Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Organized Religion

It seems to be a modern trend to want no organized religion. “We just want Christ” they say! Some have become so weary of the politics that dominate the church that they just want nothing to do with it. As bad as these things might be in the church, this is not a sufficient reason to abandon it. Those who choose to hold the view that we are to abandon all organized and disciplined religion for a more free-style, ad-hoc sort of worship are going to have to reject a good bit of scripture in doing so.

Consider the big picture. A good portion of the New Testament is addressed to specific churches in specific cities: “To the church of God which is at Corinth…”, “To the churches of Galatia”, “To the saints who are in Ephesus”, etc. I’m sure you can look up all the greetings Paul gives to the various churches. These weren’t just individual Christians out doing their own thing; they were organized into actual churches in their cities. The simple fact that Paul could address a letter to a church and have it reach the intended audience should show that there was an organized church in that city.

Secondly, consider 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 which culminates with the following statement: “Let all things be done decently and in order.” Our church services aren’t supposed to be wildly chaotic events. They should be done with order and without confusion. It is a good thing to meet at the same time every Sunday--that way people will know when the service is and they can make plans to be there. Even within the service there should be order. Paul tells us that at most two or three prophets should speak, and that the others should judge. People should be listening to the sermon and evaluating it according to what the scriptures say. The issue of tongues probably deserves its own discussion, but suffice it to say for now that things are to be done orderly. The idea that people should be doing as they please with regard to the church services is simply foreign to the Bible.

Hebrews 10: 23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.(NKJV)

The writer of Hebrews specifically warns his readers about abandoning the church for a more individualistic Christianity. Perhaps I’m wrong in calling it a modern idea in this respect because obviously some people had the same idea even then. Calvin’s commentary on this passage is worthy of consideration.
It is an evil which prevails everywhere among mankind, that every one sets himself above others, and especially that those who seem in anything to excel cannot well endure their inferiors to be on an equality with themselves. And then there is so much morosity almost in all, that individuals would gladly make churches for themselves if they could; for they find it so difficult to accommodate themselves to the ways and habits of others. The rich envy one another; and hardly one in a hundred can be found among the rich, who allows to the poor the name and rank of brethren. Unless similarity of habits or some allurements or advantages draw us together, it is very difficult even to maintain a continual concord among ourselves. Extremely needed, therefore, by us all is the admonition to be stimulated to love and not to envy, and not to separate from those whom God has joined to us, but to embrace with brotherly kindness all those who are united to us in faith. And surely it behaves us the more earnestly to cultivate unity, as the more eagerly watchful Satan is, either to tear us by any means from the Church, or stealthily to seduce us from it.

Part of the reason that Satan hates the Church is because it provides a good deal of certainty in confessions. It is much harder to go to church and still nurture your own little strange heresy--whatever that heresy might be. Paul exhorts us in Ephesians 4:14 that we shouldn’t be like little children anymore carried around by every wind of doctrine. In a sense, the church provides a solid foundation in which to take refuge from those winds. For more on why confessions are a good thing, consider my pastor’s article on “No Creed but Christ.”

The Belgic confession expresses a nice summary of these ideas:

Article XXVIII
Every One Is Bound to Join Himself to the True Church
We believe, since this holy congregation is an assembly of those who are saved, and outside of it there is no salvation, that no person of whatsoever state or condition he may be, ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself; but that all men are in duty bound to join and unite themselves with it; maintaining the unity of the Church; submitting themselves to the doctrine and discipline thereof; bowing their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ; and as mutual members of the same body, serving to the edification of the brethren, according to the talents God has given them.

And that this may be the more effectually observed, it is the duty of all believers, according to the Word of God, to separate themselves from all those who do not belong to the Church, and to join themselves to this congregation, wheresoever God has established it, even though the magistrates and edicts of princes were against it, yea, though they should suffer death or any other corporal punishment. Therefore all those who separate themselves from the same or do not join themselves to it act contrary to the ordinance of God.

