Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Can a baby choose to be born?

I've been pondering over John 3 (and related Numbers 21:5-9) and from a pre-reformed view I was having trouble grasping the text.
John 3:14
Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 3:15 so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
I kept wanting it to say that man has a choice, man has free will to choose salvation, God enabled man just enough to choose or deny him. Just look, God gave the Israelites the option to look or not look at the staff with a snake on it. So, since Jesus Himself is talking to Nicodemus and telling him that is what salvation is like then there is a choice. God must have enabled man to be able to choose Salvation. 'Believe in him and have eternal life.' But still, something just didn't sit right.

So I looked for some commentaries on it. No one I could find (of the teachers I was already reading) seemed to hit on it. They always looked around it, skipping to John 3:16 or going back to John 3:3.
So I tried to get some context...
Numbers 21:5-9
And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness, for there is no bread or water, and we detest this worthless food.” 21:6 So the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and they bit the people; many people of Israel died. 21:7 Then the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord that he would take away the snakes from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 21:8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous snake and set it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will live.” 21:9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole, so that if a snake had bitten someone, when he looked at the bronze snake he lived.
Recently my perspective has changed; I have started looking at the Bible from a reformed perspective, and it makes SO MUCH MORE SENSE!
Jesus wasn't telling Nicodemus about salvation in 3:14, He was prophesying what would happen to Himself. He wasn't talking about salvation, but faith.
God, who is already dealing with Moses and His chosen people (the Nation of Israel in the OT), tells them that to show their repentance they must look upon the snake and they will be healed. Here in the NT, Jesus, who is talking to His chosen people (those born from above) is saying that, like that snake on a stick, He will be put on the cross as a sacrifice for the sins of His people. Notice how after God presented the opportunity to live, no other death is mentioned. Likewise, Jesus died for those who will put their faith in Him. With the working of the Spirit in you no one "chooses" spiritual death.

As you may very well know, my wife will be delivering our 3rd child in a few short weeks. And just like this child has no say in whether he's coming out or not, we have no say whether the Spirit, through the Father's election, gives us new birth. It is for His Glory alone. That is tough to take, I want to put my will above God's and say I did the choosing. And from my perspective I did, but from God's perspective He chose me. Yes, it is terrible that not all are chosen unto salvation (Matt 22:14), but Adam messed it up for all of us and God is fair and just. He doesn't send anyone to Hell- they are going there already. God, in his mercy, will save some of us. All I can do is reflect on the reverence Job had when he was put in his place by God (Job 38). Romans 9 is also a great section on God's mercy and who are we to argue with it.

38:4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you possess understanding!

Romans 9:20 But who indeed are you – a mere human being – to talk back to God? Does what is molded say to the molder,Why have you made me like this? 9:21 Has the potter no right to make from the same lump of clay one vessel for special use and another for ordinary use?

Those of you filled with the Spirit, rejoice! Those of you not filled with the Spirit.. well, you probably aren't reading this blog anyways. I will live my life as a testimony to the grace God has bestowed upon me, love my neighbor, preach the Gospel, disciple fellow believers, and one day see Jesus in Heaven (Paradise restored).

Grace and peace to you. Amen.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What is the purpose of Church?

This is a controversial topic for sure- has been for thousands of years. Not looking to stir up a wasp's nest here (pun intended), just providing some of my contemplations. My exploration of the subject started with the Great Commission being taught at church, in tandem with trying to understand Reformed Theology, and then followed by an article on the seeker sensitive church over at CRI. Those three thoughts merged and this question came about. This is how it changed my understanding of the Great Commission and the purpose of church.
The Great Commission
Matthew 28:16 So the eleven disciples went to Galilee to the mountain Jesus had designated. 28:17 When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. 28:18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 28:20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
For years this has always been presented to me in a fashion that seemed to change the text to say 'Go and make believers', not 'Go and make disciples'.
Contextually, the commission is telling the disciples to go and make more disciples. Which means taking those whom the Lord has ordained and instructing them in the same way Christ instructed His disciples, whom He hand picked.

