Agonizomai: July 2008

Thursday, July 31, 2008

1Cor 12:21-26 - Alien Thinking

21-26 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Let me once more offer a quote from that famous man, John Kenneth Gailbraith:
"Under communism man exploits man. Under capitalism, its exactly the reverse."
But in the body of Christ all have died to this sort of exploitative thinking and behaviour. Christianity is not the exploitation of the weak by the strong, nor is it the ganging together of the poor to offset the power of the rich. The church is neither a political nor an economic body, though its members may be used of God affect both politics and economics. And the individual members may even witness what God does politically and economically through the church if they are walking according to His will. However God chooses to advance His kingdom, the chief purpose of the church is to do just that, through the obedience of faith - to advance the kingdom by proclaiming the gospel to every person in the world so that all that the Father has given to the Son may hear and believe, to the glory of God. That is the end, and all other things are adjuncts and means to that end.

At first glance one might not think that such crass things as the leverage of money and power could find any root in the church. And that would be right, if there were no human beings as members, or if there were not tares among the wheat. Besides, power and privilege do not always have to be about money. In fact the love of money is not about money, nor the love of power about power, but these things are about greed and pride and covetousness, and lack of faith and love - and money and power are merely the means by which these corruptions are manifested.

And while they may not be the controlling factors in the lives of Christians, they are nevertheless factors. God has left us with the residue of our flesh in a hostile world, with demons to twist the truth. We have enemies without and within our selves, as well as enemies without and within the church. God is able to keep us - and He will through faith and by grace - but we must be tempted in order that we may begin to understand our own weakness, and the very great faithfulness of our God and Saviour.

Thus, even in the body of Christ there are manifestations of the flesh which must be confronted with gentleness and humility, with a pastoral heart and in all truth. As we have seen, in Corinth even the very gifts of the Holy Spirit were used as an occasion for boasting, showiness, pride, inconsideration, self-importance and who knows what other manifestly carnal purposes. Thus the polemic and didactic, the chastising and pastoral care that Paul brings to the matters of their error.

And even after 2,000 years and with the advantage of these teachings and warnings, such things are still among us today. That is because we are sinners and saints at the same time. It is also because some in the visible church are not truly saved and are wholly motivated by the flesh, even though their actions and attitudes may often appear to be good. God alone knows the heart.

But the Way of the Lord is always alien to the flesh. It is unexpected. It is counter-intuitive, though only to the carnal mind. To the Spirit informed and led saint, the Lord’s Ways - though past understanding in many ways - make sense, and they resonate with the new heart within. Thus we can receive and embrace the idea of dying in order to live, being abased in order to be exalted, being weak in order to be found strong in the Lord - and many other similar concepts. So it can be no surprise to see the exquisite wisdom at work in the body ministry and its associated gifts wherein Paul speaks of the baser parts receiving greater honour.

One thinks of verses like "let each man think of others as better (more significant ESV) than himself," {Php 2:3} or "many who are last shall be first and the first last." {Mt 19:29-30} God has it all covered. The strongly gifted shall not glory in their strength and the weakly gifted shall not be less than their brethren - for the gifts are by God’s choice for use in the body that was chosen and bought and saved by His choice. What matters is not the supposed comparative "value" of the gift but the degree of faith and obedience with which it is used. A so-called small or less significant gift properly and fruitfully used is more pleasing to God because it is used in faith (obedient, submissive, loving faith) than any great, showy outwardly mountain-moving gift that is drenched with the corruptions of the flesh. Faith may be mixed with it to some degree, but it is the degree of faith and not the shininess or showiness of the gift that pleases God.

One could spend hours delving into what is meant by "faith" in this sense. It is not simply "believing". It is not even acting upon the belief. It is acting upon the belief with a heart that is set upon the glory of God in love because of Who He is and what He has done - not just in a general sense for mankind, but especially in a very personal sense, for me.

But God has saved a number of people that cannot be counted - a number as great as the sands of the sea or the stars of the unpolluted Chaldean sky. And in any generation there is a portion of these saints alive upon the earth, making up the church militant, while those who have finished the race (the church victorious) are an unseen cloud of witnesses cheering us on from the very bosom of Christ. John Donne reminded us that no man is an island entire unto himself - and no saint can be divorced from the body of all believers.

Yes, by necessity some may be called to utter loneliness in prisons or remote corners of the world and that is also the will of God; but no saint may call himself to such isolation. The God who saved him also gave him gifts to be used for body ministry and this necessitates that he participate in the body. So great is this bond between members of the church that they care for, feel and honour each other as they would their own selves. We are no longer simply persons unto ourselves, but persons free to trust God with our own needs so that we may minister to the needs of others. That is not to deny individual responsibility; it is to look for and to hold oneself forth as God’s very means of ministering to both ourselves and others. God ministers to us through our brothers and sisters and we are used of God to minister to them. It is true interdependency, but totally dependent upon the God Who designed, powers and upholds it all in Christ

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hellbound Goodness
"Satan's purpose is not to make good people bad or bad people worse. Satan's purpose is ultimately to make people good without Jesus Christ. If the devil owned any one town in the United States, it would immediately become the loveliest town in America -- crime free, prosperous, and everyone would go to church, where Jesus Christ is not preached."

Donald Grey Barnhouse

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Of Soil and Seed

God knows His genetics. He has ordained that the pattern for living things must come from living things. All of His plants and creatures reproduce “after their own kind”. How could it be said more simply? Life begets life.

This is true of the meanest microbe and the most ponderous pachyderm. From germs to elephants, from mice to men it is a known fact that the offspring receive their pattern from those who lived beforehand.

The aging and teetering insanity of Darwinism with all its ensuing variations, adjustments and accommodations runs counter to the most basic common sense of what we both see and know. Only Life begets life.

Nowhere in recorded history, nor in any of the annals of modern science – despite all the resources and the application of the best human minds – has any one ever observed anything which would remotely contradict this fact: only life begets life.

Life does not spring from rocks, minerals, thin air or dead soil. Yet life abounds. Life thrives in almost every nook and cranny of our planet. There are insects that live in the snow of the arctic regions. A vast panoply of life exists in the deepest parts of the oceans where the direct energy of the sun never reaches. The air is filled with organisms and the rocks and soil teem with bacteria, both good and bad. Yet all this life only produces after its own kind.

Common sense teaches us the difference between the animate and the inanimate. We know it instinctively. Only when we become clever enough to think we see do we become blind to the obvious. It has happened in the conjectural sciences and it happens in the church, too. No one is exempt.

Jesus loves to use examples of life producing life; the vine and the grapes, the corn and the ears, the wheat and grain – all are simple and common examples which are readily understood by all types of people, from the genius to the ingenuous. The peasant may see what the Paleontologist will not. But in many parables there is a temptation for us to confuse the inanimate with the animate – to mistake life for mere minerals.

