Monday, December 26, 2005
Although I wholeheartedly agree that the indiscriminate file sharing that's emdemic today constitutes robbery against the intellectual and artistic property of both record companies and artists, I regret that the law against sharing is so restrictive so as to make me choose between obeying the law and sharing my blessings with those closest to me. Even though I can't think of any Biblical law that prohibits such sharing, this is one instance where I think man's law is far more draconian than God's. Although I reject any notion of doing anything such as making my music collection available to the entire Internet, whether for free or profit, I'm grieved that man's law forces me to keep my treasures to myself with the only exceptions being the occasional temporary loan. Instead of making my dad a copy of that CD, I felt bound to do nothing more than to allow him to borrow it for a few weeks. What a shame!
In my opinion, the problem when man enacts such overly strict laws, with very small "offenses" constituting a violation of law, he provides much temptation to go beyond the minor to the major. With music sharing, one might think, "If it's against the law to burn a copy for my brother or best friend, I'm already a crook, so why not go ahead and share my music with the world?" Likewise, when the speed limit on a road is set unnecessarily low, it's all too likely that people will thus think themselves free to speed on roads which do have reasonable speed limits. Therefore, I think that good government would do best to ensure that laws are reasonable and avoid making such acts as copying a CD for my dad into an illegal act. With reasonable laws, people are, I think, more likely to obey, but with unreasonable laws, they are likely to progress from minor to major violations.
On account of Scripture's teaching regarding the Christian's responsibility to the governing authorities, I count myself as being bound to obey such unreasonable laws--thus my reluctant refusal to copy my CD for my dad--but so many other folks aren't as scrupulous as me. What a shame that man's laws so often fall so far short of the utterly reasonable and just laws of God, and what a reminder this is that I won't experience true justice until I depart to be with Christ.
The end of compromise
Instead, I'm going to make a fearless prediction about what will become of today's efforts to make Christianity "relevant" to today's generation. In the short run, churches that ally themselves with Purpose Driven Life, Willow Creek, etc., will no doubt continue to experience rapid growth, but the day will come when such churches will wither and die, becoming mere husks of the seemingly vibrant churches they are today. I base my prediction on the sad fate of a very similar movement from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries that saw the rise of the Social Gospel. In the face of threats such as Darwinianism, a substantial portion of the professing church invested much effort in reinventing the church so as to better address the issues of the day. Proponents of this movement were found in many denominations: Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc.. For a time, their message attracted many people, but as the years went on, the affected churches ended up compromising more and more Biblical truth, resulting in what is now known as theological liberalism. The denominations in which this liberalism took greatest hold have seen substantial decline, both spiritually and numerically. Thus, a movement that began with an evangelistic zeal for bringing more men and women into the church ended by killing whatever spiritual life had once existed in the churches that had welcomed it with such enthusiasm.
My friend, we ignore church history at our own peril! Although the names and details of heresies and errors have varied substantially, the substance of them has varied very little. The seeker-sensitive and emergent movements bear more than a little resemblance to the Social Gospel movement of past days. Although these movements seem to prosper today, you may mark my words: time will make their true fruit known, and their now-crowded amphitheaters will play host to nothing but dead air. In the meantime, God will continue to gather His remnant among those who hear those preachers who faithfully preach the whole counsel of God.
I say all this not as a prophet, but as a student of history who knows all too well the inevitable fruit of doctrinal compromise. Like every attempt to water down the Gospel to attract unrepentant sinners, the seeker-sensitive and emergent movements will certainly fail.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
All gifts are free
Exhibit B: Almighty God, who, looking upon fallen humanity in its wretchedness, chose a people for Himself, giving them a Savior to pay the price for all their sins.
So what's the big difference between God and Mr. Claus? Simply put, the gifts that the guy in the red suit bring are granted based upon human merit, whereas the Gift that God gave in Jesus Christ is based solely upon God's free grace.
The distinction could hardly be greater, but yet how often I have acted as though God was little more than a greater version of Mr. Claus! I've done so whenever I've fancied that I somehow deserve this or that gift. So often I fail to remember the wretched, fallen state I was in when Christ found me out: the state I would be in to this day were it not for His wholly unmerited grace to me. How I dishonor God whenever I think that my good works--filthy rags all--somehow make me more worthy than some other creature to obtain His favor.
