Monday, April 26, 2010
UPDATE: When I say "witnessing" I mean verbally sharing the gospel facts. Of course it is always right and ethical to share the gospel with your actions.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
One one occasion John Newton was asked by a fellow minister what to do when he senses power in preaching but, “cannot get either comfort or sorrow out of it, or but very rarely”. If you are a minister no doubt you have had this experience (probably on Monday morning). Even if you do not regularly preach you may have still experienced seasons of great spiritual fervor followed by extremely dry periods. To this experience Newton gives wise counsel:
I call upon you to rejoice, not at some times only, but at all times; not only when upon the mount, but when in the valley; not only when you conquer, but while you are fighting; not only when the Lord shines upon you, but when he seems to hide his face. When he enables you to do all things, you are no better in yourselves than you were before; and when you feel you can do nothing, you are no worse. Your experiences will vary: but his love and promises are always unchangeable.
Then Newton goes on to show the idiocy of what we often experience:
I have felt an impatience in my spirit, utterly unsuitable to my state as a sinner and a beggar, and to my profession of yielding myself and all my concerns to the Lord's disposal. He has mercifully convinced me that I labor under a multiplication of disorders, summed up in the word—sin. He has graciously revealed himself to me as the infallible physician; and has enabled me, as such, to commit myself to him, and to expect my cure from his hand alone. Yet how often, instead of thankfully accepting his prescriptions, have I foolishly and presumptuously ventured to prescribe to him, and to point out how I would have him deal with me! How often have I thought something was necessary which he saw best to deny, and that I could have done better without those dispensations which his wisdom appointed to work for my good! He is God, and not man, or else he would have been weary of me, and left me to my own management long ago. How inconsistent! to acknowledge that I am blind, to entreat him to lead me, and yet to want to choose my own way, in the same breath!
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
“But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless! As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”
The title is more of a tongue-in-cheek joke than anything else. But, the conversation and demeanor on many blogs (both by authors and those commenting) seems to deny that this instruction was ever given.
Lord, keep me pure. Help me to only teach, preach, and write about that which is essential. May this blog never be given to foolish controversies nor may we ever engage in needless quarrels and dissension. May Christ alone be our only boast.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
The Apostles Creed states:
"I believe in God, the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;
and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead and buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen."
Note the bold, “He descended into hell”. What do you think? Heresy, Error, or Truth? Did Christ, upon his death, descend into hell?
Monday, April 19, 2010
I want to give you something. I’ll give you a couple clues. It involves books. It involves Together for the Gospel. It involves you potentially getting a free book. The big announcement will be coming in a couple of days, so it may benefit you to subscribe to this blog so that you do not miss it.
P.S. If you are a subscriber (through Google Reader or any other Feed Reader) or you subscribe after this particular post leave your name in the comment and you will be rewarded later.
Awhile back, we asked this question: what should the church look like to an unbeliever on a Sunday morning? Should it be a catering church—primarily for the unbeliever, or should it be a comprehensible—primarily for the believer, but understandable to the unbeliever?
Shortly after that I wrote about the catering church. One systematic theology paper, a ton of reading, and a T4G conference later we return to this topic. Today we sum this up by considering the comprehensible church.
I get this language from Tim Keller (see here), who gets this language from 1 Corinthians 14. The comprehensible church is also very passionate about reaching lost people; and even doing so through their local gathering on a Sunday morning. But there is a difference, the comprehensible church is primarily for the believer and the salvation of an unbeliever is a by-product.
There are some churches that overreact to the attractional model of church. They, in my opinion, rightly understand that a churches gathering is primarily for believers. But they wrongly, in my opinion, neglect to speak to unbelievers that may be in their midst. Some that overreact can give off a vibe that creates an “us versus them” mentality. Obviously, this is not making worship comprehensible.
To be a comprehensible church your primary concern is to feed the flock on a Sunday morning (obviously through being faithful to Christ in preaching and worship). Your language and actions would be understandable to an unbeliever but not geared towards them. The beauty of the gospel is that it is applicable to believers and unbelievers. There is a way of preaching that can both edify the saints and present Christ to the unbeliever.
