Bell Creek Community Church

A non-denominational church in Livonia, Michigan with Biblical teaching, worship, and kid's ministries.

You are here:

Desiring God

Subscribe to Desiring God feed
The Desiring God RSS Feed
Updated: 1 hour 41 min ago

Is Knowing God’s Sovereignty Important to My Daily Life?

Tue, 10/10/2017 - 8:00pm

The Bible not only recognizes that God controls everything. It also demands that we build our lives around that truth.

Listen Now

The Underground Translator: William Tyndale (c. 1494–1536)

Tue, 10/10/2017 - 10:01am

In the early 1530s, an English merchant named Stephen Vaughan was commissioned to find William Tyndale and inform him that King Henry VIII desired him to return from hiding on the Continent. In a letter dated June 19, 1531, Vaughan wrote about Tyndale (1494–1536) these simple words: “I find him always singing one note.”

That one note was this: Will the King of England give his official endorsement to a vernacular Bible for all his English subjects? If not, Tyndale would not come. If so, Tyndale would give himself up to the king and never write another book.

The king refused. And Tyndale never went to his homeland again. Instead, if the king and the Roman Catholic Church would not provide a printed Bible in English for the common man to read, Tyndale would, even if it cost him his life. Which it did.

Plowboys Will Know Their Bible

When Tyndale was 28 years old in 1522, he was serving as a tutor in the home of John Walsh in Gloucestershire, England, spending most of his time studying Erasmus’s Greek New Testament, which had been printed just six years before in 1516.

Increasingly, as Tyndale saw Reformation truths more clearly in the Greek New Testament, he made himself suspect in the Catholic house of John Walsh. John Foxe tells us that one day an exasperated Catholic scholar at dinner with Tyndale said, “We were better be without God’s law than the pope’s.”

In response, Tyndale spoke his famous words, “I defy the Pope and all his laws. . . . If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plow, shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost.”

One-Note Crescendo

Four years later, Tyndale finished the English translation of the Greek New Testament in Worms, Germany, and began to smuggle it into England in bales of cloth. By October 1526, Bishop Tunstall had banned the book in London, but the print run had been at least three thousand. And the books were getting to the people. Over the next eight years, five pirated editions were printed as well.

In 1534, Tyndale published a revised New Testament, having learned Hebrew in the meantime, probably in Germany, which helped him better understand the connections between the Old and New Testaments. Biographer David Daniell calls this 1534 New Testament “the glory of his life’s work” (William Tyndale, 316). If Tyndale was “always singing one note,” this was the crescendo of the song of his life — the finished and refined New Testament in English.

For the first time ever in history, the Greek New Testament was translated into English. Before his martyrdom in 1536, Tyndale would go on to translate into clear, common English not only the New Testament but also the Pentateuch, Joshua to 2 Chronicles, and Jonah. All this material became the basis of the Great Bible issued by Miles Coverdale in England in 1539 and the basis for the Geneva Bible published in 1557 — “the Bible of the nation,” which sold over a million copies between 1560 and 1640.

Bible Translation, Gospel Truth

What drove Tyndale to sing one note all his life? It was the rock-solid conviction that all humans were in bondage to sin, blind, dead, damned, and helpless, and that God had acted in Christ to provide salvation by grace through faith. This is what lay hidden in the Latin Scriptures and the church system of penance and merit. This is why the Bible had to be translated, and ultimately this is why Tyndale was martyred. He wrote,

Faith the mother of all good works justifieth us, before we can bring forth any good work: as the husband marryeth his wife before he can have any lawful children by her. (William Tyndale, 156–57)

Man is lost, spiritually dead, condemned. God is sovereign, Christ is sufficient, faith is all. Bible translation and Bible truth were inseparable for Tyndale, and in the end it was the truth — especially the truth of justification by faith alone — that ignited Britain with Reformed fire and then brought the death sentence to this Bible translator.

In October 1536, at only 42 years of age, Tyndale’s one-note voice was silenced as he was tied to the stake, strangled by the executioner, and then consumed in the fire. But because of his vernacular English translation, the song itself swelled into a mighty British chorus of chambermaids, cobblers, and, yes, even plowboys.

For more on William Tyndale:

William Tyndale: A Biography by David Daniell

Filling up the Afflictions of Christ: The Cost of Bringing the Gospel to the Nations in the Lives of William Tyndale, Adoniram Judson, and John Paton by John Piper

What If My Singleness Never Ends?

Tue, 10/10/2017 - 10:00am

It happened suddenly this past May, the moment I’d prayed for and sought after for quite some time: the moment I became okay with lifelong singleness.

Something inside me relaxed as I sat at a coffee shop, my mind not even on relationships but preoccupied with a menu over dinner with friends. And then suddenly, I felt content to be single — not only for another few months, or even years, but even until the day I die, if God chooses that for me.

More than ever before, the years stretching out before me don’t seem like a romance-less, spouse-less, and (okay, let’s face it) sex-less gray void. It was a beautiful moment that could come only from God, a moment of triumph over an idol that has long battled for the throne of my heart.

Whether it’s for a season or a lifetime, I’ve found that I don’t want to skip what God chooses to give me during singleness.

Already Loved

The more weddings I attend (which is several a year at this stage of life), the more the feeling sinks in that I may never be a bride. But the feeling isn’t altogether sad. Because I’m already dressed in white, you see. My friends’ immaculate dresses and the wedding day itself symbolize something mysterious and beautiful: the “robe of righteousness” God’s people already wear (Isaiah 61:10) and the “fine linen, bright and pure” we will put on at the wedding feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19:8).

I’m already pursued by someone who wove the very sinews of my being together. I’m already loved with a love that will outlast every other. I’m already known more intimately than I can fathom.

It’s so easy to read that last paragraph and think “so cliché,” especially since this is yet another Christian article about singleness.

Just be still. Do you realize what that paragraph means? You’re known just as you are (1 Corinthians 13:12). Even the inmost places of your heart — the darkest, the brightest, the most wounded, the most joyful, the most romantic — God knows and comprehends them to their depths. He cares for your unspoken and most intimate needs. There isn’t a thought you can speak before God knows it’s there (Psalm 139:4). Dwell on that. Do God’s presence and promises carry so little preciousness that we can scoff and declare them “cliché”?

Faulty Assumptions

So often, we spout inane phrases to single people like “God will bring you the right guy.” They reveal the heart so completely: I have to have a romantic relationship in my life at some point to be whole.

We might subtly think, I don’t have to have it now, God. Or even next month. But at some point, God, you’ve gotta bring someone for me to marry.

But he doesn’t. God does not have to bring us someone to marry. He simply is not obligated to do anything for us that is not for his glory and for our joy in him. And since we’re not all-knowing, we cannot claim to know what will give us the most long-term joy. We can make guesses, certainly. But the ultimate decision is up to our God, who has never ceased to provide exactly what his people need — from the garments of skin worn by Adam and Even (Genesis 3:21) to our own daily bread (Matthew 6:11).

I’m not saying you won’t have difficult days where you yearn to be a husband or wife (I have those days too!), but I am saying that Jesus will meet you in those difficult times. He is gloriously gracious like that. The Spirit is willing and able to teach your heart many things, including contentment in singleness as long as God sees fit — and even if it’s lifelong.

Don’t get me wrong: seeking marriage is great. If you’re interested in a godly someone, use wisdom and discernment and be intentional about it. But don’t fret. You may marry that person, and you may not. Whatever happens, don’t let it overshadow what God has already done for you and the glorious place you are headed.

Three Suggestions

“That’s great,” you may say as you read this. “But how can I do that?” I don’t pretend to know the complete answer to that question, but here are three suggestions that have helped me.

1. Recognize that you can’t be content on your own.

Contentment is a work of God (Philippians 4:11–13). Pray to him for it. Lay your will and your heart down completely, and not in a way where you’re trying to be holy and spiritual so that you can get the “true prize” in your eyes. God can change your heart from that too; just ask. He is a Father who listens to his children.

2. Second, don’t surround yourself with romance.

I’m not saying avoid all your friends’ weddings — each is a time for rejoicing and celebrating God’s work in their lives! But don’t inundate yourself with romantic comedies and TV shows and books and other media that are constantly focused on romance. Doing this can easily irritate wounds and give a foothold for envy and comparison to wreak havoc on your emotions.

3. And third, enjoy singleness. Seriously.

If you’re not content in singleness, then you won’t be content in marriage. Spouses and significant others are not contentment charms; wedding vows are not magic incantations that produce lifelong fulfillment.

