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  1. Multi-Site Cults of Personality (and Zombie Video)

    September 11, 2014 by Jeff Wright

    Multi-SiteDMD

    This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for sometime since my buddy Chase described the video below to me.  Good thing I started my prep work early because now you can’t access the video on its original home!

    TGCLost

    You see, the video is an interaction between disgraced [link contains graphic quotes] pastor Mark Driscoll of Seattle’s  Mars Hill Church (a man whose ministry I have benefited from), James Macdonald (Founding and Senior Pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel) and Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church of Washington, DC (who I, admittedly, think highly of) created and provided by The Gospel Coalition, one of many organizations with recent cause to distance themselves from all things Driscoll.

    In it Driscoll and Macdonald are pitted against Dever on the subject of ecclesiology, specifically the mult-site model versus a single campus approach.  At 4:22 in the video, which I happened to download before it was wiped from The Gospel Coalition website and Vimeo, Dever asks a pointed question to Driscoll:

    Are you concerned that [Mars Hills' multi-site strategy] builds people into you particularly?

    The question, if I may be so bold as to offer an exposition, raises the question of whether or not the multi-site model of multiple campuses sharing one broadcast feed of Driscoll’s preaching carries the consequence of creating a dependence on Driscoll that isn’t healthy, in effect producing a cult of personality spread across multiple campuses.

    Driscoll’s response is… well… I’ll let you be the judge 1.   Here is the transcript:

    No, actually, it does the opposite.  I mean, they [the congregants of the church] are more addicted to you.  They have to come talk to you, shake your hand, be in the same room with you, get around the Shekhinah glory…” [while Macdonald laughs uproariously].

    Momentarily, Macdonald chimes in with his own exposition of Driscoll:

    That’s a pretty huge point.  He’s saying its less about him in a church where all he is is the 75% preacher [thankfully Macdonald is there to explain this to Dever, lest Dr. Dever be unable to pick up on such a subtle point].

    Later (6:13), Dever asks, “Seriously, what happens when you die?

    Driscoll’s response: “Oh, yeah, it’s going to be far easier than it is for you ‘cuz you’re a pastor-centered model or a mission-centered model…

    You can see the whole thing here:

    So, from the perspective of today, how strongly does Driscoll’s (and by extension Macdonald’s) argument stand against Dever’s?

    Just to recap, Dever is worried that the multi-site model locates too much focus on the charismatic personality being beamed out to every satellite church, illustrated by the potential danger of a vacuum created by the death of the central charismatic personality.

    Driscoll’s counter is that the multi-site model protects against that sort of cult-of-personality danger Dever raises and claims that, in fact, Dever’s traditional model creates the potential for a personality cult to a much greater degree.

    At this point in history it is clear that Driscoll’s practice kills his own ability to advocate for the multi-site model against the charge that it is too centered on one individual.  He, the fella arguing that Dever’s model is much more dependent on one man, is the guy reportedly telling his inner circle things like:

    You think you’re the Resurgence. But, you’re not the brand. I’m the brand!

    In explaining the “brand” of Mars Hill, “said that the brand of Mars Hill is a man standing in the pulpit with a large heavy bible in his hand. He also said that many things will change at Mars Hill, but one thing will never change: ‘it’s me in the pulpit holding a bible.‘”

    Another quote: “All of this [potential changes in the future of Driscoll and Mars Hill's Resurgence organization] is fine, but I need to be driving this thing. I can’t have anyone else driving this thing or else it will go sideways.

    Perhaps the most bizarre, and blatantly contradictory to his position in the video above, comment was said to an elder who asked “whether Mark has considered sharing the pulpit more, and Mark’s response likened sharing the pulpit to sharing his wife (‘no one else sleeps with Grace‘).”

    Driscoll, then, clearly failed to practice what he preached advocated for in the video above.  He also, at the time of this video, communicated in a mocking tone (to the guffawing of his co-hort)  the absurdity of the idea that exactly what ended up happening in Driscoll’s church was potentially present in Driscoll’s mult-site model.

    Without reducing all who practice multi-site models to Driscoll and also avoiding an ad-hominem attack to the question of the health of the multi-site model don’t we have here, in this video combined with the recent fall out with Driscoll, the clearest example of the real-world likelihood that Dever’s concerns are legitimate, if not likely?