What does a comprehensible church look like on Sunday morning?
The gospel is always presented clearly; but the sermon and worship service is not geared around the “time of decision” at the end of church.
During certain stages during the gathering of believes an explanation is offered. Example: “The reason why we have a time dedicated to giving of offerings is because we believe…” We do not assume that the unbeliever understands why we do what we do.
The preacher does not shy away from teaching on theology or using theological terms, but he is careful to clearly define them.
The songs selected are unashamedly centered around biblical truth. They are chosen for content (lyrics) not for instrumentation (how it sounds). Note: this does not mean that it’s lame and not well done. See Bob Kauflin for an example of leading worship comprehensibly.
Everything that you see present is there because it survived the question. By the question I mean, “What does God think”? Obviously, the answer is found in the way worship is prescribed through Scripture. Churches will answer this differently, some more faithful to the text than others. Regardless, the mark of a comprehensible church is that it is primarily concerned about what God thinks of the gathering. What you see on a Sunday morning is not there because, “this may draw an unbeliever”. It is there because it pleases God and it may be a means that GOD uses to draw an unbeliever.
Effects on the church as a whole
Evangelism is not centered around an event (Sunday morning) but is the lifestyle of the equipped people of God.
The gospel is applied deeply to believers lives. The gospel message is not simply presented at the end of the message to provoke a time of decision. Nor is the “gospel message” relegated to a 45 minute appeal to the unbeliever to convert. The gospel message is that the cataclysmic work of Christ impacts every area of our lives—believer and unbeliever—and the preacher spends however long he preaches fleshing out the impact of what Christ has done. Therefore, rather than hearing sermons on 5 steps to a healthy marriage the believer is given confidence that the gospel ought to, and in fact does, penetrate even the marriage.
Believers are less likely to be “tossed to and fro” because the teaching on Sunday morning is geared more towards their edification. Let’s face it, in most churches a small percentage of Christian people will be involved in small groups or other discipleship programs. In the comprehensible church believers will get a more steady diet instead of milk every week.
The Preacher’s Question:
If you are a preacher there are a few questions to make this practical.
- You have done all of the study work of understanding the passage. Now you are at the stage of determining how best to preach this passage. Do you think primarily of the unbeliever or the believer? Keep in mind your primary charge is to feed the sheep.
- As you scan through your sermon to the sheep, do you look for words that would need to be made plain to an unbeliever? Keep in mind you are called to be comprehensible.
- Do you have a point in the sermon where you make the gospel explicitly clear? Keep in mind you are called to proclaim the gospel.
Is it clear now the difference between the catering church and the comprehensible church?
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Saturday, April 17, 2010
- History. This is by no means a “nail in the coffin”, but the fact that the view of a secret rapture of the church is relatively new in the history of the church is quite telling. This view of the rapture was first made popular in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Some will make an attempt to put pre-tribulationalism on the lips of Tertullian, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, etc. I’m not convinced. They were historic premillennialist but not pre-tribulational.
- The Silence of Paul. Arguments from silence are typically pretty shaky. However, I think this one is pretty loud. In 2 Thessalonians some are worried that Christ has returned. Paul could have easily reminded them that they had not been secretly raptured. “Duh, you’re still on earth…you haven’t been raptured…Jesus has came back.” But instead Paul talks about the man of lawlessness. Certainly, it could be argued that what is “restraining” him is that the rapture has yet to happen. Fair enough, but I’m not convinced.
- 3. Revelation 3:10. “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.” This is one of the most widely used verses for the pre-tribulational position. Consider what this word means in John 17:15, "I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” This word does not have to be read as Jesus zapping us out of earth. His keeping us is not removing us. His keeping us is bringing about our perseverance through his powerful working.
