The Sabbath Complete

THE SABBATH COMPLETESabbath

a review by Stuart Brogden

The latter half of the 20th century has brought a growing interest in Reformed Theology, in striking contrast to the growing apostasy that has gripped many evangelical denominations. Many of my fellow Baptists aggressively and happily embraced the doctrines of grace and the great theological truths about God’s sovereignty and man’s true nature. I am a grateful Baptist who was introduced to this theological construct in the ‘90s and have come to see as foundational to the Christian faith the doctrines of the Reformation, especially the reliance on Scripture Alone for all things having to do with life and godliness and For the Glory of God Alone to keep us focused rightly in all we think, say, and do. And the mostly forgotten doctrine of our forefathers – Semper Reformanda – Always Reforming, because none of has it all together nor will we get it all together while we inhabit these tents of flesh. This brings me to this remarkable book – The Sabbath Complete, by Terrence D. O’Hare. This book is the result of our author “attending an Orthodox Presbyterian Church where various Sabbath-keeping applications were stressed.” (page xi) Prompted by his pastor, who urged his congregation to examine personal motives in religious practice, he decided to study the concept of the “Christian Sabbath”, which is widely popular in churches which hold to 17th century confessions such as the Westminster Confession of Faith and the 1689 London Baptist Confession. O’Hare’s study lasted as decade, producing this comprehensive analysis of this contentious issue. His desire, and mine, is that people on both sides of this issue acknowledge the human tendency to cling to traditions (some of which, he shows, are fine and biblical), which can lead to traditions displacing true worship of God and Christ. The thesis of this book is “that Sabbatarianism is a form of traditional pietism and that the acceptance of the fully ceremonial nature of the Sabbath, though shocking to some, is actually Christ-honoring.” (page xiii)

The Sabbath Complete is organized into 12 chapters which examine various aspects of the Sabbath – prototypes, initial practice, law, feasts; how it prefigures Christ in the rest He earned, the Gospel He preached, His resurrection; and a historical review of the practice which has come to be known in the confessions as the “Christian Sabbath.” Coming in at more than 350 heavily footnoted pages, this book is thorough, enlightening, and thought provoking. It is my prayer to whet your appetite enough so that you will buy this book and study it. May the Lord be our wisdom and His glory our goal.

In his examination of the Sabbatic prototypes given to us in Genesis, O’Hare observes (page 1) that “God’s provision for our physical rest is but a token of a more transcendent remedy for our spiritual privation” and follows up (page 6) thusly: “Though God’s rest after creation is a type of everlasting rest yet to come, it is more certainly a type of Jesus Christ, who has come, in whom the faithful rest in salvation.” This snippet shows O’Hare’s focus on Christ – His provision and sufficiency, which is a constant, welcome, perspective throughout this book. As an expression of God’s sovereignty and redemptive revelation, our author reminds us (page 7), “Jonah did not just happen to be engulfed by a great fish and later ejected as a random biological event, but this occurred as designed by the Lord to shadow forth the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord. Likewise, the seventh day rest was not a random terminus of creation but a purposed end point to shadow forth the inevitable results of God’s work in redemption.” This sets the stage for a book that is best read slowly, with an open Bible and notepad.

In addition to each Christian studying the Bible for himself, learning from credible sources of church history is very helpful as this sheds light on when and by whom our beloved traditions were started. O’Hare has helpful advice in chapter 9, wherein he reviews the shift to calling Sunday the “Christian Sabbath.” One of the earliest post-apostolic apologists, Justin Martyr, sheds light on the common-place view of Christians in the second century:

And on the first day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together in one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read…But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead.”

For this most ancient brother, the Lord’s Day was on the first day not as a new instance of the Jewish Sabbath, but in concert with a remembrance of God’s creation and Christ’s resurrection – wherein we have the promise of having our decaying bodies made new like His. Our author laments how Christian traditions were often started not on the Lord’s revelation to us as New Covenant saints, but by imagining connections to Jewish traditions – “such as circumcision giving way to baptism and the Lord’s Supper approximating the Passover, came the forced and fanciful system of religious holidays common in the Roman Catholic Church.” (page 222) He then provides a lengthy quote from famous Roman Catholic Thomas Aquinas, explaining his support for these practices and then comments (page 223), “This teaching blurred the differences between the old and new covenants and paved the way for works orientation. … It was fitting for a better covenant to have fewer ordinances: one, performed only once that identifies the child of God as an heir to the kingdom, and the second, a recurring and sustaining ordinance of remembrance of the life and work of Jesus Christ. Again, similarity does not connote identity. Baptism is not a Christian circumcision, and communion is not a Christian Passover, neither is the Lord’s Day a Christian Sabbath. This is as absurd as calling the new covenant the “Christian old covenant.”” Did I mention that a Presbyterian wrote this book? He goes on to say, “It is plain that the circumcision of the Christian is spiritual and not ritual, and that it is actually the death of Christ, which was His circumcision, into which we were spiritually baptized.” In response to several sabbatarian authors (such as Walter Chantry) who press the “Christian Sabbath”, in part, as a means to restrain evil and provoke (coerce?) Christian worship, O’Hare rightly observes (page 225), “If Christ can raise up rocks to sing His praises (Matt 3:9), why would it be so difficult for Him to raise up His beloved, who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, to worship at the appointed time (Ps 116:18-19, 122:1-2)?” Amen! Saints of the living God don’t need a command to gather together for worship and fellowship – we, by definition, love Him, are drawn to Him, and we love the brotherhood!