    It seems that the fall from Olympus experienced by Driscoll gives us a real impetus to examine the consequences of the mult-site model afresh and, in my opinion, give greater credence to the concerns expressed by Mark Dever.

    I also have to wonder why the Gospel Coalition pulled all links to this video down.  In the screen shot below, taken last night, the first five links are all dead as far as seeing the video, despite the video having been hosted on the Gospel Coalition site since 2010.  I know it is fashionable to distance oneself from Driscoll but surely integrity would dictate leaving content up which you have provided for four years even if you added a disclaimer to the pages themselves.

    DeadLinks

    I find that removal of this video by The Gospel Coalition, an organization I value, highly suspect at best.  Again, it could be an example of the rush to separate from Driscoll but a more cynical mind may be tempted to think that, in light of the fall of Driscoll and the fresh energy it brings to questions about the model of church he was such a champion for, the Gospel Coalition may not want to risk alienating their constituency, many of whom will continue making use of multi-site methodology.

    Anyway, is it too much to hope that in whatever realm high profile pastors commune that Dr. Dever heard something like, “I’m sorry, you were totally right?”

    *Update 9/15/14* Noah Braymen posted a link to this video on Facebook via Ben Wright that dates to 3 years ago and is associated with The Gospel Coalition’s Vimeo account.  It is still unclear why the older link (which was more commonly available, per the Google results I referenced above) has been taken down and why the pages internal to The Gospel Coalition pages which used the video haven’t been updated – at least at the time of this writing.

    Notes:

    1. Pay attention to the tone of each individual as they particpate in the conversation.  It seems to me one party is clearly more respectful while the other two are much more condescending.  Or, you can read Justin Taylor‘s encouragement on his own bizarrely, considering he blogs for The Gospel Coalition, dead post about this video.

  2. Weak Faith is Still Faith

    September 10, 2014 by Jeff Wright

    I love the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing so much partly because the lyrics of that song seem to come straight out of my own heart, particularly those which confess a weak faith and ask God to ensure that faith remains:

    Let that grace now like a fetter,
    Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
    Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
    prone to leave the God I love;
    here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
    seal it for thy courts above.

    If you are weak as I am in this regard let me pass along this beautiful selection from a Puritan who well reminded us that faith in Christ is sure because He is sure, regardless of how our faith weakens from time to time:

    Thomas Watson, an excerpt from “Faith”, from Body of Divinity.

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    Objection. But I fear I have no faith, it is so weak.

    Ans. If you have faith, though but in its infancy, be not discouraged. For,

    1. A little faith is faith, as a spark of fire is fire.

    2. A weak faith may lay hold on a strong Christ; as a weak hand can tie the knot in marriage as well as a strong one. She, in the gospel, who but touched Christ, fetched virtue from him.

    3. The promises are not made to strong faith, but to true. The promise does not say, he who has a giant faith, who can believe God’s love through a frown, who can rejoice in affliction, who can work wonders, remove mountains, stop the mouth of lions, shall be saved, but whosoever believes, be his faith ever so small. A reed is but weak, especially when it is bruised; yet a promise is made to it. “A bruised reed will he not break.” (Matt. 12:20)….

    The weakest believer is a member of Christ as well as the strongest; and the weakest member of the body mystic shall not perish. Christ will cut off rotten members, but not weak members. Therefore, Christian, be not discouraged. God, who would have us receive them that are weak in faith, will not himself refuse them, Rom. 14:1.


  3. Pop Culture Prophets?

    August 19, 2014 by Jeff Wright

    Are you familiar with the name Epimenides, a philosopher who lived 6-7 centuries before Christ?  If the name doesn’t ring a bell I bet his work will.  In his Cretica he has Minos address Zeus with these words:

    They fashioned a tomb for you, holy and high one,
    Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies.
    But you are not dead: you live and abide forever,
    For in you we live and move and have our being.

    If that sounds familiar then good – you know your Bible.  Line two is quoted in Titus 1:12 and line four is found in Acts 17:28.  In those passages Paul quotes Epimenides favorably, even identifying him as a prophet.