- The “meeting” of a dignitary. In 1 Thessalonians 4:17 this “meeting” the Lord in the air is more than likely not referring to meeting Jesus and then going back to where he is, but rather meeting Jesus and going together where we are. This word was used of meeting a Roman dignitary. You meet him outside your town and then brought him back into your town—not vice versa. This is the same meaning in Matthew 25 with the parable of the Ten Virgins. Notice that the virgins go meet the bridegroom and then take him back to where they have been waiting.
- The Silence of Jesus. Where Jesus speaks on the issue where you would expect a secret rapture he is silent. Wait, you say, “what about Matthew 24 and the one being taken away”? Consider the context. The one that is “taken away” is like the one swept away in the day of Noah. The one that is left is what you want to be—not the one taken away.
- Since when are believers taken out of suffering and not called to endure and go through it? It seems to be that the general tenor of the teaching of Scripture is that we will go through many tribulations. It is through much tribulation that we will inherit the kingdom. It seems to be following in the steps of our King to endure through suffering not to be taken away from it. Of course believers are protected in and through suffering—but that does not mean that we are delivered out of it.
- What sense would Revelation have made to its first century audience? Revelation was written to struggling 1st century Christians that were being bombarded with persecution and intense suffering. The hope laid out in Revelation is not a manual for interpreting the end times. The hope laid out in Revelation is that Jesus Christ the true King reigns victorious. Believers, though suffering now, will one day be victorious if they remain faithful to Christ in the midst of suffering. If I am correct about the general tenor of Revelation then this notion of a secret rapture would seem to undercut the teaching of this book.
Now, feel free to disagree in the comments…
Friday, April 16, 2010
We are emotional creatures and certainly if we love God will our entire being our emotions should be fervently his. I can preach gut wrenching stories using music to set the atmosphere and hopefully touch the strings of the heart so that people have a burning desire to come to God. And yet, the emotions of the moment cause us to do so many things that we quickly set aside.
What about our will? Certainly we must choose to follow Christ. I am not speaking merely in the sense of responding to God's salvation call (general and specific) but also our choice every day to deny self, take up one's cross, and follow Jesus. People need to know they must choose and set their will toward Christ. Yet our will is tied so deeply to our desires and world perspective, choice is not enough. I can choose sincerely. I can sincerely, earnestly, and best-intentionally choose the wrong path.
What about preaching to the mind? We are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. People need to think things through so that they are not simply following their 'gut' feeling nor choosing out of their own wisdom. Yet, our minds can concoct all sorts of ideas and inventions. It is the Word of God and the wisdom of God at work in the person that makes the difference. But we are not merely intellectual beings. We have will. We have hearts. We are a mixture.
At the time, our discussion (Mike and myself) was probably briefer than the time it took for me to type this out. Our 'off the cuff' conclusion was a reminder that MacArthur is preaching to a certain group of people....who face their unique challenges and temptations.
But on Thursday morning, we experienced a deeper understanding of preaching to mind, will, and heart. C. J. Mahaney preached a message to the pastors. It was an encouragement and admonition to enduring faithfulness to the call. It was a passionate sermon from a passionate man. MacArthur's message to us was certainly passionate, but not as 'emotional'. We saw two men who brought us the Word of God.....after it had flowed through their hearts, souls, and minds. God spoke through both of these men....one was speaking to our minds and touched our hearts. The other spoke to our hearts and touched our minds. Both implanted a deeper to desire to choose to follow Christ all the more.
The lesson learned.....As ambassadors for the Lord Jesus Christ, God created us to speak to the people in our mission fields only as the word flows through us. We are not parrots who simply mimic the words and personality of someone else. We are uniquely created, wonderfully redeemed, and specifically equipped for our mission field. May the Word dwell richly in us so that Christ will flow through us so that the lost will be saved, the saved will be discipled, and --- and above all else --- the Father will be glorified through the Son.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
I forget who said it. Honestly, I forget what they said. All I remember is asking myself asking one question. What am I unwilling to lose? Quickly rising up in my soul was the answer: my life. Of course that means a ton of different things. It means I have had a death grip on trying to attain a certain outcome for my life. It means I have foolish, yet tight fisted, reign on what I am willing to do and not do in my walk with Christ. I struggle with pride, self-righteousness, and just outright complacency.
