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Archive for September, 2013

Unlike many Roman Catholics, I grew up very devout.  I remember a kind, retired priest taking me under his wing and showing me the ways of the Catholic church.  Much of what drew me in as a young teen was the mystery of God and the reverence with which this particular priest approached God.  With time, however, the more questions I had, the more the mysteries began to dissipate in the light of God’s Word.  I don’t want to rehearse my personal journey out of the Catholic church here; what’s important to note is that theological mystery is good for the Catholic church and many Catholics are content to live “in the dark” about what the Catholic church explicitly teaches in many areas.

I, for one, am glad the Pope said what he said concerning atheists and eternal life.  To many in the secular media, the Pope’s admission that atheists who follow their conscience are heaven-bound will sound like a new and welcome break from the dogma of conservative Catholicism, represented most recently in Benedict.  The media elites will celebrate Pope Francis as a liberal breath of fresh air in the stuffy halls of the Vatican.  Others within evangelicalism will be aghast at such an “admission” and rebuke the Pope for diverging from Catholic dogma.  However, this Pope has duped both the secular media and conservative evangelicals if they think the Pope has said anything new or controversial.  In fact, what Pope Francis stated has been the normative teaching of the Roman Catholic Church since Vatican II.

In Lumen Gentium, Chapter 2-On the People of God, Canon 16, the Catholic Church teaches:

Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God.(18*) In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh.(125) On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues.(126); But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things,(127) and as Saviour wills that all men be saved.(128) Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.(19*) Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.(20*) She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.(129) Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, “Preach the Gospel to every creature”,(130) the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.

So yes, since Vatican II the Catholic Church has taught that anyone who has “not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God” may be saved.  So long as those who know not, deny or are ignorant of God “strive to live a good life,” they will merit eternal life because the church sees this “goodness” as “given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life.”  When Pope Francis admitted that atheists who follow the dictates of their conscience go to heaven, he was merely quoting Catholic dogma.  Here is the pertinent statement:

Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.

However, it’s not just atheists who go to heaven according to the Catholic Church; it is also Jews, Muslims (Mohamedans), those acknowledging their creator and those seeking an “unknown god.”  Anyone, anywhere who sincerely seeks truth, light will find life according to the Catholic Church.

To be sure, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that salvation is only through Christ’s sacrificial and atoning work on the cross.  So the Catholic Church teaches that salvation is through Christ and no other.  However, the Church would say that one does not need to express explicit faith in Christ to be saved.  This is the official position of the Catholic Church: inclusivism.  Evangelicals have argued that the Bible teaches that salvation is only through Christ’s sacrificial and atoning work on the cross AND that one must believe in Christ, receiving his cross work on their behalf and turning away from a life of sin: exclusivism or particularism.

Recently, some “evangelicals”, like the Catholic Church, have also embraced inclusivism: i.e., John Sanders (1991), Clark Pinnock (1995)Terrance Tiessen (2004).  Unfortunately, their influence has grown.  However, it’s not hard to understand why.  You only have ask a number of people in your church the age-old question about the man on the deserted island who’s never heard of Christ and never will.  What happens to him?  What happens to those who never hear the gospel?  It is an emotional question, and we are inclined to give an emotional answer.

Nevertheless, we must work through the difficult topics and teach what the Bible says rather than shrouding difficult doctrines in mystery.  Mystery only works when people ask no questions.  Even hard questions deserve answers. When we think carefully about the difficult question concerning the fate of those who have never heard the gospel, we should be moved to feel the urgency of the church’s mission.  The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  However, if it doesn’t matter whether or not people hear the gospel and place explicit faith in Christ for salvation, then we will do more harm than good when we go on mission, for if we go and they reject Christ, then their fate will be sealed.

A Couple of Resources for Thinking Through Pluralism, Universalism, Inclusivism & Particularism

Faith Comes by Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism, edited by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson.

Is Jesus the Only Savior? by Ronald H. Nash

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Jesus on Every Page

I just received my copy of Jesus on Every Page by David Murray.  I highly recommend it to all who want to understand how to read the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, with a view to Christ.  Here’s my endorsement:

Much has been written for seminary students and pastors on interpreting all of Scripture with a view to Christ.  Unfortunately, very little has been written with the average Christian in mind.  In Jesus on Every Page, David Murray sets out to correct this deficiency by sharing his own journey of discovery and providing ten simple ways to see Christ in the Old Testament.  No longer is the person in the pew left to wonder how the preacher got to Jesus from that text in Leviticus about dietary restrictions; she will be able to make the connections herself.  I hope you will read Jesus on Every Page and embark on your own “Emmaus road” and discover that the entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments, tells the story of Jesus.