    On Saturdays this summer I’ve been part of a reading group based on Steve Turner’s book Popcultured: Thinking Christianly About Style, Media, and Entertainment (which I highly recommend).  One of Turner’s early points is that no artifact of pop culture – show, song, book, etc – is created with a desire to communicate something.

    Since the people creating the artifacts of pop culture (a) desire to communicate a message and (b) are created in the image of God they often find themselves telling the truth  (like Epimenides).  Yes, it is often accidental and even more often mixed into a generous helping of error but it is truth nonetheless.

    In light of this reality our most recent book club meeting was a held around an Epimenides project – we asked where we saw glimpses of God’s truth poking its head out among the works of these pagan pop culture prophets.  Here are some of the results:

    I. An Example of Natural Law

    This is a clip from Grey’s Anatomy.  In it Callie (on the couch) is weeping over her mother’s refusal to embrace her upcoming lesbian marriage to Arizona, compounded by her inability to secure a church to hold or a religious official to perform the ceremony (wasn’t 2010 so quaint?).  In steps Dr. Bailey to make it all better.

    YouTube Preview Image

    Interesting, isn’t it, that Callie is portrayed at realizing she can’t live in a way that is disconnected from authority.  Yes, she can engage in a relationship outside the bounds of God’s design.  However, at least in this brief cultural moment, she couldn’t rope those who represent God’s design in to endorsing her un-authorized marriage – which brings her a great deal of pain?

    Why is that?

    She understands that something about the significance of marriage is found only in God’s blessing of marriage as an institution.  She has no access to this blessing and thus is (rightly) bothered.  Said another way, she finds that she needs authority to really enjoy the life she leads.

    That is why Dr. Bailey’s role in the scene is so important.  Dr. Bailey stands in as a priest to sooth Callie’s troubled (again, rightly so) conscience.  Through Dr. Bailey’s endorsement of Callie’s pending union with Arizona Dr. Bailey becomes the authority that Callie so desperately desires.  Interesting, though, isn’t it, that to do so Dr. Bailey has to undermine authority to take it?  She has to throw away every existing authority – the church, God’s design of marriage, even her own marriage – to stand in her priestly role.  If you pay attention you see clearly that Dr. Bailey’s proposition, soothing as it may be to Callie, is self-contradictory and, as a result, unable to really accomplish her end.

    II. An Example of the Scandal of Grace (and the Responsibility It Brings)

    In this next scene we see Dean Winchester, freshly rescued from being consigned to Hell (yes, that Hell) but completely unaware as to who might have done the rescuing.  As the scene moves along it becomes clear to the characters that God Himself might be the most likely candidate for the identity of Dean’s mystery rescuer.  Being pulled from Hell is an incomplete analogy for salvation but it certainly addresses a major theme of salvation so this scene works as part of something like a redemption story.  Listen to how Dean reacts (Warning: there are two coarse words in the clip).

    YouTube Preview Image

    Dean gets it, doesn’t he?  He realizes that for God to act in kindness to us ME is a shockingly unjust act – I simply don’t deserve His favor… at all!  He knows his works (“I’ve rescued some people…”) still isn’t enough to merit God’s saving work and thus Dean is left marveling at the scandal of free grace.

    Isn’t that refreshing?  Someone who really understands how amazing grace really is.  And that reaction to the scandal of grace is housed in a television show about two brothers who ride around killing boogeymen.  Really, the image of God can pop up in the least expected places.

    There is one other note on this scene: Dean gets that there are consequences to God’s act of redemption (seen in his bit about “I don’t even like attention at birthday parties!).  Another one of the people in the book club was reminded of  the following dialogue from John Piper and Tim Keller on the consequences of saving grace.  Skip forward to 6:53 into the video and listen until 8:33 or so.

    “This is scary… if you are saved by works there is a limit to what God can ask of you… but if I’m really saved by grace because of what Jesus has done there is no limit to what He can ask of me.  My obedience would have to be unconditional.”

    Wow!  Now, that profound thought isn’t in the clip from Supernatural but the germ of it is!  And since it is we’ve got a ready made connection point for a significant conversation about the most important aspects of human life.


