Monthly Archives: March 2012

At the Cross: Sin Revealed

By God’s good grace, this post will mark the first in a quick series entitled “At the Cross”, that will conclude on Good Friday. Each day will feature a collection of thoughts on a different aspect of the Crucifixion of Christ.

Sin abounded on an unprecedented scale during the final 48 hours leading up to the Cross.

The holy son of God was betrayed by one of his closest companions. His disciples failed him twice when he asked them to watch and pray in Gethsemane. He was illegally arrested by a mob then taken away for an illegal trial where he was mocked, ridiculed, beaten, and spit on, but not before he was abandoned by his dearest friends. One of whom even cursed and swore that he never even knew “that man”.  He was falsely accused by his people and he was treated as a joke by the gentile rulers. Though they found him innocent of all accusations brought against him, he was whipped and scourged as the worst of criminals. He was then denied by his people for a murderer and a traitor.

The same people who saw him heal the sick, cast out demons, and perform many signs and wonders were now shouting:

“Crucify! CRUCIFY HIM!”

And they did. They crucified him without mercy. Though nobody could find a single fault in him. Innocent on all accounts, Jesus was murdered on a cross.

So Black

So Ugly

What is terrifying to consider is that the people were not the only ones screaming for his Crucifixion.

God was with them.

In their sin, those people were calling for exactly the same thing that God was calling for. What they wanted in their lusts, God wanted in his holiness. Extreme Punishment.

The people wanted him punished for what he had done.

God wanted him punished for what we have done.

Jesus became sin, and in doing so, revealed the nature of sin in a way that could never be seen otherwise. In no other way could you and I see the full manifestation of sin, in all it’s blackness and ugliness. We are so poisoned, so sick with sin, so ONE with sin that there is no hope of seeing it for what it truly is in ourselves.

No, sin is revealed to us apart from ourselves; not in the sins of the people who mocked, betrayed, abandoned, tortured, and cursed Jesus, but in Jesus himself. Only in him could the fullness of sin be revealed in such an undisputable display.

The sin he became is my sin. It is your sin. It is our sin. It is unspeakably wicked and rebellious and it invites incomprehensible fury from the God who utterly hates sin, and who is committed to obliterating sin wherever it may be found, who will one day remove all trace of it from his presence forever.

It is no trivial matter. As the Thomas Kelly wrote in Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted:

Ye who think of sin but lightly, nor suppose the evil great,

Here may view it’s nature rightly, here it’s guilt may estmiate

Mark the sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load

Tis the Word, the Lord’s annointed, Son of Man and Son of God.

The Cross reveals sin and decalres all men sinners of the worst pedigree.

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf…” 2 Cor 5:21a


Leadership Summit Review part 3 – on partnering with the Catholic Church

This is the final post in my Leadership Summit Review. After this it will be back to the 3rd installment of Salvation in the Gospel of Matthew. I’m excited to get back into the Bible!

Tim Schroeder made one more suggestion during his session with Reg Bibby that I want to address. Admittedly, he suggested it very passively; but nevertheless, it was a part of the message presented to Canadian Evangelical Churches, and so I will address it.

Evangelicals should seek to build partnerships with the Catholic Church

A quick disclaimer before I begin.

*** The statements I make here come from the result of personal study on Catholic doctrine. I don’t believe very many Catholics really understand the doctrines that the Catholic Church is built upon, so I want to be clear that I am talking about the Catholic system of doctrine, not individuals who are Catholics, as there are no doubt some who would reject the teachings I attribute to the Catholic Church; though I do attribute them correctly.  I plan on contacting an experienced catachist in the Catholic church in the near future to hear his response to some of these issues and ensure I have a proper understanding of the Catholic position.***

There was plenty of verbal tiptoeing into this topic during the session, and I would say it was warranted; Catholic/Protestant discussions are full of historical and doctrinal landmines. Tim was obviously aware that even mildly suggesting Protestants consider partnering with Catholics in ministry would “ruffle a few feathers” as he put it. Hence the hedging and cautious introduction to the topic.

While my feathers weren’t ruffled, so to speak, I definitely perked up when I realized what he was suggesting, because it is something I could never condone. In fact, I am obligated by my love of the truth to vehemently oppose it, and I will tell you why.

The Catholic system holds to certain doctrines/traditions that I am compelled to reject outright. They are…

1) Catholic church tradition is EQUAL in authority to scripture. 

This is the most significant point at which Catholicism departs from biblical Christianity, and it is the root from which probably all of their errors flow. As they have made church tradition of equal authority with scripture, they are able to speak where the bible does not speak, perpetuating many false doctrines by the “authority” of the church.