When God speaks of scattering seed, He speaks of producing life from life. Life is in the seed, not the soil into which the seed falls. The pattern exists within the seed that will produce after its own kind – corn after corn, wheat after wheat and Christ after Christ. God sows Christ, the Word and the Word grows up in the soil of our being into what is like Christ, because it bears His pattern – His spiritual genetic code.

No one reaps the soil itself. The soil does not grow up and produce fruit thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold. The soil is not eaten by people or re-sown so that more people may be fed. The soil is a dead, inanimate medium that provides a supply of materials to build a repository for the seed and for the seed’s eventual progeny.

In a similar way, we must understand ourselves to be that self-same soil. Dust we are and to dust we shall return. He is the Potter and we are the clay. Great drops of blood fell from Jesus’ brow in Gethsemane and fell where? Onto the ground. Ground is what we are – dirt, soil, clay, earth. The inanimate materials of which we are formed are worth no more than a few dollars as individual chemicals.

The living seed is planted in the dead soil of our own beings. It takes root. It draws minerals and moisture from us. And by the mystery of life it converts them into living fruit, using the pattern within itself. It takes the environment and makes the environment into copies of itself, using the pattern that was already contained in the seed.

We ourselves, though dead soil when the seed of grace is planted, are somehow drawn up into the growing plant and changed into its likeness as fruit in due season. And the seed, though living, dies into the already dead earth, in order to bring forth life from it. The Seed of God has fallen to the earth in me and died. And He has resurrected, bringing me with Him.

Let us remember, therefore, that we are but clay; that we are not the seed, but repositories of it; that we have no life in ourselves but only what life that the Living Seed produces from His inexhaustible heritage – the Christ of God Whom the Father has given to have life in Himself.

Let us cease from trying to live of ourselves, and repose in the life which comes from Him – His life within us – His very Being moving in and through us, just as He is the one in Whom we ourselves live and move and have our being.

[Update July 28, 2008 - Now we know that diamonds may be responsible for life on earth]

Monday, July 28, 2008

It's Deja Vu All Over Again ... Again
The more things change, the more they stay the same. There are no new heresies, just old ones redressed in new garb. The so-called "tolerance" lauded in today's postmodernism is virtually indistinguishable from the liberal heresy that made war on Christianity only a hundred years ago. Listen to a voice from the past as posted at Gospel Web Site ...

The only thing recognized in matters of morals, the only standard for the definition and measure of God and things divine will be personal experience. Those who attempt to bind the conscience, direct the soul, and set before it a definite concept of God and a fixed line of conduct in respect to Him and to one another will be looked upon, not only as narrow bigots, but as intolerable tyrants, as criminal hinderers to all true knowledge. The new generation is intoxicated with the rallying cry of 'self-expression.'
The new generation is letting itself go. If it has any standard, it is the standard of exalted personalism and self-pleasing at any cost to old law and old custom, or old manners . . . With the weakening down of law and self-restraint, there is the over-leaping race for material pleasures.
This is the inspiration of the 'get rich quick' movement; get money that may be spent on pleasure and more pleasure . . . No one has time; all are pressed, life is too short to stop and think . . . 'On with the song' and 'on with the dance,' these are the cries, and the music goes faster and more furiously. The very sounds of the music are barbaric, appealing to the animal, to the brute sense within, stirring the blood, adding fuel to the fire till passion is at white heat . . .
The life that now is' forms the horizon of the vast army of young men and women coming out of school and college. All their instruction, all their equipment is for this world . . . Let modernism continue its work of near pantheism, its agnostic attitude concerning the soul and the other side of death, and in a few hurrying years the moral and spiritual ruin of the coming generation cannot be imagined.
To raise a cry against this as 'divisive,', to appeal to compromise for the sake of 'brotherhood' and 'Christian charity' and to talk about love being more important in the church than correctness of doctrine, is emotional weakness and fallacious folly . . .
The word 'toleration' must be cut out of the church vocabulary. You cannot find it in the Bible. It is not a nice word. It is not to be found in good company. It is a word much used by middle-of-the-road men. It has in it, no matter how much dissimulated, the crawling, creeping movement of surrender . . . Why should the Church tolerate men who no longer tolerate the Bible as God gave it to us?"

I.M Haldeman - "A Kings' Penknife, or Why I am opposed to Modernism" - 1929

Sound familiar? It ought to. Just hang onto your old heresies - they'll be back in fashion before you know it!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

1Cor 12:12-20 - Anatomy 101

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

None of this resonates unless the concept of the loss of self is adopted. Without this, the whole analogy is rather facile. It is easy to see that any body that we have been familiar with, especially our own, though comprised of "members" is all of a piece and does exactly as the head dictates. But Christ is the head of the body of the church and not us. We are members, but not members for our own purposes to follow the dictates of our own passions and desires. That is what happened when we lived in the flesh, but now we are members of a spiritual body - the church - and we follow the dictates of the Head of that body.

So it needs to be seen that a person cannot be self-willed and still a member of the church. He must give up his self-will and submit his whole being to Christ for service to the body, for His sake. Yet this giving up cannot be a work and must be something that is the result of faith. It must be a genuine response to what God has already done to make us accepted in the Beloved. Some will struggle long and hard with this and some will sail through it as if on a smooth ocean with a following wind. Some will struggle only from time to time - but it is in all of us, weak or strong, to lapse into self-justification without realizing it. Our flesh demands that we make ourselves acceptable, that we contribute, solidify, guarantee, underwrite, cover both ends so that we will be acceptable to God. But to do so is not Biblical and it is not the gospel.

Yes we must examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith {2Co 13:5}, and yes, we must be diligent to make our calling and election sure {2Pe 1:10} - but the way to these things is through Christ and not through ourselves. The work of God is to believe in the One Whom He has sent. {Joh 6:29} This is what God Himself is working in us. We must look to what God has done and what He is in order to bear fruit, and we make a big mistake when we begin looking to ourselves.

The good news, however, about losing our lives for Christ’s sake and the gospel that comes in Him is that we find our true lives. We give up that carnal, self-centred, sinful, God-rejecting living death that pleases our senses, but only in shallow and temporary ways - and we exchange it for eternal life, which is to know God and Jesus Christ, Whom He has sent. {Joh 17:3}

But He cannot be known truly apart from the submission of obedience, to which all believers are called. We may see this "submission" as a costly and distasteful loss - but if we do, we are in danger of being found reprobates because we still have a carnal view of heavenly things. The saint sees that what he receives in Christ is infinitely more than anything he loses. He exchanges eternal life for death. He exchanges joy for mere happiness. He exchanges light for darkness, the knowledge of God for ignorance, fellowship with the ineffable, infinite, glorious God for indentured servitude to self and Satan.