  4. How the Inspiration of Scripture Happened

    August 18, 2014 by Jeff Wright

    Historic Christianity has affirmed that Scripture is a perfect revelation of God, lacking nothing, internally consistent, and accurate on all matters it addresses 1 (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  Christianity has also affirmed that Scripture came from God through real human beings, subject to the same flaws common to all humanity save Christ.  How, then, in light of the involvement of imperfect humans can we believe in a perfect communication of message?

    On the methods by which God revealed Himself perfectly in Scripture through flawed human beings without using them as dictation robots Walter Kaiser says:

    As B.B. Warfield pointed out long ago, the pure light of God’s revelation will not be distorted by coming through such admittedly human channels, just as God’s pure sunlight is not bent and distorted by its being filtered through a stained glass window, for the originator of the sunlight is also the architect who designed the stained-glass windows.

    The preparation that went into the lives, experiences, vocabularies, and outlook of the writers of Scripture was enormously significant.  Thus, by the time they came to write Scripture, so authentic were the expressions that they used that any of us who might have known them prior to their writing of the text of Scripture would have instantaneously recognized that that is precisely how each writer spoke.  The idioms, vocabularies, styles, and the like were uniquely their own, yet the product was precisely what God wanted as He stayed with each writer in such a way that there was a living assimilation of the truth (1 Cor. 2:13) – not a mechanical dictation of the words, such as whispering in the writer’s ear or an involuntary movement of their hands as they automatically wrote.

    Article 1 of The Baptist Faith and Message (2000), titled On Scripture says it this way:

    The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.

    Exodus 24:4Deuteronomy 4:1-217:19Joshua 8:34Psalms 19:7-10119:11,89,105,140Isaiah 34:1640:8Jeremiah 15:1636:1-32Matthew 5:17-1822:29Luke 21:3324:44-46John 5:39;16:13-1517:17Acts 2:16ff.; 17:11Romans 15:416:25-262 Timothy 3:15-17Hebrews 1:1-24:121 Peter 1:252 Peter 1:19-21.

    Notes:

    1. This isn’t to say that Scripture is without apparent errors or contradictions.  However, these are the fault of flawed human readers, not the Bible, and largely resolvable through correct interpretation.

  5. What Sin Wants

    August 14, 2014 by Jeff Wright

    In studying the book of Judges we see a powerful example of what sin desires.  It may sound strange to speak of sin personified in this way, having desires.  Nonetheless, this is consistent with Paul’s likening sin to yeast in 1 Corinthians 5:6, “Do you not know a little leaven leavens the whole lump?”  It is even more consistent with the direct voice of God to Cain in Genesis 4:7 – “…if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.

    The idea that sin is crouching in wait, desiring to saturate and consume is a fine summary of the narrative of the book of Judges.  Their toleration of the Canaanites stole their devotion to the One True God.

    Judges 2:1-4, 11-13:

    Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.”

    And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.

    What the Israelites learned in their dealings with the Canaanites we must heed in our own day.  For us it isn’t strange people and altars to perverse gods.  For us it is a matter of sins we participate in privately.

    • We allow vanity to hold our hearts captive, thinking it won’t be a problem because vanity is invisible.
    • We allow arrogance to fester in our attitudes toward those around us thinking we can hide it in our inner thoughts.
    • We use that substance because it doesn’t hurt anyone and no one will know any way.
    • We hold on that relationship at work, thinking it is simply a matter of innocent flirting.

     

    The lesson of Judges is that there is no such thing as sin under control and it is a lesson we would do well to heed.

    John Owen says it this way in his classic work The Mortification of Sin 1:

    Sin will not only be striving, acting, rebelling, troubling, disquieting, but if let alone, if not continually mortified, it will bring forth great, cursed, scandalous, soul-destroying sins… Sin aims always at the utmost; every time it rises up to tempt or entice, might it have its own course, it would go out to the utmost sin in that kind. Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could; every covetous desire would be oppression, every thought of unbelief would be atheism, might it grow to its head… it is like the grave, that is never satisfied.”

    This power of sin to grow is why Owen asked, earlier in the same chapter, “Do you mortify [put sin to death with all available resources]; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.

