En Gedi: Finding rest in the wilderness!

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Posts Tagged ‘reformation’

The Divine Foundation of Authority!

Posted by Scott on March 13, 2009

 
“You’re out!” “I’m safe!” “Out!” “Safe!” “Out!” “It’s my ball, and it’s my bat, and I say that I’m safe.” This is how we settled disputes over plays in our pickup baseball games played without the benefit of a referee or umpire. When a disputed play could not be resolved through reason or through yelling, the one who possessed the equipment usually determined the outcome. It was a child’s game in which might made right. It was the nascent expression of the cynical statement: “He who owns the gold, rules.”

These illustrations indicate that at some level ownership is involved in authority. The very word authority has within it the word author. An author is someone who creates and possesses a particular work. Insofar as God is the foundation of all authority, He exercises that foundation because He is the author and the owner of His creation. He is the foundation upon which all other authority stands or falls.

We use the term foundation with respect to the imagery of a building. Houses and commercial buildings are erected upon a foundation. As Jesus indicated in His parables, if the foundation is not solid, the structure will not stand. The house that is built upon the sand will crumble at the first sign of a windstorm.Instead, Jesus commended the building of the house upon a rock. The foundation has to be firm in order for the house to stand.

In the sixteenth century, the critical dispute that arose in the Protestant Reformation focused on two central issues. Historians speak of one as being the material cause, that is, the matter around which the dispute centered. That material cause was the doctrine of justification. The battle was fought over the issue of what is required for a person to be justified in the sight of God. The other issue, the formal one, lurked only slightly under the surface of the external debate about justification: the question of authority. When Luther defended his doctrine in his disputes with Cardinal Cajetan and with the theologian Johann Eck, the Roman Catholic experts called attention to the decrees of earlier church councils and of papal encyclicals to refute Luther’s arguments. Luther in response argued that the edicts of church councils and even the encyclicals of popes can err and often do err. The only final authority Luther would recognize, upon which the controversy could be resolved, was the authority of Scripture, because that authority carried the weight of God’s authority itself.

As a result, the Diet of Worms culminated with Luther’s expression: “Unless I am convinced by sacred Scripture or by evident reason, I cannot recant because my conscience is held captive by the Word of God, and to act against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. God help me. I can do no other.” In that statement, Luther was affirming publicly his commitment to the principle of sola Scriptura, that the Bible alone is the only authority that can bind the conscience of a person absolutely because it is the only authority that carries with it the intrinsic authority of God Himself.

In the Scriptures we see that God creates the universe and owns the universe. It is His possession, and He governs it by His own authority. The authority by which God governs all things is His autonomous authority. To say that God’s authority is autonomous is to say that God is a law unto Himself. He is not bound by some abstract system of law that exists outside of Himself or independent from Him (ex lex). Nor is God under some external law (sub lego); rather, He is a law unto Himself. This does not mean that He acts or behaves in an arbitrary manner. Rather, God’s activity is directed by God’s own character. And His character is completely righteous. All that He does flows out of His own internal righteousness. His external authority comes from His internal righteousness. In this sense God’s authority is intrinsic. It is found within Himself. It is not borrowed, delegated, or assigned from any other source.

In the same manner, all lesser authorities on heaven and on earth are only as valid as they are delegated by God’s authority. Whatever authority we possess is extrinsic rather than intrinsic. It exists only by delegation. This was the issue in the garden of Eden. The primal sin of Adam and Eve could be described as the grasping for autonomy. They sought to take for themselves the authority that belonged only to God. To act on one’s own authority against the authority of God is the essence of disobedience and of sin. When we grasp authority ourselves and do what is right in our own minds, we are attacking the very foundation of life and of the welfare of human beings.

“You’re out!” “I’m safe!” This question has to be determined by some foundation other than the possession of bats and balls. Justice must reign if we are to escape a life and a world without foundations. Any authority that rules without divine foundation is tyranny.

by R.C. Sproul

www.ligonier.org/tabletalk

Dr. R.C. Sproul is founder and president of Ligonier Ministries, and he is author of the books What’s in the Bible? and Getting the Gospel Right.
For more than thirty years, Dr. R.C. Sproul has thoroughly and concisely analyzed weighty theological, philosophical, and biblical topics in Right Now Counts Forever, drawing out practical applications for the Christian in his own engaging style.
© Tabletalk magazine
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Christless Christianity….by Michael Horton!

Posted by Scott on December 9, 2008

Christless Christianity:

Getting in Christ’s Way

 
Only in Christ is discipleship the consequence of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, rather than its own contribution to human redemption.

What would things look like if Satan actually took over a city? The first frames in our imaginative slide show probably depict mayhem on a massive scale: Widespread violence, deviant sexualities, pornography in every vending machine, churches closed down and worshipers dragged off to City Hall. Over a half-century ago, Donald Grey Barnhouse, pastor of Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church, gave his CBS radio audience a different picture of what it would look like if Satan took control of a town in America. He said that all of the bars and pool halls would be closed, pornography banished, pristine streets and sidewalks would be occupied by tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The kids would answer “Yes, sir,” “No, ma’am,” and the churches would be full on Sunday … where Christ is not preached.

Not to be alarmist, but it looks a lot like Satan is in charge right now. The enemy has a subtle way of using even the proper scenery and props to obscure the main character. The church, mission, cultural transformation, even the Spirit can become the focus instead of the means for “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). As provocative as Barnhouse’s illustration remains, it is simply an elaboration of a point that is made throughout the story of redemption. The story behind all the headlines of the Bible is the war between the serpent and the offspring of the woman (Gen. 3:15), an enmity that God promised would culminate in the serpent’s destruction and the lifting of the curse. This promise was a declaration of war on Satan and his kingdom, and the contest unfolded in the first religious war, between Cain and Abel (Gen. 4 with Matt. 23:35), in the battle between Pharaoh and Yahweh that led to the exodus and the temptation in the wilderness. Even in the land, the serpent seduces Israel to idolatry and intermarriage with unbelievers, even provoking massacres of the royal family. Yet God always preserved that “seed of the woman” who would crush the serpent’s head (see 2 Kings 11, for example). The story leads all the way to Herod’s slaughter of the firstborn children in fear of the Magi’s announcement of the birth of the true King of Israel.

The Gospels unpack this story line and the epistles elaborate its significance. Everything is leading to Golgotha, and when the disciples-even Peter-try to distract Jesus away from that mission, they are being unwitting servants of Satan (Matt. 16:23). “The god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers”-not simply so that they will defy Judeo-Christian values, but “to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:4-5).

Satan lost the war on Good Friday and Easter, but has shifted his strategy to a guerilla struggle to keep the world from hearing the gospel that dismantles his kingdom of darkness. Paul speaks of this cosmic battle in Ephesians 6, directing us to the external Word, the gospel, Christ and his righteousness, faith, and salvation as our only armor in the assaults of the enemy. In Revelation 12, the history of redemption is recapitulated in brief compass, with the dragon sweeping a third of the stars (angels) from heaven, laying in wait to devour the woman’s child at birth, only to be defeated by the ascension of the promised offspring. Nevertheless, knowing his time is short, he pursues the child’s brothers and sisters. Wherever Christ is truly proclaimed, Satan is most actively present. The wars between nations and enmity within families and neighborhoods is but the wake of the serpent’s tail as he seeks to devour the church, employing the same tried and tested methods: not only martyrdom from without, but heresy and schism from within. In the rest of this article, I want to suggest a few of the ways we are routinely tempted toward what can only be called, tragically, “Christless Christianity.”

Denial: The Sadducees

The modern spirit has been dedicated to shifting authority from the outside (the church or the Bible) to the inside (reason or experience). Kant said the one thing he could always trust was his moral intuition, which led to the irrefutable fact of “the starry heavens above and the moral law within.” The Romantics said we should trust our inner experience. In fact, was it not the desire to usurp God’s throne that motivated the rebellion of Lucifer as well as Adam and Eve?

Whenever we determine what really matters by looking within ourselves, we always come up with law. Some would object, “Not law, but love.” However, in the Bible, the Law simply nails down what it means to love God and our neighbor. Long before Jesus summed up the Law in this way (Matt. 22:39), it was delivered by the hand of Moses (Lev. 19:18, 34), and Paul reiterated the point (Rom. 13:8-10). We were created in the image of God, without fault, entirely capable of carrying out God’s moral will of making all of creation subservient to God’s law of love. The Fall did not eradicate this sense of moral purpose, but turned us inward, so that instead of truly loving God and our neighbor, we suppressed the truth in unrighteousness. The fall did not even mean that people became atheists, but that they became superstitious: using “God” or “spirituality” and their neighbors for their own ends.

