Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Stand for the Rule of Faith, Part 11

Yesterday's blog touched on "the communion of the saints," the next phrase in the Apostles' Creed, noting that when we worship we join in worship with all who are worshiping God in Spirit and in truth, including those who've gone before us and now worship God more fully in his presence in heaven. They worship him consciously and without ceasing. We worship him sometimes consciously and intermittently. They have been freed from the cares of this life. We are still bound to them.

One of the greatest lines in the Creed is "[I believe in] the forgiveness of sins." That little line speaks to the yearning of the fallen human heart. Paul says, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3: 23). Conscience tells us we've done wrong. Every society has a concept of right and wrong and an awareness of not living up to the "ideal" of what it means to be at our best. Every culture has a belief in a deity (or deities) that has been offended. Guilt is a universal concept. Forgiveness is a universal need. The Gospel answers to the deepest need of the human condition like no other religious message, for the Gospel tells us how we may again be right with God and one another.

Forgiveness requires more than a simple "I'm sorry." First, our forgiveness of sins requires the shedding of blood in the form of a sacrifice (Heb 9:22). God himself paid the ultimate sacrifice that we could not pay: "Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when he makes his soul an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities" (Isa 53: 10--11, ESV). Jesus came as the Suffering Servant to be that perfect, sinless sacrifice (Mark 10: 45; Eph 1: 7; Col 1: 20). So forgiveness is necessarily linked with the blood atonement made by Jesus when he died on the cross. Faith in his sacrificial death and his resurrection are essential to forgiveness of sins.

Forgiveness is also closely linked in Scripture to repentance. "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his his name to all nations" (Luke 24: 46--47, ESV). Peter also connects forgiveness to repentance: "Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out" (Acts 3: 19, ESV). Now repentance is not a "good work" that merits forgiveness of sins. Repentance doesn't earn forgiveness. The blood of Christ alone does that. But God doesn't save us in our sins, he saves us from our sins. God calls all who would be forgiven to forsake sin and seek holiness.

Modern psychiatric care seeks to alleviate guilt by doing an end-run around the cross. Today more than ever Christians need to stand for genuine forgiveness of sins through the shed blood of Christ and call their friends, their neighbors, their work associates to repentance and faith in him who alone can truly heal their souls and settle their minds. From the drug addict to the "good" kid who secretly gets into candy he shouldn't, everyone knows he or she is a sinner. Everyone needs forgiveness. Stand for the only forgiveness that really counts. Stand for the Gospel of hope in Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Stand for the Rule of Faith, Part 10

With Christianity today fragmented between the Orthodox East and the Roman West, Protestantism in all its various forms, and many independent congregations of various types, how can you affirm the words, "and in one holy universal Church"? How can you stand for "one holy universal Church" when there is not one visible Church but a plethora of churches?

What is the Church? In the sense intended here it is all the redeemed of all the ages. In the time of the Imperial Church this came to be confused with the official Church of the Roman Empire. Both the Eastern Rite and the Roman Rite consider themselves each to be the true Church in this sense, still (as does the Coptic Church in Africa). In this line of thought the one holy Church must be a visible Church united in doctrine and ritual throughout the whole world. Yet even in the age of the Imperial Church the visible Church never lived up to that ideal. There have been splinter groups throughout the ages who have challenged the authority of the Imperial Church.

As a Baptist I believe that the most common usage of the word "church" in the New Testament refers to local congregations. Yet in a few places the word is used to speak of all of Christ's people (Matt 16: 18; 1 Cor 12: 28; Eph 1: 22; 3: 10, 21; 5: 23--32; Col 1: 18--25; Heb 12: 23). In Heb 12: 23 the writer speaks of "the church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven" (NASB). And in Eph 5: 27 Paul speaks of Christ presenting the church to himself as a bride pure and holy. These are the two keys for unlocking this mystery of how a visibly fragmented church can exist in the world and there still be "one holy universal Church."

Stand for the church where you are as "holy." Seek, by your life and example, to pursue visible holiness. The charge to the believer is clear: "Be holy yourselves in all your behavior" (1 Pet 1: 15, NASB). You, as a believer, are called to be holy--set apart to God's purposes. You are not your own. You have been bought with the precious blood of Jesus. Recognize that personal holiness is not some arrogant, legalistic self-righteousness but living humbly before God, seeking to do his will as found in his word for the benefit of his church and the glory of his name. Christ's goal is for a holy church. "Strive for . . . holiness without which no one will see the Lord" (Heb 12: 14, ESV).

