Archive for the 'Christian Life' Category

At Least 10 Things I’ve Learned in 15 Years of Being Reformed

January 18th, 2016

As a person 15 years into reformed theology, I’ve learned a few things:

1. Read MANY reformed authors. Piper gets a lot of things right in terms of understanding God’s Sovereignty, but misses in other areas (i.e. baptism, quasi-pacifism). Sproul gets baptism right, but goes with classical apologetics instead of presuppositional/covenantal apologetics. God has purposely allowed many of us to have blind spots in order to avoid us being arrogant about ‘having it all right’ (for those asking, eschatology is my ‘blind spot’ and I’m more than willing to slow my roll here….).

2. People learn and come to understand at different rates. Phil Johnson​ took about 15 years, I took 4, Michael Armstrong took around 2. If you are new (4 years or less) to reformed theology, avoid arguing about Calvinism over the internet, please. It’s very easy (I speak from experience) to slip into fighting to be right and thinking it’s because you’re fighting for biblical truth. Yes, you can be right (and being biblically correct is important), but the motivation behind being right may cause your good works to turn to wood.

3. Grow thick skin. There are plenty of people who will simply attack you because they have no other Biblical evidence on their side….so they make the discussion about YOU instead of about what the Bible teaches on the subject. Forgive them ahead of time, keep your tone calm and the subject of your discussion on the scriptures.

4. Remember you were once one of those “I don’t care about denominations/I don’t follow man-made systems/I don’t follow Calvin or anyone, I follow Jesus” folks once too. Full of zeal, lacking in knowledge. Be patient in conversation (see #3) and ready to explain yourself at length….repeatedly.

5. If you understand that the noetic effects of sin (sin not only affects humanity spiritually but also intellectually) can cause us to take ‘longer’ to get things at times (sometimes not at all), understanding why some of your non-Calvinistic friends can’t see what’s “RIGHT THERE!!!!” in scripture makes a whole lot of sense. Be patient with them, pray that the Lord will gradually take more of the ‘blind spots’ out of their vision as He did with you. It is the Lord who opens eyes to see truth. He may use you…. He doesn’t have to. It does NOT all depend on you.

6. Hold truth humbly, with mercy. Don’t be quick to shake your finger at folks – you too could have been giving money to Creflo Dollar, thinking it was the Lord’s will to sow a seed. God pulled you away from that mess (see #5).

7. If you are new to the reformed tradition (i.e. you just realized that the Bible DOES teach ‘Calvinism’), get into a consistently reformed church ASAP (PCA, OPC, reformed baptist….in that order would be my preferences). Do NOT try to ‘change’ your church from the bottom up (i.e. a Sunday school class, discussions with other congregants designed to prod the pastor into bringing these issues to the fore and discussing them publicly). You will get branded as a trouble-maker, divisive, unloving and people will turn on you. Leave your old, “semi-Arminian, semi-pelagian, nice-people-who-love-Jesus” church through the front door (in full view and in good standing).

Here’s (hopefully) a nice way of saying it:

“Since I believe the scriptures teach X, Y, Z, I don’t believe I can stay here with a good conscience and I don’t want to be seen as divisive, since a lot of what gets preached, I don’t find myself in agreement with anymore. I’m not saying the people here aren’t Christians at all – we just disagree on some things Biblically and that puts a bit of a problem in the way in terms of fellowship, since we fundamentally approach certain things from different theological assumptions. Therefore, I want to respectfully withdraw my membership from this assembly.”

Why leave ? Simple. The type of growth you experience is directly tied to the type of preaching you sit under. Reformed theology has consequences for Christian living in every area of life. It is meant to not simply be “a few things I choose to believe” or even “a few things I believe because the Bible teaches them” or even “stuff related to salvation”, but an entire worldview. It is MUCH larger than simply “the five points”. You will not get that full worldview-level preaching sitting in the church you are currently in anymore than a child playing on the beach will get an idea of how deep the ocean is by staying on the beach and simply looking at it from a distance.

