Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Reformation Day and Its Modern Significance

Rather than bewail and rant about how demonic and anti-Christian Halloween is I think our attention as Christians is best focused upon the historic event that took place on October 31st, in the year of our Lord 1517 as Martin Luther nailed the Ninety Five Thesis to the church door in Wittenberg Germany. This event is what sparked the Protestant Reformation though it was never Luther's intention to break with Rome.

The main distinctives of the Reformed faith as opposed to that of Rome is summed up in the 5 Solas of the Reformation which are as follows:

1) Sola Fide- Or Faith alone, man is justified before God by Faith in what Christ has done on his behalf alone. (it's the alone that Rome has a hang up with)

2) Sola Scriptura- Or Scripture alone, Reformed Christians hold that the word of God alone is the authority to which we look in matters of doctrine and truth. The Bible alone is sufficient for the health of the church in matters of doctrine and practice. (Again it's the alone that chaps Rome)

3) Sola Christos- Or Christ Alone, Protestants hold that Christ alone is our grounds for righteousness and hope, not any works of our hands shall commend us to God only the worked of Jesus Christ alone. Also, this refers to the authority/mediation of Christ, Christ alone is the ruler over the church not Popes, and Christ alone is our mediator between us and the Father, not any saints or even Mary, so we pray to God/Christ alone. (again its the alone Rome has beef with)

4) Sola Gratia- Or Grace alone, Reformed Christians hold that we are not only saved by faith alone but by grace alone. This meaning that even our faith is not something WE do, it is a gift given by the free grace of God alone.

5) Sola Deo Gloria- To God Alone be the Glory, this is the aim of all of God's works whether creation, His works of Providence, or our salvation it is all for the His glory alone. This is truly breathtaking. God does everything, absolutely everything for the exaltation of His glory, to do otherwise would be unjust of God, because God is the most precious reality there is and it is good to exalt things that are precious, and bad to exalt a lesser glory over a greater.

(I have posted on each one if the reader wants a more in depth treatment of these topics)

Modern "Protestant" Departures From The Reformation:

Today I listened to a wonderful program on this very subject done by Ingrid Schlueter, the truths of the Reformation were heralded and defined. What was most interesting was the the application of these truths today. The guest was commenting on the popular trends in evangelicalism such as "The Prayer of Jabez" and showing how we have really abandoned these truths about a glorious God and His work of salvation and replaced them with man centered self help 12 step "Christian" books. We are a people that love methods, whether steps to approaching God through prayer, or steps to discover one's Purpose we gravitate towards these sorts of literature. (You can listen to the program by clicking here)

Other examples of how these truths are being abandoned are seen throughout many of the television preachers. For example the pastor of the 30,000+ member Lakewood church in Houston Texas begins each message by holding up the bible and have the people recited with him: "This is my bible I am what it says I am I can do what is says I can do...[paraphrase]" yet when the message begins its contents are bereft of any truly biblical content. I literally heard an entire message by Mr. Osteen that did have one bible verse or one reference to the person of Jesus, the topic was dieting.

Still more can be seen through the gross pragmatism that is often employed under the name of "bringing the unchurched in/winning the lost". Many honestly think that the main things that keep people from Christ are buildings, church music, funniness of the pastor etc. So we will create a consumer centered atmosphere to draw people in, whether that means having church in an old movie theater and serving communion in pop corn buckets or changing the message to be culturally relevant (this usually means eliminating words like sin, or cross, or hell and just preaching a pop-psychobabel/self-esteem message).

Some Good News:

All of these examples represent in some way a departure from these truths of the reformation which I outlined above. Now praise God, because there is good news in the midst of all this. I was reading the new Time magazine today and it has an article on the popularity of Jesus among younger people entitled "In Touch With Jesus". What's encouraging to me is that these are not youth who are bouncing basketballs while wearing Jesus rocks T-shirts and calling that a youth group. Rather, these are youth who detest that and want good teaching. These are youth that are tired of having the Christian message marketed to them in some silly package and want the real deal. The article reads:

"But in recent years churches have begun offering their young people a style of religious instruction grounded in Bible study and teachings about the doctrines of their denomination. Their conversion has been sparked by the recognition that sugarcoated Christianity, popular in the 80's and early 90's, has caused a number of kids to turn away not just from attending youth fellowship activities but also from practicing their faith at all...as the exodus has increased churches are trying to reverse the flowby focusing less on amusement and more on Scripture."

Now although the article is written very pragmatically treating this turning to a biblical emphasis in Youth ministries as just another technique to "convert" young people, there is good news here. Well, bad news if you are trying to grow a church based upon amusing people because people will see through it. The good news is that the youth (at least in So Cal where this article focuses) have warmly received the serious bible/doctrine classes proving the pragmatic marketeers wrong. Maybe it takes a certain breed but I just don't know how you can be a Christian and not find studying the bible and doctrines of the Christian faith exciting, more exciting then those stupid TV shows that constantly have stuff blowing up. But hey that might just be me.

