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The Bride of the Reformation: Wibrandis Rosenblatt (1504–1564)

Thu, 10/05/2017 - 10:00am

In 1504, Wibrandis Rosenblatt was born in Säckingen, Germany. Over the next sixty years, she would marry and be widowed four times, inspiring one writer to describe her as the Reformationfrau — “the Bride of the Reformation.”

Ludwig Keller

Her 1524 marriage to Ludwig Keller was short lived. In July 1526, Wibrandis, 22, was a widow with a daughter, also named Wibrandis.

Among the Reformation leaders, clerical marriage was becoming “a new way of serving the community of Jesus Christ.” Johannes Oecolampadius had argued publicly for the freedom of pastors to marry, though he himself was still single (Frau Wibrandis, 15). Oecolampadius’s friend Wolfgang Capito wrote to him, “If a suitable person is pointed out to you, I think you should not decline. To have a mate of like zeal will be a glory to the Lord.”

Johannes Oecolampadius

Someone must have pointed out Wibrandis. On March 15, 1528, she and Oecolampadius were married, raising some eyebrows at their age difference — 45 and 24 — but causing most friends to rejoice. He wrote in a letter, “The Lord has given me a sister and wife . . .  a widow with several years experience in bearing the cross. I wish she were older, but I see in her no signs of youthful petulance. Pray the Lord to give us a long and happy marriage” (Women of the Reformation, 82).

At this point, pastors had not been marrying for several hundred years. Wibrandis and other wives of sixteenth-century Reformers became friends through letters, determining and shaping their new role as they lived it.

Soon, three children were added to their family — Eusebius, Aletheia, and Irene — before the death of Oecolampadius in November 1531 due to blood poisoning from an abscess. That same month, Capito’s wife Agnes also died.

Wolfgang Capito

Martin Bucer’s matchmaking propensities sprang into action. “My choice for Capito is the widow of Oecolampadius. . . . He writes me that he has been very touched by the sight of the widow Wibrandis and the orphaned children” (Women of the Reformation, 85). Wibrandis and Capito were married on August 11, 1532.

Capito was pastor of New St. Peter’s Church in Strasbourg. Their household included Wibrandis’s mother and the four children of her previous marriages. Five more were born — Agnes, Dorothea, Irene (after the death of Irene Oecolampadius), John Simon, and Wolfgang.

“Since she did curb his foibles, balance his budget, and keep his household sweet, her achievement belongs to the annals of unrecorded heroisms” (Women of the Reformation, 87). But plague in 1540 took the children Eusebius, Dorothea, Wolfgang, and also Capito himself.

Martin Bucer

News of Capito’s death reached the Bucers when Elisabeth Bucer was close to death. Elisabeth pled with her husband and Wibrandis that they marry after she died, and they did in April 1542.

Bucer wrote, “There is nothing that I could desire in my new wife save that she is too attentive and solicitous. She is not as free in criticism as was my first wife. . . . I only hope I can be as kind to my new wife as she is to me. But oh, the pang for the one I have lost” (Women of the Reformation, 87–88).

One can imagine Wibrandis’s similar grief for three husbands. For the fourth time, she adapted to a new husband, learning how they would love and support each other according to their particular needs, ministries, and preferences.

By 1548, new laws required Protestant churches to fulfill conditions that Bucer could not endorse. He fled into exile in England, and taught at Cambridge, while assisting in biblical translation and developing liturgy. After only a year, suffering a cold, damp winter and a long list of physical ailments, he urged Wibrandis to come. She came and eventually brought the family.

During Bucer’s last months, Wibrandis nursed him almost constantly, doing also whatever was required for caring for the rest of her family, consisting of the children and her mother. After her husband’s death in February 1551, Wibrandis wrote numerous articulate letters to sort out their finances and move the family back to Strasbourg. Some were in German, some in Latin, revealing her facility with language and languages.

Wibrandis the Woman

Lest we are tempted to see a passive woman swept up by circumstances and the decisions of imposing men, here is Wibrandis’s forceful voice to her son Simon John Capito, away at university:

I haven’t heard from you for some time, but I well know that if I had, the news would not have been comforting. . . . If only I might live to the day when I have good news from you. Then would I die of joy. . . . If you would follow in the footsteps of your father, then Grandma, the sisters, and the in-laws would lay down their very lives for you. . . . If you will behave yourself properly, come home. If you won’t, then do as you will. I wish you a good year. Your faithful mother. (Women of the Reformation, 93–94)

In 1564, Basel lost 7,000 to plague, including Wibrandis Rosenblatt. She was buried beside Oecolampadius.

Today in Bad Säckingen, her birthplace, is Wibrandis-Rosenblatt-Weg, a short street leading to the bank of the Rhine. Beside the street towers the steeple of the Evangelische Kirchengemeinde, a Protestant church.

For more on Wibrandis Rosenblatt:

Women of the Reformation by Roland Bainton

The Bride of the Reformation: Wibrandis Rosenblatt (1504–1564)

Thu, 10/05/2017 - 1:00am

In 1504, Wibrandis Rosenblatt was born in Säckingen, Germany. Over the next sixty years, she would marry and be widowed four times, inspiring one writer to describe her as the Reformationfrau — “the Bride of the Reformation.”

Ludwig Keller

Her 1524 marriage to Ludwig Keller was short lived. In July 1526, Wibrandis, 22, was a widow with a daughter, also named Wibrandis.

Among the Reformation leaders, clerical marriage was becoming “a new way of serving the community of Jesus Christ.” Johannes Oecolampadius had argued publicly for the freedom of pastors to marry, though he himself was still single (Frau Wibrandis, 15). Oecolampadius’s friend Wolfgang Capito wrote to him, “If a suitable person is pointed out to you, I think you should not decline. To have a mate of like zeal will be a glory to the Lord.”

Johannes Oecolampadius

Someone must have pointed out Wibrandis. On March 15, 1528, she and Oecolampadius were married, raising some eyebrows at their age difference — 45 and 24 — but causing most friends to rejoice. He wrote in a letter, “The Lord has given me a sister and wife . . .  a widow with several years experience in bearing the cross. I wish she were older, but I see in her no signs of youthful petulance. Pray the Lord to give us a long and happy marriage” (Women of the Reformation, 82).

At this point, pastors had not been marrying for several hundred years. Wibrandis and other wives of sixteenth-century Reformers became friends through letters, determining and shaping their new role as they lived it.

Soon, three children were added to their family — Eusebius, Aletheia, and Irene — before the death of Oecolampadius in November 1531 due to blood poisoning from an abscess. That same month, Capito’s wife Agnes also died.

Wolfgang Capito

Martin Bucer’s matchmaking propensities sprang into action. “My choice for Capito is the widow of Oecolampadius. . . . He writes me that he has been very touched by the sight of the widow Wibrandis and the orphaned children” (Women of the Reformation, 85). Wibrandis and Capito were married on August 11, 1532.

Capito was pastor of New St. Peter’s Church in Strasbourg. Their household included Wibrandis’s mother and the four children of her previous marriages. Five more were born — Agnes, Dorothea, Irene (after the death of Irene Oecolampadius), John Simon, and Wolfgang.

“Since she did curb his foibles, balance his budget, and keep his household sweet, her achievement belongs to the annals of unrecorded heroisms” (Women of the Reformation, 87). But plague in 1540 took the children Eusebius, Dorothea, Wolfgang, and also Capito himself.

Martin Bucer

News of Capito’s death reached the Bucers when Elisabeth Bucer was close to death. Elisabeth pled with her husband and Wibrandis that they marry after she died, and they did in April 1542.

Bucer wrote, “There is nothing that I could desire in my new wife save that she is too attentive and solicitous. She is not as free in criticism as was my first wife. . . . I only hope I can be as kind to my new wife as she is to me. But oh, the pang for the one I have lost” (Women of the Reformation, 87–88).

One can imagine Wibrandis’s similar grief for three husbands. For the fourth time, she adapted to a new husband, learning how they would love and support each other according to their particular needs, ministries, and preferences.

By 1548, new laws required Protestant churches to fulfill conditions that Bucer could not endorse. He fled into exile in England, and taught at Cambridge, while assisting in biblical translation and developing liturgy. After only a year, suffering a cold, damp winter and a long list of physical ailments, he urged Wibrandis to come. She came and eventually brought the family.

During Bucer’s last months, Wibrandis nursed him almost constantly, doing also whatever was required for caring for the rest of her family, consisting of the children and her mother. After her husband’s death in February 1551, Wibrandis wrote numerous articulate letters to sort out their finances and move the family back to Strasbourg. Some were in German, some in Latin, revealing her facility with language and languages.

Wibrandis the Woman

Lest we are tempted to see a passive woman swept up by circumstances and the decisions of imposing men, here is Wibrandis’s forceful voice to her son Simon John Capito, away at university:

I haven’t heard from you for some time, but I well know that if I had, the news would not have been comforting. . . . If only I might live to the day when I have good news from you. Then would I die of joy. . . . If you would follow in the footsteps of your father, then Grandma, the sisters, and the in-laws would lay down their very lives for you. . . . If you will behave yourself properly, come home. If you won’t, then do as you will. I wish you a good year. Your faithful mother. (Women of the Reformation, 93–94)

In 1564, Basel lost 7,000 to plague, including Wibrandis Rosenblatt. She was buried beside Oecolampadius.