8. Read more Bible than reformed authors (but read reformed authors). Reformed authors are good for getting ahold of how exegesis and application should work. J.I. Packer is no substitute for Paul. J.I. Packer may help you understand Paul a bit better, as Packer (who is about to turn 90) has been walking with the Lord and dealing with hard passages of scripture longer than you (and probably your parents) have been alive. But nothing will beat the Holy Spirit working to renew your mind as He opens the text of scripture up to you while you read it.

9. Learn from older brothers and sisters in the faith. Learn from older writings (read Calvin, not just Piper and Sproul – see the second half of #8), learn from older brothers and sisters in the church (see #7). The Mark Driscolls of the world come and go. Driscoll’s arrogance at correction from men like MacArthur came back to bite later when it was shown that every single criticism men like MacArthur had against him was true. Beware the arrogance of ‘youth’. Better yet, beware the arrogance of ‘we need to hear something relating to now, not what people did yesterday’ (as if humanity has changed fundamentally). If you aren’t teachable, you’ll become hardened, argumentative and arrogant very quickly.

10. Realize that every true believer is reformed at heart. If you press hard enough and long enough, any true believer will affirm:

– Christ saved me, not just made me ‘savable’.
– It was God who orchestrated events in my life to bring me to a point of realizing my need for salvation.
– No, I suppose that if I was left to myself without God keeping me, I’d probably walk right into hell.
– Yes, at some level, I understand that God is indeed guiding all aspects of my life, though I don’t exactly understand how and ultimately I know that my life is truly and completely in His hands.

Church Membership and Excommunication

November 6th, 2011

So this scan of an excommunication letter has been making its’ way around the internet for the past few days (literally – gone viral in 24-48 hours).

What’s interesting is the responses I’ve read to it. Having been close to most of my pastors in my life, this letter isn’t a big shock to me – but apparently, even to some professing Christian folks, this letter is (supposedly) rude, shocking and unexpected.

I’ve commented a few times: the only people whining and complaining about the letter are people whose churches don’t practice church discipline and/or they haven’t read their bibles.  I have no idea on what has happened on ‘both sides’ of this particular issue, nor am I writing to address that….just to comment on the content of the letter and whether or not it is biblical or not.

It is. Plain and simple.

American individualism and charismatic spirituality have made church-hopping and a low view of church membership commonplace. Don’t like church A ? Disagree  with the pastor ?  Don’t like the music, advertising, marketing of your church and think they could do more ? Leave and find one that fits you. After all, church should affirm you and all that you believe.  The church growth movement (purpose driven church, becoming a contagious Christian, etc….) have only reinforced this mentality into the minds of the culture, even among Christians who appear to be biblically solid in every other area of their polity.

A few questions came up on one message board related to this letter.

1. Usually, when people walk away from Christianity, some people cite 1 John 2:19 and say the person was never really saved to begin with. If this person was never “saved” in the first place and has forsaken the fellowship together with other believers, how can Pastor Shade in his letter, exhort this person to “…turn away from your self-destructive path and turn back to Christ as your Lord and Savior.”

Because that’s what the Pastor’s job is – to call people to repentance (Acts 17:30-31).  The gospel is not just for the unsaved, but for believers as well and a good pastor constantly points his sheep to follow and serve Christ and turn from sin.  A question like this usually treats the gospel as a message only for believers and repentance as a one-time event.  Scripture doesn’t.

2. In your two posts (see 121 and 135) you seemed to intimate that there were three groups of people – the non-elect outside of the church, the unsaved in the church (who might or might not be elect) pretending to be saved and the elect.  Would you say this person to whom this letter is addressed to is “elect”, “almost elect” or “might be elect”? I would think that you’d say this person is definitely not elect since the elect can’t/won’t turn from fellowship with Christ.