Stand for the Church as the redeemed people of the Lord from all ages. The true Church is the one Church whose names are written in heaven. Realize that every time you worship you are joining in worship with those who have gone before you as they worship in heaven. This is the communion of the saints, that we are privileged to join in with the worship that is continually happening in heaven (Heb 12: 22--23). Seek genuine worship--a life changing encounter with God through Jesus Christ. In all things seek peace and unity on the basis of truth in your local congregation as an expression of your belief in the importance of the unity of the body of Christ.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Stand for the Rule of Faith, Part 9

While the Apostles' Creed developed in great detail its teaching about Jesus Christ, the affirmation, "I believe in the Holy Spirit" is short and to the point. However, this nascent affirmation of the Trinity required more explanation later. By A. D. 381 the Council of Constantinople expanded this short sentence to "And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified." In the Western Church another addition was made later so that the Holy Spirit "proceeds from the Father and the Son."

Evangelical Christians need to take a stand for the full deity and personhood of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, we need to remember that the work of the Spirit is not to draw attention to himself but to point people to Jesus (John 15: 26). There is a lot of confusion in our churches about the Holy Spirit. Taking a stand for the biblical teaching of the Holy Spirit could help clear some of that confusion.

What does the Holy Spirit do? He convicts the conscience of sin (John 16: 8). He, by his sovereign will, applies the benefits of Christ's work and causes the new birth (John 3: 8). He indwells every believer (Rom 8: 9). He, by his sovereign will assigns gifts to every believer for the benefit of the whole congregation (1 Cor 12: 11). He guides God's people into truth (John 16: 13). He seals every true believer as a pledge unto the day of redemption (Eph 1: 13--14). The best evidence of the Spirit in your life is not some "sign gift" but the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal 5: 22--23).

Baptists became so "program" driven that one wag once remarked that "the Holy Spirit could leave the average Baptist church and no one would notice." I've seen churches where I'm not sure that hasn't happened. To take a stand for the Spirit means to live your life in awareness that nothing, nothing you can do will have any lasting impact for the Kingdom without his blessing. To take a stand for the Spirit means to oppose every teaching that denigrates the Spirit as less than fully God. To take a stand for the Spirit means to uphold the biblical teaching of gifts in service of the church, for its edification, not to puff up people and make them feel "super spiritual" (Col 2: 18). Lastly, to take a stand for the Spirit means living your life in the awareness that it is his sanctifying power that enables you to persevere in the faith, keeping you to the end.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Stand for the Rule of Faith, Part 8

Recently Frank Schaeffer, son of Francis Schaeffer, the great twentieth century Christian apologist, went on MSNBC and derided Evangelical Christians for their alleged obsession with the imminent return of Christ and fascination with biblical prophecy. It is true that some Evangelicals are what Chuck Swindoll has called "prophecy freaks", obsessed with understanding biblical prophecy and mapping its fulfillment to the exclusion of other areas of biblical theology. Still, Frank Schaeffer came across as one who has betrayed his father's legacy and his Evangelical heritage. A solid belief in the Second Coming of Christ is foundational to the Christian faith. Like the resurrection of Jesus, faith in his second coming and the future judgment is a key article of faith for which believers must stand. The Apostles' Creed reads, "from whence he shall come again to judge the living and the dead."

From where? From "the right hand of God the Father Almighty." Christians ever since the first century have believed that Jesus is coming again, and that when he comes certain things will happen. There is a great deal of debate among believers about the details of that event, but the event itself remains a key article of faith. It is not my purpose here to go through all the various end-time theories. These core teachings are clear: (1) Jesus will return bodily and visibly to the earth (Luke 21: 27; Acts 1: 11; 17: 31; 1 Thess 4: 14--17; 2 Pet 3: 10; Rev 22: 12); the dead will be raised and be judged (Dan 12: 1--2; Matt 25: 31--46; Acts 17: 31; 2 Cor 5: 10; Rev 20: 11--15); the wicked will be sent away into eternal torment and the redeemed will be received into eternal bliss (see above references); and there will be a new heaven and a new earth where sin is an absolute impossibility and peace, joy, and worship are the rule (Isa 65: 17--25; Rev 21--22).