And this exchange all finds expression in the life lived, part of which is the life lived with other believers in the body of the church, where we all minister to each other. But we have residual sin in us. We may look at others in the church and covet their gifts. If we know ourselves at all, we may see that we covet all the gifts as we see them in others. And it does not just work from the invisible to the highly visible gifts. A teacher may covet the humble grace of a person with the gift of mercy. While it is not a bad thing to desire to be merciful it is sin to covet the mercy that God has gifted to another. In my closet, let me bewail my own lack of mercy; on my face let me ask God to make me more merciful; in public let me genuinely appreciate the mercy displayed by others in the church and encourage it, exhort it and give thanks for it. The same goes for all the gifts that God supplies in others - and that He supplies in me for others.

This is the glory of God - that He is Who He is and that I am not He. He decides which gifts to give, where, when and to whom. He deliberately does not give all the gifts in their fullest manifestation to anyone. There is only One upon Whom the Spirit rested without measure and Who, as a consequence, displayed the fullness of all the gifts of God in human form - the man, Christ Jesus. We are His creatures. We are dust. We are dead things apart from His grace. We are dependent, non-god, created, finite entities. We are fragments by definition, for none of us could contain the fullness of infinite God. But we can manifest together the nature of that fullness.

When God manifests mercy in one and wisdom in another he is enabling us to see Him at work and to see the fruit of His labours in Christ - and we can see these things in a way we could not possibly see them if they were all in us. We must look outward and not inward if we would see Jesus. Yes, he lives in us by the Spirit - but He does so through faith and that faith looks to Christ and not to us. This is what is meant by looking outward. We see Him everywhere and the dispensing of the gifts aids us by causing us to see Him at work in others, whereas we might overlook Him working in us because of our spiritual myopia.

Paul does not take this emphasis in the text. His concerns are more practical. If the church is to be the body of Christ on earth while He is in heaven and until His return, it must function as a body. Petty jealousies, covetousness, showmanship and prideful bickering over what the best gifts are - these things are decried in favour of an understanding that whatever our gifts may be, we all serve the Head, to do what He purposes with the gifts that He has chosen to tailor specifically for each believer.

The fact that Paul brings up these matters springs from the horrifying and frankly unbelievable behaviour of the Corinthian church. At least, it should be horrifying to us, but if we believe ourselves immune or incapable of such foolishness then perhaps we are missing the point. These things are written precisely because it is in all of us to slide into the most appalling attitudes and habits unless we have warnings and reminders. The sins of Corinth are signposts to us. Their correction is so that we might not stray. Paul’s polemic to them is prophylactic to us. And the grace extended to them in their great error also gives hope of help and forgiveness to us in our own error, whatever that may be.

So - are these verses primarily about the diversity of the gifts or the headship of the Giver?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The More Things Change...
...the More They Stay the Same.

[Remember Yogi Berra's quip about experiencing deja vu all over again? 100 years ago, this year G.K. Chesterton had something to say about liberalism that we are still faced with today in some aspects of postmodernism.]

"What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert - himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt - the Divine Reason. . . . The new skeptic is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn. . . . There is a real humility typical of our time; but it so happens that it's practically a more poisonous humility than the wildest prostrations of the ascetic. . . . The old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which makes him stop working altogether. . . . We are on the road to producing a race of man too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table".

G.K. Chesterton (1908)

Friday, July 25, 2008

1Cor 12:8-11 - Christ In, Not Instead Of, You

8-11 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

At this stage it is well to bear in mind, then, that Paul is educating the Corinthians about spiritual gifts, and not about natural talents. Many people have worldly wisdom and knowledge, for example, but that is not what is being spoken of here. Nor is medicinal or naturopathic talent, magical powers, fortune telling, spiritism, or ecstatic speech - all of which were and are in the world quite apart from the gifting of the Holy Spirit. Some of these things are natural/psychological and some are demonic. None constitutes what Paul is speaking about.

But it would also be a mistake to think that the spiritual gifts are manifested in some sort of trance or through a form of altered consciousness that is divorced from our normal humanity. The mind is a vehicle - reason and sense are vehicles - good things given by God and only corrupted by the natural man’s unrestrained carnal nature. After regeneration, and under the sweet influence of the Holy Spirit and the Word, there is a gradual sanctification of the mind and the reason, aligning it with the will of God. It is through the process of this sanctification of the whole man, by faith, through the Spirit, that the spiritual gifts are displayed. Some are more evidently supernatural than others, but all are reasonable, by God’s standards, and also to us, when mixed with faith.

Preserving the balance between the fact that the gifts are supernatural and the fact that they are manifested in "reasonable" human beings - that they are received by faith and yet involve the mind - helps in not going off on some tangent of hyper-spirituality that ends in unproductiveness. The Corinthians lost sight of the balance and ended up in a place where strong correction was needed. Genuine gifts were being misused and counterfeit gifts were being tolerated.

It’s hard to think of genuine gifts of the Spirit of God being misused. But the gifts of God are without repentance. Apparently genuine children of God may seriously misuse gifts, from which it can be gathered that the gifts are not micromanaged by God in the sense of them being some sort of mediumistic experience. We, the saints are both involved and responsible. We can mess up. We can go astray and yet the gifts will not be taken away. However, if we stray far enough and if we grieve the Spirit badly enough we may find that we ourselves no longer care to use them, or we become so ambivalent, confused or even guilty that they are useless for God’s redemptive and sanctifying purposes in the church and the world.

So whatever the gifts are (and they are mentioned by name here), though they are irrevocable and though they may be misused, they are given according to the Holy Spirit’s will. We may earnestly desire, and presumably petition for, the gifts - especially those of teaching and preaching, but the very fact that these must be petitioned speaks to the fact that they lie at God’s absolute sovereign disposal to give or to withhold as He sees fit.

Spiritual gifts are parallel to mental and physical abilities. We are born with certain attributes and nothing we do can give us talents that we did not have from the womb. If we have no ear for music we may still play an instrument or sing, but we cannot aspire to being a Bach or a Pavarotti no matter how hard we work. Some of that process is beyond our own ability to control. As children of God we were all given certain spiritual abilities when we were born into the kingdom of God. We are each made to display the attributes of God in various degrees and mixtures because, like living clock parts we have been made to fill a unique place in the church, and for eternity, that no other created being can fulfil. As every diamond has its own glory, so we each reflect the glorious light of God uniquely through the exercise of His gifts. Of course, we are not inanimate, insensate, robotic things - we are living, moral beings with wills and feelings, and this makes the whole process that much more amazing and wondrous.

