Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Should Christians tithe?

Its stewardship season at church, and perhaps no season creates more tension and confusion than the Bible's teaching on giving. Jesus taught so much on giving because no element of life is more looked to for security and significance than money and possessions. I believe that tithing is not only appropriate, but commanded for the Christian. I believe there is way too much discontinuity in many Chrstians' minds between the Old and New Testament. The early church's Bible was still the Old Testament...the New was still being written. In addition, most of the New Testament is simply Old Testament allusion or direct quotation. In addition, tithing, or giving the tenth part, was established before the law was even given to Israel. Abraham paid the tenth to Melchizekek in Genesis. We learn in Hebrews that Melchizedek was a type or foreshadow of Christ and we also know that Abraham was the father of all those who believe, so that in Abraham the Church was paying tithes to Christ. In addition, Jacob promised a tenth to God as God provided for him, again, before the law was even given. Finally, Christ Himself affirms the tithe when He rebuked the Pharisees for tithing on everything but neglecting mercy, justice and love. He went on to say they should indeed have done the former (tithing) without neglecting the latter. So, it seems clear to me that the tenth is the minimum generosity called for by the Lord to His Church...certainly we should pray about giving beyond the tenth. It seems clear that the tithe is on gross, not net...One more item that might be helpful...I believe that there is great continuity between the Old and New Testaments, AND between Israel and the Church...the believers in OT Israel were the Church and the believers in the New Testament Church are the Israel of God (Eph 2, Rom 9, 11, Gal 6:16, etc). since that is the case, when it comes to the Bible, everything from the Old Testament applies across the board to New Testament believers unless it is specifically changed by NT data. When it comes to bringing the tenth, it is not only not changed by the NT but actually affirmed, and even increased, as is all the Law by Christ. Christ continuously took the law known by Israel and expanded it! You have heard it was said, do not commit adultery, but I say if you even lust after a woman, you are guilty of adultery...same with murder and anger...so it follows that tithing is the minimum when it comes to giving. I think that part of the confusion by many in the church today is seeing such a radical break between the Testaments and between Israel and the Church that I feel is not accurate.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Gospel Pipeline--Stage Three (cont'd)

My favorite catechism question is from the Heidelberg. Question #60--"How are you right with God? Answer: Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. Even though my conscience accuses me of having grievously sinned against ALL God's commandments and of NEVER having kept ANY of them; and even though I am STILL inclined toward evil, nevertheless, without my deserving it at all, out of sheer grace, God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ, AS IF I had NEVER sinned, nor been a sinner, as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient FOR me. All I need to do is accept this gift of God with a believing heart." The Christian must preach this gospel to himself/herself every day! It is through believing this truth that the Spirit of God changes us (2 Cor 3:18, Gal 3:5)! Our Titus verses that highlight all this are as follows: Justification--Titus 3:7a; Adoption--Titus 3:7b (also Jn 17:23, Zeph 3:17); and the hope of both initial and continual transformation is found in Titus 3:5--the renewal of the Holy Spirit. What we're emphasizing, of course, is that the Christian life is supernatural! And again, I've promised to use Num 21 as an illustration of this...and I'll get to it soon!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Gospel Pipeline--stage three

What the church needs to recapture is that the Basics of Christian living are the doctrines of grace. All throughout Titus 2-3 we see these important truths...justification by grace, adoption as heirs, renewal by the Holy Spirit. These are the blessings of the new covenant through our union with Christ. These are doctrines Paul covers in the first portions of his epistles. Too often we move away from a doctrinal focus to a pragmatic focus after conversion. We must keep believing these glorious doctrines of grace in order to experience growth. As a matter of fact, it is precisely as we believe and hope in and rest in these glorious truths that the power of the Spirit falls upon us and transforms us. In 2 Cor 3:18 we're told that as we behold Christ, we are transformed from one degree of glory to another by the Spirit. As we rest in our justified standing and adopted status when we feel as though we least deserve such a hope, that is what brings the power of the Spirit...as Paul writes in Gal 3:5...does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law or because you believe what you heard?! A great picture of this transforming power of faith in God's grace is found in Numbers 21...more on that later.