In light of his coming, how should we then live (to paraphrase Francis Schaeffer)? What does it mean to stand for his coming and the future judgment of all people by Christ? First, stand for real hope--hope that will not disappoint because it is grounded in the unchanging purpose and promise of God (Heb 6: 13--20; Rev 19: 11--16). Secondly, stand for holiness in your own personal life (2 Pet 3: 11--13; 1 John 3: 1--3). Thirdly, knowing that you will one day give an accounting, boldly seek to persuade others to come to Jesus by your words and your example (2 Cor 5: 11).

"He who testifies to these things says, 'Surely I am coming soon.' Amen. Come Lord Jesus!" (Rev 22: 20)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Stand for the Rule of Faith, Part 7

Today I want to explore an aspect of the saving work of Christ that doesn't get enough attention in Western Christian theology. The Western Church has tended to focus on the cross and resurrection as the central event in salvation, as if all God could do in Christ he did there at Golgatha and the empty tomb.

No less important however, is the reality that "he ascended into heaven; and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty." Christ's saving work is an ongoing saving work. On the one hand his ascension speaks of victory, but on the other it is from this vantage point of sitting on the Father's right hand that he pleads the cause of the redeemed, ensuring our complete salvation. That is a source of comfort, joy, and assurance. That he ascended is affirmed in Acts 1: 9. But from his position of ascended Lord he intercedes for us on an ongoing basis (Heb 4: 14; 10: 12--14; 1 John 2: 1). He also lifts us up to the heavenlies with him (Eph. 1: 20--22; 2: 6).

From his favored position at the right hand of the Father he wields all power and authority (Matt 28: 18) as the King of kings and Lord of lords. "I have set my King on Zion" (Ps 2: 6) anticipates the heavenly session of Jesus.

How can Evangelical believers stand for the ascension of Christ? What are the implications of this teaching for our lives? First, standing for the ascension means standing in confidence of the victory that Christ has won for you over sin, death, and condemnation. You are forgiven and secure in his power. You need not live under the bondage of sin any longer (Rom 6: 22). You have been set free by the power of God. Secondly, standing for the ascension of Christ means going out in confidence of his power in the power of the Gospel to save others like yourself (Matt 28: 19). Be bold in witnessing to others, telling them (1) what God has done for you and (2) the Gospel message from Scripture. Thirdly, standing for the ascension means waiting in confident anticipation of his imminent return at the end of the age (Acts 1: 11). We say we believe he is coming again, but I wonder as I look at how we live, do we really believe it? John says, "Everyone who thus hopes in him (in his return) purifies himself as he is pure" (1John 3: 3 ESV). If purifying ourselves from the filth of the world is a mark of our confidence in his return, then how confident are we, really, given the overall worldliness of professing believers today? So lastly, take a stand in your life for purity, for holiness, as a testimony to your confidence in his ascension and second coming.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Stand for the Rule of Faith, Part 6

Today we come to two very controversial lines in the Apostles' Creed: "he descended into hell; the third day he rose from the dead." What are we to make of "he descended into hell"? The Latin version of the Creed reads "he descended into the inferno" and the Greek version "into Tartarus". In all likelihood this line is based on 1 Peter 3: 19, where Peter says Jesus went and "made proclamation" to spirits in prison. If Jesus bore all the punishment for our sins on the cross, then what was he doing in Hell? It seems to me that he went there to proclaim his victory over sin and Satan, and to show that God was indeed just in punishing those who were already there. Here is something you and I can stand for--Jesus' triumphant victory over sin and Satan, for his victory is our victory, too.

In stating that Jesus "rose from the dead" the Creed affirms something that was equally incredible in its day as it is in ours. To take a stand for the resurrection of one who died means taking a stand against the observed reality of all of human history. Outside of a few accounts of resuscitations in the Bible, no one as far as I know before modern medicine records dead people coming back to life. Even today doctors don't call someone dead until there has been no heart beat for several minutes, which results in permanent brain damage. But what the Bible affirms here is that a man, crucified, embalmed, and buried, got up and walked out of the tomb. People in the first century found that just as hard to believe as people today do. Even some of Jesus' own disciples doubted what they were seeing (Matt 28: 17).

True faith calls us to stand for the victory of life over death in the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. His bodily resurrection is the promise of our future bodily resurrection as well. In fact, without his bodily resurrection there is no Gospel--no good news. Paul says that the faith that saves is the faith that believes God raised Christ from the dead (Rom 10: 9), and that if Christ is not raised from the dead believers are still lost in sin and above all men most to be pitied (1 Cor. 15: 12--19). Paul even considered the death and resurrection to be the first order doctrine of the faith: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15: 3--4, NASB).