Monday, June 27, 2005

And he died

The Sunday school lessons in my church lately have been in Genesis. They are written and edited by Synod and passed down to the congregations. Most of the lessons are very good, and they come in all different grade levels. Well, this last week I noticed that the lessons skipped Genesis 5 for some reason. I guess I really do know the reason they skipped it; I’m sure it is hard to make an entire lesson from the “Adam begat Seth, Seth begat Enosh” type stuff. This tends to bore little kids. Thousands of years can be glossed over in one chapter this way with nothing really interesting occurring from our prospective--at least nothing that God has chosen to tell us about.

There is one thing that really stood out to me in Genesis 5 though, but first I want to set the stage by quoting some of Genesis 3.
1Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said, "You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?"
2And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, "You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die."'
4Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. 5For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (NKJV)

Christ said that the devil is a liar and the father of lies. He does not abide in the truth because there is no truth in him. One of the most horrible parts of his lie to Eve was “you will not surely die.” Because of Adam and Eve’s sin, we all die. We are born into this world spiritually dead, and we will one day die physically.

I think this is a large part of the truth that Genesis 5 is trying to teach. The phrase “and he died” occurs eight times in the chapter. It is almost as if God is saying “Let’s see who was telling the truth.” So we have about eight generations or so from the Godly line of Seth that all died. (The fact that Enoch did not die is definitely worth noting, but knowing that only two people in the history of the world--Enoch and Elijah--have not seen death makes my point even clearer.) The chapter is depressing to read. The pattern is repeated over and over again:
6Seth lived one hundred and five years, and begot Enosh. 7After he begot Enosh, Seth lived eight hundred and seven years, and had sons and daughters. 8So all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years; and he died.

9Enosh lived ninety years, and begot Cainan. 10After he begot Cainan, Enosh lived eight hundred and fifteen years, and had sons and daughters. 11So all the days of Enosh were nine hundred and five years; and he died.

12Cainan lived seventy years, and begot Mahalalel. 13After he begot Mahalalel, Cainan lived eight hundred and forty years, and had sons and daughters. 14So all the days of Cainan were nine hundred and ten years; and he died.(NKJV)

God’s word proved to be true. I will remember that the next time I’m tempted to doubt the promises of God.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The covenant with David and Infant baptism

In my study of the covenants, I usually end up focusing on the one made with Abraham, the one made with Moses, and then the new covenant in the New Testament. These seem to be the big ones to be considered. I’ve always understood that the covenant with David was a natural extension on the other ones, but I didn’t think it was of as much importance until now. The thing is though, that Peter makes a huge deal of it at Pentecost. In my debating with various Baptists on infant baptism, the later part of the passage always comes up, but let me quote it here in more of its context:
Acts 2 29"Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, 31he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. 32This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. 33Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.

34"For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself:
"The LORD said to my Lord,
"Sit at My right hand,
35Till I make Your enemies Your footstool."'

36"Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."

37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?"

38Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call."(NKJV)

You see the covenant with David was built upon the previous ones with Abraham and Moses. Male infants were circumcised on the 8th day according to the law under the Davidic covenant. The main promise of the Davidic covenant is found in 2 Samuel 7:
12"When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men. 15But My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever."(NKJV)

Peter tells us in the Acts 2 passage that this promise is fulfilled in Jesus because Christ sits on the throne that David’s throne only pointed to. Christ sits on the throne in Heaven at the right hand of God the Father--the real throne.

Now right after Peter had finished explaining to these mainly Jewish men how Christ was the seed of David that would sit on the throne forever, they asked him what shall we do? The implied last part of the phrase is “to be saved.” Now that we know who Christ is, and we know that we are guilty of crucifying him, what shall we do? Peter’s answer is that they need to repent and be baptized. They need to turn from their previous ways and turn to the living God, for he will abundantly pardon. This is by no means a completely new idea. Consider Ezekiel 33:11 “Say to them: "As I live,' says the Lord GOD, "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?'” Even the baptism part isn’t really new. The Jews knew much about washings with water, but instead of saying be circumcised, he said be baptized. In my more systematic thinking, this was probably because the bloody ordinances, the sacrifices of the law, were all going away.