The Enlightenment philosophers were right when they recognized that morality is the common denominator of humanity. Yet they concluded from this that whatever came to us from the outside-the reports of historical miracles and redemption-was the least essential to true religion. “All we need is love” and “All we need is law” make exactly the same point. Duty, love, or moral and religious experience lay at the heart of all the world’s religions-their insides-while the historical packaging (stories, miraculous claims, creeds, rituals) are the outer shell that can be tossed away.

Kant distinguished these in terms of pure religion and ecclesiastical faith. The former has to do with our moral duty. The latter consists of doctrines of sin, the incarnation and atonement, justification, supernatural rebirth, the particular historical claims concerning Christ, as well as the official practices of the church (such as baptism and the Supper). The story of the death and resurrection of Christ, for example, could be accepted only to the extent that it represented a universal moral truth (like self-sacrifice for others or for one’s principles). Taking it at face value actually undermined pure morality. If you look to someone else’s sacrifice to save you, then you won’t be as prone to fulfill your own duty yourself. One sect dealt with guilt by throwing children into volcanoes to pacify the gods, while Christianity says that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son … ” (John 3:16). Yet once religion is refined of such “superstitions,” the residue left over is a pure morality that will at last lead us to build a tower reaching to the heavens. Trust your insides; doubt everything external to you. That was the lesson of the Enlightenment.

The problem, of course, is that we have an outside God and an outside redemption. Everything inside of us is the problem. The good news, however, is that the God who is completely other than we are became one of us, yet without succumbing to our selfish pride. He fulfilled the law, bore its judgment, and rose again as our solution to the curse of sin, death, and condemnation. Furthermore, he sent his Spirit to indwell us, making us new from the inside out, until one day our very bodies are raised. In one sense, of course, the Enlightenment was right: the law is in us by nature, since we are created in God’s image. The gospel is surprising, good news that has to come to us from the outside. Everyone knows that we should treat others the way we would like to be treated ourselves: the Golden Rule does not by itself provoke martyrdom. It does not need witnesses and heralds. In fact, it did not require the incarnation, much less the atonement and resurrection.

So it’s not surprising that the world would think that “all we need is love,” and we can do without the doctrine, since the world thinks it can do without Christ. Doctrine is where the religions most obviously part ways. Doctrine is where things get interesting-and dangerous. As the playwright Dorothy Sayers said, doctrine isn’t the dull part of Christianity, rather, “The doctrine is the drama.” Jesus was not revolutionary because he said we should love God and each other. Moses said that first. So did Buddha, Confucius, and countless other religious leaders we’ve never heard of. Madonna, Oprah, Dr. Phil, the Dali Lama, and probably a lot of Christian leaders will tell us that the point of religion is to get us to love each other. “God loves you” doesn’t stir the world’s opposition. However, start talking about God’s absolute authority, holiness, wrath, and righteousness, original sin, Christ’s substitutionary atonement, justification apart from works, the necessity of new birth, repentance, baptism, Communion, and the future judgment, and the mood in the room changes considerably. If postmodernism is simply a revival of modern romanticism (experience as sovereign), then it’s not very postmodern after all.

Historians often point out that for all of their differences, pietism and rationalism converged to create the Enlightenment. The heirs of modernity looked inward, to autonomous reason or experience, rather than outward, in faith and repentance toward a God who judges and saves. With Friedrich Schleiermacher, father of modern Protestant liberalism, the emphasis fell on Jesus as the supreme example of the kind of moral existence that we can all have if we share in his “God-consciousness.” So while Christianity may represent the purest and fullest realization of this principle, other religions are in their own ways attempts to put this universal religious and moral experience into words. We just say things differently, but we are experiencing the same reality. Where Kant located the essence of religion in practical reason (moral duty), Schleiermacher located it in religious experience, but either way the self is made the measure of truth and redemption is something that we find within ourselves, even if it is “Christ in my heart.” Revivalism, which is the mother of both Protestant liberalism and Evangelicalism, pressed the “deeds over creeds” and “experience over doctrine” thesis to its limits.

This means, of course, that Christ is not the unique God-Man, but the most divinized human being. The gospel is not what Christ did for me, outside of me, in history, but the impression that he makes on me, the nobility that he stirs up within me, to experience the same God-consciousness and love. Sin is not a condition from which I need to be saved, but actions that I can keep from doing with sufficient motivation and instruction. Christ’s death is not an atoning sacrifice that satisfies God’s just wrath, but an example of God’s love that moves us to repentance. Hence, “What would Jesus do?” is the main question, not “What has Jesus done?” The inside takes priority over the outside.

Distraction: The Pharisees

In contrast to the Sadducees, the Pharisees were scrupulous. The outside mattered, but in a legalistic way. They believed in the resurrection, the last judgment, the truthfulness of the miracles reported in the Bible’s historical narratives, and were so eager for the messianic age that they wanted everybody to get their house in order. Only when God’s people obey the law in all of its details (even the rabbinical rules designed to guard against violating the actual prescriptions of Moses) would the Messiah visit Israel and vindicate his people in the last judgment.

Now what could be wrong with a call to moral renewal and national righteousness? But the Pharisees were distracted from the real point of the kingdom. Expecting a king who would overthrow Roman rule and reestablish the Mosaic theocracy, they missed the real identity of the Messiah and his kingdom under their noses. The disciples themselves were also distracted, routinely changing the subject whenever Jesus spoke of the cross as they neared Jerusalem. They were thinking inauguration day, with the last judgment and the consummation of the kingdom in all of its glory. Jesus knew, however, that the only route to glory down the road was the cross up ahead. For all their emphasis on external righteousness and behavior, they too affirmed salvation from inside: by moral effort.

Jesus contrasts the false piety of the Pharisee with the genuine faith and repentance of the citizen of his kingdom in his famous parable in Luke 18:

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted. (vv. 9-14)

Jesus told the Pharisees, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). While Jesus basically seems to ignore the Sadducees, since they probably viewed each other as irrelevant, he warns repeatedly of “the yeast of the Pharisees,” which is “their hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1).

 

In the parable that Jesus tells, the Pharisee even prayed, “I thank you that I am not like this tax collector.” The only thing worse than his hypocrisy and self-righteousness was that he pretended to give God a little credit for it. We have all witnessed awards ceremonies in which recipients acknowledged the many people without whom such success could not have been possible. This is quite different, however, from being a beneficiary of the estate of someone who, at the very moment of drafting the bequest, was treated as an enemy. Christless Christianity does not mean religion or spirituality devoid of the words “Jesus,” “Christ,” “Lord,” or even “Savior.” What it means is that the way the names and titles are employed will be removed from their specific location in an unfolding historical plot of human rebellion and divine rescue and from such practices as baptism and Communion. Jesus as life coach, therapist, buddy, significant other, founder of Western civilization, political messiah, example of radical love, and countless other images can distract us from the stumbling block and foolishness of “Christ and him crucified.”

In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis has the devil (Screwtape) catechizing his minion (Wormwood) to keep the Christians distracted from Christ as redeemer from God’s wrath. Rather than clumsily announce his presence by direct attacks, Wormwood should try to get the churches to become interested in “Christianity and…”: “Christianity and the War,” “Christianity and Poverty,” “Christianity and Morality,” and so on. Of course, Lewis was not suggesting that Christians should not have an interest in such pressing issues of the day, but he was making the point that when the church’s basic message is less about who Christ is and what he has accomplished once and for all for us, and more about who we are and what we have to do in order to justify all of that expense on his part, the religion that is made “relevant” is no longer Christianity. By not thinking that “Christ crucified” is as relevant as “Christ and Family Values” or “Christ and America” or “Christ and World Hunger,” we end up assimilating the gospel to law. Again, there is nothing wrong with the law-the moral commands that expose our moral failure and guide us as believers in the way of discipleship. However, assimilating the good news of what someone else has done to a road map for our own action is disastrous. In the words of Theodore Beza, “The confusion of law and gospel is the principal source of all the abuses that corrupt or have ever corrupted the church.” When God’s Law (and not our own inner sentiment) actually addresses us, our first response should be, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” not the reply of the rich young ruler, “All this I have done since my youth.”

Another way we distort the proclamation of Christ in the “Pharasaic” mode is by what has sometimes been called “the assumed gospel.” This is often the first stage of taking our eyes off of Christ. Even where Christ is regarded as the answer to God’s just wrath, this emphasis is regarded as a point that can be left behind in the Christian life. The idea is that people “get saved” and then “become disciples.” The gospel for sinners is Christ’s death and resurrection; the gospel for disciples, however, is, “Get busy!” But this assumes that disciples are not sinners, too. There is not a single biblical verse that calls us to “live the gospel.” By definition, the gospel is not something that we can live. It is only something that we can hear and receive. It is good news, not good advice. The good news is that, “But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the Law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe,” since sinners “are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, received through faith” (Rom. 3:21-25).

