Friday, May 30, 2008

The Glory of Christ and our sorrows

Helpful words from John Owen:
Our beholding by faith things which are not seen, things spiritual and eternal, will alleviate all our afflictions,--make their burden light, and preserve our souls from fainting under them. Of these things the glory of the principal, and in a due sense comprehensive of them all. For we behold the glory of God himself "in the face of Jesus Christ."

He that can at all times retreat unto the contemplation of this glory, will be carried above the perplexing prevailing sense of any of these evils, of a confluence of them all.

It is a woful kind of life, when men scramble for poor perishing reliefs in their distresses. This is the universal remedy and cure,--the only balsam for all our diseases. Whatever presseth, urgeth, perplexeth, if we can but retreat in our minds unto a view of this glory, and a due consideration of our own interest therein, comfort and supportment will be administered to us.
From the preface to the reader, "Meditations and Discourses on The Glory of Christ," in The Works of John Owen Volume 1, p. 278

Friday, May 23, 2008

The endless, boundless, grace of God in Jesus Christ

Here are two quotes that have refreshed my soul at the end of a week of heaviness:
...when the conduit of Christ's humanity is inseparably united to the infinite, inexhaustible fountain of the Deity, who can look into the depths thereof? If, now, there be grace enough for sinners in an all sufficient God, it is in Christ.

And on this ground it is that if all the world should (if I may so say) set themselves to drink free grace, mercy, and pardon, drawing water continually from the wells of salvation; if they should set themselves to draw from one single promise, and angel standing by and crying, "Drink, O friends, yea, drink abundantly, take so much grace and pardon as shall be abundantly sufficient for the world of sin which is in everyone of you;"--they would not be able to sink the grace of the promise one hair's breadth.
John Owen, Communion with God, p. 61-2

These words of Samuel Rutherford are also full of encouragement:
If there were ten thousand, thousand millions of worlds, and as many heavens full of men and angels, Christ would not be pinched to supply all our wants, and to fill us all.

Christ is a well of life, but who knoweth how deep it is to the bottom?
Samuel Rutherford

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Name that Trinity

HT: Michael Bird

The cartoon is funny; the issue itself is deadly serious.

With this kind of approach to truth denominations declare themselves to be intellectually vacuous, morally bankrupt, and effectively obsolete. They have no convictions worth following, no revelation higher than human wants and aspirations, and no hope of telling the culture something that it doesn't already believe.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Inerrancy impairs the authority of Scripture and weakens the testimony of the Church

I was struck by Ligon Duncan's comments in one of the video interviews at Ref 21 (2m 30s in) about evangelicals and the doctrine of Scripture. He made the observation that certain aspects of the doctrine of Scripture that it appeared evangelicals had addressed and affirmed now need to be nailed down again.

With regard to those issues it is worth taking a look at the conflict over the nature and authority of Scripture that marked the Presbyterian controversies of the 1920s. In particular the question of whether the Word of God written, as originally given, contained truth and error.

In 1923 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. affirmed that:

"It is an essential doctrine of the Word of God and our Standards, that the Holy Spirit did so inspire, guide and move the writers of Holy Scripture as to keep them from error."

This affirmation was the first of five originally put forward in 1910 and reaffirmed in 1923. All candidates for the ministry were required to affirm these statements in order to be ordained. The "Doctrinal Delieverance of 1910" can be read here.

In response to this the so-called Auburn Affirmation was published in January 1924. Originally signed by 150 pastors and elders, this number grew to 1274 by the time that the document was republished in early May 1924. Darryl Hart notes that this was 13% of the denominations clergy.

The document was designed to "safeguard the liberty and unity of the church" in the face of "persistent attempts" to "divide the church and abridge its freedom." This was a rhetorical ploy, piously phrased, to uncouple the church from confessional requirements. Above all, the Auburn Affirmation endorsed doctrinal indifferentism.

