Posts for March 2012
5 Posts found

The gift of repentance.
Posted: 9 March 2012 in Joel

The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the LORD come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call.

One of the things wrong with Arminiansm is that the Bible makes it crystal clear that it is God who directs the course of history, according to his own good pleasure and will. We are but players in the working out of his eternal purposes. As the passage from Joel makes clear, even repentance is only possible for those called to repent. A God who grants repentance to some of his creatures, but not others, is hardly a God those same creatures would be likely to invent for themselves. But that very fact is a prima facie reason for supposing the Bible to be speaking the truth, when it reports such to be the case.

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John 14.6 – Christian exclusivism
Posted: 7 March 2012 in John

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

I heard it again just recently: Namely that God wouldn’t condemn somebody for not believing in Christ if they had never heard of him. The problem with this line of argumentation is that it loses sight of sin as being the primary cause of condemnation. Disbelief in Christ only brings condemnation in the secondary sense that somebody was not availed themselves of the only means of salvation from the consequences of sin.

Suppose that five men were on trial for the same criminal offence, and at the end of the trial, when sentence is pronounced, each one has the option of a heavy fine, or a jail term of six years. What if four of them are lucky, and they had rich relations who were able to pay their fines for them, but the fifth one was not so lucky, and he went off to jail. Was he being treated unjustly because he was the only one given a jail term? Not really, he was just collecting the due reward of his nefarious activities.

Similarly, for Christians Christ plays the role of benevolent relative in saving us from the consequences of original sin, and we have it on the authority of the Bible that there is no other means of salvation except him. But that does not mean somebody who has never heard of Christ is being treated unjustly if he is condemned without ever having heard of Christ. He stands before God with the guilt which is shared by the entire human race.

If the attempt is made to argue that a Muslim, Hindu or atheist ought to be capable of salvation, because they have led good and moral lives, then we will very quickly find ourselves back with a religion which revolves around salvation through works – and one which overlooks the fact of original sin.

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John 17.1-5 – Our place in God’s universe.
Posted: 5 March 2012 in John

These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.

Whenever the Bible gives a motive for the actions of Jesus, or of God, that motive is almost always that God should thereby be glorified. Even when he punishes sin, it is because he has a concern for his own glory. In the Bible religion is very much God centred, whereas in the modern world it tends to be man centred. Probably it is that fact, more than anything else, which helped to empty the churches in Europe, with America following, not far behind. The surest sign of that process being underway in America is the so called prosperity gospel.

Once man has become religion’s central concern, it is not long before the idea begins to take hold that God is there to serve us, rather than us him. Then, when God begins to fall down on the job, as it seems to us, people begin to question whether he is there at all. That idea is reinforced when material prosperity seems to be something we are able to achieve for themselves, whilst ignoring God completely. So the process is complete, and the churches empty.

And what is the Church’s response to that? Well, they decide that they only have to have the prayer books in modern English, and they will have people come flooding back through the doors. When that fails, they only have to replace staid old organ music with pop music, and they will have people come flooding back through the doors. When that too fails, they only have to be socially “relevant,” and they will have people come flooding back through the doors. And so it goes on.

All the time those facile panaceas are being tried, the root cause of the problem is being ignored. And the root cause is simply that we have lost the sense of the transcendent and, with it, any sense of the true God, who dwells in unapproachable light. Instead we tha a stunted and domesticated god. Until God is set back on his throne (so to speak) and we resume our role as his servants, the churches will remain empty in Europe, and emptying in America.

Perhaps it isn’t altogether self evident that the way to fill churches is to emphasise the sovereignty and transcendence of a God who is Lord over all. In this consumer ridden society of ours, the idea certainly seems perverse. But unless the Church ditches the anaemic God theologians have constructed for themselves over the last hundred years, and reconnects with the God it is supposed to worship, it won’t stand a chance of reinvigorating itself.

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Haggai 1.7-10 – Seeking God’s glory before all else.
Posted: 2 March 2012 in Haggai

Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways. Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the LORD. Ye looked for much, and, lo it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the LORD of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house. Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit. And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labour of the hands.

In the New Testament Jesus tells his followers that nobody can serve both God and mammon, and, further, that they should take no thought for their material needs, but, as their first priority, always to seek the kingdom of God. To obey that injunction naturally requires both a commendable detachment from material wealth, and a great deal of faith in the providence of God. Neither of which exactly comes naturally to human beings: but to disobey is, as always, sinful.

The above passage carries much the same message as the sayings of Jesus, but in the more concrete situation of an actual disobedience. The recently returned exiles from the Babylon were putting the pursuit of material well being ahead of their obligation to serve and glorify God, and, in consequence, they were reaping the due reward of their disobedience. Being prepared to rely upon the providence of God is part of what it means to be a holy fool. If we put our physical welfare at the top of our list of priorities, in the world’s eyes, not to mention our own eyes, we are doubtless behaving in a way which is rational and sensible. But our lack of faith will not necessarily play well with God. That is a hard lesson.

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Matthew 10.32-33 – Being holy fools for Christ’s sake.
Posted: 1 March 2012 in Matthew

“Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.”

I suppose the difficulty we experience in allowing ourselves to be holy fools will, in large measure, depend upon the extent to which our sense of self worth depends upon the world’s approval. If we define ourselves in terms of (say) our success as a great computer programmer, and if, in order to climb the career ladder, we need the recommendation of our boss – who just happens to be a fairly militant atheist, then we might be tempted to play down our commitment to Christ. But if, on the other hand, we identify ourselves primarily in terms of our relationship to God and his word, it will be relatively easy to sit light to the opinion of the world and its spokesmen.

Being fools for Christ’s sake does not mean that we must put our brains in the deep freeze, or ignore evidence from extra biblical sources, such as science, but it does mean that we must be prepared to live with the scorn a world which has little time for God or his word. If we would disdain from being holy fools in that sense, the following passage from Ezekiel warns of the consequences for ourselves.

When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul. (Ezekiel 3.18-19)

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