We Must Do the Impossible

20 November 2012 by Neil

Do we have a part in sanctification? Absolutely we do. Here is a part that you may, nay must play:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” -- Matthew 28:18-20
You play an essential role... in the sanctification of others. Because that is what it means to make disciples. Now the Great Commission urges us to make disciples everywhere, but it doesn't really tell us how to do the job does it? Maybe the ability to make disciples is perhaps a gift that not all good Christians possess. Perhaps your calling is different.

Bosh. Piffle. You must make disciples, Disciples of Christ. The King of the universe, the one with all authority has commanded you to do so. And yes, he does tell you how to do it.

Becoming a disciple of Christ means that one is baptized and that one learns and observes all the commandments and teachings of Christ. A lightning fast read through the four Gospels reveals that Christ taught a number of things. You're gonna have to study and know and teach your charge all that stuff. Jesus quoted from the Old Testament a lot, so you'll likely have to know that too. Jesus gave direct revelation to Paul, so you also have to teach his stuff. And you know that the dry facts are not the point: we need to teach the meaning and the warp and the woof. We need to help our brother or sister understand what it means to serve the only God, to turn our backs on our things, to be reviled, and yes to be prepared even to die for Christ if it comes to that. There's a lot to learn, and there's a lot for the heart to embrace, and it's not going to happen all at once. It seems that making a disciple of Christ is not a singular event, but rather a dogged journey.

So whatcha call a disciple-in-training? Let's call him an apprentice. You have been commanded by your God to teach your apprentice to observe (that is, live, breathe, speak, and act out) all that Jesus commanded. So how you gonna do it? Stand behind a lectern and hold forth? Write occasional posts for a calvinist blog? Quote the meanings and cognates of Hebrew and koine Greek words? Of course there is a place for those things, and the place might even be in the discipleship process of your apprentice. But if imparting your fancy book learning is as much as you dare, then you are not making disciples, and you are flouting the command of Jesus.

Let's look at how Paul did discipling:
For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. -- 1 Corinthans 4:15-18
The discipler loves like a father. The apprentice is a beloved follower. The discipler sets an example, and lives with the confidence that the apprentice will do well to watch and learn. The discipler urges the apprentice to imitate him. The apprentice is faithful and grows to become a discipler himself. The discipler holds the apprentice accountable. The discipler does not grow weary; he is in this until the end.

And let's see how Jesus did it:
And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere. -- Luke 9:1-6
Here, the God with all power and authority gives his apprentices some awesome bits of power and authority, and then almost paradoxically sends them out vulnerable, with no safety net. You have the clothes on your back and that's it. No cash, no chocolate bars, no nuthin'. He commanded them to go, and told them to rely upon the hospitality of others. And oh yeah, he told them that some of the others would be “unwelcoming”. Would they have some cold nights and hungry days? I think so. Would they get discouraged? Be unsafe? Oh yes. Jesus didn't shy away from difficult lessons, and he didn't cut the crusts off of their PBJ sandwiches. And what did the Master Discipler do with his apprentices when they returned separately from their difficult adventures?
On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. -- Luke 9:10.
They reported and they talked and they learned. They talked about highs and lows. This must have taken considerable time. Then they went somewhere alone, the discipler and his apprentices, and it's a safe conjecture that they talked some more. The Discipler gave his all to his apprentices. He gave his heart. He was their friend. Another question... were the theologies of these apprentices fully baked when they set out? No they were not!

We know from later in the Gospel that these guys did not yet grasp the purpose of Jesus' incarnation. They were loopy about a lot of stuff (as are you and me, truth be told). And yet Jesus sent them and gave them responsibility for what they did know. And yet another thing, wasn't one of those twelve going to betray him? But not matter; Jesus went ahead and discipled Judas. That should knock the wind from any notion that we should assess the suitability or discipleship potential of our potential apprentices. Listen, we are none of us suitable! Every one of us is limited, both apprentice and discipler. We are incorrigible, yet God gives us grace to become his disciples. We are weak, but God decrees that we must do the impossible, and make disciples. We were not a people, but God sets us apart to be a people bearing his name. Finally, remember this: Jesus did not command you to make disciples because he's short of just the kind of help that you can offer. The God who holds everything together and has all power and authority is not thinking how lucky he is to have you on his ministry team. Instead, count yourself blessed that he chooses to use a wobbly, failing goof like you to be an instrument in the sanctification of his children.