The Affirmation had this to say about the wording of the 1910/1923 doctrinal deliverance on inerrancy:
There is no assertion in the Scriptures that their writers were kept "from error." The Confession of Faith does not make this assertion; and it is significant that this assertion is not to be found in the Apostle's Creed or the Nicene Creed or in any of the great Reformation confessions. The doctrine of inerrancy, intended to enhance the authority of the Scriptures, in fact impairs their supreme authority for faith and life, and weakens the testimony of the church to the power of God unto salvation through Jesus Christ. We hold that the General Assembly of 1923, in asserting that "the Holy Spirit did so inspire, guide and move the writers of Holy Scripture as to keep them from error," spoke without warrant of the Scriptures or of the Confession of Faith. We hold rather to the words of the Confession of Faith, that the Scriptures "are given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life." (Conf. I, ii).

The Auburn Affirmation is available in full here.

In an address originally given in 1935 Gordon Clark made the following observations (the last paragraph is significant):
Now kindly note this strange fact. The Auburn Affirmation states that to believe the Bible is true impairs its authority and weakens the testimony of the Church. Or, in other words, in order for the Bible to be authoritative, it must contain error; and, no doubt, the more erroneous it is, the more authoritative it can be.

But what does the Confession say? In Chapter I, Section 4, you may read: 'The authority of the Holy Scriptures, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth--wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God."

Study also Chapter XIV, Section 2. "By this (saving) faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God Himself speaking therein..."

The Auburn Affirmation says it is wrong and harmful to believe true whatsoever is revealed. Thus the signers of the Auburn Affirmation are seen to be antagonistic to the very basis of Christian faith. In denying the truth of the Bible, they repudiate their own Confession, and so have no rightful place in the Presbyterian ministry. Do they perchance reply that they agree with the Confession that the Scriptures are the Word of God, and that they deny only that the Scriptures are inerrant? God forbid that they make that reply. For if they say that they believe the Bible is the Word of God, and at the same time claim that the Bible contains error, it follows, does it not, that they call God a liar, since He has spoken falsely? Either they have openly repudiated the Confession or else they have called God a liar. In either case they have no rightful place in the Presbyterian ministry.

The total truthfulness of God's speech

Has E. J. Young got it right?
God has spoken to us in order that we may know what He would have us do: through the medium of words He has revealed His will.

Whatever Word He has uttered, since it has come from His mouth, is true and trustworthy. 'The words of the Lord are pure words', the Psalmist declares, 'as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.' What has been spoken by God, who cannot lie, must be pure and true altogether. Every word which proceedeth from the mouth of the heavenly Father must in the very nature of the case be absolutely free from error. If this is not so, God Himself is not trustworthy.

If, therefore, the Scriptures are the Word of God, breathed out by Him, it follows that they, too, are absolutely true and infallible.
E. J. Young, Thy Word is Truth, p. 40
Can Holy Scripture contain error? Can the 'oracles' of God be tinged with falsehood? The question which we are facing is, in reality, whether God Himself is pure and free from error. And if God Himself is truth, no word which has proceeded from His mouth can possibly be anything other than the absolute truth.
Ibid., p. 49

Friday, May 16, 2008

Clear and Present Danger (2)

What is Paul's approach to this false teaching?

Paul's concern was not so much to describe the false teaching but to charge Timothy to stop the false teachers teaching it. His language shows his mind on it. Paul is scornful. The genealogies are endless! Gallons of ink has been spilt on working out what these heresies were. Paul is content with minimum reportage for either Timothy is very familiar with them or else his attention is being directed elsewhere. Titus received similar advise, these things were foolish, unprofitable and worthless (Titus 3:9).