When the gospel-that is, Christ as Savior-is taken for granted, we are no longer being constantly converted from our hypocrisy and self-trust to faith and love. Like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable, we thank God that we are not like others, but we are really trusting in our own “discipleship.” The Pharisees were disciples too, and they had their disciples. But only in Christ is discipleship the consequence of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, rather than its own contribution to human redemption.

Jesus himself said, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). When he was rebuked by his disciples for raining on their parade by talking about the cross, Jesus said, “It is for this reason that I have come to this hour” (John 12:27). When Philip asked Jesus to show them the way to the Father, Jesus said that he is the Way (John 14:8-14). Similarly, Paul told the Corinthians that he was not only single-mindedly determined to preach Christ alone, but “Christ crucified,” although it is “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks,” since it is the only good news capable of saving either (1 Cor. 1:18, 22-30; 2:1-2). In other words, Paul knew (the super-apostles were always providing concrete evidence) that preachers could use the name of Jesus, but as something or someone other than the vicarious sacrifice for sinners.

The Greeks love wisdom, so show them a Jesus who is smarter at solving the conundrums of daily living and the church will throng with supporters. Jews love signs and wonders, so tell people that Jesus can help them have their best life now, or bring in the kingdom of glory, or drive out the Romans and prove their integrity before the pagans, and Jesus will be laureled with praise. But proclaim Christ as the Suffering Servant who laid down his life and took it back up again, and everybody wonders who changed the subject.

The church exists in order to change the subject from us and our deeds to God and his deeds of salvation, from our various “missions” to save the world to Christ’s mission that has already accomplished redemption. If the message that the church proclaims makes sense without conversion; if it does not offend even lifelong believers from time to time, so that they too need to die more to themselves and live more to Christ, then it is not the gospel. When Christ is talked about, a lot of things can happen, none of which necessarily has anything to do with his doing, dying, rising, reigning, and return. When Christ is proclaimed in his saving office, the church becomes a theater of death and resurrection, leading to genuine lives of witness, love, fellowship, community, and service-yet always requiring forgiveness and therefore always coming back to the good news concerning Christ.

Today, we have abundant examples of both tendencies: denial and distraction. On one hand, there are those who explicitly reject the New Testament teaching concerning Christ’s person and work. Jesus was another moral guide-maybe the best ever-but not the divine-human redeemer. However, evangelicals are known for their stand against Protestant liberalism. On the other hand, many who affirm all the right views of Christ and salvation in theory seem to think that what makes Christianity truly relevant, interesting, and revolutionary is something else. Distractions abound. This does not mean that Jesus is not important. His name appears in countless books and sermons, on T-shirts, coffee mugs, and billboards. Yet it has become something like a cliché or trademark instead of “the name that is above every name” by which alone we are saved.

Jesus Christ as the incarnate God in the merciful service of redeeming and reconciling sinners is simply not the main theme in most churches or Christian events these days. And what happens when we stop being reminded of who God is and what he has achieved in human history for a world in bondage to sin and death-in other words, when doctrine is made secondary? We fall back on our natural religion: what happens inside, that which we always know intuitively: law. “Deeds, not creeds” equals “Law, not gospel.” For all their theoretical differences, liberals and evangelicals end up sounding a lot like each other. Evangelicals who say that they believe in Christ end up reducing Christ to a moral example just as thoroughly as liberals, not by outright denial but by distraction. The goal of this article is not to brand contemporary Christians “Sadducees” and “Pharisees,” but to point out that one doesn’t have to deny Christ and the gospel in order to end up with Christless Christianity. In fact, one can appeal to Christ and “make Jesus the center” in a way that drifts back toward “pure religion” (morality) and away from “ecclesiastical faith” (doctrine).

Today, partly in response to the appalling lack of genuine discipleship in a post-Christian era, many Protestants like Stanley Hauerwas and Brian McLaren encourage us to recover the Anabaptist legacy, which, as I mentioned, focused on Jesus as moral example. In A Generous Orthodoxy, Brian McLaren explains, “Anabaptists see the Christian faith primarily as a way of life,” interpreting Paul through the lens of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount rather than vice versa. The emphasis falls on discipleship rather than on doctrine, as if following Jesus’ example could be set against following his teaching. What happens when the Sermon on the Mount is assimilated to a general ethic of love (i.e., pure morality), and doctrine (ecclesiastical faith) is made secondary? Christ himself becomes a mere example to help people become better non-Christians. In fact, McLaren writes, “I must add, though, that I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts.” “I don’t hope all Jews or Hindus will become members of the Christian religion. But I do hope all who feel so called will become Jewish or Hindu followers of Jesus.” It is no wonder, then, that McLaren can say concerning liberal Protestants, “I applaud their desire to live out the meaning of the miracle stores even when they don’t believe the stories really happened as written.” After all, it’s deeds, not creeds that matter. McLaren seems to suggest that following Jesus (pure religion) can exist with or without explicit faith in Christ (ecclesiastical faith).

There is nothing especially postmodern about any of this, of course. It is simply the legacy of the Enlightenment and its moralistic antecedents. If following Jesus’ example of love (never mind his exclusive claims, divisive rhetoric, and warning of judgment) is the gospel, then, of course there will be many Buddhists and liberals who are better “Christians” than many of us who profess faith in Christ. As Mark Oestriecher, another Emergent church writer, relates, “My Buddhist cousin, except for her unfortunate inability to embrace Jesus, is a better ‘Christian’ (based on Jesus’ description of what a Christian does) than almost every Christian I know. If we were using Matthew 26 as a guide, she’d be a sheep; and almost every Christian I know personally would be a goat.” Yet at the end of the day, “radical disciples” will burn out, too, and realize that they, like the rest of us, are hypocrites who fall short of God’s glory and need someone outside of them not only to show the way but to be the way of redemption. Although McLaren himself does not deny the Christ confessed in the creeds, he believes that what is most important about Jesus Christ is his call to discipleship, which allows us to participate in his redeeming work, rather than his unique, unrepeatable, completed work for sinners two thousand years ago.

In his book, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations, Dan Kimball, pastor of Santa Cruz Bible Church, announces the goal of the emerging church movement: “Going back to a raw form of vintage Christianity, which unapologetically focuses on kingdom living by disciples of Jesus.” If we are allowed to pick and choose whatever we like from the New Testament (again, hardly a uniquely postmodern trend-Thomas Jefferson had his own edited version, the moral Jesus of love minus the Christ of “ecclesiastical faith”), we will always gravitate toward ourselves and our own inner experience or morality, away from God: the external authority of his law and redemption announced in his gospel. Emergent Christians recognize the hypocrisy of evangelical consumerism with remarkable insight, and properly recoil at the images of Christians one finds in The Simpsons’ character Ned Flanders. However, they forget that before Emergent there was the “Jesus Movement” that turned into the megachurch movement that they recognize as deficient.

For all of their reactions, the “post-evangelical” emerging folks seem to follow the well-worn path of their revivalist forebears in seeing the church primarily as a society of moral transformers who preach themselves rather than Christ. Like many emerging church leaders (in continuity with my evangelical pastors growing up), Kimball invokes Francis of Assisi’s famous line: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” “Our lives will preach better than anything we can say.” But doesn’t this mean to preach ourselves rather than Christ? The gospel that we preach is good news because it is not the story of our discipleship, but of Christ’s obedience, death, and resurrection in our place. The good news is not, “Look at my life” or “look at our community”; it is the announcement that in Christ God justifies the wicked. Yes, there is hypocrisy, and because Christians will always be simultaneously saint and sinner, there will always be hypocrisy in every Christian and in every church. The good news is that Christ saves us from hypocrisy, too. But hypocrisy is especially generated when the church points to itself and to our own “changed lives” in its promotional materials. The more we talk about ourselves, the more occasion the world will have to charge us with hypocrisy. The more we confess our sins and receive forgiveness, and pass this good news on to others, the more our lives will be authentically changed in the bargain. With all due respect to St. Francis, the gospel is only something that can be told (i.e., words), a story that can be declared. When our lives are told within that larger story, rather than vice versa, there is genuine salvation for sinners and mission to the world.

