Wednesday, August 13, 2014

On the Road to Perdition

There is always one more step beyond your last on the road to perdition.

I was listening to a sermon on marriage, sex, and singleness. The pastor was trying to comfort troubled consciences, so he said that it is not a sin to be tempted. Then he added, "The inclination to sin is not a sin."

The earliest Protestant Reformers had this to say on the same subject: "[The inclination to sin, called concupiscence,] is a disease and original vice that is truly sin. It damns and brings eternal death on those who are not born anew through Baptism and the Holy Spirit." (Augsburg Confession, Article II, Original Sin)

The pastor's first statement is true. It is not a sin to be tempted, because Christ was tempted, "yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). But the comfort this knowledge brings is that of Adam, and not of Christ.

When we are tempted, the temptation finds within us a sinful nature. The temptation to sin plucks a certain chord, and our old Adam resonates with it.

Let's think about this in the context of a real-life example. Borrowing from the theme of that pastor's sermon, consider the young man, who walks past a computer and thinks of the cheerleader pictures he saw on a sports website. He is tempted to go back, click the link, and look at all the pictures in that album. In his flesh the idea resonates. A Christian man knows this would not be right, but he also knows how much pleasure it would bring, how good it would feel, how much he would like it. That's the inclination to sin. That's the resonance that sin finds in every human soul.

If he makes the right decision, and walks away from the computer, is he unstained by sin?

This young man might say, "I'm good, because I didn't look." But the man who looks can say, "I'm good, because there weren't any naked women in those pictures." And the man who looks at naked women can say, "I'm okay because even though I looked, I didn't actually touch them." And the man lying in his adulterous bed says, "I didn't do anything without her consent."

There is always one more step that could be taken on the road to perdition, and our old Adam finds comfort in the fact that he didn't cross that line. "God, I thank you that I am not like other men."

The pastor is called to bring us the comfort of Christ. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." The peace that Jesus came to bring is the forgiveness of sins. Even your concupiscence cannot withstand the cleansing flow of Jesus' blood. But, consider... Forgiveness is for sinners, and the sinner needs to know that he is what he is. Offering the comfort of Adam hides sin from our eyes. How can we be forgiven for that which we say is not a sin?

None of us knows the full extent of our own sinfulness, and we are all saved by grace alone. But the preacher, who tells you that your desire to sin is not a sin, is not doing you any favors. He is taking away some of Christ's comfort, and offering a false comfort in its place. He is giving you a conscience-numbing excuse to ignore sins of thought. Don't accept it. Repent and believe the good news instead.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Grace or works... or what?

Jim Gerlach is the pastor of Oakview Baptist Church in Irving, Texas. He is a neighbor of mine, and I’ve had the privilege of meeting him and his wife on several occasions during elections. He is an unassuming man, and a bit shy perhaps. He also exudes kindness and gentleness. I have never been inside his church, but I’ve known and worked with people who are members there. His style in the pulpit reflects the same gentleness I’ve seen in passing. He clearly studied for his role, and continues to do so. I like Jim Gerlach a lot, and would consider it an honor to be his friend, but he will not be my pastor.

So this morning I was listening to one of his messages posted on the Internet. He is doing something a little different from usual, with a question and answer format. This is a good teaching method, but it also has at least one critical drawback. The question seems to be driving the answer. He tries to weave in a biblical verse or allusion, but it is not exegetical. He is not opening the text and drawing the answer out of it. He is addressing the question and using the Bible where it is suitable or convenient.

This wouldn’t be On the Wittenberg Trail if we didn’t look at how he handled Baptism.

“So somebody asks it this way: ‘Is baptism required for salvation?’ [Answer]... Everything that we would add to salvation, doesn’t add to salvation. There is nothing we can do that makes us more lovable to God, or more likely to be saved.

“Baptism is simply an obedient step after we’re saved. It’s a response to being saved. It’s not something that causes us to be saved. We do it because we know Christ, not in order to get to know Christ, or to believe.

“Some people teach that Baptism bestows some kind of a grace on you. We believe it is a picture of the grace that has already been bestowed on us. It is an outward sign of an inward reality. So we’ll take the Lord’s Supper a little later. The Lord’s Supper is not an act of grace, by taking it in our body, as some would teach, but rather a reminder that we receive the grace of God in Christ. It’s a beautiful picture. It tells us that there is nothing we can do to add to our salvation, and nothing we can do to replace it.

“Ephesians 2:8-9 is the go-to verse in this area about grace... [verse read].”

Again, I like Jim Gerlach. I am not writing this to cut him down, or make him look bad. But let's slow it down. Listen carefully to what he says. He says several things about Baptism. He tells us what it is. He tells us what it isn’t. Then, to rest his case -- to seal the deal -- he takes us to a verse that doesn’t say anything at all about Baptism. Could that be a problem?