All of this was simmering in my heart for a day. Wednesday evening during the first song Bob Kauflin said, “all I have is Christ” in one of his songs. This jolted my heart. I had trouble focusing on the next couple of songs because I let (rather was prodded to let) these words toss around in my soul. Then he played this song:
That video was from a NA Conference not T4G. But the lyrics are the same.
Then John Piper preached essentially what this song meant. You can watch the sermon if you like, but I will attempt to summarize. Piper’s text was Luke 18. He pointed out the self-righteousness of the Pharisee. It was not that he was trusting in his own works and merits. The Pharisee was trusting in a God wrought righteousness in his own life. The problem, said Piper, is that he was not trusting on Christ—the tax collector was. He brought out Philippians 3 and Paul essentially was the Pharisee and now he is the tax collector. Piper further gave the example of the Rich Young Ruler—one thing he lacked: let go of money, let it fall to the poor, and cling to Christ. The one thing he lacked was Christ. In other words the song of the believer truly is All I Have is Christ. Watch the Piper video if you want, but please do not neglect to read my closing comments:
God used this song and this sermon to renew a spark of the gospel in my heart. During this time I found myself praying that the Lord would break me. Break me of every vestige of self-righteousness that I may cling to Christ alone. Break me of a foolishness that wants to cling to my life.
If you follow this blog, or are my friend and read this, remind me in a couple of months when I’m “broken” about this prayer and where my brokenness stems from. Lord make me a gospel man!
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
What I have observed of many, who run about unseasonably after new preachers, has reminded me of Pro. 27:8, "As a bird that wanders from her nest, so is the man that wanders from his place." Such unsettled hearers seldom thrive: they usually grow wise in their own conceits, have their heads filled with notions, acquire a dry, critical, and censorious spirit; and are more intent upon disputing who is the best preacher, than upon obtaining benefit to themselves from what they hear. If you could find a man, indeed, who had a power in himself of dispensing a blessing to your soul, you might follow him from place to place; but as the blessing is in the Lord's hands, you will be more likely to receive it by waiting where his providence has placed you, and where he has met with you before.
When this gets posted, Lord willing, I will be attending the final day of Together for the Gospel. The men that have spoken are some of the most gifted ministers of the gospel in our day. It would be quite easy to begin following men as well as following preachers instead of Christ. Newton’s wise counsel here bears following.
In our day and age you can spend hours listening to many really good sermons. But it may be wise for you to heed this counsel from Newton as well:
In the first place, be cautious that you do not degenerate into the spirit of a mere hearer, so as to place the chief stress of your profession upon running hither and there after preachers. There are many who are always upon the wing; and, without a due regard to what is incumbent upon them in the shop, in the family, or in private devotion—they seem to think they were sent into the world only to hear sermons, and to hear as many in a day as they possibly can. Such people may be fitly compared to Pharaoh's lean cows; they devour a great deal; but, for lack of a proper digestion, they do not flourish: their souls are lean: they have little solid comfort; and their profession abounds more in leaves than in fruit.
There are others gems in this letter, you might want to read the entire letter: On Hearing Sermons
…the one God who revealed Himself in the Old Testament as Jehovah revealed himself in His Son, Jesus Christ. Thus Jesus Christ was and is God. In other words, Jesus is the one true God manifested in flesh, for in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (John 1:1-14; I Timothy 3:16; Colossians 2:9).
While fully God, Jesus was also fully man, possessing a full and true humanity. He was both God and man. Moreover, the Holy Spirit is God with us and in us. Thus God is manifested as Father in creation and as the Father of the Son, in the Son for our redemption, and as the Holy Spirit in our regeneration.
I will tell you up front that this teaching is considered heresy. Your task is to tell me whether or not you agree and why.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Yesterday we asked this question: what should the church look like to an unbeliever on a Sunday morning? Should it be a catering church—primarily for the unbeliever, or should it be a comprehensible—primarily for the believer, but understandable to the unbeliever?