The Directory of Public Worship has a striking comment, in the section on preaching, about dealing with false doctrine:

In confutation of false doctrines, he (the preacher) is neither to raise an old heresy from the grave, nor to mention a blasphemous opinion unnecessarily: but, if the people be in danger of an error, he is to confute it soundly, and endeavour to satisfy their judgements and consciences against all objections. (p. 380)
Timothy's ministry is to be essentially positive. He is to ensure right doctrine and conduct in God's household (3:14-16), devoting himself to the public reading of Scripture, teaching and exhortation (4:13). He must deal with the clear and present danger that the people are in. But when they are not in danger why trouble them with things that are unprofitable? Buchanan, and the Directory, caution us to concentrate on the positive truths of the gospel.

What does it lead to?

Nothing good. Sound doctrine leads to sound living, the gospel promotes godliness. Ungodly behaviour is the natural outworking of doctrines that are not true. They promote speculations and vain discussion not love that issues in a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith (1:5-6). Let go of faith and a good conscience and you will be shipwrecked like Hymenaeus and Alexander (1:19-20). Depart from the “faith” and you will end up with deceitful spirits and demonic doctrines, and the insincerity of liars with seared consciences whose moral teaching contradicts the Word of God (4:1-5).

At the close of the letter Paul paints an ugly portrait of those who believe this different teaching. “He is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth” (6:4-5). Their teaching is shown to be false by its practical outcome. G. K. Chesterton wrote that “heresy always affects morality, if it's heretical enough”.

The end result interests Paul. It is speculation and dispute. The very content and nature of this teaching fails to promote what the apostolic gospel promotes. Shame on us when we tolerate sins and attitudes that we know are not consistent with the gospel. Calvin's letter to Laelio Socinus (the uncle of Faustus, the heretical genius behind the Racovian Catechism) is worth pondering:

I am very greatly grieved that the fine talents with which God has endowed you, should be so occupied not only with what is vain and fruitless, but that they should also be injured by pernicious figments...I should be cruel towards you did I treat with a show of indulgence what I believe to be a very dangerous error. I should prefer, accordingly, offending you a little at present by my severity, rather than allow you to indulge unchecked in the fascinating allurements of curiosity. (Letter 30, p. 129)
But Laelio's ears were deaf as well as itching.

Concluding applications

1. Ministers must be polemical in their public teaching when they need to be, but not otherwise. In the course of expounding passages dealing with these matters, and when there is real threat. In their private study there is of course need to be aware of men and movements that are dangerous. This is not an appeal for ignorance or dropping our guard.

2. Congregations should be spared from hearing about the specific details of false teaching unless it is absolutely necessary. There are winds of doctrine in the evangelical world, but are they affecting us? Should we not concentrate on things that are? If false teaching is unprofitable and worthless what good can come from considering it? Should we not look at our own sins and situations and address those issues instead?

3. Concentrate on the positive upbuilding of the church. There is work enough here. The rest of 1 Timothy expands on this. Buchanan says that truth is one, more is gained by the positive exposition of the truth than by detailing the forms of error which are multiple. Don't waste time on matters that are not a threat to your situation. The time is short. Is that not how Nehemiah treated his opponents? Put good things before the church and have nothing to do with silly, irreverent myths (4:6-7).

4. Guard your heart and your ministry. As Francis Schaeffer once wrote, reflecting on the battle for the gospel in the 1930s, “be careful what habits you pick up in controversy”. Dr. Lloyd-Jones made the same point in his discussion with T. T. Shields. A polemical ministry is necessary, we must contend for the faith, but we must guard against a contentious spirit. Preoccupation with error is not good for the minister or the church. This is Paul's charge to Titus. The gospel of salvation is excellent for people, the root of faith promotes the fruit of good works. This is profitable. But these other teachings are unprofitable and useless. Avoid them, they thrive in an atmosphere of contention (Titus 3:9-11).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

From the archives: Clear and Present Danger (1)

There is a book in my study that is the spiritual equivalent of arsenic or cyanide. If it was in liquid form it would be in a bottle with an orange hazard label. It is the most dangerous book that I own. It is so dangerous that in 1618 it was publicly burned by order of the English Parliament. It is called the Racovian Catechism. It contains teaching and reasoned arguments that contradict the gospel. It specifically denies and attacks the deity of Jesus Christ, his atoning death, and the doctrine of the Trinity. And a copy of it sits on my bookshelf in the church where I pastor. Can it do people any harm? No. Unless of course someone reads it, is persuaded by its arguments, and then seeks to convince others to accept them.

