Thoughts on life and Scripture...

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The True Church

In my last post, I tried to show how the three marks of a true church in article 29 of the Belgic Confession are not a Biblical method of critiquing churches. This post continues to show that these three marks are not good criteria and what is the better way to evaluate churches.

  What is the church? It is not a building or location. It is not an organization or social club. The church is not any group that calls itself a church. The church is the assembly of those who have been redeemed, regenerated, justified by faith in Christ Jesus. The church is those people who by true faith and repentance have been  united to Christ. Through the Spirit, we are born again and placed in God's family, His church. Christ is the Head and the church is His body.

"There is one body and One Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all." Ephesians 4:4-6.

"For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." 1 Corinthians 12:13.

 Those that are redeemed are the church of God and they are to gather together in local assemblies. All the believers in the world and those in heaven are commonly called the invisible church, while the local assemblies are called the visible church. Every one who is united to Christ is part of the true church. and has unity in Him. Since we have unity in Christ we should work hard at living this unity out in our interactions with other Christians. Even though there may be some big doctrinal differences among Christians, we are still equal and one in Christ.
 
 Knowing this should lead us to forego using the three marks of the Belgic Confession to decide if a church is truly a church or not. A true church is not just about doctrine, but also about its unity to Christ by true faith. What often happens to those who evaluate churches based on the three points, is that churches are declared false churches when those members have in fact been bought by the precious blood of Christ. This is a sad and evil thing in the sight of the Savior who loves all His people, even though there are many weaknesses in them. This also brings dishonor to Christ by causing disunity in the church. God is gloried when believers live in unity with each other.

  Every local church is imperfect. There are false Christians in every church. Their hearts have not been changed by the Spirit, and yet are part of the local church, but are not members of the body of Christ. In addition to unconverted people making each local body imperfect, there is the sin of each believer in the church. No Christian is perfect in this life. We all have to struggle with sin. Some are more godly than others. Some are more mature in the faith than others. None of us have perfect knowledge, wisdom or insight into the truth of God's word. Since no Christian is perfect and all are flawed, therefore each church will be flawed.

 In contrast to the true church, the false church is an assembly of the unconverted. It is a goat pen not a sheep pen. It is where a false gospel is proclaimed. A true Christian will not sit long under the devil's gospel. Sometimes it is very clear which church is a false church since there is no gospel preached there. For example Mormon churches, Jehovah Witnesses, the Roman Catholic church and the churches of the health, wealth and prosperity teaching like Joel Olsteen's church are all examples of false churches. But often it is very hard to say what is a false church. We can evaluate a church's doctrine and determine if it lines up with Scripture, but we can't see the hearts of all the people in a church. If there are no Christians in a church than that church is not a church since none of the members are part of Christ's body. But we can't determine this, and so should reserve placing judgement on that church.

   A better way to evaluate churches than using article 29 is to look at the whole of the church and compare that to the Biblical model for what a healthy church is. We shouldn't look at just doctrine, but also practice. A healthy church will have Biblical preaching, qualified shepherds, reverent worship, passionate evangelism and missions work, compassionate service, generous giving, sound theology and holy living. All these areas need to be looked at to diagnosis what is the spiritual health of a church. Much more could be said on the matter, but a few good books on the subject are "9 Marks of a Healthy Church" by Mark Dever and "The Master's Plan for the Church" by John MacArthur, if you want to read more.

                                                              Brad

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Three Marks Of A True Church??

   What does a true church look like and what does a false church or sect look like were questions that were being asked during the time of the Reformation. Calvin and others set forth a few marks that could be used to tell the difference between a true church and false church. The Belgic Confession also addressed this question. In the 29th article of this confession it gives us three marks of a true church which distinguishs it from "all sects". The three marks are 1)"the pure preaching of the gospel", 2) the "pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them" and 3)"exercises church discipline for correcting and punishing sins."  While there is some truth in these three points, this way of dividing true churches from sects and false churches is harmful. These three marks given in this confession have led to greater disunity, conflict and pride. It has torn apart families, friends and churches when there has been no need to have this divide and conflict. Let me explain why this way of marking churches is unbiblical.