Each chapter of this book delves into history and Scripture to determine the meaning and origin of the various aspects mentioned in the first paragraph. Each is compelling and enlightening. Chapter 4 – Sabbath Law, examines the Jewish laws and traditions tied to their Sabbath and points out inconsistencies in the practice of modern Christian sabbatarians. In nearly every chapter, the diligent reader will be awed by the realization of how detailed the Jewish religion is as given to them by God and how it is much, much more than merely a quaint religion for those people long ago. The Jewish religion, as the book of Hebrews tells us, is mainly a means of communicating God’s eternal plan of redemption to the people He called out of the pagan nations, to protect the promised seed and make His name known around the world. These two priorities – to glorify the Lord and declare the gospel – are consistently the highest order for us humans. This becomes more and more clear as each chapter is consumed.

To keep this review from running 20 pages or more, I will restrict myself to chapter 10 – The Sabbath in Church History. This will put the “Christian Sabbath” practice so aggressively promoted and protected into its proper context. My desire aligns with the author’s – to have readers of this book see the first day of the week in its biblical context, stripped of the accumulated baggage of 20 centuries of religion.

Chapter 10 begins with the apostolic teaching, with O’Hare stating (page 244), “There are three crucial distinctions between Christianity and its roots in Judaism: holy things, the law, and the customs.” He sees some continuity and some discontinuity in the connection between the old religion and the new, acknowledging the law is good, and “Yet these ceremonial laws isolated the Jews from their pagan neighbors, became the point of contention and ridicule, and represented a wall of separation between the two peoples. This was meant by God to display the isolation between sinners and Himself – the Jew included – so when Christ abolished the ceremonies of Judaism, the gospel of peace and the law of moral commandments would become the unifying theology and practice for Jew and Gentile alike (Eph 2:14-16). … At the beginning of the Christian Church, it was a stumbling block to require Gentiles to observe Jewish rituals: “to whom we gave no commandment.” (Acts 15:24)”

The review of the Didache (50 – 120 AD) reveals no evidence of Sabbath-keeping by Christians; the review of Ignatius’ writings (page 247) shows “he clearly distinguishes between Jewish conduct on the Sabbath and Christian conduct on the Lord’s Day, to indicate the superiority of being a disciple of Christ.” He walks us through the records of Mathetes (130 AD), Justin Martyr (114 – 165 AD), Irenaeus (120 – 202 AD), Tertullian (160 – 225), Origen (185 – 254), Eusebius (265 – 340), Sylvester, Bishop of Rome (314 – 335), the council of Laodicea (364); all of which provide no support for the “Christian Sabbath” and often denounce the idea as being a Jewish encroachment in the church.

By the time Gregory I was installed as pope of the then-emerging Roman Catholic Church, traditions now associated with that religion “were already taking root, such as the liturgical mass, a monastic life, symbolic outfits, ecclesiastical hierarchy, and declaration of days to honor saints.” (page 261) O’Hare provides a lengthy excerpt from a letter to Roman citizens in which Gregory I calls those who forbid work on Sunday (which he called the Sabbath day) “preachers of Antichrist” and sums up: “Gregory’s core understanding is that the Sabbath is a fulfilled ceremonial law that should no longer be literally applied.” (page 262) O’Hare quotes R.J. Bauckham’s claim that Peter Comester (a contemporary of Aquinas and Chancellor of Notre Dame in Paris) was the “first exegete to apply the Sabbath commandment literally to Christian observance of the first day”. (page 263) Our author reminds us (same page) that “While it is helpful to acknowledge the scattered, yet progressive, acceptance of a physical rest on Sunday, it is more important to understand the bases for these practices in empiricism and religious authoritarianism.” History tells us what happened and provides evidence as to motives. The Roman Catholic Church explored ways and means to better influence her subjects, working with the legal authorities to provide a day off work and advocating Christian observance of Sabbath principles. “Their expectation that all citizens attend Mass in this church-state led to the need to force compliance through the appeal to Sabbath law.” Thomas Aquinas further developed this line of thought, “asserting that the old law contains moral (emanating from natural law), judicial (laws regarding justice among men), and ceremonial (laws touching on worship, holiness, and sanctification) precepts; and that these three can be distinguished in the Decalogue as well.” (page 264) This appears to be the first teaching of what is now cherished reformed doctrine – that the Law of Moses can be separated into these three categories and dealt with appropriately for new covenant saints. There should be no denying these three elements are found in the Law of Moses, but, as O’Hare shows us with Aquinas, determining what is ceremonial and what is moral is the rub. Aquinas recognized a moral teaching in the Sabbath commandment – people should worship God; he also recognized the ceremonial component, specifically the date upon which such worship is to be given. “At this juncture, Aquinas took the first step toward Sabbatarianism by moralizing a ceremonial command” by asserting the moral necessity of giving time to God. (page 265) Aquinas agreed with Augustine that moral laws are revealed by nature, so all men are without excuse. But in order to get man to be at mass and give to the church due obeisance, Aquinas saw value in elevating that which had been rightly considered ceremonial to moral status.

