwards [New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957], p. 107).

It doesn’t take too much assistance from a wise teacher to help a 19-year-old see something odd in this. Tragically odd. Triply odd.
First the language he uses seems borrowed from another worldview: “loves,” “beliefs,” “devotion,” “inspiration,” “genius,” “despair,” and strangest of all, “soul.” To be sure, he insists that these are all “but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms.” Really? Why would material atoms collide to create a language affirming realities beyond matter? It is an odd creation of Russell’s world.
Second, did Russell really say to his crying children (he had three) that their sorrows were the unfortunate collocation of atoms? Did he say to any of his three wives, in the best of their affections, “This is only the collocation of atoms?” In other words, did he live his philosophy? Or was he playing 20th-century academic games?

read the whole thing here

Over the past year popular atheist writer Christopher Hitchens (my personal fav of all the “new” atheists) has been debating Christian theologian Doug Wilson. This latest exchange, from the Huffington Post is one of Wilson’s best efforts. My apologies for the title but those are his words, not mine. I found them provocative enough to make me willing to take the heat from angry parents!

From the perspective of a Christian, the refusal of an atheist to be a Christian is dismaying but it is at least intelligible.  But what is really disconcerting is the failure of atheists to be atheists.  That is the thing that cries out for further exploration.

We can understand a cook who sets out to prepare a reduction sauce, having it simmer on the stove for three days.  But what we shouldn’t get is the announcement afterwards that he has prepared us a souffle.  The atheistic worldview is nothing if not inherently reductionistic, whether this is admitted or not.  Everything that happens is a chance-driven rattle-jattle jumble in the great concourse of atoms that we call time.  Time and chance acting on matter have brought about, in equally aimless fashion, the 1972 New York Yankees, yesterday’s foam on a New Jersey beach, Princess Di, the arrangement of pebbles on the back side of the moon, the music of John Cage, the Fourth Crusade, and the current gaggle representing us all in Congress.

If the universe actually is what the materialistic atheist claims it is, then certain things follow from that presupposition.  The argument is simple to follow, and is frequently accepted by the sophomore presidents of atheist/ agnostic clubs at a university near you, but it is rare for a well-published atheistic leader to acknowledge the force of the argument.  To acknowledge openly the corrosive relativism that atheism necessarily entails would do nothing bet get the chimps jumping in the red states.  To swallow the reduction would present serious public relations problems, and drive Fox News ratings up even further.  Who needs that?

So if the universe is what the atheist maintains it is, then this determines what sort of account we must give for the nature of everything–and this includes the atheist’s thought processes, ethical convictions, and aesthetic appreciations.  If you were to shake up two bottles of pop and place them on  a table to fizz over, you could not fill up an auditorium with people who came to watch them debate.  This is because they are not debating; they are just fizzing.  If you were to shake up one bottle of pop, and show it film footage of some genocidal atrocity, the reaction you would get is not moral outrage, but rather more fizzing.  And if you were to shake it really hard by means of an art school, and place it in front of Michelangelo’s David, or the Rose Window of Chartres Cathedral, the results would not be atheistic appreciation, but more fizzing still.

If the atheist is right, then I am not a Christian because I have mistaken beliefs, but am rather a Christian because that is what these chemicals would always do in this arrangement and at this temperature.  The problem is that this atheistic assumption does the very same thing to the atheist’s cause for atheism.  The atheist gives us an account of all things which makes it impossible for us to believe that any account of all things could possibly be true.  But no account of things can be tenable unless it provides us with the preconditions that make it possible for our “accounting” to represent genuine insight.  Atheism fails to do this, and this failure is a spectacular one.  Nor does atheism allow us to have any fixed ethical standard, or the possibility of beauty.

read it all here