This is not to say that I ought not seek God's face to ask Him for the things which I desire, for if I do so with a right attitude and right motives, I will acknowledge my utter dependence upon His grace and favor. The same God who gave me the greatest gift of all--salvation through His only Son--will freely give me all other things, but I must always remember that every favor I enjoy from Him, whether great or small, is a free and gracious gift. Thus, I am left without any cause to boast in God's gifts, with my only proper response to His graciousness being a simple, heartfelt "Thank You!"
Thursday, December 15, 2005
The monarchy of God
However, this doesn't mean that we understand the significance of the kingdom of God as well as we ought. Often, when we hear of the kingdom, we think of its subjects, the church, but we fail to think of its head: the King of kings. Scripture reveals that God is perfect in all His attributes--love, holiness, goodness, justice, etc.--and this fact implies that God is perfect in every role that He fills, including His awesome position as King over all creation.
One of the many features of Reformed theology that I appreciate the most is its central focus on the sovereignty of God: His full and complete control over all things that come to pass, including in the salvation of His Elect. To be honest, sovereignty is a difficult subject to understand, and in our democratic generation, we often fail to realize that sovereignty goes hand in hand with the kingly role of the one who holds that sovereignty.
So many people in the Western world are so accustomed to representative government that we understandably have little clue of how a true monarchy (as opposed to a constitutional monarchy such as the UK) works. In particular, we don't realize what it's like to have literally no say-so regarding how the affairs of government are carried out. In a true monarchy, the king makes and enforces the laws. Although he may appoint advisers and governors to assist him, they are responsible to submit to the king's every wish and decree. If an adviser happens to give the king advice that pleases the monarch, it remains the king that enacts the law and who determines how it is to be enforced. Should a state be blessed with a good and wise monarch, all is well with the people, but should they be burdened with a cruel despot, all will suffer the consequences, with their only hope of deliverance lying in a better king taking power after the death or overthrow of their tyrant. Of course, the king's subjects remain free moral agents who in their hearts may take strong issue with his rule, but should the king catch wind of their rebellion, the consequences for them may be terrible.
Although there are some parallels that may be drawn between the reign of a human king versus the reign of the King of kings, there are many ways in which the rule of God is unique. For one thing, He is the only King who is altogether good, wise, and just. For another, He is very much aware of every word and thought of His subjects, so He will not allow any evil to go unpunished unless in His mercy He allows that subject to find mercy through His appointed Substitute, Jesus Christ. Also, there is nothing that transpires in His kingdom that fails to fall under His sovereign control. There is no King mightier than the King of all creation!
God's very work of Providence testifies to His sovereign rule. Although we like to fancy that we possess a substantial degree of control over our lives, the fact is that the only control we have is that which God the King allows us to have. A great deal of the issues that define the course of our lives are totally out of our control. Our family, our place of birth, our race, our gender, our degree of wealth or poverty, the availability of education, even whether or not we ever hear the preaching of the Gospel are matters that are outside of our control. I'm sure that all reasonable people will agree that these things are beyond our control, but yet many fancy that there's a great deal of things of which we do enjoy a measure of control.
Judging by what I understand of history, the various doctrines that claim for man a degree of sovereignty over his eternal destiny have been most popular in ages and places where people have become accustomed to a degree of political freedom. For instance, semi-Pelagianism, although formulated many centuries before, began to attain prominence under the name of Arminianism in 17th Century republican Holland, grew in popularity in constitutional monarchist Britain through the preaching of John Wesley, and became nearly omnipresent in 19th and 20th Century America. As true monarchy receded, so did Calvinism, and as republican government spread, so did Arminianism. In other words, as the doctrine of the political freedom of man spread, so did the doctrine of man's spiritual freedom to choose or refuse salvation.