Today in Bad Säckingen, her birthplace, is Wibrandis-Rosenblatt-Weg, a short street leading to the bank of the Rhine. Beside the street towers the steeple of the Evangelische Kirchengemeinde, a Protestant church.

Enjoying God Fuels Doing Good

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 8:01pm

Be ready for every good work.

My eyes had passed over these words in Titus 3:1 dozens of times, but they never had captured me like this. No longer just words on a page, no longer some string of philanthropic sentiment, the charge pierced me. Be ready for every good work. My heart swelled. I wanted to be like this. I want to be this. I want to be ready to do good for others.

Doing good to others isn’t icing on the cake of Christianity. It’s an essential ingredient. And at the same time, genuinely doing others good doesn’t happen by human strength alone. Mere willpower will never be the answer.

How, then, can we “be ready for every good work”?

Opposite of Ready

First, in the immediate context, look at the kind of friends such readiness keeps:

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. (Titus 3:1–2)

Those six accompanying charges cohere in a certain flavor of life. We might sum it up as humility.

Being “ready for every good work” goes along with righteous submission and obedience, kind and courteous speech, peacemaking and gentleness. To say it negatively, pride, rebellion, slander, pugnacity, and rudeness do not pair with doing others real good.

How we orient on the world around us has a part to play in our readiness to do others good. Our perspective on society, even politics, is not irrelevant. Chicken Little isn’t known for his love. And when we expect the worst, look for a fight, and don’t care at all whom we offend, we are the kind of people who are ready to do others good.

Renounce Sinful Passions

Next, take one step back to look at Paul’s letter to Titus. No other book in the Bible takes such a concentrated focus on the theme of good works. Paul explicitly mentions the phrase “good works” six times in these three short chapters.

Titus 2 makes plain that we will not be ready to do others good if we do not renounce sinful passions. Personal holiness matters in the pursuit of love. The kind of people who fight their own sin are the kind who will be ready to genuinely help others. Those whom God’s grace has trained “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” are “a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11–14).

Leave Room for the Spirit

Titus also has something to say about “learning” to do others good. There’s a process — with practical steps to take ahead of time — to make space for the Spirit’s leading. That may include leaving enough margin in your schedule to be able to meet unexpected needs, or carrying paper money to give on the spot to someone in need, or setting aside funds for personal ministry in your monthly budget.

“Let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful” (Titus 3:14). Being ready to do good doesn’t necessarily come naturally. It’s something we learn. We learn to devote ourselves to the good of others.

Go Deep with God

When we ask this letter how we can “be ready for every good work,” the answer that comes back is very clear. Simply put, delight yourself in God. Sound Christian doctrine, and its knowledge about God and his world, isn’t merely the stuff of books and classrooms and study, but the engine for everyday good in the world. Fitness for doing true good comes from knowing and enjoying God.

Paul says to Titus,

Rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. . . . They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. (Titus 1:13–16)

They are “unfit for any good work” — not ready to do “every good work,” or any good work. Why? Because, despite what they claim, they do not know God.

In other words, going deep with God is vital in being ready to do others good. And how do we go deep with God? As boring and staid as it may sound to some who don’t understand, or have caricatures of what “theology” is, this is how we go deep with God — not on our terms, but his, by his word.

Remember Your Own Unbelief

Why should we approach the world with humility of Titus 3:1–2? Verse 3: “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” We know what it’s like to be unbelieving and stuck in our unbelief, apart from God. We did not save ourselves. We did not do anything to earn his mercy, but he saved us, of his own initiative:

When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4–7)

The theology, or doctrine, of verse 4–7 is what’s beneath the hood of a life that is ready for every good work.

Fuel the Fires of Faith

Finally, Paul follows with one more charge:

I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. (Titus 3:8)

“These things” here are the glorious theological truths he has just celebrated in verses 4–7. What Christians believe is “excellent and profitable for people” — not just profitable for us, but for the world. When we truly go deep with God, we become the kind of people who are ready to give ourselves to good works.

In other words, knowing God — and feeding the engine of daily delight in him and his promises — is not in competition with being ready to help others. In fact, it’s essential. Truly knowing him in sound doctrine is never a deterrent or distraction from doing real good in the world to meet the needs of others. The two always go together.

Enjoying God, on his terms, through his word, is the fuel for acts of love and good works. Real depth with him will flower through us to meet the needs of others. And the flower of true good deeds for others grows on the stalk of a living relationship with God through his word.

Going deep in Christian truth, done rightly, to know and enjoy God, will not keep us from doing good but will be what makes us most ready to do good.

What Are the Five Solas? Are the Five Solas in the Bible? Part 1

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 8:00pm

In an age of corruption and false teaching, the Protestant Reformers returned to the Scriptures.

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How to Find Gold in God’s Word: Reading the Bible with Supernatural Help

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 10:00am

All the Bible knowledge in the world won’t help you unless you cherish God’s truth. We’re nothing more than Pharisees unless we taste the glory of God in his word.

Watch Now

The Gentle Lutheran: Philip Melanchthon (1497–1560)

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 9:00am

He was not the kind who started revolutions, but the kind who brought order to the ensuing chaos. His mentor, Martin Luther, was brash, impulsive, and forceful. But Philip Melanchthon was a timid, sober-minded unifier. Luther, by his own admission, was “substance without words,” while his brilliant young disciple was “substance and words.”

Luther had little concern for precision or guarding against misconception; Melanchthon made nuance his forte. Luther said he used a spear, while Melanchthon used pins and needles. Luther was a pioneer, hacking his way through centuries of superstitious brush with an apostolic machete. But Melanchthon, like Bullinger in Zurich and Calvin in Geneva, played the part of the calm, collected systematic, grading the Protestant path for generations to come.

He was “the quiet reformer” — and a fitting complement to the loud, boisterous Luther. But not only was Melanchthon known as quiet and peaceful, but on occasion he demonstrated an explosive temper. And not only was he relentlessly curious, and a master of many subjects, but he also was strangely superstitious. Like every sinner, he was his own inconsistent blend of virtue and vice, and God was willing to work with that.

Prodigy, Professor, Copilot

Born in 1497 in southwest Germany, Melanchthon was nephew to renowned humanist Johann Reuchlin (1455–1522), who suggested, in the humanist tradition, that young Philip change his last name from Schwartzerdt (“black earth”) to the Hellenized Melanchthon.

A child prodigy, Melanchthon studied the classics in Heidelberg and Tubingen, and arrived in Wittenberg in 1519, at age 22, just as the Reformation was heating up. That same year, he accompanied Luther as an aid to the Leipzig Disputation. By 1521, he published the first edition of his Loci Communes (“basic concepts”) which started as a commentary on Romans and sought to tie Christian theology, inspired by Luther, to the biblical text, rather than the philosophical categories of medieval scholarship.

As the fires of reform raged, Melanchthon was there at Luther’s side in 1529 at Marburg, and there in Luther’s stead in 1530 at Augsburg, where he represented the Lutheran cause — and even drafted the Augsburg Confession — since Luther was an outlaw and unable to attend.

Independent Mind

Melanchthon’s close association with Luther, however, did not mean that all Lutherans embraced him. Even while Luther was still living, some impugned Melanchthon as a corruptor, that he was hijacking Luther’s bold movement for something more docile. Meanwhile, many others greatly appreciated Melanchthon’s nuance, level head, and theological acumen and thought he was doing his pioneering friend an invaluable service.

Melanchthon was too careful a thinker to agree with Luther on everything. But even as differences emerged, he always thought of himself as Luther’s disciple. He was helping his mentor, not rebelling against him, in maturing his theological insights.

His two key divergences with Luther, for which some detractors would relentlessly take him to task, pertained to the bondage of the will and the Lord’s Supper. As early as 1540, a decade after Augsburg, and six years before Luther’s death, Melanchthon went public, in an updated version of the confession, with an iterated view of the Table. His opponents accused him of being a crypto-Calvinist on the Eucharist; however, in the other key divergence, he clearly moved away from Geneva. Melanchthon rejected double predestination, which he thought a necessary entailment of Luther’s view of the will, and suspected that at least some of Luther’s followers were going too far in their sense of the will’s bondage.

Leader of the Lutherans

As the years passed, even after Melanchthon’s death in Wittenberg in 1560, “the quiet reformer” carried the day in one of his major disagreements and lost the other. With the 1577 Formula of Concord, and the 1580 Book of Concord, “Lutheran orthodoxy emerged as playing down the doctrine of predestination (with Melanchthon) and affirming the real presence in the Eucharist (against Melanchthon)” (The Reformation, 353). From a Reformed perspective, both decisions went in the wrong direction, and account for key differences with Lutherans today. We’d say Concord would have been better off to hear Melanchthon on the Table and listen to Luther on the will.

