Results tagged “discipleship” from Reformation21 Blog

3 Crosses of Discipleship

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Recently, my pastor has started a Men's Bible Study series on discipleship by examining a classic passage for discipleship:

In Luke 9:22-24, Jesus said, "The Son of Man must suffer many things; He must be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life...If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it."

This is a familiar passage for most Christians and yet it always remains a challenging passage. In this passage, Jesus is not attempting to give his apostles a rose-colored view of the Christian life. Rather, He presents the conditions of discipleship plainly: self-denial and cross-bearing. The Christian life must conform to the example given by Christ Himself who willingly bore the cross. The meaning is quite clear - no one can be considered to be Christ's disciple unless he is truly an imitator of Him and is willing to pursue the same course. This self-denial implies that we should abdicate our natural inclinations, and as Calvin says "part with all the affections of the flesh, and thus give our consent to be reduced to nothing, provided that God lives and reigns with us." We are called to bear our cross, but this is not a cross that we lay upon ourselves. Our Father lays upon us the cross that is suitable to us and thus, the patience of the believer consists in bearing willingly the cross which has been laid on him.

I've thought about this basic exhortation of cross-bearing from our Lord a number of times and I think that Paul makes a complementary statement in Galatians 6:14,

"But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."

In this passage, Paul contrasts the sincerity of the false teachers/apostles to Himself. The false teachers in Galatia have denied the cross of Christ by demanding circumcision and their glory is the applause of men. In contrast, Paul's glory and triumph is in the cross of Christ. In this way, the call of self-denial is answered by boasting and glorying in Christ crucified. Paul boasts in what Christ's death has accomplished - namely peace with God, pardon for sins, imputed righteousness, eternal life, salvation, and eternal glory. Paul gloried in Christ as his wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

Paul continues to discuss the realities of the cross of Christ in two ways. First, Paul notes that in the cross of Jesus Christ, "the world has been crucified to me." Here, Paul states that in the cross of Christ, we die to this world. In other words, all that belongs to the old man has died in Christ. This matches Paul's statement in Philippians 3 in which "I count all things as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ my Lord." Indeed, it's worth suffering the loss of all things in order that one may gain Christ. To say it more directly, to crucify the world is to treat the world with contempt and disdain. In glorying in the cross of Christ, Paul deliberately denied the riches, honors, pleasures, profits, and applause of this world. As John Gill notes, Paul's faith in the crucified Christ overcame the world so that "he looked upon it as the Israelites saw the Egyptians, dead on the sea shore". The world cannot captivate him nor overcome him because Paul has seen the world for what it truly is. Paul understood that the wisdom and glory of this present evil age are doomed to pass away (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:2).

Secondly, Paul notes that in the cross of Jesus Christ, "I have been crucified unto the world". Paul was a man who was despised by the world for the sake of a crucified Christ. The world had no affection for Paul, as Paul had none for the world. Paul was considered to be "scum of the earth and the refuse of the world" (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:13). Rather than glory, Paul received dishonor; rather than praise, Paul was slandered and was viewed as an imposter (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:4-10). Paul willingly renounced the praise of men and the glory of the world because the world was dead to him.

Paul's words and example in Galatians 6:14 are worth emulating because it provides instruction on how we should view the world. To deny oneself and to take up one's cross is a twofold death. On one hand, Christian discipleship is a call to renounce our affection for this present evil age. As the author of Hebrews states, we do not have a permanent city in the world, but we are looking for the city that is to come (cf. Hebrews 13:14). We know that this present evil age is under the sentence of the death and this judgment is becoming more and more obvious as time progresses. As Paul, a Christian disciple is one who has renounced the glory of this world for the surpassing riches of Christ.

On the other hand, Christian discipleship is a call to bear the disgrace that He bore. One of the basic temptations of Christians in our day is the desire for respectability, particularly among American evangelicals. There appears to be a deep desire for Christians to be thought of as cultured, compassionate, educated, well-spoken, and intelligent in the public square. In spite of this, we must always remember the words of our Lord: "The servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also" (cf. John 15:20). If the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18), how much more is the cross-bearing life? No matter how refined our Christian message and witness is, we will always bear the disgrace that He bore (cf. Hebrews 13:13). A disciple of Christ does not run away from this disgrace; we are warned that if anyone is ashamed of Christ and His words, then the Son of Man will be ashamed of Him (cf. Luke 9:26). Rather, we, as disciples of Christ, go to Him "outside the camp" and we must willingly bear the mocking and ridicule that is associated with our confession.