    Good counsel, that.

    Notes:

    1. The title linked to there is Overcoming Sin and Temptation which is the best contemporary presentation of Owens’ Mortification I am aware of.

  6. Titus2 Energize! Family Conference Coming to Cookeville

    August 12, 2014 by Jeff Wright

    I thought I’d share this post from our church’s blog in case anyone from the Upper Cumberland dropping by my blog would be interested in attending this conference on September 11th, 2014 at Midway Baptist Church.

    On September 11th, 2014 MBC will be hosting Steve and Teri Maxwell of Titus2 Ministries as they bring their Energize! Conference to the families of the Upper Cumberland.  The mission of Titus2 is to encourage, exhort, and equip Christian families in Jesus Christ and their Energize! Conference seeks to do this very thing in very practical ways.  Here is how the Maxwells say it:

    Would you like your family to be energized? Are you working as a team? Are you pulling together toward a common goal? Do you have joy and peace? Maybe you started strong but something happened, and you’re simply “out of gas.” Join the Maxwells for a time of encouragement and get your tank filled. Join us at Energize! in Cookeville, Tennessee, September 11th, 2014

    Conference sessions will cover topics such as how dads can deepen family relationships, how they can direct their children vocationally, how moms can have awesome days, how youth can develop initiative and drive, how to have an active family, how to become a praying family, and more. The conference will conclude with the Maxwell family panel discussion.

    Good news if you are feeling strapped during this season: there is no cost for this weekend conference (there will love offering boxes on the book tables to help with the Maxwells’ traveling expenses and we trust the generosity of attendees to provide for the Maxwell family). Your registration is requested to Lisa Barrett (the5barretts@gmail.com or 901-292-2357) or the Midway Baptist office (office@midwaylife.com or 931-526-9014). You may also contact Sarah Maxwell (maxwellconferences@gmail.com or 913-909-9776).  You can find more information below (and on this downloadable flyer which we would love for you to distribute however you think profitable) and at Titus2.com!

    Childcare, Children Attending, and Refreshments: Per request from Titus2 refreshments and child care are not provided, but babies and children are welcome with their parents. The content in sessions are appropriate for even younger children.

    Maxwell Resources: Book tables with all of the Maxwells’ books and audios will be available at the conference. You can view a complete listing of their products on this page.

    (Click image for larger version)

    Titus2EnergizeConference-1

     


  7. Question: Are Demons Free or Bound

    July 29, 2014 by Jeff Wright

    The following is a question our church received in connection with our After Life series.

    Are fallen angels demons? And if so, are they roaming the Earth? 2 Peter 2:4 says the angels were cast in to hell and kept until the judgment. 2 Peter was written approximately 67AD and Revelation was written as things to come so I was confused.

    I. Are Fallen Angels Demons?

    Scripture indicates that in Satan’s rebellion he took 1/3 of the host of angels into his scheme and, as a result, they were expelled from Heaven.

    Revelation 12:3-4And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth.

    While Revelation does indeed speak to future events it does not only speak to future events. The book regularly draws on images and scenes from the Old Testament and history. In fact, there are a number of believers today and throughout history that believe the images of Revelation are repeated throughout human history. It seems likely that this is the case later in the same chapter where John explains the symbols of vs. 3-4: Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Revelation 12:7-9)

    Jesus also refers to the devil and his angels in Matthew 25:41.

    II. Are Demons Roaming the Earth?

    Based on the testimony of Scripture we conclude that yes, demons are active on the Earth.

    The Gospels and Acts are thick with activity of demons – they possess, cause some sicknesses, and generally oppose the work of Christ. However, their activity isn’t found only in the Gospels. Sean McDowell has summarized 1 what the New Testament says about the activity of demons on Earth this way:

    Demons work to cause harm in the following ways:

    Cause disease (Matthew 9:33; Luke 13:11, 16)

    Possess unbelievers and animals (Matthew 4:24; Mark 5:13)

    Work against the spiritual growth of Christians (Ephesians 6:12)

    Spread lies about God, His work, and God’s people (1 Timothy 4:1)

    III. How Can Demons Be Both Locked Away and Roaming the Earth?

    A. Some Demons Are Currently Bound in God’s Judgment

    2 Peter 2:4-5For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment…

    Jude 6And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day…

    B. Apparently Some Demons Are Free but Fear Being Locked Away in Judgment

    In Luke 8:26-33 Jesus exorcises a man containing a Legion of demons. When these demons first encounter Jesus they plead with Him: …they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss (vs. 31).