In the final tally, Melanchthon became the intellectual leader of the Lutherans. Not only was he the first systematic theologian of the Reformation, and one of its most significant figures, but he designed educational systems that gave Lutheranism staying power not just in his unstable days but in the even more turbulent times to come. God put Melanchthon’s gifts, quirks, and even inconsistencies to good use to reinforce Reformation theology as a world-changing force.

For more on Philip Melanchthon:

The Reformation: A History by Diarmaid MacCulloch

Reformers in the Wings by David C. Steinmetz

Even Evil Points Us to God

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 2:00am

Unless we have God as an absolute foundation to define morality, then our sense of moral outrage amounts to nothing more than electrochemical reactions in our brains.

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Look Up: Trading Introspection for Awe

Tue, 10/03/2017 - 8:02pm

Looking to Jesus is the best and surest way to become more like him. It is, therefore, a serious mistake to think that we grow in the Christian life by focusing on our sins and struggles. A biblical approach to transformation is not fundamentally introspective and self-focused, but Christ-ospective and gospel-focused.

Many of us tend to be self-reflective to a fault. Self-examination is vital, but it can quickly lead to morbid introspection. Too often, we end up taking an approach to spiritual growth that turns us inward, reinforcing our natural self-absorption and exacerbating our problems.

Help and change will not come ultimately from looking inward. Self-discovery pales in comparison to the power of Christ-discovery.

Powerless Introspection

There’s an insightful sentence on introspection in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel, The Scarlet Letter. Arthur Dimmesdale is a pastor who secretly committed adultery. Rather than humbling himself in confession and turning to Christ for mercy and help, Dimmesdale tragically turns inward.

Persistent guilt, fasting, self-mutilation, and sorrow cannot heal him. The minister soon loses his mind, destroys his health, and ruins his soul through the torment of endless self-reflection. Hawthorne writes, “He thus typified the constant introspection wherewith he tortured, but could not purify, himself.”

There is a kind of introspection that will only torture and is powerless to purify us.

Better Than Self-Searching

This is why Charles Spurgeon warned against spending too much time looking inward. He noticed that hyper-introspection “breeds morbid emotions and creates despair.”

Spurgeon said that trying to make spiritual progress through excessive introspection is like a store owner who closes his shop because he is worried he is not selling enough. The store owner goes into the backroom and spends all his time taking inventory of things he hasn’t sold.

That’s an accurate picture of what we often do when we introspect. We try to escape anxiety by analyzing our soul to measure how much peace we are currently experiencing. We attempt to treat shame and feelings of worthlessness by turning inward to examine our self-worth. We battle persistent guilt by meditating on our many sins.

We fail to recognize that certain sins and struggles gain their power by fixing our attention entirely upon themselves.

There is a better way to grow in grace. Praise God, something better than self-help, self-searching, self-discovery, and self-actualization is here. Spurgeon gives wise and liberating counsel to overly-introspective souls when he says, “Forget yourself and think only of Christ.”

Where Grace Comes From

The puritan Thomas Hooker observed that one of Satan’s strategies for keeping us in sin is to lead us to dwell excessively on our sin. He says the devil’s lie is that the more we focus on our sin, the more we will be free from it. Satan keeps us in our sin by turning us inward, but the gospel frees us from sin by turning us outward.

John Newton says, “It is better for you and me to be admiring the compassion and fullness of grace that is in our Savior, than to dwell and pore too much upon our own poverty and vileness.” The Spirit’s goal in showing us our sin is to drive us to Christ and the sufficiency of his grace. It is not much use if we are experts in identifying sin, only to be novices in applying grace.

“Do not be always pouring down over the imperfections of your own heart, and dissecting your own besetting sins,” writes J.C. Ryle. “Look up. Look more to your risen Head in heaven, and try to realize more than you do that the Lord Jesus not only died for you, but that He also rose again, and that He is ever living at God’s right hand as your Priest, your Advocate, and your Almighty friend.”

Happy Souls, Holy Souls

In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he celebrates the transforming power of beholding the glory of Christ: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Hebrews 12:1–3 says that we are to run the Christian race looking to Jesus and considering him. The essence of the Christian life is treasuring Jesus Christ: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8). And one day, when Christ appears, “we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

The transformation has begun. Look up and be changed! No more endless dissection of besetting sins. Instead, behold the Lamb of God, who takes away your sin (John 1:29). Behold the one who has irrevocably united you to himself, the Son of God who loved you and gave himself for you (Galatians 2:20), and now lives forever to intercede for you (Romans 8:34).

Looking to Christ is not only a sight that brings rejoicing; it is also a sight that brings renewal. Seeing his glory not only makes our souls happy; it makes our souls holy. We are not changed by beholding self, but by beholding Christ our Savior.

The Gentle Lutheran

Tue, 10/03/2017 - 8:01pm

He was not the kind who started revolutions, but the kind who brought order to the ensuing chaos. His mentor, Martin Luther, was brash, impulsive, and forceful. But Philip Melanchthon was a timid, sober-minded unifier. Luther, by his own admission, was “substance without words,” while his brilliant young disciple was “substance and words.”

Luther had little concern for precision or guarding against misconception; Melanchthon made nuance his forte. Luther said he used a spear, while Melanchthon used pins and needles. Luther was a pioneer, hacking his way through centuries of superstitious brush with an apostolic machete. But Melanchthon, like Bullinger in Zurich and Calvin in Geneva, played the part of the calm, collected systematic, grading the Protestant path for generations to come.

He was “the quiet reformer” — and a fitting complement to the loud, boisterous Luther. But not only was Melanchthon known as quiet and peaceful, but on occasion he demonstrated an explosive temper. And not only was he relentlessly curious, and a master of many subjects, but he also was strangely superstitious. Like every sinner, he was his own inconsistent blend of virtue and vice, and God was willing to work with that.

Prodigy, Professor, Copilot

Born in 1497 in southwest Germany, Melanchthon was nephew to renowned humanist Johann Reuchlin (1455–1522), who suggested, in the humanist tradition, that young Philip change his last name from Schwartzerdt (“black earth”) to the Hellenized Melanchthon.

A child prodigy, Melanchthon studied the classics in Heidelberg and Tubingen, and arrived in Wittenberg in 1519, at age 22, just as the Reformation was heating up. That same year, he accompanied Luther as an aid to the Leipzig Disputation. By 1521, he published the first edition of his Loci Communes (“basic concepts”) which started as a commentary on Romans and sought to tie Christian theology, inspired by Luther, to the biblical text, rather than the philosophical categories of medieval scholarship.

As the fires of reform raged, Melanchthon was there at Luther’s side in 1529 at Marburg, and there in Luther’s stead in 1530 at Augsburg, where he represented the Lutheran cause — and even drafted the Augsburg Confession — since Luther was an outlaw and unable to attend.

Independent Mind

Melanchthon’s close association with Luther, however, did not mean that all Lutherans embraced him. Even while Luther was still living, some impugned Melanchthon as a corruptor, that he was hijacking Luther’s bold movement for something more docile. Meanwhile, many others greatly appreciated Melanchthon’s nuance, level head, and theological acumen and thought he was doing his pioneering friend an invaluable service.

Melanchthon was too careful a thinker to agree with Luther on everything. But even as differences emerged, he always thought of himself as Luther’s disciple. He was helping his mentor, not rebelling against him, in maturing his theological insights.

His two key divergences with Luther, for which some detractors would relentlessly take him to task, pertained to the bondage of the will and the Lord’s Supper. As early as 1540, a decade after Augsburg, and six years before Luther’s death, Melanchthon went public, in an updated version of the confession, with an iterated view of the Table. His opponents accused him of being a crypto-Calvinist on the Eucharist; however, in the other key divergence, he clearly moved away from Geneva. Melanchthon rejected double predestination, which he thought a necessary entailment of Luther’s view of the will, and suspected that at least some of Luther’s followers were going too far in their sense of the will’s bondage.

Leader of the Lutherans

As the years passed, even after Melanchthon’s death in Wittenberg in 1560, “the quiet reformer” carried the day in one of his major disagreements and lost the other. With the 1577 Formula of Concord, and the 1580 Book of Concord, “Lutheran orthodoxy emerged as playing down the doctrine of predestination (with Melanchthon) and affirming the real presence in the Eucharist (against Melanchthon)” (The Reformation, 353). From a Reformed perspective, both decisions went in the wrong direction, and account for key differences with Lutherans today. We’d say Concord would have been better off to hear Melanchthon on the Table and listen to Luther on the will.

In the final tally, Melanchthon became the intellectual leader of the Lutherans. Not only was he the first systematic theologian of the Reformation, and one of its most significant figures, but he designed educational systems that gave Lutheranism staying power not just in his unstable days but in the even more turbulent times to come. God put Melanchthon’s gifts, quirks, and even inconsistencies to good use to reinforce Reformation theology as a world-changing force.

For more on Philip Melanchthon:

The Reformation: A History by Diarmaid MacCulloch

Reformers in the Wings by David C. Steinmetz

Confronting Emotional and Verbal Abuse in the Home

Tue, 10/03/2017 - 8:00pm

God did not design marriage for outbursts, verbal putdowns, or raised voices. If this describes your marriage, here’s some advice from Pastor John.