There were people like that in Ephesus. They, as well as their teaching, needed to be dealt with. Paul homes in on the teachers themselves because ideas shape lives, and these false teachers had corrupt characters to match their teaching. It is not just the teaching that concerned him. People were promoting these ideas. They must be stopped. These false teachers were a “clear and present danger” to the churches.

What were they teaching?

James Buchanan wrote some very wise words about truth and error:

It has long been my firm conviction, that the only effective refutation of error is the establishment of truth. Truth is one, error is multiform; and truth, once firmly established, overthrows all the errors that either have been, or may yet be, opposed to it. He who exposes and expels an error, does well; but it will only return in another form, unless the truth has been so lodged in the heart as to shut it out for ever. (Doctrine of Justification, p. 15).
Errors are specific. Timothy has to deal with specific distortions, denials and differences in doctrine that we will probably not be dealing with in an identical way today. That said, there are some generic features of the false teaching found here that every age has to deal with. Paul refers to these errors as “different” doctrine. Different from what? From the apostolic gospel, from “the faith”, from the “sound words of the Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness” (6:3). So this teaching is different in its nature, content, and effects, to the apostolic gospel. Like the Galatians they were being presented with a different gospel (Gal. 1:6).

This choice of different doctrine, this heretical imperative, involved two things. It denied the true gospel and promoted a different one. It was of sufficient seriousness to change the content of saving Christian truth and to overturn the unity and peace of the church.

All errors are not equal. Every error in doctrine leads to undesirable pastoral consequences because we will then think, live and worship in a distorted way. The last two hundred years give ample evidence of this concerning the doctrine of sanctification. Well meaning Christians have tried to live holy lives based on ideas that are not biblical (Higher Life, “let Go and let God”, and various forms of perfectionism). Here are errors that call for correction and clear teaching. These ideas were at times promoted by preachers who were unsaved. They were also promoted by preachers who were saved but badly mistaken. But Timothy here is called here to deal with errors that change the very nature and content of the gospel message.

There are two generic features of the false teaching in 1 Timothy:

i. There are errors connected with revelation.

There are “myths”and “genealogies”. By myths he means an unreal tale that only the gullible believe. Extra-biblical revelation is in view. Whatever these myths were about, the issue at stake is plain. Where does the authority lie? Where does the buck stop in the realm of ideas? Made up stories and human imagination or the Word of God? They stand in direct contrast to the knowledge of the truth in the apostolic gospel (2:4-7).

It is clear that the Word is not sufficient for these teachers, they have turned away from it in preference for legends. There is rejection of the truth and error fills the gap that is left. As one man put it our response to revelation is either the “bowed head or turned back”.

ii. There are errors of interpretation.

They are ignorant about the relationship of the law and the gospel. They don't understand that the law's primary function is to expose sin and not to produce speculative legalists.
Perhaps errors in interpretation will be the kind of thing that we will be more familiar with. Is it true that at the micro level our exegesis is always 100% correct? No preacher would claim that. Paul has in mind here the macro level, the very structure of redemptive revelation. These enthusiatic teachers of the law are devoid of understanding (1:8), they don't know what they are talking about. The lawful use of the law is to expose sin. In this the law and the gospel agree. The Socinians held to sola scriptura but they were in gross error when it came to interpreting the Bible. The false teachers in Ephesus were guilty of both errors.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Carson on common errors about the kingdom

From Between Two Worlds:

