Thursday, May 29, 2008

Calvinist Crossing

The Hardest Aspect of Pastoral Ministry, Part 1
Phillips from TeamPyro reminds us that pastoral ministry has no way to quantify success...

How a Roman Catholic Anti-Calvinist Can Serve Today's Poet-Calvinists
Piper on how Chesterton's "Calvinism-abominating" Orthodoxy made him a happier Calvinist.

Of Coffee, Gospel, and Social Action and Social Action and the Last Day
At The Prostrate Calvinist we appreciate coffee, we love the Gospel, and we spend our days in social action, so this was an interesting read from the Sola Panel. Especially the counsel that "We should engage in social action because the world is going to be destroyed" and "We should therefore be cautious about grand schemes."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Highest Court on Earth

... but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God (II Cor 4:2).

For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you (II Cor 1:12).

Yesterday, my pastor spoke at my work about endurance in ministry from II Corinthians 4. Apart from the conviction and edification that always comes from his faithful expositions, he was right on target in applying v. 2 to our work:
The highest court on earth is your own conscience, it will either slaughter you or pat you on the back. Paul’s conscience was clear. Take some time to follow Paul’s use of “conscience” throughout his epistles, and you will see that the only defense against public criticism is the testimony of your conscience. Long-term ministry faithfulness is a result of winning the battle on the inside.
What a true and terrifying reminder for anyone, let alone a para-church organization. How do you measure success? Donor dollars? Expansion of staff and programs? Glad-handing from public officials? No... the testimony of your conscience.

Only John Murray-like "heroic honesty" will validate success (read, "faithfulness"). This is terrifying because "honesty" requires a heroism unheard of in today's squishy, evanjellybean world. Success, regardless of popular conceptions, is not a matter of accumulated numbers and programs. It is a matter of conscience and its verdicts should bring pause. Lord, help us to listen.

(For more about enduring in ministry from II Corinthians 4-5, see Certainties that Drive an Enduring Ministry, Part 1 and Part 2).

Monday, May 26, 2008

Losing Friends and Influencing People

And who is adequate for these things? For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God (II Cor 2:16-17).

Granted extra time by Memorial Day Weekend, we began reading The Life of John Murray. An inaugural professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, John Murray was one of the leading Reformed commentators and theologians of the last 100 years. Instrumental to J. Gresham Machen during the fundamentalist - modernist schism of the early 20th century Presbyterian controversy, he was a stalwart of orthodox teaching until his death in 1975.

Yet, it was Murray's steadfast refusal to violate his conscience before God, even when it meant forsaking his vocational desires and valued associations, that most strikes contemporary eyes as an artifact of bygone eras. His clarity of commitment in Christian leadership is strangely unique to the present-day, as evangelical leaders frequently demonstrate negotiable consciences and varied allegiances (see this previous post for an example).

It may be that John Murray learned such "heroic honesty" from Machen, his mentor and friend:
A true Reformation would be characterized by just what is missing in the Modernism of the present day; it would be characterized above all by an heroic honesty which for the sake of principle would push all consideration of consequences aside.

- What is Faith?, p. 103.
Or maybe Murray was just a Christian leader. And so he understood that the watershed of God-glorifying influence was pursuing integrity in personal conviction over personal convenience.
It would sometimes be to our apparent advantage to suppress the testimony to certain aspects of truth, to soft-pedal on matters which wake the dissent and even provoke the ire of many people. Many things for which we stand are unpopular and we lose friends. Sometimes we are tempted to stand for things which the counsel of God does not warrant and we could gain a great deal of popular support by standing for them. We cannot do it, for we must not go farther than the counsel of God. The whole counsel of God but nothing more. The counsel of God and nothing less.

- John Murray, quoted in The Life of John Murray, p. 84.
The mantle of Christian leadership is not a matter of personal sufficiency, for all say with Paul, "And who is adequate for these things?"! Rather, it is a grace to so refuse to be "not like many" and to speak sincerely from a sufficient Word, to speak conciously of the all-glorious God, and to speak under the Lordship of the only Christ. May He grace many of this generation to be leaders and to pursue the integrity of conviction of John Murray... even if they must do so alone.

(More lessons from The Life of John Murray to come, but take some time to peruse some of his writings and sermon audio through the external links at his Wikipedia entry).

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Calvinist Crossing

Christ Alone
Helpful reminder of the implications of Christ's sufficiency and uniqueness.

What Manner of Men Will They Be?
Stirring prayer for a new generation of heralds by Dallimore (Read his definitive biography of Whitefield to be greatly challenged by one of those rare lives thoroughly devoted to the cause of Christ).

John Piper On...
Four interesting interviews with one of our favorite Calvinists. Especially the fourth, speaking about why he left academia for the pastorate... "I felt God saying to me, 'I will be proclaimed and not just analyzed.'"

"What Does 'God-Centered' Mean?"
A little more from JP on the satisfaction of God-Centeredness.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

We Cannot Stop Speaking

But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward (Heb 10:32-35).