Listen Now

The Man and His Song: Tom Petty (1950–2017)

Tue, 10/03/2017 - 12:00pm

Our 7-year-old twin boys love listening to Tom Petty.

Somehow his songs have resonated with them more than Daddy’s other tunes. “The waiting is the hardest part” struck a nerve early on, and they sang it as 3-year-olds to pacify themselves when life was moving slower than desired. Perhaps it was “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” such a good car song. But probably what made Petty a legend in our home was Dad’s love for “I Won’t Back Down.”

Once the boys were showing houseguests their new musical instruments. One of the guys raised his kid guitar to me and said, “Dad, could you tune this to Tom Petty?” He rose to an unusual status with our boys.

Last night at dinner I told them that Tom Petty had a heart attack and wasn’t doing well. The response came back from a serious 7-year-old face, “I hope he doesn’t die.” This morning in the car, I broke the news. Petty passed last night at age 66. After a reflective pause came a sober and earnest question, “Dad, can we still listen to his music?”

“Yes, buddy, that’s one of the great things about writing songs — they keep playing, even after you die.”

Spine Enough for Pastors

From all I know, Tom Petty was no Christian and had no religion but music itself. But I don’t know the condition of his soul and am not the one to issue that judgment. Love hopes all things (1 Corinthians 13:7) and trusts that the Judge of all the earth will do right (Genesis 18:25). I’m in no position to eulogize Tom Petty, the man, but I am eager to pay tribute to one of his defining songs.

Despite his known history of drug use (and recovery), Petty wrote with about as much virtue as anyone in the mainstream of the last generation — which doesn’t say much, but does leave us a kind of “common grace” to appreciate in Petty’s work. In June, I went with two fellow pastors to Petty’s fortieth-anniversary tour in St. Paul. As expected, it was Christ-less, but clean. He played nearly all his biggest hits from the 80s, when he was at his height, but the signature moment for us was “Won’t Back Down.”

Tribute to a Song

It was the first hit from Petty’s first solo album in 1989, and had so much spine that he initially feared it might not fare well, even a generation ago. “I kind of felt nervous about it,” he said, “like maybe I should take it back and disguise it a little bit, but I’m glad I didn’t.”

The song’s message is unprogressive. Petty doesn’t sound ready to try new things or compromise for the sake of everyone getting along. Rather, he comes off as one deeply principled, if not stubborn, full of conviction, resolved not to bend. He will stand alone, if he must, against the pressure to give in. He won’t back down — against what, he doesn’t specify. The song, according to one source, is “a message of defiance against unnamed forces of difficulty and possibly oppression.”

Mood of Christian Resolve

The risk of the song’s generic nature is that mindless conservatives and mere curmudgeons can draw strength from such lyrics. But the corresponding virtue is that the song is ready-made for application to truly worthy causes, where the pressure to back down on something important needs to be met precisely with a calm but resolute declaration, “I won’t back down.”

What makes the song so powerful is not only the lyrical backbone, but a mood that embodies an approach to not backing down — the very mood we need in the post-Christian moment which relentlessly pressures biblically faithful Christians to back down. Back down on your stance against abortion. Back down on your refusal to condone homosexual practice and so-called “gay marriage.” Back down on claiming your Bible is inerrant. Back down on male leadership in the church and the home. Back down on the exclusive sufficiency of Jesus’s person and work for salvation, and your claim that there is only one name given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

Not only do Petty’s lyrics echo the words of Matthew 16:18 (“You could stand me up at the gates of hell”), but they challenge us to “know what’s right,” take care to steward the “just one life” we have, “keep this world from draggin’ me down,” and not back down against “a world that keeps on pushin’ me around.”

Call to Christian Resolve

Based on the nerve of the song’s message, you might expect something that sounds like a frenzy of zeal from Metallica. But Petty is not swollen with adrenaline. There’s no yelling, no rashness, no recklessness. The pace is smooth and melodic — composed and collected, but not sluggish. Deep inner strength meets with great self-control. It’s solid confidence on a mid-tempo beat. The song is both patiently reserved and full of resolve.

Of all people, biblically faithful Christians have something to stand for. We have a real reason to not back down. We have an indomitable, risen Jesus who promises to build his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18) — that’s why we can stand against those gates and not back down. This is no mere stubbornness or determination of will. We have what Petty didn’t — infinite power at work in us to will and to work for God’s good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).

Legacy of Christian Courage

It should be no surprise that Christ in us would lead us to take a stand and not back down. Jesus himself didn’t back down before Pharisees and Sadducees, before Zealots and Herodians, before scribes and priests. He made the good confession before Pilate (1 Timothy 6:12), and held his peace when he could have called twelve legions of angels (Matthew 26:53).

The apostle didn’t back down before Judaizers and Helenizers, before Felix and Festus and Caesar himself. The early church didn’t back down against Greek intellectual assaults and Roman capital punishment. Athanasius stood against what seemed like the whole world and held his ground on the deity of Christ. Luther and Zwingli and Calvin didn’t back down to medieval nominalism and sacramentalism — as we celebrate this month 500 years of Reformation. Spurgeon and Machen and Henry and Graham didn’t back down to post-Enlightenment naturalism and ecclesiological liberalism, but paved the way for the day in which we carry the mantle and keep standing.

Here We Stand

When temped to cave in to society’s pressure, we can be confident to stand calmly, collectedly, with a gentle, sure voice, and unshaken resolve in our hearts, to take whatever comes at us in stride, knowing that, God willing, our feet aren’t moving. Because the one with whom we stand, for whom we stand, simply cannot be defeated.

Perhaps God would be pleased to plunder the sentiment and spine of such a tune from the late Tom Petty, fill its generic form with biblical contours, and inspire my 7-year-old boys for the composed and God-confident calling of not backing down in the days ahead.

How to Fight When Your Mind Is Failing

Tue, 10/03/2017 - 10:00am

If you read your Bible in the morning and see an encouraging promise of God’s help, but then, ten minutes after you have put the Bible away, you have no memory of what that promise was, your battle for hope and holiness will be seriously compromised. This happens to most of us from time to time — no matter our age — but for those of us who are in our seventies, the problem is more acute. What’s to be done?

Matter of Life and Death

You may not feel with me how urgent and serious this is. So let me remind you that there is a holiness (a “sanctification”) without which we don’t get to heaven. “Strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). John puts it like this: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14). And Paul says, “If you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13).

So, practical holiness, which includes love for people and mortification of the body’s sinful bent, is not marginal. Hebrews and John and Paul say it’s a matter of life and death.

Besides the New Testament estimation of holiness as a necessary mark of spiritual life (old or young), there is the plain biblical fact that practical holiness is how God is glorified and people are loved and joy is sustained. We do good deeds, Jesus said, that people may see them “and give glory to our Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). And Paul made clear that such love is the radiance of holiness (1 Thessalonians 3:12–13). And Nehemiah added that the joy of the Lord is our strength and should mark the holy day (Nehemiah 8:9–10).

In sum, holiness is the path to final salvation, glorifying God, loving people, and experiencing joy. This means that if this is harder as we get older, we need serious spiritual help, not theologies that minimize the importance of holiness.

Stockpiled Faith Is No Substitute for War

But perhaps you have the notion of sanctification that the longer a person has walked with the Lord, the less vulnerable that person is to sin. Perhaps you see sixty years of spiritual discipline as stockpiling faith so that the fight for faith is not as crucial as it once was. Or perhaps your view of sanctification is that it happens subconsciously so that the loss of conscious memory is not a liability.

There is some truth in each of those three notions.

  1. Long familiarity with Jesus in sweet fellowship habituates the heart to his reality and presence (Philippians 3:10).

  2. And there is a sense in which faith does grow with exercise over time (2 Thessalonians 1:3).

  3. And it is true that the subconscious is altered by God’s word and prayer and persevering obedience. “Out of the abundance of the heart [subconscious] the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).

However, no length of fellowship with Jesus, no degree of growth in faith, no subconscious renewal of the inner person ever replaces the need for conscious, daily acts of the mind and the heart recalling and embracing and believing the promises of God in fighting for hope and holiness. Listen to Paul as he comes to the end of his life:

I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:6–7)

Wouldn’t you agree that those last three clauses imply “right up to the end”? “I have fought the good fight, fighting right up to the end. I have finished the race, running hard right up to the end. I have kept the faith, holding fast, right up to the end.” Paul does not give us the impression that his long familiarity with Jesus, or his ongoing growth in faith, or the depth of his subconscious renewal in Christ diminish his need to fight and run and hold on.

Sanctification Through Conscious Faith

I think the main reason for this is that God intends for us to live in conscious reliance on Christ. While it is true that a huge percentage of our daily acts are instinctive — with little or no extended premeditation on the word of God as our guide, or the promises of God as our conscious motive — nevertheless, God’s ideal for us is not that we become increasingly oblivious of his presence, and increasingly unconscious of his word while our sanctified subconscious completely takes over. That would make us increasingly robot-like, and strip our behavior of conscious volition to trust Christ and glorify God. Our experienced, personal relationship with the Lord would vanish.