One highlight from SBJT is often D.A. Carson's contribution to their Forum. In this issue he is asked "What are the most common errors that people make when it comes to understanding and proclaiming the kingdom?" He lists several, the final one being the tendency to make "'kingdom' an adjective that blesses whatever I want blessed" (e.g., "kingdom ethics"). In particular, he applies this to the so-called "red letter Christians":

A particularly virulent form of this approach is hidden behind what Tony Campolo now approvingly calls “red letter Christians.” These red letter Christians, he says, hold the same theological commitments as do other evangelicals, but they take the words of Jesus especially seriously (they devote themselves to the “red letters” of some foolishly printed Bibles) and end up being more concerned than are other Christians for the poor, the hungry, and those at war.

Oh, rubbish: this is merely one more futile exercise in trying to find a “canon within the canon” to bless my preferred brand of theology. That’s the first of two serious mistakes commonly practiced by these red letter Christians.

The other is worse: their actual grasp of what the red letter words of Jesus are actually saying in context far too frequently leaves a great deal to be desired; more particularly, to read the words of Jesus and emphasize them apart from the narrative framework of each of the canonical gospels, in which the plot-line takes the reader to Jesus’ redeeming death and resurrection, not only has the result of down-playing Jesus’ death and resurrection, but regularly fails to see how the red-letter words of Jesus point to and unpack the significance of his impending crosswork.

In other words, it is not only Paul who says that Jesus’ cross and resurrection constitute matters “of first importance” (1 Cor 15:3), and not only Paul who was resolved to know nothing among the Corinthians except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 2:1–5), but the shape of the narrative in each canonical gospel says the same thing.

In each case the narrative rushes toward the cross and resurrection; the cross and resurrection are the climax. So to interpret the narrative, including the red-letter words of Jesus, apart from the climax to which they are rushing, is necessarily a distortion of the canonical gospels themselves.

Some of the gospel passion accounts make this particularly clear. In Matthew, for example, Jesus is repeatedly mocked as “the king of the Jews” (27:27–31, 37, 42). But Matthew knows that his readers have been told from the beginning of his book (even the bits without red letters) that Jesus is the king: the first chapter establishes the point, and tells us that, as the promised Davidic king, he is given the name “YHWH saves” (“Jesus”) because he comes to save his people from their sins.

Small wonder for its first three centuries the church meditated often on the irony of Jesus “reigning” from a cross, that barbaric Roman instrument of torture and shame. And it is Matthew who reminds us that, this side of the cross, this side of the resurrection, all authority belongs to Jesus (28:18–20). These constitute parts of the narrative framework without which Jesus’ red-letter words, not least his portrayals of the kingdom, cannot be rightly understood.

Infallibility 23-0 Inerrancy

In 1878 A. A. Hodge's rewritten and enlarged Outlines of Theology was republished (available here and here). The section on the inspiration of Scripture uses the word infallible, or infallibility, some 23 times. The words inerrancy or inerrant are used 0 times. For Hodge infallibility was a perfectly useful word to convey the idea that Scripture, rightly interpreted, is the very truth of God.

Hodge is worth quoting:

In what sense and to what extent has the Church universally held the Bible to be inspired?

That the sacred writers were so influenced by the Holy Spirit that their writings are as a whole and in every part God's word to us--an authoritative revelation to us from God, indorsed by him, and sent to us as a rule of faith and practice, the original autographs of which are absolutely infallible when interpreted in the sense intended, and hence are clothed with absolute divine authority.

What is meant by "plenary inspiration"?