We will step quickly through the early reformers to show how this idea progressed. Philip Melancthon is quoted as saying, in 1530, “Those who consider the appointment of Sunday in place of the Sabbath as a necessary institution are very much mistaken, for the Holy Scriptures have abrogated the Sabbath and teach that after the revelation of the Gospel all ceremonies of the old law may be omitted.” (page 274) “Luther vacillates between his definitions of the Sabbath as a ceremonial law bearing no external application for Christians and a binding law incurring God’s judgment if disobeyed.” (page 279) John Calvin also had trouble being consistent in his view on this matter. In asserting “that the Sabbath was ceremonial and is moral leaves us open to problems concerning the nature of its existence – it is both abrogated and legally binding. This was further complicated by the church-state relationship that sought to mimic a theocratic Israel and by Calvin’s misconception that the biblical Sabbath required all Israelites to assemble at the synagogue.” (page 281) In his commentary on the Heidelberg Confession, written in 1563, O’Hare lists eight failures on the part of reformers that led them to embrace the “Christian Sabbath” (page 288):

  • Failure to familiarize themselves with the teachings of the early church fathers regarding the Sabbath.

  • Failure to expand the understanding of how the Lord’s advent fulfilled each specific Sabbath command beyond “resting from one’s sins.”

  • Failure to be consistent in the treatment of ceremonial laws and types.

  • Failure to satisfactorily explain why the ceremonial Sabbath was placed with the body of the Ten Commandments.

  • Failure to recognize the limitations of the Ten Commandments as a means to inculcate Christian ethics.

  • Failure to differentiate the biblical Sabbath from the tradition of the synagogue.

  • Failure to emphasize the authority of the apostles under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to institute a new order of congregational worship.

  • Failure to distinguish the Sabbath from the Lord’s Day.”

In what may be the keystone paragraph in the entire book, O’Hare explains the meaning of the Sabbath commandment (page 289).

The Mediator is on the first table (of the Decalogue) because, unlike Moses, Christ truly comes from God and is fully God. Yet Christ, by becoming fully man, joins with man to make him complete. Man cannot become complete simply by keeping the law, but he must experience through faith a life-altering union with Christ. The ceremonial Sabbath is the evangelion within the Ten Commandments that addresses the redemption of man. It is Christ Himself who takes the place of the Sabbath in the Decalogue. The Lord’s Day is not a continuum of the Sabbath or its replacement; it is a fresh ordinance for the church of God based upon the completion of redemption that was twice sealed by the Lord, first by His resurrection and second by the descent of the Holy Spirit.”

This puts the Decalogue in the absolute best light for new covenant saints to understand it and relate to it. (Scripture never calls the Decalogue “The Ten Commandments”, but only and always “the ten words” – hence the term Decalogue. But “Ten Commandments” are much weightier in the mouths of religious overlords than are “ten words”. I would have liked O’Hare to address this aspect of the creeping incrementalism of religious lordship in the church.)

It was during this time that the early reformers also broke with the clear teachings of Scripture and the church fathers by beginning to teach the Sabbath as the product of a creation ordinance. This was taught by Ursinus who “may have adopted the theory of the Reformed Englishman John Hooper, who, in his widely published book, Declaration of the Ten Holy Commandments (1548), claimed that God instituted the Sabbath from creation. … So, only 300 years after Aquinas and fifty years after Luther, the admixture of the Sabbath and Lord’s Day developed into a general concept that the Lord’s Day is the Sabbath, fostering the idea that the Sabbath remains a viable force in Christian living.” (page 290) This creation-ordinance based “Christian Sabbath” was a major element used by state-churches on both sides of the Atlantic to coerce Sunday worship – just as Rome had learned to do, using the same unfortunate logic.