Categories : Commentary, Resources
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Knowing that we are sent on mission in a hostile environment (Matthew 10:16), and having prepared ourselves for hostilities should they arise (Matthew 10:16-22), how are we to respond to persecution when the time comes?

Don’t be anxious over words, but trust the Holy Spirit to recall what you’ve been taught (10:19-20).
Though these instructions deal directly with the twelve whom Jesus is sending out in the Galilean mission (10:5), it is appropriate to hear this promise for a time beyond their immediate mission.  After all, the reality of being brought before Gentile rulers for the purpose of witness (10:18) does not occur until after Pentecost.  Specifically, the promise is that the Spirit of our Father will guide our words.  We too have received the promised Spirit and should find hope in the promise that in the cases when we may be dragged before officials, be they religious or civil, we can trust God’s Spirit to guide our words as well.

This promise does not mean that we are excused from studying God’s word.  This promise helps us realize that in some of the most difficult circumstances when we may be at a loss for words, God’s Spirit will guide us and help us recall the word that has taken root in our hearts: the word that we have read and studied and meditated on, in fact, all that we have been taught.  Therefore, Jesus reminds us, don’t be anxious when you face that situation; trust God’s Spirit to guide you and present the gospel without fear of man.

When someone does not receive you, trust God’s sovereign grace and providential guidance (10:23).
There are two issues that make this particular verse difficult.  First, to what does “all the towns of Israel” refer?  Secondly, to what does “before the Son of Man comes” refer?  The difficulty lies in that the most natural reading of the Son of Man coming has been the return of Christ in judgment.  As to “all the towns of Israel,” the most natural reading would be the immediate Galilean mission.  Yet, we know that Jesus has not returned in judgment.  Additionally, we know that Jesus’ mission continued beyond Galilee and that by the end of Matthew’s gospel, there is expectation of a Gentile mission (Matthew 20:19-20).

The various possible interpretations are handled well by D. A. Carson in his commentary on Matthew.  I’ll just provide one clue.  “Son of Man” does not have to refer to the second coming of Christ.  See Matthew 16:28 for a similar promise which is commonly said to refer to the transfiguration.  For us, however, the principle is clear.  When you, as a missionary or witness to Christ, are not received, trust in God, for he is sovereign and wisely guides us by his providence.  God will accomplish all his holy will, and he may even choose persecution to advance his gospel.  This is what we see in Acts:

Acts 8:1, 4, ESV: “And Saul approved of [Stephen’s] execution. And there arose on that
day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered
throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. . . . Now those who were
scattered went about preaching the word.”

Acts 11:19, ESV: “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose
over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no
one except Jews.”

Don’t be surprised by persecution (10:24-25).
Jesus himself was maligned and ultimately crucified.  If we are his disciples, we should expect no different treatment (10:25; cf. John 15:18-25).  As the apostle Peter reminds us:

1 Peter 4:12-15, ESV: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice insofar as you share in Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.”

So, don’t be surprised when persecution comes; it is to be expected (2 Timothy 3:12).  Instead, be surprised we don’t face more persecution!   We should ask ourselves why it is that we don’t personally face persecution if we call ourselves followers of Christ.  Could it be that we are too comfortable in this world?  Could it be that we are too afraid of people, so we remain silent witnesses?

Don’t fear people; fear God (10:26-31)!
If we are afraid of people, we will not witness.  Knowing that fear is a natural temptation of his followers, Jesus commands us not to be afraid.  Jesus gives us three reasons why we shouldn’t fear people – that is, those who are hostile to the gospel and us and might persecute us:

1.  The truth will not be hidden (10:26).  So, freely proclaim the good news now (10:27)!  In other words, the gospel will be made known, so announce it!

2.  The worse thing anyone can do is kill you, but the worse thing God can do is cast you in hell.  Therefore, fear God & not man because the only thing they can do is kill you (10:28)!

3.  Your heavenly father knows you intimately and cares for you – providence (10:29-31).  This promise sustains us in the midst of the most dangerous situations – God loves us, cares for us and our lives are in his hands.

When we fear God, we will be set free from the fear of man which keeps us silent in the face of opposition.  Christian, what do you do with 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”?  May the Lord grant us the grace to believe his promises.