We now live in a day where many essentially tenets of Christian doctrine and ethics are considered foolish at best and morally reprehensible at worst. In these days, it's important to return to the basics regarding the Christian life, which starts with discipleship. Let us live as disciple of Christ by believing what God says, by obeying what God commands, and by expecting what God promises. Let us deny ourselves, take up cross daily, and follow Him, for He promises that whoever will lose His life for His sake will save it.

The Statement on SJ&G Explained: Article 8, The Church

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[Editorial Note: This is the eighth post in a series of posts in which we have invited the authors of "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" to expound upon the statement's affirmations and denials. We encourage our readers to take the time to read through our prefatory editorial note at the beginning of the first post prior to reading through subsequent posts in the series.]


Article 8: The Church

WE AFFIRM that the primary role of the church is to worship God through the preaching of his word, teaching sound doctrine, observing baptism and the Lord's Supper, refuting those who contradict, equipping the saints, and evangelizing the lost. We affirm that when the primacy of the gospel is maintained that this often has a positive effect on the culture in which various societal ills are mollified. We affirm that, under the lordship of Christ, we are to obey the governing authorities established by God and pray for civil leaders.

WE DENY that political or social activism should be viewed as integral components of the gospel or primary to the mission of the church. Though believers can and should utilize all lawful means that God has providentially established to have some effect on the laws of a society, we deny that these activities are either evidence of saving faith or constitute a central part of the church's mission given to her by Jesus Christ, her head. We deny that laws or regulations possess any inherent power to change sinful hearts.

The church (ἐκκλησία) is the assembly of God's people who are saved by faith alone in Christ alone and gather together in local assemblies for both service and worship. In a literal rendering of the Greek - the term means a called out assembly. Christ founded his Church and made a definitive statement - "The gates of hell will not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18). It has been God's plan from the beginning for his people to associate together, help one another, and assemble for worship and service in a community of a local church. In short, the church is God's will for your life. The high mark of the believer's life should be centered in and through the local church rather than politics or any other humanitarian outlet or organization.

In recent days, Russell Moore has suggested that the goal of "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" was primarily about race. In fact, Russell Moore talked to Laruen Green of Fox News and in that interview he stated the following about the Statement:

What we're really talking about is race. And so, I think we have a long lasting issue within evangelicalism of people saying 'Let's not talk about issues of racial reconciliation, unity, and justice--that would be a distraction from the gospel. That's exactly what was happening in the 19th century as it related to human slavery. That's exactly what was happening in the 1920s and 1950s as it related to Jim Crow and it persists among us.

The main focus of the Statement is not centered on race. Out of the fourteen articles, the Statement contains two that focus on race and twelve others that focus on other matters including biblical manhood and womanhood and the mission of the Church which is Christocentric with the gospel at the center.

In fact, the main reason for the need for the Statement in the beginning was based upon three really important issues that need to be addressed--and it's not all about race. While race and the idea of systemic racism and systemic oppression is certainly one issue we want to address in the Statement--there are other issues such as the rise of egalitarian methods within evangelicalism and the category of LGBT Christianity. In may ways, biblical manhood and womanhood are the focus of the Statement.

Each of these subjects, within evangelicalism, are impacted by our culture with a shallow and often skewed understanding of the Church of Jesus Christ. For that reason we included an article in the Statement that helps unpack the mission of the Church of Jesus Christ.

The Mission of the Church

As "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" articulates, "the primary role of the church is to worship God through the preaching of his word, teaching sound doctrine, observing baptism and the Lord's Supper, refuting those who contradict, equipping the saints, and evangelizing the lost." This is a good summary of the work and mission of the local church.

