Archive for December, 2009

The Houses of Mirth and Mourning

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day tend to be days of mirth—parties, board games, bowl games, and food, food, food. All that is on the agenda for tonight and tomorrow (even carrying over into Saturday for the Doran side of the family). This year, though, will be a little different. We have two funerals scheduled for Saturday, with visitation times scheduled for today and tomorrow. The men who died both professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, so there is hope in the midst of sadness. One of the men just recently professed faith after years of faithful witnessing by his wife, a semi-retired pastoral staff member, and many others from our church family. Every conversion is cause for rejoicing, but sometimes those long-sought ones bring a special joy.

As I was thinking this morning about the combination of events that today and tomorrow bring, I was reminded of Ecclesiastes 7:2-4, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart. 3Sorrow is better than laughter, for when a face is sad a heart may be happy. 4The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, while the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.” These seem like strange words to a culture like ours which places so much emphasis on partying and pleasure seeking, and which virtually deifies youth and dreads the thought of getting old, let alone dying.

In some ways, though, the impact produced by the house of mourning—“because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart”—is a very profitable way to finish one year and begin the next. Contemplating the end of life is valuable if it causes us to see the relative importance (and unimportance) of so much that makes up our lives. I think this is probably why the ninth of Jonathan Edwards’ well known resolutions states, “Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.” Stepping back from the press of immediate circumstances and looking at life from the perspective of its conclusion can be both clarifying and transformative.

Today and tomorrow will be different from most years. There will be family, fun, football games, and food. But there will be funeral homes too. God has already used the prospect of both for the good of my soul. May God help you finish 2009 with a greater sense of what matters most and what God wants you to do in 2010 for His glory!

No Comments

Evolution and the Faith Instinct

Jonah Goldberg provides some interesting perspective, playing off of the movie Avatar, on the “faith instinct” in humanity. Here were two paragraphs that I found striking via the combination of assertions:

Nicholas Wade’s new book, “The Faith Instinct,” lucidly compiles the scientific evidence supporting something philosophers have known for ages: Humans are hard-wired to believe in the transcendent. That transcendence can be divine or simply Kantian, a notion of something unknowable from mere experience. Either way, in the words of philosopher Will Herberg, “Man is homo religiosus, by ‘nature’ religious: as much as he needs food to eat or air to breathe, he needs a faith for living.”

Wade argues that the Darwinian evolution of man depended not only on individual natural selection but also on the natural selection of groups. And groups that subscribe to a religious worldview are more apt to survive — and hence pass on their genes. Religious rules impose moral norms that facilitate collective survival in the name of a “cause larger than yourself,” to use a modern locution. It’s no wonder that everything from altruism to martyrdom is inextricably bound up in virtually every religion.

I read the first paragraph and was thinking Van Til, so I wasn’t quite prepared to find someone using evolutionary theory as the basis for arguing for religious instinct! Just goes to show that the unregenerate mind can spin things in whatever way helps protect his autonomy. I can almost picture the scene when the wannabe Christian apologist finally, through force of argument and evidence, gets the unbeliever to admit that all humans have an innate sense of transcendence that reflects an universal religious awareness. The Christian can’t suppress the smile that comes from sensing imminent victory in the debate only to have it wiped right off his face when his unbelieving opponent says, “I guess a sense of transcendence developed as the product of natural selection—religion helps us adapt and survive so I suppose it is natural that we would evolve like this.”

It seems to me that anyone who has read Romans 1:18-21 could have predicted that outcome. Sadly, unregenerate man’s “faith instinct” always leads away from the true and living God. Only God’s grace made possible by the Cross work of Jesus Christ and applied by the Spirit through the gospel can transform the human heart from idolater to worshipper.

No Comments

Missions in Motown

Please pray for the Student Global Impact National Conference on January 4-6 here at ICBC. These bi-annual conferences have always provided incredible spiritual challenge and refreshment. If you can make it, it’s not too late to sign up!

No Comments

A Trail of Glory

I believe we easily confess that all of creation exists for the glory of God, but we don’t necessarily see the practical outworking of that in the life of our Lord Jesus. Allow me to simply set before you some verses that show a clear trail of glory:

He came from glory.

  • These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him. John 12:41
  • Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. John 17:5

His coming resulted in glory to God.

  • Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased. Luke 2:14 

His incarnation was a manifestation of glory.

  • And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

His miracles were a display of His glory.

  • This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him. John 2:11

His ministry was for the glory of God the Father.

  • He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him. John 7:18
  • Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You.” John 17:1

He was glorified by the Father.

  • Jesus answered, “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God;’” John 8:54
  • But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” John 11:4

He ascended to glory.

  • Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. John 17:24

He will return to the earth in glory.

  • But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Matthew 25:31

As we finish off the Christmas season and head into the new year, let me urge you to follow the pattern established by the Son of God and summarized well by the Apostle Paul, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).