Listen to the Sermon: Fearless Sheep in the Midst of Wolves (Matthew 10:16-31)

Categories : Church, Missions, Sermons
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Tonight I have the joy of gathering with those who help lead our corporate worship gatherings at High Pointe.  As I was preparing for our teaching on John 4, I was reminded of D. A. Carson’s comprehensive definition of worship in Worship by the Book (26):

Worship is the proper response of all moral, sentient beings to God, ascribing all honor and worth to their Creator-God precisely because he is worthy, delightfully so.  This side of the fall, human worship of God properly responds to the redemptive provisions that God has graciously made.  While all true worship is God-centered, Christian worship is no less Christ-centered.  Empowered by the Spirit and in line with the stipulations of the new covenant, it manifests itself in all our living, finding its impulse in the gospel, which restores our relationship with our Redeemer-God and therefore also with our fellow image-bearers, our co-worshipers.  Such worship therefore manifests itself both in adoration and in action, both in the individual believer and in corporate worship, which is worship offered up in the context of the body of believers, who strive to align all the forms of their devout ascription of all worth to God with the panoply of new covenant mandates and examples that bring to fulfillment the glories of antecedent revelation and anticipate consummation.

Here is David Peterson’s initial definition of worship from Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (20):

The worship of the living and true God is essentially an engagement with him on the terms that he proposes and in the way that he alone makes possible.

 

Categories : High Pointe, Theology
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Yesterday I argued that we are to expect persecution because the environment we have been sent into is one of hostility (Matthew 10:16).  If we are to expect persecution, then we should prepare ourselves for it.  But how?  In a day in which some young “radical” Christians are prepared to charge the gates of hell with water pistols or be “dropped” into Al Quaeda camps with nothing but a Bible, Jesus offers some surprising instructions.

Preparing for Persecution

Be wise and full of integrity (Matthew 10:16)!  Jesus commands his followers to be “wise as serpents” and “innocent as doves.”  Snakes are crafty, cunning, even wise.  When a snake coils up and prepares to strike, it is because it senses a threat.  A snake’s “instinct is one of self-preservation” (France, Matthew, 390).  Yet, this command to be “shrewd” is tempered by the next command to be innocent like doves.  Doves were considered pure animals for a variety of reasons.  So then, like snakes we are to wisely avoid confrontation, not foolishly seeking death; but like doves, we are to be pure in our mission efforts and deal with our opponents with integrity.

John Nolland in his commentary on Matthew captures this well (pg. 423-24): “The wisdom called for from the disciples will involve anticipating danger and avoiding it whenever possible, but not in such a way as to undercut their mission priorities.  The innocence called for will involve a consistent integrity that is prepared to suffer rather than compromise and which is careful to give no grounds for legitimate legal objection to the action of the disciples.”  In other words, to be wise and full of integrity is a call to anticipate danger but avoid it whenever possible without compromising the mission.

The best example I have witnessed of such shrewdness that is full of integrity has been among our Cuban brothers.  Those brothers whom I have had the privilege to know are humble men who navigate through the territory of a government that is hostile to the gospel.  Sure, the government wants to put on a face of religious freedom to the world, but the reality is that local governing officials can make it difficult for local church leaders and churches.  Our Cuban brothers are faithful to King Jesus, while also submitting to the governing authorities as appropriate.  One example of the shrewdness that Jesus calls us to was when the government demanded that there be no new building of churches.  The brothers submitted to that government demand.  Yet, rather than complain about this circumstance, pastors continued the mission by spreading the gospel through house churches.  Thus, a wide-spread house church movement has taken place on the island nation because our Cuban brothers were as shrewed as snakes and as innocent as doves.

I have learned much from our Cuban brothers.  Whenever we travel there, they help us obtain religious visas from their government so that our visit is recorded and legal.  Additionally, we also make sure that our government knows of our visits.  We want to be above reproach, submitting to both governments as appropriate, so as to provide a faithful and consistent witness to the governing authorities there and here.  Unfortunately, I’ve run into Christian groups from the United States seeking to minister on the island while violating the laws of both the Cuban government and ours.  I don’t think that is either wise or innocent.  It provides a terrible witness and compromises the mission.

Be on the lookout for hostile people (10:17-18, 21-22)

Even when we submit to governing authorities, however, it doesn’t meant that it will always work out as we had hoped.  Jesus reminds his followers that we are continually to be on the lookout for those who would want to do us harm.  It is possible that some of us will be handed over to “religious” authorities, should such exist (10:17).  In Cuba, for example, the Communist government has a religious affairs office through which all religious visas must be approved.  Technically, they are governing authorities with oversight of religious activity.