I would say it to someone who once associated themselves with the covenant community and made vows before many witnesses and God that they would do all the things contained in the covenant. This isn’t an ‘election’ issue.  A pastor is not called to ‘preach the gospel to the elect’. Further, there is no ‘almost elect’.

As for you saying the person isn’t elect…well….they’re not dead yet, so no one can say this with certainty – hence the call to repent and the invitation and opportunity to return.  I’ll go into detail on this in another answer below.

BTW – this isn’t a ‘reformed’ issue. One of my old churches (which is dispensational and moderately Arminian) and my old pastor would’ve handled this issue the exact same way with virtually the same language. It’s a biblical issue, not a reformed issue. The problem is that the reddit reader who originally posted it don’t understand church membership or church discipline.

3. If he’s not elect, how can he be restored to Christ’s body? Are you saying that Christ has parts of his body that are NOT elect?

In the second link provided above (135) I talk a bit about what happens when a believer hears the warning passages in scripture versus an unbeliever.  An unbeliever hears the warning passages and ignores them, refuses to repent and walks further away from Christ.  A believer hears them, is convicted by the Spirit of God and turns (repents). It may not happen on the first time they hear a call to repentance or the second, but it will happen. 1 John 3:9-10 is a guarantee of this.

4. Pastor Shade said, “By this excommunication, we are declaring that you are no longer part of the company of the saved”

This would hold to what you and Ricky describe as people being a part of the “visible church” but not a part of the “invisible church”? Or do I have that backwards? But then this would again mean that this person is not “saved ” or “elect” in the first place, but only in the “company of the saved” but not “actually saved”, right?

Church has that right (Matt. 16:19, 1 Cor. 5:1-11) given by God. If they repent, great and praise God. But read closely – you are no longer part of the company of the saved (the visible church). Is it possible he’s saved and going through a period of rebellion ? Yep. But scripture only knows of Christians who are part of a visible local body.

Ever seen an arm by itself ? Ever seen a toe live on its’ own ?

So declaring dude to not be a part of the company of the saved is saying “you’re cut off from the body. There is no life outside of the body. Come back, or die.”

5. Can God’s “elect” be turned over to satan for their destruction? I think your answer would be a definite “no” on that one, but I just want to be sure…

That’s what excommunication is. Why would my answer be a no when that’s the very language used in 1 Cor. 5 to describe the man who was kicked out ? The good thing is that in 2 Cor., we find that he has repented and been restored to the body.

To be more specific, excommunication is both an act of love and of discipline – love for the body to keep them from the leaven of professing brothers and sisters who continue to sin openly (1 Cor. 5). A little leaven, leavens the whole lump.  Being placed outside of the covenant community, outside of the fellowship and accountability of the saints, it is hopeful that the person excommunicated will, like the prodigal son, find himself eating with the pigs and come to his senses and turn.

All that said, the tone and the content of the letter is both serious and loving. It amazes me (okay, it really doesn’t) that folks are up in arms over the fact that:

1. Dude has been repeatedly called and asked to return to fellowship – both in letter and in word (personally).  He has ignored these repeated calls to repent.

2. The session (not the individual pastor) made the decision, not the senior pastor.  For the non-reformed – scripture does NOT teach that ONE pastor/elder/bishop is to rule over a church and everyone falls under him. What scripture DOES teach is multiple elders at each church, all equal in power though differing in role (teaching elders and ruling elders). So that means thatmultiple people made a decision – not one person.

3. Matthew 18 seems to have been followed according to the letter. ‘Let him be as a heathen and a tax collector’ means that you do not treat him as a part of the covenant community.  You pursue him to repent and turn from sin, but you no longer consider or treat him as a Christian.  Look at the passage carefully:

Matthew 18:17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Remember the context – a Jew would understand that a Gentile and a tax collector were NOT to be treated as the people of God. Gentiles were outside of the covenant made by God with His people and tax collectors were people who were considered traitors (specifically if they were Jewish tax collectors – robbing their own people to pay the pagans and make themselves rich).  In that aspect, an excommunication ruling (specifically in this case as laid out in the letter) indeed does say ‘based on your actions, we are declaring you not to be a Christian’.  What that entails is not a wish for the man to go to hell.  Rather, there is an open door and opportunity to repent – an encouragement even.