The gifts mentioned here are as follows:
1) the utterance of wisdom

2) the utterance of knowledge

3) faith (meaning unusual and prolific manifestations of faith)

4) gifts of healing

5) the working of miracles

6) prophecy

7) the ability to distinguish between spirits

8) various kinds of tongues (meaning actual earthly languages not learned in childhood or by means of education)

9) the interpretation of tongues (meaning the ability to interpret in the mother tongue of the giftee, the meaning of communications spoken in an earthly language not learned in childhood or by means of education).
At least half of these gifts involve the spoken language - the tongue, if you like. And though, when genuine or when used properly they are beneficial to the body of believers, they are particularly susceptible to counterfeit or abuse. They must be tested. They must be adjudged by those who are mature and not received wholesale like a gannet swallowing a goby.

Also, the fact that there are wide disagreements and that there is a general lack of consensus about exactly what some of these gifts actually were is itself an indicator that at least some of the gifts have not been with the church since the first century. Some will say that this is the church’s fault for lack of faith and faithfulness, and others that it is God’s design - that some of the gifts were given only for a short time. It is clear, for example that Luther, Calvin, Matthew Poole, Matthew Henry, A.A. Hodge and the massive preponderance of historical fathers back to the second century all believed that certain gifts faded away after the Apostolic age by the deliberate purpose of God.

Down through the ages, there have always been a few - mostly heretics - who have claimed that the sign gifts were still given (Marcion was one) - but there was no significant or accepted leader or group who actually believed this until the holiness movement arose in the latter half of the nineteenth Century and gave birth to Pentecostalism, which eventually combined with some new age elements to spawn the worst versions of charismatism. Theodore Rosak (not a Christian by any means) called it correctly when he said "Charismatic congregations in main-line churches are entry points into the Aquarian frontier." (Theodore Rosak, "Unfinished Animal: The Aquarian Frontier and the Evolution of Consciousness").

A distinction has to be made between signs gifts and miraculous events. Miracles undoubtedly still occur in answer to prayer or as special dispensations of God’s grace. But people gifted to perform miracles in the same way that Paul or Peter and a few others did in the early days of the church simply do not exist - and any reasonable study of church history must bring agreement that they have not for 19 centuries. Attempts to confute this evidence often lead to ignoring the fact that these were gifts, and people start trying to work up enough faith to manifest the gift, or to claim it - or some such nonsense.

But we just got through seeing that gifts were being misused in Corinth (or counterfeited). Note that the gifts themselves did not disappear on account of their misuse in Corinth - so why assume that they are no longer manifest because of misuse or because of lack of faith on behalf of the later church? The way most find around the facts of history, tradition and the accepted understanding of the Bible on these matters is to invent some sort of pouring out of the Spirit again because the end times are near. A scripture from Joel is generally introduced out of context and tortured in order to back this up.
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.. (Joel 2:28)
But this was expressly recalled by Peter in Acts and spoke of day of Pentecost when the Spirit was given to the church with marvellous demonstrations of power. It was fulfilled once for all at that time. It was the punctuation mark, the heralding, the attestation of God upon the start of the church age and beginnings of the gospel age. But it was never intended that many of these sign gifts should be normative for the church militant down through the ages.

If it had been thus intended, then has the same Spirit that gave the gifts to people in the church body in the first century simply lost the power to do so subsequently? That is a rhetorical question. Of course not! The appearance of the gifts never depended upon us in the first place, even though the responsibility of using the gifts given was ours.

All this said, there are claims by some that the sign gifts still exist today, but the burden of proof lies with the claimers.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ecumenism in All Its Guises
[The following bit of humour was found somewhere on the Internet. I have nothing in particular against United Methodists. If it offends you, insert "Liberals", or "Postmoderns", or "Emerg***s" or simply "Ecumenists" in the appropriate place. Just don't put "Calvinists ;-)"]

When someone asked, "How many United Methodists does it take to change a light bulb?" this statement was issued:

“We choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for a light bulb. However, if in your own journey you have found that a light bulb works for you, that is fine. You are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your personal relationship with your light bulb (or light source, or non-dark resource), and present it next month at our annual light bulb Sunday service, in which we will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, three-way, long-life, and tinted - all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

1Cor 12:4-7 - Variety in Unity

4-7 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

The context is gifts of the Holy Spirit to true children of God, for use in the community of believers. Still laying down reprovals and correction and exhortation and right teaching about relationships within the church. Remembering that all right relationships find their power, and motivation in God’s love for His people, and teaching what the fruit of that love ought to look like in any believer and in any church.

If and when the members of the church demonstrate love one to another it is not a self-generated thing. It is a response in terms of being fruit of the Source as seen in the pinnacle of love’s expression - which is the giving of God’s Own Son for sin which was not His, and all that was entailed in that, the telling of which will take an eternity. We have not the faintest sense of what was given for us. We imagine that we do. We think that because we have a little conviction of our own sin, or some sense of the twistedness of the whole world that we have insight. Well, we do, but only as much as the faintest twinkling of some lone and unremarkable star among the blazing glory of the Milky Way seen in an unpolluted sky.

Love is expressed through the gifts of the Spirit - the love of God expressed in believers. God’s love is so selfless and so utterly outwardly directed that he rejoices in the expression of it through His creatures. Whenever a believer, walking in the Spirit, loves the family of God by using his gift(s) - even though the world and even, regrettably, the saint does not necessarily make the connection - it is God Who is showing forth His infinite love in mortal and finite vessels. We are sometimes blind to this. We have still within us the tendency to take the credit, to taste the glory for ourselves instead of glorying in the reality that it is Christ in us manifesting Himself by being the gift.

Now while God is both the Source and the Power of the Spiritual gifts in all believers, these gifts are empowered in us. It is through our wills and actions that these gifts find form and application in the world, and in the unique providences that the Father has ordained for each of us to walk in. God has made us willing. God is making us willing. There is prayer and the Word and preaching and worship and fellowship and, in this context, there are the actual gifts of the Spirit.

These gifts take many forms and appear in as many unique combinations as there are unique Christians. But all are given for the purpose of service - a service which is evident in activity. I say evident in activity; we must constantly train our minds to take the heavenly perspective on these things, which is to erase the sort of concept of activity that the world and the flesh taught us - and to replace that idea with the spiritual view. Activity is not what we do for God, but what God does in and through us by bringing about in us a response to His activity. Even after years of enlightenment, for some if not all of us, there always remains the spectre, the shadow, the vestige of self-justifying thoughts when we ought to be resting solely in God. We do what we do because we are accepted in the beloved and not in order to gain acceptance. And whatever good we are found doing was wrought in Christ and given to us. {Eph 2:8-10}

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

DeYoung and the Restless

I am thoroughly enjoying reading "Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be)" - by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck.