Kimball writes that the “ultimate goal of discipleship … should be measured by what Jesus taught in Matthew 22:37-40: ‘Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, and soul.’ Are we loving him more? Love others as yourself. Are we loving people more?” This is not a revolutionary, new message; it is the imperative preaching that many of us have always heard growing up in Evangelicalism.

For all of its incisive critiques of the megachurch movement, how different is the Emergent message from Rick Warren’s call to “Deeds, Not Creeds”? These voices are right to remind us of what the law requires, and how Jesus in both his teaching and example exhibited the deepest demands that love places upon us. But if this is the good news, then we are all in trouble. As I grow in my holiness-realized in greater love for God and neighbor-I am actually more aware of how far I fall short. Therefore, on good days, I might answer Kimball’s question with cautious optimism, on other days it might lead me to despair. But the gospel is the good news that I need on any day, leading me away from myself to Christ “who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

Many conservative evangelicals and emerging “post-evangelicals” display their common heritage in an American revivalist tradition that Dietrich Bonhoeffer described as “Protestantism without the Reformation.” In a recent issue of TIME on Pope Benedict’s critical relationship with Islam, conservative Catholic scholar Michael Novak was quoted as saying concerning the pontiff, “His role is to represent Western civilization.” There are a lot of evangelical leaders who seem to think that this is their job, too. The mission of the church is to drive out the Romans (i.e., Democrats) and make the world safe for democracy. The Emergent movement’s politics are different: they lean left rather than right. For many reared on the “Christian America” hype of the religious right, this may seem like a major shift, but it’s just a change in parties rather than a deeper shift from moralism to evangelical mission. The Emergent sociology is different, too: Starbucks and acoustic guitars in dark rooms with candles rather than Wal-Mart and praise bands in bright-lighted theaters. Yet in either case, moralism continues to push “Christ crucified” to the margins.

We are totally distracted, on the right, left, and in the middle. Children growing up in evangelical churches know as little as unchurched youth about the basics of the Christian faith. They increasingly inhabit a church world that is less and less shaped by the gospel through Christ-centered catechesis, preaching and sacrament (the means that Jesus instituted for making disciples). The songs they sing are mostly emotive, rather than serving to make “the Word of Christ dwell in [them] richly” (Col. 3:16), and their private devotions are less shaped by the practices of corporate prayer and Scripture reading than in past generations. Nothing has to change on paper: they can still be “conservative evangelicals,” but it just doesn’t matter because doctrine doesn’t matter-which means faith doesn’t matter. It’s works that counts now, so get busy!

So now people are called to be the “good news,” to make Christ’s mission successful by living “relationally” and “authentically.” Where the New Testament announces a gospel that changes lives, now the “gospel” is our changed life. “We preach not ourselves but Christ” (2 Cor. 4:5) has been exchanged for a constant appeal to our personal and collective holiness as the main attraction. Church marketing guru George Barna encourages us to reach out to the unchurched on the basis of our character: “What they are looking for is a better life. Can you lead them to a place or to a group of people that will deliver the building blocks of a better life? Do not propose Christianity as a system of rules but as a relationship with the One who leads by way of example. Then seek proven ways to achieve meaning and success.” I am not at all implying that we shouldn’t follow Christ’s example or that the church shouldn’t have models and mentors. What I am suggesting is that discipleship is teaching others, and teaching them so well that even when we falter as role models, the maturity of their own discipleship will not fail because it is grounded in Christ and not in us.

No matter what we say we believe about Christ’s person and work, if we aren’t constantly bathed in it, the end result will lead to H. Richard Niebuhr’s description of Protestant liberalism: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a cross.” According to University of North Carolina sociologist Christian Smith, the working religion of America’s teens-whether evangelical or liberal, churched or unchurched-is “moralistic, therapeutic deism.” And the answer to that, according to many megachurches and emerging churches is “do more; be more authentic; live more transparently.” This is the good news that will change the world?

Christless Christianity can be promoted in contexts where either the sermon is a lecture on timeless doctrine and ethics or Christ gets lost in all the word studies and applications. Christ gets lost in churches where activity, self-expression, the hype of “worship experiences” and programs replace the ordinary ministry of hearing and receiving Christ as he is given to us in the means of grace. Christ gets lost when he is promoted as the answer to everything but our condemnation, death, and the tyranny of sin, or as the means to the end of more excitement, amusement, better living, or a better world-as if we already knew what these would look like before God addressed us in his law and gospel.

Back to Barnhouse’s illustration. Of course, Satan loves war, violence, injustice, poverty, disease, oppression, immorality, and other displays of human sinfulness. And of course he is displeased whenever a cup of cold water is offered to a thirsty man in Christ’s name. However, what he spends most of his time plotting is the displacement of Christ from the focal awareness, ministry, and mission of the church. Keeping unbelievers blind and believers distracted is his main strategy. Genuine renewal only comes when we realize that the church is always drawn to distractions and must always be redirected to Christ, always one generation away from becoming something other than the place in the world-the only place, in fact-where the finger points away from us to Christ, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

 


1 [ Back ] The quotations from Brian McLaren are taken from his work, A Generous Orthodoxy (Zondervan, 2004) pp. 61, 206, 214, 260, 264. The quotation from Mark Oestreicher is found in Dan Kimball’s The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for a New Generation (Zondervan, 2003), p. 53. The direct quotation from Kimball is from the same book, p. 26. The quotation from Francis of Assisi is taken from pp. 185 and 194 of Kimball’s work. The TIME magazine article on Pope Benedict is from the November 27, 2006, issue, p. 46. George Barna’s quotation is from his book Grow Your Church from the Outside In (Ventura: Regal, 2002), p. 161.

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Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California), host of The White Horse Inn national radio broadcast, and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is author of several books, including Power Religion, A Better Way, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology (Baker, 2006), and Too Good to be True: Finding Hope in a World of Hype (Zondervan, 2006).

Issue: “Christless Christianity” May/June Vol. 16 No. 3 2007 Pages 10-16

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Revival and Reform: Where is it? What is it?

Posted by Scott on December 6, 2008

At the time of this writing I have been watching, listening, and studying this very topic on Revivals and Reforms of the past and what is to come.  The great Reformation of Luthers day really changed the direction the Christian church was going and is still in effect today. 

In the past there have been what I believe to be false revivals instituted by such men as Charles Finney and others.  As you can tell, I am no advacate of Finneyism at all…personally believe it has done tremendous damage to the Church as a whole, but that is another topic all together.

Today, across our country and many other countries we are seeing young men being drawn back to the foundations of our Christian faith…Reform Theology (Calvinism as some call it)…true Reformed Theology, not that which has been misrepresented for decades as hyperCalvinsim.  These young men are being drawn to read and study on the likes of Spurgeon, Watson, Buroughs, Ravenhill, Tozer, Whitefield, Edwards, Calvin, Knox, Flavel, Boston, Martin Lloyd Jones, Stott, MacArthur, Piper, Sproul, Packer, Warfield, and many others that fall into this camp.  Stott, MacArthur, Packer, Sproul, and Piper are still alive and well, but the rest have been forgotten by many in the Evangelical movement of the 20th and 21st century.  These great mens lives and testimonies are resurfacing in full power to proclaim the real gospel of Jesus Christ not the watered down version people are flocking to today.

Why are young men returning to this theology, to this biblical doctrinal truth?  It is a deep seated desire to know God in His fullness, to know Christ without mans inhabitions, to serve God with all their being, and a response to God’s call back to holiness and righteousness…they have a deep seated desire of God…the Holy Trinity.  This has been missing in the Evangelical movement or revival movement for the past 60 years or more.   Contrary to belief our life is not all about getting saved and then getting others saved…not as our first response.  Others coming to the saving knowledge of Christ through our testimony is a by product of our own living testimony in Christ and the greater work of the Church as the Holy Spirit moves them…salvation is a total work of God and Him alone.  Our first priority is to know God personally, fulfill His commands, to serve God personally unabashedly, and bring our lives into line with Him.  Striving for a holy life like that of Christ unto righteousness.  We are to work out our salvation…not as salvation by works..that is not what I am saying here, but to show or prove our salvation in how we live, how obdeient we are to the commands of God, how we react to circumstances in our lives, how we respond to our neighbors needs and actions, in how we love others and treat others, how we serve our employer, how we treat our taxes to the government, to serve the Lord with gladness of heart regardless of our life circumstances, to be found in deep study with the Word of God daily, to be found in communication with our God at all times, to share the true authentic gospel of Christ as the Holy Spirit provides that opportunity to whom He provides that opportunity, and so on.  This will be misunderstood by many, but that is ok…to be taught correctly sometimes means to be misunderstood by some.