Give your time to ministering to friends and your community. Pursue your interests intently. Learn to manage your money. These activities do not have to be less fulfilling just because you are spouse-less! Believe it or not, if you do marry, there will be times when you yearn for singleness, and it isn’t likely to come again (at least not in the same way).

A Better Goal

So I come alongside you as a fellow single, encouraging you to join me in laying down the idol of romance. Let’s prepare now to better serve a future spouse or, if we never marry, to enjoy Jesus no matter married or not.

Marriage is great, but it isn’t ultimate. The honor of “ultimate” remains with our true romance: the God who creates, sustains, intervenes in, and pursues the hearts of his people from eternity to eternity (Psalm 90:1–2). Amen.

The Underground Translator: William Tyndale (c. 1494–1536)

Tue, 10/10/2017 - 1:00am

In the early 1530s, an English merchant named Stephen Vaughan was commissioned to find William Tyndale and inform him that King Henry VIII desired him to return from hiding on the Continent. In a letter dated June 19, 1531, Vaughan wrote about Tyndale (1494–1536) these simple words: “I find him always singing one note.”

That one note was this: Will the King of England give his official endorsement to a vernacular Bible for all his English subjects? If not, Tyndale would not come. If so, Tyndale would give himself up to the king and never write another book.

The king refused. And Tyndale never went to his homeland again. Instead, if the king and the Roman Catholic Church would not provide a printed Bible in English for the common man to read, Tyndale would, even if it cost him his life. Which it did.

Plowboys Will Know Their Bible

When Tyndale was 28 years old in 1522, he was serving as a tutor in the home of John Walsh in Gloucestershire, England, spending most of his time studying Erasmus’s Greek New Testament, which had been printed just six years before in 1516.

Increasingly, as Tyndale saw Reformation truths more clearly in the Greek New Testament, he made himself suspect in the Catholic house of John Walsh. John Foxe tells us that one day an exasperated Catholic scholar at dinner with Tyndale said, “We were better be without God’s law than the pope’s.”

In response, Tyndale spoke his famous words, “I defy the Pope and all his laws. . . . If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plow, shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost.”

One-Note Crescendo

Four years later, Tyndale finished the English translation of the Greek New Testament in Worms, Germany, and began to smuggle it into England in bales of cloth. By October 1526, Bishop Tunstall had banned the book in London, but the print run had been at least three thousand. And the books were getting to the people. Over the next eight years, five pirated editions were printed as well.

In 1534, Tyndale published a revised New Testament, having learned Hebrew in the meantime, probably in Germany, which helped him better understand the connections between the Old and New Testaments. Biographer David Daniell calls this 1534 New Testament “the glory of his life’s work” (William Tyndale, 316). If Tyndale was “always singing one note,” this was the crescendo of the song of his life — the finished and refined New Testament in English.

For the first time ever in history, the Greek New Testament was translated into English. Before his martyrdom in 1536, Tyndale would go on to translate into clear, common English not only the New Testament but also the Pentateuch, Joshua to 2 Chronicles, and Jonah. All this material became the basis of the Great Bible issued by Miles Coverdale in England in 1539 and the basis for the Geneva Bible published in 1557 — “the Bible of the nation,” which sold over a million copies between 1560 and 1640.

Bible Translation, Gospel Truth

What drove Tyndale to sing one note all his life? It was the rock-solid conviction that all humans were in bondage to sin, blind, dead, damned, and helpless, and that God had acted in Christ to provide salvation by grace through faith. This is what lay hidden in the Latin Scriptures and the church system of penance and merit. This is why the Bible had to be translated, and ultimately this is why Tyndale was martyred. He wrote,

Faith the mother of all good works justifieth us, before we can bring forth any good work: as the husband marryeth his wife before he can have any lawful children by her. (William Tyndale, 156–57)

Man is lost, spiritually dead, condemned. God is sovereign, Christ is sufficient, faith is all. Bible translation and Bible truth were inseparable for Tyndale, and in the end it was the truth — especially the truth of justification by faith alone — that ignited Britain with Reformed fire and then brought the death sentence to this Bible translator.

In October 1536, at only 42 years of age, Tyndale’s one-note voice was silenced as he was tied to the stake, strangled by the executioner, and then consumed in the fire. But because of his vernacular English translation, the song itself swelled into a mighty British chorus of chambermaids, cobblers, and, yes, even plowboys.

For more on William Tyndale:

William Tyndale: A Biography by David Daniell

Filling up the Afflictions of Christ: The Cost of Bringing the Gospel to the Nations in the Lives of William Tyndale, Adoniram Judson, and John Paton by John Piper

How to Resolve Most Relational Conflict

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 8:02pm

Few things sap more of our joy, are as emotionally demanding and mentally distracting, as relational conflict. And few things wreak as much havoc and destruction on lives as relational conflict. And so much of it is avoidable.

Of course, not all conflict is avoidable. Some disagreements are based on issues so fundamental to truth, righteousness, and justice that conscientious conviction demands we stand our ground, even if it shatters a relationship. After all, even Jesus made it clear that for some of us, his coming would result in the painful severing of the important and meaningful and intimate relationships in our lives (Matthew 10:34–36).

But most of our conflicts in life are not over such fundamental issues. They erupt over secondary, or peripheral, or trivial, or even utterly selfish things. And there’s only one path to peace in these cases.

Warring Passions

James nails us when he says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1) God knows that we need to be told this. But it’s not that we don’t already know this. We often admit it to ourselves in the privacy of our own thoughts. We just have such a difficult time admitting it to someone else.

How many times following a conflict, once we’re alone, have we felt convicted over the sinful way we spoke to or treated someone? How many times have we then fantasized the kind, loving things we wish we would have said, and rehearsed the forgiveness and reconciliation we wanted? And then how many times, when it comes to actually saying something to the person, have we found it suddenly so hard to own up to our sin, and so started softening and qualifying our apology? Even sometimes resurrecting the conflict rather than resolving it.

Why do we do this? Why is conflict resolution so hard for us?

Why Do We Hold Back?

We know the answer: it’s just ugly, selfish pride. We don’t want to place ourselves in the vulnerable place, we don’t want to lose all negotiating leverage in the relationship. We don’t want to admit how foolish and selfish we really are. Once that cat’s out of the bag, we’ll never be able to bag it again. We’d rather our passions remain at war than surrender our pride, even if it means our families, friendships, and churches suffer the collateral damage.

James wants us to take this very seriously, which is why he minces no words in calling us to account. He calls these warring passions friendship with the world and spiritual adultery, and says that giving into them puts us at enmity with God (James 4:4). When we allow them to govern our behavior, we act like God’s enemies. And, as Jesus’s parable about the unforgiving servant illustrates (Matthew 18:21–35), that is serious indeed,

The Only Way to Peace

You cannot negotiate or compromise with pride; you must kill it. And this is likely the most difficult faith-fight we will ever engage in.

Pride is the enemy inside us that speaks to us like a friend. Its counsel sounds so much like self-protection, preservation, and promotion that we’re often blinded to the fact that it’s destroying us and others. It rises in great indignation as a prosecuting attorney when others’ pride damages us, but it minimizes, qualifies, excuses, rationalizes, and blame-shifts our behavior when we damage others. We can be easily deceived into believing that our pride wants to save us, when really, it’s our internal Judas betraying us with a kiss.

We must, to use an old term, mortify it — put pride to death. And there is only one way to do this: we must humble ourselves.

The Promise in Humility

We must reject the counsel of our pride and accept the instruction of our Lord, who says “humble yourselves,” because the humble will ultimately be exalted, but the proud will ultimately be horribly humbled (1 Peter 5:6; Matthew 23:12).

And, yes, this is hard. Killing pride is hard. It requires courage — the courage of faith. For it means nothing less than placing ourselves in the vulnerable place where we fear we may (and just might actually) be rejected; in the weak position where we will lose our negotiating leverage; in the lowly place where we are forced to admit how foolish and selfish we really are. We must trust God with the loss of reputation capital we might experience, and with the possibility that others could use our confession and humility to their advantage.

We must trust God that his promise through the apostle James is more reliable than the promises our pride makes: that if we humble ourselves, he will “[give] more grace,” because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). More grace will flow the more humble we become.