Although a bit of a departure from our normal fare at The Prostrate Calvinist, we have been unable to overlook Franklin Graham's purported comments in China:
While some Christian groups have said they plan to proselytize during the August games, Graham said he was against that because Chinese law does not permit such actions. "I would not support any illegal activity at all," Graham said.

- Associated Press, "No Missionary Work During Beijing Olympics"
It appears that Graham hopes appeasing the Chinese government will garner official support for evangelistic work in the future, for he was also quoted as saying, "I'm not here to condemn, I'm here to work with them and help to build better bridges of understanding between Christians and government." Assuming these reports are accurate, Graham, on behalf of American evangelicals, has communicated much to the Chinese church and the rest of the world:

Suffering for the Gospel is a fool's errand. Yet, the Scripture would have us
Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body (Heb 13:3).
The persecuted church in China has been suffering shackles, bleeding, and dying at the hands of their government for generations. To these saints, Graham has said, in effect, that we prosperous, comfortable, and influential American evangelicals do not suffer with you and that your disobedience to the atheistic government of China is unwise. May the Lord save His people from "political savvy."

Spiritual ends are achieved by worldly means. Graham has betrayed a common misconception in American evangelicalism, that we achieve influence and progress by pleasing the world. Paul reminded the Corinthians of being enamored by the unbeliever's applause long ago:
Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (I Cor 2:6-8).
Paul goes on to say that the world is completely unable to understand the message of the cross apart from God's Spirit (v. 14). Spiritual ends are achieved spiritually, that is, by the illumination of God's Spirit. Christians are therefore called to be disciples, not diplomats.

Christ is not so glorious and all-powerful as being worth our very lives. Probably most egregious of all, is the insinuation that our hope and comfort lay in smooth relationships with the powers of this world. When Christians speak and act as though submitting to Christ is negotiable when faced with loss of life and limb, they falsely testify to the supremacy of Christ and communicate an impotent Gospel of a weak hope that is not worth inconvenience, let alone death. In contrast, Paul declared:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions (Col 1:24).

But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24).
"I rejoice in my sufferings"? "I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself"? The sweetness and surpassing hope of Jesus Christ is broadcast to the watching world when His followers joyfully suffer for His name. This is why Tertullian wrote,"the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

Although such circumstances try even the most faithful, God has not left us without guidance in responding to state-sponsored persecution or government restrictions on proclaiming the message of His Son. The Apostles Peter and John replied to such prohibitions by answering,
'Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard' (Acts 4:19-20)
'We must obey God rather than men' (Acts 5:29).
And they responded to suffering at the hands of their leaders by
…rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ (Acts 5:41-42)
And they prayed in the midst of state-sponsored persecution,
'And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence' (Acts 4:29)
It is therefore my sincere prayer that, if these reports are true, the Lord would lead Franklin Graham to repent and to publicly recant. May all who follow Christ remember the persecuted church, as though suffering with them, for the cause of the Gospel, the sake of the Church, and the glory of Christ.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Hearts Better Than Heads

... if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation (Rom 10:9-10).

It is a testimony to His grace that theological consistency is not needed to merit salvation.
A man may be evidently of God’s chosen family, and yet though elected, may not believe in the doctrine of election. I hold there are many savingly called, who do not believe in effectual calling, and that there are a great many who persevere to the end, who do not believe the doctrine of final perseverance. We do hope that the hearts of many are a great deal better than their heads. We do not set their fallacies down to any willful opposition to the truth as it is in Jesus, but simply to an error in their judgments, which we pray God to correct. We hope that if they think us mistaken too, they will reciprocate the same Christian courtesy; and when we meet around the cross, we hope that we shall ever feel that we are one in Christ Jesus

- C.H. Spurgeon, "Effects of Sound Doctrine"

Calvinist Crossing

Don't worry, we're still here! Just been a little busy lately... "maybe I need some new duties."

Don't Waste Your Pulpit
Piper on story-telling and ear-tickling. (Be sure to watch the whole thing, the last line is the most perceptive and penetrating).
HT: Provocations & Pantings.
Querying Calvinism
Speaking of Piper, here's the best exegetical and winsome defense of five points you'll come across or watch or listen...

Jesus - The Powerful and Perfect Savior
Speaking of defending the doctrines of grace, James White does an excellent job summarizing the Gospel (Note especially his rebuke of allowing presupposed methodology to drive one's theology).

Introducing the Sola Panel
A promising new blog from the guys who make you choose between two ways to live.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

On Their Shelves Unused

But Jesus answered and said to them, "You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God" (Matt 22:29).

Serapion, a desert monastic, once challenged the owner of several books:
The prophets wrote books. Then came our ancestors who lived by them. Those who came later understood them from the heart. Then came the present generation who copied them but put them on their shelves unused.

Serapion's profound exhortation brought to mind Jesus' rebuke to the Sadducees, that you may possess the truth of Scripture and still not own it.