As Ephesians 4:12 makes clear, the work of the pastor is centered on equipping the saints for the work of ministry. When the primacy of the gospel is maintained, this equipping ministry of the local church will impact the culture which is filled with the brokenness of sin. Charles Hodge writes:

The works of God manifest His glory by being what they are. It is because the universe is so vast, the heavens so glorious, the earth so beautiful and teeming, that they reveal the boundless affluence of their Maker. If then, it is through the church that God designs specially to manifest to the highest order of intelligence, His infinite power, grace and wisdom, the church in her consummation must be the most glorious of His works.1

As the Scriptures are expounded in the context of the local church, the followers of Jesus submit to his authority and desire to walk in obedience to his commands. Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). One of the clear teachings of Jesus is found in his response to the scribe who sought to trap him just two days before his brutal crucifixion (Mark 12:28-34). Jesus responded to the scribe's question by saying:

The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these. (Mark 12:29-31).

To love God supremely results in loving neighbor sacrificially. This is not something that flows out of a secular social justice movement, it's right out of the mouth of Jesus himself. When a culture is filled with strong churches, the mission of Christ will be alive and well throughout the society. When a culture is lacking the presence of God's people or filled with shallow churches, the mission of Christ will lacking in the society as a whole.

The Mission Drift of the Modern Church

The local church in many contexts has been swept away in the tsunami of politics and social justice interaction. In other cases, the local church has been turned into a humanitarian aid station for the poor in the community or the poor in other nations (digging wells and supplying clothes for impoverished tribes in South America). While getting involved in such efforts to care for the needy is a fine ministry, but it's not the overall mission of God's Church.

When we examine the number of organizations that a person can join in a specific city, it can be a bit overwhelming. There are numerous groups that a person can identify with such as:

  1. American Red Cross
  2. Salvation Army
  3. Kidney Foundation
  4. AARP
  5. NRA
  6. YMCA
  7. Boy Scouts
  8. Girl Scouts
  9. Ronald McDonald Foundation
  10. Republican Party
  11. Democratic Party
  12. US Military
  13. Homes for our Troops
  14. National Military Family Association
  15. Special Olympics
  16. Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
  17. Boy's and Girl's Clubs of America
  18. Local or National Chess Club
  19. Local Bowling Club
  20. Local Gardening Club
  21. Local Dancing Club
  22. Local Running Club
  23. Local Bird Watching Club
  24. Local Yacht Club
  25. Local Horse Riding Club
  26. Local Dog Training Club

Add to this list a quickly growing number of parachurch ministries designed to engage in the work of ministry. However, the mission of the church is far different than any of these popular organizations and clubs and far more essential than any parachurch ministry. Even those organizations that focus on humanitarian care and social involvement, the local church has a far higher mission that centers upon glorifying God and exalting Christ throughout the world.

The church was once focused on the worship of God through the Scriptures, but today many pulpits have been replaced by political stumps and the gospel has likewise been replaced by political talks filled with social justice jargon. The very moment that a church trades the mission of Christ for the mission of political social justice--that group ceases to be a true church. Furthermore, their message cannot lead people to freedom and true liberation. Instead, they lead people into the darkness of oppression and injustice. Only through the gospel can a person's heart be changed resulting in true submission to God.

Furthermore, as the local church is driven by the spirit of the age rather than the Spirit of God through holy Scripture--the more likely the local church will trade in their prayer for civil leaders for the slander of partisan politics. The church has been called to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2) rather than slandering them under the banner of the gospel. Far too many "Social Justice Warriors" find it cool to slander leaders rather than lead their congregations to pray for them.

We must reject the idea that political involvement and social justice engagement is the mission of the church of Jesus Christ. While we can work through proper channels and use voting privileges lawfully, the mission of Christ has never changed or shifted from the day Christ founded it. Alistair Begg has stated the following in a sermon:

We are not in the world today to reform the world. Our mandate in the world is not political, it's not social, and it's not economic. The fact that many of us have lived through a period of time in the United States where by the social, political, and economic concerns have increasingly encroached upon the minds of those who should know better and have begun to take on virtually a life of their own whereby we have begun to be seduced by the idea that these really are the issues. That if we could fix this, and fix this, and fix this--then we would be fine. But we were never invited to fix this and this and this. The calling of the church is to proclaim the gospel. And whenever that which is central, namely the gospel, becomes peripheral--then that which is peripheral inevitably becomes central.