What Makes You Shine

When our sin is fueling a relational conflict, pride tells us to hide the truth behind the disguise of deceitful defensiveness and manipulative anger. A façade of dignity seems more valuable than God’s glory, and preserving our reputation seems more valuable than preserving our relationships. But God tells us to humbly expose our sin, because his glory (and a restored relationship) will satisfy us far more than superficial posing and a false reputation.

When through humility we put away selfish grumbling and prideful disputing, we “shine as lights in the world,” showing ourselves to be God’s children (Philippians 2:14–15). Pride conceals this light, but humility lets it shine bright. It is humility that really makes us shine.

That’s why Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). The peacemakers that shine brightest are not those who merely mediate between conflicted parties, but those who, by their humble example of admitting sin and graciously forgiving others, demonstrate how peace is made — the only way real peace is made.

Do you have a relational conflict? Then you have an invitation from the Lord to show the redemptive power of the gospel, to lessen the hold pride has on you, and to allow more of his grace to flow to you and through you by humbling yourself. It is an invitation to submit yourself to God, resist the devil, and watch him flee from you (James 4:7).

Are the Five Solas in the Bible? Part 2: By Grace Alone

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 8:00pm

God’s grace alone makes the blind see, the lame walk, the dead live, and the sinner saved.

Watch Now

Do You Wake Up Discontent?

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 10:01am

Is it possible to be content in all things?

What would it even mean to be content in all things? It seems like a hundred frustrations and inconveniences wage war in my mind every day to challenge contentment, and too often these things seem to be winning the war.

I have a stiff neck. That pillow has got to go.
What am I going to wear? I am tired of all my clothes.
The grout in our bathroom needs to be repaired.
Everyone wants something different for breakfast.
My husband wants to wear a shirt that I haven’t had time to iron.
Why does it have to be raining?

My mind is churning with discontent, and it’s not even 8:00 o’clock! We want every little detail under our control to bend to our expectations. Then, of course, there are the things beyond our control, life-changing trials that disrupt our lives: wayward children, illness, disability, loss of a loved one, loss of job, natural disaster, perhaps persecution, and in some places, starvation, war, terrorism.

Large and small things wield the power to destroy contentment.

Fragile and Unpredictable

Life in the world defies contentment. Perhaps we should not be surprised. Part of the problem is that we are looking to the world to provide comfort, and stability, and safety, and provision, and love, and hope. Given that we live such a fallen world, I wonder why we expect it to provide these things.

No one and nothing in the world can really promise us that we will have a good job, a nice home, plenty to eat, good friends, a loving family, good health, safety or really much of anything else. You can “play by the rules” by working hard, being responsible, and being kind to others, but there is really no promise that will pay off in the end. The world is fragile and unpredictable. An illness, a terrorist attack, a war, a divorce, and a million other things can happen at any time. In an instant, our world is shattered.

I wonder what the thousands of families in Houston who lost homes and all their possessions would think of my little morning list of complaints? Some even lost loved ones in a few short days because a hurricane suddenly roared through their neighborhood. Whatever expectations those families may have had the week before the hurricane are gone now. All of the sudden contentment means a bed, a hot meal, and donated clothing.

The Only Path to Contentment

God knows we live in this fallen, unpredictable world, so why does the Bible tell us to be content? How can we be content in such uncertain conditions? The truth is that the Bible never instructs us to find our contentment in the world. In fact, it tells us just the opposite.

Jesus says that “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Difficulty and tribulation will come. But Jesus says this that we may still have peace. How? Jesus has overcome the world. Jesus has overcome the world! It is done!

We are only ever able to find real and lasting contentment in this world if the foundation of this contentment is a deep and abiding trust in the fact that our real home, the one without suffering, is already secured. We own it. We are cosmic relief workers in this pain-filled world, for a moment in time, because God has determined that we can best serve others and glorify him here right now. Our life, and the ways it feels broken are an assignment from God for today.

How are we receiving what God has assigned to us today? Is our heart filled with desire to respond to what he has given us in a way that honors him? Even, and sometimes especially, in the hard things, we have a glorious opportunity to reflect peace and joy that might even cause others to ask for the reason for our hope. When Jesus promises peace, he means for us to enjoy it now. Of course it will be perfected in the age to come, but it cannot be shaken one bit by anything happening in this world — unless we permit it.

We may not have control over our circumstances, but we do have control over whether we find peace in them.

Whatever May Come

The apostle Paul understood this well, and he likely experienced far more tribulation and trial than you or I are ever will (2 Corinthians 11:23–27). He was punished with 39 lashes — multiple times. He was beaten with rods, stoned near death, and shipwrecked three times. He faced danger from rivers, robbers, Jews, and Gentiles — dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, and dangers at sea. He experienced sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, cold, exposure, and worse.

Yet in Philippians 4:11–13, Paul can say with assurance,

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Why can Paul say this? I do not know a single human being today who, faced with those circumstances, would be able to say he or she was “content.” Paul could say he was content because he knew without a doubt that when he was born again through Jesus Christ, he was born into a reality that transcends and conquers this world.

Already Home

Paul didn’t expect his life here to be easy, he simply wanted to joyfully serve his Savior and King. He knew he was already a resident of heaven and he, like every Christian in the world, was simply left here in a “foreign land” to help lead others home to a life in the presence of his beloved Savior that really could deliver the joy, health, comfort, provision, and hope we cannot find in this world.

With that reality firmly in his mind, it didn’t matter much what happened to Paul here. He could be sure that when God was done with him on earth, he would call him home — a home perfect in ways this world cannot fathom.

Every New Trial

Paul understood that “this light and momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17–18). Until then, every new circumstance becomes simply today’s “assignment.” An opportunity to shine the light of Jesus into our dark world and, in the process, to glorify our God.

If we desire contentment in this world, we, like Paul, need to meditate on the reality of what it means to be born again into new life in Jesus Christ. Life in Christ is not something we will simply enjoy in heaven. If we have embraced Jesus and all he has done for us, this is our reality now. Pray for God to help you appropriate this truth in a more profound way, so that, like Paul, you can trust Jesus when he says,

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

How to Kill a Church

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 2:00am

Nothing destroys a church faster than when it loses the gospel. Our churches need leaders who never compromise on the purity of the good news.

Watch Now

The Monday Morning Protestant: Thomas Becon (c. 1512–1567)

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 1:00am

Though almost entirely overlooked in church history, Thomas Becon was a prolific pamphleteer, popular bestseller, and godly cleric in sixteenth-century England during the Reformation. Living through the turbulent reigns of four Tudor monarchs, Becon served under the supervision of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, and composed around fifty tracts with numerous subsequent editions that continued to be printed seventy years after his death.

His writings on godliness are relevant and helpful for all Christians, particularly for those who tend to partition their lives into categories of “sacred” and “secular.” Becon, recognizing no such divisions, exhorted Christians in his day to pursue godliness in the rhythms of their daily routines.

Pastor in Hiding

Becon, born in Thetford, Norfolk, around 1512, was educated at St. John’s College in Cambridge, where he was deeply moved by and possibly converted under the Lutheran-influenced teachings of one of his professors, Hugh Latimer. Upon his graduation with a degree in theology, Becon took two clerical posts in southern England, but following the ratification of the Six Articles of 1539, Henry VIII targeted evangelicals for non-compliance and “heresy.” Consequently, Becon was arrested in 1541 for his “evil and false doctrine.”

After his release, Becon kept a low profile in the forests of Kent, harbored by several evangelical men who were connected to the royal court. During this time, Becon produced numerous tracts under the pseudonym “Theodore Basil” in order to avoid detection from the local authorities. Under even heavier scrutiny and surveillance from the local magistrates at the order of Henry VIII, Becon fled to the Midlands of England, where he hid for four years in the mountains without publishing any works.

Exile and Homecoming

When the nine-year-old Edward VI, a friend and defender of the English Reformation, ascended the throne in 1547, Becon emerged from exile and returned to London, where he was appointed a chaplain in the royal court. Around the same time, he became rector of the prestigious parish in London, St. Stephen Walbrook.

With Mary I’s accession to the throne in 1553, however, many evangelicals, including Becon, were arrested. He was eventually released, but taking no risks, he immediately escaped to Strasbourg, where he joined a community of other exiled English evangelicals. From there he relocated to Frankfurt, where he assisted in developing a new liturgy for the English congregation composed of exiles. When Becon returned from the Continent after Elizabeth I came to power, he went through a series of clerical appointments, mostly in London, until his death in 1567.