In chapter 5, "Doctrine: The Drama is in the Doctrine", DeYoung confronts the tendency of some emerg*** leaders to question the importance of doctrine. I've always pictured such people as sitting on a high branch and sawing away at it on the trunkward side of their own position; you get the picture. Each generation has its restless elements who are not content to abide in the tried and tested wisdom of their elders. It's merely rebellion. DeYoung and Kluck, having grown up in the postmodern era, may have flirted with some of its seductions, but they have reached that place where they can say ,"Been there, done that - got the T-shirt..." etc.

DeYoung responds to Doug Pagitt's emergent rehash of the old liberal canard that "The good news is not informational...but an invitation to a way of life..." (remember the roots of the social gospel in that last century?). In doing so, DeYoung himself harkens back to an earlier era when J. Gresham Machen was battling liberalism, and draws a parallel with many in the emerg*** church, as follows:
"Here is found the most fundamental difference between liberalism and Christianity - liberalism is altogether in the imperative mood, while Christianity begins with triumphant indicative; liberalism appeals to man's will, while Christianity announces, first, a gracious act of God." - Christianity and Liberalism (Machen)
If we get this order wrong, whether as liberals or as emerg***s - if we put deeds before doctrines, so to speak, we shall eventually end up in pious legalism, and be in danger of having trashed the grace of God by which we are both saved and sanctified.

Monday, July 21, 2008

1Cor 12:1-3 - You Do and Speak As You Are

1-3 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says "Jesus is accursed!" and no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except in the Holy Spirit.

The overall polemic of Paul is still treating the disorder in the Corinthian church and the doctrinal ignorance, or error, from which that disorder springs. Still on the question of public worship - of behaviour in the assembly of the saints, when they come together to honour God and to hear Christ preached.

One of the ways that the general disorder was being manifested was in the use of the gifts of the Spirit, real or claimed - particularly the verbal gifts. Paul here sets about to correct the wrong behaviours with right teaching on the matters.

He starts with a comparison. When they were pagans... that is to say, when they were lost and without hope in the world, and when they were led by carnal passions to do the will of the devil ... then they were led by something, for human beings are not autonomously free to act apart from influences that move their wills. The passions or affections rule the will. In all ages, those who love themselves above God and others unrelentingly follow fallen impulses and think corrupt thoughts, so that even their "righteousnesses" are as used tampons before a Holy God. They can do nothing else. Satan is the father of their way of life and His will and influence shows in the choices of their will.

Paul reminds them of that unhappy state in which the spiritual deadness of their lives governed the perversity of their deeds. Whether they attributed their evil to their own fallen flesh alone, or to the underlying influences that held them captive, the operative word is "astray." They were missing the mark continually. In the Corinthians’ case, they were led to worship dumb idols. It is about the leading. The main point is how straying happens to pagans - what mechanism is involved - with the purpose of explaining how Christians are different.

Christians are not different because they have some sort of libertarian free will by which they lift themselves out of that state in which they were led by their carnal affections, or the subtle deceits that Satan and his minions exercise to keep people from the truth. The Bible does not teach that sort of deliverance. Christians are delivered by the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ and kept by the power of God through the leading of the Holy Spirit. {Ro 8:14} That power of deliverance, past, present and future is manifested through faith.

So, whereas they, as pagans, had been led astray by various influences within and without - as Christians the one leading is the Holy Spirit. He is present in all true believers and He governs behaviours by influencing, drawing and leading God’s children to act rightly. But in the midst of this very disorganized and error-riddled community at Corinth, there were apparently some who - supposedly under some sort of "anointing" or spiritual gifting - were saying blasphemous things about the very Jesus they professed to have received. The utter absurdity of these manifestations ought not to be hard for them to miss. Those claiming to be someone, yet who manifested in such a way needed to be closely examined and rebuked.

Christians under the leading of the Holy Spirit (which all are supposed to be) simply cannot blaspheme Christ. That would be tantamount to implying that the Holy Spirit blasphemed Christ, which is to set God against Himself. It is arrant nonsense and it is dangerous behaviour. It may be that a particular Christian might be in a very sad spiritual state and let forth something wicked from his mouth - but that would hardly be a sign of being led by the Spirit. It is a case, rather, of grieving the Spirit.

Similarly, a Christian’s whole life is dedicated to God because of Christ; if he is a true saint he is "that most awe-ful thing" that the word hagios entails. Awe-ful not because of himself, but because of Who it is that is in him. He is set apart by God for holiness. So no sincere confession of Christ could come from the devil or from the old carnal nature, both of which are opposed to the spirit and to Christ, and to all that God is. And one ought to bear in mind that in the proto-church the public confession of Christ was often dangerous to life and limb.

Friday, July 18, 2008

1Cor 11:33-34 - X-Ray Vision

33-34 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.

So Paul does not have X-ray vision in to the hearts and minds of his hearers. He calls them all "brothers." He does not know infallibly which of his hearers within the church assembly are true saints. What he does know is that the discerner of hearts is the Word of God. So he admonishes and encourages. He illustrates what is wrong belief and what is wrong behaviour and lets the Word and the Spirit work through those communications. He trusts God to do what only God can do - to save and sanctify His people by means of the hearing of the Word and the regeneration and sanctification of the Spirit.

Ultimately, under admonishment and right teaching with exhortation, the true children will be transformed. They will hear and heed the voice of Christ their Saviour because His sheep do hear His voice. He calls them by name and they hear and they come to Him. And ultimately, the false professors - the tares, the goats - will harden themselves and add to their own condemnation. In both instances, God is glorified. In the one, He is the prime source of the obedience of faith and in the other, men themselves choose to abide under the condemnation of rebellion and disobedience.

Paul, having laid out the right course of behaviour in public worship (specifically with regard to the Lord’s Supper) lets the teaching fall upon the congregation. His motivation is God’s motivation - that they be not condemned. But if they are condemned they will have only themselves to blame. The greater the light - the greater responsibility.

This community obviously had many other questions. One surmises that Paul has dealt with the most urgent in this letter, thought it may be that other matters were more complex, needing a person to person interface. It was a lack of order that was most apparent - a lack resulting in part from wrong understanding or ignorance, and in part from disobedient practice. Ignorance and disobedience are both still serious matters that the leadership in the church must strive to correct, just as Paul did.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Source of All Good in Us
Your good will is no less a gift of God’s mercy, than the life and being which you receive direct from his hands. Live, as it were, on trust; all that is in you, and all that you are, is only loaned you; make use of it according to the will of Him who lends it, but never regard it for a moment as your own.

Francois de Salignac de la Mothe Fenelon - "Spiritual Progress"

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

1Cor 11:30-32 - Correcting or Condemning?