How do you know who is ordained, or who you should present the Gospel to? This is the Reformed Theology part. If only it were as easy as Spurgeon is attributed with saying:
"If God would have painted a yellow stripe on the backs of the elect I would go around lifting shirts. But since He didn't I must preach "whosoever will" and when "whosoever" believes I know that he is one of the elect."
In obedience to Jesus' commands we definitely should proclaim the Gospel message. (Col 4:2-6) But how and when? Is church the place to do it? My quick response is, Yes! Proclaim the Good News in church.. duh. It benefits Christians to hear it too. But who is there with you, other believers or non believers? And why are they there? To be discipled, trained and educated, or just entertained like some 'seeker sensitive' churches. I hate that term. Don't get me wrong, some churches that are 'seeker sensitive' have great ministries. And just because you are a big church with good music doesn't mean you are doing it all wrong. But it's the seeker sensitive issue that got me thinking more about what church should be like, what the purpose of it is. Is it to edify they body of Christ or reach the unsaved with the Gospel? Do both, sure, but do you try to reach the unsaved so hard that you entertain more like the world we are called to be separated from.
Sacrificing the Bible for entertainment isn't really in line with "I have become all things to all people . . . for the sake of the gospel" (1 Cor. 9:22-23) We are not to be of the world. [1John 2:15] The Gospel isn't entertainment- it's grace, it's repentance, it's forgiveness.

In summary:
We don't need 'seeker sensitive' churches. God seeks us, we don't seek him. Rom. 3:11 "there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God." The Lord does the work; we obey him by encouraging and teaching believers. We are blessed to be used by God in response to His commands. Go out into your community and love, live, outreach and present the Good News! As God reveals himself to man, bring them as brothers and sisters adopted in Christ into the fold for worship, instruction, correction, and fellowship (2Ti 3:16). The Church is the body of believers, not a facility built for entertainment and fluffy feel good messages.

Romans 16:25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that had been kept secret for long ages, 16:26 but now is disclosed, and through the prophetic scriptures has been made known to all the nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith – 16:27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be glory forever! Amen. -The Apostle Paul

Friday, July 16, 2010

Journey to the Center of Reformed Theology

Ok, so maybe my journey isn't quite the same as "The Journey to the Center of the Earth", but I found it more enlightening. You see I haven't done a blog in over six months because six months ago I set out to do a blog on Calvinism vs. Arminianism. Similar to one like this. If you just want to know the basics- stop here. No seriously, if you want an introduction, go read the links and stop there. But if you want to read about the journey I took into the study of Reformed Theology, keep going.

Originally I was content to learn enough to do a this vs. that. A brief over view. But I got a lot more involved, not just a defining of what the five points of each view are, but how they apply to me and my understanding of the Word of God. After doing the initial web search, I realized this wasn't going to be a simple task of presenting information. It was much deeper than that. Some serious questions came up:
Would it affect my salvation? Would it change my life? Would it change my understanding of who ends up in Heaven? Would I present the Gospel differently? What does a Reformed Church look and sound like?

I had to examine it in light of Scripture. So I read the Bible, some books, some online content...
I found a few interesting tidbits of information online, and a few good resources in friends that already associated themselves with Calvinism (Reformed Theology). Then I read "Chosen by God" by noted reformed theologian R.C. Sproul. I took lots of notes and tried to figure out why he believed so strongly the way he does. Sproul has been one of my favorite apologetics teachers for years. Lately he has seemed to focus on RT and it has been perfect timing for me, or maybe I'm just more sensitive to it now. Maybe it has always been reformed, but now I am able to see it for what it is. Anyway, he's a great teacher, bringing scripture to life when he can refer to the original language, meanings, cultural, and historical context. I don't want any one to hold to just the teachings of man, but like the apostles to the early church, having someone be a Rabbi, a teacher, of the Word surely helps. Thank God he has put wise men in my path.