Everyday Godliness

One of Becon’s primary foci in his pamphlets was how Christians were to attain godliness and how to integrate that godliness within their daily lives. First, the word of God, contended Becon, was sufficient for all Christians and was the catalyst to godliness. Becon envisioned an English commonwealth where “people maye learn even from theyr cradles . . . to knowe God, to understand his worde, to honour hym aryght, and to walke in his holy pathwayes” (New pollecye of warre).

Second, Becon instructed Christians to view their lives as a continual stage of worship where godliness was on display, even in the mundane on Monday morning. For Becon, worship was not limited to Sunday gatherings. Nor was it confined to certain spiritual disciplines, such as Bible reading or prayer. Worship, rather, was an incessant activity that was to weave its way through the liturgy of daily life: the eating of meals, laboring at one’s place of employment, spending leisure time, and retiring to bed.

No “Secular” Work

Becon published two prayer manuals containing model prayers for specific activities of one’s daily schedule. One of those manuals submitted model prayers for those in specific occupations, including magistrates, clergy, merchants, lawyers, mariners, soldiers, mothers, and children. Becon maintained that one occupation was not more essential than another. He argued that the work of the shoemaker and tailor was just as crucial in the kingdom of God as that of the lawyer and magistrate, because God was the one who called them to their vocations.

While many Christians subtly dismiss certain occupations as insignificant and view non-ministry work as “secular,” Becon’s assessment of all work as an activity of God and for God is a motivating corrective. We should embrace our calling and see the ultimate purpose of our work and vocation: godliness through employment blesses a society so that all “may [ac]knowledge thee, the gever of al[l] good things, and glorify thy holy name” (Flour of godly praiers).

For more on Thomas Becon:

London and the Reformation by Susan Brigden

Tudor Church Militant by Diarmaid MacCulloch

Being Protestant in Reformation Britain by Alec Ryrie

Matrimony No More: Why the End of Marriage in Eternity Is Good News

Sun, 10/08/2017 - 8:03pm

Surely God’s purpose for his children in the resurrection is not only that eternal life will replace death, and righteousness replace sin, and health replace sickness, and joy replace sorrow, and pleasure replace pain, but also that unimaginable, unending, ever-increasing ecstasies replace the best of our most intense pleasures in this world.

In other words, the age to come is not only an improvement over the worst of this world, but over the best. I say this for three reasons.

Even Gains Are Loss

First, the apostle Paul did not say, “Whatever loss I had, it turned out to be gain because of Christ.” What he said was, “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7). Christ is an improvement over the best, not just the worst.

And I take the word whatever seriously — “Whatever gain I had . . .” He underlines it in the next verse: “Indeed, I count everything [including all “gains” of this world] as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Nor can I imagine that he meant, “Christ is better in this world, but in the next world we will all bemoan the losses.” No. Christ will be better than this world’s best forever.

God Will Improve Our Best Pleasures

Second, the apostle said, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). If an infinite, all-wise, all-powerful Being loves us, and tells us that he has planned experiences for us in the age to come that exceed our ability to imagine, then we may conclude that these experiences will be inconceivably better than our best pleasures in this world for the simple reason that we can indeed imagine these.

Indeed, our imaginations can extrapolate from these even better pleasures than the best that we have. But God says that his planned pleasures will be even better than the best we can imagine.

No Deficits in the Age to Come

Third, the biblical images of the age to come leave no doubt that God intends for us to see those joys not only as better than the worst here, but also better than the best. For example,

You make known to me the path of life;
   in your presence there is fullness of joy;
   at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)

“Fullness of joy” does not mean less than the joy you knew in this world, but more. This world’s best always leaves us feeling like there is more. I can imagine more. Indeed, there is. And “fullness of joy” is meant to promise it. Literally, the Hebrew for “fullness of joy” is “satiation of joys” — that is, joy beyond which there is no more joy to be had.

They feast on the abundance of your house,
   and you give them drink from the river of your delights. (Psalm 36:8)

If we have tasted this feast, and drunk from this river already in this world, will not the “homecoming” (2 Corinthians 5:8) be the kind of feasting and drinking that made the taste seem scanty?

. . . that in the coming ages [God] might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:7)

This is the purpose God had in raising us from spiritual death (Ephesians 2:4–5). Mark the words: Grace. Riches of grace. Immeasurable riches of grace. Immeasurable riches of grace in kindness. In the coming ages. What can this mean but that God’s purpose is to spend the endless ages of eternity dispensing on us riches of kindness which will take an eternity to spend, because they are literally “immeasurable.” Such language leaves no room for deficits of ecstasy in the age to come.

So, I conclude that heaven is not only an improvement over the worst of this world, but over the best.

Jesus Dispenses with Marriage in the Age to Come

If you are with me so far, we are now in a proper position to hear Jesus dispense with marriage in the age to come.

Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.” (Luke 20:27–36)

What at first stuns us here is the reason Jesus gave for doing away with marriage in “that age.” Notice the argument: They don’t marry in the resurrection, “because they cannot die anymore.” This sounds at first like the only purpose for marriage is procreation. So, when the need for preserving humanity goes (since no one dies in the resurrection, and the number of the elect is perfect, Romans 11:25), marriage goes.

Our Bodies in the Resurrection

Keep in mind that what precipitated this statement was the Sadducees’ claim that there is no such thing as a resurrection. Bodies don’t get raised. They decompose, and that’s that (Luke 20:27). So, this text is about the resurrection of the body. This means that when Jesus says no one marries in the resurrection, it’s not because we don’t have bodies. The point of the passage is: We do.

Marriage was the flashpoint here because the Sadducees tried to make the resurrection of the body look ludicrous. If they were arguing with me today, instead of with Jesus two thousand years ago, they would have said, “Well, John Piper, whose husband will your father, Bill Piper, be in the resurrection, since he had two wives?” There was Ruth, my mother, who died after 36 years of marriage, and Lavonne, my stepmother, who died after 25 years of marriage. So, the Sadducees ask, will there be polygamy in the resurrection?

Jesus answers, “No.” There will be no polygamy in the resurrection because there will be no marriage in the resurrection.

If they had asked him, “How in the world do you know that?” he could have answered, “Because that’s the way I decided it would be when I planned this history of the universe.” But they didn’t want to go there. “They no longer dared to ask him any question” (Luke 20:40).

Is Procreation the Only Biblical Reason for Marriage?

Back to our question: When Jesus says that the reason there will be no marriage in the resurrection is because no one dies, is he implying that the only reason marriage exists is to make babies, and raise children, and to replenish the earth? If marriage is for more than procreation, then wouldn’t God keep it for those reasons?

Reasons like sexual pleasure, or being known and loved deeply by one special person, or the doubled pleasure of sharing experiences with one whose responses you enjoy, or the warmth of sleeping back-to-back under the covers on a cold night, or conversations with a spouse who understands every shade of meaning and emotion, or that undefinable comfort of just being together in the same room without a word.

And, of course, the Bible teaches that marriage is for more than procreation. Lovemaking in the Bible is not merely pragmatic. It is passionate — intended to be passionate.

   A lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
   be intoxicated always in her love. (Proverbs 5:19)

This also means that sex is not just a dam against the flood of fornication (1 Corinthians 7:2) — which it is. But not only.

And when we read about the wife of Proverbs 31:10–31, which begins, “She is far more precious than jewels” (verse 10), you don’t get the impression she is mainly an incubator. The biblical vision for marriage has always been about more than procreating replacements and preventing immorality.

So Why Does Marriage End?

If, then, the Bible itself teaches that marriage is for more than procreation, why does marriage end when the need for procreation ends? My suggestion has three parts.

Your Pleasures Will Escalate

The pleasures of this world are foretastes and pointers to the inconceivably superior pleasures of the age to come. To use the words of Paul, “When the perfect comes, the partial will pass away” (1 Corinthians 13:10). He was speaking about the spiritual gifts of prophesy, tongues, and knowledge. I am applying the same principle to pleasure.

We know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:9–12)

Paul says that comparing human life in this age with human life in the age to come (when the perfect comes) is like comparing human life as a child with human life as an adult. Apply this now to the pleasures of marriage.

Childish Pleasure

The most exquisite sexual ecstasies in this age are like a child’s enjoyment of ice cream. There is as much distance between sexual pleasures in this world and the ecstasies of the spiritual body in the age to come as there is between a child’s enjoyment of ice cream and the pleasures of his marriage bed twenty years later.