Only American individualism and biblical ignorance can find problems with this letter.  Of course, if someone has a case (a biblical case) against the content of the letter, I am more than willing to both listen and if necessary, retract everything posted here.  Otherwise, this stands.

Pray for the elders at CRC, as I’m betting pastor Shade’s e-mail has been overrun with folks blasting him and their church over the letter.  American Christianity is way overdue for a biblical primer on biblical church discipline. The fact that so many churches have so many morally failing pastors is due in part to the fact that church discipline is not practiced (under the guise of ‘grace’).  This lack of holiness is part and parcel of why the church looks more and more like the world in the US – self-absorbed (and catered to by the Osteens of the church world), self-concerned (and catered to by the Rick Warrens’ of the church world) with little concern for anything else other than making a better ‘me’ and living in ‘prosperity’ (catered to by the Jakes, Myers, Copelands and Hinn’s of the church circuit).

Faith & Works

January 21st, 2011

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. – James 2:26

Everybody believes something. And whether what we believe is true or false, right or wrong, we will act on what we believe. That is to say that faith affects behavior. As we learned how the Scriptures define faith, now we will take a look at how faith works it way out in our daily living.

Those given to us as examples of faith in the Scripture did things as a result of their faith. Faith produces action. Faith works. Faith is not a work in and of itself. We are not saved by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Faith is trust; it is belief. Specifically as we discuss it, faith is trust in the person of Jesus Christ. So while faith is not a work, faith does work. If it is alive and active and real, then faith will result in good works. Why is this? Faith leads to behavior. If we believe something it shows in how we live.

James tells us in his letter in the New Testament that faith that does not work is dead. Dead faith is useless. It cannot save. It is dead, lifeless, meaningless, and void. On the other hand, faith that results in works is living and active faith.

Let’s make a practical application here. If we claim to believe something but that belief does not result in action or behavior then we really do not believe what we claim to believe. The best example I ever heard of this came from my mentor in the ministry who stated it this way:

If you are in the woods and believe that you hear a bear coming to get you, you will run just as fast as if a bear is really there coming to get you.

Belief results in action, in works, in behavior. If we really believe something to be true, we act accordingly. This truth can have a kick to it when we start to examine our belief system. If we claim to believe something but it does not have a direct effect on what we do, then we really do not believe it. As I stated, everybody believes something, whether it is true or false, and we act on what we believe.

There is a two-fold danger here of which we need to be aware. First there is a danger in believing a lie. If we have a false belief in our belief system then how will that affect the way we act? For example, in the Old Testament King Saul became jealous and thought that David was out to kill him. He acted accordingly, becoming suspicious to the point that he tried to kill David by throwing a spear at him while he sat at the dinner table. Saul’s false belief led to murderous intent and actions (1 Samuel 18:9-12).

Secondly there is a danger that we will think that we believe something, but in reality we do not believe it. How do we know? If we think we believe but do not act, then we do not really believe. This happens when we mentally assent to something accepting in our minds that it is true, but we really do not embrace this belief with true faith, and as a result, we do not act on what we claim we believe. Assent without belief makes no difference in the way we think, talk, act, or live.

This would be exemplified in the life of a person who believed that a bear was coming through the woods to eat them and they just sat there. It makes no sense to think that your life is in danger and not try to fight or flee. Yet when it comes to doctrine, people claim to believe sound doctrine while in truth they may not even understand that doctrine at all. They think they believe the truth, but it does not affect the way they live. They hear, but do not do (James 1:22).