In other words, God’s will for us is not merely that we increase in the subconscious renewal of the inner person, but also that we live increasingly in mindful reliance on his revealed word. He does not intend that we ever outgrow the need to hear his word, and by trusting it consciously, get victory over temptation and get motivation for love.

Paul said that Christian love for all the saints was owing to our hope laid up for us in heaven (Colossians 1:4–5). And he said that his aim was that we love people “from a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). He had been told by the Lord Jesus, in his commissioning, that people “are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18).

Two Examples of Sanctification by Conscious Faith

I think these texts point to a way of life in which conscious hope and conscious faith in the promises of God are the daily means by which the luring promises of sin are negated by the power of the superior promises of God. I think Paul is pointing to the fact that acts of practical love are unleashed by conscious faith in the promised care and reward of God.

An example from Hebrews: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5). Would you not agree that the writer is calling us to a way of life that is joyfully conscious of the promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you”? And that he intends for that conscious faith to keep us free, day by day, from the love of money? Another example from the teaching of Jesus:

“When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:13–14)

Here is a directive and a promise, a path of holiness and a motive of happiness. Invite people to dinner who cannot repay you. If your old, selfish nature objects that it’s not worth it, defeat that sinful thought by faith in this promise: “You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Doesn’t Jesus mean that we should pursue such difficult acts of holiness by means of conscious reliance on specific promises?

How Can I Fight When My Memory Fails?

This brings us back to the problem of senility. One of the effects of the “wasting away of our outer nature” (2 Corinthians 4:16) is that short-term memory weakens. The mind simply will not hold on to things like it used to. This is why all Medicare checkups at the doctor require the nurse to test your memory loss by telling you three words (chair, banana, tree), and then asking you one minute later (after you have drawn a clock and proved you can still tell time) if you can remember the three words.

So what am I to do if I read my Bible in the morning, spot a promise that I know will be of great help in sustaining my faith at a moment of testing later in the day, but when the Bible reading is over, I have no recollection of the promise? How am I to defeat temptation by faith in God’s promise if I can’t remember the needed promise?

1. Do not underestimate what God might do when you ask him for help.

Ask the Lord — be urgent and sincere — to strengthen your memory of his promises. I know this sounds naïve in the face of real, physical brain deterioration. But I do not think we should be so fatalistic that we think God would not give us some help. We do not know what small miracles he might work for us. God was not happy with King Asa when he was old and neglected to ask the Lord for help but only sought help from physicians.

In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe. Yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but sought help from physicians. And Asa slept with his fathers, dying in the forty-first year of his reign. (2 Chronicles 16:12–13)

By all means, seek help from physicians, exercise, eat right, do your crossword puzzle, play Sudoku, and get lots of sleep. But don’t be a practical atheist and neglect to ask God to do what only he can do. God does not promise escape from aging and senility. In fact, he says it will come (Romans 8:23; 2 Corinthians 4:16). But who knows what help he may give in the process! We have not because we ask not (James 4:2). Ask him.

2. Work even harder at memorizing God’s promises.

Disability demands greater effort. If we stop doing things because they get harder with age, we will stop living long before we are dead. Disabled people have always had to work harder to do what non-disabled people do. And we admire them for it. Senility is a disability. Are we just going to give in? No. We work harder to make up for the disability.

So, if you once repeated a promise to yourself ten times in the morning and could remember it easily all during the day in any situation, you might need to repeat it twenty or thirty times to achieve the same effect. This will change over time. Know yourself. I could run eight-minute miles when I was in my thirties. Today I can only run twelve-minute miles. (Which most people would not call running!) It takes longer. It hurts more. It leaves me more tired. All because I am forty years older. So why do it? Same reason I’ve run for fifty years. I don’t want to be depressed, I don’t want to be fat, and I don’t want to be dead (yet).

It’s the same with memorizing promises. Once upon a time, I memorized a verse every morning from four different places in the Bible. Today, alongside constant review of large portions once memorized, I focus on one word from the Lord to carry with me through the day, and I must work two or three times as hard to make that word stick. I want that word with me all day, especially for use against temptation, and to motivate hard obedience.

3. Spite the devil with your smartphone.

When the memory simply will not hold on to the promises you want with you during the day, spite the devil and dementia with pieces of paper and iPhone reminders. I am totally serious. When you find the promise in the morning that you want to enjoy all day, write it on a little piece of paper and put it in your pocket. Take it out and read it again and again during the day, especially in the hour of trial.

I am part of the first wave of baby boomers who got in on the era of mobile devices soon enough to take them with us into senility. So, take your smartphone, push the button, and say to Siri or Bixby, “Remind me at 10:00am that I should cast all my cares on God because he cares for me.” Then do the same for as many times during the day you find helpful.

If you have the mindset that this kind of spiritual warfare is superfluous, and that God somehow automatically makes up for our increasing weakness apart from the fight of faith, you are not paying attention, either to aging Christians or to the word of God. He comes. And he helps. But he does it in and through our resolves and efforts of faith. “We always pray for you, that our God may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:11). It is God’s gift. But we act the miracle by “resolves” and “work.”

4. Let a companion become your eyes and memory.

Stay close to caring members of the body of Christ. The senile member cannot say to the strong, “I have no need of you.” The non-reading eye, with glaucoma and macular degeneration, cannot say to the members with reading mouths, “I have no need of you.” Nor can those with good eyes say, “I have this gift for myself alone.”

When the eyes and the memory of one member go, the other members pick up the missing strategy of spiritual war. If I cannot remind myself of the promises of God, I will need you to remind me. With aging, it is truer than ever that we must “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).

Let’s Be God’s Voice for Each Other

Until the day we die, sanctification remains a divine work through human means. It began that way. It ends that way. The means might change as our weaknesses increase. But sanctification never ceases to be a divine summons to fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith.

Even in the last hours, it is a summons to the body of Christ to lean down close to the ashen face and say with a loud voice:

“Even to your old age I am he,
   and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
   I will carry and will save.” (Isaiah 46:4)

The Florentine Forerunner: Girolamo Savonarola (1452–1498)

Tue, 10/03/2017 - 2:00am

Surrounding the base of the Luther monument in Worms, Germany, sit the four forerunners of the Protestant Reformation — Jan Hus, John Wycliffe, Peter Waldo, and Girolamo Savonarola. They could not have more different personalities, yet each inspired Luther’s reforms in his own way. Luther found Savonarola personally inspiring: as Luther traveled to the Diet of Worms in 1521 to stand trial — after burning the papal bull that excommunicated him — he carried on his person a picture of the Dominican friar.

As Luther faced the possibility of death in Worms, perhaps he compared his own life to Savonarola’s: with a prophetic voice, Savonarola had condemned the Roman church’s corruption. His conflict with the pope climaxed in his excommunication and execution by fire. Luther was likewise excommunicated for his complaints against papal abuses. And though Luther escaped his own death sentence, he found a particular resonance with Savonarola; two years after hiding away in Wartburg Castle, Luther published Savonarola’s prison meditations on Psalms 51 and 31 and praised him as “that godly man of Florence.”

The People’s Prophet

Born to a wealthy family in Ferrara, Italy, in 1452, Savonarola was a precocious young man with a penchant for learning. Intended by his parents for the medical field, he made a sudden choice at 23 years old to join the Dominican order after becoming disillusioned with the vanity of Italian culture. As a young friar, he soaked deeply in the writings of Thomas Aquinas and in Scripture, quickly demonstrating a capacious mind, which allowed him to commit most of Scripture to memory.

Savonarola arrived in Florence in 1490 already renowned for his learning, yet it was his preaching that catapulted him into the center of Florentine reform and politics. Often from the cathedral in Florence, Savonarola would preach to thousands in the vernacular with powerful imagery and simple language from the Scriptures. He announced the saving grace of Christ with biblical potency while simultaneously offering excoriating critiques of the immoral practices of political and ecclesial leaders.

His influential preaching, along with some remarkable events outside Savonarola’s control — the French king’s surprise invasion into Italy along with a devastating disease — suddenly elevated his influence in Florence. Equally important in his ascent as the city’s prophetic voice was the pervasive belief among ordinary people of an imminent, momentous upheaval related to the end times, especially as the year 1500 approached.

Excommunicated

From 1494 to 1498, Savonarola fomented dramatic political and social change. His preaching became far more prophetic. Emphasizing Christ’s return, he called Florence to live as a new Jerusalem. His moral reform bled into political reorganization as he worked to establish a “Christian republic,” much like Calvin later did in Geneva.

Towards the height of these changes, he organized the youth of Florence to model and incite for reform, precipitating several “Bonfires of Vanities” in protest against the annual Mardi Gras Carnival. These youths led citizens in destroying instruments of temptation like carnival masks, playing cards, fine dresses, makeup, mirrors, and even musical instruments. The last of these occurred in the Piazza della Signoria at the center of Florence on February 7, 1497, just months before Pope Alexander VI excommunicated Savonarola.