Because of this, they fail to properly interpret the Bible. The correct way to handle scripture is to interpret it by the highest possible standard: itselfAllowing scripture to interpret scripture yields the greatest doctrinal purity and the most accurate understanding of the text. Departing from the sole authority of the scriptures is a sure step away from truth into error and heresy. The following points are the major points that form the great divide between Catholics and Evangelicals; and all of them are the result of making Church tradition equal with the inspired Word of God.

2) Church councils are infallible and irrevocable  – Since church tradition is of equal authority as scripture, it follows thus that decisions and decrees of church councils must be of equal truthfulness to God’s word as well. Hence the belief that the decrees of the church councils are indeed on par with the very Word of God.

The results are startling to read for the first time. Listen to the following points from the Council of Trent in 1563, keeping in mind that to be “anathema” is to be “damned” in the strongest possible sense.

Canon 9. If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone (supra, chapters 7-8), meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema.

Canon 11. If anyone says that men are justified either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost (Rom. 5:5), and remains in them, or also that the grace by which we are justified is only the good will of God, let him be anathema.

Canon 12. If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy (supra, chapter 9), which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, let him be anathema.

Canon 24. If anyone says that the justice received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works (ibid., chapter 10), but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of the increase, let him be anathema.

Canon 30. If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema.

Canon 32. If anyone says that the good works of the one justified are in such manner the gifts of God that they are not also the good merits of him justified; or that the one justified by the good works that he performs by the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit an increase of grace, eternal life, and in case he dies in grace the attainment of eternal life itself and also an increase of glory, let him be anathema.

The fact is that catholic church tradition damns anyone who holds to some of the dearest truths in scripture. Catholic church tradition damns me. It probably damns you too if you are reading this.

I want to say here that I doubt I would find one person in the Grande Prairie Catholic Church would would pronounce damnation on me for any one of these beliefs. However, that doesn’t get the Catholic Church system off the hook, it just makes them bad Catholics.

What is interesting is that an established Catholic recently told me that the church councils were indeed infallible. I asked him “well what about Trent? You say that Catholics and Protestants are brothers that need to be united, yet your tradition pronounces anathema on the core of our beliefs, justification by faith alone.”

He told me that actually, the council of Trent had been rescinded.

Really?

So is church tradition infallible or not? Is it on equal authority with scripture or not? Has God started saving people differently since the reformation that now it is okay to believe these things? Does god damn people differently now?

There are only two outcomes possible. Either Church Councils are NOT infallible and ARE open to error, OR anyone who believes that Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is damned to hell.

I’ll happily bet my eternity that the problem is on their end.

3) The mass re-presents the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary and confers forgiveness and remission of sins through participation – This issue is serious. If there is one question I want to know, it is how can my sins be forgiven. How can I be made right with God? How can I be justified in his eyes, so he can accpet me instead of reject me?

I have both read it in Catholic literature and heard it from multiple professing Catholics that forgiveness of sins actually happens at the Mass. Since the actual body and the actual blood of Christ are presented at the mass, and the actual sacrifice of Jesus Christ is re-presented, then the resulting forgiveness of sins is applied to me as I participate in the mass.

I asked one Catholic if my sins were still with me since I have never been to a mass. Apparently there are two types of sins; some of which can be forgiven through simple confession to God and true sorrow for sin, others require the services of a priest. But just to be sure, the person I asked promised to refer me to someone who could help me understand these things better.

The bible makes a sharp distinction: either your sins are forgiven, or they are not. Either you are saved, or you are not. There is no in between. Yet Catholic church doctrine/tradition on sin and confession and forgiveness really muddies the waters. This is not a good topic to be fuzzy about! I know God hates sin and will punish sinners. I want to be certain that I am in good standing with God. Thankfully, Jesus is abundantly clear: “unless you believe I AM, you will die in your sins” is the negative side, the positive side would be “whosoever believes in him will not die but have eternal life.”

We’re talking about the Gospel here. I’m convinced the good news is far better than the Catholic church ultimately makes it to be.

4) The Catholic Priesthood is legitimate.  The book of Hebrews is clear that in the New Testament church age, all believers now function as priests. Yet the Catholic Church has built up a priesthood that ultimately acts as a “middle man” so to speak between God and the people. The system discourages people from coming to God directly, instead directing them to the priest. Yet scripture tells us that all believers become a royal priesthood, brothers and sister

I’ll list two more without going into detail.

5) The Pope as God’s delegate on earth and the doctrine of Papal Infallibility – the pope is prevented by the Holy Spirit from even the possibility of error, because he is God’s representative on earth.