Childlike ice-cream pleasures are prelude and pointer to adult sexual pleasure. Similarly, sexual pleasure in this age is prelude and pointer to unimaginably greater pleasures of the spiritual body in the age to come.

Marriage “Under the Sun”

I think the writer of Ecclesiastes glimpsed the limitations of the best pleasures of marriage in this age and pointed us to something better. He called this age “life under the sun.”

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 9:9)

The best human pleasures we know in this world — relational, emotional, psychological, and physical — are wonderfully suited for “life under the sun.” But in the age to come, “The city has no need of sun to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light” (Revelation 21:23). Should we, then, not say that the pleasures known by the natural body in this age are as inferior to the pleasures of the spiritual body as the sunlight of this age is inferior to the brightness of the glory of God?

Therefore, marriage ends for the same reason the sun ends. And childhood ends. And the natural body ends. All of them were foretastes, prelude, pointers. When the perfect comes, the pointers pass away.

What the Sadducees Would Understand

But why does Jesus mention deathless resurrection bodies as the reason marriage ends? “Those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore” (Luke 20:35–36). Why not respond, “Since the pleasures of sex will be transposed into something unimaginably greater, therefore marriage will be no more”?

Perhaps the answer is this: If there is no death in the age to come, and if the number of the elect is complete at the resurrection (Romans 11:25), then there is only one experience in marriage that cannot be intensified in that age; namely, the production of new human beings. Evidently, the Sadducees agreed that, if procreation is not needed, marriage is not needed. So, Jesus simply chose to answer them in the most straightforward way they would understand.

Singlehood Is No Disadvantage

Finally, the third part of my answer to why God does not make marriage an eternal ordinance without procreation is that its disappearance clarifies what has always been true — that non-married people are the full beneficiaries of the greatest eternal joys. God had said to those who did not marry, but kept his covenant,

“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 56:4–5)

Now it becomes clear that this “monument” and this “everlasting name” is a position with no disadvantage to the not-married in the resurrection, since all are not married.

Rejoice That Marriage Will Be No More

In sum, marriage ends because its procreating purpose is not needed in the resurrection (Luke 20:35–36). Marriage ends because all its pleasures are preludes and pointers to something so much better that the human heart cannot imagine (1 Corinthians 2:9). When the perfect comes, the partial passes away. And marriage ends in order to put the married and the non-married on the same footing for enjoying the fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).

Let’s end where we began. If the age to come is not only an improvement over the worst of this world, but over the best, then the end of marriage is spectacularly good news. Do you see this? Marriage in this age, at its best, offers some of life’s most intense pleasures, and sweetest intimacies. If you have ever tasted these, or have ever dreamed of tasting them, then you can feel the astonishing force of the promise that marriage will be no more because it was too weak to carry God’s best eternal pleasures.

The more you feel like you would miss it, the more you should rejoice that it will be replaced. With every taste or every dream, remember: this is only foretaste — only prelude. “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). All of us, married or not.

God Is Holy and Righteous — Are Those the Same?

Sun, 10/08/2017 - 8:00pm

What is the difference between God’s holiness and his righteousness? And what does that mean for us?

Listen Now

Is Genre Important in Bible Reading?

Sun, 10/08/2017 - 2:00pm

We must not let “genre” dictate our understanding of texts. Rather, at every place in the Bible, our question must be, “What is the author trying to communicate here?”

Watch Now

The Phoenix of Florence: Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499–1562)

Sun, 10/08/2017 - 9:00am

From childhood, Peter Martyr Vermigli desired to teach God’s word. At age fifteen, he entered the Augustinian order in the Italian town of Fiesole, near his native Florence. After eight years of theological training, Vermigli underwent priestly ordination and received a doctorate in theology.

The years following Vermigli’s ordination opened new vocational horizons. He was elected to the office of public preacher, an illustrious position in his day. As his name grew famous in the largest Italian cities, Vermigli was promoted to the position of abbot in his order’s monastery in Spoleto, before being moved southward to the great basilica San Pietro ad Aram in Naples. It was here that his life changed forever.

Righteousness Restored

During Vermigli’s sojourn at San Pietro (1537–1540), according to his colleague and biographer, Josiah Simler, “the greater light of God’s truth” began to shine upon him. This truth, in Vermigli’s words, was that “Christ’s righteousness imputed to us by God totally restores what was lacking in this weak and mutilated righteousness of ours” (The Peter Martyr Reader, 147). It was a gospel awakening that transformed his life and ministry.

With a new vision of Christ and the gospel, Vermigli moved north in May 1541 to become prior of the prestigious monastery of San Frediano in the Republic of Lucca. While there, he initiated a series of educational and ecclesiastical reforms that have been likened to Calvin’s work in Geneva.

But after a mere fifteen months of such gospel renewal, Pope Paul III ensured its demise by reinstituting the Roman Inquisition. Recognizing discretion as the better part of valor, Vermigli renounced his vows and made the difficult decision to flee his homeland.

From Strasbourg to Oxford

It was Martin Bucer who arranged for Vermigli’s academic appointment to the College of Saint Thomas in Strasbourg. The Italian exile was expected to teach sacred letters, which he proceeded to do from the Old Testament.

While in Strasbourg, Vermigli also married a former nun from Metz named Catherine Dammartin, “a lover of true religion” especially admired for her charity. After eight years of marriage, she died in February 1553, but Peter Martyr would marry again — another Katie — in May 1559.

Following five fruitful years of teaching in Strasbourg, Vermigli received an invitation in 1547 from Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer to fortify the newly independent Church of England with Reformed theology as Regius Chair of Divinity at Oxford. Among Vermigli’s many accomplishments in this period, he lectured on Romans, produced various theological treatises, championed Protestantism at the famous Eucharistic Disputation of 1549, and assisted Cranmer in shaping a new Anglican liturgy.

Zurich Scholar

With the accession of the Catholic Queen Mary in 1553, Vermigli was forced to flee England. Returning to Strasbourg, he was immediately restored to his position at the Senior School, where, in addition to teaching and writing theological works, he gathered with Marian exiles in his home to study and pray. Eventually, he took a teaching post at the Academy of Zurich.

Despite numerous opportunities to lecture throughout Europe, including multiple invitations from Calvin to teach in Geneva and pastor the Genevan Italian congregation, Vermigli remained in Zurich. The only exception was his journey to the Colloquy of Poissy with Theodore Beza in 1561, where he debated Catholic leaders before the French Crown and witnessed to Queen Catherine de’ Medici in their native Italian.

Teacher of the Book

Vermigli died in Zurich on November 12, 1562, in the presence of his wife and friends. This Florentine humanist and Reformed scholar, who was equal in stature to Calvin and Bullinger, would be remembered for his commitment to Scripture and passion for gospel renewal. In the words of Theodore Beza, he was a “phoenix born from the ashes of Savonarola.” Even the painting of Vermigli hanging in the National Portrait Gallery in London testifies to his biblical conviction. In it, Vermigli’s penetrating eyes look to the distance beyond the gilded frame as he points to a singular book in his hand: the Bible.

If we were to place an enduring statement on Vermigli’s lips, it would perhaps be this exhortation: “Let us immerse ourselves constantly in the sacred Scriptures, let us work at reading them, and by the gift of Christ’s Spirit the things that are necessary for salvation will be for us clear, direct, and completely open” (Life, Letters, and Sermons, 281).

For more on Peter Martyr Vermigli:

The Peter Martyr Reader edited by John Patrick Donnelly, Frank A. James III, and Joseph C. McLelland

Life, Letters, and Sermons: Peter Martyr Vermigli edited by John Patrick Donnelly

Souls Need Songs: How God Shapes Us Through Singing

Sat, 10/07/2017 - 8:03pm

I don’t sing well — and that’s putting it generously. I can’t “carry a tune.” I can’t even hum the melody of a familiar song well enough for someone to recognize it. But nothing seems to draw out my heart’s emotions like singing. There are few things that refresh my soul like singing the doxology around the dinner table with my family, or singing catechisms and hymns to our daughter at bedtime.

God made our souls for song. Scripture brims with God’s call for his people to sing his praises. Something about singing refreshes and reorients our souls.

Teach and Admonish

In the apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he instructs the church to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). Paul desires the church members to instruct each other through various means, including through singing. But how can singing instruct?