After his excommunication, Savonarola’s conflict with Pope Alexander VI exploded when the pope captured letters Savonarola had sent to the kings of France, England, Spain, Hungary, and the Emperor of Germany, pleading with them to call an ecclesiastical counsel to depose the pope for his abuses. Savonarola opposed not the office, but the person of Alexander VI and, in this way, differed from later Reformers’ more expansive critiques of papal authority and Catholic doctrine.

Luther’s Spark

Insofar as Savonarola affirmed the primacy of Peter, encouraged devotion to Mary, and tended towards a semi-Pelagian view of salvation, he remained doctrinally within the Roman Catholic Church. But insofar as Savonarola called for moral reform, condemned papal abuses, and elevated the authority of Scripture, he anticipated the Reformation.

Although Savonarola’s one-man reform movement in Florence did not continue long in Italy after his death, his passionate preaching and zealous reforms had exposed the church’s corruption like a brief yet bright match lit in a dark cave. Savonarola’s spark was the kind by which Luther, just two decades later, would kindle his own fire for reformation.

Do You Delight in God’s People?: Two Questions to Ask Yourself

Tue, 10/03/2017 - 1:00am

We should have relationships with all kinds of people, but no one should make us happier than our friends who find their greatest delight in Jesus.

Watch Now

How to Fight When Your Mind Is Failing

Mon, 10/02/2017 - 8:03pm

If you read your Bible in the morning and see an encouraging promise of God’s help, but then, ten minutes after you have put the Bible away, you have no memory of what that promise was, your battle for hope and holiness will be seriously compromised. This happens to most of us from time to time — no matter our age — but for those of us who are in our seventies, the problem is more acute. What’s to be done?

Matter of Life and Death

You may not feel with me how urgent and serious this is. So let me remind you that there is a holiness (a “sanctification”) without which we don’t get to heaven. “Strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). John puts it like this: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14). And Paul says, “If you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13).

So, practical holiness, which includes love for people and mortification of the body’s sinful bent, is not marginal. Hebrews and John and Paul say it’s a matter of life and death.

Besides the New Testament estimation of holiness as a necessary mark of spiritual life (old or young), there is the plain biblical fact that practical holiness is how God is glorified and people are loved and joy is sustained. We do good deeds, Jesus said, that people may see them “and give glory to our Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). And Paul made clear that such love is the radiance of holiness (1 Thessalonians 3:12–13). And Nehemiah added that the joy of the Lord is our strength and should mark the holy day (Nehemiah 8:9–10).

In sum, holiness is the path to final salvation, glorifying God, loving people, and experiencing joy. This means that if this is harder as we get older, we need serious spiritual help, not theologies that minimize the importance of holiness.

Stockpiled Faith Is No Substitute for War

But perhaps you have the notion of sanctification that the longer a person has walked with the Lord, the less vulnerable that person is to sin. Perhaps you see sixty years of spiritual discipline as stockpiling faith so that the fight for faith is not as crucial as it once was. Or perhaps your view of sanctification is that it happens subconsciously so that the loss of conscious memory is not a liability.

There is some truth in each of those three notions.

  1. Long familiarity with Jesus in sweet fellowship habituates the heart to his reality and presence (Philippians 3:10).

  2. And there is a sense in which faith does grow with exercise over time (2 Thessalonians 1:3).

  3. And it is true that the subconscious is altered by God’s word and prayer and persevering obedience. “Out of the abundance of the heart [subconscious] the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).

However, no length of fellowship with Jesus, no degree of growth in faith, no subconscious renewal of the inner person ever replaces the need for conscious, daily acts of the mind and the heart recalling and embracing and believing the promises of God in fighting for hope and holiness. Listen to Paul as he comes to the end of his life:

I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:6–7)

Wouldn’t you agree that those last three clauses imply “right up to the end”? “I have fought the good fight, fighting right up to the end. I have finished the race, running hard right up to the end. I have kept the faith, holding fast, right up to the end.” Paul does not give us the impression that his long familiarity with Jesus, or his ongoing growth in faith, or the depth of his subconscious renewal in Christ diminish his need to fight and run and hold on.

Sanctification Through Conscious Faith

I think the main reason for this is that God intends for us to live in conscious reliance on Christ. While it is true that a huge percentage of our daily acts are instinctive — with little or no extended premeditation on the word of God as our guide, or the promises of God as our conscious motive — nevertheless, God’s ideal for us is not that we become increasingly oblivious of his presence, and increasingly unconscious of his word while our sanctified subconscious completely takes over. That would make us increasingly robot-like, and strip our behavior of conscious volition to trust Christ and glorify God. Our experienced, personal relationship with the Lord would vanish.

In other words, God’s will for us is not merely that we increase in the subconscious renewal of the inner person, but also that we live increasingly in mindful reliance on his revealed word. He does not intend that we ever outgrow the need to hear his word, and by trusting it consciously, get victory over temptation and get motivation for love.

Paul said that Christian love for all the saints was owing to our hope laid up for us in heaven (Colossians 1:4–5). And he said that his aim was that we love people “from a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). He had been told by the Lord Jesus, in his commissioning, that people “are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18).

Two Examples of Sanctification by Conscious Faith

I think these texts point to a way of life in which conscious hope and conscious faith in the promises of God are the daily means by which the luring promises of sin are negated by the power of the superior promises of God. I think Paul is pointing to the fact that acts of practical love are unleashed by conscious faith in the promised care and reward of God.

An example from Hebrews: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5). Would you not agree that the writer is calling us to a way of life that is joyfully conscious of the promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you”? And that he intends for that conscious faith to keep us free, day by day, from the love of money? Another example from the teaching of Jesus:

“When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:13–14)

Here is a directive and a promise, a path of holiness and a motive of happiness. Invite people to dinner who cannot repay you. If your old, selfish nature objects that it’s not worth it, defeat that sinful thought by faith in this promise: “You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Doesn’t Jesus mean that we should pursue such difficult acts of holiness by means of conscious reliance on specific promises?

How Can I Fight When My Memory Fails?

This brings us back to the problem of senility. One of the effects of the “wasting away of our outer nature” (2 Corinthians 4:16) is that short-term memory weakens. The mind simply will not hold on to things like it used to. This is why all Medicare checkups at the doctor require the nurse to test your memory loss by telling you three words (chair, banana, tree), and then asking you one minute later (after you have drawn a clock and proved you can still tell time) if you can remember the three words.

So what am I to do if I read my Bible in the morning, spot a promise that I know will be of great help in sustaining my faith at a moment of testing later in the day, but when the Bible reading is over, I have no recollection of the promise? How am I to defeat temptation by faith in God’s promise if I can’t remember the needed promise?

1. Do not underestimate what God might do when you ask him for help.

Ask the Lord — be urgent and sincere — to strengthen your memory of his promises. I know this sounds naïve in the face of real, physical brain deterioration. But I do not think we should be so fatalistic that we think God would not give us some help. We do not know what small miracles he might work for us. God was not happy with King Asa when he was old and neglected to ask the Lord for help but only sought help from physicians.

In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe. Yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but sought help from physicians. And Asa slept with his fathers, dying in the forty-first year of his reign. (2 Chronicles 16:12–13)

By all means, seek help from physicians, exercise, eat right, do your crossword puzzle, play Sudoku, and get lots of sleep. But don’t be a practical atheist and neglect to ask God to do what only he can do. God does not promise escape from aging and senility. In fact, he says it will come (Romans 8:23; 2 Corinthians 4:16). But who knows what help he may give in the process! We have not because we ask not (James 4:2). Ask him.

2. Work even harder at memorizing God’s promises.

Disability demands greater effort. If we stop doing things because they get harder with age, we will stop living long before we are dead. Disabled people have always had to work harder to do what non-disabled people do. And we admire them for it. Senility is a disability. Are we just going to give in? No. We work harder to make up for the disability.

So, if you once repeated a promise to yourself ten times in the morning and could remember it easily all during the day in any situation, you might need to repeat it twenty or thirty times to achieve the same effect. This will change over time. Know yourself. I could run eight-minute miles when I was in my thirties. Today I can only run twelve-minute miles. (Which most people would not call running!) It takes longer. It hurts more. It leaves me more tired. All because I am forty years older. So why do it? Same reason I’ve run for fifty years. I don’t want to be depressed, I don’t want to be fat, and I don’t want to be dead (yet).

It’s the same with memorizing promises. Once upon a time, I memorized a verse every morning from four different places in the Bible. Today, alongside constant review of large portions once memorized, I focus on one word from the Lord to carry with me through the day, and I must work two or three times as hard to make that word stick. I want that word with me all day, especially for use against temptation, and to motivate hard obedience.

3. Spite the devil with your smartphone.

When the memory simply will not hold on to the promises you want with you during the day, spite the devil and dementia with pieces of paper and iPhone reminders. I am totally serious. When you find the promise in the morning that you want to enjoy all day, write it on a little piece of paper and put it in your pocket. Take it out and read it again and again during the day, especially in the hour of trial.

I am part of the first wave of baby boomers who got in on the era of mobile devices soon enough to take them with us into senility. So, take your smartphone, push the button, and say to Siri or Bixby, “Remind me at 10:00am that I should cast all my cares on God because he cares for me.” Then do the same for as many times during the day you find helpful.