 Part of the problem is that the New Testament never really explains what a  false church looks like. The first letter of John shows the difference between a true Christian and a false Christian. There are lots of passages that warn about and describe a false teacher. But a false church is never described. When Jesus addressed the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, He rebukes them for their ungodliness in heart and life and for their false doctrine, but he doesn't refer to them as false churches, even though some of the churches are almost dead and useless. Neither does Paul start pinning false church labels on churches that failed to meet the criteria of the Belgic Confession. These facts should make us exercise caution before we decree which church is false.

  First, there are false churches in the world. The first mark of article 29 is right. Any church where the gospel is not preached is a false church. If a church doesn't teach people the Biblical way one must be saved from the wrath to come, then it can't be a true church. The main purpose of the church is to proclaim the way of salvation through faith in Christ, if it gets this wrong then what good is that church. It is no better than any cult or false religion. "As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed." Galatians 1:9

  But the next two marks of a true church are where this confession goes wrong. Let's look at the second mark dealing with sacraments. Deciding if a church is administering the sacraments in the way Christ has instituted them is a bit subjective. The Reformed church would say that since Baptists and others don't baptize infants, then they are not a true church. But a Baptist reading this would say that Reformed people don't administer the sacraments rightly since they baptize babies and thus are a false church. Even within theological camps there are disagreements on the meaning and administration of the sacraments, that have lead to churches calling other church false for minor differences. The pure administration of the Lord's supper can be a subjective judgement as well that leads to calling each other a false church. What could be overlooked as a minor point of disagreement becomes a deep division due to the labeling of the other as a false church. Where there could be unity even though there are differences, by applying this mark of a true church, there is disunity.

  Paul did not use this second mark of a true church either. He considered the Corinthian church to be a real true church. You can see that in the first chapter where he regards them as Christians in the church of God. Yet they had some serious misunderstandings in both doctrine and practice in regards to the Lord's Supper. Many were not eating it in a worthy manner. See chapter 11 for this. If Paul used the criteria of the Belgic Confession, then he could not refer to them as a true church, which he does. See 1 Cor 1:2

  Furthermore, and this leads into the third mark of the true church, the same is true for church discipline. The church at Corinth didn't discipline sinning members. See chapter 5 for Paul's rebuke and instruction on this issue. So according to the Belgic Confession the church at Corinth failed on two of the three marks of a true church. Yet Paul still regarded them as a true church of God.

  The third mark of  a true church is supposed to be church discipline. But how can you measure this? Church discipline is the task of the whole church and it should be going on the whole time as members lovingly rebuke and correct each other. It is only at the final steps of church discipline that the elders get involved. What if only 75% of church discipline cases are being done, is that a true church? Truth is, I know Reformed churches that avoid member's sin at times or they take a very long time before any discipline actually happens. Are they then a true church?

 In John 17:22-23 Jesus prayed for the unity of His church. "The glory which you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are One; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that you sent me, and loved them, even as you have loved me." Unfortunately Article 29 doesn't lead to unity in Christ's church. Therefore it is not a Biblical measuring stick for what is a true church. I believe there is a better way to evaluate churches without bringing  unnecessary division. That is what I want to write about next time.


Brad

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Isaiah 53:3 The Sorrowful Messiah

In the last two posts I have written about the first two verses of Isaiah 53. I don't know how far I will get in this chapter on this blog. My workload has increased due to other responsibilities. On this post I plan to examine the third verse.

"He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face. He was despised and we did not esteem Him."
Isaiah 53:3 


  The focus of this exposition will be on the phrase 'a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief'. The Lord Jesus did not live long on this earth. It was only about 33 years and yet the text says that he was a man of sorrows, a man who was often full of sorrows. Let us consider why He was a man with many sorrows and griefs. 

   The first reason for His many sorrows is found here in this verse. Jesus was sorrowful because He was rejected and despised. He came to save Israel, His covenant people. He came to rescue them from the wrath to come. But they rejected the light. They wanted nothing to do with a savior from sin. The Jews wanted a savior to defeat the Romans. Jesus was sorrowful due to His rejection not so much for Himself, but because of what would happen to the Jews since they rejected their king and Savior. 

