Thoughts on life and Scripture...

Monday, October 31, 2016

Martin Bucer And A Deformation In The Reformation

One of the books I got from an old friend was a copy of Martin Bucer's 'Concerning The True Care Of Souls'. Martin Bucer is a lesser known reformer who lived from 1491 to 1551. He become the pastoral leader in the city of Strasbourg which became a center for Reformed learning. Calvin and other Reformation leaders spent time in this city.
   As I flipped through the book, I came across a section or two dealing with how civil rulers are to help the church in shepherding the sheep. Bucer goes into some detail about how the civil authorities are to find and return lost sheep in the church. I had to look twice as this is not a subject you will find in today's books on pastoral care. Let me give you a few quotes so you understand Bucer's ideas.

"Rulers are to provide the church with faithful ministers, see to the education and discipline of the young, and allow no one to turn either himself or others from sound doctrine and fellowship of Christ."pg 81

"And those who embrace particular sects are encouraged to turn away from disaster by means of fines and other severe penalties." pg81

Bucer supports his view by explaining that since Augustine taught and encouraged this, we should do the same. Augustine believed that "God uses punishment and prevention by force also to restore people from false doctrine and sects and contempt of religion."pg83 Since it 'worked' with Augustine in the days of the Roman Empire, so it should also work for us is the logic that Bucer uses. He also supports his view by saying that Old Testament Israelite rulers used force to deal with the immoral and idolaters. This goes to show what errors can come when one doesn't see the difference between Israel and the Church. Bucer goes on say that while we can't force people to believe or to do good against their will, God uses the force and punishment administered by the rulers as a means of leading them to salvation. Such a view however has nothing in the scripture to support it.

Martin Bucer's view of the role of government in the church is not an abnormality in that time. This view was held by all the reformers, although that may come as a surprise to some. Philip Schaff in his book 'History of the Christian Church'  says "The Reformers founded a popular state church, including all citizens with their families." pg71 vol 8

Concerning Zwingli and the church in Zurich, Schaff writes, "The only dissenters in Zurich were a small number of Romanists and Anabaptists, who were treated with the same disregard of rights of conscience as the Protestants in Roman Catholic countries, only with a lesser degree of severity. The Reformers refused to others the right of protest which they claimed and exercised for themselves, and the civil magistracy visited the poor Anabaptists with capital punishment." pg67 vol 8 Later he writes about the Anabaptists "They were cruelly persecuted by imprisonment, exile, torture, fire and sword, and almost totally surpressed in Protestant as well as in Roman Catholic countries." pg 72

What happened in Zurich, happened to some degree where ever the Reformation spread. The Church and State were still closely connected. When a country and its rulers supported the Reformation, they made it the official church and religion of the country. Everyone in the state therefore now belonged to the state church and must attend that church. If you decided gather in a other church due to any difference as the Anabaptists did, then the government could go after you to bring you back to the church by force and with punishment. Bucer and other reformers supported this, encouraged it or at the least didn't speak out against it. This view found its way into the Belgic Confession. There it is said that "the task of the civil government is the protection of the church and its ministry in order that, all idolatry and false worship may be removed and prevented, the kingdom of Antichrist may be destroyed." Later in 1905 the last part of the sentence was thankfully deleted by the General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church.

I want to point this out not because the Reformation is not important or the reformers were terrible men. The Reformation was an important turning point in the history of the church. God restored the truth of the gospel and blessed us greatly with many wise men. But some people talk and act as though the Reformation is the standard for the church. They say we need to go back to the time of the Reformation. A rosy picture is painted for us of this important time in the church while ignoring its defects.The Reformers were still sinners and falible men.

We don't need to go back to the Reformation as the standard, but like the reformers we need to go back to the scriptures. There is a constant need to always be reforming. As individual Christians we can let bad theology and practices slip into our thinking and living. Churches face the constant danger of wolves without and wolves within who would destroy the church by error and sin. Thus we need to continually go back to scripture, to immerse ourselves in its truth. Every error must be examined by the Bible. We don't need to constantly change the truth but we do need to constantly examine our life and doctrine by the scriptures.

There is also a danger we let other people form our theology. For those growing up in the church, they can accept the theological position of the church to be their position without examining the scriptures for the proof and support of those positions. New Christians are often in a similar danger. They can let their new church or some preacher set their theology, without taking the time, patience and hard work to see the truth in God's word for themselves. If we hold to sola scriptura, then let us be people of the Book. While we should not disregard the past of the church, we should not let it govern our theology but govern our lives and doctrine by God's holy book.