If you have the mindset that this kind of spiritual warfare is superfluous, and that God somehow automatically makes up for our increasing weakness apart from the fight of faith, you are not paying attention, either to aging Christians or to the word of God. He comes. And he helps. But he does it in and through our resolves and efforts of faith. “We always pray for you, that our God may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:11). It is God’s gift. But we act the miracle by “resolves” and “work.”

4. Let a companion become your eyes and memory.

Stay close to caring members of the body of Christ. The senile member cannot say to the strong, “I have no need of you.” The non-reading eye, with glaucoma and macular degeneration, cannot say to the members with reading mouths, “I have no need of you.” Nor can those with good eyes say, “I have this gift for myself alone.”

When the eyes and the memory of one member go, the other members pick up the missing strategy of spiritual war. If I cannot remind myself of the promises of God, I will need you to remind me. With aging, it is truer than ever that we must “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).

Let’s Be God’s Voice for Each Other

Until the day we die, sanctification remains a divine work through human means. It began that way. It ends that way. The means might change as our weaknesses increase. But sanctification never ceases to be a divine summons to fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith.

Even in the last hours, it is a summons to the body of Christ to lean down close to the ashen face and say with a loud voice:

“Even to your old age I am he,
   and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
   I will carry and will save.” (Isaiah 46:4)

One Day Never Again: May Heaven Fall on Las Vegas

Mon, 10/02/2017 - 3:01pm

Tens of thousands poured into a Las Vegas music festival totally unprepared for fifteen minutes of hell. But hell is what they saw, and heard, and felt. Hundreds were injured. At least 58 are dead, savagely ripped from this world seemingly at random.

Sunday, October 1, 2017, saw the deadliest mass shooting in American history — a sentence that has become all too common. Orlando last June. Sandy Hook before that. Previously Virginia Tech. Random acts of violence have become terrifyingly familiar.

At this point, we know little about the gunman who opened fire on the crowd from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. We know he was 64, that he was an accountant, that he lived just outside of the city, and that he had no criminal record. Information will be collected and disseminated, but we already know enough from this scene to say that whatever else he was, he was a horrible, violent, and evil man, who now faces a horror far worse than the one he unleashed.

At this point, we also know very little about the 58 he murdered — each life an unexpected and unsearchable tragedy. We haven’t yet met the spouses, the children, the loved ones left behind. We do not know them, and the extent of their heartache, but our hearts break for them as we feel just a faint part of their pain. We pray for God to deliver the comfort, healing, and hope each of them so desperately needs now, most likely in ways they’ve never needed before. We pray that heaven would fall on Las Vegas.

58 Sudden Tragedies

Father, we do grieve. You know each of the 58, and you know every life falling apart because of their loss.

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalms 34:18). Who knows how many of the victims were hidden in Christ while they had nowhere to hide? We do know God was near — all-knowing, sovereign, compassionate — ready to protect his own. And he is close by now, ready to sustain and help the brokenhearted.

He delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight. (Psalms 72:12–14)

When God looks out on a war zone like the one on Las Vegas Boulevard, he despises the violence, and he prizes the lives of the innocent, especially those who cry out to him in faith. Their blood is precious to the infinitely valuable One.

However much Las Vegas has become an international symbol for iniquity, and however much hell invaded the city for those fifteen minutes, God through the prayers of his people may yet flood the evil with heaven in the coming days and weeks and months — through the hope and love his people show one another and those in need. He loves to reveal his stunning mercy in the wake of sudden tragedy.

May every citizen and guest of Las Vegas, and everyone watching from a distance, not “presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience,” but may we all know that “God’s kindness is meant to lead [us] to repentance” (Romans 2:4). May the lasting legacy of this tragedy be mercy, and not evil.

The End of Violence

Father, execute your perfect justice in your perfect timing. While you reveal your mercy to the hurting, we trust that you will terrorize terror.

God has compassion on the vulnerable and afflicted, and he violently opposes the evil. When terror strikes, we are not helpless. Our God is not caught off guard, and he is never late. He is not responsible for evil (James 1:13), but he will sovereignly see first that it is repaid, and that all its worst horror is forced to serve those that love him.

If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword;
   he has bent and readied his bow;
he has prepared for him his deadly weapons,
   making his arrows fiery shafts.
Behold, the wicked man conceives evil
   and is pregnant with mischief
   and gives birth to lies.
He makes a pit, digging it out,
   and falls into the hole that he has made.
His mischief returns upon his own head,
   and on his own skull his violence descends. (Psalm 7:12–16)

The violent always receive the worst of their violence. The evil in Vegas was not repaid through the pitiful, cowardly escape hatch of suicide. No, this man only escaped into hell. He sat in ambush, and now he stands in judgment.

He sits in ambush in the villages;
   in hiding places he murders the innocent.
His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket;
he lurks that he may seize the poor;
   he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.
The helpless are crushed, sink down,
   and fall by his might.
He says in his heart, “God has forgotten,
   he has hidden his face, he will never see it.” (Psalms 10:8–11).

God has seen, and heard, and felt last night’s terror, and it will not go unpunished. “The Lord hates the wicked and the one who loves violence” (Psalms 11:5). When confronted with violent terror like this, we respond in faith, not hate, because God himself will have his vengeance (Romans 12:19).

Terror No More

Father, we wait for the day when you will put a final end to all terror.

As we wait for more information, we pray the weighty promises of Psalms 10:17–18, “O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.” Terror had its time last night, and it will strike again — but one day never again.

Mass shootings will not always happen. Those who assault the innocent and remain unrepentant will spend eternity wishing their hell lasted only fifteen minutes. And those who run to Christ will soon enough forget how to fear.

Flee from the Darkness: Letter to a Would-Be Adulteress

Mon, 10/02/2017 - 10:00am

Dear Wife,

I have really wrestled with what God wants me to share in a letter like this. I’ve stopped and started a hundred times. I have found myself thinking, “They have already heard everything!” And then I remember that Paul, when writing to the churches, would often say things like “It’s no trouble for me to remind you of these things” (see Philippians 3:1).

I guess I’m worried that it will just sound too obvious. But maybe you need to be reminded of the obvious. I know I do — about so many different struggles! So, it’s my joy to remind you why you would never want to have an adulterous heart toward your husband, and more importantly, toward God.

I have pictured myself sitting across the room from you, not knowing your whole story, but passionately compelled to snatch you away from the darkness.

Hunger for God’s Presence

Sin invites separation from God, and separation from God should terrify us. But our hearts are easily deceived, and 1 John 1:6 says, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” I pray that you still have enough of the Spirit’s presence in your life to recognize what is leading you into darkness right now.

Where is your fight? Where is your struggle and straining and pressing on? I say this with tears in my eyes, but where is your desire to know the presence of God in your life?

The presence of the living God must be something you can’t live without! Nearness to him should be the most desperate cry of our hearts. With David, we should plead, “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:11). Are you so far from God that you don’t love the sound of his voice anymore? Has the surpassing worth of knowing Christ been lost in your heart?

Many women think that adultery happens when the passion for their husband is at war with their passion for someone else. But adultery really happens when your passion for the power and presence of God in your life is at war with the passions of lust and self-indulgence.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6). I see a lot of women hungry and thirsty for many things (attention, material things, freedom from responsibility, affirmation, something new). But a desire and a hunger to be righteous?

If you develop an appetite for righteousness, God himself will satisfy you. His presence and love will overwhelm you.

Pray for God's Power

Remember that this fight against adulterous temptations and for God’s presence is not a battle you can see.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

This passage used to sound a little dramatic to me — maybe even alarmist. I’m embarrassed to admit that, but it’s true. But here I am now, overwhelmed by the intensity of the spiritual warfare that abounds. We wrestle against spiritual forces of evil? Yes, I believe it now. Do you?

If it’s true — if our battle is mainly a spiritual one — then we need to wage war with spiritual weapons. I know of a woman who was brokenhearted after finding out her husband was struggling terribly with pornography. But instead of crumbling at the enemy’s feet, she committed to fasting and praying regularly over her husband and their marriage. I know of other couples who fast and pray weekly together because they know how fierce the battle for their affections is.

When one of my friends heard that a young wife in her church was struggling with lustful thoughts towards another man, she boldly told her, “I want you to call me every time you feel that attraction and are struggling, and we’re going to pray in Jesus’s name for freedom and deliverance.” What an amazing response to something that we can’t talk people out of. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:63).

Again, the obvious, fight spiritual battles with spiritual weapons. I cannot imagine that you could be so far down the road toward adultery, and still say you were faithfully praying and fasting and seeking God.

Don’t you want to watch God powerfully intervene!? I’m not talking about intervening by making your husband suddenly seem perfect, or taking away every sinful desire. But if you will humble yourself and pray, God will rescue you from the enemy.

Number Your Days

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). I don’t know why it’s so hard to be kind sometimes. Would your husband describe you as kind and tenderhearted?

