What Does it Mean to be Reformed?

What Does it Mean to be Reformed?

The hallmark cry of The Reformation centered on 5 solas – 5 statements on core Christian doctrines that define the Christian faith from the Scriptures:

Sola Scriptura -The Scripture Alone is the Standard5 Solas

Soli Deo Gloria! – For the Glory of God Alone

Solo Christo! – By Christ’s Work Alone are We Saved

Sola Gratia - Salvation by Grace Alone

Sola Fide -Justification by Faith Alone

Apart from these truths, many will be led astray from the narrow path of God’s Truth. Many reformed Christians add a reminder that we, as sinful creatures, will never stop learning about the Lord – and ourselves – in this age. This reminder was summed up in the phrase, Sempre Reformanda – Always Reforming; lest anyone think he has “arrived”.

To remind us of these biblical truths and provide a clear understanding of what those within a local church have in common faith, Reformed Churches are confessional – they hold to a written confession about how key Scriptures are interpreted and applied to life. Presbyterians have the Westminster Confession; paedobaptist congregationalists have the Savoy; Baptists have two London Baptist Confessions, the 1644/46 LBC and the 1689 LBC. There are others, but one gets the idea that confessions are useful and common, at least among certain churches.

This brings me to a sticky wicket, so to speak, of holding to a confession and to the higher principles of The Reformation. Confessions are good and useful tools to codify core doctrines around which a local church can grow and have close fellowship. They are subordinate to the Scriptures, not a tool by which to interpret the Scriptures. They are documents written in a particular historical context by men who were limited in their comprehension of Scripture and somewhat blind to their own presuppositions – as are all men. Standing on and under the Word of God, resisting the siren call to rely on the traditions of men (men we love and thank God for), and ever growing in our love and knowledge of God and His Word means we may discover errors in our confessions, wording that is no longer clear, or conclusions that don’t appear as evident as they must have to those brothers 400 years ago. Our confessions as well as our personal presuppositions need to be tested in light of Scripture, always reforming for the glory of our God. Not seeking change for cultural convenience, but in response to the command that we grow as Christians and churches and hold only to that which is good – Truth as God has revealed.

How does a Reformed church or Christian keep from allowing the confession to dictate beliefs on secondary issues, as if it were the ruling document? Is this not evident in many Reformed churches – people defend their confession first, or only? Brothers, this should not be so! To cling to one’s confession of faith, no matter how sound it may be, as one’s first priority is not Reformed. Such a priority reflects the carnal priorities of all false religions, and turns a good confession into another golden calf.

As Baptists learn more about the covenants of Scripture, apart from the Presbyterian hermeneutic so prevalent in Reformed publications, will we be willing to examine what our confession says about the secondary doctrines that flow out from one’s view of the covenants? If we are to be true to our calls of Sola Scriptura and Sempre Reformanda we will. And we will also not be willing to defend our confession by mere argument, but with a clear conscience led by the teaching from the Word of God.

This does not mean that aggressive “inquiries” that appear to be meant only for tearing down confessional doctrines should be entertained. It does mean that honest inquiries from saints who want to sincerely understand how a given doctrine is defended from Scripture should be welcomed. A clear indication of trouble is when secondary documents are not allowed to be questioned, this is a sign of cultish behavior.

Change for its own sake is rarely a good thing. But change when we see more clearly from the Word of God is always a good thing. And we mustn’t allow our own wisdom or that of men who went before us to stand in the way. How can we claim to be Reformed if our confession is unchangeable? While our confessions are good and useful, they must always submit to the Word of God and we must be willing to entertain honest questions from saints wishing to understand them better or examine them in light of Scripture, with the aim of being more accurate and, therefore, honorable to our God and useful to His children.

With much love for the brotherhood and malice toward none,

The Primacy of the Abrahamic Covenant

Why does it matter how one views the covenant with Abraham? Are there actually different views Covenant Viewon it? My experience leads me to believe that most folks don’t really think too much about such things. Yet this singular item is, in fact, the biggest wedge between Reformed Baptists and our Presbyterian brothers.

As pointed out in this book review, the matter of covenants in the Bible and how one looks at and considers them makes a huge difference in myriad other doctrines that sprout forth. To help understand this issue further, I commend this sermon by Jeffrey Johnson, on the topic of the Abrahamic Covenant.

In addition to Johnson’s wonderful book, I recommend this new addition to anyone’s library.

Check Out the Street Preacher Section on CARM!

CARMIf anyone has been reading my articles for any length of time, you are well aware of the fact that I am very much about calling the Christian church to be about the business of preaching the gospel. I have long said that not every Christian needs to be on a street corner preaching, but every believer needs to find someone to share the gospel with. That being said, I truly believe that one of the powerful forms of evangelism is Christians getting out into the community and proclaiming the gospel in the open air. A great many godly men have preached out in the open square, men like Whitfield, Wesley, Spurgeon, Knox and many others. Many people today may never darken the door of a church, others might only if the church caters entirely to their flesh. Yet, there hundreds, thousands, even millions of people coming and going throughout the communities in which we live. Short of going to each and every door in a community, another blessed and worthwhile evangelism effort, one of the perhaps most effective means of reaching the masses of people with which we abide is to proclaim the gospel where they are, in the open square.