In 1973, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church published a report from a committee that had been formed to study the relationship of the Westminster Confession of Faith to the fourth commandment. In part, the committee reported:

The weekly Sabbath is an eschatological sign. This truth, central to the teaching of Hebrews 3:7 – 4:13 as well as fundamental to the entire biblical revelation concerning the Sabbath, does not find expression in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. The reason for this would appear to be that the Standards mention the Sabbath commandment primarily in terms of its bearing on the more specific matter of public and private worship.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith was not changed to reflect the eschatological import of the fourth commandment. O’Hare, having taught in this book the nature of moral law (unchanging and universal), observes “If the Sabbath is not ceremonial or typological, it is not eschatological.” “Where”, he asks, “”can it be shown that the Ten Commandments summarize the moral law given to Adam? Where can it be demonstrated that the Sabbath commandment is purely moral?” (page 291) “Was the fourth commandment, as God gave it to Israel, about the Christian Sabbath or the Jewish Sabbath? Was there anything else in the fourth commandment that was abrogated than merely the day of the week on which it fell? Where can it be shown that God abrogated the Jewish Sabbath and installed a Christian Sabbath in its place? … So, besides omitting fundamental truths about the Sabbath, the Westminster codified interpretive errors that budded with Aquinas and blossomed with early Reformers.” (page 292)

In closing this very provoking chapter, O’Hare shows us that the fourth commandment not only commanded rest, it commanded work for six days. The Hebrew word in this commandment is in the Qal imperfect tense, which implies an on-going action – “you work”. “But, if the fourth commandment moralizes the example of God for man to obey, then it is as much a sin to work on the day of rest as it is to rest on the days of work. … if someone completes their (sic) work in three days and does nothing more for three more days, what exactly are they ceasing from on the seventh day?” He instructs us on two types of rest: “1) God’s rest signifies the promise of eternal life, and 2) Israel’s rest signified her faith in God alone. God’s work is redemptive, so man’s work is meaningless apart from that redemption.” (page 309)

The early church correctly believed that the Sabbath was a ceremonial command and welcomed the ordination of the Lord’s Day as a commemoration of the Lord’s resurrection. However, the ascension of church power through the state and the influence of rationalism allowed the medieval church to begin to associate the fourth commandment with the Lord’s Day. The Reformed church, by perpetuating the error of Aquinas, eventually expanded the scope of applications of Sabbath law and increased its moral muscle, forcing the church to practice Sunday Sabbatarianism.” (page 311)

He gives us eight conclusions which are supported by Scripture and history (page 311):

  • The creation account is not about the Sabbath. It is about the primal peace with God that was lost through sin because of a lack of faith. The pattern of creation – six days of God’s work and the ensuing rest – reverberates through Scripture to demonstrate God’s sovereignty in effecting the work of redemption by grace through the faith of man.

  • When Israel left Egypt they were given the Feast of Passover; a few weeks later in the wilderness they were given the Sabbath. At Mount Sinai, Israel received her full calendar of feasts. The Lord devised this new system of shadow laws to prefigure the person and work of the Messiah.

  • The Ten Commandments are a summary of the Mosaic laws and therefore contain both moral and ceremonial laws.

  • Christ in His earthly ministry was born under the law and obeyed the ceremonial laws as well as the moral laws.

  • Christ is the end of the law for righteousness. His work of redemption – His incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection – is the fulfillment of all shadow laws, even though some of them are yet to be manifested in their entirety.

  • The redemption of Jesus Christ initiated the new covenant. It is the fulfillment of what the former covenants forecasted.

  • The apostles had divine warrant to establish first-day worship. Scripture unfolds the transition from things Jewish to things Christian. First-day weekly worship was the normative practice of the early church, it did not move the Sabbath to Sunday.

  • While there is no explicit scriptural mandate for this transition, we have scriptural foreshadowing and history of first-day significance, and rationale. Christ’s resurrection and the inaugural descent of the Holy Spirit – the most important events of the church age – occurred on the first day of the weeks in fulfillment of Israel’s shadowy calendar laws.”

There is much, much more in this book than I can even hint at in these few pages – which are too many for most, I fear. Buy the book. Study the topics, challenge the author (I found a few places where I consider him to be in error), challenge yourself – for none of us has arrived any more than did any of the Reformers.

At the end of it all, why doesn’t this book, or anyone else, show from Scripture why the Jewish Sabbath command is not meant for the new covenant church? This is the wrong starting point. We look to Scripture to see what is, what God has revealed to us; not to prove a point. What we see in Scripture about the Decalogue is that is was an integral part of the Mosaic Covenant and the testimony or witness of that covenant (Ex 31:18, 32:15, 34:27 – 29). This key aspect of the Decalogue being a testimony of God’s covenant with Israel is further developed in Ex 25 and 26, with the ark being the “ark of the testimony” (see Ex 25:22 for emphasis). This is reminiscent of Ex 16:33 – 34 when Moses was commanded to put manna in a jar as a testimony God’s promise of provisions, seen in Ex 16:4 – 5. These are the most (only?) explicit statements in the Bible regarding the reason and purpose for the tablets and the ark – as a testimony of God’s covenant with Israel made on Mt. Sinai. Ezekiel 20:12 tells us the Sabbath is a sign between God and the Hebrews – marking their exodus from Egypt. It is not listed as a sign for the church, any more than water baptism is a sign and seal of that New Covenant. The burden is on the backs of those who say the Jewish Sabbath was, as the confessions say, abolished and re-established on the first day of the week, given to the church as the “Christian Sabbath.” That assertion, is found in paragraph 22.7 of the Second London Baptist Confession, yet established by no Scripture. Yet we do see in God’s Word the admonition for Christians to be understanding and accepting of brothers who lean on the practice of old religion (Romans 14 and 1 Cor 8) as well as stern rebukes for those who want Christians to practice old religion as a requirement (Acts 15).