However, that is precisely the opposite of the social justice agenda of our present culture. Eric Mason, in his book, Woke Church, makes the following bold assertion:

To apply this we must be awakened to the reality of implicit and explicit racism and injustice in our society. Until then, our prophetic voice on these matters will be anemic and silent. Being woke is to be aware. Being woke is to acknowledge the truth. Being woke is to be accountable. Being woke is to be active. This is the call of God on the church and on every believer.2

To make the claim that the mission of the church is to be "woke" is to be guilty of false advertising at best and egregious mission drift at worst. Furthermore, Jesus doesn't need to ride the wave of pragmatic cultural trends in order to complete his mission through the Church. I would further argue that Jesus was not "woke" in his earthly ministry and doesn't need that label for his Church today.

The term "woke" has been defined by Eric Mason in a sermon at Dallas Theological Seminary as an "urban colloquialism used by black nationalists and those who are in the black consciousness movement." The term did not emerge from gospel of Jesus Christ and the Scriptures. It's safe to say that it doesn't have the best past. Therefore, it's unwise to hitch the Church of Jesus to such a culturally perverse term. Such a move on the part of Mason leads to confusion rather than clarity. It may lead to book sales, but it doesn't help in clarifying the mission of the local church.

To make the bold assertion that it's the mission of the church is to lead the people of God off track. Any step toward the "woke" movement is to follow the footsteps of culture rather than Christ. This is true not only in terms of the witch hunt for systemic racism, but it's likewise true regarding any movement that distracts God's people from their mission which will always be centered on the good news of salvation through Christ Jesus our Lord.

The real question that needs to be answered is--how does the "woke" church movement and the hyper emphasis upon social justice differ from cultural Marxism? I've yet to hear a good clear differentiation between the two.

What you believe about the church matters. How the local church engages in the mission of Christ matters. When we follow the plan of Jesus - it will lead to more just and equitable societies throughout the world. Only the gospel can cause people to bow in submission to King Jesus and as a result, those same people will submit to the laws of society. Those same people will labor in the gospel ministry in a local community through their local church resulting in lasting change that brings glory to God.

1. Charles Hodge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians (Accordance electronic ed. New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1856), 174.

2. Eric Mason, Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice, (Chicago: Moody, 2018), 32.

The Need for a Ministerial Break Down

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"We keep our preaching basic because we have so many new believers. If we give them too much doctrine, they won't be able to understand it." I can't remember how many times I've heard church planters and pastors say such things. Sadly, as their ministries begin to grow numerically, mature believers in the congregation are left to languish in spiritual malnourishment and discouragement. On the other hand, there are those churches (though significantly fewer in number) in which ministers seem to wear their academic interests on their sleeve in the pulpit. They burden the congregation with highly nuanced theological subjects or phraseology in the name of faithfulness. Whether it is compromising ministers diluting God's word to the spiritual malnourishment of the congregation or ivory tower pastors caring little about bringing along new believers, one of the great needs of our day is for preachers to learn how to break down, rather than water down, the truth of God's word.

We find this important principle at work in the ministry of John Calvin. On the whole, Calvin tended to reserve his more academic prowess for the institutes and his commentaries--rather than for his sermons. In his essay, "Calvin's Sermons on Ephesians: Expounding and Applying Scripture," Randall C. Zachman helpfully observes,

"[Calvin's] sermons differed from the commentaries both in terms of their audience and their objective. The commentaries have, as their audience, the future pastors...with the goal of revealing the mind of the author with lucid brevity. The sermons have, as their audience, ordinary Christians within a specific congregation with the goal of expounding the intention or meaning of the author, and of applying that meaning to their use, so that they might retain that meaning in their minds and hearts, and put it into practice in their lives."

Calvin sought to adjust himself in different ways to his readers and hearers--distinguishing between what he wrote for the academy and what he proclaimed from the pulpit. A brief comparison of his commentary on Genesis and his sermons on Genesis serve to demonstrate this difference of approach. To be sure, it is a task of no small difficulty.