A divine influence full and sufficient to secure its end. The end in this case secured is the perfect infallibility of the Scriptures in every part, as a record of fact and doctrine both in thought and verbal expression. So that although they come to us through the instrumentality of the minds, hearts, imaginations, consciences, and wills of men, they are nevertheless in the strictest sense the word of God.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

E. J. Young on necessary inerrancy

If one holds to limited inerrancy/infallibility, the Bible, as originally given, is taken to include truth and error, the words of God and the words of men. There are words written by inspiration, and words that were not under the direction of the Spirit so as to secure the total truthfulness of what was written. If one holds to plenary verbal inspiration, that "all Scripture" has been breathed out by God, so that the very words of the human authors are at the same time the words of God, a claim is being made not only about the truthfulness of the Bible but also about the nature of God. E. J. Young put it this way:
Whatever Word He has uttered, since it has come from His mouth, is true and trustworthy. 'The words of the Lord are pure words', the Psalmist declares, 'as silver tried in a furnace of earth purified seven times'. What has been spoken by God, who cannot lie, must be pure and true altogether. Every word which proceedeth from the mouth of the Heavenly Father must in the very nature of the case be absolutely free from error. If this is not so, God is not trustworthy.

If, therefore, the Scriptures are the Word of God, breathed out by Him, it follows that they too, are absolutely true and infallible.
E. J. Young, Thy Word is Truth, p. 40

Monday, May 12, 2008

If you could ask God one question...

In the autumn we are going to hold a series of talks for local people based around the title "If you could ask God one question what would it be?"

That question of course comes from the opening session of Christianity Explored, and some of the common questions have been collected and answered in this book.

I have encouraged our church members to ask that question to friends, family, colleagues and neighbours. I will take the six most frequently asked questions as the titles for the talks that we are going to hold. At the moment we are all praying about this and asking people we know what they would say.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The house that Jesus built

"The house that Jesus built" is the title of an excellent little book on the local church by Dale Ralph Davis. It is also the theme for the four messages that I will be giving over the next few days at the Speke Baptist Church (Liverpool) weekend away. We will be looking at:

The people Jesus saves (John 6)
The sheep Jesus calls (John 10)
The disciples Jesus cleans (John 13)
The branches Jesus makes fruitful (John 15)

My hope and prayer for the weekend is that our eyes will be fixed on the Triune God and his sovereign and gracious purposes for his people. God is saving a people for himself. We shouldn't rely on techniques and gimmicks to accomplish his purposes but understand and rely on the Shepherd calling and gathering his sheep, and trust that all that the Father has given to the Son really will come to him, and that he will raise them on the last day.

Knowing that God will save his people puts real strength into the church. We give praise to him for what he alone can do, and we refuse to be discouraged by our own weaknesses and what our eyes can see. His purposes of grace are indestructible. And it is this that makes us expectant, bold, risk takers in mission.

I would be grateful if you would pray for us all this weekend.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Reforming or Conforming? Post Conservative-Evangelicals and the Emerging Church

Now available for pre-order at Crossway (HT: Scott Clark).

David F. Wells has written the foreword. My own contribution is on the Emerging Church and cultural captivity.

A. A. Hodge on Inspiration

The books of Scripture were written by the instrumentality of men, and the national and personal peculiarities of their authors have been evidently and freely expressed in their writing, and their natural faculties, intellectual and moral, as freely exercised in their production, as those of the authors of any other writings.

Nevertheless these books are, one and all, in thought and verbal expression, in substance and form, wholly the Word of God, conveying with absolute accuracy and divine authority all that God meant them to convey, without any human additions or admixtures.

This was accomplished by a supernatural influence of the Spirit of God acting upon the spirits of the sacred writers, called "inspiration;" which accompanied them uniformly in what they wrote; and which, without violating the free operation of their faculties, yet directed them in all they wrote, and secured the infallible expression of it in words.

The nature of this divine influence we, of course, can no more understand than we can in the case of any other miracle. But the effects are plain and certain--viz., that all written under it is the very Word of God, of infallible truth, and of divine authority; and this infallibility and authority attach as well to the verbal expression in which the revelation is conveyed as to the matter of the revelation itself.