Anyway, so I tie it all together on this note: Truth matters. We see many in evangelicalism saying that we need to adapt our message or risk never saving the post-moderns (this is based on an assumed denial of Sola Gratia), and thus many are turning to slick marketing techniques to "win" people. However, there is another voice saying: "Away with all the junk and world imitating cotton candy theology! GIVE ME MEAT AND STRONG DRINK!...Give me the Christ of the Bible!"

It was not long ago that Christianity Today featured the topic of the growing popularity of Reformed Theology particularly among young people. This is happening because people are tired of all the un-authentic representations of Christianity out there, theologically and practically. This is really what drove me to read the dead guys. I heard so much bad theology and teaching that I had to turn somewhere and I found men like Spurgeon, Luther, Edwards, and Calvin to be wonderful guides.

My prayer for the American church this reformation day is just that, a modern reformation, one where we abandon all our man-centered pragmatic attempts to manage salvation, and market the gospel. That we would turn to the sovereign God who is the author and finisher of our faith.
It seems fitting to end this by quoting a part of Martin Luther's hymn "A MightyFortress"

"That Word above all earthly powers
no thanks to them abideth
the Spirit and the gifts are ours
through Him who with us sideth
Let goods and kindred go
this mortal life also
the body they may kill
God's truth abideth still
His kingdom is forever."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The "Fight" For Christmas Trees

What's left of Christmas without a tree?!I have been mulling this issue over the past few years now and since the Christian lawyers are now gearing up for battle for another Christmas protection campaign I just want to get some thoughts out there before things start getting more coverage. This came today as I listened to a snippet from Matt Staver the president of "Liberty Council" (Which is a group of Christian lawyers who actively defend the rights of Christians from groups like the ACLU, such as in public schools, job place etc) now I really respect and appreciate the work that these guys are doing to in reality protect my freedom of religion from frankly atheists who would like to make proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ illegal. Anyway Staver was on today talking about the "success" of the 2005 campaign in which they were able to get numerous retailers and public displays to call the tree a "Christmas tree" instead of a "Holiday tree".

As I have thought about this I just think, who cares if the secular godless society doesn't want to call the tree a "Christmas tree" why should that be an issue for us to fight for? We're going to make people who hate Christ call a tree by His name when they in no way want anything to do with Him. I frankly would prefer that they do call it a "Holiday tree" and just admit their secularism. I just don't see this as a battle we need to be fighting, forcing God rejecters to call a tree by the name of Christ when they in no way honor Him.

Another more fundamental issue in why I don't think this is a battle worth fighting is simply this: "Why do WE call it a CHRISTmas tree?" Really where did that come from? I don't recall learning that the early Christians were having evergreen trees cut down and put in their homes to coincide with the celebration of the birth of their Savior. So from where did the Christmas tree spring forth? Well gang to be honest the whole "Christmas" tree notion is pagan in its origins (*GASP*) this is why the Puritans never did these things. The trees were originally put into homes as a sort of goodluck charm to ward off evil spirits by pagans. A good report on the origins of the Christmas tree can be found at the History channels write up on this issue.

(Note: the HC link depicts the Puritans as not wanting people to celebrate Christmas joyfully as their reason for being against the numerous practices such as caroling Christmas trees, Yule logs, etc. This is to feed into a fabricated stereotype that the Puritans were so ultra-religious that they were without joy and wanted to make sure that nobody had fun, because God is not a fun God. In reality the Puritans opposed these because they were syncristic with pagan practices and detracted from the worship of Christ alone. They were so serious about joy in Christ that anything that would detract from the true meaning of Christmas should be done away with. The HC puts a bit of a spin on the Puritan attitudes towards Christmas.)

So my point again is this why do WE call it a Christmas tree? There is really nothing Christian about it at all, it's just 300 year old American tradition that we for some reason think is a sacred relic to be defended from the unbelievers. So this brings me back to my initial objection to the "Fight" for Christmas trees which is: "Who cares?" I am all for Christian lawyers defending Church's and City Hall's rights to have manger scenes or signs that say "Merry Christmas" but the tree? Who cares it's not Christian to begin with.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Calvin On The Knowledge of God's existence

I have been reading through Calvin's Institutes with the aid of the "Still Waters Revival Books" audio. I highly recommend having the audio book to go with the reading, not only does it go faster but at least for me I comprehend it more, for instance I read through Jonathan Edwards' "Treatise On the Religious Affections" in a little over 2 weeks with the audio. Anyway enough praise for the SWRB goodies. Calvin's Institutes begins where all true philosophy should, the existence of God. Calvin employs a strong presuppositional apologetic against atheism, arguing that men are atheists NOT on any rational grounds but because they suppress the truth in unrighteousness. The existence of God is not some speculative concept but rather reality inscribed upon the very mind of man:

"That there exists in the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity, we hold to be beyond dispute, since God Himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has indued all men with some idea of His Godhead, the memory of which He constantly renews and occasionally enlarges, that all to a man, being aware that there is a God, and that He is their maker, may be condemned by their own conscience when they neither worship Him nor consecrate their lives in His service." (Institutes Book 1 ch 3 section 1)

That statement goes against what every single atheist will say. Calvin (in line with Paul) says that the atheist knows God, they have a sense of the knowledge of God stamped upon them. The fact that every single culture has fashioned gods Calvin says is a manifestation of this fact. Although they create false gods they are created out of a sense of Deity and creatureliness. All the false religions and gods simply never could have succeeded had there not been in the mind of man a sense of Deity.