A Theological Library in One Place

The new ESV Study Bible just hit the shelves...go out and buy one! Don't bother spending a lot of money on a slick leather version...its so big you're not going to be carrying it around with you anyway. The hardback version is not very expensive and gives you all you need to be a workman approved by God, handling accurately the word of truth. The ESV Study Bible has hundreds of more pages of notes, articles, maps than other study Bible out there. In addition, most of the contributors to the ESV Study Bible share a grace-driven view of the entire Christian life and not just conversion. Check out the notes on Galatians 3:1-5 to see what I mean! A number of the professors at our seminary, Covenant Theological, are contributors to this incredible volume. Every Christian family needs a Study Bible...this could very well be the best one yet.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Gospel Pipeline-Stage Two

Once we're converted, what tends to happen next has been firmly documented through the lives of God's people. Once gripped by the wonder and promise of grace for eternal life, new believers are often led to (and predisposed to!) see the BASICS of the Christian life in terms of behaviors and disciplines. There is good reason for this...Scripture clearly calls Christ-followers to live the life...to walk the walk and not merely talk the talk! In Titus we see this call to obedience very clearly stated: In Titus 3:1 we read that Christ-followers are to BE submissive to rulers, to BE obedient, to BE ready for every good work, and in Titus 3:8 we are exhorted to BE careful to devote ourselves to good works...if we are not careful, these emphases become what my good friend and President of Covenant Theological Seminary, Bryan Chapell, calls "The Killer Be's." These "Be's" are not wrong in themselves, but wrong left BY themselves. If we're not careful, the Christian life loses its emphasis on continual faith in Christ for life and we begin to look for life through our own efforts. We begin to think there is transforming power in the sheer discipline of gutting out the Christian lifestyle. This can quickly create a moralistic, behavioralistic paradigm of the Christian life. The "rules" of the Christian life can change in an instant. What got us saved, the grace of God, is not exchanged for a new rule...human effort. This was the Galatian problem. The Galatians to whom Paul writes, began their Christian experience with an emphasis on grace, hope in the Gospel and faith in Christ alone. This is clearly revealed in Galatians 3--Paul asks them, DID you receive the Spirit (past tense), in other words, DID you become Christians, by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? The text demands the obvious answer...they, and WE, become Christians ONLY by hearing with faith (see my last Blog entry). But then Paul addresses their PRESENT Christian experience...Are you so foolish, having BEGUN by the Spirit are you now being perfected by the flesh (by human effort)?...Does He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?!! Do you see what Paul is saying? He is saying you are not only saved from hell and sin and death by grace through faith...but you are also progressively transformed into the image of Christ supernaturally by grace through faith as well!! Forgetting this gospel truth leads to a real clog of the flow of grace in our lives. Because of our sinfulness, we tend to read the second half of Paul's letters which emphasise gospel ethics and focus entirely on those portions as the key to Christian living. We become the Church of the Latter-Half Saints!! Instead we need to continually re-visit the FIRST part of Paul's epistles and make sure we are living in grace, which will in fact supernaturally lead to living out the second half of Paul's letters. You see, we tend to forget that there are two sides to the flesh, or indwelling sin, in a believer. There is a tendency to think only of the irreligious flesh, that pull of sin toward immorality or obvious disobedience...the dirty dozen, the filthy five, the sinful six, the nasty nine, the awful eight...whatever list your church gives you of what bad Christians do and good Christians avoid. Now, make no mistake...there IS a righteousness that we are to pursue and there IS sin we are called to avoid...but that is only one element of the flesh that we are called to do battle with. The other side of the coin of a believer's sinfulness is the RELIGIOUS flesh. That's right...part of the element of sinfulness that resids within is religious...seeking to build our own righteousness and to seek confidence before God because of our own goodness, rather than having confidence before God because of the righteousness of Christ that is our's by faith. This tendency toward performance clogs up many a Christian life! This performance paradigm has only two possible ends, and both are devastating...First, if someone is very self-UNaware and is somewhat competent and disciplined, the Performance Paradigm leads to self-righteousness. Second, if the person IS self-aware, knows their sin and weakness, and is NOT very competent or disciplined, the Performance Paradigm leads to self-despair. Also for the Performance paradigm to "work", people must file down the law to make it attainable, minimize the holiness of God to make it less intense and also focus on the sin of others so that our own righteousness seems greater. The Performance Paradigm is what leads to judgmentalis and criticising in the Church. People in this paradigm focus on their own strengths but on other's weaknesses, so they can maintain the illusion of their own righteousness. It makes for a very unsafe church. No one in such a place wants to admit that they don't have it together because everyone else is also pretending that they have it together. There is no real fellowship, just a bunch of facades bumping into each other. The answer is to continue to preach and believe the Gospel of Grace...Titus 2:11--grace brings salvation...ALL of salvation, from first to last, from beginning to end. What is distinctively Christian about your walk? I hope you don't think its behaviors. All the major religions emphasise behavior...what is distinctively Christian about Christian character is that it is born through faith in Christ and is supernatural. The BASICS of Christian living are not behaviors or disciplines, but the truths of Gospel Grace applied daily to the Christian life.