30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

So here at last is the specific mention of the Lord’s discipline. God is the judge of last resort, but He would rather that His children examine themselves in the light of the Truth and judge themselves. This is not judgment unto condemnation in either case. God does not condemn His children {Ro 8:1} and His children ought not to condemn themselves. But they ought to judge themselves with right judgment to discern if their hearts, attitudes and behaviours are consistent with their professed belief (meaning not their faith itself, but the Object in Whom that faith is placed). Is there trust in Christ? Then there ought to be evidence in the life, springing from the renewed heart. Perhaps the best verse on this truth is found in Paul’s second letter to this same group:
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! {2Co 13:5}
The whole point is, in fact, quite the opposite of condemnation; God calls upon His children to act rightly and disciplines them when they do not so that they will not be condemned. {Heb 12:6} But true children and heirs - sons and inheritors - remain in the house forever and are never cast out. The only question is whether they are true sons or false. God wants us to discern this in the light of His word, for the sheep (the true children) hear His voice and come to Him and He will never cast them out.

From all this I think it can be gathered that self-examination and self-judgment are healthy for the Christian. It is never an examination in the light of others, but only in the light of God’s Word, where Christ is revealed by the Holy Spirit to the believing heart. And the more He is revealed, the more we will learn to condemn sin in our own flesh while clinging to the hope that is found only in Christ. A Biblical view of our own sin brings us closer to God - it does not drive us away. But it must be a Biblical view - full orbed and including not just conviction and repentance - but also the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ by which we are saved.

Conviction without the gospel is the loss of hope, which ought to mean a loss of all hope in self. Repentance without loss of hope in self is merely self-destructive regret. Loss of hope in the self is what prepares a person to hear the gospel of hope in Another, namely Jesus Christ. Those who have been converted may lean more to one side than the other at various times - but the growing Christian has a maturing awareness of both sin and grace, and is led ever deeper into the meaning of grace by deeper awareness of, and hatred for, sin - starting with his own. In other words, repentance is ongoing for the Christian, but it is yoked to a faith that receives and glories in the justifying and sanctifying grace of God.

How important this balance is, for to overlook ongoing repentance can only lead to the carelessness of the so-called "free grace" theology that ultimately says that no matter what a person does as a Christian up to and including apostasy cannot affect their security. On the other hand, overlooking the grace of the gospel by focusing exclusively upon sin and the need to be convicted of it can bring about despondency, depression and legalism. The gospel is good news - not bad. It is liberating, not enslaving. Unfortunately, many of us are out of balance at various times on one of these issues or the other.

For the Christian, to be free from the correction of God in this life would be to have been given up or given over, as God did with mankind on the deep and destructive spiral into defiance that marks Ro 1:18-32. Far from being a relief, the prospect is terrifying. God does reach a point where he gives up on people. He reaches a point where He will no longer hear their prayers and where the Divine countenance forever turns away and forswears any further manifestations of the general call to repentance and salvation. The sad, sad part is that those who slip so easily over that line do so by degrees and they may cross that eternal place of no return without any sense of having done so. A gradual slipping into sleep, like the subject of the proverb (Proverbs 6:10-11) will bring poverty upon him and want just like a robber. {Yes- the proverb is speaking of indolence and laziness in regard to life habits, but there is a principle here where the slumber of unwatchfulness will rob a man of spiritual riches and leave him wanting}

And he who thought he belonged - who tasted of the heavenly gift without receiving it, who went right up to the edge and waded in the shallows, hung around the church, learned the lingo and the rituals, put on the face - such a person may by degrees discover that he is not really a child of God. But by that time, he will probably not care.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Filtering False Conversions
If the Gospel were more clearly and faithfully preached, fewer would profess to believe it!
A.W. Pink - "Practical Christianity"

Monday, July 14, 2008

New Flash Audio Player
I'm hoping this is the last of the flash audio announcements. The Internet Archive has not responded to my query as to why they have blocked my original Shockwave application after nearly 5 months of trouble-free usage. I suspect it may be because they have introduced their own embeddable SWF player. However, theirs is suitable only for Web Pages and does not display well in Blogger applications.

As a result, I am switching to another embedded flash player from developer Jeroen Wijering, whose site can be found here. It is a very neat and functional application which I have tested, and will work well on any flash enabled computer.

I may go back and recode a few past entries to include this player, as time permits, but all new entries will now display the new player. Any feedback is welcome.

1Cor 11:27-29 - The Risk of Defying Gravity

27-29 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.

All of the previously enumerated truths and implications - the full richness of the meanings behind the symbols represented in the historical facts - are a declaration by the professing believer of his belief in, and commitment to, all that they stand for. So it is not hard to understand why Paul was so angry and so horrified at the way that the Corinthians were abusing and disrespecting the whole process. It was ignorant, perhaps blasphemous, certainly disrespectful and probably a harbinger of worldliness and apostasy. No wonder he warned of the imminent peril and pointed to the chastisement of God.

That is why he uses the word anaxios. "An" means without or lacking, and "axios" refers to "worth" in the sense of weight or importance. Partaking of the Lord’s Supper without bringing and showing appropriate gravity is a fearful thing. When the partaking of bread and wine is done by the church body as an act of worship in remembrance of the sacrifice of the life of the Son of God it is right to remember the seriousness of the matter. I don’t think this is to be done at the expense of the joy, or gratitude - but right along with them.

Paul, therefore, in view of the gravely profane behaviour of the Corinthian church, charges that all who plan on partaking of this remembrance in the assembly of believers as the church, should take time to make sure that they are bringing a right heart and displaying a right public attitude. Yes, it is possible to appear right on the outside, without actually being right with God on the inside - we can be fooled because we cannot see the hearts of others with clarity - but God sees everything and He knows with absolute certainty if we are ready to partake, and if we do it rightly. He is a judge from which there is no appeal apart from Christ, and if we profane the remembrance of the very means of our appeal - if we degrade and cheapen and disrepect it - the severest of correction can be expected, and we may in the end prove to be reprobates.

There is only one thing worse, I think, than the chastisement of God upon a true believer, up to and including cutting them off, and that is when God no longer cares enough to correct, and thus leaves people in a state of irredeemable lostness. This He never does with His true children, for He is able to bring to completion in them that good work which He started. However, it is advisable for us not to sail anywhere even close to the edge and tempt God, lest we discover that our very acts prove our repbrobation.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

1Cor 11:23-26 - The Eternal Passover

23-26 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Paul will not commend the Corinthians, but reproves them instead. And the reason for the reproof, and for the seriousness of it, is explained by the "for" of this section. "I do not commend you, because..." - "for this reason" is the reason explained in verse 23 and following.

So what is the "because"? It is because the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper was given by the Lord Himself, confirmed independently to Paul, and left as a solemn memorial for all who would follow because of Him. I don’t mean solemn in the sense of heavy and sad or dour. It is more in the sense of earnestness and sincerity, but with sense of gravity.