The Sabbath Complete provides a comprehensive review and analysis of myriad aspects of the Decalogue and the Sabbath; examining the Word of God, the languages, and the historical context. Let the reader humbly go before Holy God and plead for understanding rather than rely on his own “wisdom” or unexamined presuppositions that we all hold too closely. Remember those who went before us – they knew they were fallible, yet many of them acted as if they were complete in their understanding of God’s Word. Yet they stood under the banner of Sufficiency of Scripture and all for the glory of God – as we must. But let these slogans of an bygone era be not merely nifty phrases we use to show our credentials, let each of us also acknowledge that we must be reformed and reforming for the glory of God, for He alone sees and understands perfectly.

This book is available on Amazon and directly from the publisher, at a competitive price.

Thanksgiving Perspectives

This Thanksgiving Day, we are providing a post written by the Pilgrim from Thanksgiving 2009. So much has happened and changed in the world in the last 4 years, but there are also many things that have not. This is a reminder we should have in front of us every year.

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As we in America celebrate Thanksgiving, and all the great freedoms, advancements, and benefits that the exporting of Christianity to this land brought with it, let us not forget about those millions of other people who are trapped in the bondage of their nations who are held captive to false religions and the human wreckage that those false religions bring.

Becoming Last had a post containing some pictures which reminded me exactly how thankful we should be, and exactly how starkly different the continent of North America may have turned out had the light of Christianity not pierced the darkness that covered this land.

The pictures in the post came from a piece in the Sacramento Bee. I’ve included some of these sobering but needful reminders below.


Let us not go to our graves having done nothing to see the advancement of the gospel to the uttermost parts of the world, where the worship of idols and demons keeps millions, if not billions, of souls in bondage.

Parenting – Biological or Biblical? – Part 1

father-and-daughter-11291665285sopOne of my little enjoyments is sitting in a public location watching the faces of those who are around me. A person’s face often reveals a great deal about them. Are they sad, angry, glad, ecstatic, overwhelmed, discouraged, in love, or merely contemplating the world at large?

Many times, they can be so wrapped up in their own thoughts or their own little world that they probably do not even realize they are portraying a part of their soul for others to see.

In studying the faces of others, there is one factor missing – the personal factor. Most of those I see, I do not know. Are they sad because they have lost a loved one or a pet? Are they discouraged because of a job loss that same morning and they wonder how they will pay the bills? Are they overwhelmed because of all the turmoil in the world? If they show love to the person they are with, is it a true picture of what is in their heart or merely a façade? Do any of these people pretend to be something they are not in order to cover up what is deep inside?

As I observe evangelical Christianity today, there are many faces being portrayed to the world. A vast majority of the faces shown to the world seem to merely be a cover-up. We are reminded in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that when God changes us we become a brand new creation. All the old things pass away and we are in the process of having all things made new.

Sadly, much of what we observe today does not reflect a new creation. It reflects the cares of the world and a strong desire to look more and more like the world around us. The world does not look at most who claim the name of Christ and say of us, “They have been with Jesus!” More times than not, it seems that they look at us and are asking, “Why should we want what they offer since they are not any different than us?”

One of the areas that is a growing concern is the role of parenting. For far too long, the church has portrayed a face to the world that says all is well in our homes and with our children. The reality of what goes on behind closed doors is both shocking and overwhelming in its bleak outlook.

How could we become so blind in the West? Is it possible that we could not have seen this coming, or did we see it coming and just didn’t care enough to implement the procedures necessary to prevent it?

Let’s consider this problem a little deeper, first of all as it pertains to the local church. We start here because this, for all true believers, should be the first area of concern as it pertains to the public aspects of our own lives and that of our children.

Little Johnny and Susie give their parents nice little cards and gifts on the appropriate holidays like: Wedding Anniversary, Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. The niceties of the card’s poetry is sweet but it often means little as the young people during the rest of the year disrespect their parents in just about every way imaginable. The face they are painting to the world is that they love the rebellion and depravity of their heart more than they love God and their parents. If our children truly loved us, they would be learning to respect our authority and learning how to be in submission as to the Lord.

But maybe this is part of the bigger picture. In our hurry to correct the problem, we want to “help” the young people put on a good face and often fail to realize the deeper problems that are at stake. Many of the children in our churches are hurting because of the attention they receive from their parents. Or, maybe we should say because of the lack of attention or the type of attention they receive from their parents.

For parents, the Scriptures are clear in Psalm 127:3, “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward.” The face that many parents are putting on in front of others in their local congregations is one of bravado. They may indicate that all is well but beneath the surface, the waters are roiling as though it were a little paper sailboat caught in a typhoon.

Here is the average picture that seems to be prevalent in far too many churches no matter where we have ministered throughout both England and the USA.