The Church in America or western civilization has not experienced a real reform or revival in probably 200 years it seems.  Sure there have been little emotionally stirred up events in the past 200 years, but I am talking about a revival of the saints where the Word of God is preached bringing the Believers to their knees in repentance of their sins as the power of the Holy Spirit falls upon them, an engathering of hundreds and thousands of lost people to their knees in total shame of their sinful depraved enemy status with God, calling out to God for His mighty forgiveness and turning to walk in a new direction with God.  These were revivals without invitation systems…these were revivals preached by godly men until the Spirit of God fell upon the people of these communities.  A point to which the Holy Spirit came in such power that the mere prescense of a man of God would cause people to fall to their knees in repentance.  This is revival…this is how reformations get started. “My heart says of You, Seek Your face! Your face, Lord, I will seek.” Psalm 27:8

We are not in need of a new Reformation….we are in need of a return to the old Reformation.  The Church has left the love the early reformers had for God and the delicate caring and exposition of His Word.  We have fallen in love with the thought of being involved in some great revival somewhere.  We have fallen in love with surveying the lost to see how they would do church, to surveying communities to get their opinions of church direction and such.  We have fallen in love with fads, with systems, with trends and all sorts of humanistic hog wash, and have failed to fall deeply in love with our sovereign God.  We have fallen in love with an idea of God that we have created and love, but not what Scripture teaches about the true God.   The Reformation of the past had nothing do with mans “free will” left to man alone…if salvation was left to man to decide none would be saved…we would all perish in hell for all eternity…we are depraved, sinful, evil hearted people.  God has told us we cannot trust our hearts.  The reformation of the past had everything to do with returning to trusting in God’s sovereign will over man’s depraved will.  Understanding that man has a will, but God’s will is always in control of it…not as robots, but as people under the influence of God.  God is our creator and He fully intends to keep in control His creation…the restraining hand of God has been on evil men since the beginning otherwise the world would be unbearable and someday it will be that way.

Today, God is raising up men from all over the world that will return to preaching God’s Word in its entirety.  They will move the church from a wimpy Christ that just wants us all to get along with each other, to “coexist” as all religions leading to one God, a fill good Santa Claus or Geni in a bottle…they are bringing back the preaching with power.  These young men are not bashful to claim how lost a person is, how sinful man is, how totally depraved a man is, how much in need of a savior we are.  These guys will sacrifice their lives in order to advance the kingdom of God.

I encourage anyone reading this to seek the face of God now about sin in your life.  Ask God to renew your heart, to purify your life, to move you in a direction of His choosing not yours.  Get rid of the chains of a false religion that has you captured thinking you have to pursuade people to be saved, that you have to be eliquent in your message, that you must go out and do what the lost do in order to get them saved…all we as Believers must do is live a holy and righteous (not self-righteous) life before God and man, teach and preach the Word of God from Genesis to Revelation not just a few minor sections of the New Testiment, and as the Holy Spirit prompts us to share with someone about our life in Christ do it without hesitation.  Get rid of the notion that we are to go door to door, use a man made system, share a two sentence tract with someone…we are to live and breath our God in all that we are and do.  Salvation is not a matter of a 3 minute conversation, a 30 second prayer, and boom you are in.  Salvation is total transformation of the heart and mind turning from sin, depravity, evilness, worldliness, selfishness…to a life committed to furthering the kingdom of God, to living a holy and sanctified life, to being controlled by the Holy Spirit of God, desiring God above all things, spending our lives in the service of Christ whenever and wherever He leads us.

God’s Stubborn People
48 “Listen to me, O family of Jacob,
you who are called by the name of Israel
and born into the family of Judah.
Listen, you who take oaths in the name of the Lord
and call on the God of Israel.
You don’t keep your promises,
     even though you call yourself the holy city
and talk about depending on the God of Israel,
whose name is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
     Long ago I told you what was going to happen.
Then suddenly I took action,
and all my predictions came true.
     For I know how stubborn and obstinate you are.
Your necks are as unbending as iron.
Your heads are as hard as bronze.
     That is why I told you what would happen;
I told you beforehand what I was going to do.
Then you could never say, ‘My idols did it.
My wooden image and metal god commanded it to happen!’
     You have heard my predictions and seen them fulfilled,
but you refuse to admit it.
Now I will tell you new things,
secrets you have not yet heard.
     They are brand new, not things from the past.
So you cannot say, ‘We knew that all the time!’
     “Yes, I will tell you of things that are entirely new,
things you never heard of before.
For I know so well what traitors you are.
You have been rebels from birth.
     Yet for my own sake and for the honor of my name,
I will hold back my anger and not wipe you out.
10      I have refined you, but not as silver is refined.
Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering.
11      I will rescue you for my sake—
yes, for my own sake!
I will not let my reputation be tarnished,
and I will not share my glory with idols!

Tyndale House Publishers: Holy Bible : New Living Translation. 2nd ed. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House Publishers, 2004, S. Is 48:1-11
God will not be mocked, His name tarnished by the Emergent or Seeker religions.  He is not interested in our philosophy, our eastern mysticism, our best life now, our prosperity on earth…He is intersted in a people that are obedient to His call, to His commands.  He is interested in our obedience regardless of the cost.  As authentic Believers we need to return to loving our neighbors, serving others, feeding others, taking care of others.  Also, we are to speak of God’s Word totally relying on the results from God.  Preach and teach and live out the Word of God, but get out of His way so we may see the mighty results God will bring forth.
Concluding:  Where is the revival or reformation of the 21st century?  It is starting in the mind and hearts of young men and some older men all over the world.  It cannot be prayed into being.  It cannot be stirred up by the words of men.  This revival or reformation will come at the time of God’s own choosing and place of His own choosing, but I can see some sparks starting to flare up in these guys.  We could certainly witness one final great revival in this century.  We simply need to have our minds, hearts, and ears to the Word of God, listening to His calling and returning to preaching and teaching expositionally what He has to say.  His word has always been relivent to every generation and does not need some new system in order for people to get it.  God will plant His Word in the hearts and minds of His chosen peolpe…we are called to deliver it.
I know what you might be thinking…where is the zeal for others to come to know Christ?  It is there, biblically not man made.  My number one priority is obedience to God, service to Christ, and allowing myself to be used in anyway possible by my heavenly Father.  This will result in some evangelism, some mentoring other younger Believers, witnessing to a neighbor, feeding the hungry, clothing the very poor, fixing a flat tire for single mom stranded on the road, watching an older person while their kids do some shopping, and so on.  The zeal for others to accept Christ is always there biblically….not the way the we have been taught from little kids up that all of life revolves around witnessing and evangalising in a concerted effort, all the time which is wrong.  Think about it.  Amen!
(c) Scott Bailey 2008

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Ten Indictments for the Modern Church-Paul Washer

Posted by Scott on December 1, 2008

Paul Washer delivers a timely message on the plight of the church today.  I have witnessed as Paul has said here younger men all over the world that are digging deep in the Word of God, studying and reading the old theologians like Spurgeon, Tozer, Ravenhill, Lloyd Jones, Whitefield, Edwards, Owens, Boston, Augustine, Campbell, Flavel, and more.  Young men are being drawn back by God to the core foundations of the faith.  Many young men all over the world proclaiming authentic Christianity are not pulled into the humanistic lie of the Emergent and Seeker friendly philosophies.  They are pulled into a God centered biblical theological doctrine sometimes called Reformed Theology or 5 Point Calvinism…either way, it is the truth of God’s Word.  Watch and listen carefully.  Come back to see it over and over.  Personally, I will watch and listen many times as well.  I need the constant reminder of the direction God is taking us and what His Scriptures are telling us.  Search, dig, and act accordingly.

 

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A Halloween that changed the world!

Posted by Scott on October 31, 2008

On October 31, 1517, something happened that changed the world. No, it had little to do with Halloween. Do you know what it was? Even the man who did it didn’t know the effect it would have. On October 31, 1517, a Roman Catholic Augustinian monk and priest by the name of Martin Luther (1483-1546) nailed a notice on the door at Wittenberg Castle church in Germany. To Luther, it was a relatively small act. This was the common way of scheduling a debate in those days. But the world has not been the same since.

Martin Luther is one of my favorite historical characters. This is not because he was perfect. He certainly had flaws (don’t we all?). It is because he so bravely stood for what he believed to be right and, by doing so, certainly helped to pierce the veil of darkness that then shrouded the world. Four hundred ninety years ago this month he nailed his famous “ninety-five theses” to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany.

Martin was the firstborn son of Roman Catholic parents. His father Hans was a miner who scraped up enough money to send his brilliant son to university; there Martin studied the law. He earned his bachelor of arts in 1503 and his master of arts degree in 1505 at the age of twenty-three.