    It appears that the demons who are free to work on Earth are aware of their compatriots held in chains and are terrified at the thought of being made to join them. That also seems to raise the possibility that Christ consigns demons to those chains from time to time.

    C. It Is Possible These Demons Will Be Released for a Time in the Future?

    Revelation 9:1-11 records a judgment where a bottomless pit is opened and locusts which wound like scorpions are released to torment the people of earth. The text never identifies these creatures as demons but their tormenting work is consistent in kind with the work of demons and their being held in a bottomless pit may be a reference to the holding place of fallen angels. This, however, is speculative; it is unclear from the text if we should understand this passage in this way.

    Notes:

    1. http://www.seanmcdowell.org/index.php/theology/what-does-the-bible-say-about-demons/

  8. How Should I Mourn Someone I Believe Died Lost?

    July 21, 2014 by Jeff Wright

    There is a ready supply of help in print and online about how to mourn for a believer.  For this we are thankful.  However, there is a dearth of information on the subject of mourning for those who appear to have died outside the faith.

    This excerpt from the second sermon in my church‘s After Life series was originally posted on our church’s blog in the hope of filling this vacuum and bringing help to those mourning. 

    How do I mourn for someone who I believe died lost?

    A. You shouldn’t attempt to deny the emotions that arise during your mourning; rather you should take them honestly and immediately to God.

    I often recommend the Psalms to those who are mourning. I do so because the Psalms are, among other things, nakedly human. The writers rejoice, sorrow, and get mad – often mad at God! This tells me that God desires to engage with us in the full range of the emotional spectrum He has given us. Don’t let your grief, frustration, sorrow, and anger take you away from God – let it carry you to him.

    B. Rejoice and enjoy the good that was a part of the loved one you are mourning.

    While mankind is totally depraved that does not mean that any human is as wicked as they might possibly be. In fact, the image of God that mankind carries mean men and women are capable of great and delightful good and loveliness, even if they are lost.

    As a result we should be quick to enjoy the pleasant memories of those that are lost to us through death and be thankful for the time we had with them.

    King David, after his enemy Saul died, is a good example of this in 2 Sam. 1:19–25 1:

    Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places! How the mighty have fallen!… Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!… You daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you luxuriously in scarlet, who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.

    C. While being honest about the reality that those outside of Christ perish eternally in Hell do not give up hope in grace which is invisible to human eyes.

    Wayne Grudem 2: “…it also must be said that we often do not have absolute certainty that a person has persisted in refusal to trust in Christ all the way to the point of death. The knowledge of one’s impending death often will bring about genuine heart searching on the part of the dying person, and sometimes words of Scripture or words of Christian testimony that have been heard long ago will be recalled and the person may come to genuine repentance and faith. Certainly, we do not have any assurance that this has happened unless there is explicit evidence for it, but it is also good to realize that in many cases we have only probable but not absolute knowledge that those whom we have known as unbelievers have persisted in their unbelief until the point of death.”

    God is consistently, scandalously, surprisingly gracious. Who knows, as it pertains to your loved one, what gifts of grace the Lord has kept up His sleeve? The story of the thief on the cross illustrates that the grace of Christ can show up in the most surprising of places and at the latest of hours.

    D. Let this experience drive you to make sure, as far as it depends on you, to not experience this kind of grieving with anyone else you love.

    Share the gospel, not only to protect your heart in the event you outlive another loved one but so that you might enjoy their company as you enjoy Christ for eternity!

    E. Trust that God Himself will comfort you.

    It might not be perceivable at a given hour but trust that the Holy Spirit really is a comforter and that Christ really has called you friend. Chose to believe that Romans 8:28 is true – that for those who love God all things work together for good.

