Friday, December 07, 2007

Streams of Reformed/Calvinistic Baptist Renewal

Clint, of Cowboyology has been writing about the streams from which the new revival in RB distinctives have come out of. It has garnered some interesting discussion. But, what has really come to my attention has been the thinking back through church history, that it suggests.

Streaming History

Dallas Theological Seminary, for example, was founded by an ordained presbyterian. The presbyterian movement itself was an expression of puritanism, or the cause for semper reformanda in England and Scotland. The English reformation, in turn was a result of the great reformation of theology and church life instigated by John Calvin. Calvin himself was not a pure inovator, but learning from Jacques Lefavre d'Etaples and the french reformation wing, which was supremely influenced by Luther and Erasmus. These, although great thinkers who discovered things for themselves, where supremely influenced by their humanistic studies, (ie to study original languages and the Patristics. Luther was able to debate form the views of the Fathers effectively enough to silence his opponents, and admits (to his own political harm) his debt to the works of John Huss a martyr from a previous generation.

All these movements, reperesented a movement of theology, so that not all pre-Dallas where creadobaptists, not all reflected biblically discovered hierarchy before the westminster standards, Luther could harldy be considered a modern churchman. Yet in all these cases we have bretheren who we would not hesitate to learn from, and to cooperate with in gospel mission.

Common Themes

There were central themes that define them all and the so called "formal" and "material" casues of the reformation really do illustrate them. The Bible as the authority, and the gospel as described by the doctrines of Grace, have been consistant. So that while at times, we may feel that a period of Dallas era dispensationalism weakened the Five Responses of the Counsel of Dort to the Remonstrances of the Arminians. They did defend the key elements of Grace, and many Dallas Graduates, such as Robert Thomas are in fact calvinistic, and have been so all the way through.

Certainly my own expeeince at TMS, was that while there was diversity and discussion, the principles of the doctrines of grace were held and taught by the profs and most students. I never came accross any of the so called '3 point' calvinists in leadership there, in distinction from Clint's experience at TMC, but I did come to see that a distinctive dispensational hermeneutic (read as consistant historico-grammatical plain reading, different from a dispensational systematic theology) can and must lead to a reformed view of the doctrines of grace.

More to Being Reformed

There must be however a recognition that there is more to being reformed then the mere affirmations of scripture alone and grace alone. These principles are the core of evangelical committment. But the Reformed view compiles these with the idea of reformed worship according to the regulative principle. (If the bible commands or by reasonable logic implies it, do it. If not it has no place in worship). It sees the world through the either the lense of covenant keepers or covenant breakers. It looks at the social, poilitical and educational activities of our world and seeks to conform those to the principle of covenant fidelity.

Luther in contrast held to a more inclusive normative principle of worship (if not forbidden leav it alone). Yet in view of seeking to bring the world in submission to Christ, socially (see his book On Chrsitian Freedom), politically, (Secular Authority and An Appeal to the Ruling Casses), educationally, (see the quote I deal with in my previous post), Luther is cleary "reformed".

To what do we seek renewal?

I commented on cowboyology:

I have been re-reading Luther lately, and being reminded from his early work, "On Christian Freedom" and his late work, "The Bondage of the Will" Luther could be drawn as a consistent Calvinist (if that weren't anachronistic). Perhaps rather then a reformed renewal (although that is certainly true), the movement we are encouraging and seeing may be broader and really we ought to be discussing a Sovereign Grace Renewal, which is a part of the reforming of Baptistic thinkers bringing them back to their biblical roots.Just a thought, as I looked at Luther's Gospel renewal.

Charles Spurgeon in discussing the gospel wrote "If anyone should ask me what I mean by a Calvinist, I should reply, 'He is one who says, Salvation is of the Lord.'"

The Fundamental Question

Do we seek clarity on a label and form of christian expression, or on the faith itself? This is an interesting question, because our labels are not sinful, but helpful and communicative. But is this a question of mere labels? One thing must be kept in mind. Orthodox Christianity exaults the doctrines of grace, heresy corrupts them. True Arminianism is not a benign alternative label, it is the title of a condemned heresy that challenged the orthadox beliefs of the reformation church and was judged and publically refuted as heterodox. Spurgeon again notes:

  • And what is the heresy of Arminianism but the addition of something to the work of the Redeemer? Every heresy, if brought to the touchstone, will discover itself here. I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we
    do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach
    the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I

Now there are many modern arminians, who are really wesleyan. That is they are evangelical Christians who claim the label arminian, and yet still preach enough of the true gospel. But like the Puritans of England, we see a church with a pretty good gospel, and a pretty good practice, but we call for more.

Reforming Evangelicalism

We want the ecclesia reformata semper reformanda est secundu Verbum Dei --The Church reformed, always reforming according to the word of God. We do not want constant change and inovation, nor bare tradition. We want to be reformed, restructured, remolded to God's word personally and corporately.

This is the mission and call of the church. To call all people to reform their lives, worldview and practices to the word of God, to be covenant keepers in that they accurately represent the image of God in the world and interpret the world unde God's authority and glorify Him, enjoying Him forever.

But to do this in isolation would be foolish. Why reinvent the wheel? While we must study our languages (greek and hebrew) and return to the text of Scripture by ourselves, we need also to return to Clement, Tertullian, Augustine, Chrysostom, Anslem, Wycliffe, Tyndale, Huss, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Hubmier, Owen, Bunyan, Keetch, Spurgeon, Hodge, Warfield, Lloyd-Jones, MacArthur, Sproul and their ilk, who have proved to be faithful expositors, who have wrestled with culture, education, politics, church governance, soteriology, theology proper, counselling, spirtitual growth, and who have all conscienciously spoke to the church at large and asked them to abandon their current direction in favour of biblical reform.

