Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The War Within

No one has understood sin and the sin nature like the Puritans, particularly when it comes to the ongoing necessity (and struggles) of putting that sin nature to death. Here are a few gems from the Soli Deo Gloria republication (Morgan, PA, 1995) of Obadiah Sedgwick's (1600-1658) The Anatomy of Secret Sins.

Let a man set up any sin in delightful contemplation and meditation, that same inward acting of his sin, either actually casts him upon the outward adventures, or invites them. This is the least that it does. It strangely ripens his natural inclination; and, besides that, it prepares him for a temptation that suits that way. Satan shall not need to tempt him much who has already tempted himself: and he who will work sin in his heart, a weak occasion will draw it out into his life. Thirty pieces of silver will prevail with a covetous Judas, who already had gold as his master in his heart. (15)

[God] gives singular charge against secret sins. Why? Because He cannot endure any to be hypocritical. The man is to God what his inside is; if you work wickedness in your heart, God will destroy you. Plaster your visible part with all sorts of pious expressions, if yet you can set up a form of sinning within, you are notable hypocrites. (18-19)

Beloved, the main battle of a Christian is not in the open field. His quarrels are mostly within and his enemies are in his own breast. When he has re-formed an ill life, yet it shall cost him infinitely much more to reform an ill heart. He may receive so much power from grace at the beginning, as in a short time, to draw off from most of the former gross acts of sinning, but it will be a work all of his days to get a thorough conquest of secret corruptions. (22)

Satan does not stir a naked eye, but a filthy heart to look through that sinful window. He does not come to the hand and say 'Steal,' but first to the heart, which will quickly command the hand. He does not say immediately to the tongue, 'Swear and blaspheme,' but the heart, which can easily command that hellish language into the tongue. If you should pluck out your eyes and never see any object to excite your unclean heart, yet you may still be as filthy a person as before. Your own corrupt heart and Satan would incline you so. And though you never had a foot to go, or a hand to stir, yet you might be as much a thief as Judas. (23-24)

If you could get another heart, you would look with another eye. The only way to make temptations lose their force is to decline occasions and to cleanse the inward parts. (24)

For some awesome excerpts from John Owen's classic work on the mortificaiton of sin, click here.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

When Christians Hear the Word

Sometimes I think I brag about the work that God is doing in our church too much. But then I get to speaking with brothers from other churches who are caught up in programs and boards and committees and all that stuff and they are so negative about church... it really makes me sad. They speak about the divisions and politics in their church and how much of a pain certain people are. It breaks my heart. Church, in so many places, seems to be so... distracted with things (just about any and every thing!) other than the word of God.

But it does help me to realize that there are a lot of churches out there that aren't full of Christians, where the word isn't preached, and where people don't love each other and get actively involved in each other's lives. That all makes me want to talk about our church more, because it makes me think that so much of what happens in 'evangelicalism' today is just merely a result of a whole generation of people being in dead churches. They've never seen what real, biblical, vibrant Christian church is... so they resort to programs and 'conversation' with the goal in mind of completely reinventing the wheel.

Let me just give you a glimpse of what life is like at GFC. A little while ago the Preacher was preaching through the first part of Romans 13, where Paul instructs the Roman Christians to be subject to authorities as to God. Since then I can tell you from experience that without me saying a word, I have been in cars with multiple people from our church who I know used to speed, who now consciously drive the speed limit.

A little while ago another brother happened 'just by chance' to be walking with his wife when he happened upon some people cleaning out (throwing out) a bunch of their office software. The great thing about this is that this brother had been convicted in his conscience by Romans 13 to clean off all his pirated software from his computer. Within days of taking this step of faith, not knowing how he would be able to continue to work on his computer, he 'happens' upon all the free software he needed. Awesome!

These are small things, yes, but they are microcosms. When the word is preached, Christians come. We are not the largest church around, that's for sure, but we are a church made up mostly of truly regenerate people. This is because true Christians are hungry for the word. When they hear it somewhere they stay there. When they stay there and submit themselves to the word as it is preached, the Spirit uses the word to bring about changes in their hearts. As their hearts are changed, their lives change. Sometimes in small ways, other times in large ways, but there is always change.

So I ask again, why look for new ways? Why try to reinvent church? Why try to get God to work in a way other than how he has said he will work? The church was created as a place where the word of God would be read publicly, expounded powerfully, and sung passionately... why do we need anything else? When you preach the word faithfully, you may not pack out the house, but you will fill it with Christians. And the Christians that come will be moved by the Spirit; they will respond with convicted hearts and changed lives. What more could you hope for than that?

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Chicken or the Egg?

After my last post (with regard to the miraculous gifts) evenmay made the comment, 'We should be open to and seek the miraculous, but we should not neglect to thank the Spirit for the ways he gifts his church that seem ordinary.' The first part of the sentence is what caught my attention, because it touches on another issue that's been floating around in my mind: the giving and receiving of the gifts.

Please bear with me if my questions here seem simplistic and practical, but I simply haven't moved in charismatic circles enough to know anything about this. We know that we are to eagerly desire the gifts... but what does that mean, really? If the giving of the gifts is truly the work of a sovereign God (which no one here would deny), then how does one 'desire' them in an 'effective' way (or is there an effective way)?

I have prayed to God many times, asking him for more of the Spirit. I have acknowledged to God that my position on this issue is underdeveloped--I am totally open to the possibility of the sign gifts continuing on even now, but I remain unconvinced. I know I want to prophesy... I know that if it means I experience more of the Spirit, then I want to speak in tongues, too. Is that fulfilling the command to 'desire' the gifts, or is there something more?