    This is true in this life and in to eternity. Scripture says that will wipe away every tear from [the] eyes [of His children], and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

    We don’t know all the specifics of how He is doing that wonderful work but we do know that He is! And, however He accomplishes this, it is immeasurably good!

    Notes:

    1. I am thankful to Wayne Grudem via his Systematic Theology for this example.
    2. Systematic Theology, Chapter 41 – Death and the Intermediate State

  9. How Death Serves Christians

    July 14, 2014 by Jeff Wright

    This material was originally planned as part of  my sermon on Death and the Intermediate State (part 1 of our After Life series) but had to be cut for the sake of time 1.

    It is too good to leave on the chopping floor though (I’m afraid Berkhoff isn’t the most widely read Systematic Theologian).  Read and, if you are a believer, rejoice!  If, on the other hand, you are not a believer isn’t this good reason to place your trust in Christ today?

    While death in itself remains a real natural evil for the children of God, something unnatural, which is dreaded by them as such, it is made subservient in the economy of grace to their spiritual advancement and to the best interests of the Kingdom of God. The very thought of death, bereavements through death, the feeling that sicknesses and sufferings are harbingers of death, and the consciousness of the approach of death, — all have a very beneficial effect on the people of God. They serve to humble the proud, to mortify carnality, to check worldliness and to foster spiritual-mindedness. In the mystical union with their Lord believers are made to share the experiences of Christ. Just as He entered upon His glory by the pathway of sufferings and death, they too can enter upon their eternal reward only through sanctification. Death is often the supreme test of the strength of the faith that is in them, and frequently calls forth striking manifestations of the consciousness of victory in the very hour of seeming defeat, I Pet. 4:12,13. It completes the sanctification of the souls of believers, so that they become at once “the spirits of just men made perfect,” Heb. 12:23; Rev. 21:27. Death is not the end for believers, but the beginning of a perfect life. They enter death with the assurance that its sting has been removed, I Cor. 15:55, and that it is for them the gateway of heaven. They fall asleep in Jesus, II Thess. 1:7, and know that even their bodies will at last be snatched out of the power of death, to be forever with the Lord, Rom. 8:11; I Thess. 4:16,17. Jesus said, “He that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live.” And Paul had the blessed consciousness that for him to live was Christ, and to die was gain. Hence he could also speak in jubilant notes at the end of his career: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give to me at that day; and not to me only, but also to all them that have loved His appearing,” II Tim. 4:7,8. – Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology

    Notes:

    1. I know what you are thinking: “As if you cut anything out of your sermons!”  Really, I do… promise.

  10. Loving Truth: Theological Triage

    June 24, 2014 by Jeff Wright

    The people of God are commanded to love truth (Zechariah 8:19).  One of the crucial ways we love truth is to reject error (Psalm 119:163).  However, not all errors are equally weighty.  It is much more dangerous to believe wrongly that your house is not on fire than it is to believe wrongly that your electric bill has been paid.  In a similar fashion, it is more dangerous to believe that you are saved by a mixture of faith and works than it is to believe that communion should be offered to infants.

    Part of loving truth is learning to rightly understand the difference in importance when it comes to theological disagreement.  A concept of immense help to me in this area comes from R. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological.  On the need for critical theological thinking he says,

    Today’s Christian faces the daunting task of strategizing which Christian doctrines and theological issues are to be given highest priority in terms of our contemporary context. This applies both to the public defense of Christianity in face of the secular challenge and the internal responsibility of dealing with doctrinal disagreements. Neither is an easy task, but theological seriousness and maturity demand that we consider doctrinal issues in terms of their relative importance. God’s truth is to be defended at every point and in every detail, but responsible Christians must determine which issues deserve first-rank attention in a time of theological crisis.

    His solution, called Theological Triage, is incredibly practical and well worth memorizing.

    The word triage comes from the French word trier, which means “to sort.” Thus, the triage officer in the medical context is the front-line agent for deciding which patients need the most urgent treatment. Without such a process, the scraped knee would receive the same urgency of consideration as a gunshot wound to the chest. The same discipline that brings order to the hectic arena of the Emergency Room can also offer great assistance to Christians defending truth in the present age.