Matt-TonyTo that end, several ministries are attempting to raise up a new generation of open air preachers who will boldly proclaim the good news. One such ministry is CARM, the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry. Matt Slick and Tony Miano have worked together to establish a new Street Preaching section. I highly recommend all our readers take the time to go to this valuable resource and learn about preaching the gospel in the open air. Having been an evangelist and street preacher, I can personally say that there is no more humbling, yet powerful opportunity to share the gospel than to step up on a box, open your lips and speak the truth of the gospel to people who you may never meet again. Please, check out the link below and pray what God may have you do today.

CARM: Street Preaching

Is the Pretribulation Rapture Biblical?

Is the Pretribulation Rapture Biblical?

Brian M. Schwertley

One of the most popular teachings today in Evangelical and Charismatic pretribchurches is the doctrine of the pretribulation rapture. The pretribulation rapture teaching is that there are two separate comings of Christ. The first coming is secret and occurs before the future seven year tribulation. At this coming Jesus comes for the saints (i.e., all genuine believers) both living and dead. These saints meet the Lord in the air and then are taken to heaven to escape the horrible judgments that take place during the seven year tribulation. At the end of the great tribulation Jesus returns to the earth with the saints. This coming is not secret but is observed by all. At this coming Christ crushes His opposition, judges mankind and sets up a one thousand year reign of saints upon the earth (the millennium). Some pretribulation advocates speak of two separate comings while others prefer to speak of one coming in two separate stages or phases (phase one is the secret rapture and phase two is the visible coming in judgment). Hal Lindsey likes to refer to the rapture as “the great snatch.” He writes: “The word for ‘caught up’ actually means to ‘snatch up,’ and that’s why I like to call this marvelous coming event ‘The Great Snatch’! It’s usually referred to as the ‘Rapture,’ from the Latin word rapere, which means to ‘take away’ or ‘snatch out.’”1
     Although the pretribulation rapture doctrine is very popular and is even considered so crucial to Christianity that it is made a test of a person’s orthodoxy in some denominations, Bible colleges and seminaries, the exegetical and theological arguments used by its advocates are all classic cases of forcing one’s theological presuppositions onto particular texts (eisegesis). The purpose of this brief study is to show that the pretribulation rapture theory is not plainly taught or directly stated in any place in Scripture, cannot be deduced from biblical teaching, contradicts the general teaching of the Bible regarding Christ’s second coming and was never taught in any branch of the church prior to 1830.


The Origin of the Pretribulation Rapture Teaching

Whenever a Christian encounters a doctrine that has not been taught by anyone in any branch of Christ’s church for over eighteen centuries, one should be very suspect of that teaching. This fact in and of itself does not prove that the new teaching is false. But, it should definitely raise one’s suspicions, for if something is taught in Scripture, it is not unreasonable to expect at least a few theologians and exegetes to have discovered it before. The teaching of a secret pretribulation rapture is a doctrine that never existed before 1830. Did the pretribulation rapture come into existence by a careful exegesis of Scripture? No. The first person to teach the doctrine was a young woman named Margaret Macdonald. Margaret was not a theologian or Bible expositor but was a prophetess in the Irvingite sect (the Catholic Apostolic Church). Christian journalist Dave MacPherson has written a book on the subject of the origin of the pre-tribulation rapture. He writes: “We have seen that a young Scottish lassie named Margaret Macdonald had a private revelation in Port Glasgow, Scotland, in the early part of 1830 that a select group of Christians would be caught up to meet Christ in the air before the days of Antichrist. An eye-and-ear witness, Robert Norton M.D., preserved her handwritten account of her pre-trib rapture revelation in two of his books, and said it was the first time anyone ever split the second coming into two distinct parts or stages. His writings, along with much other Catholic Apostolic Church literature, have been hidden many decades from the mainstream of Evangelical thought and only recently surfaced. Margaret’s views were well-known to those who visited her home, among them John Darby of the Brethren. Within a few months her distinctive prophetic outlook was mirrored in the September, 1830 issue of The Morning Watch and the early Brethren assembly at Plymouth, England. Early disciples of the pre-trib interpretation often called it a new doctrine.”2
 Read the rest of this article here.

The Noble Criminal

0213-chris-dorner-reward-one-million-article-1

John 18:40“Give use Barabbas!”

There are many in this country today who have watched as the drama surrounding the hunt for Christopher Dorner has unfolded. And while many have been hoping for and anticipating his capture, there has been also, curiously, a small crowd of voices which has been applauding his actions and hoping for his exoneration. The purpose of this post is not to debate the merits of the case or to argue for his guilt or innocence. Any comments in that vein will be deleted as quickly as possible. You can argue that somewhere else.