Here’s where the transformative power of Scripture is crucial. Paul urges the believers to sing psalms — the inspired, God-breathed collection of praises and laments. He also advises them to sing hymns — a term that probably describes songs rich with theological truth. Finally, Paul even wants the Colossians to sing spiritual songs — which likely refers to spontaneous praises that overflow from the heart. All of which are able to instruct.

The Spirit-inspired Scriptures burst with power to convict us of sin and to build up our faith in God. I love that our church makes the effort to sing psalms. Nothing is more powerfully instructive than the word of God, and a beautifully engaging melody readies the heart to receive the word. When we sing hymns that artistically display the truths of Scripture, or spontaneous songs that arise from a deep indwelling of that truth, and especially when we sing the very words of Scripture, we draw on the teaching, reproving, correcting, and training ability of the word in a way that engages both heart and mind (2 Timothy 3:16).

Soften the Soul

Paul wanted the church members to sing to one another from overflowing hearts affected by scriptural truths, rather than from rote or ritualistic motives. Music isn’t spiritual because we’ve used certain words or notes; music becomes spiritual when the Spirit inspires it. And when we sing Scripture — the Spirit’s very words — God often uses his word to soften our souls.

God thinks singing is so important that he commissioned groups in Israel to ministries of music. For example, the Korahites’ sole job description was to sing to the Lord. In 2 Chronicles 20:19, they “stood up to praise the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice.” The Korahites’ singing wasn’t just for show; their ministry had a purpose. Singing serves to refresh and reorient our souls in ways that other forms of instruction simply don’t. Singing helps us love God not only with our minds, but also with our hearts and souls and strength (Mark 12:30).

Our souls need song. So God ordained a ministry of singers to drive theological teaching deep into the hearts of his people. As believers indwelled with the Holy Spirit, we now possess this gift of singing for our own and others’ benefit.

Singing combines the instructive seeds of biblical truths with the soul-softening ministry of music.

Raise a Song

How, then, can we grow in this ministry of singing? How can we sing so that our minds are instructed and our souls softened? We can start by letting “the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly” (Colossians 3:16) as we memorize psalms and hymns.

The Bible’s Songbook

Memorizing Scripture brings myriad benefits. One of the more transformative advantages is being able to speak or sing the words of Scripture directly into someone else’s life.

Biblical counselor David Powlison says we should use psalms in at least two ways. First, we should use the psalms like classical music. This is the technical, detail-oriented, word-for-word storing of psalms in the heart. When we do this, we can powerfully speak the living word of God into our own hearts and others’. Second, we should use the psalms like jazz. When we tuck away the words of the psalms in our minds, we’re free to improvise on them — adding refrains or adapting them to a certain melody — in order to drive them deeper into our hearts.

Scottish pastor Robert Murray M’Cheyne suggested singing all of the psalms in a year in addition to regular, systematic Bible reading. If we heeded his advice, we’d quickly become familiar with many of the psalms and be able to “play” them like jazz as they mingle down into our hearts through melody.

Memorizing Scripture, especially psalms, enables us to instruct both the mind and hearts of others in powerful ways.

An Arsenal of Hymns

During a week of seminary classes, I and some of my classmates stayed with a pastor friend and his family. I’ll never forget what I heard when we walked through the door into their home. Soaring from the back bedroom was a booming, unpolished voice singing verses from “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” interspersed with his young daughters’ giggling.

I don’t remember a lot from the classes we sat in that week, but this friend’s singing with his children stuck with me. There was no pulpit; there were no hymnals or handouts. Just a father instructing his children with the theologically rich verses of a hymn, and overflowing with emotion within the walls of their own home.

Having an arsenal of theologically refreshing and reorienting hymns in your heart can help you minister to your own soul and the souls of others in beautiful ways.

The Singing Savior

No one knows the ruin that marks the souls of men like Jesus does. And no one knows the remedy for such devastation like the Savior of man himself. Everything Jesus does matters, and that includes his singing.

Jesus sang. He sang with people and to people. At the Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn together (Matthew 26:30). This was most likely a portion of what’s known as the Hallel Psalms — Psalms 113–118. Jesus, the Word, led these men in singing the very words of Scripture he embodied. The very next day, Jesus died with a psalm on his lips. He bore the wrath of God on the cross whispering a psalm, so that we might one day sing those same psalms with joy as God’s children.

It matters that the Savior of souls was a singer to souls, and a singing soul himself. It matters that the one who turns hearts of stone into hearts of flesh gave us the gift of song to drive that gospel reality and its instructive implications deep into our souls.

Singing matters. Souls need songs.

The Fearless Pacifist: Menno Simons (1496–1561)

Sat, 10/07/2017 - 9:00am

If you are familiar with the contemporary Mennonites, you may be surprised to learn that the group’s founder started as a Catholic priest who had never read the Bible.

A Priest Without the Bible

In 1524, at the age of 28, Menno Simons was ordained a priest of the Catholic Church in Utrecht, Germany. Although familiar with Greek and Latin and studied in Catholic doctrine, Simons had never read the Scriptures themselves. “I had not touched them during my life,” he later wrote, “for I feared if I should read them they would mislead me.”

In 1526, he began to question the truthfulness of the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation (the idea that the bread and wine transform into the actual flesh and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist). Simons thought this doubt might be the devil deluding him, so he reluctantly began to study the Bible. While he could nowhere find the doctrine of transubstantiation, he discovered the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Christ! He began sharing his discoveries with others from the pulpit, propelling him to a place of regional prominence as an evangelical preacher.

Smoke but No Flame

Simons’s study convinced him of the Bible’s unrivaled authority, leading him to examine Catholic doctrine in Scripture’s light. He also rejected the practice of infant baptism as unbiblical and began to encourage congregants to be baptized in accordance with their confession of faith in Christ. Despite his embrace of evangelical doctrine, he remained a priest in the Catholic Church and worked for its reform. All the while, however, his fascination with biblical teaching was merely intellectual. He relished the sweet smell of his newfound fame but lacked the pure flame of true affection for Christ.

The execution of three hundred Anabaptists at Old Cloister near Bolsward in April 1535 brought him to the point of crisis:

I reflected upon my unclean, carnal life, also the hypocritical doctrine and idolatry which I still practiced daily in appearance of godliness, but without relish. My heart trembled within me. I prayed to God with sighs and tears that he would give to me, a sorrowing sinner, the gift of his grace, create within me a clean heart, and graciously through the merits of the crimson blood of Christ, forgive my unclean walk and frivolous easy life.

Overcome by his sins of pride, timidity, and love of comfort, Simons decisively renounced his “worldly reputation, name and fame.” “In my weakness,” he wrote, “I feared God; I sought out the pious and though they were few in number, I found some who were zealous and maintained the truth.”

Enemy of the State — and the Devil

After being baptized, Simons immediately threw himself into preaching the gospel, explaining the Scriptures, and traveling extensively. Simons discovered that the devil had kept him from the Bible and true conversion, and now he was determined to be Satan’s sworn enemy. His preaching quickly drew the ire of Catholic officials. Emperor Charles V even issued an edict against Simons, offering a significant reward to anyone who might deliver him into the hands of authorities.

Nevertheless, Simons exhorted his fellow Anabaptist Reformers to reject violent means for accomplishing reform, advocating pacifism and separation from worldly power. His preaching and reforms were so successful that, eventually, north German and Dutch Anabaptists would be known as Mennonites. On the twenty-fifth anniversary of his renunciation of Catholicism, Simons’s health rapidly declined, and he died the following day, January 31, 1561, at the age of 66.

Misled No Longer

As the devil misled young Menno, so our enemy would mislead us, too. He would keep us from Scripture, from fearing God, from confession of sin, and from humble faith. May we, instead, “with sighs and tears” plead for and joyfully receive the gift of grace in our promised Savior, Jesus Christ.

Although I resisted in former times Thy precious Word and Thy holy will with all my powers . . . nevertheless, Thy fatherly grace did not forsake me, a miserable sinner, but in love, received me, . . . and taught me by the Holy Spirit until of my own choice I declared war upon the world, the flesh, and the devil . . . and willingly submitted to the heavy cross of my Lord Jesus Christ that I might inherit the promised kingdom. (Simons, Meditation on the Twenty-Fifth Psalm)

For more on Menno Simons:

All of Menno Simons’s writings are available online free of charge. Start with the Preface to Foundations of Christian Doctrine.

The Anabaptist Story: An Introduction to Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism by William R. Estep

Do You Look Like Your Father?