One July day, a thunderstorm frightened Martin as he walked along. He begged Saint Anne, the miner’s saint, for help, and vowed to become a monk. A few days later, Martin joined the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt.

In those days, almost everyone in Europe was a Roman Catholic. Martin Luther hoped to find salvation for himself by being a perfect monk. He did all the prayers and works and confessions required of him. He venerated the relics. But he still felt unworthy of God. He believed he could never please God; he knew his sins and his sinful nature remained and that he was worthy only of eternal punishment.

He talked to one of the supervisors in his monastery about his troubled thoughts but found no peace in the solutions offered by the Roman Catholic teaching. Luther was given the jobs of teaching and preaching, so he spent a lot of time studying the Scriptures. Finally, God showed him the answer to his doubts. “The just shall live by faith,” wrote the apostle Paul in Romans 1:17. This meant that Martin could be justified (declared not guilty and seen as righteous) before God only by faith (putting his trust in Jesus Christ as His Savior), not by any works he could do. In Scripture, he had found the truth, and the truth had set him free!

Luther began to teach this doctrine to others. But he found himself in conflict with many of the Roman Catholic doctrines. He felt certain that the wrong doctrines could be straightened out by study and debate. He felt sure that the pope and the leading men of the Roman Catholic Church sincerely wanted to teach right doctrine from the Bible. He believed the church leadership had merely slipped into error, and they would readily correct themselves when the errors were exposed. This is why he nailed ninety-five points for debate to the church door on 31 October 1517. He wanted to initiate a scholarly debate.

But the reaction he received was vastly different than he expected, in two ways. First, the pope and leaders of the church did not want to debate. They did not want to change anything. They did not believe they were wrong! They firmly believed the authority to interpret Scripture lay with the pope and the church’s traditional teachings. They had no intention of listening to a German monk!

Second, the citizens of Wittenberg and many other areas began reading what Luther had written, and were in great agreement with it. (It had been originally written in Latin, the language of scholars and of the church, but it was very soon translated into the common German language.) Luther’s ideas and teaching spread like wildfire throughout Germany and soon to distant parts of Europe.

Luther continued to write about the doctrines he was finding in the Bible. He began teaching many things that were contrary to the official Roman Catholic teachings. He wrote several tracts and booklets. He was sincerely attempting to wake up and clean up the Roman Catholic Church. He was truly trying to educate the people in Scripture, for up until this time, people only knew and believed what the church leaders told them. Most people could not read Latin, or even get their hands on a Bible. Now, they were hearing the words of Scripture, which had been kept hidden from them by their leaders. They were astonished and edified by what they were now reading.

The pope was trying to raise money, by various methods, to build St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. One of the methods was to sell indulgences. A friar named Tetzel came into the neighborhood hawking these slips of paper. He taught the common people a jingle that said something like, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” Many people still assumed the Roman Catholic Church and the pope had authority over them. The only way to have forgiveness of sins, they believed, was to get it from the pope. The people were eagerly buying these indulgences to free their loved-ones from purgatory and to give themselves license to sin. Martin Luther spoke out against this practice saying it is not in line with the teachings of the Bible. The pope and other church leaders found their sales dropping off and decided to put a stop to this Martin Luther!

Luther was summoned to a religious court hearing before the Emperor Charles V, church leaders, and civil leaders in the city of Worms, Germany. They asked him to retract his writings. They commanded him to stop teaching contrary to the Roman Catholic Church. He replied, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason, for my conscience is captive to the Word of God, I cannot and I will not recant for it is neither right nor safe for a Christian to go against his conscience. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”

Charles V pronounced Luther an outlaw. He declared, “We want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic.” He also made giving food or shelter to Luther a crime and gave permission for anyone to kill Luther. Luther escaped death because of the daring, undercover operation of Frederick III, Elector of Saxony (the part of Germany where Luther lived). Frederick had Luther “kidnapped” by masked men and whisked off to Wartburg Castle, where Luther grew a beard and, for about eleven months, pretended to be a knight. During his stay at Wartburg, Luther continued to write. He also translated the New Testament from Greek into German so his countrymen could read it for themselves in their own language.

Many began to look to Scripture alone as the authority for their beliefs. They began to reject the authority of the pope and the Roman Catholic Church. The people questioned Roman Catholic doctrines. Most importantly, many began to rely on faith in Christ’s atonement and righteousness for their salvation, instead of upon works, penance, and indulgences.

But while at Wartburg, the Reformation began to get out of Luther’s control. He returned to Wittenberg to try to stop people who wanted to make extreme changes beyond what he had taught. Luther considered these people (who included Anabaptists) to be radicals and troublemakers because they were preaching the equality of man, the separation of church and state, and believer’s baptism. To Luther, this was going too far.

We might wonder how Luther could think this. But it might help if we try putting ourselves in his place. He was born into an extremely dark time in history. He was a monk and priest in a church that claimed to be the only way to salvation, yet it did not understand the Gospel. And, unlike today, Luther could not just read the writings of ministers in other churches or walk out of the Catholic Church and into a Bible-believing church to get help. Any churches outside of the Roman Catholic Church were small, persecuted, scattered in the wilderness, and secretive. Luther was brought up in, educated in, and totally surrounded by a worldview that contradicted the Gospel. But despite this handicap, God, by His grace, opened Luther’s mind to the Gospel and used him to light a light in that dark world.

True, his doctrines and practices were not perfect. But would any one of us, coming from the same background, living in the same circumstances, have done any better? Not only did God use him to directly preach the Gospel, but his influence resulted in many others preaching the Gospel. In fact, Luther was probably the most influential man to have lived from the time of the apostles to now. The Protestantism that sprang from his movement has helped to mold our civilization.

It is also true that some of the radicals did go too far and introduce violence. Luther wrote, “Do you know what the Devil thinks when he sees men use violence to propagate the gospel? He sits with folded arms behind the fire of hell, and says with malignant looks and frightful grin: ‘Ah, how wise these madmen are to play my game! Let them go on; I shall reap the benefit. I delight in it.’ But when he sees the Word running and contending alone on the battle-field, then he shudders and shakes for fear.”

One of the most controversial events in Luther’s life was his connection to the Peasants’ War that started in 1524. At first, Luther expressed sympathy for the peasants’ complaints. But when the peasants became violent, Luther himself instigated violence by telling the nobility to treat the peasants without pity and put them down like mad dogs: “Whosoever can, should smite, strangle, and stab, secretly or publicly.”

So, Martin Luther was a complex person. He made great strides in some areas, especially in promoting the authority of the Bible alone, justification by faith alone, and freedom of the conscience. Yet, odd as it may seem to us today, Luther could not see that these teachings opened the door to more civil and religious freedom than he was willing to allow in his time. But these freedoms would inevitably come as people, including the Anabaptists and other radicals whom Luther tried to suppress, took these ideals to their natural conclusions, resulting in the religious freedoms and open society we have today.

© Copyright 2007 Peter and Mary Ditzel wordofhisgrace.org

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Martin Luther’s 95 Theses-Happy Reformation Day!

Posted by Scott on October 31, 2008

To honor and remember the beginning of the great Reformation 490 plus years ago please take time to read the 95 These Luther posted to the door to the castle at Wittenburg, Germany.

Disputation of Doctor Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences
by Dr. Martin Luther
31 October 1509
 or 1517 (?)

Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter.

In the Name our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.

2. This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.

3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers
mortifications of the flesh.

4. The penalty [of sin], therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

5. The pope does not intend to remit, and cannot remit any penalties other than those which he has imposed either by his own authority or by that of the Canons.

6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring that it has been remitted by God and by assenting to God’s remission; though, to be sure, he may grant remission in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in such cases were despised, the guilt would remain entirely unforgiven.

7. God remits guilt to no one whom He does not, at the same time, humble in all things and bring into subjection to His vicar, the priest.

8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to them, nothing should be imposed on the dying.

9. Therefore the Holy Spirit in the pope is kind to us, because in his decrees he always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.

10. Ignorant and wicked are the doings of those priests who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penances for purgatory.

11. This changing of the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory is quite evidently one of the tares that were sown while the bishops slept.

12. In former times the canonical penalties were imposed not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.

13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties; they are already dead to canonical rules, and have a right to be released from them.

14. The imperfect health [of soul], that is to say, the imperfect love, of the dying brings with it, of necessity, great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater is the fear.

15. This fear and horror is sufficient of itself alone (to say nothing of other things) to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.

16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ as do despair, almost-despair, and the assurance of safety.