The Bible should tell us what Baptism is or is not.

Gerlach: Baptism is a beautiful picture of the grace God has already given us. (Chapter and verse, please.)

The Bible: Baptism unites us to the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 6:1-4.)

Gerlach: “Baptism is simply an obedient step after we’re saved. It’s a response to being saved. It’s not something that causes us to be saved.” (Chapter and verse, please.)

The Bible: “Baptism... now saves you.” (1 Peter 3:21.)

Gerlach: “[Baptism] is not an act of grace… but rather a reminder that we receive the grace of God in Christ.” (Chapter and verse, please.)

The Bible: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9.)

Here is the crucial point.

You can accept the harmony between Ephesians 2 and Romans 6, or you can generate conflict. The harmony comes only if you understand that Romans 6 is talking about a Baptism that bestows some kind of grace. If you think that Baptism is merely a human act of obedience to a divine ordinance, then Romans 6 cannot mean what it says about Baptism. If a work of obedience (in Baptism) really does bury me with Christ, then I am saved by a work and not by faith. Romans 6 is in conflict with Ephesians 2; and I have to find a way to get the water out of this Romans 6 baptism, lest there be a contradiction in the Bible. This is a conflict of our own making. We created it when we decided that Baptism is essentially a command, and our doing it merely an obedient step.

Where is the Scripture that teaches us to regard Baptism as an act of obedience? Where is the Scripture that teaches us to believe that Baptism does not give us grace? There isn't any. The source of this doctrine is the human observation that some who are baptized into Christ die in unbelief. There is no other reason to believe that Baptism does not save. The faithful Christian must answer his observation in this way: Though my eyes may deceive me, God's Word is always true.” When we trust our senses more than God's Word, the cross of Christ is obscured.

Oakview Baptist Church (website) (sermon page) (referenced sermon)

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Of Moral Revolution... and French

In the fury over the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision we are witnessing a conflict between two opposing worldviews.

At its most basic level, one side thinks that contraception is an unalloyed public good, and that it should be made widely available by whatever means necessary. The other side thinks that certain contraceptive drugs can be harmful to mothers and embryos, and therefore we may want to be more cautious about making it widely available. I think most people never take their consideration of the issue much deeper than this.

At its core this is a conflict between materialistic evolution and theistic creationism. The one side says that there is no created order, which means no ultimate objective standard of morality by which we must govern our lives. The other side says there is a created order, and we are accountable in some sense to the one who made it.

In the sweet spot this battle is being waged between Christian morality and the morality of the sexual revolution. In Christian morality God says that death is the punishment inflicted on creation for our sins. God says that murder is wrong, even when the victim is invisibly small. God says that children are a divine gift and blessing, even when they are burden to their parents or to society. God says that sex is his gift to humanity, and for our good it must be enjoyed only within the boundaries he has established.

Against this, the morality of the sexual revolution says that sex is fun. Fun, fun, fun! Are you kidding me? It’s AWESOME!!! And nothing should stand between me and sex -- nothing… except the consent of another person… and, maybe, babies. Oh, but since we have this thing called contraception… *nothing* should stand between me and my sexual gratification! And, hey, making babies is a really serious problem. I mean, we don’t want these kids to suffer. We certainly don’t want to pay for their upbringing. So contraception needs to be available to everyone, everywhere, regardless of cost, no matter what! And maybe abortion needs to be available too, you know… just in case.

Okay, admittedly I’m being crass. To the extent that anyone in the Obama Administration is actually thinking the issue all the way through to their presuppositions, they probably don’t sound like a beach bum when they express it. But their basic beliefs flow from the morality of materialistic evolution and the sexual revolution. There is no right and wrong. There is no divine boundary placed around sexual behavior. There is no natural connection between sex and procreation (at least not since the invention of “the pill”). So, people should just do whatever they want, and government should do whatever it takes to make sure that they have contraception in hand. That way we can all avoid the natural consequences of these irresponsible actions. (Oops! Did we say “irresponsible”? We mean… uh… these “lifestyle decisions.”)

Against the tide of the sexual revolution, Hobby Lobby makes a heroic stand. No, wait. They aren’t standing against the sexual revolution at all. They are perfectly willing to fund contraception. There are just four drugs they don’t want to pay for. And their objection is not based on the fact that they mask the natural consequences of promiscuity. They are not trying to stop the wave or turn back the tide. They are saying only that these four drugs sometimes kill embryos, “…and we don’t want any part in that killing. So, by your leave, Mr. President, we will only fund those kinds of contraception that don’t kill embryos. Please don’t make us participate in those other four, because we can’t and we won’t.”

Against Hobby Lobby’s position of tolerance the Administration says, “Oh, no. You can and you will. If you don’t we’ll destroy you.”