The Gospel Pipeline

At Oak Mountain Presbyterian, we try to equip people to live in and live out the Gospel of Grace. What does this look like for a typical Christian? I recently preached a series on Titus 2-3 that presents the transforming flow of grace in a believer's life (Its called Roto Rooter for the Soul and you can access it on our web site). Titus 2-3 is one of the most balanced, integrated portions of Scripture you'll ever come across. So often, followers of Christ become entrenched in their views of what is really needed to bring health and renewal to the Church. In fact, the Bible doesn't present ONE element necessary to health, but ALL the elements of the Gospel of Grace held in tension. You'll run into people who say that what is needed to create new life in the Church is more emphasis on obedience, discipline and the Law. You'll run into other folk who say what is needed in more emphasis on repentance and turning from sin. You'll run into still others who say people need more emphasis on the love and grace of God. Titus reveals that all of those elements are necessary...leave out any and the Christian's life will become skewed. Let's take a look at what Paul writes to Titus concerning what pastors and churches need to emphasize to their flocks.
The first phase of the Gospel Pipeline, the entry point if you will, is grace for conversion. We see Paul talk about this in Titus 2:11 where he writes that the grace of God has appeared that brings salvation. And in Titus 3:5 he talks about the work of the Holy Spirit bringing the washing of regeneration. One of the reasons we sometimes see little evidence of life in our churches is that perhaps some of those (many??) who PROFESS faith in Christ do not actually POSSESS life IN CHRIST. The Christian life is supernatural! It is not committing yourself to a Christian Ethic, or a list of behaviors or a moral code. The Christian life is the result of a supernatural work of grace that opens our hearts and minds, will and emotions, to Christ as the Pearl of Great Price. Grace enables the soul to long for Christ and to hope completely in Him for salvation apart from works (Titus 3:5). Grace is what enables us to become aware of our sin and desperation, our sin and weakness and helplessness to save ourselves or to change ourselves. And grace is also what enables us to submit to Christ as Lord as well as trust Him as Savior. Apart from the supernatural work of grace, many will turn to Christ only as fire insurance...a ticket out of hell. But the supernatural work of grace is so infinitely powerful that the heart that is touched by the Holy Spirit not only desires heaven, but to follow Christ! Too many people have walked an aisle, prayed a sinner's prayer, joined a church or been baptized without ever having experienced the grace of regeneration...the giving by Grace of a new heart! The grace of regeneration creates a new heart, brings new life and grants true faith in Christ...I personally prayed the sinner's prayer over 100 times! I asked Jesus into my heart over and over and over...so, if I kept asking Jesus into my heart to save me from my sin, was there truly any faith in His promises? After many months of struggle, our kind Father opened my eyes to see His promises of life in Christ, and by His grace I finally rested in the Person, Work and Promises of Christ. I'm not sure WHEN I was saved...and it doesn't matter. All I know is that at some point, I put my hope completely in Christ...and THAT by His grace. For too long I put faith in my own faith, or faith in my own spiritual experience, rather than faith in Christ alone. I also think that for a long season after I prayed the prayer (but perhaps lacked true life), I didn't really understand the enormity of my sin and the infinite nature of God's holiness...so, I was not really desperate or helpless before God; I still thought my salvation was to some extent dependent upon my good works. It wasn't until grace opened my eyes to my absolute failure to live as God commands that I saw that Christ was my only hope. I think the practice of many churches to try to get people to nail down a time and place of conversion is dangerous. It can lead many to false assurance. People can write down a time and place in a Bible and say they were "saved" at that point, and then feel that it doesn't matter how they live, because they have a date and time they can point to. But Christ clearly says, as does all of Scripture, that grace is so powerful and transformational, that faith in Christ will lead to a repentant life...that we'll never "arrive" and we'll constantly "fall" but the general tenor of our lives will be to get back up by grace and carry on in new obedience. Anyone who professes faith and is NOT willing to live a repentant, dependent life should at least question whether or not they have been born again...this does NOT lead to a salvation by works mentality, but simply exults the power and wonder of grace. If someone IS led to doubt their salvation because of their lifestyle, where they turn next will in fact be the revealer of their hearts...what I mean is this...If I doubt whether or not I am truly born again because I see some sin issues in my life-style, what do I do? If, on the one hand, I think, "Wow, I better get my act together...I better turn my life around...I better turn over a new leaf" well, such a person may NOT be saved because they are looking to self, works and behaviors for confidence. However, if, on the other hand, aware of shortcomings, the person cries out afresh, "Oh Christ! Have mercy on me a sinner! I am unworthy of confidence as I look to my own righteousness. Only as I look at Your finished work on my behalf, only as I hope in Your righteous life lived for me and as I gaze at Your substitutionary death removing the wrath of God from me, do I have any confidence!"...well, I believe such a person is showing the result of God's grace granting true faith and they are regenerate and possess true life in Christ. Salvation is ALL of grace...and it will result in a changed life. This is the entry point of the Gospel Pipeline...but what tends to happen next?