17. With souls in purgatory it seems necessary that horror should grow less and love increase.

18. It seems unproved, either by reason or Scripture, that they are outside the state of merit, that is to say, of increasing love.

19. Again, it seems unproved that they, or at least that all of them, are certain or assured of their own blessedness, though we may be quite certain of it.

20. Therefore by “full remission of all penalties” the pope means not actually “of all,” but only of those imposed by himself.

21. Therefore those preachers of indulgences are in error, who say that by the pope’s indulgences a man is freed from every penalty, and saved;

22. Whereas he remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, according to the canons, they would have had to pay in this life.

23. If it is at all possible to grant to any one the remission of all penalties whatsoever, it is certain that this remission can be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to the very fewest.

24. It must needs be, therefore, that the greater part of the people are deceived by that indiscriminate and highsounding promise of release from penalty.

25. The power which the pope has, in a general way, over purgatory, is just like the power which any bishop or curate has, in a special way, within his own diocese or parish.

26. The pope does well when he grants remission to souls [in purgatory], not by the power of the keys (which he does not possess), but by way of intercession.

27. They preach man who say that so soon as the penny jingles into the money-box, the soul flies out [of purgatory].

28. It is certain that when the penny jingles into the money-box, gain and avarice can be increased, but the result of the intercession of the Church is in the power of God alone.

29. Who knows whether all the souls in purgatory wish to be bought out of it, as in the legend of Sts. Severinus and Paschal.

30. No one is sure that his own contrition is sincere; much less that he has attained full remission.

31. Rare as is the man that is truly penitent, so rare is also the man who truly buys indulgences, i.e., such men are most rare.

32. They will be condemned eternally, together with their teachers, who believe themselves sure of their salvation because they have letters of pardon.

33. Men must be on their guard against those who say that the pope’s pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to Him;

34. For these “graces of pardon” concern only the penalties of sacramental satisfaction, and these are appointed by man.

35. They preach no Christian doctrine who teach that contrition is not necessary in those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessionalia.

36. Every truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without letters of pardon.

37. Every true Christian, whether living or dead, has part in all the blessings of Christ and the Church; and this is granted him by God, even without letters of pardon.

38. Nevertheless, the remission and participation [in the blessings of the Church] which are granted by the pope are in no way to be despised, for they are, as I have said, the declaration of divine remission.

39. It is most difficult, even for the very keenest theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the abundance of pardons and [the need of] true contrition.

40. True contrition seeks and loves penalties, but liberal pardons only relax penalties and cause them to be hated, or at least, furnish an occasion [for hating them].

41. Apostolic pardons are to be preached with caution, lest the people may falsely think them preferable to other good works of love.

42. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend the buying of pardons to be compared in any way to works of mercy.

43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better work than buying pardons;

44. Because love grows by works of love, and man becomes better; but by pardons man does not grow better, only more free from penalty.

45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a man in need, and passes him by, and gives [his money] for pardons, purchases not the indulgences of the pope, but the indignation of God.

46. Christians are to be taught that unless they have more than they need, they are bound to keep back what is necessary for their own families, and by no means to squander it on pardons.

47. Christians are to be taught that the buying of pardons is a matter of free will, and not of commandment.

48. Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting pardons, needs, and therefore desires, their devout prayer for him more than the money they bring.

49. Christians are to be taught that the pope’s pardons are useful, if they do not put their trust in them; but altogether harmful, if through them they lose their fear of God.

50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the pardon-preachers, he would rather that St. Peter’s church should go to ashes, than that it should be built up with the skin, flesh and bones of his sheep.

51. Christians are to be taught that it would be the pope’s wish, as it is his duty, to give of his own money to very many of those from whom certain hawkers of pardons cajole money, even though the church of St. Peter might have to be sold.

52. The assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is vain, even though the commissary, nay, even though the pope himself, were to stake his soul upon it.

53. They are enemies of Christ and of the pope, who bid the Word of God be altogether silent in some Churches, in order that pardons may be preached in others.

54. Injury is done the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or a longer time is spent on pardons than on this Word.

55. It must be the intention of the pope that if pardons, which are a very small thing, are celebrated with one bell, with single processions and ceremonies, then the Gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.

56. The “treasures of the Church,” out of which the pope grants indulgences, are not sufficiently named or known among the people of Christ.

57. That they are not temporal treasures is certainly evident, for many of the vendors do not pour out such treasures so easily, but only gather them.

58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the Saints, for even without the pope, these always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outward man.

59. St. Lawrence said that the treasures of the Church were the Church’s poor, but he spoke according to the usage of the word in his own time.

60. Without rashness we say that the keys of the Church, given by Christ’s merit, are that treasure;

61. For it is clear that for the remission of penalties and of reserved cases, the power of the pope is of itself sufficient.

62. The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.

63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last.

64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.

65. Therefore the treasures of the Gospel are nets with which they formerly were wont to fish for men of riches.

66. The treasures of the indulgences are nets with which they now fish for the riches of men.

67. The indulgences which the preachers cry as the “greatest graces” are known to be truly such, in so far as they promote gain.

68. Yet they are in truth the very smallest graces compared with the grace of God and the piety of the Cross.

69. Bishops and curates are bound to admit the commissaries of apostolic pardons, with all reverence.

70. But still more are they bound to strain all their eyes and attend with all their ears, lest these men preach their own dreams instead of the commission of the pope.

71 . He who speaks against the truth of apostolic pardons, let him be anathema and accursed!

72. But he who guards against the lust and license of the pardon-preachers, let him be blessed!

73. The pope justly thunders against those who, by any art, contrive the injury of the traffic in pardons.

74. But much more does he intend to thunder against those who use the pretext of pardons to contrive the injury of holy love and truth.

75. To think the papal pardons so great that they could absolve a man even if he had committed an impossible sin and violated the Mother of God — this is madness.

76. We say, on the contrary, that the papal pardons are not able to remove the very least of venial sins, so far as its guilt is concerned.

77. It is said that even St. Peter, if he were now Pope, could not bestow greater graces; this is blasphemy against St. Peter and against the pope.

78. We say, on the contrary, that even the present pope, and any pope at all, has greater graces at his disposal; to wit, the Gospel, powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written in I. Corinthians xii.

79. To say that the cross, emblazoned with the papal arms, which is set up [by the preachers of indulgences], is of equal worth with the Cross of Christ, is blasphemy.

80. The bishops, curates and theologians who allow such talk to be spread among the people, will have an account to render.

81. This unbridled preaching of pardons makes it no easy matter, even for learned men, to rescue the reverence due to the pope from slander, or even from the shrewd questionings of the laity.

82. To wit: — “Why does not the pope empty purgatory, for the sake of holy love and of the dire need of the souls that are there, if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a Church? The former reasons would be most just; the latter is most trivial.”

83. Again: — “Why are mortuary and anniversary masses for the dead continued, and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal of the endowments founded on their behalf, since it is wrong to pray for the redeemed?”

84. Again: — “What is this new piety of God and the pope, that for money they allow a man who is impious and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God, and do not rather, because of that pious and beloved soul’s own need, free it for pure love’s sake?”

85. Again: — “Why are the penitential canons long since in actual fact and through disuse abrogated and dead, now satisfied by the granting of indulgences, as though they were still alive and in force?”

86. Again: — “Why does not the pope, whose wealth is to-day greater than the riches of the richest, build just this one church of St. Peter with his own money, rather than with the money of poor believers?”

87. Again: — “What is it that the pope remits, and what participation does he grant to those who, by perfect contrition, have a right to full remission and participation?”

88. Again: — “What greater blessing could come to the Church than if the pope were to do a hundred times a day what he now does once, and bestow on every believer these remissions and participations?”

89. “Since the pope, by his pardons, seeks the salvation of souls rather than money, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons granted heretofore, since these have equal efficacy?”

90. To repress these arguments and scruples of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the Church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies, and to make Christians unhappy.

91. If, therefore, pardons were preached according to the spirit and mind of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved; nay, they would not exist.

92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Peace, peace,” and there is no peace!

93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, “Cross, cross,” and there is no cross!

94. Christians are to be exhorted that they be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hell;

95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven rather through many tribulations, than through the assurance of peace.

Published in:  Works of Martin Luther, Adolph Spaeth, L.D. Reed, Henry Eyster Jacobs, et Al., Trans. & Eds. (Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1915), Vol. 1, pp. 29-38.

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Does God Predestine Some to Hell? Great Video by Mark Kielar

Posted by Scott on October 29, 2008

Romans 9:17-18

17For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”[a] 18Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

Exodus 7:2-5

2 You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. 3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt, 4 he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. 5 And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.”