In our day, when ministers water down God's word they almost always do so from behind a missiological smokescreen. Insisting that a robustly theological ministry is a detriment to reaching the unchurched, they introduce a number of serious problems. First, they--perhaps inadvertantly--give the impression that the ability to impart spiritual understanding lies within the power of the messenger rather than in the working of the Spirit and word of God. In essence, they suggest that the outcome of their teaching is commensurate with the supposed intellectual ability of the hearers. This not only denies the sovereign working of the Spirit of God through the word of God--it levels an intellectual insult at the people to whom they minister. Second, such reasoning carries with it the faulty presupposition that everyone grows at the same slow spiritual pace. Such ministers forget that most of the weighty Apostolic letters were written to new Gentile converts who lacked much, if any, familiarity with the Old Testament. Yet, the Apostle Paul wrote some of the deepest and most profound truths to new converts in Rome, Corinth, Philippi, Ephesus, etc. These letters included appeals to oftentimes less familiar verses of the Old Testament as well as to some of the most difficult and nuanced theological argumentation in all of the Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16).

Those ministers who fail to break down God's word for His people usually do so from behind an ecclesiastical smokescreen. They treat each member of the congregation as if he or she should be at the same spiritual place in understanding by virtue of the fact that they are members of the church. This is often driven by unrealistic and undistinguished spiritual and intellectual expectations of every believer. They too have faulty presuppositions that everyone will grow at the same spiritual pace---failing to factor in the spiritual infancy of new believers.

Those who water down the truth will often appeal to 1 Corinthians 3:2--where the Apostle Paul wrote, "I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able;" and, ministers who fail to break down the truth will almost always point to Hebrews 5:12-14, where the writer rebukes the congregants for their spiritual immaturity when he says, "For though, by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." So, how can we reconcile these two truths of Scripture that seem to lay in stark contrast with one another?

Calvin's comments on 1 Corinthians 3:2 are exceedingly helpful. First, Calvin explained that the minister must learn to "accommodate...to the capacity of those he has undertake to instruct." He wrote:

"Christ is at once milk to babes, and strong meat to those that are of full age, (Hebrews 5:13, 14,) the same truth of the gospel is administered to both, but so as to suit their capacity. Hence it is the part of a wise teacher to accommodate himself to the capacity of those whom he has undertaken to instruct, so that in dealing with the weak and ignorant, he begins with first principles, and does not go higher than they are able to follow, (Mark 4:33,).

He then went on to warn ministers against watering down the truth in preaching:

"[We must] refute the specious pretext of some, who...present Christ at such a distance, and covered over, besides, with so many disguises, that they constantly keep their followers in destructive ignorance...their presenting Christ not simply in half, but torn to fragments...How unlike they are to Paul is sufficiently manifest; for milk is nourishment and not poison, and nourishment that is suitable and useful for bringing up children until they are farther advanced."

How important it is for ministers of the Gospel to, at one and the same time, avoid that theological dilution by which we fail to bring up children "until they are farther advanced" while rejecting that ecclesiastical elitism that refuses to "accommodate to the capacity" of those we are instructing. Rather, it must be the goal and aim of our ministries to be faithful to the call to break down God's word "until we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head--Christ" (Eph. 4:13-15).

Christ's Call to Discipleship

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CCtD.jpgA Newly Released Audio Series 
from James Boice

Has it ever occurred to you that something is lacking in the lives of many of us who call ourselves Christians? We live in an age where the lack of true discipleship is a fatal defect. But to be a Christian is no light matter. It is a call to a transformed life and to perseverance through whatever troubles may arise. It may be the hardest thing anyone can do, yet with Christ supplying the strength anyone can do it. 

In Christ's Call to Discipleship, Dr. Boice does not mince words. He outlines the meaning, path, cost, and rewards of being a true disciple of Christ. 
 
Christ's Call to Discipleship is now available for purchase as:

Discipleship is lifelong, it is total. And the rewards are priceless.

Text Links:
http://www.reformedresources.org/james-boice/christs-call-to-discipleship-mp3-anthology/
http://www.reformedresources.org/friends-august/christs-call-to-discipleship-cd-set/
http://www.reformedresources.org/boice-christs-call-to-discipleship-downloads/
http://www.reformedresources.org/james-boice-books/christs-call-to-discipleship/

Just Add Water (1 of 4)

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Well, I was going to go on a bit more about the necessity of the local church in the posts headed to this space, but our dear brother in Christ Dr. Mark Jones has done what Presbyterians are prone to do when they interact with Baptists about Baptism, and as the new resident Baptist here I guess it's my job (by vocation if not by assignment) to disambiguate his confusion over why I would personally see his being sprinkled as an infant as no baptism at all, and why therefore I would say he's not to take the other ordinance (the Lord's Supper) in church.  Let me preface these remarks by saying I envy anyone whose name is "Dr. Jones," and even more any in this fine class who has the self-control not to change his first name to "Indiana."