The Catering Church
The catering church can come in all shapes and sizes. There are the obvious attractional churches—like the church that has decided to celebrate Easter with a million dollar giveaway. But there are more subtle variations of this. In my opinion the SBC’s GPS program falls into this category. You can read more here and here. If you are still not convinced then read their training manual.
To be a catering church you do not have to have the 2 Timothy 4 “itching ears” type of preaching. It often morphs into that, but that is not a necessity. You are a catering church when your messages are primarily geared to the unbeliever and the edification of believers is a by-product. Often catering churches hope to train and teach believers throughout the week in small groups or before the worship service in Sunday School.
Certainly the Lord uses catering churches to further his kingdom. I would be hard pressed to find biblical examples that a catering church is not a valid option. (What I mean saying that is that I would be hard pressed to find anything in Scripture that says “do not make your service cater to the unbeliever). Obviously in its more extreme forms there is a real danger of subverting the gospel. Even in its most subtle forms I think there are inherent dangers that should cause us to pause. However, before look at the dangers we should ask a couple of questions to build a foundation. We must consider what is the church? And then we must ask what is the purpose of the church gathering?
The Church/The Church Gathering
There are a good amount of images given of the church in the Scriptures (body, bride, temple, to name a few). Scouring through numerous books on ecclesiology you will inevitably come across a myriad of definitions; some lengthy, some simple. The one that I have come up with (and it may be unintentionally stole) is this: A church is a blood-bought community of redeemed believers, brought together for the purpose of displaying the glory of God through their united joyous surrender to Him.I am certain that my definition could be improved, but it has several of the key components in it. For instance:
- The church is bought by Christ.
- The church is a community (fellowship, koinonia).
- The church is made up of believers.
- The church is on mission.
- The church is to be united.
- The church is a people and not a place.
- The church is primarily for the sake of glorifying God
- The church is to be holy and surrendered to her Head
- The church is to be joyous in her surrender
This, then, is how I would define the church. We know from the New Testament that this group of believers is to gather together (Hebrews 10:25). And it was the practice of the early church do just that; see Acts 20:7. What did they do when they gathered together? It appears to me that when they gathered together it was for the purpose of worship, edification, and fellowship around the breaking of bread.
It is possible that I am reading the New Testament wrongly and simply missing something. But what I see is that when the church gathered it was primarily for the edification of believers through the worship of God and rehearsing the gospel in the breaking of bread together. I see the early believers doing evangelism, such evangelism that shames my practice. I do not see them locking their doors to unbelievers, but I also do not see their primary focus being evangelism during their gathering together.
Now, even if I am correct about the New Testament practice that does not mean that we have to do it this way in our day and age. There are many things in the practice of the New Testament church that is descriptive and not prescriptive. This could be one of them. But I believe there are a few inherent dangers in a catering church; to those we now turn.
Dangers of Catering Church
By no means will these be true of all churches that would be defined as a “catering church”. Some churches are able to be a catering church without falling into many of these pitfalls. But what often happens is that the small local churches try to mimic some of these larger congregations and are often negligent of their calling as a church.
When the primary focus of a local gathering becomes evangelization of unbelievers we begin asking the wrong questions as a church. The worship gathering is often geared around what will “draw” the unbeliever. As a result believers are often woefully undiscipled. The theology is often very weak in these churches. Certainly you do not have to have a Ph.D. in theology to be in a great relationship with the Lord. But what often happens is that those who are shallow theologically get tossed to and fro by all sorts of strange doctrines.
You would think that after hearing “the gospel” in its most basic form week after week that believers in these churches would be solid in gospel understanding. Ironically, what typically happens is that these believers can lead someone down the “Romans Road” but are not quite certain what the gospel message has to say about their finances, child rearing, work, anxiety, fears, and death.
Another danger is that evangelism is often stale. Rather than training believers to do evangelism throughout the week, evangelism often becomes attractional. Rather than preaching the gospel in the community we often give invitations to come to our church. The church starts marketing. There are numerous resources out there about the dangers of attractional models, church marketing, church growth, seeker-sensitive approaches etc. It would not be for our benefit to rehash all that is spoken of there. Research on your own.