     Consider Luke 19:41-42 which says, "When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, "If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes." In the next verses Jesus describes the horrible siege that would come to Jerusalem because she rejected her Lord. In Matthew 23:37 we read of Jesus lamenting over Jerusalem. "Jerusalem Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling." In both these passages Jesus grieves over the unbelief of the Jews. In Mark 3:5 it says that Jesus was 'grieved at their hardness of heart' in reference to the Pharisees who refused to listen and believe. 

 All of these verses show that the unbelief and rejection of the Jews caused Jesus great sorrow. He knew that these stubborn people would suffer many things for their rejection of their Savior. He saw 70 A.D. when Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed. He saw throughout the many long ages when the Jews would be persecuted and hated. He saw a final great persecution of the Jews in which many would die and through which a remnant would emerge and mourn for the one they had pierced. Our God is a compassionate God who does not take delight in the death of the wicked. So I believe that Jesus was often filled with sorrow due to the unbelief of those around Him. 

 Shouldn't this teach us that we should be concerned with the masses of people who live in darkness. If God is compassionate toward them, shouldn't we have the same heart attitude? Evangelism and mission should be a greater priority for us as Christians and as churches. The world may hate us like they hate God, but we ,like God, should show them love and call them to faith and repentance so they may escape the unspeakable horrors of hell.

   Jesus was a man of sorrows because he was holy and lived among a people who were sinners. No one ever was perfect in holiness like our Lord. He was the eternal Holy One who hates sin and cannot even look upon it. Yet this man lived in the midst of a world filled with great evil. Jesus lived to bring the Father glory. Jesus supreme desire was to do the Father's will, so what sorrow it would cause Him to see God's will rejected and God's name dishonored.

Another reason that Jesus was a man of sorrows was because He was grieved at the evil that sin brought into the world. We can see this when Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. He wept with those who wept. He wept for the sorrow of His friends. Sin brings death. Sin brings conflict. Families are broken because of sin. Countries are ruined because of sin. Sin turns man into a monster that does great evil to others and to the world he lives in. Sin has infected all people and brought a curse on this entire world. Jesus saw this curse through out His life. This filled Him with sorrow. But Jesus came to reverse the curse. He came to defeat death. He came to change the wicked hearts of people. The Lord Jesus is indeed the great Conqueror.

 Lastly I believe that the lack of faith and sin of the disciples brought Jesus sorrow. The disciples fought about who was greatest on a number of occasions. They were slow to understand the truths that Jesus taught them. The betrayal of Judas and the three-fold denial by Peter would have brought grief to Jesus, as well as the desertion of the other 10 disciples when He was arrested. The sins and weakness of His disciples would have burdened and saddened Jesus Christ.

   While Jesus was the most sorrowful man that ever lived, I believe He was the most joyful man that ever lived. Jesus promised that if His disciples would obey his command they would have fullness of joy like He had. "These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full." John 15:11. See also 16:24 and 17:13  Jesus' joy did not come from outward circumstances. His joy came from His obedience and fellowship with the Father. This is then our model as well. Do we want real joy even when all around us falls apart? Then we must find that joy in fellowship with God as we walk with Him in godliness.

Brad

    

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Isaiah 53:2 The Ordinary Messiah

 The last post I wrote was a short explanation and application of  Isaiah 53:1. In this post the second verse will be our meditation.

 
"For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, 
And like a root out of a parched ground; 
He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, 
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him." 
Isaiah 53:2 



    One of the reasons Jesus was rejected as the Messiah was due to the manner He came in. He didn't show up like people wanted Him to show up. Their expectations were at odds with God's plans.

   The people were expecting a great king from the house of David. This is what God promised and yet it came to fulfillment in a way no one expected. The house of David was like a barren land. None of his sons sat on a throne or held any position of leadership. Joseph was a son of David but he was a poor man living in a small town. Instead of a throne and a crown, he had a carpenter's workshop. The line of David seemed to be all but dead. But God raises the dead. The fallen house of David was about to be rebuilt through the Lord Jesus. He came out of the fallen Davidic line like a small branch growing out of a dead stump or like a blade of grass growing in the wilderness. Jesus never lived in a palace. He was never rich. But He was the Son of David, even if outward appearances seemed to say otherwise.