The ordinance represents something profound - more profound than we are able to take in fully. It memorializes the centre of history - redemptive and otherwise. It represents the Ineffable doing the unimaginable for the incorrigible. It displays at once truth, love, grace, righteousness justice and mercy in a mystery revealed in the Person of Christ. It is a mystery that can be known only through revelation to the heart by the Spirit of God, for it is the revelation of Jesus Christ and His work that the Spirit has come to effect both to and in we who are being saved.

It is an ordinance left for the church by the Lord Himself. It is not some cheap ritual to be half-heartedly followed or to be treated casually or carelessly. This is serious stuff. It is serious because all true Christians know what the cross means. They know how to discern the body of Christ. They understand both the human and the spiritual realities involved. They may not have the fifty dollar words like "penal substitutionary atonement," but they have an understanding of the meaning behind them. They know they have been passed over for judgement and that it is only due to Christ that this has come to pass. They know He loves them with a love that cost an immeasurable amount. In time they will see more and more deeply the grace of Jesus Christ and the depth of their own need, and their gratitude and worship will grow and abound.

But is this what we see at Corinth? No. We see selfish, unthoughtful, uncaring, insensitive behaviour with no real regard for the true meaning and import of the ordinance. Perhaps they need instruction, but Paul is reminding them that they have already had delivered to them right teaching concerning this matter. They have no excuse and they cannot claim ignorance. They are, in fact, in grave danger of incurring God’s demonstrative displeasure.

Now, the body which is broken is a true human physical body, prepared for God the Son, in which He lived a perfect life as a man, without ever being less than fully God. It was a body made for sacrifice. And the body had great similarities to the body of the paschal lamb, foreshadowing the real thing which came in Christ. John MacArthur got into trouble in some circles a few years ago by intimating that the body and the blood in and of themselves did not have magical properties. The value was in Whose body and blood they were and what manner of Life was contained in them. It was Eternal Being, emptied of His rightful glory, veiled in mortal flesh. It was Life Himself Who died. That was what he came to do, as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. It was decreed from eternity and He came to walk in that decree.

So the old Catholic beliefs about the nature of the elements of the Lord’s Supper (and the half way house of the Lutheran position) have always seemed odd to me. I have always seen the elements as representative of something in the heavenlies worked out in time and space. It is the values behind the visible - the underlying realities - just as much as the physical realities that make the atonement what it is. Mel Gibson’s film (The Passion of the Christ) played almost exclusively to the physical and the temporal at the expense of the eternal and spiritual realities, which you would expect from a religion high on ritual and with a bent for works based justification - and in a medium that is made to be visual, but not necessarily theological.

We must not deny the physical nature of His sufferings or we deny His humanity. But we must not ignore the eternal, spiritual handiwork that was being wrought by God in Christ at the cross - or we are in danger of missing His deity. Who is it and what is He doing in redemption? The answers are more profound than we can know, yet so simple a child can receive them.

Why does the Lord’s death need to be proclaimed? Why not His life and His resurrection? Well, the Lord’s Supper was given before the resurrection for a memorial of His death. True it was alongside the anticipation of His resurrection, but the disciples proved themselves to be incapable of absorbing and believing that promise until it actually happened. Remembering Christ’s death ought to remind us of a number of things; His boundless love and our profound need; His righteousness and our utter corruption; His condescension (humility and grace) and our grasping self-serving mindset. We see ourselves in His death as the cause - the necessitator - and we must welcome that thing which, above all other things, ought never to be. That the righteous suffer for the unrighteous. That perfection take on the afflictions and punishments of imperfection. That He Who knew no sin was made to be sin on our behalf. We must lay our hands upon the head of this Sacrifice in ownership of the sin that made it necessary and as thankful recipients celebrating the God of all grace Who freely made it.

And this New Covenant represented by the blood, symbolized by the wine is a covenant of grace. The Old covenant was one of law. Yet even under the old covenant people were only ever saved by grace through faith. The law could only condemn. God, in promising to honour all those that kept his laws was busy saving those that believed in His provision for sin. All those who believed that they could, by law-keeping, atone for themselves were lost.

See, the Eternal Life and purity of God is represented in the life-giving blood of the Lamb of God - and then that blood is represented by the wine of the Lord’s Supper. Three levels of meaning from a Triune God. In order to live forever in holiness and righteousness (without which no one will see God) we must have the very Life and Spirit of God Himself in us. Eternal Life was poured out to meet and to satisfy the eternal punishment that was justly due to we rebels - and proved sufficient to cover our sin and to impart life to us eternally, as finite creatures.

But there is also the body, as well as the blood. The blood is the life of a thing - but the "thing" is that in which life is manifested. Life manifested in humanity - true spiritual and eternal life - life which is defined as knowing God - took its purest form in Jesus Christ, the man. His humanity typified and exemplified that Eternal Life, which is and which must come from God. God taking on human flesh and living a human life. God dying a human death. And all this took place in a fully human body, prepared and offered up as a sacrifice by Him Whose body it was, specifically for the purpose of the redemption of His church.

So we must not lose the significance of the exchange which took place in the godly dying for the ungodly. He who knew no sin became sin for us, His church. We are the bartered bride, bought from the wrath of God by the love of God in Christ. Elect, chosen people from eternity rescued from the common end of all the world as they, like we were wont to do, careen willingly and rebelliously downwards toward hell, suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. And the significance is in the example. It is no longer we who live, but Christ lives in us; we are not our own, but have been bought with a price; we have been saved by grace through faith unto good works that we should walk in them; we have passed from death to life by the grace of God through the death of Christ, and on account of that marvellous confirmation of His resurrection, when the grave could not hold Him because He suffered as the just for the unjust. He took the real and due penalty for His church, but because He took it in perfect obedience and submission to the Father, and in perfect love for God and man lived out in the flesh, he was declared (confirmed, agreed, acknowledged - not "made") to be Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of Holiness, by His resurrection from the dead. {Ro 1:1-4}

And the symbolism of the real body, along with the symbolism of that real blood, by being eaten is the partaking of the life of Christ through the acceptance, assimilation and absorption of His character into the very fibre of our beings. He is the gift. He is imparted to us by the Spirit through the Word. We are born again once for all, but we grow in grace and in the knowledge of our God and Saviour through partaking in Him. His body is food indeed and His blood is life indeed - not as transubstantiated matter, but as symbols of the heavenly reality that He is both our life and food.