If I may interject a bit here, in all my conversations with atheists the words of the apostle Paul apply with perfection as he states: "For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools," (Rom 1:21-22)

Fool here is not name calling, but an accurate description of where their thinking leads...foolishness/absurdity. For example a very simple question, "Where does morality come from?" becomes impossible to answer for the atheist. (Well not just the atheist but all who do not have their thinking centered around God) It is really grievous to me as I dialogue with atheists and they flat out say: "Well I really can't say that molesting children is wrong objectively..." Molesting children is wrong ONLY because that is what our society says.

With such a hollow moral foundation, how in the world can we be surprised when a young man wearing a T-Shirt that says "Natural Selection" on it comes into a High School and begins shooting fellow students. Atheism can not definitively say that raping women is wrong, it has no grounds to say such. All that you can say on morality in an atheistic worldview is that right and wrong is just what we decide as a society. If that is true where did we get off trying Nazi war criminals? If we don't think that not having the ability to say "Torturing babies for fun is wrong" is a reduction to foolishness then perhaps the word fool should be abandoned altogether.

You see even though the atheist says there is no God he does not live that way. He does not live as though there is no such thing as right and wrong, he really does believe torturing babies for fun IS IN FACT wrong. This is because, whether or not he admits it, he is made in the image of God. And, as Calvin is saying, he (the atheist) knows this God, the knowledge of God is embedded on his very nature. By suppressing this knowledge his thinking becomes foolish.

Now lest we think that it is only the atheist that is suppressing the truth in unrighteousness Calvin goes on to talk of how "Religious" man suppresses the truth of God's existence. Man by nature knows of the existence of God, yet some in their suppression do not deny His existence in whole but will deny parts of His existence. This is manifested in numerous forms today as men shave off attributes of God at will and thus make God in their image. To quote Calvin:

"Thus although they are forced to acknowledge that there is some God, they however, rob Him of His glory by denying His power...In this way, the vain pretext which many employ to clothe their superstition is overthrown. They deem it enough that they have some kind of zeal for religion, how preposterous soever it may be, not observing that true religion must be conformable to the will of God as its unerring standard, that He can never deny Himself, and is no spectre or phantom, to be metamorphosed at each individuals caprice. It is easy to see how superstition, with its false glosses mocks God, while it tries to please Him" (Instit bk 1 ch 4 sect 2-3)

What Calvin is saying is that there is a very "religious" way of denying God, this is probably the most prevalent form of denial. This sort of denial of the true God comes when man begins to shape and form God as he sees fit. The phrase "That's true for you but not for me" in reference to God/Christianity is a rank manifestation of this fact. We so often treat God like ice cream and think that we can pick and choose what toppings and flavors we will have and decide what kind of God we will worship. O, the arrogance of man! That we think we can pick and choose what kind of God we will have rule over us!

I have talked with quite a few "Gay Christians" it is fairly obvious that they are making God into an image that they can stomach rather than submitting to God as their Lord and fleeing from sin. Men will accept God on THEIR terms, but what is this but the same as rejecting Him?! To be a "Gay Christian" is the same thing as a "Womanizing Christian"...hey that's just who they are they like to sleep with numerous different women and make no commitment to one...that's just who they are God accepts them...after all if He didn't that would be intolerant, right?

This is just ONE way in which this form of suppression takes place, but all have in common the fact that man fashions a god that is acceptable to him. A god that has a moral standard that he (man) sees to be good, a god who is never really angry, nor has a place reserved where those who reject him will be punished eternally. Calvin states again:

"Those, therefore, who set up a fictitious worship, merely worship and adore their own delirious fancies; indeed, they would never dare so trifle with God, had they not previously fashioned him after their own childish conceits." (Instit bk 1 ch 4 sect 3)

God only becomes worshipable to the natural man AFTER God has been shaped by the natural man. God would never seem in the least bit desirable to man had man not first fashioned a sort of "God" that he in himself found to be desirable (like choosing ice cream flavors/toppings). Thus this sort of worship is nothing but idolatry.

"It makes little difference at least in this respect, whether you hold the existence of one God, or a plurality of gods, sins, in both cases alike, by departing from the true God, you have nothing left but an execrable idol." (Instit bk 1 ch 4 sect 3)

I would also add or hold to there being no God. Atheism too is a form of idolatry. An idolator forms a god that is acceptable to him, as does the atheist. The atheist will have no God to rule over him so he says there is no God.

With such a description of idolatry it seems impossible to come to a knowledge of the true God in all this mess of human idolatry to which we all are naturally inclined. But, God by His grace reveals Himself to man by opening man's eyes and turning him to Himself. Christ spoke of this as being "born again" which must happen or we will continue to fashion a god in our own minds. Glory to God that He reaches down and opens the eyes of idolators like us that we might turn and worship Him and make Him our all!