People in every time and age are just like the Jews of Jesus' time. People have their own ideas of what Jesus should be. Some want Him to be a heavenly Santa Claus that gives them all their heart's desire. Some want Jesus to be just a good teacher who tells people how they should live a good life. Maybe the Jesus that some people want is less holy and winks at their sins. Whatever the reason may be, people will reject Jesus as their Savior and Lord since that is not what they want Him to be. Only those who are desperate for forgiveness and repent of their sins will find in the Lord Jesus the Savior they need and the Lord they must follow.

   Painters and artists have for years depicted the Lord Jesus as a handsome man with long flowing hair and a perpetual glow of light around His head. Even His clothes are somewhat other worldly compared to whatever anyone else is wearing around Him. If you saw such a man on the streets, you would surely take notice. Right away you would think that something is special or unique about a man like that. I think people depict Jesus like this out of a sense of respect and love. But it is not a biblical portrait of the Savior. The verse we are looking at makes this clear.

  Jesus' outward appearance was ordinary. He looked like any other Jew of His time. There was nothing in His face or body that made Him stand out. People like to have a leader that has good outward features. They want him to have the look of royalty. We desire a king who looks strong, handsome, and regal. But Jesus didn't look like that. His appearance didn't attract the admiration of anyone. In fact His appearance may have been unattractive. So when Jesus said he was the Messiah and the Son of God, people rejected this due to His rather normal appearance.  Perhaps they asked how could this normal, plain, and unattractive man be the very Son of God.  God planed it this way so they would have to believe the words of His Son rather than trust His looks.

    Consider this truth for a minute. Consider how low was the humiliation of Jesus. He is eternal and dwells in unapproachable light. He is beautiful in holiness. Angels hide their faces from His glory. Yet Jesus was willing to live a life of poverty, hard work and obscurity in the carpenter's shop in Nazareth. He was willing to dwell in a normal and plain human body. His divine glory was not to be seen from His outward appearance. It is hard for people who are famous or powerful, to become low and common. But Jesus was content to do the Father's will in this matter. Only once was the veil of His human flesh pulled back. This was on the mount of Transfiguration. For the rest of His life, He looked like a normal, ordinary person. Only when He returns, will we see our Lord in His full glory on this earth as He rules as a great king from sea to sea.

    The Christian is in a somewhat similar position. We are adopted by God into His family. We are citizens of a heavenly kingdom. The Lord of all loves us and delights in us. We are united with Christ and will reign with Him forever. But this world doesn't see this reality. Often Christians are despised and rejected. We are mocked and persecuted. We are treated like untouchables or lepers. But let us bear with these persecutions for a time. Our Lord went through the same sufferings that we do, in fact His were worse. Let us cheerfully endure such hardships for the sake of the One who loved us so much to suffer for us.

 "Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is." 1 John 3:2

  "For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond comparison." 2 Corinthians 4:17


Brad

   

Sunday, March 5, 2017

A Question To My Infant Baptist Friends

 I have an honest and sincere question for those who practice infant baptism. I have come across this perplexity a number of times and I was hoping someone could explain it to me. So the scenario is this: A Roman Catholic comes to faith in Christ and attends a Reformed church. Since he was baptized as an infant in the Catholic church, he is not baptized in the Reformed church, but only needs to do profession of faith. I have heard it said by Reformed people that the infant baptism of the Roman Catholic church is considered a real baptism. My wife was told it doesn't matter who does the baptism as long as you were baptized into the name of the Trinity.

  The problem with this seems to be the theology of the covenant that is held by Reformed people. As I understand it, God made a covenant with believers and their children. Those who are saved, justified by faith and born again are in God's covenant along with their children. It is the faith of the parents or parent that is the basis for their children being part of the covenant. So far so good?

 The Roman Catholic church does not preach the gospel.Their gospel is a false gospel that doesn't save and therefore their church is a false church. There may be a handful of Christians in the Catholic church, but generally it is safe to say that most are not saved and have no saving faith. Since there is no saving faith, they and their children wouldn't be in the covenant, regardless of whether they baptize their children.The faith of the parents is what brings a child into the covenant. There is nothing holy in the water or in the act of baptism. Catholics may think otherwise, but that is not the orthodox , Biblical understanding. Therefore an infant baptism in the Catholic church is not a real baptism. Their children are not in the covenant. So when a Catholic comes to faith later in life shouldn't they be baptized? What if someone who was baptized as an infant in some other church, like the Church of England, which is largely a dead church, comes to saving faith later in life, wouldn't you need to determine if their parents are believers before you accept their baptism?