Today, I think one of the significant side effects of the lack of understanding of God's sovereign reign is seen in the efforts in some circles to reinvent the church to better meet the perceived felt needs of man. Were my nation ruled by a sovereign king, he would not be my servant, catering to my felt needs; instead, I would be his subject, responsible to do his bidding and obey his commandments. Likewise, the primary purpose of the church is to honor and glorify God rather than to obtain blessings for itself. Although our gracious God is indeed pleased to bless His people, man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Thus, the work of the church ought to be centered upon how man ought to serve God, not upon how God ought to serve man, for all mankind owes total allegiance to its sovereign Lord.
I in no way wish for a return to the human despots of past times, and I thank God for the many freedoms that I enjoy on account of modern democratic government, but yet I feel that my generation would profit from a greater understanding and appreciation of the monarchy of God. If we were to rightly understand the nature of God's sovereign rule over His creation, it would not seem to be so strange that God is sovereign over even the eternal destiny of His creatures.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
The church victorious
True faith is hard work!
The fact of the matter is this: "faith" that depends upon instant gratification of my every felt need isn't true faith. No, true faith trusts God and takes Him at His Word even when circumstances are screaming out, "Where is my hope of deliverance? Is there any way of escaping this affliction?" True faith takes God at His Word regardless of whether circumstances are pleasant or devastating. Moreover, true faith is prepared to wait on the Lord until He sees fit to bring deliverance, whether that deliverance comes in this life or in that which is to come. In fact, the object of true faith isn't deliverance from trouble: instead, it's Christ Himself. Although we free to cry out to the Lord for deliverance--we ought to do so for He is our only hope!--we ought to look upon our trials not so much as troubles to be escaped as soon as possible, but instead as opportunities to learn to trust ourselves less and trust God more.
None of this is easy. There are few, if any, quick fixes in the walk of faith. Although God often delivers speedily, He often takes His time in granting that speedy deliverance. We're so inclined to get things over with quickly. We tend to crave temporal comfort and peace, so it's natural that we'd do so. God, on the other hand, is in no hurry. He has all eternity ahead in which to work out His sovereign will, so He has no need to rush. This is very hard for us to understand. We are weak, emotional creatures who don't cope well with ongoing troubles.
So what are we to do when we find ourselves in terrible trouble but yet receive only silence when we call earnestly upon the Lord? Should we give up on the Lord and turn to man for help? God forbid! What help is the arm of the flesh? No, we have no better choice than one: to call the things which be not as though they were, or, in other words, to take God at His Word--the Scriptures--even when circumstances are as bad as we can possibly imagine. Of course, we ought not engage in the Christian Science or Word of Faith madness of denying the symptoms. If Christ treated man's afflictions as being real, we ought to emulate his example. Also, we ought not refuse the help of our fellow creatures when it's right and prudent to accept it, for God usually chooses to work through ordinary means, but yet we must reject any notion of pinning our hopes on the help of mere creatures. God alone is the object of true faith.
When I was a charismatic, I was a mere spiritual babe at best or an unbeliever at worst, but once I began to put aside the charismatic crutch of prompt and total deliverance from every problem, I began to learn just how difficult the walk of faith really is. In fact, it's so difficult that I couldn't walk the walk in my own strength. I needed the twin helps of Scripture and the Holy Spirit: the first to give me knowledge, the second to give me grace and wisdom to use that knowledge. It wasn't enough to cry out to the Lord in earnest prayer for a day or two. Having put aside my supersitious ways, I had to learn how to walk as a mature believer, trusting the Word even when God had seen fit to allow my afflictions to go on without apparent relief. This walk of faith is often difficult, but through it I've grown in maturity to a far greater extent than I would have had God always answered my prayers as quickly as I would like. Answered prayer is a blessing to be sure, but I'm learning that waiting for the answer to my prayer is a blessing just as great!