    A discipline of theological triage would require Christians to determine a scale of theological urgency that would correspond to the medical world’s framework for medical priority. With this in mind, I would suggest three different levels of theological urgency, each corresponding to a set of issues and theological priorities found in current doctrinal debates.

    Mohler proposes a three-tiered system of diagnosis.

    First-level theological issues would include those doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith. Included among these most crucial doctrines would be doctrines such as the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture.

    In the earliest centuries of the Christian movement, heretics directed their most dangerous attacks upon the church’s understanding of who Jesus is, and in what sense He is the very Son of God. Other crucial debates concerned the question of how the Son is related to the Father and the Holy Spirit. The earliest creeds and councils of the church were, in essence, emergency measures taken to protect the central core of Christian doctrine. At historic turning-points such as the councils at Nicaea, Constantinople, and Chalcedon, orthodoxy was vindicated and heresy was condemned–and these councils dealt with doctrines of unquestionable first-order importance. Christianity stands or falls on the affirmation that Jesus Christ is fully man and fully God.

    The church quickly moved to affirm that the full deity and full humanity of Jesus Christ are absolutely necessary to the Christian faith. Any denial of what has become known as Nicaean-Chalcedonian Christology is, by definition, condemned as a heresy. The essential truths of the incarnation include the death, burial, and bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who deny these revealed truths are, by definition, not Christians.

    The same is true with the doctrine of the Trinity. The early church clarified and codified its understanding of the one true and living God by affirming the full deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit–while insisting that the Bible reveals one God in three persons.

    In addition to the Christological and Trinitarian doctrines, the doctrine of justification by faith must also be included among these first-order truths. Without this doctrine, we are left with a denial of the Gospel itself, and salvation is transformed into some structure of human righteousness. The truthfulness and authority of the Holy Scriptures must also rank as a first-order doctrine, for without an affirmation of the Bible as the very Word of God, we are left without any adequate authority for distinguishing truth from error.

    These first-order doctrines represent the most fundamental truths of the Christian faith, and a denial of these doctrines represents nothing less than an eventual denial of Christianity itself.

    The set of second-order doctrines is distinguished from the first-order set by the fact that believing Christians may disagree on the second-order issues, though this disagreement will create significant boundaries between believers. When Christians organize themselves into congregations and denominational forms, these boundaries become evident.

    Second-order issues would include the meaning and mode of baptism. Baptists and Presbyterians, for example, fervently disagree over the most basic understanding of Christian baptism. The practice of infant baptism is inconceivable to the Baptist mind, while Presbyterians trace infant baptism to their most basic understanding of the covenant. Standing together on the first-order doctrines, Baptists and Presbyterians eagerly recognize each other as believing Christians, but recognize that disagreement on issues of this importance will prevent fellowship within the same congregation or denomination.

    Christians across a vast denominational range can stand together on the first-order doctrines and recognize each other as authentic Christians, while understanding that the existence of second-order disagreements prevents the closeness of fellowship we would otherwise enjoy. A church either will recognize infant baptism, or it will not. That choice immediately creates a second-order conflict with those who take the other position by conviction.

    In recent years, the issue of women serving as pastors has emerged as another second-order issue. Again, a church or denomination either will ordain women to the pastorate, or it will not. Second-order issues resist easy settlement by those who would prefer an either/or approach. Many of the most heated disagreements among serious believers take place at the second-order level, for these issues frame our understanding of the church and its ordering by the Word of God.

    Third-order issues are doctrines over which Christians may disagree and remain in close fellowship, even within local congregations. I would put most of the debates over eschatology, for example, in this category. Christians who affirm the bodily, historical, and victorious return of the Lord Jesus Christ may differ over timetable and sequence without rupturing the fellowship of the church. Christians may find themselves in disagreement over any number of issues related to the interpretation of difficult texts or the understanding of matters of common disagreement. Nevertheless, standing together on issues of more urgent importance, believers are able to accept one another without compromise when third-order issues are in question.

    Contending earnestly for the faith is the duty of every Christian generation.  Doing so carefully requires that we know how to evaluate priorities in a world of vast and rank theological confusion.  Memorizing the tiers of theological triage is an important step in developing Christian maturity.