Families do not worship together in a corporate setting on the Lord’s Day because there has been no true worship of God during the week. The family gets up late on a Sunday after spending hours the previous evening filling their heads with the rubbish of the world and stumble into church late more than they are on time.

Sunday mornings, instead of being a calm assurance of the wonder of being able to worship with other believers, is hectic and full of chaos. The ride to church is often a reflection of the worship of self rather than of God. The parents argue and bicker while the children do the same in the back seat.

I often remember an illustration used by Dr. Jim Berg about a smoker coming on the Bob Jones University campus which is smoke-free. The smoker would go into a restroom and take a few quick puffs. Within a few minutes, everybody in the building knew that a cigarette had been lit, but the smoker would not even notice the smell of the smoke. Why? Because they had been smoking for years and had grown immune to the smell.

The same is true within the lives of many parents and children. They are like the smoker and can no longer smell the “smoke” of their selfish lives. Instead of parents even noticing the smoke of their children, they are all arguing over what brand of flesh they are going to smoke. Parents want their way apart from Christ and the children learn from the parents.

On any given Sunday, families rush into church with fake plastic smiles, the words to beautiful hymns and choruses are barely mumbled because hearts are not in what is on the page. Most are hoping the pastor does not call on them to offer a prayer of thanksgiving, read a Scripture, or serve in some other capacity.

Many want to rush the children off to fun, games, and a wee little Bible story because it is too “difficult” to have them sit all the way through a service that the parents often do not even want to be in. The main reason there is little to no desire to train the children in the ways of worshiping and praising God in a corporate setting is because there is little to no desire to train them in these areas at home.

Prayer meetings and additional Bible studies are normally attended by less than 10% of most churches. Rarely will a child be seen in either one and the excuses will often include statements like, “Well, it is a school night and we need to get them in bed early.” What is amazing is that parents manage to say this with a straight face as their children merrily watch television, play electronic games, or surf the internet until well after the prayer meetings or Bible studies have concluded.

So, our children start in the nursery then spend time playing games and eating cookies at church from age 3-10. By the time they are ten or eleven, they are normally involved in all kinds of sports or various extracurricular activities. In a few short years, they become teenagers and they quickly want nothing to do with church anymore.

Now, Dad and Mom have to make a decision. Capitulate to the children and let them stay home, or insist that, as long as they are “in our home,” they will attend?

To insist they go, though, requires that parents not seem like hypocrites. In other words, why should they show respect and go to church when they can often see the charade put on for the benefit of others? They know when parents only go to church as a social event on the calendar and provided nothing else is more important.

Teenagers know when parents have a true desire to worship God because they will see our love for one another and for being together with other true believers, but when they see more love for the world, for the television, for sports activities, and for gathering excuses one more time to miss a prayer meeting or Bible study, then parents should not expect anything other than rebellion to our authority.

The problem is compounded then when the children grow up and begin to get in trouble. Johnny gets arrested or is involved with drugs. Susie is sleeping around and comes home pregnant one night. Then, the scene changes and parents go weeping to friends for support and wanting prayers to be offered for their wayward children, all the while wondering, “What happened? We don’t understand because they were raised in a good Christian home.”

What happened?

The answer is actually quite simple. Parenting has been relegated more times than not to a mere biological process instead of a Biblical one. The parents raise their children by providing food, clothing, a roof over their head but have little to no desire to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
While they gladly meet the medical, educational, and personal needs and wants of their offspring, they have failed in the area that is the most important. Paul said in Acts 17:28, “For in Him (God), we live and move and have our being.”

Parents, if you fail to teach AND show this Biblical truth to your children, you will have failed as far as God is concerned. The children of Israel were commanded to teach their children every day of the law of God. It will not matter if your child grows up to be another Bill Gates or General of the Army or President of the USA or Prime Minister of the UK.

If they do not know the Lord, you are the one God will hold accountable for your words and actions. To do less than honor God by only keeping Him prominent and not pre-eminent, you are practicing idolatry. Yet, God is clear that His glory and honor He will NOT give to another.

The eyes of many parents have been blinded to the truth and the reality of what is transpiring because they have been smoking so long that they are immune to the smoke, that is, until it appears in a different format in the lives of their children. When they see it, instead of confessing their own sin, the end result becomes a battle of the wills. In the end, everybody still smokes and simply agrees to disagree over which brand they will each smoke.

Parents, there is an answer to the problem, but it will not be an easy fix. If you are in any of the situations I have described, the first step to change is to humble yourself before God. Confess your sin and repent before Him. Then, make the time to humble yourself before your children. Parents, your children already see your failures but will gain respect for you if you will humble yourself in this way. Admit your sin to them and ask for their forgiveness where you have failed in your God-given responsibility to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Lord willing, in future articles, we will consider other areas where we are called to be parents who serve the Lord and we’ll evaluate what we can do to change our focus. We will also consider how we can make a difference in our homes and in our churches.