Now go and make disciples.


Needled about Faith

19 November 2012 by Tom Chantry

Q. 73. How doth faith justify a sinner in the sight of God?
A. Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receiveth and applieth Christ and his righteousness.

A few unfortunates in our world have allergies so severe they must carry with them an epinephrine injection. If they should ever come into contact with a honeybee or a peanut or, heaven forbid, a latex glove, they can open up their single-dose pre-filled automatic injection device and jam it into a thigh, thus preventing sudden and horrible death.

On such an occasion, the not-so-unfortunate might say, “My epinephrine saved me,” or, if he has a certain sense of humor, he might instead say, “My single-dose pre-filled automatic injection device saved me.” Both statements would be true, though not in the same way.

The difference is important. A needle won’t stop an allergic reaction, no matter how advanced and state-of-the-art a needle it might be. It is only the instrument by which one receives and applies epinephrine. Put more bluntly, if you have a severe enough reaction, you can jam empty needles in your thigh all day without doing any good. Epinephrine arrests deadly reactions; needles do not.

Nevertheless, the needle matters. I’m sure those who need them are glad for the availability of single-dose pre-filled automatic injection devices. Without them, lives would be lost.

Likewise, don’t despise faith; without it none will be justified in the sight of God. But don’t think that your faith makes you just. It is only the instrument by which you may receive and apply the justifying righteousness of Christ.

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Calvinism in the face of Catastrophe

07 November 2012 by FX Turk

Tom Chantry actually wrote this last night, and sent it to me. I am posting it as I endorse it entirely.
-- Frank

Although I’ve been worried about this election for months, only in the aftermath did I realize that I never really thought our country would re-elect a President who has been such an abject failure by any and every measure. It just didn’t seem possible that we would do so, and so at some level I didn’t expect it at all. As the results rolled in, I found myself reeling, unable to take in the enormity of what has happened to our nation. I scarcely slept, unable to stop running through the implications of the disaster. I was, to put it mildly, knocked down and stunned.

But God is gracious, and eventually I slept, and this morning I find myself back up off the mat. Looking back, I can see what it was that took me so by surprise. I allowed myself to think too highly of my country - to imagine that the American optimists were right and that there is something exceptional and wonderful in the American spirit which pulls us through the worst crises. That smugness was knocked out of me by a series of blows as I realized anew that we are a culture of sin, a culture of stupidity, and a culture under judgment - none of which really surprises me in the light of day. Those blows absolutely leveled me last night, but today I’m standing. Here’s why:

The reelection of President Obama demonstrates the wickedness of America. Make no mistake about it: a vote for the President was a wicked act. It is not sufficient to say that he is pro-abortion; the man is in favor of offing unwanted kids outside the womb as well. He not only celebrates the lifestyle of perversion; he wishes to deconstruct God’s institution of marriage for the benefit of the perverts, one of whom he appointed as a judge over us. On every point of American policy in which there is a clear side of righteousness and a clear side of wickedness, he stands with the devils rather than the angels.

Most Americans, though, did not vote for him for those reasons. The majority does not hold his extreme position on infanticide, and every referendum shows that the majority does not agree to the institutional legitimizing of perversion. But on the issues of this election his position is also on the side of evil. As I wrote two years ago in my political credo, fiscal policy is also moral in nature. The unavoidable reality of this election is that when Governor Romney ran on fiscal sanity, the majority decided to cast their votes in favor of more free stuff from the government.

In other words, last night’s vote demonstrates one fundamental evil that has overtaken our society. Today’s voter is unimpressed by the biblical ethic of work and responsibility; neither is he too ashamed to engage in systematic theft. We have become Greece. Only a nation of wicked thieves could have produced last night’s results. So if I imagined that my countrymen were too good to re-elect this man, I was brought to a rude awakening.