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 8:03pm

Each of us who is reconciled to God through Jesus Christ is a unique child of God. Each of us is conformed to the glorious image of God the Son, the very image of the invisible God, in unique ways (Romans 8:29; Hebrews 1:3).

But all of us are meant to bear the glorious family resemblance.

How God Reveals His Glory

“Please show me your glory,” Moses pled with God (Exodus 33:18). God granted Moses this request saying, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord’”(Exodus 33:19). Then God called Moses to ascend Mount Sinai and he hid Moses in a cleft of a rock, shielding him from a lethal dose of his holy glory and proclaiming,

“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6–7)

When humans ask God to behold his glory, to see the beauty of his nature, this is what he shows them. When humans want to know what God is really like, this is what he tells them.

This is the most famous self-disclosure of God in the Old Testament (Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). And when the Son finally appeared in the last days — the very imprint of the Father’s nature (Hebrews 1:2–3) — this is the holy glory, the holy name he most clearly manifested in the world (John 17:6).

And this is the glorious and holy family resemblance that God’s children — individually and collectively in the church — are meant to bear.

Merciful and Gracious

The first thing God says about himself is not that he wishes to bring judgment upon the guilty, but that he is “merciful and gracious . . . forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” This is astounding in light of his holiness — a holiness that when apprehended by the most God-fearing sinners fills them with utter dread (Isaiah 6:5) or makes them fall as if dead (Revelation 1:17). The first words of our holy God’s self-disclosure are gospel!

And this is why God’s children are also to be full of mercy and grace. This resemblance is evidence that we have really encountered and been transformed by God — that we have been forgiven much because God his children loves much, and so we extend his grace to others (Luke 7:47).

Slow to Anger

The second thing God says about himself is that he is “slow to anger.” More gospel! The most holy person in existence, the one whose dignity is most marred, who is most offended and righteously outraged by our sin, is also the person most willing to bear great indignity and offense because he really cares for us. He restrains his great wrath, which requires more power than we can yet imagine, and “is patient toward [us], not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

And God’s children, the recipients and beneficiaries of his great holy patience, are also to share his great, holy patience with sinners. For one of the ways he means to show his patience toward sinners is through our patience toward sinners.

Abounding in Steadfast Love and Faithfulness

The third thing God reveals about himself is that he is “abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” Gospel upon gospel upon gospel! He is gracious, he is patient, and he is full of love. His love abounds, which means he has lots of it! His love is steadfast, which means it outlasts our failings and frailties. And his love is faithful, which means once covenanted, he will never withdraw it.

And God’s children bear this loving resemblance: we love one another just as he loved us (John 15:12). In fact, the world will know we are the children of God by the abounding, steadfast, faithful way we love one another (John 13:35).

By No Means Clearing the Guilty

The forth glorious thing God discloses about himself is that he “will by no means clear the guilty.” Wait, this sounds very different from the other three disclosures. This doesn’t sound like gospel! Oh, but it is. It is the very thing that makes the gospel so good. It is the clear manifestation of God’s holiness, which is the ground of all our happiness.

If God lets the guilty go unpunished, he is not holy, he is not just, and he is not good. And if he is not good, eternity with him would not be heaven, but hell. We could never be happy with an unholy, unjust God.

And this is the whole point of the cross of Jesus Christ, the crux of human history. In the cross, God is able to be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). In the cross, the guilt of sin is fully paid for and the repentant guilty sinner is justly pronounced not guilty. In the cross, far more than at Sinai or in any other historical act of his mercy or judgment, God reveals himself to be merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness — and by no means clearing the guilty.

And therefore, God’s holy children, who take after him, do not minimize the seriousness of sin. They are never to call evil good (Isaiah 5:20). They are never to obscure the truth that God’s righteous judgment will come upon sinners who do not repent and trust Christ — a warning God clearly and repeatedly issues in Scripture. And they continually point others to the cross, the true cleft in the rock foreshadowed in Moses’s experience on Sinai.

Behold and Be Transformed

If we want to see the glory of God, he has manifested himself to us clearly in his holy word: he is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, and he will by no means clear the guilty — meaning he never allows the guilt to go unpunished. And he has most clearly manifested this fourfold glory in the cross of Jesus Christ. It is there for us to behold.

So let us look! For the more we look, the more “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, [will be] transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” by the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). We too will increasingly bear the glorious, holy family resemblance.

Justice and Mercy No Matter the Cost

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 1:00pm

It will cost you to stand against prejudices in our day, but Jesus calls his church to fight for what’s right no matter the price.

Watch Now

The Protestant Peacemaker: Wolfgang Capito (c. 1478–1541)

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 1:00am

“What is God like? Whom should we follow?” Many people must have been asking these questions during the turbulent times that we now celebrate as the Reformation. Reformers, counter-Reformers, humanists, and Anabaptists argued (and sometimes fought) to define our understanding of God and his gospel. Nothing could be of greater importance.

Many of the people who struggled together (or against each other) during the Protestant Reformation are still well known in the twenty-first century. But the work God did through the Reformation included a cast of hundreds, even thousands, unknown to many of us today. Among this group is Wolfgang Capito (1478–1541), a Reformer who desired more of God and preached the gospel while promoting peace. And for that reason, he was often in trouble with his reforming friends.

Humanist Beginnings

Wolfgang Capito was born in France in 1478. Wolfgang’s father, Hans, was a poor and frugal smithy. He valued education and sent his son to a Latin school and then for training as a doctor. When Hans died in 1500, his last words were a command, warning Wolfgang against rashly becoming a priest.

Rashly or not, Capito was already moving in that direction. Abandoning medicine, he studied theology. Specifically, he was trained as a Christian humanist, becoming a student and a close friend of Erasmus. As a humanist, he loved the biblical text and biblical languages, desired Christianity’s reform (particularly the morals of its leaders and priests), and yearned for peace. Soon he was ordained for service in the Catholic Church.

Capito was sent to Basel in 1515. There, in Basel Minster, he was slowly drawn out of Catholicism, and mere humanism, into the Reformation. While in Basel he became friends with Zwingli and a correspondent of Luther. During this time, Luther’s theology confused him. At first, he begged Luther to be less offensive, especially to the pope.

This counsel Luther did not heed! Even so, Capito eagerly published Luther’s works in northern Europe in 1518. Yet, still a humanist, Capito truly did not understand. He continued to engage in a dialogue with Luther, and then in 1522 he visited Wittenberg. While disturbed by the tragic sin he witnessed there, yet he also discovered the heart of the Reformation in the gospel — God found his heart.

A Call for Peace

When God shifted him from a humanist to a theological Reformer, Capito explained it this way: “I have moved to the side of the pious Papists and Lutherans who seek only the soul’s salvation and nothing temporal; and I admonish them to Christian unity, as much as God gives me grace” (Wolfgang Capito, 94). His heart was now God’s. Yet his humanist training resonated deeply with the biblical call for peace.

During his lifetime, he wrote three hymns. One of them endured in German hymnals for centuries and is titled “Give Us Peace”:

Give us that peace that we do lack,
Through misbelief, and in ill life.
Thy Word to offer Thou dost not slack,
Which we unkindly gainstrive.
With fire and sword, this healthful Word
Some persecute and oppress.
Some with the mouth confess the truth
Without sincere godliness.

Though God’s word was powerfully being preached throughout Germany, France, and beyond, yet there was persecution and oppression within the Reformation which wearied Capito and sent him to his knees in prayer — and to his pen. He continued to call Luther and Zwingli to find common ground on the theology of the Lord’s Supper, and he called for mercy to be shown to the Anabaptists.

Throughout his life as a Reformer, many interpreted his call for mercy to theological opponents to mean he agreed with those opponents. Yet, mercy is not agreement; his condemnation of violence, coercion, and even offensive language was a call to God’s people not to interfere in the work of the Holy Spirit to discipline those who oppose.

The Lord’s Servant

“What is God like? Whom should we follow?” Such questions still challenge the world today. As we seek to call many to delight in the God of Luther and Calvin, we would do well to follow Capito’s example and God’s command: “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:24–25).

We are called to gentle and peaceful engagement, even at the risk of being misunderstood.

For more on Wolfgang Capito:

Wolfgang Capito: From Humanist to Reformer by James M. Kittelson

The Reformation: A History by Diarmaid MacCulloch

116 Been Real: Lecrae, “White Evangelicalism,” and Hope

Thu, 10/05/2017 - 8:01pm

My response to Lecrae’s interview with the thoughtful women at Truth’s Table is mainly thankfulness and hope. Why would anyone care about my response? I don’t know that they would. But here’s why they might.