Science says the resurrection can't happen. Human experience says that resurrections don't happen. The Gospel says that the resurrection of Christ has happened and the resurrection of his people will happen. Death doesn't get the last say. God is pro-life. We were not born to die. We were born to know him and in knowing him to live forever. In proclaiming the Gospel take a stand for Christ's resurrection. Without it we're all lost. With it comes a living hope of eternal salvation.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Stand for the Rule of Faith, Part 5

In the last entry I explored what it means to stand for Jesus Christ as fully human and fully God. Certainly yesterday's entry did not do justice to the whole of the doctrine of Christ, but time and space do not permit a detailed discussion of all Christological issues on a blog.

Today I want to look at the phrase "suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried." In the ancient world in which the first believers lived this was one of the biggest hurdles to the acceptance of the Christian message. According to the Apostle Paul the Jews considered this a stumbling block and the Gentiles considered it mere foolishness that Christians would celebrate as their leader and deliverer one who had been killed by crucifixion (1 Cor 1: 23). Yet this line in the creed is pivotal for a number of reasons.

First, the reference to Pontius Pilate sets the crucifixion in its historical context. The crucifixion of Jesus happened, and it happened in history at a specific point in time. This is not some made up story. Furthermore, the Romans didn't crucify someone else by mistake, as the Muslims teach, they crucified Jesus. Secondly, they crucified him and he died. He didn't just pass out on the cross. The soldiers tested his corpse by putting a spear into his chest to make sure he was dead (John 19: 34). Furthermore, he was buried, and the tomb was sealed and a guard posted to prevent the theft of his body (Matt 27: 62ff). As far as the chief priests and Pilate were concerned, this matter was over. They had done everything humanly possible to silence this troublesome Galilean once and for all.

In his death we see the full and genuine humanity of Jesus. One who merely appeared to be a man could not have died. Christians must stand for the historical event of Jesus' crucifixion and all the details related to it in the Gospels. Furthermore, Christians need to remember that if they did this to Jesus, the world will seek to do the same to his followers. You are called to suffer with Jesus, even to the point of a shameful death (Luke 14: 26--27; Phil 1: 29; Rev 6: 9--11). If you stand for Jesus and for the Gospel you will face opposition. But in the United States you and I "have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood" (Heb 12: 4) in our witness for Christ. This should serve as a reminder and a warning. You are called to stand for the crucified Savior in the face of harsh persecution.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Stand for the Rule of Faith, Part 4

Christians are called to stand for the uniqueness of the Gospel message. That message is a message of hope because in it God invaded human history in the person of Jesus Christ. Yesterday I looked at the line which reads "And in Jesus Christ his only begotten Son our Lord." The sentence continues, explaining that he "was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary."

Jesus of Nazareth was fully human, but he was no ordinary human. His conception and birth were the result of a miraculous work of the Triune God. Matthew's Gospel states clearly that Mary and Joseph had not "come together" (had sexual relations) prior to her conceiving Jesus (Matt 1: 18). Matthew further states, as does Luke, that this conception was by the work of the Holy Spirit who "overshadowed" her (Luke 1: 35; the same Spirit who "hovered over the waters" in Genesis 1: 2). Some have tried to discount the virgin conception on the basis of the Hebrew reading of Isa 7: 14, the basis for Matthew and Luke as the prophecy of the birth of the Messiah, but the reality is that the Greek text of Matthew and Luke (as well as the Greek translation of Isa 7: 14 in the Septuagint, made before the time of Christ), can only be read as "virgin". Biologically, Jesus had no human father. Just as in his deity he is the eternally begotten Son of God, so in his humanity is he God's Son. In his virgin conception the cycle of original sin was broken. Jesus came as the "second Adam" (Rom 5: 12ff; 1 Cor 15: 22--45), sinless, holy and filled with the power to be all that God intended for humanity to be. In this way he was suited to offer the perfect sacrifice for the sins of fallen humanity.

What does a real man look like? He looks like Jesus. To the extent we are not like Jesus we do not live up to what it means to be truly and fully human as God intended. The predetermined goal of salvation for every believer, then, is the restoration of the fallen image of God in each of us--"to be conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom 8: 29). Model your life after the life of Jesus--a life committed to Scripture, prayer, personal holiness, knowing and sharing God in sacrificial love for others, and you will know what it means to stand for Jesus. A word of warning here: you can't do this without the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8: 1--11).