The Separation of Church and Truth

Cover_RLV_Issue64“Do I have to be a bigot to be a Christian?”  That was the question that Jeff Cook asked in his recent article in Relevant Magazine following the shocking announcement that Exodus International, a ministry focused on homosexuality and the so-called LGBT community, was closing after issuing an apology for “years of undue judgement” and “imprisonment” in an “unbiblical worldview.”  In short, the efforts of Exodus International to speak truth to the homosexual community over the years is now a thing of the past.

Apparently Exodus International had answered Cook’s question with a triumphant “no!”  But it is my allegation that such a question is not only misframed, but it is also misleading.  The better way to ask this question, rather than using the politically charged and culturally expedient word “bigot,” is to ask: “Must one hold to a standard to be a Christian?”

Toward the end of his article, Cook not only tells us that “Christian bigotry” is repulsive and “antithetical to love,” but he also attempts to attach a rough description to it; namely, that it is “irrational devotion to one’s opinions at the exclusion not just of other opinions but of other people.”  I wish to use this description as the framework by which we can peer into the rest of the written piece as a whole.

To begin with, Cook tries to point out, at the expense of 1 Peter 2:9-11, that too often, the Christian wrongly “perceive[s] moral differences as camps as “us” and “them.” marking our opponents and so commencing an ideological war.”  But of course, as 1 Peter 2 points out, it is the very nature of the Church that we are a separate people, called out and chosen.  But how does this logically lead to a situation wherein our enemy are those unchosen and not called out?  Cook assumes that to believe in a separation is to suddenly make others the enemy.  That is a clear distortion of the doctrine of Scriptures.  Regarding whether we have commenced an ideological war, we must affirm that any statement of belief or system of ideas, any creed whatsoever, is an ideology.  And any time written or spoken words are used to express those creeds, especially when they lie in disagreement with the world, is to “commence” a war.

But it is important to note that the war is against the lies of this world and, as the author himself admits, is not against flesh and blood.  There is nothing in our standing strong for the truth that should indicate we are waging war on people.

Now, since our doctrines and systematic theology is mutually exclusive with that of liberalism, (see Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen). we apparently fall within Cooks description of a bigot.  We hold to “opinions at the exclusion… of other opinions.”  But the remarkable irony in this description lies in the fact that his entire article points to a view that is mutually exclusive with my own view.  Does this make him a bigot?  If he disagrees with, say, the Calvinist view of election, whereas I affirm such a doctrine, we must face the fact that Jeff Cook is guilty of bigotry.  For how can God both unconditionally elect his chosen people and at the same time not practice election?  To say this is possible is, to use his own word, “irrational.”  Surely Cook would object here by noting that he doesn’t hate the Calvinist, just disagrees with the doctrine.  And I and fine with that.  But cannot I use the very same objection when accused of bigotry for holding to the immorality of homosexuality?

To believe is to exclude other ideas, but it is not to create enemies out of human beings.

Moving away from the matters of belief and bigotry, we must shift the conversation toward Cook’s claims about God Himself.  Cook predictably opines, citing the Romanist Thomas Aquinas, that “God displays his power, not by eliminating all His opponents but by converting them.”  What is slightly humorous about this statement is that it is a clear breach of the postmodern desire to avoid absolutes.  On one hand the option is this: God displays his power by eliminating all His opponents.  On the other hand the option is this:  God displays his power by converting them.  Both Aquinas and Cook choose the latter.  But this does not mean that to disagree with them is to choose the former.  No, we take a different view altogether: “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.”  (Romans 9:22-23).  To be clear, we hold that God “eliminates” some of his opponents, but also “converts” others.

From the faulty assumption that God’s “mission is to bring all men and women to Himself,” Cook concludes that “our main concern cannot simply be who is ‘right’ but who is redeemed.”  Such a conclusion is remarkably frustrating.  First, as for “who” is right, we hold that Christ is right.  He is the very truth, the very word, that became flesh.  He is the “who!” And we as Christians ought to follow in his glory and proclaim His name!  Second, to say that we as humans ought to be concerned with “who is redeemed” is to say that we ought to take upon ourselves the role of God Himself! Who is or who is not redeemed is a matter for the Lord, not for us, his lowly servants!  That Cook puts this forward in a Christian magazine is absurd and quite concerning.

Off and on throughout the rest of the article, this idea continues to be pushed that if we work on “relating” to the unsaved and “acting” in the right way toward them and being “bound” to our neighbor, then and only then can we convince others that following Christ is a “respectable, rewarding, and an attractive pursuit.”

There is so much wrong in this method. (1) “Relating” to the unsaved does nothing to glorify God if by “relating” we are mimicking or approving their actions.  (2) “Acting” in a specific way so as to convince them that Christianity is the “way to go” is simply a way denying that “faith comes by hearing” the proclamation of the Gospel. (3) “Bound” to one’s neighbor is a distortion of Paul’s statement that he is a servant to all.  To make this concept more Biblical, we ought to realize that we are bound by the Word, bound by Christ, and then we, with Christ, practice the art of servant hood.  But we are not bound to other people.  No, Christ set us free to be bound to Him and to Him alone.  Lastly, by doing all these things, God forgive us if our intent is to convince others that Christianity is a “respectable, rewarding, and an attractive pursuit.”  Christianity is hard.  It leads to persecution.  It is mocked.  It is frustrating.  It is demonized. What is the Christian life? A hip coffee house?  A theme park?