Two items as caveats before you read this and start hurling fruit at my kind hosts here at Ref21:

  1. The opinions and arguments here are mine and not the arguments of the Alliance.  Hate the player and not the game in this case.
  2. The arguments I will make here are also not the position of the local church I attend.  In spite of that church being baptistic in confession, they practice a more open form of communion than I would advocate for.  I'm not an elder there, so as I make my case for what I think is a robust response to Mark Jones, I speak for myself and not my church at BCLR.org.

So the main thrust of Dr. Jones article is that somehow the closed-table Baptist is declining to allow that Presbyterians are Christians at all if he doesn't allow one paedobatized to take the Lord's Table when it is presented during worship.  There are probably a dozen things that bother me about this innuendo, but the one which undoubtedly seems the worst to me is to consider all the baptized people a Presbyterian would refuse to serve at the table - that is, all the children which are Christians by the covenantal formula "in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, just add water." I'm looking forward to Dr. Jones' defense of paedocommunion under the pains of being accused of turning out babies from the family of God in his next installment, but I think it probably isn't coming.

Seriously now: if the charge that Dr. Jones has put forward here has any weight at all, it rests on the idea that refusing participation to the table demands a metaphysical statement about those refused - namely, that they do not belong to Christ at all, in any sense.  That's always the charge of Presbyterians against us poor and uncatechized Baptists - think of all the people we make into no Christians at all.  It's a middle-class, civilized version of the Reformation argument that we are schismatic - and I appreciate the good will it takes to get us this far (I have my copy of the Augsburg Treaty in hand if necessary), but the difference is only in whether or not there are torches and pitchforks involved.  I think there's a better way to discuss this, and a better solution.  And for those of you worried about it, I have put all my best jokes right here in the introduction.  The rest will be appropriately dour and solemn.

Let me provide you an outline of the posts in this (brief) series.

My Outline:

A. The meaning of being a "Christian"
B. The meaning of Baptism (especially for the local church)
C. The meaning of the Lord's Table
D. Conclusions/Parting Shots

The Meaning of being a Christian

I think, with very serious and deep respect, that the worst way to pose the problem here is as Dr. Jones did - which is to somehow intimate that either side here has a problem which wrongly frames the doorposts of the Kingdom of God - that is, that either side has either included or excluded the wrong people inside the group Jesus is on about in Mat 16.  Because let's face it: the actual ultimate state of any human person is a slippery fish.  I'm not comfortable hanging any argument on whether or not "I think" anyone is "a Christian" because I can barely tell you which kids in the gym belong to me - and I see them every day and know them better than I know any of you (esp. - you Presbyterians).  What "I think" sounds too much to me like doing what seems right in my own eyes, and we all know where that gets us (given that you are as well-read in the OT as Presbyterians ought to be).

All that to say this: I don't get to define who is and is not a Christian, and neither does Dr. Jones.  Jesus is the only one who has the authority to do this.  And fortunately for us, he was pretty liberal to tell us what he means by it - at least, as the label came into popular use in Antioch.  In Jesus' terms, anyone who is a "disciple" is a "Christian."  I could just toss that out here and expect the reader to fill in the blanks from his Greek NT, but briefly here are 3 references  that I would use to show that this is Jesus' meaning.

Mat 28:18-20 (ESV)
Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

That's fair enough, right?  It even includes the ordinance of baptism in it so that it plugs into the discussion.  But in Jesus view of it, those who are His disciples are His because of His authority, and in that authority they observe what he has commanded.  That is: the role of the disciple (the Christian) is one of being under the authority of Christ (rather than, as I mentioned above, the authority of "me").  Without writing a book here, this is a perfectly covenantal view of it as the disciple is something because of what Christ has done, but the disciple is therefore also running on new rules in Christ.