Friday, December 09, 2005
Spurgeon: delays in answered prayer
"Therefore will the Lord wait that he may be gracious unto you." - Isaiah 30:18
God often delays in answering prayer. We have several instances of this in sacred Scripture. Jacob did not get the blessing from the angel until near the dawn of day-he had to wrestle all night for it. The poor woman of Syrophenicia was answered not a word for a long while. Paul besought the Lord thrice that "the thorn in the flesh" might be taken from him, and he received no assurance that it should be taken away, but instead thereof a promise that God's grace should be sufficient for him. If thou hast been knocking at the gate of mercy, and hast received no answer, shall I tell thee why the mighty Maker hath not opened the door and let thee in? Our Father has reasons peculiar to himself for thus keeping us waiting. Sometimes it is to show his power and his sovereignty, that men may know that Jehovah has a right to give or to withhold. More frequently the delay is for our profit. Thou art perhaps kept waiting in order that thy desires may be more fervent. God knows that delay will quicken and increase desire, and that if he keeps thee waiting thou wilt see thy necessity more clearly, and wilt seek more earnestly; and that thou wilt prize the mercy all the more for its long tarrying. There may also be something wrong in thee which has need to be removed, before the joy of the Lord is given. Perhaps thy views of the Gospel plan are confused, or thou mayest be placing some little reliance on thyself, instead of trusting simply and entirely to the Lord Jesus. Or, God makes thee tarry awhile that he may the more fully display the riches of his grace to thee at last. Thy prayers are all filed in heaven, and if not immediately answered they are certainly not forgotten, but in a little while shall be fulfilled to thy delight and satisfaction. Let not despair make thee silent, but continue instant in earnest supplication. - Charles H. Spurgeon
A new move of God?
For several years, I did my best to get myself into the best position to find the right revival. I hung out in the charismatic circles that were at least as revival mad as I was, attending lots of special "revival" meetings, and I prayed with great fervency for revival. I even received dreams and visions of a revival that was supposedly going to come.
For a time, my hopes were high enough to provide me with a considerable amount of "steam" to keep me chasing after them, but in time, I became discouraged and gave up the chase. Although I'd checked out all sorts of promising leads, every fresh move of God that I encountered failed to live up to its billing. It was tough to give up my dreams, but in retrospect I'm so glad I got off that roller coaster when I did, for in the years following my disillusionment, a number of alleged revivals swept the Charismatic Movement. They had names such as the Toronto Blessing and the Brownsville Outpouring. In each instance, the boosters shared amazing tales of what God was doing, but yet one after another, each revival fizzled out and came to nothing. More than that, each of these "revivals" left considerable spiritual wreckage in its wake, understandably so if one believes that God Almighty is doing something only to find out that the whole thing had little or nothing to do with Him. I never found my revival, but I still came close to abandoning the faith. I can imagine that if I had found what I'd hoped for only to come to see it as a counterfeit, my devastation would have been far greater.
Thus, I was grieved to hear that a new "revival" had begun, this time in Kansas City. According to the account I read, this revival had been prophesied a number of years ago by the so-called Kansas City Prophets, but was delayed by some "mistakes" that had been made. Although I don't know all of the details of what's going on with this "revival", I'm not afraid to plainly state that I know that it's going to turn out to be a lie and a sham. The prophets on whose word this thing is founded showed themselves to be false prophets years ago: they boasted of their high--60% or so--accuracy, disregarding the Biblical standard of 100% accuracy for a true prophet. Scripture makes it plain that God speaks only through those prophets who accurately and faithfully proclaim His Word, so we can be 100% confident that God did not speak to the KC Prophets. Thus, whatever is taking place in KC, it is certain that God is not behind it and that He is not blessing it. Since God is not behind it, it will come to no good end, leaving disillusionment in its wake. Far from being a move of God, such a revival can be only a judgment against the foolish people who run after fanciful tales that are not in accord with Scripture. Although exciting experiences may well come to those who plunge into this revival, you may mark my words: the end of the thing will not be pretty and will bring nothing but dishonor to the name of Christ.
Should God have any people of His amongst the KC crowd, I pray that He will have mercy on them and grant them a way of escape from the deception and disappointment that will come. As for the ravenous wolves who are leading this mockery, I pray that God will make them willing to repent of their wickedness and turn to Christ, and that if He's not so willing that He will speedily expose their lies and discredit their "ministries." A false revival is no blessing from God; indeed, it is a curse against false doctrine and practice. I pray that this counterfeit revival would come to a speedy end!