Friday, October 10, 2008

History of Baptism

Don't think for a minute that I'm some crazed Presbyterian that majors on the minors! Its just that so many of the folk who visit our church come from a baptistic background and this is an important question for them. There are MANY more important issues to blog about, and I'll go to those soon. Ironically, it is not we Presbyterians who get hung up on baptism, it tends to be the Baptists. I have received numerous phone calls from people who have had to leave town and look for another church due to a job change. Often there is no PCA church in the town and the most Biblically-based church is Baptist. No problem. Except that there has often been a problem for the family joining the church when they are told that their Presbyterian baptism didn't count! They weren't immersed, so they weren't baptized, so they can't join the church unless they are baptized by immersion! We don't ever tell anyone they need to be baptized in order to join our church unless they've never been baptized. So, there you go. Let's think for a minute about Church History...now its not as strong as the Biblical argument, obviously, but we at least need to consider that God is sovereign and is at work through His Church through the ages. For the first 1000 years or so, there only was one recognized organizational center to the church...the Roman church. The church of Rome baptizes infants. In 1054 the Great Schism occurred between the East and the West...the Eastern Church, the Orthodox Church (Greek, Russian, etc) broke off from the Western Church over the place of authority (Rome or Constantinople), the date of Easter (!!!), and other issues. The Orthodox Church also baptizes infants. Those two churches remained until 1517, when, with Luther's 95 Theses, the Reformation began. Luther's followers became, of course, the Lutheran church...and they also baptize infants. Soon after, John Calvin wrote his Institutes, and the Reformed churches began...Presbyterians baptize infants following Calvin's teaching of Scripture. Only AFTER this, did the Anabaptists arise (the word means baptize again), saying that Luther and Calvin didn't Reform enough and were carrying Catholic baggage, ie, infant baptism. MOST of the churches DISAGREED with the Anabaptists. The Reformation spread to England and the Anglican church was born...and THEY baptize infants. John Wesley and others began the Methodist Church in England, and they too baptize infants. In America, the Episcopal Church was started, and THEY also baptize infants. What is clear is that the majority view through ALL of Church History is Infant Baptism. The reason why so many American Evangelicals struggle with baptism is because Americans think the Baptist tradition is the historical majority position. We naturally think that because the Baptists are the largest denomination in America, along with other large Baptistic denominations (non-Baptist, but still practicing believer, adult immersion). But if you step outside of your American Heritage, which is hard for Americans to do, you see a different story and perspective...and that perspective is infant baptism practiced in the churches.

Jesus' Baptism

I've been asked many times in our New Members' Class, "If Jesus was immersed, then shouldn't we be immersed as well?" Let me make a couple comments here. First, Jesus' baptism, ironically and amazingly, was NOT Christian baptism! Paul makes this very clear when he meets up with the converts in Ephesus as recorded in Acts 19. In Acts 19:3 the converts said they were baptized into John's baptism which Paul states in v4 was a baptism of repentance. So, in v5 they then received the baptism into Jesus, Christian baptism. But that is not the real point...the real issue is the question as to whether Jesus was immersed even in John's baptism. What leads people to the conclusion that he was is the use of the prepositions in the Gospel accounts. In Matthew 3:16 we read that when Jesus was baptized, he went up from the water, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descend upon Him. Many conclude that this proves immersion...Jesus went under the water, then came up from the water. But it could just as easily mean that He walked down into the water from the bank with John, was baptized by pouring or sprinkling (as is often portrayed in most art!), then walked out from the water onto the bank (thus, "went up from the water") and then, on the bank of the river, the Spirit descended upon Him. This carries even more weight when we notice that the text tells us Jesus came up FROM the water...if Matthew was trying to tell us Jesus was immersed, he could have been more clear. Because if you simply arise from UNDER the water, you are still IN the water. But Matthew tells us that Jesus "went up from the water", that is, He walked out of it. The greek preposition is a preposition of motion, meaning to move away from, expressing the idea of separation. If Jesus was immersed and Matthew simply means Jesus came up from being immersed, this is not the best preposition to use. It is as if Matthew said, Jesus walked up out of the water onto the bank, and the Spirit descended upon Him. The baptism of Jesus says nothing about immersion.