Repentance was always part of what God required of his people. This was not something new! Then he goes onto say that “the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call." (I’m skipping over the part about being baptized for the remission of sins in the interest of space ;-p). This has both new elements and old elements. This is definitely an expansion from what Israel had commonly thought. They believed they were special, and in a sense they were. To them the oracles and promises of God had been committed, but it wasn’t because they were a righteous people or more deserving of praise. As Paul said in Acts 17:30 “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.” God overlooked the gentiles at large before, but now the promise to Abraham that in his seed all the world should be blessed was going to be fulfilled.

And then, with all this background of the Davidic covenant, Peter says the promise is unto your children. This probably wasn’t even that significant to the Jews listening. Their children had been in the covenant for thousands of years already, and now the group to whom the promise was given was becoming even broader. It would be absolutely unthinkable for them to believe that baptism was not for their children--which included their infants. Of course this means that it is to their descendants as well; God has always dealt with families. As I wrote prior, God is merciful to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments!

Those who wish to argue that infants are not to be baptized have a very tough job. Peter relates the Davidic covenant to Christ in such a way that it is impossible to separate the promises to him from the promises of the New Covenant. The approximately 4000 years of Jewish history from Abraham to Christ speaks so loudly about the case for children being included in the covenant, that the fact the New Testament doesn’t abrogate the practice should be enough to settle the argument forever.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A Jealous God

The God of the Bible is a jealous God. He will not give his glory to another, nor will he share it with the sons of men. He alone is to be worshiped, and to worship any other is simply idolatry. The KJV uses a great phrase for this in Isaiah 45 and 46: none else. “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” Those chapters are filled with phrases like that; Jehovah is God and there is none else. There is no one else who can save you from the trial; there is no one else that can protect you from your enemies, and there is no one else that you are to give glory and worship to. All things come to us by his hand: “herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty” all come by his hand alone.

The fact that God is a jealous god has certain consequences in the real world. Sins against him are of worthy of unimaginable punishment. In our modern American society, we have an idea that very little comes to us because of our parents. Of course, we acknowledge that our genes are from our parents because we hold science in such high esteem, but there are so many other things that come to us by our parents as well. In the second commandment, God spoke about blessing and cursing that would come upon the children of those who believe and those who do not.
Exodus 20:4-6: You shall not make for yourself a carved image--any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

God visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations? My instantaneous reaction to this is that it is simply not fair. How can God judge me for what my father did or did not do? I’m not him; I’m not even like him! This is a problem when my political and secular views start to creep into my ideas about God. He has always dealt with families, and more specifically, with covenant heads of household.

The greatest example of this is Adam himself. As a covenant head of the whole human race, the curse he brought upon himself and his seed is with us to this day. We still labor against thorns and weeds, and women most definitely still have pain during childbirth. “Therefore, as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation…”

Christ himself is also a covenant head of household. He is the head of the household of all the people of God, and as the covenant head, he has redeemed us from the curse of the first Adam and given us the covenantal blessings that were lost. As Paul tells us in Galatians: “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree"), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

These blessings and cursing because of a father’s sin have far reaching consequences. An unwise father can leave his family in poverty for many generations, or he can leave them with wealth for many generations. Note though, that this doesn’t mean God doesn’t redeem people from sinful heritages, nor does he automatically redeem people from Godly heritages. The best example I can think of for this is Hezekiah. The Bible says: “And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done.” And yet, about his son: “And he did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed;”

I think a lot of the time these blessings and curses come in material ways. God may well choose to redeem people from an especially sinful heritage, but they will still struggle with having an unbelieving family, and perhaps with poverty and such. God may also choose to leave some from a Godly heritage unredeemed and yet they will enjoy the blessings of such a heritage. They will have the Biblical categories to think in and they will have a Godly family to support them. Those are not trivial blessings, but neither are they salvation. God does visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Him, but show mercy to thousands, to those who love Him and keep His commandments!

Friday, June 17, 2005

Waiting on the Lord

You know, the phrase “wait on the LORD” occurs five times in the New King James Version of the Bible according to Bible Gateway.
Psalm 27:14
Wait on the LORD; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the LORD!