A. A. Hodge, The Westminster Confession: A Commentary, p. 33-4

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Warfield on Inspiration

That we have an inspired Bible and a verbally inspired one, we have the witness of God Himself; and that this means that every statement of whatever kind in the whole compass of Scripture, from the first word of Genesis to the last of Revelation, is infallibly true and of absolute authority to bind head, heart, and life, rests on no lower authority.

The heart of God's people has in all ages responded to the fact with glad reverence. The hope of the world rests on it. It is the rock on which the confidence of our late age in the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice and the surety of our salvation is built.

May the man who through indifference, carelessness, conceit, or wickedness would deny this truth of God and teach men so--no, not perish--but be converted from the error of his way and, like a second Paul, be set by God's power and call to defend that which he would have destroyed.
B. B. Warfield.

This is an extract from an article that appeared in the Truth 9 (1883) and can be found in A. A. Hodge & B. B. Warfield, Inspiration (Wipf and Stock Publishers).

Law & Gospel: Short and Sweet

Good post here by Iain D. Campbell

On indifference to doctrine

My Christian life, for the past thirteen years, has involved inhabiting a small circle within a larger circle. The small circle is that of Reformed theology and church life, the larger circle that of UK evangelicalism. The world of the smaller circle is far from perfect. Yet one thing that it does not suffer from is indifference toward doctrine.

In the larger world of evangelicalism one cannot assume that doctrine is valued. The reverse is often the case. One has, at times, to present an apologetic for the necessity, vitality and importance of doctrine. One can assume that the "d" word is associated in your audience with intellectualism, and the kind of Christian life and experience that is "academic," dry and dusty. Of course these things aren't necessarily so, but prejudice is a powerful thing, and a stress on doctrine can lead to listeners switching off.

Evangelicals who are indifferent to doctrine are a danger to Christianity. Church leaders who do not "hold firmly to the trustworthy word as taught" will never be able to bring God's people to mature godliness (which requires instruction in sound doctrine), nor will they be able to ward off infiltrators who teach another gospel (Titus 1:9). Somehow they know better than Paul what is best for the health of the church.

But it is not only leaders who are held to account for their attitude to sound doctrine. The epistle to the Galatians is directed to churches who are departing from the apostolic gospel. If we are indifferent to sound doctrine, and neglect its intrinsic importance, we are guilty of treating the precious truth that we have been entrusted with as worthless. We take care of the things we love. When God entrusts us with the pattern of sound words he tests our love toward him by how we use, abuse, treasure or neglect his revealed truth.

When you cut through the forest of rhetoric surrounding doctrine, what becomes clear is that indifference toward doctrine is often a cover for indifference toward particular doctrines. Personal experience is not a sufficient or appropriate source from which truth for life can be derived. At the end of the day resistance to true doctrine is empowered by a non-negotiable commitment to other doctrines.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The end of a busy week

It was a great privilege yesterday to speak at the Banner of Truth South East Conference at Grove Chapel (Camberwell, London). The conference was titled "Tell all the world of Jesus!"

Andy Christofides spoke in the morning, and I gave the closing address on "The Gospel: The power of God for salvation." Rather than preach from Romans 1:16 I gave an exposition of Mark 10:17-27.

In Matthew, Mark and Luke, the account of the "rich young ruler" is preceded by the disciples being rebuked by Jesus for shooing away babies. Jesus says "Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it" (Mark 10:15)

It is only the helpless and dependent who can receive the kingdom. Of course this is juxtaposed with the rich young ruler who is nothing like this. He wants to inherit the kingdom by doing, not receiving.

And just so that we are clear that receiving the kingdom is about grace not works, Luke tells the story of the pharisee and tax collector praying in the temple, then the babies, before the rich young ruler. Then he follows on with the blind beggar crying to Jesus for mercy.

All of which makes his approach stick out like a sore thumb. The nail in the coffin of salvation by our own obedience is in Mark 10:27. It is not hard for us to save ourselves, it is impossible. Obedience to the law cannot lead to life since our natures are ruined. Our only hope is that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.