Monday, September 21, 2009

Stand for the Rule of Faith, P 3

So far I've explored just a bit of what is involved in saying "I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth." The Rule of Faith, as finalized in the Apostles' Creed, further states, "And in Jesus Christ his only begotten Son our Lord." Of course, more follows to flesh out who this Jesus is, but today I will only tackle this much.

In this short sentence there is implied the full humanity and the full deity of Jesus of Nazareth. It took the ancient church about five hundred years to unpack what it means to speak of Jesus Christ. Yet the question Jesus asked the disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" continues to be the pressing question of eternity for everyone. Who is Jesus?

Some say he was a good teacher of morality who by his words and his actions modeled for everyone how to face life, death, and injustice. Some say he was a prophet, perhaps the greatest of prophets. In ancient times some thought he was truly God but that he only appeared to be a man. All his human life was a mere illusion for our benefit. Others have said he was a man uniquely in touch with the divine in all of us. Some have said that, as to his deity, he was the first of God's created beings who then took on human form to lead us back to God. None of these do justice to who Jesus of Nazareth is.

Christians need to stand for Jesus of Nazareth as he is revealed in the New Testament--as one who is fully human on the one hand, and one who is the eternally begotten Son of God (the second Person of the Trinity) on the other. Only one who is both God and man meets all the necessary qualifications to be an adequate Savior for a sinful, fallen humanity. Only one who is fully God can keep the law perfectly and offer to the Father a perfect, sinless sacrifice. Only one who is fully human can freely choose to stand in the place of fallen sinners and receive the punishment we should have received for our sins.

As we work our way through this major section on Jesus Christ over the next few days we will explore in more detail what it means to stand for Jesus of Nazareth.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Stand for the Rule of Faith, Part 2

This journey through the Rule of Faith will take a few days. Today I want to explore the significance of standing for the next line as it appears in the final form of the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth."

In our society the biblical view of the origins of the universe has been under attack for well over a hundred years now. The theory of evolution has moved from theory to dogma in much of the scientific community. Anyone who doubts this should watch Ben Stein's documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.

What is at stake if we do not stand for God as Creator? What is at stake if we do not stand for man as uniquely created in the image of God? It is hard to overstate what is at stake here.

First, we need to stand for God as the Creator of all that is because without that one, central unifying truth, there can be (1) no explanation for the order found in the universe (see any of a number of works on Intelligent Design theory for a discussion of order in the universe), and (2) no purpose of meaning to human life, and (3) no objective basis for morality.

I am not academically qualified to speak to the issue of Intelligent Design. I've done some reading in the subject and watched Stein's documentary about the battle over ID in the academy. Suffice it to say that God has not hidden himself behind creation as Richard Dawkins implies in his interview with Stein. Rather, for centuries the testimony of humanity has echoed the words of the psalmist: "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork" (Ps 19: 1). Belief in a deity as evidenced in creation is a universal phenomenon among human beings. Some people groups have more sophisticated religions, others more primitive and animistic, but every culture seems to see evidence that the universe came from a power beyond itself, except the culture of natural science. Why can they not see what everyone else since the dawn of human existence has seen? Could it be that they are among those Paul mentions who "by their unrighteousness suppress the truth" (Rom 1: 18) in their own hearts?

By standing for God as Creator, Christians stand not only for a universe that bears the marks of design and order, they stand for meaning and purpose in human existence--in history. If God did in fact create everything that exists, and if humanity is uniquely created in his image, then everything has a reason and every life, no matter how insignificant it may appear to us, has purpose. God has a plan that he is carrying out in history. Theologians call this the doctrine of Providence. History is merely the unfolding of God's providential plan for creation. Your life means something to God. He has a purpose for your existence. You were not born at the wrong time. You do not live in the wrong place. And if you are living for God by faith in Jesus Christ, then even your suffering has redemptive meaning in your life and God is at work in your suffering for your greater benefit (Rom 5: 3--5; 8: 28). Knowing this has served as a source of hope and inspiration to believers throughout the ages who have dealt with persecution, bereavement, affliction, and debilitating injuries and illnesses. God is in control. As Creator he is sovereign over all things, even the details that we take for granted.