6) Purgatory – relieves people of their guilt over sin, ultimately they will be alright. Allows people to be unsure exactly about their sins, can lead to people working their way toward a less time in purgatory.(as a side note, I have seen in a Catholic Church a place where you can pay money to have a candle lit. The candle represents praying saints who by their prayers can get people out of purgatory faster)

7) The veneration of relics and saints – The council of Trent also had some anathemas for anyone who denied that relics conferred the blessing of God, along with those who denied the practice of praying to the saints.

8) Mariology and other strange doctrines allowed to circulate openly – The assumption of Mary (see below), the immaculate conception of Mary, Mary was sinless, etc.

***Update*** My inlaws just returned from a cruise around Europe, where they visited some Catholic Churches, and I guess they were in two different Churches that both claimed to be the place where Mary ascended to heaven.

9) The apocrypha considered Holy Scripture  – This is a problem because neither Jesus nor the apostles quoted an apocryphal source once. All of the apocryphal books were penned during the intertestamental period when prophecy had ceased; all were written after Malachi, the last prophet, and before Christ. Therefore they cannot be inspired. Many of the points listed above are based upon teachings found in apocryphal literature rather than in the inspired Word of God.

There are more, but I will stop here. These are the big ones.

All of this to say that there are some serious differences between evangelicals and catholics on practically all of the important theological areas.

Not to say there are not similarities. Yes we both believe in Jesus. Yes we both believe in original sin, the fall, biblical history, and the universal need for salvation. Those similarities, however, do not make us compatible. The standard for faith must be the whole of Scripture and nothing more. The differences can seem subtle on the surface; in reality they are very great, and very dangerous!

When Tim Schroeder uses Reg Bibby’s data to suggest evangelicals consider partnerships with Catholic Churches, it is coming from the idea that together we can have a greater religious influence in Canada. God has not called us to have a religious influence. Instead he commands us regarding truth. God calls his church to love, embrace, proclaim, guard, and defend his truth in the midst of a world of lies and counterfeits. A church that does not guard the truth will become tainted by error and ultimately fruitless. There is to be unity among believers, but it is a unity in truth first and fellowship second.

The true church can have no partnership with the Catholic Church. Instead, we must approach them as ministers of God’s truth, calling them to the purity of God’s word and the simplicity of faith in Christ.

What it ultimately comes down to is that the Catholic church is not a partner in the gospel, but a mission field for the gospel.


Leadership Summit review part 2 – on Ministry

I didn’t write any of my thoughts on the session at the leadership summit with Reg Bibby and Tim Schroeder.  It is a shame I have waited so long to finish this post because these thoughts may no longer be on anyone else’s mind. I can’t let it rest now, there are things to be said before I continue with my “Salvation in Matthew” series.

There were two suggestions that were forwarded in that session that I want to address, I think they are crucial.

I’ll answer them in individual posts.

People are not looking for a church, they are looking for ministry.

This is a true statement indeed. It should be no surprise that people are looking for ministry. Everybody is needy in some way or the other, I can’t think of anyone whose life would be better without some ministry. I agree completely with the statement; where the problem comes in is it’s application.

“People aren’t looking for a church, they are looking for ministry, so go and give them ministry!” was essentially the message for Canadian churches in the Leadership summit session.

I think this may be the wrong message to send.

Churches ought to be firmly established on the solid rock of God’s revelation in the Scriptures. In them can be found God’s purpose, plan, provision and promises to his church. The scriptures will inform the mission, worship, theology, structure, direction, methodology, and ministry of the true church.

We are given plenty of instruction in scripture about how we are to engage and interact with unbelievers. In fact, we are given a ministry specifically just for them in 2nd Corinthians 5:

…All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

This is the ministry of the church, mandated by God.

People are looking for ministry, but that is not the ground by which the church ministers to them; nor does it determine the style of ministry the church should engage in. People may want us to deal with them in any number of ways, yet God alone knows all things, including what a persons true needs are.

Now please understand; There is nothing wrong with showing kindness to those around us, far from it. Only remember that the ministry of reconciliation is of eternal importance, and we ignore it at great cost. It is far easier to minister to others in a way that is socially acceptable than it is to minister to people in the way God has called us to minister to them. Often I think churches can take the easy way of serving without confronting, but what kindness is it to withhold from sinners the very message that can save them? I can say that because I know I personally do it all the time. I actively pray it would be otherwise! The Gospel is the power of God unto Salvation, remember! We are not to be ashamed of it! For churches to ignore it while pursuing other ministries is a gross reversal of priorities and a defection from the mandate to preach the gospel and make disciples.

Paul says in Romans that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God”. If sinners are not hearing the Word of God, then they are not coming to faith, regardless of what other ministries they are benefiting from. I think many Christians would say that it isn’t the churches job to be nice, but how many churches are known simply as “nice”? What good is that? The world is filled with Christ rejecters who are extremely nice. When they see the church being simply nice to everyone, that can often just confirm them in their sinful unbelief. “The’re just like me, so I must be okay!”