 This also begs another question. What about if your parents leave the church or are excommunicated and show by their life that they are not Christians. Does this not invalidate your baptism and covenant status? If the parents show in later life there is no saving faith, does this mean you need to be baptized again? Doesn't your assurance that you are a covenant child then rest on your parent's faith? How would you deal with someone who lacks that assurance because their parents are living in an ungodly way?

 Could some of my Reformed friends answer these questions for me?


Thanks
Baptist Brad

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Isaiah 53:1 The Rejected Messiah

 It has been a long time since I wrote on this blog. There were lots of other projects that I needed to get to. This blog is a bit of a lower priority. But I hope that over the next couple of weeks I will be able to write some more posts.

  I have been studying the 53rd chapter of Isaiah over the last little while and it has been a blessing to me. So I thought I would share with you what I have learned in the hope that it will be a blessing to you as well.

 Isaiah 53 is one of the passages in Isaiah that speak about the Servant, who is the Messiah. This chapter is remarkable for its details about the life of the Messiah. Some have called it the fifth gospel for it seems like it was written by one who saw the suffering of our Lord. But in fact, it was written hundreds of years before the Messiah ever came. The Spirit who knows all things in the future, inspired the prophet to write down this stunning prophecy.

 "Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?"
Isaiah 53:1

   In the first part of this verse Isaiah asks, 'Is there any one who has believed the message we preached.' This was true in his day and is true throughout all of history. The second part of this verse is a little more tricky to understand. The arm of the Lord refers to God's power since arm is the symbol of strength. The arm of the Lord and our message are parallel ideas in this verse. Romans 1:16 helps us understand this a little better. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes...." God's message is a powerful message that must be revealed by God to sinners. But it is often the case that most people still walk in darkness. This is really Isaiah's lament in this verse.

   Shockingly we are told in the first verse of this Messianic chapter that few people would believe the Messiah's message. This is not what should be expected. For hundreds of years the Jews had been eagerly waiting for the Messiah. It would be normal to expect that when He came, all Israel would flock to Him. They should have eagerly drunk in His teaching and followed Him. His message should have been embraced and cherished after waiting so long for Him to appear. How strange it is that we are told here that few have believed His message and few have recognized that He was the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity.

  Why was the Messiah rejected? This question is clearly answered in John 3:19-20, "This is the judgement, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed."  Jesus' holy conduct exposed their evil hearts and lives. Jesus' message was one of holiness and repentance, and the Jews didn't want to let go of their sins. This reason for rejecting the Savior is the same for the Jews as well as for the Gentile.

 John quotes this verse in John 12:38 to show his readers that the rejection of Jesus was something that the Scriptures foretold. Paul quotes part of this verse in Romans 10:16 to support the truth that most of this world remains in unbelief.  The person and work of Christ is largely rejected by Jew and Gentile. Those who believe the gospel message are always few--not many. "For many are called, but few are chosen." Matthew 22:14. Revivals are rare and the majority of the time sinners come into the kingdom of God in small numbers. This is the reality we live with in this present age.

  We should learn from this to temper our expectations in ministry and evangelism. We should pray for revival, but should also realize that often there may be little outward success. We shouldn't be shocked if few embrace the gospel message. When all around us people reject the gospel message, we shouldn't be downhearted. Our Lord was the best teacher and preacher. None spoke like Him. Yet most of the people in His time rejected Him. So if our attempts at evangelism are met with unbelief, we shouldn't be discouraged. The servant is not greater than the master, and if the master and His message was rejected, we should not expect more.  The important thing is to be faithful to teach and preach the gospel whether any believe or not.

 When we feel all alone in this unbelieving world, remember that our Lord went through the same experience. When tempted to despair because of a lack of success in our ministry, consider the Son of God who understands how you are feeling. Your High Priest understands your troubles better than you think.

  As we look around at so much unbelief in the world, we should weep over it like Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Then we should look at ourselves and wonder that God should be gracious to me. What grace is mine that I should be chosen. What a precious gift faith is! Such love and mercy should melt our hearts to love and obey our Savior.


Brad