What makes the whole episode so distressing to me is that Hobby Lobby is being reviled essentially for its intolerance. Thinking that contraception kills embryos is unreasonable. Thinking that a business should have any say in the decision over what its health insurance plan will cover is unreasonable. Thinking that pharmaceutical contraception might be harmful in any way at all to anyone is unreasonable. Since we can obviously see that Hobby Lobby has no reason for denying this coverage, they must be trying to force their beliefs on other people.

This kind of linguistic perversion is beyond bizarre. It is deeply sinister. It is evil. And, if we continue to tolerate it, we will eventually suffer for it. Who exactly? I don’t know. Probably me, since I’m a Christian, but maybe you too. Go read some history of the French Revolution. Look at the past to see where this kind of subversive, antirational group-think tends to go.

Monday, June 23, 2014

John Piper - Baptism is Symbolism

My last blog post drew some criticism from a friend, and I want to address it. I said that Matthew Vines twists the biblical texts on homosexuality in the same way that every evangelical twists the biblical texts on Baptism. My friend mistook my statements to imply that Matthew Vines is an exegete, drawing his doctrines on homosexuality from the text, just as my friend (supposedly) draws his doctrines on Baptism from the Bible. Stan said, “[Matthew Vines] reject[s] Scripture out of hand.”

I agree, and disagree.

It is all too obvious that Matthew Vines reads his presuppositions into the biblical texts. If you ask the right questions at the right moment, I think he would admit it readily enough. He identifies himself as a homosexual. He believes that his homoerotic passions are a desire for love. He believes that his homosexual relationship (if any) is an expression of love. He believes that love is a gift from God, and his experience of it is just as valid and legitimate -- true and lawful -- as any other. Mr. Vines brings these presuppositions to the biblical text, looking for a way to reconcile what he already knows with what the Bible already says.

Don’t suppose for a moment that Mr. Vines sees it this way. Even if he recognizes his presuppositions, he would argue that they do not prevent him from doing the work of an exegete. In his own mind, he is drawing his doctrine from the Bible the same as any other Christian. He is certainly NOT rejecting Scripture out of hand. He fears God. He loves the Scriptures. He loves the Church. He wants the Church to “love” him.

The idea that Baptism plays no role in salvation does not come from the Scriptures either. It is a presupposition evangelicals bring with them to the text. Where does it come from? Any number of places, I suppose. The Roman Catholic Church teaches baptismal regeneration, but they gave us the Inquisition, the Mafia, and Nancy Pelosi. My neighbor down the street was baptized as a baby, but he is an alcoholic, who abuses his family. Baptism didn’t save those people, therefore it doesn’t save anyone at all.

The logic isn’t all that bad. The problem is not in having a presupposition. The problem is letting the presupposition dominate your reading of Scripture -- forcing the Bible to say what you already know to be true. In the video below (which will probably be removed soon because of the challenging comment I left there) John Piper twists and squirms his way out from under Romans 6:1-4. Why? Because his presupposition requires the text to say something other than what it says plainly.

John Piper should let the Scriptures speak for themselves. He should bring his presuppositions into submission to plain meaning of the words. He should do with Romans 6:1-4 exactly what he wants Matthew Vines to do with 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. 

In this John Piper is not alone.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

First Gay Affirming SBC Church?

On June 3, 2014, Chris Rosebrough talked about the "First Gay Affirming SBC Church?" on his radio program, Fighting for the Faith. Rosebrough also addressed Matthew Vines' handling of Scripture in a video posted on Vines' YouTube channel. You may have heard that name before, as Mr. Vines recently wrote a book called God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships.

We should not be surprised when "conservative" evangelicals "come out" as "gay-affirming" "Christians." (Yes, all the quotation marks are necessary.) What Matthew Vines is doing with the Word of God on the subject of homosexuality is what his "conservative" evangelical pastor(s) taught him to do with the texts on Baptism. Reject the plain meaning of the words, because what they say is supposedly inconsistent with something else in the Bible. Come up with alternative "interpretations" supported by other passages of Scripture misunderstood, misapplied, or ripped out of context.

In the coming days many "conservative Christians" will join Matthew Vines on his journey with a "gay-affirming" theology. They will be surprised to find that their conversion was very easy. Unbelief is a well-worn path in their Christian experience, only the cargo (the subject matter) will be different this time.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Where does this stuff come from?

"Baptism is a public testimony of what Christ has done in your life as a Christ-follower."

"When you are baptized, you are... telling the world that Jesus Christ is the Lord of your life."

This is what churches are teaching here, and here, and here, and here...

Are they teaching this doctrine from God's Word? Is there any place we can go in the Bible to find this teaching?

I can't find it. If you think you can, please let me know.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The One That Isn't Very Silly

They told me that Baptism is an outward sign of an inward conversion.

Did they use a text from the Bible to teach you that?