By standing for God as the Creator you also stand for God as the Sovereign Lawgiver. There is an objective basis for moral behavior. Morality is not merely a relative social construct. Right and wrong are things that exist independent of the human will because they originate in the very nature of God. We can say it is wrong to take what does not belong to you. We can say it is wrong to take an innocent life. We can say it is wrong to have sexual relations outside of marriage. We can say it is wrong to treat others as economic tools to be used or discarded on utilitarian grounds. God has given a law by which humans are to live in relationship to him and to one another. Today we have generations of people who have been taught that they are no more than highly evolved animals and that survival of the fittest is the only law of nature that concerns them. As a result the baser ones rob and destroy to get ahead and the more sophisticated ones learn to embezzle and cheat their way through life to get ahead. People fornicate like animals and society says, "You can't stop them, so let's provide them with 'protection' so they can at least have 'safe sex' and slow down the spread of certain diseases." This is the effect of Darwinian evolution on society. It has not ennobled or made humanity better. It has released the restraints that held human sinfulness in check and is threatening to undermine Western Civilization in the name of "scientific advancement".

If you truly believe there is a God who created the universe and created you and everyone you know, then you need to stand for the Law he has also sovereignly given as the basis for an orderly society. In that Law is embedded the requirement to respect each and every person as uniquely created by God in his image, even though that image is now fallen and defaced as a result of sin. You need to stand for public morality and let people know you expect them to live up to a standard that ennobles, not down to a standard that debases. This is not a call for legalism and judgmentalism. It is a call for tough compassion that motivates people to step up and live up to their true potential as human beings created by God rather than living down to the level of clever animals. People have forgotten how to respect their own persons and the persons of others, and this can be seen in drug addiction, sexual promiscuity, violent crime, theft, and the rising tide of any other criminal and immoral behavior prevalent in our society today.

As long as believers compromise on the issue of God as Creator in either thought or attitude, the Church will have a minimal effect on the direction of public morality. The Church must stand for God as Creator and stand for the positive benefits to society which that will yield. I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. Do you?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Stand for the Rule of Faith

Yesterday evening's introductory blog pointed to seven things that Evangelical believers need to stand for. The first item in that list was the core beliefs of the Christian faith found in the Bible and expressed in the Apostles' Creed. Someone might ask, "Why is a Baptist pointing to the Apostles' Creed?" Good question, and one that deserves an answer. Over the next several days I will explore the significance of the theology in the Apostles' Creed as it relates to Evangelical Christianity.

What we know as the Apostles' Creed originated as the Regula Fide, or "Rule of Faith" in the second Christian century. A heretical movement called gnosticism developed within the early Christian movement and claimed to have secret knowledge passed on by oral tradition from the Apostles to select persons. The Church developed three lines of defense against this: (1) the Rule of Faith, (2) Apostolic succession of bishops, and (3) the Canon of the New Testament. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, in Gaul, used the Rule of Faith in his defense of the Gospel in Against All Heresies, which he wrote in the mid second century. A close examination of the Rule of Faith as seen in the Apostles' Creed will serve as a positive step toward a wholesome Christian witness to the world.

First, the Rule of Faith affirms belief in "God the Father Almighty." True Christianity affirms one, and only one God. How this relates to the doctrine of the Trinity will be explored another day. In Scripture there is no place for a multiplicity of gods or of men becoming gods in the proper sense of the word. There certainly is no room for the idea that God was once a man who achieved godhood in some previous life. "Hear, O Israel! The LORD our God is one LORD" (Deut 6: 4). "I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me" (Isa 46: 9). "From everlasting to everlasting you are God" (Ps 90: 2).

In affirming that God is "Father" the Creed implies the the doctrine of the Trinity, for whatever God is, he is from all eternity. Therefore God is and always has been "Father", even before he created anything, whether spiritual or mundane. Therefore it must be concluded that in the Godhead there has always been the "Son" or, as John calls him, the Word (John 1: 1, 14, 18).

Christians need to stand again for the conviction that God is their Father by virtue of his grace given in Jesus Christ. Believers are born into God's family by the power of his Holy Spirit working through the Gospel (John 3: 8; James 1: 18) and adopted as heirs with Christ Jesus through faith in him according to the gracious plan of the Father (Eph 1: 5). God is Father of the believer by grace, and so those who are his true children are such because he showered them with his grace, mercy, and love in Christ Jesus. Christians need again to remember that this is the good news--the Gospel--that God, as an expression of grace and mercy, calls sinful and undeserving men and women into his family through Jesus Christ. In the most proper sense of the word not every person is a "child of God."