The point I want to make is this: this approving crowd should not surprise us. Jesus Himself said “Men love darkness rather than light” (John 3:19). It has been that way ever since sin entered the world. We have an early example from Mt Sinai. While Moses was up on the mount, the people were wantonly carousing at the foot of the mountain in a drunken orgy worshipping the golden calf–while God was speaking to Moses the very Law these people were corrupting!

ojsimpsonbronco

But we don’t have to go back that far in time to see why it shouldn’t surprise us that people are actually supporting this murderer (OK, alleged murderer). Think back to 1994. A white
Ford Bronco carrying OJ Simpson was leading LAPD on a low-speed chase through Los Angeles. People were lined up on bridges over the freeway to watch. Were these people hoping that a fugitive from the law would be caught and brought to justice? No. They were encouraging this fugitive to continue running from the law. (Again, not debating OJ’s guilt or innocence. Just sayin’).

And there is another trend. Not necessarily new, but it does seem to be more prevalent over the last several years. That is the concept of what I call “The Noble Criminal”. You see him (or her) in many movies these days. The team of bank robbers who are only robbing the bank to right some dastardly wrong or because one of the character’s loved ones is dying (usually due to the greed of the bank president or some other such embodiment of evil). Examples of these are movies like “Ocean’s 11″ or “Tower Heist”.

tower-heist11 oceans11

Then we have movies where the drug dealer or the prostitute or…well, you name it. Whatever the criminal enterprise, there are probably many, many movies glamorizing and glorifying whatever criminal you can think of. The most recent and most egregious (to me anyway) example of this was “The Sopranos”. OK, let’s get this straight. The mobster–the head of a Mafia family, a man who did not hesitate to kill anyone who crossed him–he was the good guy. The police and FBI who were trying to catch him–they were the bad guys. And people wonder why there are folks supporting Christopher Dorner. It is because we have a culture where The Noble Criminal is looked upon as a hero while those who are charged with apprehending him are evil.

sopranos

But these are really no different than the crowd that stood at the Praetorium that day as Pontius Pilate stood before the teeming crowd, asking them which man they would have released. Would they have Christ–the innocent Lamb of God, the Man who had committed no sin, the Man who was the perfect embodiment of righteousness and godly perfection? Or would they have Barabbas–a murderous villain, a man who had most likely committed crimes so vile and horrible the writers of Sacred Writ dared not even name them?

“Give us Barabbas!!”

To see that man’s will is inclined toward evil, simply read the headlines. Many would rather have Barabbas than Christ.

Responsibility of Elders

My church held a conference on church membership last fall. We had several well known speakers, Captureincluding Michael Horton, our own Voddie Baucham, Ken Jones, and Thabiti Anyabwile from Grand Cayman.

Here is Thabiti’s most excellent message on the responsibilities of those who serve the local church as elders: Responsiblity of elders

Abortion Ministry

catholicsI took this picture—of about 50 Catholics and their priest performing mass—last Friday while standing on the sidewalk near the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood. The clinic performs abortions on Thursdays and Fridays (aided in part by any American who pays taxes). This was the first time I’d been to an abortion clinic.

Colorado Springs is sometimes referred to as the Mecca of Christianity. There are many Christian organizations headquartered there, such as Focus on the Family. However, only three evangelicals showed up to plead for the lives of the unborn and to proclaim the law and the gospel to those who were there to murder their children.

The woman who was the de facto leader of the Christian contingent has been doing abortion ministry for five weeks, and had to bring her 15 month old son. I’m very grateful to her for what she’s doing, but it’s indicative of the state of the church that the most experienced person there is brand new. I’m not at all surprised that so few evangelicals show up, but I am ashamed.

The same sad state of affairs seems to be the case (in my experience) in any type of evangelism. Those of us who wish to proclaim the gospel are told that we’re not doing it right while the critics don’t do anything.

The reason there are 50 Catholics there is because the priest was there. People follow their leader. Christian pastors don’t go out witnessing, so Christians don’t go out witnessing. It seems that very few of us really do anything.

I don’t mean to come off sounding bitter. I came to grips with this situation long ago. I’m merely pointing out the issues. But I’ve been thinking about how abortion ministry might be best done. After going once, I’m clearly not qualified to say anything, my few hours of experience now ranks me among the top 1% of American Christians.

It seems to me that there is a normal way to present the law and the gospel in most situations, and that’s what we should all be doing, and should be getting very good at. If you have that ability, you’re 95% prepared to witness at a gay pride parade, to a bar crowd or at an abortion clinic, because it’s all about the gospel.

Those of us thinking about trying something new may be hoping to find a qualified Christian leader to show us the ropes, but that may not happen. We don’t have the luxury of waiting for our pastors to lead us to do something. We are commanded to expose unfruitful works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11) even if we have to figure it out with just other laymen and the Bible.