No, the Christian life is a Pilgrimage.  We are on a weedy and pothole-ridden path home.  But home, in the presence of God’s glory, is where we can rest and receive our reward.  And home can only be our future if we “repent of our sins and believe the Good News” (Mark 1:15) which of course, is a “stumbling block” to some and “nonsense” to others (1 Cor. 1:23).

THE POWER OF THE CHURCH

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:30000023

The true power of the church lies in Christ personally. You may have all the stars that ever made bright the Milky Way with their combined sheen, but there is no power in them to kill evil or conquer sin

The stars of the church shine because God makes them shine. Their shining is not their own: it is a borrowed light with which they are radiant. But the power that overcomes evil, wounds the heart, pierces the conscience, and kills reigning sin is of the Lord alone.

“Out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword” (Revelation 1:16). Glory not, therefore, in men; for power belongs unto God. The power lies in Christ’s Word. “Out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword.”

“He that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully…saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:28). People are disturbed and troubled by the real gospel: under the false gospel they can sleep unto destruction. Bring out the sword: it is made to wound; let it exercise its salutary sharpness.

The gospel has two edges so that none may play with it. When they think to run their fingers along the back of it, they will find themselves cut to the bone. Whether we regard its threats or its promises, it cuts at sin.

Let us therefore know that the power of the church does not lie anywhere but in the Word as Jesus himself speaks it. Let us keep to his own pure, unadulterated, unblunted Word, and let us pray him to send it forth with power out of his own mouth into the hearts and consciences of men.1

Charles Spurgeon

[1] Charles Spurgeon, At the Master’s Feet [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005], January 27.

Hat tip to http://apprising.org/

What was Mohler Thinking?

Nearly 4 years ago, Albert Mohler and Danny Akins co-authored an article that never should have 1614332826_Do_Babies_go_to_Heaven_300x245_xlargebeen written. The Bible does not give enough information to be dogmatic about the eternal destiny of infants. It’s bad enough that Doug Wilson (of Federal Vision infamy) believes that a trinitarian baptism make babies (including Roman Catholic babies) Christian, we have otherwise sober Calvinist Baptists telling us ALL babies are saved – if they die before they sin. The hinge pin of Scripture they base this upon is 2 Cor 5:10, which, if taken as a solitary proof text, says one is judged for the deeds he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Their argument is that a baby is unable to do any evil deeds – yet they do not tell concerned parents at what age a baby is able to sin.

God chose before the foundation of the world those whom He would save. It is possible that omniscient God knew/ordained the early death of each infant who dies and sovereignly elected each one. But the Bible must be tortured to pull this doctrine out of it.

Mohler and Akins admit that every infant has the stain of original sin. They spend a few short paragraphs explaining the wretched state of unredeemed humanity – which includes infants. Then they have this:

What, then is our basis for claiming that all those who die in infancy are among the elect? First, the Bible teaches that we are to be judged on the basis of our deeds committed “in the body.”(2) That is, we will face the judgment seat of Christ and be judged, not on the basis of original sin, but for our sins committed during our own lifetimes. Each will answer “according to what he has done,”(3) and not for the sin of Adam. The imputation of Adam’s sin and guilt explains our inability to respond to God without regeneration, but the Bible does not teach that we will answer for Adam’s sin. We will answer for our own. But what about infants? Have those who die in infancy committed such sins in the body? We believe not.

They claim that since the children of the Exodus were not killed, but allowed to go into the promised land – babies go to heaven. This interpretation is not found anywhere the Bible that I am aware of. They claim that since Jesus said “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these” that actual children go to heaven. Child-like faith is what the Lord was talking about – not having any guile. Yet though Mohler and Akins repeatedly state that infants go to heaven they do not address the question of age of accountability. For IF one teaches the salvation of infants who die, one MUST be able to tell parents how old the baby must be in order to be accountable – how else can this false comfort be provided? It is reasonable that man wants to comfort fellow man. Christian man must not make up doctrines to provide false comfort. The entire Bible tells us Christ is our refuge and in Him alone we are safe. He is our protector, provider, and shepherd. Tenuous “promises” taken from muddied waters into which Scripture was stirred is not how we are to seek understanding or comfort.

We must be content to trust God, rather than make up doctrines that our natural minds embrace. It is reasonable to infer than God puts children in Christian homes because children are a blessing from God and Christians will be able to train the children as God commands. It is a stretch beyond the snapping point to say that children of Christians are New Covenant members – yet this is what Mohler and Akins are saying, for none outside the New Covenant can be saved. But the authors go beyond that and claim that ALL infants who die as such (again – with no line drawn as to how old one can be and claim this promise) were elect.

I am not going to recap the entire article – please read it and decide for yourself. But it is not helpful at all, consisting of man’s reason in an area God has not spoken clearly on.