I am mentioning all of this simply to point to what I envision as a better way. The point of these articles is not to be needlessly divisive, to tear down churches, or to discourage faithful believers. My hope is that if there is a more faithful God honoring way that we will embrace it. If I am wrong and you disagree, then so be it.
Monday, April 5, 2010
In Richard Baxter’s work The Reformed Pastor he discusses the preachers need to “screw the truth into their minds, and work Christ into their affections.” As I read over that the phrase, “screw the truth into their minds”, Baxter’s unique wording struck me. Notice that he did not say “nail the truth” or “drive the truth”, he said “screw the truth”. I think that is intentional.
Consider the nail. A nail will go into a board with one swift blow. Even a child, with minimal labor, can plunge a nail into a board. Not so, with the screw. The screw often requires a power tool. Screws don’t go in easily; you have to laboriously twist and twist. Putting a screw into a board takes more time and more work.
A nail is easier to go in, but it is also easier to pull out. And this, is why I think Baxter said “screw the truth”. A screw does not come out quite so easy (keep in mind Baxter did not have a local Home Depot with power tools). A screw is harder to get into the board, but it is also more difficult to rip out and far more secure than a nail. Is this not the effect that we want truth to have in the minds of those we preach to?
Therefore, do the hard thing of slow, tedious, twisting and turning through long seasons of biblical teaching.
Let’s do a little though experiment. A somewhat large church almost tripled its attendance yesterday for Easter services. The entire congregation worked together to invite people to the Easter service. They came. The church had to seat people in the lobby it was so jam packed. Success?
Some of my readers will be astute enough to ask, “what did they use to get these people”? Certainly if they used some sort of sinful practice or watered down the gospel then it was not a success. But if they did not do anything innately sinful and they preached the gospel then I think we can say that it was a success.
Here is where I might surprise you. I don’t think the key issue is what they used to reach people. The whole philosophy is what is messed up. When a local gathering makes their Lord’s day meeting primarily about the evangelization of the unbeliever instead of the edification of the body through the worship of her Head, a subtle and dangerous shift takes place. The church becomes primarily about man instead of God.
It is often advised of a church to ask this question of its worship service: “What would an unbeliever think if he/she were attending”? That is a good question, but the better question is this: “What does God think, as He is attending”? Do you see the shift? Rather than asking questions that can only be answered through Scripture we are now answering questions that can be answered through an opinion poll.
The issue here is not whether or not the church should be concerned with reaching the lost. The Great Commission is not optional. If the church is not concerned with spreading the glory of God to the nations then it should just close its doors. It is barely a church in any meaningful sense of the word. The question that I am considering is not whether we should be passionate about reaching unbelievers. My question is, what should the church look like to an unbeliever on a Sunday morning? Should it be a catering church—primarily for the unbeliever, or should it be a comprehensible—primarily for the believer, but understandable to the unbeliever?
Saturday, April 3, 2010
Dr. Moore reminds us that Death Isn’t Natural.
I am really happy that John Piper took on this question: Was 3 Hours of Suffering Enough?
Actually Piper news kind of dominated my Google Reader this week. Last weekend he announced his Upcoming Leave, and towards the middle of the week he explained why he invited Rick Warren to the National’s Conference. It is also worth reading Grace Driscoll’s response to Piper’s leave.
I think Toby Kurth makes a wonderful point and asks an important question: Will Gospel-Centrality Go the Way of Fundamentalism? If the title does not catch your eye, please do yourself a favor and read it.
Read this one buy Kevin DeYoung and be sure to follow the links to Jared’s blog and the comments on JT’s blog.
Challies (who would know) tells us how to Read More and Read Better.
Watch what Daniel Montgomery of Sojourn says about Fundamentals of the Gospel:
There are a ton of great Good Friday/Easter posts out there—but you can find those yourself. enjoy celebrating the Resurrection this Lord’s Day.