But the second blow was even more unexpected:

The reelection of President Obama demonstrates the stupidity of America. I know, I should be using a softer word than “stupid,” but as I said, I didn’t sleep much. The Scriptures teach that sin makes us stupid. Paul’s argument in the first chapter of Romans is essentially this: there is no fact more obvious than the existence of a Creator who deserves our worship, but sinful men refuse to see it, and in their wickedness they become driveling idiots. Paul said it much better, but that was his point.

Moreover, we see this truth enacted all around us - and in our own lives - every day. How often have you continued in a self-destructive sin, all the while knowing that it can only bring you to grief? How often have you tried to convince a friend or a child of the obvious error of his ways, only to discover that his sin has too great a hold to be broken by common sense. In fact, this is why “common sense” isn’t common; it is countered on every side by common iniquity.

Yesterday the prevailing sin of our nation led to an electoral suicide. Never in our history have so many voted against their own self-interest. Retired seniors voted for a President who will destroy their health care system and bankrupt their social security. Out-of-work college graduates voted for a President who considers 7.9% unemployment a huge victory. Black Americans voted overwhelmingly for a President whose policies left them far worse off than they were before.

How do we account for this electoral lunacy? It’s simple, if you’ve read Romans 1. Sin makes you stupid, and we are a nation of gross sinners. So if I thought my countrymen were too smart to re-elect this man, I was predictably wrong again.

But even this realization did not rob me of sleep last night. The knockout blow was yet to come:

The reelection of President Obama demonstrates God’s judgment on America. It’s pretty hard to overstate how bad this election is. For starters, the President’s policy remains to raise taxes, raise regulations, and deplete the nation of energy. We’ve been calling this downturn a “recession” for a long time; soon we’ll recognize it for what it is. As more businesses are shuttered, as loans dry up, and as greater and greater numbers are out of work we will have to start calling it the “Second Depression.” By the end of this term there is expected to be a severe shortage of doctors as we actively demolish the world’s greatest health-care system. China is now free to continue manipulating its currency, Russia is free to point its nukes wherever it pleases, and Iran is free to continue being Iran. It’s bad - very bad.

But what did we expect? As I said in my earlier article, it’s all very well and good to have a fiscal revolution, because fiscal policy is a moral issue, but it does nothing to address the deeper problems of our body politic. Did we really think that God would be content to allow us to continue ignoring his laws - to continue embracing perversion and executing our infants - and that He would never bring an end to our wealth? Did we think he would take no notice of a nation descending into vileness while His churches churned out a perpetual circus act? In fact, judgment was predictable, and now we know the form that it has taken.

In Romans 1 Paul explained that sometimes God’s judgment comes in the form of allowing us to descend into greater wickedness. Complain about His manna and He will force-feed you quail until you are nauseated by it. Love evil, and God will give you your fill of it and more. What we are seeing is the judgment of the American populace. We have loved wickedness, and God has elevated a Degenerate to rule over us. The Lord is just, and we are about to discover exactly what that means.

So I was staggered and overcome. The thought of the horrors that we must now undergo was too much for me. So why am I up off the canvas today, ready to resume my responsibilities as a Christian man?

The church has the only answer to the sin and stupidity of our nation, and the only response to the judgment of our God. Now, don’t get me wrong; I don’t mean to suggest that as Christians we have the gospel and so we should retreat into a neo-monasticism in which we refuse to take part in the political life of the nation. We were right to cast a vote for a man who is relatively upright and who espoused relatively upright policies. We are right to weep today over the destruction that has come upon us. In fact, if you are unready to get up off the mat today, I don’t blame you. If you cannot smile, I sympathize. Ultimately, though, it’s true: we have the only answer.

Policies can address political circumstances, but they cannot address the fundamental weaknesses of the American soul. Where we stand today is not so radically different from where we stood in, say, 1980. We don’t need another Reagan; we need the Holy Spirit. If men are to turn from their sin and discover the wisdom that comes from serving God, they do not need better government, but the message which has been entrusted to the church.