The real, eternal danger here is that we either believe a lie (false doctrine) or we think we are trusting Christ when we really are not. If we believe a lie, we are doomed, for only the truth makes us free (John 8:32). If we think we believe the truth but do not actually believe it, then we are self deceived and are in danger of hearing those most awful words in Scripture, “I never knew you, depart from Me” (Matthew 7:23).

Remember the Parable of the Soils from Matthew 13? Two of the four soils mentioned embraced the Word quickly but then died without bearing fruit – the shallow soil where the seed had no root and the thorny soil where the cares of this world choked the plant – they represent people who emotionally or mentally embrace the preaching of the gospel but do not actually have faith. They do not really believe what they have heard. What proof do we have of this? There is no root and no fruit. They wither and die with no root, or they never bear fruit being choked out by the cares of this world. If they had true faith, they would yield fruit (good works).

In order to understand faith we must strive to believe what God tells us so that we might rightly inform our belief system. We must be sure that what we claim to believe affects the way we live. In the Scriptures this is the idea that a good tree bears good fruit. If we have faith in Jesus Christ, we will bear good fruit. If we do not bear good fruit, then we need to examine what we really believe. We may believe in ourselves all the while thinking that this misplaced faith is the same thing as faith in Christ.

Saving faith is alive, it produces spiritual fruit, it is active and real because it is faith in the Word of God and in God Himself. Saving faith has no room for self, for pride, or for licentiousness (using grace as a license to sin). Saving faith is a gift from God. It is trust in Christ. It is proof of what we cannot see and the reality behind that for which we hope (Hebrews 11:1).

Broken Hearts, Dating and Being a Believer….

January 2nd, 2011

On another message board I occasionally visit, a member posted this question a while back (minor edits such as spelling out words added):

Didn’t have anyone else to talk to so i thought I’d try here…Just ended a two year relationship with this girl.

She basically told me she didn’t believe in God anymore and she was going to return to her old lifestyle (ie. going out partying, drinking, etc.). So I told her we couldn’t be together, unless she was with Christ. She knew it was coming [because] she knew my convictions on this type of stuff, so it ended well and there was a mutual understanding, but we both were on the phone crying for hours (yeah I’m not gonna lie, I cried like a baby lol) because it sucked that it wasn’t working out.

We’d actually been on and off for a while and I know two years isn’t long but she was my first love and I’m really having a hard time dealing with this…could use some encouragement from other believers.

Anyone got any help getting through this? I know this is God’s plan and I’m doing the right thing…I just need help and a lil support at the moment.

I responded:

Sup fam.

As someone who more than once has been in your shoes, I empathize with your situation.

Be of good cheer. Your heart will heal in time and life will go on. It’s always hard at first.

Just for reference sake, I’m 37 [at the time this was written]. My ‘first love’ broke my heart in 9th grade and I cried like a baby. I had my heart broken again about two years later with one girl I dated, who ended up cheating on me…twice. My high school sweetheart and I (my senior year) broke up when I was on my way to freshmen year in college, so I left high school feeling I had everything (I even asked her to marry me, we had the ‘perfect’ prom, etc….) and entered college to a new culture, no girlfriend and no friends (since most of the people I went to HS with ended up going to another college). I had one major relationship in college and just KNEW she and I would grow old together….until she moved away and we broke up (I later found out she’d cheated on me, gotten pregnant and didn’t want to tell me). I was so jacked up, I literally wasted two years of college (still paying back loans for that time period NOW….) and then dropped out for 2 years. Christian walk floundered somethin’ terrible – one minute I’m on the internet debating atheists, then after I shut my computer down, I’m in bed with my girlfriend.

Fast forward through 2 more major relationships (I’m purposely excluding all the minor ones) and I’m here in 2010, sitting next to my wife, supposed to be putting grades in for students, but I’m posting on HCR. A few days back, I told my wife that these (the times she and I were having now) are some of the happiest times in my life.

I look back at 20 years (literally – from 88 until now) of how I handled relationships, who I allowed myself to get close to, how much of myself I invested in people emotionally, etc…. and realize that a lot of the heartbreak I endured over the years, I could’ve avoided. Hindsight is always 20/20….