The blood has more than a single significance. It was always the means by which a covenant between two parties was sealed. But who are the parties? It may be surprising to know that the covenant is between the Father and the Son; the Son, including His bride, the church - which is made up of individual believers in Christ. It is between God and those who are in Christ, on account of Christ. Do we get it? As redeemed sinners we are not of ourselves signing the covenant, as if we were parties in our own right. We are included as a bride is included because she belongs to her husband. Love cannot be removed from the equation - for it was love by which the groom chose and sanctified his bride through union with him. But the agreement - the covenant - is primarily between Father and Son. The Son agreed to come and redeem those who the Father gave to Him. He came and did all that was required, up to and including death and receiving the wrath of the Father’s judgement upon their sins. And He now sends the Spirit to work in and prepare them, until they are ready for the formal marriage.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Upholding Grace
When God ceases to be gracious, man ceases to be righteous.

William Secker - "The Nonsuch Professor"

Friday, July 11, 2008

Audio Update
The problems with the audio application trace back to the Internet Archive site where the shockwave player was residing. Apparently, they have shut the application down because it has "content issues". I have no idea what this means and am trying to get an explanation.

Meanwhile I have started to insert links to streaming media files for each new post. Just click on the icon at the top of each post and the mp3 file should open in your native player.

1Cor 11:20-22 - Straighten Up and Fly Right

20-22 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

Once more, the context must be taken into account here. It is still centred on public worship. The koinonia or "fellowship" of believers is in view. That which is held in common by all the believers. We all remember that the "common" Greek in which most of the NT is written is called "koine". It is the Greek of the people - the Greek that is shared by all, right down to the least and lowest member of the society. It is the language in which life was lived. No pretentious, high-fallutin’, artsy, snobbish, elitist, arcane, upper-crust stuff there. Plain-Jane, down to earth, practical, living language that was relevant and alive. Sort of like what King James language was in King James’ day, and what it is not like today.

Believers get together for worship, prayer and fellowship. It is what many have come to call "doing church". We are all members of the same body - that of Jesus Christ, purchased with His own blood for justification, sanctification and glorification in Him for eternity. We are not our own for we have been purchased with a price. We belong to Christ and to each other in Him. Just as a man must love his wife as his own body due to their being joined together as one - so Christ loves us and we must love the brethren, being all joined together under His headship, as if they were our own body. Of course, this is a spiritual picture as well as a physical one. It is the ultimate denouement of that which was foreshadowed in the marital arrangement.

Coming together to partake in the Lord’s supper is symbolic of all this. It reminds us of who it was that had saved us, and how, and why. And it reminds us, because it is a communal and highly social rite, of the commonality of the grace that had been given to all of us who believe - the same grace, the same forgiveness, the same undeserved mercy. Sitting down to eat together is social, familial, intimate, trusting, committed, open and loving. The family meal where all give thanks and share from the same pot.

Of course the Lord’s Supper is also much more than this - but it is never less than this. It is never less than what a good family meal ought to be like in atmosphere, attitude and intent. But what is happening in Corinth? Certainly there is a great abuse and misapplication of the spirit and purpose of the Lord’s supper. It is far from being even a proper family social event. There is no familial intimacy. No commonality. No actual sharing of the same food. The symbolism behind it all is totally obscured, or even lost.

The remembrance of Christ has become something utterly indifferent - something that does not touch the soul - something external, unordered, individual and personal - even carnal - in all the wrong senses of the word. It has become selfish, unfeeling, unaware - in other words what Paul says is absolutely spot-on; it is not the Lord’s Supper. They are serving themselves and their own individual appetites. They are once more behaving carnally.

Three things are lacking. Reverence for the Lord, self-control and regard for the koinonia of blood-bought brothers and sisters in Christ. Unchecked and unrepented of, this worldliness cannot escape the discipline of God. Later in this very chapter we read that some have died on account of such behaviour. {1Co 11:28-30} God has cut them off permanently from life in the here and now. He has been jealous for His glory in His church and He has acted. A warning to us all.

The Lord’s Supper was instituted for our benefit, not for God’s. Just as the Sabbath was made for man’s benefit and was not as something onerous, burdensome and restrictive by which man was to be bound up in slavish regulation. God is glorified through the gracious provisions He makes in love for His people. So, yes, it is for His ultimate glory - but the means by which he is glorified is through the un-self-serving gracious, generous, free gift of Himself. He did it in His Son in history and for eternity - and he does it in the giving of the observance of the Lord’s Supper, which is a reminder of what He has accomplished freely for those who believe.

The Corinthian behaviour here is condemned because of the lack of love for the saints themselves. There is real indignation about simple matters of brotherly consideration and caring. But these unloving behaviours betray an underlying disregard for the Lord, with which Paul deals later in this chapter. Mess with God’s church and you mess with God - because the church was bought with the blood of Christ and is infinitely and eternally precious to him. Causing one of His little ones to stumble brings a dreadful judgment upon the unbeliever (which some in Corinth may yet prove to be by the fruit of their behaviour) {Mt 18:6,Mr 9:42,Lu 17:2} and a severe chastisement upon disobedient saints. {1Co 11:28-30}

Note then, that Paul has nothing to say about the eternal state of the souls of those whom he is upbraiding. He points out the facts, which are indisputable - and he warns and admonishes, pointing to proper conduct and (ultimately) to consequences. He pinpoints sin, calls for repentance and makes clear what God requires. But it is important not to receive these things legalistically. A legalistic mindset would be just a bad as the one being displayed - that of the abuse of grace. Both errors still exist in the church today because they exist in every saint’s residual flesh principle. We are prone to error whenever we take our eyes and ears off Christ. If it does not come from and is not wrought in Him by grace through faith then it is likely to end up in a bad place and to be unfruitful.

Rather then being either legalistic or presumptuous, the true saints are to be changed by and on account of the Word, in the Spirit and through faith. The truth preached does not fall upon deaf ears in the truly spiritually reborn. Conviction leads to correction in the saints not because it is a legal requirement, but because true saints, when called to refocus on Christ, remember Who He is and what He has done. They see the humility, sacrifice, love - they see the grace and the example they see the perfect manifestation of all they can hope to be, and they know that it is only in and through Him that they can possibly be transformed. And they know that if they are not being transformed into His image then they cannot belong to Him. They cannot transform themselves, but they can abide in Him who will transform them.

On the other hand, the false professor is on dangerous ground whenever the truth is preached to him. Whitefield used sometimes to be most severely exercised by the thought that his preaching, unheeded, would add to the condemnation of the lost. But he knew perfectly well that preach he must, for the glory of God and for the salvation and sanctification of the true elect - whoever they might eventually be revealed to be. In this stern warning to the Corinthians Paul is exemplifying the same pattern. It is the very pattern that Christ himself laid down in His ministry. Display the grace of God and warn of His judgments, by preaching the truth in love. Not just love - for that could be taken as indulgence or sentimentality; nor yet just judgment - for that could be taken as cold, dispassionate, authoritarian and impersonal and merely intellectual. God is like neither of these, as Christ came to show - and we do a disservice to God whenever we stray into an unbalanced view of them because we misrepresent God.