The call to reform

Perhaps we will never escape fighting over the big "R" Reformed Label... Then so be it. Let's focus on small "r" reformation:

"The old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, that Paul preached, is the truth that I must preach to-day, or else be false to my conscience and my God. I cannot shape the truth; I know of no such thing as paring off the rough edges of a doctrine. John Knox's gospel is my gospel. That which thundered through Scotland must thunder through England [and Canada] again."—C. H. Spurgeon

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Thoughts From Martin Luther

Recently I dusted off the old collection I gathered in a graduate seminar on Martin Luther, the Augustinian Monk, Doctor of the Church and Ordained Priest of the 15-16th Century who recovered the Doctrines of Grace from the cesspool of semi-palagian theology of the medieval Church. To Be Evangelical is to be Lutheran in this sense.

What does that paragraph actually mean?

To break this evangelical discovery down further into common language, I looked at Luther's work, the Freedom of a Christian and measured myself and my age against it.

Luther the Man

Luther was a thoroughgoing religious man of passion and zeal, well educated and respectable. Like Nicodemus, in John 3, he felt something was missing. Through his studies of Church doctrines, he practices all the means of salvation, from attending the mass, to fasting, to prayers, to good deeds. He went on pilgrimage to Rome and in his words, "excelled in monkery". All of that, was a system of bringing man to God, through cooperative efforts with the Divine Spirit.

The Righteousness of God Which is According to Faith

Luther came to realize that this view, that man could contribute anything whatsoever, was impossible. No matter how hard he strived to measure up to the righteousness of God, he found himself falling short. Eventually he came to hate the righteousness of God, as an enemy. Like the rich young ruler who came to Jesus in desperation, he asked every authority, "what thing do I still lack?". And hearing a response he tried to do it.

As a professor of sacred Scripture at Wittenburg, he made the stupendous discovery for himself, that the righteousness of God spoken of in Romans, was not the righteous standard of God we must strive for, but rather a righteousness granted to sinful man, by the imputation, or crediting of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, for our righteousness, by a gift of God received by faith.

This faith he understood was foolishness to the religious world, "as the things of the Spirit are spiritually discerned" and thus "foolishness to the natural man". And so there was no possibility for cooperation in grace. Only by the "new birth" which Jesus offered Nicodemus, could he, Luther, a modern Nicodemus be granted the nature that embraces the alien righteousness of Christ which Luther describes in his 1519 book, The Freedom of a Christian as a liberating righteousness. for "his righteousness is greater than the sins of all men, his life stronger than death, his salvation more invincible than hell". Joined to Christ, the Christian Church, as the bride of Christ has that victory in its own experience, becoming one flesh with Chris0t, so the Christian can cry, "Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Co. 15:57).

Luther Diagnoses Our Heresies

In our day, now basically free from the once iron clad grip of Roman authority, and now for the most part even out of the grip of fellowship in a Christian church, our struggle toward salvation appears very different, but is it really?

It is obvious that we all excel in our own monkery, whether in pursuit of our careers or recreation, trying to achieve personally the salvation of heaven on earth, to reach that point where we can say as the beer slogan said, "It doesn't get any better than this".

Those in the church have forgotten what the struggle of the reformation really said, that man cannot cooperate in the work of grace, and thus my church attendance, my baptism, my moral religiosity, or even my profession of faith cannot be the foundation of my salvation. Only the Righteousness of Christ, which is mine by the gift of God's grace in faith can be the foundation.

While this Spirit of Faith makes the Christian "a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none" it also makes him or her, "a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all". The spirit of faith "with joyful zeal attempts to put the body under control and hold it in check: because, "the needs of his body drive him" to "do many good works to reduce it to subjection". These works do nothing to justify one before God, Luther warns, but the Christian does them, "out of spontaneous love and obedience to God".

This is the element of our own shift toward semi pelagianism in evangelicalism today. We rely on our profession of faith (our way of cooperating with God) and neglect to be obedient, out of faith. By faith Abraham obeyed God (Heb 11:8), and God in turn recognized his faithful submission as salvation.

A Jewish worldview, the worldview of the time of the bible, would not allow a mere acceptance of certain facts or a certain profession of certain facts to mean anything salvific. "Even the demons believe (certain facts) and tremble" (Jms 2:17 --although i recognize the irony of this quote when considering Luther's position). Rather faith means submission. Faith means committing oneself the Lord Jesus, and as Luther concludes: "Our faith in Christ does not free us from works, but from false opinions concerning works, that is, from the foolish presumption that justification is acquired by works".

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Calgary E Free Plant

In the word's of Genesis 24:27, I can say, "As for me, being on the way, the LORD led me". Karmyn and I began our odyssey of church planting almost two years ago in Seoul, Korea, as we prayed and sought God's direction for our lives. Through the intervening months, we have gone on a journey beginning in Lynchburg Virginia, and now terminating in the place my heart has been drawn to for the better part of a decade, but where for some time I had never thought to actually be back to, "cowtown" –Calgary Alberta.

My father was raised here, my mother spent high school here, they met and dated here. The city has grown and changed since we first moved back to the area in 1999. The population grew at 13 ½ % last year. On roughly a million people, that means growth of 130,000 people in a year! WOW.

Calgary may be one of the most exciting cities in the world today, with more potential to continue growing nearly indefinitely. With 23% of the population immigrants from "every tongue and tribe and nation", with the oil revenues set to reach a record high again this year, and with lives hopelessly confused and stressful. With more violence, more demands, more needs then ever before, Calgary is at once one of the most desperate cities in the world as well.

So it is that God has a work to do here. If small I pray he give me the grace to be faithful, if large I pray he grant me the ability to honour Him. But whatever we do, we do, soli Deo Gloria.