Here's the big question I'm getting at: Do I need to be entirely convinced of the reality of the ongoing nature of the gifts in order to receive them? Why would God wait till someone is totally convinced before giving them the experience of prophecy? Why wouldn't he give me a prophecy first so that I would know for certain that is the Lord speaking? I know that I would be convinced by a genuine experience of such a miracle...

If I am open to the Lord's working in my life in this way, and desirous of experiencing him in every appropriate way, is that enough? Or do I need to be fully convinced that tongues continue before I speak in tongues? I don't know of a biblical text to which I can directly refer, since obviously everyone at that point believed in the presence of the miraculous gifts at that point.

Is it wrong to desire something I'm not convinced is biblical? Is it wrong to seek an experience in order to validate theology?

Anyone got any practical suggestions?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Random Thoughts on the Sign Gifts

Attending WorshipGod06 (run by Bob Kauflin and Sovereign Grace Ministries)with Tim has given me lots to think about. Ever since Tim and I got back I've been mulling over the issues with regards to the 'sign' or 'miraculous' gifts. Here are some random thoughts I've been chewing on...

1. 1 Corinthians 13.8-13. This is not profound, but merely an acknowledgement of what the majority of evangelicalism has already said: these verses are not referring to the closing of the canon. Without this text, the intratextual evidence for any strong cessationist position is incredibly weak. To my knowledge this is the only text cessationists use to argue their position that Paul knew of the gifts coming to an end. Further, even if we could allow that this text is speaking of these gifts (tongues, prophecies, and knowledge), then why do we include things like the gift of healing in the list of gifts which have ceased?

2. Where do we draw the line? It seems to me that the categories of 'miraculous' or 'sign' gifts are somewhat artificially imposed on the New Testament text (like imposing the 'moral / civil / ceremonial' categories on the OT Law). Nowhere does it seem evident that such a distinction is made. Quite the contrary, in places like Romans 12.4-8 Paul lumps prophecy in with faith, service, teaching, exhortation, contributing, leading, acts of mercy, etc. What justification is there for picking and choosing which cease and which continue?

3. We need to know. The going line in our circles is that these are matters of secondary or tertiary importance to the gospel, and so we are united in our differences and able to fellowship with each other since we agree on the central issues. I agree with this. But I can't help but wonder how consistent it is. If there are people prophesying by the Spirit and we are saying that they're not, aren't we closing our ears to God's words to us? Aren't we guilty of denying a genuine work of God? Or if the opposite is the case and they're not really prophesying, but are saying they are, are they not false prophets? If they are putting false words in God's mouth is that something we can afford to call 'secondary'? I don't see how. I've been reading through Jeremiah lately and finding that God has some very harsh declarations against those who prophesy falsely in his name...

4. 'But they're not the New Testament gifts...'. This was one of Tim's (and mine as well) biggest complaints against the practising of the gifts that we saw at WorshipGod06. Simply put, what we saw did not line up with what we read in the New Testament. Now, as one who believes strongly in Sola Scriptura, I want to phrase very carefully what I say next, because I realize that variations of this thinking can be used to all kinds of nefarious ends. But as I think about the practising of the gifts described in Acts and then think about the gifts that I see today at Bible-centred places like Covenant Life Church, I have to ask, 'so what if they're different?' Again, I don't want to dismiss any biblical command or restrictions which are ongoing, but don't we often argue that the book of Acts is more 'descriptive' rather than 'prescriptive'? And if we're honest with ourselves, how much of what takes place on a Sunday morning in our church buildings actually resembles what the first believers did as they met 'day by day' anyway? So why is it such a big deal with the gifts? It seems that the more important (if one can speak in such terms) place to look for guidance on the practice of the gifts would be the epistles written to post-Acts churches. These epistles contain many instructions on how to practice the gifts in an ongoing sense and nowhere seem to indicate that they will cease. Places like Covenant Life Church, leaders like Bob Kauflin, and organizations like Sovereign Grace Ministries do seem to follow those instructions quite well. Everything is done decently and in order (more ordered, in fact, than many cessationist churches I've been in where no one even has an order of service written up).

Again, these are all just random thoughts not leading to any conclusions. They're just things I'm contemplating in the spare moments my brain manages to come across.

Any thoughts are more than welcome!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Good Stuff to Read

If you're like me, you can't help but feel horribly ignorant with regard to much of our Christian heritage. I know a few of the main figures, but very little aside from the biggest names.

It has been a wonderful blessing to study this past year or so under Dr Haykin at TBS because he has done so much to bring church history to life for me. Fortunately, he does it in a way that challenges you with very practical application to the Christian life that we live now. It is no mere academic exercise.

I'm currently going through a couple of Dr Haykin's books and have enjoyed another one previously, so I thought I'd recommend them to whoever thinks they'd like to make themselves a little more familiar with a couple of our forefathers in the faith.

I had the chance to read this book several years ago. It simply contains about 50 of Watts' lesser known hymns. Absolutely fantastic devotional material.

Oliver Cromwell is an absolutely fascinating character who is often written about and studied, but few have come to appreciate the Puritan spirituality that pervaded all of his life and his thought.

Whitefield is always a wonderful study. The devotion with which he writes stirs the heart.

These books are all available from the Joshua Press website and are all very inexpensive. The format is simple and easy to read: the first section contains writings by Dr Haykin overviewing the spirituality of the person in question. The other part of the book is made up of selections from their writings so that you can familiarize yourself with the figure in a firsthand sense by engaging with the primary sources (and you don't even have to go to a library!).

These books are absolutely wonderful because they introduce you to some key figures of our faith without being incredibly demanding of your time or mental energy. And as with everything Dr Haykin does, these books are primarily concerned with practical spirituality and how our lives can be more conformed to the image of Christ by the power of the Spirit now because of what these men wrote so long ago.