Ministerial Meanderings

God centered theology in a man centered world.

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Location: Springfield, Missouri, United States

I was born in Washington D.C. and raised in Laurel, Maryland. I served in the United States Air Force for 20 years then retired. Then God led me to become a pastor. I was converted to Christ in the summer of 1966. I enjoy the company of my wife, children and grandchildren. I live with my three cats Hobbs, Taz, and Chloe.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Mark of a Genuine Christian

This post is the result of a sermon I preached some days ago and the reflections I have made since that time. It is probably the most important post I will make on this blog.

What is it that marks the true Christian? One could argue with some validity that it is our love for God. Certainly Jesus called this the "Great Commandment." In Matthew 22:37 Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. If that is the greatest commandment, then you could argue that doing it would be the one mark of a true Christian. But Jesus actually spoke very clearly about the thing that marks the life of a true Christian.

That mark is love. Yes, love for God. But Jesus went farther.

We owe it to every person to love them like we love ourselves. Jesus called this the second greatest commandment. In Matthew 22:39 he said this was like the first greatest commandment. The commandment to love others as we love ourselves goes out to all people. It is the kind of love we are to show to everyone. Beloved, this is a hard saying, like many of the things that Jesus said. We ought to love men, women, gays, lesbians, straights, blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics, drug users, prostitutes, teachers, lawyers, our bosses, our coworkers, our friends, our enemies, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, witches, atheists ... all of them .. just like love ourselves. This is the command of our Lord.

But there is another kind of love. One that goes beyond the way we love ourselves. Jesus said in John 13:35 "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love one for another." But just before that he said ... "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." See that? "as I have loved you..." We Christians are supposed to love each other, our fellow Christians, in the same way that Jesus loved us. If you thought the first part was hard, this is harder. The way Christians love one another is supposed to be of such a quality of love that even lost people see it and mark us as being disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. The mark of the genuine Christian is the way he or she loves their fellow Christians. Do you see that?

That means that if you accept someone as being a Christian, then by Jesus' own command, you must love them with the same kind of love with which Jesus loved you. It doesn't matter who they are, if they are a Christian then you must do this.

Each Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit in you is not part of the Holy Spirit. He is not a different Holy Spirit than the Holy Spirit in the other Christian. It is the same Holy Spirit. He is One. He binds us all so tightly together that when one Christian hurts, all hurt. When one rejoices, all rejoice. We are bound more closely to each other than we are to our blood kin. This is the koininea ... the Fellowship. It is the indwelling Spirit that gives us the ability to love each other the same way Christ loved us.

The love of Christ for his people transcends our differences. It doesn't matter what denomination one is. It doesn't matter what your system of theology is. It doesn't matter what ethnic origin you come from or what country your church is located in. We are bound by Christ to love as we are loved. And this love is to be of such sublime quality that it alone marks us as being disciples of Jesus.

This is a hard saying. But it is the command of our Lord. Knowing what we know, we have two choices. We can be willfully obedient or willfully disobedient. But we cannot pretend we are ignorant. We can't hide from our joy and our duty any more. So where are you? Yo might say "Well, no one else loves Christians like this?" That doesn't matter. Even if everyone else does it wrong, is that a license for you to do it wrong too? No. You are compelled by Christ to do it right.

I am not where I need to be on this. But I think about it a lot. I am working on it. So how about you? Do you bear the mark of a genuine Christian? If not, what are you going to do about it? It is well worth thinking about. Don't you think?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

A Deep and Rich Theology

There is a basic mistake that a lot of folks who call themselves "Calvinist" make. It is to reduce the whole system of theology to the "5 Points of Calvinism." Now, this little acrostic is an important shorthand.

When the Arminian Remonstants petitioned the National Church of Holland to replace certain elements of it's doctrine with five articles of doctrine derived from the writings of Jacob Arminius, there petition was rejected and the Synod (of Dort) responded with five "Canons" or standards of doctrine. These were called the "Canons of Dort." Much later, the five canons were reduced to the heading titles and rearranged to form the acrostic "T U L I P" in English. These are the first letters of the phrases "Total depravity; Unconditional election; Limited atonement; Irresistible Grace; Perseverance of the Saints." These are the "Five Points of Calvinism." For most Calvinists, these words and their short definitions are all they know. To them, these short phrases form the whole of Calvinism as they know it.

But this is a grave error. The theological system called "Calvinism" is a rich and deep system. Some of the greatest minds ever produced within the Church have devoted themselves to deepening the understanding of Christians in this system of theology.

Consider this ...

"THERE is but one, and only one, living and true God. He is self-existent and infinite in His being and His perfections. None but He can comprehend or understand His essence. He is pure spirit, invisible, and without body, parts, or the changeable feelings of men. He alone possesses immortality, and dwells amid the light insufferably bright to mortal men. He never changes. He is great beyond all our conceptions, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty and infinite. He is most holy, wise, free and absolute. All that He does is the out-working of His changeless, righteous will, and for His own glory. He is most loving, gracious, merciful and compassionate. He abounds in goodness and truth. He forgives iniquity, transgression and sin. He rewards those who seek Him diligently. But He hates sin. He will not overlook guilt or spare the guilty, and He is perfectly just in executing judgment."

That is from chapter 2, paragraph 1 of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. It is a Calvinistic confession and mirrors the Westminster Confession of the Presbyterian churches. Read that paragraph and think about it. No one talks like that about God anymore. You can see, it is more than the five points.

Calvinism has produced theologian - pastors and academic theologians who have given us a wealth of written material. Almost all of it is useful for the Christian's faith and life. I could name books and articles written by reformers and puritan authors. But anyone I listed as useful would have several people leaving me comments about other useful writings that I forgot. But a few names stand out. In times past, men like John Knox, Jonathan Edwards, Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, Jeremiah Burroughs, Matthew Mead, Charles Simeon, Charles Spurgeon, James Montgomery Boice, James Pedigru Boyce, John Broadus and many many others. In current times the Calvinist baton is being carried high by men like Albert Mohler, Bryan Chappell, Philip Ryken, Michael Haykin, John Piper, John MacArthur, Phil Johnson, James White and many many others.

In their writings they are unanimous that Calvinism is not only the five points, but an entire worldview. It is a filter for understanding God and life. It is a way of thinking. It is a way of living. It is a way of worship. It affects everything about the Calvinists life. If it doesn't, it is nothing but words.

My friend, it is time to stop reducing Calvinism to the five points. It is time to embrace the whole system. But to do that requires time and effort. It means we have to stop reciting the five points and thinking that we know everything there is to know about Calvinism. It means studying and reading and learning what the giants of the past and present have left for us to learn and to build on.

We live in a day when people want something real and deep to latch onto. They think it does not exist within the Protestant tradition, so we hear of people converting to Rome or to some other church or religious tradition. But the truth is that everything a person could hope for to have a lifetime deepening relationship with the living God can be found within the Calvinist tradition. It is a flower with far more than just five points.