A couple years ago, I had a doctor’s appointment that didn’t go very well. They saw some suspicious spots and wanted to do further testing. After they called me back in for more tests, I had to wait the weekend before getting the results. It was one of the best weekends of my life.

Call me gloom and doom, but I had my funeral planned by Friday night. That left two days to see everything in a different light. It was sort of an out-of-body experience, but in the best way. I was so affectionate toward my husband, I snuggled longer with my children, I seemed to know instinctively what not to care about, and all that was left was the pure enjoyment of the sweetness of life and love. At night I would tell God all my fears, and let his Spirit comfort me. I can’t tell you how good that was for me.

Life is short. Please don’t forget that. Plead with the Lord to soften your heart, to offer forgiveness and to receive it. If we can see just how near death is and just how precious life is, adultery will look like the shriveled, satanic lie it really is.

If you are walking down that path that leads to anything but righteousness, turn back. I am praying that you will hear the voice of God calling you to himself, and you will drop everything and run to him.

He is worth it.

The Goosefather: Jan Hus (c. 1369–1415)

Mon, 10/02/2017 - 2:00am

On December 17, 1999, the pope issued the ceremonial equivalent of a modern apology: “Our bad.”

John Paul II addressed a crowd in the Czech Republic, expressing “deep regret for the cruel death” inflicted upon their hero. “Deep regrets” were the very least the Catholic Church could offer.

Sealed with Blood

Lured to the Council of Constance under the promise of safety, Jan Hus was immediately thrown into prison for six months, given a mock trial, and ordered to recant — which he refused. In July 1415, he was stripped naked, adorned with a dunce hat painted with devils and labeled “Arch-Heretic” — all as he prayed for his enemies.

They then led him past a burning pile of his books and chained him to the stake. In response to being chained up like a dog, he said, “My Lord Jesus Christ was bound with a harder chain than this one for my sake, so why should I be ashamed of this rusty chain?” They told him once more to recant, but he refused, proclaiming, “What I taught with my lips I will now seal with my blood.” And that he did.

As the flames climbed higher, he sang. The secretary of the council pronounced, “O curse’d Judas, because thou hast abandoned the pathways of peace, and hast counselled with the Jews, we take away from thee the cup of redemption.” Thankfully, the Catholic Church did not have the authority to take the cup of redemption that day.

After his death, outrage filled Bohemia. In his name, followers revolted against Rome in violent protest that lasted for over a decade. Jan Hus was a preacher, a political figure, a prophet, a proto-Reformer, and a martyr of the first class.

Wycliffe’s Bulldog

Around 1369, a goose was born in gooseland. Jan Hus (Czech for goose) was born in Hussinec (Czech for gooseland) in the Kingdom of Bohemia. Born into a poor family, the goose left the gaggle for the priesthood in search of a better living and prestige. He came to be a renowned preacher at Bethlehem Chapel, but spent much of his time serving in academia as the dean of the philosophical faculty in Prague. Living in a time of social unrest between German speakers and Czech citizens, Hus became a key figure for Czech nationalism.

Hus lived in a time when immorality infected the priesthood of the Catholic Church. He soon began preaching “violent sermons” against the rampant iniquity of the clergy until they reported him to the archbishop and had him banned from preaching. As Hus read Scripture and watched the popes of his day abuse their power, he concluded that papal authority was not ultimate. He needed a sturdier foundation than was built from the straw and sticks of men’s opinion — no matter how highly regarded those men were. He built his life and ministry on the word of God.

His views about Scripture’s ultimate authority were set ablaze as he began to read the condemned works of John Wycliffe. Wycliffe found a loyal disciple in Hus. Hus defended his works with such tenacity that one historian called Hus “Wycliffe’s bulldog” (The Unquenchable Flame, 30). He staunchly argued against indulgences, advocated for both the bread and the wine to be served in communion, and preached in the common language (as opposed to the untranslated Latin of the day).

Although still in agreement with the Catholic Church on matters such as the Mass, his allegiance to the teachings of Wycliffe got him excommunicated, tried for heresy, and burned alive.

The Geese Are Not Silent

After Hus was finally condemned to death, he proclaimed, “You may roast the goose, but a hundred years from now a swan will arise whose singing you will not be able to silence.” Exactly 102 years later, a sprightly monk nailed ninety-five theses to Wittenberg’s door.

He too, seeing the discrepancy between Roman doctrine and Scripture, sought to reform the Catholic Church. He too was led to challenge the pope. And he too was condemned as a heretic. During the Leipzig Debate, Luther was disparagingly condemned as a “Hussite.” He rejected the title in the moment, but took time to read his works during an intermission, returned, and commended the teaching of the condemned Hus. Luther was Hus’s swan, and would later own the association. He’s often painted with swans to this day.

The Goosefather, a prominent forerunner to the Reformers, stood his ground and was martyred. The Swan followed the Goose, and Rome still has not silenced him.

For further reading:

The Reformation: A History by Diarmaid MacCulloch

Confessions of a Functional Cessationist

Sun, 10/01/2017 - 8:03pm

This article is more about aspirations than answers. I am describing the start of a journey more than documenting how to arrive at a destination. I begin with a confession: I have always been a theoretical continuationist. That is, I have always believed that the gifts of the Spirit continue to this very day.

I have never adopted the cessationist viewpoint that certain spiritual gifts ceased when the apostolic age came to an end. Paul’s argument that tongues and prophecy will end “when the perfect comes” (1 Corinthians 13:8–10) is a reference to the second coming of Christ, not the close of the biblical canon. I tell my cessationist friends that there is a day coming when I too will be a cessationist: the second coming.

Even though I have always been a theoretical continuationist, I am far too often a functional cessationist. In other words, I am a continuationist in theory, but I look a lot like a cessationist in practice. This gap between theory and practice pricks my conscience.

Test Everything — Including Attitudes

Recently, I have been convicted by clear differences between the way the Bible speaks and the way I speak about spiritual gifts. I have said things like “I am open, but cautious” when it comes to sign gifts like prophecy, tongues, and interpretation of tongues. That statement about caution rightly stresses the need to “test everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Every experience must be examined by the searchlight of Scripture.

However, in practice, I can take this caution so far that it turns into suspicion and fear. Instead of “open, but cautious,” I am more like “open, but overly suspicious.” I have discovered that Scripture tests our attitudes and not just our experiences. It was a little shocking to see how much my attitude is actually rebuked by Scripture. Paul commands Christians, “Earnestly desire the spiritual gifts” (1 Corinthians 14:1). He characterizes the Corinthians as “eager for manifestations of the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 14:12).

My attitude towards spiritual gifts has fallen far short of earnest and eager. In fact, Scripture goes further and asks me about how much I am committed to corporate edification. Spiritual gifts or manifestations of the Spirit are for “building up the church” (1 Corinthians 14:12). The great Love Chapter (1 Corinthians 13) controls the application of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14). This issue is not just an attitude check, but a love test. Will I love my people enough to move from extreme caution to earnest desire? What motivates me more? Do I fear losing a measure of corporate control, or does love move me to desire greater heights of corporate edification?

Desiring God in His Gifts

One thought has captured me more than any other at the start of this journey. This thought came from a thought-provoking question from Sam Storms in his book The Beginners Guide to Spiritual Gifts. He asks whether we should talk about “God and his gifts” or “God in his gifts.” He does not leave the answer in doubt.

Spiritual gifts are nothing less than God himself in us, energizing our souls, imparting revelation to our minds, infusing power in our wills, and working his sovereign and gracious purposes through us. Spiritual gifts must never be viewed deistically, as if a God “out there” has sent some “thing” to us “down here.” Spiritual gifts are God present in, with, and through human thoughts, human deeds, human words, human love.

This paragraph captured me. These words arrested me because if spiritual gifts are manifestations of God, then, in a sense, desiring the gifts is desiring God. Christian Hedonists are not fully desiring God if we stop short of desiring him in his gifts.

The pastoral implications are weighty as well. The apostle Paul keeps pushing the discussion of spiritual gifts toward corporate edification: “building up the church” (1 Corinthians 14:12). Love looks like a pastor wanting more manifestations of God for the corporate joy and edification of his people.

Christian Hedonism Seeks for More

Therefore, I aspire to pastor a Christian Hedonist, continuationist church. The gifts of the Spirit are present at our church; I don’t want to give the impression that manifestations of the Spirit have been absent. But certain gifts of the Spirit — like prophesy and speaking in tongues — have been more sporadic than consistent.

I don’t have all the answers for what consistency would look like as a Christian Hedonist, continuationist church, but I want to grow into it. We are taking some small steps in this direction. Our leadership has made plans to attend the Convergence Conference this month, and the next Bethlehem Conference for Pastors and Church Leaders will focus on the person and the work of the Holy Spirit.

We don’t expect changes to come overnight. Any changes in practice will require extensive teaching and careful shepherding, but we are eager to learn from others who are leading the way in demonstrating how to desire God in his gifts.

Is It Harmful to Date in High School?

Sun, 10/01/2017 - 8:00pm

Falling in love is a wonderful gift, but for most the maturity to handle a relationship of that depth doesn’t come in high school.

Listen Now

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