This election was a catastrophe; there is no reason to pretend otherwise. Furthermore, it demonstrates the far deeper perils which threaten us. But we are Christians, and we know the answer, and He is the Prince of Peace. Let’s be busy about the work of His kingdom today.

Does Not At All

06 November 2012 by FX Turk

For some, on hearing that liberty is promised in the gospel, a liberty which acknowledges no king and no magistrate among men, but looks to Christ alone, think that they can receive no benefit from their liberty so long as they see any power placed over them. Accordingly, they think that nothing will be safe until the whole world is changed into a new form, when there will be neither courts, nor laws, nor magistrates, nor anything of the kind to interfere, as they suppose, with their liberty. But he who knows to distinguish between the body and the soul, between the present fleeting life and that which is future and eternal, will have no difficulty in understanding that the spiritual kingdom of Christ and civil government are things very widely separated.

Seeing, therefore, it is a Jewish vanity to seek and include the kingdom of Christ under the elements of this world, let us, considering, as Scripture clearly teaches, that the blessings which we derive from Christ are spiritual, remember to confine the liberty which is promised and offered to us in him within its proper limits. For why is it that the very same apostle who bids us “stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not again entangled with the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1), in another passage forbids slaves to be solicitous about their state (1 Cor. 7:21), unless it be that spiritual liberty is perfectly compatible with civil servitude? In this sense the following passages are to be understood: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female” (Gal. 3:28). Again, “There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all and in all” (Col. 3:11). It is thus intimated, that it matters not what your condition is among men, nor under what laws you live, since in them the kingdom of Christ does not at all consist.

-- John Calvin, Institutes, IV, 20:1

Our Duty

05 November 2012 by FX Turk

And certainly it were a very idle occupation for private men to discuss what would be the best form of polity in the place where they live, seeing these deliberations cannot have any influence in determining any public matter. Then the thing itself could not be defined absolutely without rashness, since the nature of the discussion depends on circumstances. And if you compare the different states with each other, without regard to circumstances, it is not easy to determine which of these has the advantage in point of utility, so equal are the terms on which they meet.

Monarchy is prone to tyranny. In an aristocracy, again, the tendency is not less to the faction of a few, while in popular ascendancy there is the strongest tendency to sedition.  When these three forms of government, of which philosophers treat, are considered in themselves, I, for my part, am far from denying that the form which greatly surpasses the others is aristocracy, either pure or modified by popular government, not indeed in itself, but because it very rarely happens that kings so rule themselves as never to dissent from what is just and right, or are possessed of so much acuteness and prudence as always to see correctly. Owing, therefore, to the vices or defects of men, it is safer and more tolerable when several bear rule, that they may thus mutually assist, instruct, and admonish each other, and should any one be disposed to go too far, the others are censors and masters to curb his excess.

This has already been proved by experience, and confirmed also by the authority of the Lord himself, when he established an aristocracy bordering on popular government among the Israelites, keeping them under that as the best form, until he exhibited an image of the Messiah in David. And as I willingly admit that there is no kind of government happier than where liberty is framed with becoming moderation, and duly constituted so as to be durable, so I deem those very happy who are permitted to enjoy that form, and I admit that they do nothing at variance with their duty when they strenuously and constantly labour to preserve and maintain it. Nay, even magistrates ought to do their utmost to prevent the liberty, of which they have been appointed guardians, from being impaired, far less violated. If in this they are sluggish or little careful, they are perfidious traitors to their office and their country.

But should those to whom the Lord has assigned one form of government, take it upon them anxiously to long for a change, the wish would not only be foolish and superfluous, but very pernicious. If you fix your eyes not on one state merely, but look around the world, or at least direct your view to regions widely separated from each other, you will perceive that Divine Providence has not, without good cause, arranged that different countries should be governed by different forms of polity. For as only elements of unequal temperature adhere together, so in different regions a similar inequality in the form of government is best. All this, however, is said unnecessarily to those to whom the will of God is a sufficient reason. For if it has pleased him to appoint kings over kingdoms, and senates or burgomasters over free states, whatever be the form which he has appointed in the places in which we live, our duty is to obey and submit.