This interview, along with the new album he just released (All Things Work Together), gives expression to Lecrae’s loosening his ties with “white evangelicalism.” There are echoes here of the same development recently chronicled about Jemar Tisby and the Reformed African American Network (RAAN). This loosening of these ties, considered by itself, is not the reason I am thankful and hopeful. But the loosening is not by itself.

Invitation to Hope

Lecrae’s loosening his ties with “white evangelicalism” has roots. And it has fruit. Part of that fruit is my response of thankfulness for Lecrae’s faith (and Jemar’s). As we will see, the roots have been painful. So their enduring faith, and my thanks for it, are not to be assumed.

Since I’m the only supposed native of this “white evangelical” tribe that Lecrae mentioned in his interview, I thought it might be helpful to say publicly how I respond to this loosening of ties. I would even hope that others in the tribe might join me in feeling more thankful than frustrated, and more hopeful than disheartened.

Roots of the Loosening

Roots can be very deep things. For Lecrae the roots that reach back to his mother’s passionate blackness seemed, for a season, to be severed. “When I became a believer I was taught to lay my black heritage aside.” Given his musical talent and mental sharpness, the inevitable happened — tens of thousands of young white Christians crowded his concerts, and Lecrae held his own with the theologians.

Three experiences stand out in Lecrae’s interview at Truth’s Table as the roots of the recent change.

  • First, Lecrae’s friend, Tyree Boyd-Pates, the Curator of History for the California African American Museum, told him, “You have said some things that were poignant and provocative for black people, but the phenotype of your music was not black . . . sonically it wasn’t resonating with our soul. . . . It’s like [the] ‘I have a dream’ speech over a rock record.”

  • Second, the Washington Post called him an “evangelical mascot.”

  • Third, he went public with his dismay over the Michael Brown shooting, and woke up to the reality that this “white evangelical” world did not feel what he felt. “The visceral attacks that came my way were like a shock to my system. That did some identity work.”

Racial Identity Development

This phrase “identity work” is an allusion to the term “racial identity development work” that many younger blacks are forced to undertake. Lecrae’s interviewers said it may be required by events like a presidential election, or being called the n-word at school. You thought you had a pretty good handle on your racial identity, and suddenly you realize it’s not as simple as it once seemed, and there is work to do — “racial identity development work.”

So the turning points came. And the questions.

If I turn my back on white evangelicalism, who am I? If we disagree on . . . Black Lives and social justice, and I’m not getting pats on the back from John Piper, then who am I now? . . . For years that had been what was shaping my identity. . . . If I’m not the evangelical darling, who is Lecrae? . . .

What if they get upset? What if they don’t like me. It took blood on the ground for me to say, “I don’t care what you think. People are dying.”

Through a season of depression and questioning, Lecrae was forging a new identity. Not all new. But new. He says,

[Lecrae] can be true to his cultural roots and still embrace his faith which has been colonized and stripped away and made to be very Western and Eurocentric. . . . No. No. No. You can’t have that. It’s for everybody. Jesus ain’t American.

I spoke out repeatedly in 2016 in many different ways, and it affected me. I went from a show that may have 3,000 people to 300. . . . Those 300 love Lecrae, the black man, the Christian, not the caricature that had been drawn up. . . . This is not Lecrae placating a white audience. . . . I don’t feel any sense of prioritizing white evangelicalism.

I just told my wife this morning, “I’m really free. . . . I don’t feel I have to be the rappin’ pastor. . . . I’m just a man who loves Jesus, who creates music and hopefully impacts people.”

Thankfulness and Hope

His new album bears a title taken from Romans 8:28. This invincible promise was key to unlocking the prison of identity confusion and depression. “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Lecrae said he wants people

to rest in the reality of grace. . . . All things work together for those who love God and are called according to his purpose. And that means all things. The pain, the suffering, the tears, the depression — it all works together. Don’t be afraid to wrestle. Don’t be afraid to process. There’s grace for you.

Do you see yet why I respond to Lecrae’s “identity development work” with thankfulness? I know young men whose disillusionment with “white evangelicalism” was not as painful as Lecrae’s, and yet they threw the brown baby of Bethlehem out with the white bathwater. They’re done with Christianity. Done with the Bible. Done with Jesus — except the one they create to fit their present political mood. That could have been Lecrae. It could be you.

It is possible that his story could have been Damascus Road in reverse. Beloved champion becomes bitter challenger. Poster boy turns into arch opponent. Mascot morphs into muckraker. It didn’t happen. I don’t think it will happen. Lecrae is not an adolescent. His faith is not secondhand. I am thankful for that. Very thankful.

“White Evangelicalism”

What does this loosening from “white evangelicalism” mean for multi-ethnic relations? I don’t know.

Perhaps one immediate takeaway would be for majority-culture folks to ask whether the “identity development work” applies to us in a peculiar way. When Lecrae read the first draft of this article, he commented that his experience has been that “white evangelicals” generally assume they are a-cultural and bring no cultural influence into the fleshing out of their faith. Which probably means that there is some majority-culture “identity development work” to be done. That is, let there be, at least, a (growing) awareness that our expressions of faith are inevitably shaped by culture. Every expression of faith, everywhere in the world, is embedded in and shaped by culture. Being oblivious to this does not help us with the difficult task of discerning when to be counter-cultural or not.

But when it comes to the wider and longer implications of some young, Christian, African Americans loosening ties with “white evangelicals,” I don’t know what it will mean for ongoing relations and connections. It would be easy to be discouraged in these rending days. Some things Lecrae said in the interview make me cringe. The reason I have put “white evangelicalism” in quotation marks throughout this article is that it puts too many whites in bed together.

John Piper and a few million other supposed natives didn’t vote for Donald Trump. We don’t think unrepentant lechers should be president. We don’t think Robert E. Lee is a simple embodiment of nobility. We don’t think the confederate flag can fly with impunity. We don’t think kneeling for justice desecrates the other flag. We are baffled that Philando Castile’s shooter walks free. We are dismayed at the nationwide resurgence of manifest racial antagonism. We don’t think “systemic” is an unintelligible word. And a few of us, believe it or not, are impenitent five-point Calvinists (how else can you survive?). Is that “white evangelicalism”?

So it is not yet clear to me what the implications are when young, black, Christian men and women loosen their ties with “white evangelicalism.” What I do know is that nothing has changed about Jesus. Nothing has changed about the gospel of sovereign grace. Nothing has changed about the blood-bought one new identity in Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2 is still in the Book. Nothing has changed about the power of the Holy Spirit. And lots of us still love “God’s very good idea,” that in Christ “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).

Hope from “Facts”

So I say again: my main response to Lecrae’s “racial identity development work” is thankfulness. The process is proving that the roots of his union with Christ are deep enough not to be torn up by the trials of these sad days. And I would add to thankfulness, hope. I feel hope. Don’t you, when you listen to these lyrics? They are from the track of the new album called “Facts.”

I was waitin’ for the right time to tell y’all how I feel
And, yeah, I know that it hurts, but look, it’s gon’ heal.
I waited ’til I was on prime time before I let y’all know.
And you prolly won’t wanna hear my music no mo’
But it’s all good, man, I love y’all
Hope you know that I’m black black
Traded my Smart Car for a Cadillac, can you handle that?
And I love God
I love Jesus, the one out of Nazareth
Not the European with the ultra perm
And them soft eyes and them thin lips
And I’m still hood
Been in the ’burbs for quite some time
But I still might hit the gas station
For the Lemonheads and the pork rinds
And I’m on one
Yeah, 116 been real
Binghamton, Tennessee, from Third Ward to Ceiling Hill
And I live a multiple world, call me a hybrid ’cause I’m so black
Young theologian who educated,
But still be at that Chicken Shack, yeah.

“I know that it hurts, but look, it’s gon’ heal. . . . But it’s all good, man, I love y’all. . . . And I love God, I love Jesus, the one out of Nazareth . . . Yeah, 116 been real.”

Yes. The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). If he believes it, and you believe it, there’s hope. And I am thankful that we do. We still do. Grace.

Ephesians 1:18: Who Will Receive the Riches of Heaven?

Thu, 10/05/2017 - 8:00pm

Is Ephesians 1:18 about God inheriting believers, or is it about believers inheriting God’s glory? Pastor John offers a few defenses for his view.

Listen Now

Pages