Christians need to stand for God as the Almighty One. Believers give lip service to God as Almighty, but do we live like we believe it? Is God truly omnipotent--able, as one Baptist catechism says, "to do all his holy will" (A Catechism for Boys and Girls, Q. 13)? Or is God's power limited, either by the nature of creation or by voluntary choice, to make room for others? In short, can Satan or humans thwart the will of God? What does the Bible say? In Psalm 2 the psalmist describes God as laughing at the schemes or men seeking to thwart his will. In Daniel 4: 34--35 the King of Babylon, with his sanity restored, must acknowledge that God does whatever he wills with the people he has created. The cure for spineless Evangelicalism is a renewed conviction that our God is unconquered and unconquerable. The point of the book of Revelation is that all the evil that happens and all the suffering that befalls the people of God at the hands of godless humanity is (1) part of a larger plan and (2) cannot stop God's ultimate victory in the end. "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!" (Rev 4: 8). That God is "Almighty" means that victory is certain and it is ours. Stand fast in the confidence of Almighty God who has made us "more than conquerors" in Christ Jesus (Rom 8: 37). Go today and boldly stand for the God who gives us victory!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Need of Our Day

What is the need of our day as Christians in North America? We are faced with a multitude of "crises" calling for action. But how many of these are symptoms of some deeper problem? Evangelical Christianity today in general has become so well known for what we're against that as a group we've become gun-shy of taking a stand on any issue, afraid we'll be perceived negatively in the press. At the same time, we continue to be bombarded with what we're against. According to the world's perspective we're not for life, we're against choice (and so by extension enemies of freedom). We're not for truth, we're intolerant. We're not for moral standards and wholesome values, we're legalistic bigots who are judgmental of others.

I would suggest that, among other things, the need today is for Evangelical Christians to stand for some things. We have some leaders who do an outstanding job of standing for important matters in our society and in our churches. But at the same time we have a lot of people in our churches who are afraid to stand for those same things in their day to day dealings with people at work, at play, in our neighborhoods. We need everyday people who will "stand in the gap" (Ezek 22.30) on a number of key issues. What are those issues:

1. The core of Christian beliefs as taught in the Bible and expressed in the Apostles' Creed. This, of course, means that there are some beliefs that attempt to pass themselves off as Christian that must be rejected as pretenders to the name "Christian".

2. The core Christian commitment to the sanctity and uniqueness of human life--all human life from conception until natural death without regard to mental capacity or the potential for economic or social contribution.

3. The core Christian commitment to live a life of moral rectitude toward others as created in the image of God, and therefore as worthy of dignity, respect, honesty, and unselfish, even sacrificial love.

4. The core Christian commitment to love the Lord our God above all others, even to the point of sacrificing job, family, and life, if need be, for his glory and the advancement of his cause in the world.

5. The core Christian commitment to a life of prayer. It is curious to Western believers who place great stock in intellectual attainment that in the Eastern Church a theologian is not recognized by what he knows but how he prays. Prayer is an admission of our total helplessness and dependence on God. It glorifies God by humbling us in the dust of self-humiliation. Prayer recognizes that "I" can't do anything but that "with God all things are possible." We cast about for this method or that program to bring "revival" without recognizing that only God can send a true awakening, and if we're to see it, we must seek it from him, not from some trumped up event with a lot of bling.

6. However unpopular it is to the world, and no matter how it is misrepresented, Christians must stand up for biblical morality as the God-ordained check on increasing moral degradation, sky-rocketing crime, and societal disintegration. True liberty only comes when one knows and chooses to do what is right in God's sight. All else is bondage of the worst kind.

7. Christians must stand for compassion to people whose lives have been wrecked by sin, enslaved by government, and disillusioned by unmet promises from Church and State alike. The Christians of ancient Rome won over their pagan neighbors because the one thing that could not be assailed was their sacrificial love, even for their enemies and persecutors.

This is my first blog, and it probably reads like it. In recent days I've seen an onslaught against the very fabric of the Christian worldview and moral foundations from pretenders to the Christian name with their trumped up "history" of pre-Columbian America and man-made god, to people who could not bring themselves to say something they knew was wrong was really wrong for fear of offending someone. While many of us debate and wrangle over theological minutia the world, and our churches, are crumbling around us. Where are the people who will stand in the gap? "I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found none" (Ezek 22:30, NASB).