-- John Calvin, Institutes, IV 20:8

Every Kind of Government

02 November 2012 by FX Turk

With regard to the function of magistrates, the Lord has not only declared that he approves and is pleased with it, but, moreover, has strongly recommended it to us by the very honorable titles which he has conferred upon it. To mention a few:

When those who bear the office of magistrate are called gods, let no one suppose that there is little weight in that appellation. It is thereby intimated that they have a commission from God, that they are invested with divine authority, and, in fact, represent the person of God, as whose substitutes they in a manner act. This is not a quibble of mine, but is the interpretation of Christ. “If Scripture,” says he, “called them Gods, to whom the word of God came.” What is this but that the business was committed to them by God, to serve him in their office, and (as Moses and Jehoshaphat said to the judges whom they were appointing over each of the cities of Judah) to exercise judgment, not for man, but for God?

To the same effect Wisdom affirms, by the mouth of Solomon, “By me kings reign, and princes decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth” (Prov. 8:15, 16). For it is just as if it had been said, that it is not owing to human perverseness that supreme power on earth is lodged in kings and other governors, but by Divine Providence, and the holy decree of Him to whom it has seemed good so to govern the affairs of men, since he is present, and also presides in enacting laws and exercising judicial equity.

This Paul also plainly teaches when he enumerates offices of rule among the gifts of God, which, distributed variously, according to the measure of grace, ought to be employed by the servants of Christ for the edification of the Church (Rom. 12:8). In that place, however, he is properly speaking of the senate of grave men who were appointed in the primitive Church to take charge of public discipline. This office, in the Epistle to the Corinthians, he calls κυβερνήσεις, governments (1 Cor. 12:28).

Still, as we see that civil power has the same end in view, there can be no doubt that he is recommending every kind of just government. He speaks much more clearly when he comes to a proper discussion of the subject. For he says that “there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God;” that rulers are the ministers of God, “not a terror to good works, but to the evil” (Rom. 13:1, 3). To this we may add the examples of saints, some of whom held the offices of kings, as David, Josiah, and Hezekiah; others of governors, as Joseph and Daniel; others of civil magistrates among a free people, as Moses, Joshua, and the Judges. Their functions were expressly approved by the Lord. Wherefore no man can doubt that civil authority is, in the sight of God, not only sacred and lawful, but the most sacred, and by far the most honorable  of all stations in mortal life.
-- John Calvin, Institutes, IV 20:4

Having God as our Father

31 October 2012 by FX Turk

By an argument, taken from what is annexed or what follows, he proves that our salvation consists in having God as our Father. It is for children that inheritance is appointed: since God then has adopted us as his children, he has at the same time ordained an inheritance for us. He then intimates what sort of inheritance it is — that it is heavenly, and therefore incorruptible and eternal, such as Christ possesses; and his possession of it takes away all uncertainty: and it is a commendation of the excellency of this inheritance, that we shall partake of it in common with the only-begotten Son of God. It is however the design of Paul, as it will presently appear more fully, highly to extol this inheritance promised to us, that we may be contented with it, and manfully despise the allurements of the world, and patiently bear whatever troubles may press on us in this life.

Various are the interpretations of this passage, but I approve of the following in preference to any other, “We are co-heirs with Christ, provided, in entering on our inheritance, we follow him in the same way in which he has gone before.” And he thus made mention of Christ, because he designed to pass over by these steps to an encouraging strain, — “God’s inheritance is ours, because we have by his grace been adopted as his children; and that it may not be doubtful, its possession as been already conferred on Christ, whose partners we are become: but Christ came to it by the cross; then we must come to it in the same manner.” Nor is that to be dreaded which some fear, that Paul thus ascribes the cause of our eternal glory to our labors; for this mode of speaking is not unusual in Scripture. He denotes the order, which the Lord follows in dispensing salvation to us, rather than the cause; for he has already sufficiently defended the gratuitous mercy of God against the merits of works. When now exhorting us to patience, he does not show whence salvation proceeds, but how God governs his people.