Exodus 9:12

12 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses.


So, God either actively or passively intervenes in peoples lives.  The same opportunities to accept the gospel are present, but the intervention of God is different.  Remember also, God’s common grace that all men enjoy whether deserved or not.  Without the hand of God restraining this vile evil that exist in man, the world would not be tolerable by any human being or beast.  God is Sovereignly at work in the lives of His people for our greater good and ultimately His greater glory.   Praise the Lord He first loved me and sought me out like the hound on the trail of a rabbit…nothing will deter the will of God.


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Happy Reformation Day! 499th Anniversary of the Great Reformation Beginning!

Posted by Scott on October 28, 2008

This October 31st, 2008 marks the 499th Anniversary of the day that Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the Catholic Church in Germany. Through his sacrifice and courage to challenge the church at that time he made known that we can go before God without any human “go between”. Jesus Christ is our “go between” now. Please, enjoy the short article below as we celebrate another year this great reformation has survived.

Martin Luther

Luther Brings Faith and Grace to Everyday Life. Martin Luther’s great evangelism tool was the written word. Though Luther was famous as a preacher and teacher, he believed that everyone needed to build his or her own personal relationship with God through God’s word.

He translated the entire Bible into German (his native language), believing that every single person should be able to read well enough to read the Bible on his or her own. He also wrote the explanations in the Small Catechism, so that parents would have an simple way to teach their children the basics of their faith.

Luther had a complex and interesting life. The definitive biography is Here I Stand, by Roland Bainton (New American Library). John Osborne’s Luther (a play published by Criterion Books) was filmed in a version starring Stacey Keach, which is still available. But the important part of Luther’s life is the legacy he left to us of his overwhelming fascination with the study of God and God’s relationship to us. He based his view of God on a thorough rereading of the New Testament, from which come the key Lutheran beliefs of priesthood of believers (Hebrews 7, 9 , and 10) and justification by faith (Romans 3: 23).

The priesthood of believers includes all of us who are believers, and it means that each of us has the right to approach God directly through prayer and study without go-betweens and without wondering which of us is the most important to God: each of us is equally important to God. And in Christian community, we serve as priests to one another.

Justification by faith means that God loves us and saves us not because of who we are or what we do, but because he created us and we are his. Luther wrote, “In baptism, our sinful selves are drowned, and day by day a new self arises.” He encouraged us to remember our baptism every time we take a shower or wash our faces; God’s removal of our sins is that close and that constant. The knowledge of the closeness of God to us in every thing we say and do every day of our lives is Luther’s great gift to Christian life.

During Luther’s lifetime, he was the best-selling writer in Europe. What would our lives be like if Luther’s Small Catechism was at the top of the list of best selling books week-in and week-out?

More resources can be found at SundaySchool Lessons.

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Quiet Heroes!

Posted by Scott on October 7, 2008

Quiet Heroes by A.W. Tozer

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth…. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. –Matthew 5:5-8

We have but to become acquainted with, or even listen to, the big names of our times to discover how wretchedly inferior most of them are. Many appear to have arrived at their present eminence by pull, brass, nerve, gall and lucky accident. We turn away from them sick to our stomach and wonder for a discouraged moment if this is the best the human race can produce. But we gain our self-possession again by the simple expedient of recalling some of the plain men we know, who live unheralded and unsung, and who are made of stuff infinitely finer than the hoarse-voiced braggarts who occupy too many of the highest offices in the land. . . .

. . . the church also suffers from this evil notion. Christians have fallen into the habit of accepting the noisiest and most notorious among them as the best and the greatest. They too have learned to equate popularity with excellence, and in open defiance of the Sermon on the Mount they have given their approval not to the meek but to the self-assertive; not to the mourner but to the self-assured; not to the pure in heart who see God but to the publicity hunter who seeks headlines. Man: The Dwelling Place of God, 96-97.

“Lord, I thank You this morning for all the unknown but faithful pastors serving churches in quiet places. We do place a lot of emphasis on the ‘personalities’ and big-church leaders. Thank You for the ‘quiet heroes‘ and their faithful service; give them great encouragement today. Amen.”

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Holiness A Way of Life…For the Authentic Believer!

Posted by Scott on September 16, 2008

A couple of mornings in my quiet time I was reading and studying through the Heroes of the Faith in Hebrews 11:1-40 and continuing on into chapter 12 as well.  Something interesting was shining through each verse and my awareness of God’s strong calling for us men to return to a holiness the world has not seen or heard of for centuries…these men of old lived by a faith in someone that was unknown in that day and time and unseen…the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ.  These early faithful fathers considered a strange life to be worth more than all the wealth in the world.  Many were willing to sacrifice everything they had in order to follow the commands of God.  We must ask ourselves if we are willing to give up our wealth, our job, our golf game, our constant trips away from the family, our social life, and so on in order to be obedient to call of God on our lives.  Not many are willing, but some are.

All these people spoken of here were living out their faith in God and the coming Messiah at the time of their death.  They did not waiver in their faith.  They desired to be holy and not compromise their holiness for anything less than their very best for God.  Each one of them considered themselves to be strangers or aliens while on earth.  They had not conformed to the world’s way of living…they stayed the course.  These men and women understood their role as being made after the image of God. 

Any of us that are today striving to live our lives in holiness, set apart for the service and work of God our Father must ask ourselves if we are really walking in faith daily?  We live in the greatest nation on the face of the earth in the way of safety, security, freedom to worship as we please and where we please and even the ease of life.  However, conformity to the world is even easier here.  It is much easier to live as everyone else does.  It is much easier just to go along with what everyone else is doing.  Send the kids to public school that teach them to be everything but a holy Christian, so you don’t have to answer those questions that homeschool parents get asked.  Put the kids in every sport and activity known to man so they don’t have be pressured by their peers at school or church..just conform to the world’s way of life and it will be much easier.  Remember, only have two children…if you have a boy and a girl you now have the “perfect” family…I mean you must know better than God how man kids you can handle…us guys we surely know what is best for our families, God just pushes us out here and kind of lets us go in all directions and hopes we end up where He planned.  Play golf every weekend because your buddies do and they might laugh at you for being a “family man” if you did not join them.  Guys, it is much easier to just conform to the ways of our society than it is to live a holy life…we must admit this to ourselves.  Now, guys you you know all that sounds absurd, but that is how many Christians live and wonder why they have no impact for Christ.  Let’s stop and think about the early Christian’s and what they went through for the cause of Christ.  Stop and think about your life and whether it is pleasing to our heavenly Father who has told us to be “holy”.

“…others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. 37They were stoned[a]; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated…”  Hebrews 11:35-37

These early Christians were our examples of how an authentic Christian should live.  The difference Christ has made in our lives should be obvious to those around us.  It could lead to beatings, ridicule, imprisonment, torture, etc., but in our society today most likely just very opinionated people lashing out is what will happen.  How may of us are willing to live in holiness with a threat hanging over our heads, because of our faith.  The Scriptures tell us that “the world was not worthy of these.”  Can this be said of you and me?  Are we living such a life that we are willing to take the jeers from others including other so called believers?  Are we willing to be an alien in this world to the point of being taken to court over it or even imprisoned for the Christ sake?  These are serious questions we all must ask ourselves.

Holiness was worth going through some of the most horrible torture the world could think of to many of the early Christians.  Moses regarded disgrace for the sake of the coming Messiah of greater value than all the treasure in all of Egypt.  Rahab was willing to risk her and her families life to assist the godly men of God.  Enoch was rewarded for being the one who pleased God and was taken away to heaven without experiencing death…holiness was evident in his obedience to God’s word.  He understood that it was impossible to please God without being obedient to Him.  Noah built the ark in holy fear of God who commanded him to build it.  Each of these people and many more were considered holy before a perfectly holy God.  They understood the risk, but also believed in the reward…God Himself!

To be disciplined by God is to be loved by God.  He must sanctify us before He uses us and He is disciplining us to experience in His holiness.  These hardships and disciplines are brought upon us to produce a holy righteousness and a peace that surpasses the masses understanding.  In this quest for holiness, God intends on training us so that we can share in His holiness.  He intends the bride of Christ (the Elect, the Sheep, the Chose ones) to be holy when He returns.

In conclusion, this life is worth living only if it is lived out for God and Him alone.  Everything we do in this life should be for the glory and honor of our most holy God.  Our holiness is important to God in pointing the way for others to an authentic faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.  We must ask ourselves a question each and everyday…what am doing today that is showing my holiness before our almighty God?

“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”   -Hebrews 12:14

(c) Scott Bailey 2008

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