Let me wish you all a Blessed Reformation Day and a Happy Anabapist day! (The Anabaptists have for the most part unjustly been given a bad reputation. While there were some who deserved the reputation, many lived godly lives and were martyred because they didn't support the State church. They deserve the appreciation of the church as well. We enjoy the liberty that they died supporting. More could be said about this but that would form a book.)


Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Potter and His Clay Pots

Throughout chapters 43 -45 of Isaiah, the Lord declares that He is the Creator. There are about 10 times in these chapters that it is stated that God is the Creator. He has created Israel. He has created all things. This is especially important to show the foolishness of idolatry. Idols have to be made by people who are made by God. Idolatry is strange and a reversal of things as the creators worship the created. People worship something they have made. Idolatry is stupid; that goes for the one who worships one of the many gods of India or the one who worships politicians or cows or money. We can make a god out of anything. How vain these created idols will be in the day of judgement!

Realizing that God is our Creator and we are His creatures should teach us of the right way to relate to God. Let's look at verse 9 of Isaiah 45. "Woe to the one who argues with his Maker- one clay pot among many. Does the clay say to the one forming it, 'What are you making?'  Because He is the Creator, He can do as He wishes. He has the right as creator to do as He wants with the creatures He has made. And woe to the creature that dares to quarrel with God. The use of woe indicates that there is a curse on the one who argues with the Lord. We are simply clay pots. God used dust to make the first man and when we die our bodies will return to dust. We may be made in God's image but we are still only dust.

What if the clay pots started to get angry with the potter for how He was making them? The potter can do what he wants with the pots. Or lets use a more modern example. There are computer games where you can create people, like a hockey game where you can create a player. I can make them good or bad. Maybe they will be ugly and I can decide where they shall play. I make them and can do with them as I choose. They may not like how I make things, but there is nothing they can do. So it is with God.

People may complain and argue with God for all the troubles in their lives, but woe to them. God is the one who is in control of all things, even bad things. Verse 7 of Isaiah 45 says, "I form light and create darkness, I make success and create disaster, I, Yahweh, do all these things."  Disasters, like hurricanes and earthquakes God has created. In Exodus 4:11 the Lord states that He makes people blind or mute. But arguing with God about what He does is futile. Even if God was sometimes unwise or cruel, what could you do? You are a clay pot. You and I are completely dependent on our Creator.We have no right to complain.

Thankfully God is not cruel, unwise or unmerciful. He is full of compassion and wisdom. There is no one equal to God in love and righteousness.So you can shake your fist at God for what He does or you can submit to Him and trust a God who is sovereign and wise. The providence of God may make no sense to you, but you can either scream at God till you are blue in the face or you can humbly trust the wise doings of gracious God. The one response brings only anger and bitterness and the other brings peace and thankfulness.

 Paul uses this same imagery of the potter and the clay in Romans 9:18-23 to silence objections to God choosing some for salvation and leaving others to wrath and judgement. Since God is Creator, He has give mercy to whomever He wants to and He has hardened others unto judgement. You may say He is not fair or that God is unjust to those who can't resist His will. But Paul doesn't explain these objections. He simply says, "But who are you, a mere man, to talk back to God? Will what is formed say to the one who formed it, "Why did you make me like this?" Or has the potter no right over the clay, to make from the same lump one piece of pottery for honor and another for dishonor?" Rom 9:20-21. We may not understand election and reprobation, but we can't complain or argue with God. We are clay and we need to realize that and trust that God is good and wise beyond our understanding.

"Woe to one who argues with his Maker." These are convicting words. How often have we complained about what God sends us in this life. Too many times we argue and quarrel with God when we don't like the situation we are in. We don't like how we look or where we live or our personality. Anytime we complain and grumble, we are quarreling with God who is supreme and sovereign. Arminianism is really a theological position coming from people arguing against the Lord. And the truth is, sometimes we have been  practical arminianists. All this shows us the greatness of our sin. We have all argued and complained against God even through we have no right to. But God is merciful. He has provided forgiveness and grace through Jesus Christ. We all need to come to Him confessing our sins and asking for a more humble, thankful and submissive attitude.


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Tracing The Finger Of God

Over the past few weeks I have had the opportunity to listen to some talks on the lives of godly men of the past. I have heard of men like David Brainerd, Jonathan Edwards, John Newton, John Paton and William Carey. It has been an enriching time for my soul. Looking into God's past dealing with His children has strengthened my faith. I have marveled at the wisdom, faithfulness and sovereignty of God and I hope this post will help you do that as well.