I'm sure plenty of you are breaking out the sheet music now to the "distinct imperative/indicative" overture, but it's not a violation of the Gospel to say that those who receive it, who believe in the name of Jesus, become children of God in more ways than just the final way in glorification.  The path of sanctification is necessarily part of the Gospel as Jesus didn;t just do something, but did something for us.

Mat 10:34-39 (ESV)
"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a person's enemies will be those of his own household.  Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

Personally, I like this one because it's inflammatory by Jesus - set up so that you really can't misunderstand what Jesus means here.  In Jesus' view, it's not merely intellectual assent which is the hallmark of a disciple: it's being set against the world and its value system.  When he says this, Jesus is saying that his disciples will not just know something about him: they will go and do things which express their confidence in Him over all other relationships, and all other comforts.  But it underscores that the disciple is not merely a learner or hearer of the word of God (and the Word of God), but a doer of those things He has made clear.

Mat 16:21-28
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you." But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."

Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done."

This bit I love because poor Simon just got it right not 3 sentences earlier, but then Jesus starts saying that being the Christ means suffering and dying in Jerusalem.  That's too much for Peter who rebukes the Son of God (as he said), but Jesus says plainly that not only must he do this, but that there's no one who can follow him unless he follows him to the cross.  Look: that's not just a new way to think about how religion works: that's a way which leads a man to his own death for the sake of others.  It's a kind of doing which is not merely duty but doing for the sake of one's own soul.  We might here ask whether there are actually enough categories in the "imperative/indicative" paradigm because in this case it seems like Jesus is saying that there are some things one does because he must want to do it.

All of that to say that the meaning of being a Christian is not merely external (that is: what has been done for you) or merely internal (that is: what you think or affirm) but is somehow wrapped up in a new trajectory, a new path one is walking on.  That's probably why, in the book of Acts, it turns out that the movement these people manifested in the world was called "the Way."

This leads us to some interesting issues, such as how we can apply this paradigm to guys like the Thief on the Cross who was never baptized.  He was in paradise that very day with Christ - and no decent Baptist would reject the idea that the Thief was a Christian.  But it at least gets us to a place where we can know what we are talking about if we have to ask the question, "Is 'X' a Christian?"  If we are asking that question, I hope we are answering it like Jesus did, which is to say, "if a person is following Jesus, and dying to world daily, and seeking to do what Jesus commanded, that person is a Christian."  The WCF would say it this way:

The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts; and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word: by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened.

By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatesoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein; and acteth differently, upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. But the principle acts of saving faith are, accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.

This faith is different in degrees, weak or strong; may be often and many ways assailed and weakened, but gets the victory; growing up in many to the attainment of a full assurance through Christ, who is both the author and finisher of our faith.

So the problem that we face in this discussion is not about whether or not I (or any other closed-table Baptist) would not allow R.C. Sproul or Dr. Jones to be Christians.  The problem is about something else which, it seems obvious to me, Dr. Jones has swept under the covenantal rug.

I'll elaborate next time.  And good thing the comments are closed!

The Day after Easter

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Easter is over.  The new clothes are hung up, the candy has been eaten, and choir directors and pastors everywhere--not to mention ushers--are enjoying the quiet routines of a Monday.  For the diehard Reformed, you know who you are, this Monday is like every other Monday because Easter Sunday is like every other Sunday:  Resurrection Sunday comes every seven days for you, not once a year.

 

For the rest of us, I have some thoughts.  It was after Christ rose from the dead that the work of the church, of beginning and building the church, began in earnest.  The euphoria of the Resurrection moment would abate and the grind of routine would set in.  The hard work, the daily commitment to love and care for people, the challenge of a hostile world crushing in, all this and more was what the early church, the New Testament church, had to look forward to. 

 

Weeks, months, years after the resurrection how did they do it?

 

Being faithful in the routines, on the Mondays after the Sundays, is important.  It is as inversely important as it seems unglamorous. 

 

We can all be thankful for the Resurrection, even and especially for Resurrection Sunday.  It is a reminder that Christ conquered all our enemies, the enemies of sin and death and guilt.  He even conquered the enemy of our unfaithfulness, the enemy of our running in fits and spurts, the enemy of our languid efforts at a patient and long obedience, and the enemy of letting Mondays, weeks and months and years of Mondays, simply roll on by, becoming a mass of missed days of worship, service, love, and obedience.