Friday, April 2, 2010
There were always political intrigues surrounding that office [bishop of Constantinople], for the patriarchate of Constantinople had become a point of discord between the patriarchs of Antioch and Alexandria…most of the patriarchs of Constantinople were Antiochenes, and therefore the patriarchs of Alexandria regarded them as their enemies…For these reasons, Nestorius’ position was not secure, and the Alexandrines were looking to catch him at his first mistake.Once Nestorius began challenging the declaration that Mary is the Mother of God the Alexandrines found reason to pursue his dismissal. The ensuing “debate” over Nestorius’ positions is something that sounds like political scandal of the 21st century. You can read about it here.
So, what do we make of Nestorius’ actual position. Should we accept the Mother of God syllogism? Is Mary the Mother of God? Does Christ have “two natures” in "two persons"? Did Nestorius even believe that Christ had two natures in two person?
Personally, I see Nestorius’ point. I am not sure I would be willing to be lynched for it, but I see his point. But if we say that Mary is not the Mother of God then do we have to divide Christ into two natures in two persons? Nestorius is saying that she is the mother of his humanity but not to his divinity. Does this then make Christ have two natures in two persons? I am not convinced that was what Nestorius called for (at least in the way it sounds). At the end of the day I think Nestorius makes a valid point but he was not overly clear in doing so.
What can we learn from this? Again, I offer two points of application.
1) If you plan on tipping over a sacred cow make sure you are willing for it to crush you.
By the time Nestorius came on the scene the term Theotokos (mother/bearer of God) had became a standard for orthodoxy. It was a simple way of affirming the deity of Christ. Perhaps this should not have been the sign of orthodoxy. Maybe, it was not even the best way of outlining the deity of Christ. But was everything Nestorius went through worth fighting this phrase? Certainly, he though it was. The lesson for us is to consider whether we are willing to be crushed by the sacred cow we are trying to tip over. Some need tipped over and we need courageous men and women to start pushing immediately. Occasionally, we need to just wait it out through faithful biblical teaching.
2) It is always easier to critique than it is to create.
Nestorius probably would not have gotten in nearly as much trouble if he had only questioned the use of the Theotokos and left it at suggesting a few alternatives. But he pushed harder and tried to better explain how Christ deity and humanity resided in the same person. This got Him in trouble. It is always easier to critique something than to create something better in its place. This does not mean that things cannot be questioned, nor does it mean that we never create. This is simply a warning to say before you critique something attempt to create a better alternative—but beware to be critiqued yourself (or possibly burned at the stake).
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
This will undoubtedly be beneficial to any that endeavor to preach. But, perhaps, this will be even more helpful for my Calvinist brothers that struggle with knowing how to preach the doctrines of grace consistently.
We should undoubtedly endeavor to maintain a consistency in our preaching; but unless we keep the plan and manner of the Scripture constantly in view, and attend to every part of it, a design of consistency may fetter our sentiments, and greatly preclude our usefulness. We need not wish to be more consistent than the inspired writers, nor be afraid of speaking as they have spoken before us. We may easily perplex ourselves and our hearers, by acute reasoning on the nature of human liberty, and the Divine agency on the hearts of men; but such disquisition's are better avoided. We shall, perhaps, never have full satisfaction on these subjects, until we arrive in the world of light. In the mean time, the path of duty, the good old way, lies plainly before us. (emphasis mine)
You can read the entire letter here.
Just in case you are tripped up by some of the older language that Newton uses allow me to summarize. In this letter Newton is addressing a young man that seems to be influenced by some Hyper-Calvinistic teachings. The young man wonders in what way he can legitimately offer free grace to unbelievers that may not be God’s will to regenerate.
Newton in this address is telling the young man that you must preach the gospel to all—that is the example the Word lays out to us. In this particular paragraph Newton is simply saying do not worry about being “consistent” in places where the inspired writers are not. Paul can hold “free grace” highly at the same time he calls “all men everywhere to repent”. Newton is simply saying, do the same thing.
(FYI, I am pretty confident that is a picture of Whitefield and not Newton).