David Brainerd was missionary to the Indians in the American Colonies. His life was short due to sickness. He died in Jonathan Edwards' house and Edwards was so moved by this man's godliness that he published David's journal and diary. God used this book to move many other people to leave all to bring the gospel to other lands. Men like William Carey and Henry Martyn and other well known men were inspired by this weak man. David Brainerd's impact on missions is hard to overemphasis.

  John Paton was a missionary to the South Sea Islands. For four years he lived and worked on the island of Tanna. He had little success and much danger and heart ache. He lost his wife and son on this island and he was sick often. Eventually he was driven off the island. A few years later a book was written about his trials and adventures in the mission field. It was used greatly by God to stir up his own denomination and the worldwide church to bring the gospel to the lost peoples of this world. Later John Paton went to another island where most of the island was eventually converted. He also traveled around the world to awaken the church to missions. Yet this could not have happen without his losses and trials on the island of Tanna.

 John Newton was known for being a wise counselor and a hymn writer. His letters are filled with wisdom and grace. He gave counsel to William Carey who became a missionary to India and the father of Modern Missions. John Newton mentored William Wilberforce, who led the movement to abolish the slave trade in Britain. Newton also befriended William Cowper who was a very depressed man. This friendship was a great blessing to Cowper. Together they wrote hymns together which have been sung all over the world by generations of Christians. Newton's Amazing Grace is one of the most well known hymns ever sung. God did all this and more through a man who once was a slave trader and a blasphemer.

 Over the last few weeks I have been looking back on our trips to Cuba for the purpose of writing a short book. It has been wonderful to look back on how God has taught us and provided for us. How patiently did God teach us so that His work would be done more effectively. I see the times He answered our prayers and the prayers of the Cubans. God brought the right people into our lives so that His goals would be accomplished. How often did He protect us from harm! Opportunities to go to Cuba were provided in way that only can be traced to the providence of God. Writing this account has led me to worship such a great and good God.

  Isn't this remembering the past deeds of God what the Psalmist often did. Just consider Psalm 105 verse 5, "Remember the wonderful works He has done, His wonders, and the judgments he has pronounced."  In a time of  crisis, Asaph said in Psalm 77, "I will remember the LORD's works; yes I will remember your ancient wonders. I will reflect on all you have done and meditate on your actions." verses 11-12  When he did this, his faith grew strong. Instead of doubt and despair, there was hope and worship.

The past can teach us how God uses the blacks and grays on his painting of our lives. We may not see all the picture, but looking back on what is done will help us appreciate the wisdom of the Divine painter in choosing the colors that He did. One day when we look back from heaven, God's work of art will be seen to be a masterpiece.

 Remembering the past to see the providence of God is medicine for the soul. Do you do this? Do you see how God has led you, taught you, cared for you or protected you? When you see in the past your unfaithfulness and unworthiness, how gracious is our God! Do you study history, especially the history of the church? You should. What lessons would you learn! Consider the past, not to glory in you, but to glory in a glorious Lord.


Saturday, October 1, 2016

Sheep Who Don't Make A Peep

As our culture rejects God and His law, they will also reject God's authority that He has placed in this world. All the recent riots are evidence of this. God has ordained positions of authority in this world. The government is called to rule over countries, cities and towns. Husbands are to be leaders in their marriages. Parents are to have authority over their children. Masters or employers are in authority over those who work for them. God calls us to respect these positions of authority and submit to them so long as they don't ask us to do anything contrary to God's word. But as people reject God and dishonor Him, they will dishonor and disobey those God has put in positions of authority. Thus people don't listen to or obey the police. Wives mock their husbands and demand they share the authority God has given to their husbands. This lack of respect of authority is seen in schools, in the workplace and in how people treat those in government. As this becomes more of the norm in our culture, the church needs to be on guard for this attitude in her midst. These truths about God's authority need to be taught often. But there is one other position of authority that God has given us that is in  great danger if we do not combat this sin of the world. This is the position of the pastor/elder in the church. People will take this disrespect for authority and undermine the elders of the church. The results of this lack of submission is disastrous.

The Bible gives us a clear command about respecting those who govern the church. In Hebrews 13:17 we read this: "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will have to give account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable to you." 
  We know that this passage is talking about leaders in the church because of the phrase "they keep watch over your souls." The government doesn't keep watch over our soul. Also in this chapter the word leader is referred to and each time it refers to church leaders.
The church is not a democracy. God has given authority to a group of men to take care of His sheep. They shepherd Jesus Christ's sheep on His behalf. The elders are men in high position because God has given that position. Therefore we are called to obey the elders and submit to them. To disobey them is to disobey God. If we love and obey Christ, then we should submit to those He has put in place in this position of authority in the church.