I forget how old you are, fam…but let me hit you with a few words of wisdom I’ve learned over the years.

Guard your heart.

The world’s model is ‘boyfriend-girlfriend, invest your feelings and time and ‘self’ into the relationship….just like you would if you’re married…and it’ll eventually lead there.’ The problem is…these relationships AREN’T marriage. They ACT like marriage…to the point where ‘breaking up’ almost feels like a DIVORCE in some cases (emotionally, mentally and psychologically, since you feel yourself breaking a ‘bond’ you’ve established with that person). Too often, people (including Christian folk), in the absence of better and wiser counsel, simply assume ‘well, that’s the way we did it, we ended up married and ok’ and they let their kids do it or they themselves do it.

We ‘date’ for long periods of time, emotionally testing out each other, but never leading to a commitment (in scripture, the only commitments are betrothal – which is way more than engagment…and marriage. There are no ‘dating’ relationships). What that does is actually make it harder later in life for you to ‘attach correctly’ to anyone once you do get married. Dating-invest your emotions- breakup – dating – invest your emotions – break up…..(repeat) eventually trains your heart, body and emotions that attachment is temporary. But the way God designed us, the concept of ‘one flesh’ was meant to be permanent. It didn’t just involve sex and all that we are physically, but also our emotional and mental oneness with another person. So even in relationships where people don’t have sex, if they are investing themselves emotionally with people they aren’t married to and have no immediate intention of marrying, they are setting themselves up for heartbreak.

I’m not saying all of this to jump on you – I’m the LAST person to jump on someone in this area, as it’s literally taken me all these years to figure out a lot of this stuff (even though I’d read some of it in Don Raunikar’s book Choosing God’s Best and Josh Harris’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye). I share all of this to warn you, as a younger brother, and others reading who may think that ‘people who advocate courtship are too strict’. There’s a reason (always is) behind the things that older folks tell younger folks and younger folks think it’s stupid.

As far as how you handled things….praise God. You chose well, especially in light of 1 Cor. 6:9-10 [2 Cor. 6:14-18 as well]. God will honor your decision to serve Him rather than yourself. You already know it was the right thing to do….so for now… life will go on.

One huge part of helping with this is to spend some time establishing relationships with oldersame age and younger folks in your church. I say this as the guy who, back in the late 90’s, had more ‘internet friends’ than friends physically present in my life.  Invest yourself in the lives of others. There’s some kid younger than you (12-13) who is about to start ‘dating’ and having a girlfriend and think that ‘this is what you’re supposed to do’ and ‘there ain’t nothin’ wrong with dating non-Christians’. Do you want to see him where you are (emotionally) right now ? He needs you. There are older believers who would be more than willing to pour into your life right now from their life experience. Fellowship with the rest of the body can be some of the sweetest times in life, bro. And by fellowship, I mean shut down the computer, sit in person with folks, eat and talk theology, life, doctrine, problems and encourage each other from scripture. The less time you have alone to fixate on your heart being broken, the faster it will heal.

I say this as the guy who used to listen to Metallica back in high school whenever I got depressed, especially if it was over a girl. It’s a wonder I didn’t become suicidal at the time.

Now for the future…guard your heart better. Boyfriends and Girlfriends aren’t the healthiest (emotionally) thing for folks who aren’t ready for marriage, to be engaged in seeking out. Key words. If you’re ready for marriage, seek with a purpose and move toward it quickly (That’s a WHOLE SEPARATE conversation). Otherwise, keep the relationships brother-sister, as scripture says we’re to treat those we ain’t married to (1 Tim. 5:2). You don’t invest your heart and emotions in a sister like you would a wife. Now when THAT sister comes along, then yes. This will save you from a lot of heartbreak in the future AND free you up to love your WIFE the way you should in the future when you do get married.

Hope this helped and encouraged you, fam.