Seeking some alternative perspective I picked up "Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views", with Dave Hunt and James White. My wife and I took turns reading and taking notes, then having discussions. Great Bible study time. Sarah and I didn't even agree on the same position or understanding at first! It was really good to dig deep into the Word and discuss on level we hadn't before. I don't think those two men really understand each other, but it still was a good read and I enjoyed seeing points discussed from different perspectives.

Then, Sarah and I finally pulled a DVD from the shelf; it had been there for a few months begging me to watch it. I had to pass over it every time I went to grab my video game controller- often enough! This thing is 3 parts over 2 DVDs for about 4 hrs+ worth of information. Just a little intimidating. It's longer than a Lord of the Rings movie! But I figured it would have some information I wanted, so we watched it over a couple of nights. "Amazing Grace: The History and Theology of Calvinism".
It presents a great historical perspective on who started the Arminianism line of thought, how it still exists in the Church today, and how the Dutch Protestant Church created the acronym TULIP to oppose it. And if you didn't catch it before, Jacobus Arminius wasn't even born until 6yrs after John Calvin died. Calvin didn't create Calvinism or TULIP- they are terms created to contradict the points of Arminianism.

At this point you may wonder, why read or watch all this stuff from a Calvinist view point? Good question- it was because I already knew most of the points made from Arminianism. In fact, I had unknowingly adopted them into my own theology for years. Reformed Theology was the harder one to grasp for me. It meant to me that, if it's true, there are people who will be suffering in Hell because of Adam's screw up and not of their own rejection of the gift offered to them in Jesus Christ. Would people be in Heaven or Hell who didn't get a chance to make a decision or who didn't want to be there? Wow, was I off. I was about to get the light turned on to a clearer understanding of Reformed Theology. Just wait... it's coming...

So, I thought I just couldn't wrap my mind around unconditional election, or limited atonement. Boy, was I wrong. I had a lot more to learn. Matt, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul all reference the elect (chosen people). The Bible obviously addresses it, but what does it mean? I have heard people speak on it, but looking back at context and historical usage, it changed a lot of the resulting meaning. Elect could mean God chooses, but where is the free will, where is the choice? Or it could mean that God looked beyond time, knew who would choose him and, thus He 'elected' them.
I've been raised Baptist, with a good dose of Arminian Theology. Salvation to me has always been a free gift, you have to choose to take it. I could still say that is true, but a Calvinist says that only regenerate man will want to take it and Arminians would say anyone could. Isn't that the great question, the hinge of the great debate. So, who gets the glory? At what point does God's sovereignty end and man gets a say (choice)? The funny thing is, no one seems to scoff at God choosing Abram, or Jacob, or Mary, or John the Baptist, or any of the prophets, or the entire nation of Israel to do his special tasks, or be his chosen people. But when it comes to a more personal level, we want to have a say in what God can do in our lives. Sometimes people want to limit his sovereignty and only pursue Him it if we want to get into Heaven just to escape Hell. Matt 7:21 But I digress.

So, after a few books, lots of reading Scripture (must have read Romans a couple times over), a DVD, and plenty of Bible study with my wife... where was I? Still not grasping it. Then I found the 32 sections of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith Wow. It broke it down into sections, words, and Scripture references I totally got and AGREED with. Like the section on Free Will. This is reformed theology before we had to start calling it reformed. Before Arminian Theology had the chance to spread through the church.

Does this effect the calling to proclaim the gospel? No. That is still commanded Matt 28:19.
Does it effect how I might present the gospel? Yes, working on understanding that one still.
Does this change who will or won't be in Heaven? Either way, nothing changed from God's perspective. From Calvinism to Arminianism the same people who are going to be in Heaven are going to be in Heaven, the difference is a label- elect or choice. And then a lifestyle based on understanding and conviction of the Word.
Does it give me a new sense of freedom to read the Word and live it? Yes.

My journey isn't over yet, but this is where I am today. Thanks for reading. I hope it may encourage you to pursue a similar journey. One thing I learned is that you can't make anyone Reformed, they have to discover it for themselves. I'm glad the Lord brought me down this path.