Let me give an example of what this submission looks like. There are churches that require their members to abstain from drinking alcohol. Now I would disagree with this requirement, but maybe this is the only good church in town. The church has good preaching and the elders are caring and godly. In order to join this church I would have to promise not to drink alcohol. Also I should not try to convince others to reject this requirement. The right way to try change this requirement would be to go the elders and present my case against this requirement and ask them to change it. If they don't however, then I need to submit to their judgement.

We should respect their authority both in our words and in our hearts. We should do this without grumbling and complaining. This doesn't mean we can't give helpful criticism or advice or share with them our concerns about how they do things. But if they disagree with our concerns, then we need to submit to them. We should not complain about the elders to others. We shouldn't cut them down before others. Gathering people to your cause to bring down the elders or to force them to listen is forbidden by this command.  Even disrespect, unsubmissiveness and grumbling in our hearts is contrary to God's will for His people. This is a hard command, but it is important as we shall see.

Do we have to submit and obey our elders in every instance? So long as they don't ask us to do anything unBiblical, we need to obey them. If this is God's plan for His sheep, then it is important for us to find good shepherds. Are they qualified to be in this position? Are they godly men who can teach the Word? We should give careful thought to who the elders of a local church are before we become members. No group of elders will be perfect. They will make mistakes. If you are looking for perfection you will never be a member of a church. No, we are looking for a pattern of godly character that is progressing. We are looking for men who are skilled in teaching the Bible. I believe there are few good reasons for leaving a church. Before we leave a church because we don't think the elders are qualified, we should pray much about this decision and check our hearts for sin. We should make sure there is a church that is doctrinally sound and that has qualified leaders in our area before we leave. It is a serious thing to submit to and obey our elders, and therefore we should give great attention and care before we are members of a church.

The task of shepherding the church of Jesus Christ is one of the hardest jobs on earth. The elder is a sinner dealing with his own sins while having to call other sinners to leave their sins, which we know is at times like pulling teeth from a lion. The work of an elder is mentally exhausting as one deals with serious and difficult issues. But this hard work can get much harder when the sheep refuse to submit to their leadership. This situation is bad for the elders and bad for the sheep.

Let me illustrate from my life as a farmer. Taking care of dairy cows is a lot of work. I need to keep them fed, clean their stalls, milk them twice a day and treat them when they are sick. When the cows are healthy and calm, it is not too bad. But when you have cows that try to knock out your teeth in the parlour or smash you with their head, farming becomes a burden. Cows that refuse to listen and go where they are supposed to make simple tasks a frustration. When this happens I can become gruff with the cows and my rod and staff need to be used. The more a cow fights me when I have to give her medicine, the worse it will hurt. It doesn't pay to fight with the farmer. Sometimes the cow goes to market.

Well, the same is true in regard to elders/pastors and the members of the church. When the members don't submit to the elders, it makes shepherding difficult. The elders spend time trying to sort out the conflict rather than studying, praying or counseling. This conflict can make the elder depressed. It can make him frustrated and angry. This will hurt his preaching and teaching, which will in turn hurt the sheep. Such conflict can lead to divisions in churches and at times it will lead to church splits or pastors leaving. When the sheep don't make a peep by being submissive and obedient, the work of shepherding is a joy. When the sheep revolt, the work is a deary business, and the spiritual health of the shepherds and the sheep will suffer. Sheep who rebel only bite the hand that feeds them. This is truly unprofitable for them.

There is a downward spiral into misery in the church when the members do not obey this command to submit and obey their elders. First, some members do not listen to the elders, slandering and complaining openly about them. Then the work of the pastors becomes more difficult and burdensome. So their work of shepherding starts to suffer due to the conflict. Next these members and, maybe more, start to complain even more because the elder's work is not done as it should be. This fresh wave of hostility further burdens the elders which makes their work suffer even more. And so it goes on until people repent or the church implodes or ceases to be effective.

For a healthy church, we need faithful pastors and submissive members. If either of these two are missing, the church will be in great trouble. So I ask you to be a good sheep or a good shepherd if you are one. Pray for your leaders. Love them. Support them. And submit to and obey them as if you are obeying and loving Jesus Christ. If you don't, you will only bring spiritual illness on yourself and dishonor to the fair name of Jesus.