Nice doesn’t confront the world with the reality of their enmity with God. Only the work of the Spirit through the Living Word can do that. Well we have that Word! It has been given to us that we might proclaim it everywhere! Let us be persuaders of men, pleading with them to be reconciled to God for their great good and Christs great Glory!

One final note on principle.

A way to discern if a principle is valuable in taking you where you want to go is to carry it out as far as possible in your mind. If implementing the principle to the fullest extent leads you somewhere you don’t want to go, then chances are there is a flaw in the principle, even though it may seem wise at first.

“People are not looking for church, they are looking for ministry, so go minister to them.”

This statement follows a principle, and that principle can be extrapolated even further.  The next step would be to not do/be church because that is not what they are looking for. I don’t think anyone would jump to that conclusion, but if you follow the principle right to the end, that is where you end up. This informs me that the principle implied in the statement is faulty, though it might seem good at first.


Initial Thoughts on the Leadership Summit

Our church just finished up a weekend long event; we viewed some of the selected presenters from the Willow Creek Leadership Summit 2012.

My initial impressions are quite mixed.

I was quite blessed by what three of the speakers brought. Two left me frustrated if I will be honest.

Start with the good:

Henry Cloud – The Evil, The Foolish, and The Wise.

The wisdom presented here from proverbs was timely for me. I teach junior high, and already I was thinking of specific students for each of these categories. It also encouraged me to continue on in the way of wisdom; receiving correction and rebukes, asking for them even. I loved how he said “the bible says, and research has consistently proven over and over again….” AMEN! The Bible is glorious and perfect, and all our best discoveries in all of the discoveries in all the sciences will testify to the utter truthfulness of the scriptures, and of the God who breathed it.

Steven Furtick – Audacious Faith/

This was a message I needed. It was a powerful reminder to dig holes wherever I am, that our Lord might fill them; and it was a powerful encouragement for me to consider all the holes I have dug in the past year. There are many! I have dug a lot of holes lately, and to picture the Lord filling them with the waters of life bought me great joy. Indeed, whatever is not from faith is sin, so dig in faith!

John Dickson – Humilitas

I saw the glory of Jesus more here than in any other message. Jesus is the central figure in history, he is the great one; and to hear historians profess that the cross of Christ is the source for the western notion of humility was satisfying to my soul. To hear of God’s glorious humility in becoming a man, being obedient even to death of on a cross! What a wonder! Praise the Lord! I was also convicted; I often assume that my expertise in one area will translate into another. I am often wrong! Great reminder there.

Now the Bad:

Let me express my concern and my great passion.

I am concerned that in general, the church is not entirely sure what it is supposed to do exactly. Irwin McManus (and Bill Hybels at times) did nothing to alleviate this I am afraid. They both spoke well, and they both had some inspiring things to say; both men painted a picture of how the church could or should be. The problem is that in both their pictures, the church is serving the world. They promote a better church building a better world, it seems.

I have a problem with that, as bad as that might sound. I am interested in a better church, in a manner of speaking. But I am not really interested in making this world a better world.

Yes, I realize what I said. I understand that may isolate me from many people, and might be hard to understand. I’ll take it a step further and say that I don’t think the Church should be interested in making this world a better world either.

Before you decide never to stop by this blog again, let me explain. The reason that I don’t have any interest in making this world better is because Christ himself told us it would not get better. In fact, he promised the disciples it would get worse. Wars, Rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, and so on, right up until the end. Check Matthew 24 for Jesus description of the time between his first coming and his imminent return. It isn’t good, and doesn’t get better.

God isn’t helpless in this matter; he designed it.

He has given the church instruction for the time being, and “unlocking the God given creative potential in every person” is nowhere on the list.

I need to qualify this by saying that the church is to do good to all men, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. But you need to understand that that is a necessary outcome of our explicit mandate to worship and serve God.

Paul told a story of those who worshiped and served creation rather than the creator. It’s in Romans 1. It happens when people exchange the truth of God for a lie.

I want to go on, but I’ll leave it here for now, I obviously have to chew on this a bit more. All these ideas floating around…

I might be over reacting to what they said a bit; Perhaps the best way to say this is that many of the messages inspired lofty thoughts of what big things we’re going to do for God, and really, I have enough of those already. God doesn’t need the church to get stuff done for him. He will do it, through his church, in his time, according to his perfect plan. That is the testimony of human history.

I’m stopping there, but I’ll follow this post up with an entry on what the mandate of the church actually is. I have been meaning to do some work on that for a while now anyway, what a great opportunity!