It is possible that some of us will be brought before governing authorities (10:18).  Once, while on one of my early visits to Cuba, I was given a citation to appear before officials at the department of immigration.  Much to my surprise, it was a department run by the military.  I first appeared before an enlisted official before finally ending up in a Lieutenant Colonel’s office with our entire team.  Never once did I have to face fear of imprisonment or life.  The conversations were cordial and calm without any threats; it was merely a meeting to intimidate our team by informing us as to what we were permitted to do and not do.  However, I have to confess that I failed in that instance to take advantage of the opportunity to give testimony to our Lord.

Sadly, there may be instances when even those closest to us may turn against us and turn us over to officials for punishment (10:21).  The reality is that because we declare allegiance to King Jesus, all will hate us (10:22; cf. John 15:18-26).  Nevertheless, we have the assurance that those who endure to the end will be saved (10:22).

When we understand our mission and the hostility of the environment into which we are sent, we will not only expect persecution, we will prepare for it.  As we prepare to face hostility in this world because of our allegiance to King Jesus, may we continually walk in wisdom and integrity so that we may know how to respond when the time comes.

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As I preached through Matthew 10:16-33 this week, I was reminded of this passage from John Piper’s Future Grace (pg. 346):

In Ermelo, Holland, Brother Andrew told the story of sitting in Budapest, Hungary, with a dozen pastors of that city, teaching them from the Bible.  In walked an old friend, a pastor from Romania who had recently been released from prison.  Brother Andrew said that he stopped teaching and knew that it was time to listen.

After a long pause the Romanian pastor said, “Andrew, are there any pastors in prison in Holland?”  “No,” he replied.  “Why not?” the pastor asked.  Brother Andrew thought for a moment and said, “I think it must be  because we don’t take advantage of all the opportunities God gives us.”  Then came the most difficult question.  “Andrew, what do you do with 2 Timothy 3:12?”  Brother Andrew opened his Bible and turned to the text and read aloud, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  He closed his Bible slowly and said, “Brother, please forgive me.  We do nothing with that verse.”

I’m afraid that living in a prosperous, Christ-haunted American culture allows us to do nothing with 2 Timothy 3:12.  I was reminded of this very fact in my own life this week.  Our ice maker has been broken for a while, so we’ve had to buy ice trays and continually fill them up.  I got frustrated when I went to fill my cup with ice, only to find out that all the ice trays had been emptied, but no one had filled them up – no ice!  Then I read the story of Asia Bibi in the New York Post: the Christian woman in Pakistan who was essentially arrested because she was thirsty and drank water from a Muslim-owned well.  I got upset over lack of ice; she was arrested because she lacked water and quenched her thirst from a Muslim well.  As American Christians we need to consider 2 Timothy 3:12 and many other passages that remind us that it is not only granted to us to believe but also to suffer for the sake of Christ (Philippians 1:29).  One such passage is Matthew 10:16-33.

Expecting Persecution

Jesus reminds us in Matthew 10:16 of the environment of mission – we are sent out as sheep in the midst of wolves.  You have to pause and consider the imagery: defenseless sheep in the midst of a hungry pack of wolves ready to devour.  To be sure, Jesus is speaking directly to the twelve about to embark on their Galilean mission, but he is also speaking of a time beyond this particular mission, a time after his resurrection as we see in the book of Acts.  Jesus’ followers are sent on mission in the midst of a hostile environment.

Why the hostility?  Because mission is a warfare declaration in which we announce the arrival of King Jesus and call people to change allegiances.  We are calling on people everywhere to renounce their loyalties to whatever kings and kingdoms they serve and to bow down to King Jesus instead (Psalm 2).  Then, we are to train these new recruits to be faithful subjects in the heavenly kingdom (Matthew 5-7) and faithful soldiers in King Jesus’ army (2 Timothy 2:3).

It’s important to note that our battle is not against people, for “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).  In other words, we are making war on this cosmic evil kingdom and its king.  But, “we are not waging war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raided against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

Our weapon is the gospel which reminds all people everywhere that King Jesus has come and humbled himself as a servant to receive the death penalty on behalf of sinners in order deliver them from the bondage that the evil king has over them (Hebrews 2:14-18).  We announce our king and call on people to renounce theirs!

So, mission is warfare.  We are “dropped” into a war zone where the cosmic evil powers want to destroy us and will do so by blinding the minds of unbelievers and using religious and governing authorities to do so (Matthew 10:17-18).  Therefore, we should expect persecution.

Brothers, what do we do with 2 Timothy 3:12?  Let us prepare ourselves and our people to face persecution whenever it may come.

Categories : Missions, Resources, Sermons
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