Thoughts on life and Scripture...

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Sir Joe the Unready: A Failed Knight Of The Round Table

The stories about King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table are well known. We have all heard of  Launcelot, Galahad and maybe Mordred the Usurper. Their exploits have been recorded in great detail for us. But few have heard of Sir Joe the Unready. While other knights won fame and glory in battle and heroic deeds, Sir Joe doomed himself to an embarrassing place in history.

   Sir Joe was a son of a cousin of an uncle of Guinevere the wife of King Arthur. With the help of this influence, Joe was made a member of the famous Knights of the Round Table. Sir Joe was proud of his new position. It gained him a lot of popularity, especially among the fairer sex. While all the other knights were training in feats of arms or riding off on important missions, Sir Joe was lounging with his many admirers. When once Arthur asked him to go on a mission of some importance, Sir Joe refused. His excuse was that he had contracted a disease in the lungs or maybe it was the heart when he was young and ever since had been in frail health. As a result any strenuous activity would bring Sir Joe close to the grave since his lungs or his heart or it could have been his bowels would have given way. Arthur went away muttering something about not doing a favor for anyone anymore, even for his wife.

  As Sir Joe lived his best life now, the other knights trained hard; preparing for the eventual invasion. The other knights despised Sir Joe and mocked him behind his back. Sir Launcelot even publicly rebuked Sir Joe calling him to act worthy of a knight. But Sir Joe had his excuses and would not listen. But soon Sir Joe would find that his lack of preparation and laziness would come to cover him in shame.

  One day while Sir Joe was taking his afternoon ride in the forest to let the lunch meal slowly digest, he heard a scream. Sir Joe rode in the direction of the scream and found to his horror that a great dragon was carrying away a beautiful damsel. Sir Joe knew what to do. He charged. The earth trembled under the pounding hooves of his horse. The dragon roared and spat fire. Sir Joe at the dreadful moment of collision, drew his sword. But his sword was stuck in the scabbard. He pulled and pulled but it was rusted to the scabbard. While Sir Joe was distracted, the dragon flew off with his prize, not wishing to get into any conflict. Later he ate the lady in his cave. Sir Joe was ashamed of his failed attack. But no one knew about what had happened and he wasn't going to spread the word.

  Sir Joe's downfall came some months later when the hosts of Mordred invaded the realm of King Arthur. The battle lines were drawn and the armies prepared for the coming battle the next day. Arthur told Joe that this was his day to prove himself. Sir Joe was scared the next morning as they lined up in battle formation. When the battle trumpet was sounded, he with the other knights charged. But something snapped in Joe's mind. Fear made him have a sort of brain fever. Sir Joe raced around the battle field swinging his sword wildly at anyone in his way. Sometimes he wounded or killed a foe, but at other times he felled some of his own compatriots. At some point his sword flew out of his hands and landed in the field. He jumped off his horse to get his sword only to be knocked out as his frightened horse kicked him in the head.

  In spite of Sir Joe's antics, King Arthur and his knights won the battle. Sir Joe woke up after the battle with a massive headache. Arthur came up to him and said, "Ya know Joe, I think you are finished with the Knights of the Round Table." So a shamed and humiliated Joe went off to live his life in poverty and ridicule. All the people called him, Sir Joe the Unready and laughed at him as he walked by.

  This story was written to illustrate one truth: That we must be prepared and ready every day for the spiritual battles that war against our soul.  My story of Sir Joe is the story of many Christians. They are soldiers of Jesus Christ. But they forget the command to "Suffer hardship with me as a good soldier of Christ Jesus." 2 Tim 2:3.  They are not trained in the use of the sword of the Spirit. The deadly, desperate spiritual war every Christian is in is forgotten.The text in 1 Peter 5:8 is not remembered. "Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour." They act as if the battle was over. Too many of Christ's soldiers are not prepared for the onslaught of the foe. They don't know how to use the Bible. They are lazy and more at home in the entertainment of the world than in the scriptures. They are spiritually fat and undisciplined. Such soldiers are in great danger from the kingdom of darkness.

  The exhortation to you is; Wake up, there is a war going on. Learn to fight courageously and skillfully with the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit. The devil can't take away our salvation, but he can make us ineffective soldier for Christ. "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord." 1 Corinthians 15:58   Our victory is certain. Fight on!


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.


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.