Psalm 37:9
For evildoers shall be cut off; But those who wait on the LORD, They shall inherit the earth.

Psalm 37:34
Wait on the LORD, And keep His way, And He shall exalt you to inherit the land; When the wicked are cut off, you shall see it.

Isaiah 8:17
And I will wait on the LORD, Who hides His face from the house of Jacob; And I will hope in Him.

Isaiah 40:31
But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.

Tomorrow is my 23rd birthday. You know, when I thought about how my life would go, I always imagined I would be married by 23, have a nice house, a nice job, and be beginning the work of raising a family to the glory of God. The thing is, I’m not married, I have a decent job, I own my own place now, and my life seems to be on hold. For once in my life, I have no idea where I am going in life. You see I’m the kind of person that knew what I wanted to major in when I was a junior in high school. I progressed rapidly through college thinking that when I got out, I could be married and get on with real life. The Lord evidently has other plans.

All of these verses made me think about waiting on the Lord. Look at the great promises associated with waiting on the Lord! He shall strengthen your heart, you shall inherit the land, you shall run and not grow weary—what wonderful promises! When I compare this attitude to mine of bitterness and anger at God for not having a wife, I see an utter disconnect. I should have suspected that the Word of God would have this effect though; it is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. I should be joyful and thankful for all that I do have! There are plenty of people in the world who have it no where near as good as I do, and I’m here complaining about no wife.

For some reason, while I was going to spend some time in the restroom :-p, I decided to pick up Joshua Harris’s book “Boy meets Girl” and reread some section. I randomly flipped to the following section:

“David talked to his pastor, Kenneth, who listened patiently as he vented his frustration. ‘Dave, I think you’ve made an idol out of marriage,’ Kenneth told him.
‘No, no I’m past that!’ David protested. ‘I prayed about it. I evaluated my heart. I was content being single before I approached her.’
‘That’s good,’ Kenneth said. ‘But look at your response to her lack of interest: you grew bitter; you got angry. That leads me to think that you want marriage too much. It’s become a little substitute god in your life, and when you didn’t get it, you reacted sinfully.’
John Calvin wrote, ‘The evil in our desire typically does not lie in what we want, but in that we want it too much.’”

Instantly, I was reminded of my many conversations/arguments with the German about this very subject. As much as I wanted to say I wasn’t basing my happiness on this, my actions testified to something else. Look what I did after the latest rejection: I took 5 shots of 151, and started telling people it really wouldn’t matter if they came home to find me dead in my house. How utterly foolish could I be?!?! I knew people would care, but in my bitterness I didn’t want them to. I wanted to believe that nothing really mattered and that nothing I did to myself would really affect anyone else. Well Mr. German, I think you are and were right. I have made marriage into an idol. How to depose it I don’t know, but I do know it is there now.

Well as cheesy as it sounds, to those dear friends that saw me hit that valley in life, you will probably never know how much your words and friendship have meant to me. God has richly blessed me with Godly Christian friends who go deeper than just was meets the eye. I pray that God will reward you for your good deeds in unimaginable, amazing ways, in this life or the next.

Hezekiah’s prayer

There are many good prayers in the Bible, but for me, Hezekiah’s prayer in 2 Kings 19 is one of the best. It comes at a time when Judah is threatened by Sennacherib, the king of Assyria. Sennacherib has sent messengers to tell Jerusalem that it would be conquered and given into the hands of the Assyrians.
15Then Hezekiah prayed before the LORD, and said: "O LORD God of Israel, the One who dwells between the cherubim, You are God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 16Incline Your ear, O LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, O LORD, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to reproach the living God. 17Truly, LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands, 18and have cast their gods into the fire; for they were not gods, but the work of men's hands--wood and stone. Therefore they destroyed them. 19Now therefore, O LORD our God, I pray, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the LORD God, You alone."(NKJV)
This prayer is packed with emotion as well as faith in the Lord, but this emotion and faith are not in just any random thing—they are in the promises and covenants of God which he made long ago. One of the phrases that really sticks out to me is “the One who dwells between the cherubim.” This is a meaning packed statement. I believe there are at least two meanings in this phrase. The first one is that God dwells in heaven between the cherubim there. Just as in the Lord’s prayer, “Our Father who art in heaven,” we should have no earthly conception of God. God is in heaven and we are on earth.

The other meaning is that he is the God of Israel who dwells in the Holy of Holies. Remember the Ark of the Covenant had two golden cherubim on it, so referring to the one who dwells between the cherubim would be referencing the God who had promised the redeemer to Israel. This would bring to mind all of the covenantal promises to the mind of the Jew. This was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob--the God who had done all the great wonders and brought his people Israel out from the land of Egypt.

Hezekiah then goes on to acknowledge that God alone is the only living God. As my pastor always says, “It is a good prayer to pray for the glory of God.” He doesn’t deny what the Assyrians have done; they have indeed laid waste to all those other kingdoms, but Hezekiah realizes that even that is in the hands of God. God has ordained this from times past! This is comforting to know that God is in control; that not a hair can fall from our heads without his will. May we always remember that in our deepest, darkest trials.

Friday, June 10, 2005

True happiness in the real world

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Thomas Jefferson believed that one of the fundamental rights of man was the pursuit of happiness. Now, this is probably not true in the ultimate sense of God’s decree. God does what he pleases—we are not autonomous from him. In terms of human governments though, Jefferson is right.

The question I wish to ask and suggest an answer for is: what is the proper way to pursue it? Where can you find real happiness?
Isaiah 55:1-3
Ho! Everyone who thirsts,
Come to the waters;
And you who have no money,
Come, buy and eat.
Yes, come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without price.
2Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And let your soul delight itself in abundance.
3Incline your ear, and come to Me.
Hear, and your soul shall live;
And I will make an everlasting covenant with you--
The sure mercies of David.(NKJV)

First, I believe it is a good observation that the waters, wine, milk, and bread in this passage are not physical wine, bread, etc. This is shown by the fact that we are told to come and buy it without money and without price. No, this is spiritual food that is from the hand of God himself. Calvin has a good comment on verse 3:
This assemblage of words makes still more evident what I slightly mentioned a little before, that God leaves nothing undone which is fitted to correct and arouse our tardiness. Yet there is an implied reproof; for they must be excessively stupid who, when they are so gently called, do not instantly obey. This is a remarkable passage, from which we see that our whole happiness lies in obeying the word of God. When God speaks in this manner, the object which he has in view is to lead us to life; and therefore the blame lies wholly with ourselves, because we disregard this saving and life‑giving word.

“Our whole happiness lies in obeying the word of God.” Man, that is a statement if I ever saw one. Our real happiness lies in obeying our Creator. “And let your soul delight itself in abundance.” This abundance we are to feast on is the Word of God. It is so liberating to mediate on the Word when everything around you is trying to destroy your happiness. I need to stop worrying about all the things happening around me and concentrate on inclining my ear to God. It is only then that those other things come into their proper prospective.

In last week’s sermon, my pastor talked about the Bible keeping us connected to reality—keeping us “connected to the world as it really is.” The text was Psalm 115, which makes a contrast between the God who lives and the vain idols of men.
Psalm 115:3-8
3But our God is in heaven;
He does whatever He pleases.
4Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of men's hands.
5They have mouths, but they do not speak;
Eyes they have, but they do not see;
6They have ears, but they do not hear;
Noses they have, but they do not smell;
7They have hands, but they do not handle;
Feet they have, but they do not walk;
Nor do they mutter through their throat.
8Those who make them are like them;
So is everyone who trusts in them.(NKJV)

The phrases that stuck with me the most about the sermon was the utter contrast Pastor made between these idols and the living God. Look at the irony: these idols have noses, ears, mouths, etc, and yet they can’t smell, hear, speak, see or anything, and YET the God who is in heaven, who does not have eyes, ears, a nose or mouth sees, hears, smells and speaks. People become like the God they serve, so for us to really see and really hear we must serve the God who is not of the earth. Check out the sermon here if you want. It is the June 5, 2005 one.

We must serve the true God if we are ever to have real happiness in the real world.