No Comments

The Christmas Confrontation

He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:10-13

Some time ago I came across a news article on the sale of nativity sets reporting “that European manufacturers eager to be politically correct are retelling the story of nativity to attract single-parent customers” by removing Joseph from the sets. And in some sets the Joseph piece is replaced by a “rose complexioned female” which shop surveys say makes the nativity set marketable to lesbian consumers.

I suppose that I should not be surprised at this stuff anymore. Our world loves to dabble in religious symbols that have been drained of any meaning. We live in a culture where the cross is considered a decorative jewelry design, not as an instrument of execution and death. It is no wonder that the nativity is marketed according to consumer preferences, even immoral ones. Religion in small doses, like a pinch of seasoning, is acceptable, even fashionable in our day.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not against nativity sets. I am against the reduction of Christian truth to fashion statement or household decoration that can be adjusted to our tastes. I am against the naïve thinking that applauds the spirituality of people who want a nativity set in spite of the fact that they rewrite the Bible to get the one they want.

The irony of it all is that the birth of Jesus Christ guaranteed the final rejection of man-made religion and pseudo-spirituality. He was the definitive revelation of God to man (cf. Heb 1:1-2), “the way, the truth, and the life” Who alone provides access to the Father (John 14:6, 1 Tim 2:5, Heb 7:25). That is why it is so important that Bible-believing Christians not forget the true significance of the Lord’s birth. We must not allow the world to squeeze us into its mold of thinking about Christmas!

And, I believe it is important to remind us that the world still does not get it. All of the Christmas decorations cannot hide the fact that most of the world has not accepted the One who was born in Bethlehem twenty centuries ago. Religious symbols and rituals do not make Christians. 21st century spirituality needs to be confronted with biblical truth. The Christ who was born, lived sinlessly and then died for the sins of mankind is coming back as the Judge of the living and the dead (cf. Acts 10:42, 17:31). The only acceptable worship of Him is repentant, believing worship, not the self-styled worship of our world that conforms Him to our ideas.

Truly enjoy Christmas—worship the One who is truly worthy of worship, and tell others about His wonderful glory as revealed in the Word!

No Comments

Hark the Herald Angels Sing

13And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” Luke 2:13-14

One of my favorite Christmas hymns is Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. This hymn is based on a poem with 10 four-line stanzas by Charles Wesley published in 1739. Wesley wrote the poem within a year of his conversion to Jesus Christ, and it stands as one of the finest of his more than 6,500 hymns. It has gone through many revisions since its original writing, beginning with a modification by George Whitefield in 1753.

Wesley’s original line was:

                        Hark, how all the welkin (archaic for “heavens” or “sky”) rings,

                        Glory to the King of Kings!

Which Whitefield changed to its present form:

                        Hark! The herald angels sing

                        Glory to the newborn King.

As with most of Wesley’s hymns, this song is written as a condensed course in the biblical doctrine, with the focus of this song being Christ’s birth.

  • Stanza One—recaptures the message of the angels to the shepherds and places special emphasis on the work of the child as Savior.
  • Stanza Two—Wesley summarizes the essentials of Christ’s person: pre-existence and eternality (1st line), virgin birth (2nd line), two natures and incarnation (3rd line), and fulfillment of the Messianic promise of Emmanuel (4th line).
  • Stanza Three—Wesley draws on OT prophecies to describe the glory of Christ’s person and work: Prince of Peace comes from Isaiah 9:6 and Sun of Righteousness is drawn from Malachi 4:2.

Wesley finishes the third stanza by pointing to the true significance of Christ’s birth:

            Mild He lays His glory by,

            Born that man no more may die,

            Born to raise the sons of earth,

            Born to give them second birth.

What a powerful summary of the purpose for Christ’s coming! I hope we will give that message its proper place as we celebrate Christmas. How can you do that? (1) By thinking about the meaning of these wonderful hymns we sing so that our minds and hearts engage in genuine worship, (2) by telling others why the Son of God really came, and (3) by making sure that your own family’s Christmas celebration does not ignore Christ—read the Scriptures together and offer thanks to God for the gift of His Son.

No Comments

Bad Chemistry, Worse Theology

The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.”  Luke 1:35

One of the great, fundamental truths of the virgin birth is that it guarantees the sinlessness of Jesus Christ. It was necessary for the Son of God to become human through a miraculous conception and birth. The normal process always produces a new person, so for God’s Son to come into the world due to natural procreation would have produced a being with two persons. Since He was a pre-existent person, the Son of God needed only to take to Himself an impersonal human nature, and because it was impersonal, it was also sinless (since persons sin, not bodies). Mankind desperately needed a sinless substitute and the God-man, Jesus Christ, perfectly met both requirements—He was fully man and completely sinless.

As we have seen over the past few posts some very bad doctrine has been taught about the doctrine of Christ, and much of this bad doctrine has sprung from misguided efforts to protect a true doctrine. The same is true about some attempts to correlate Christ’s sinlessness and the virgin birth. In a sermon entitled, The Chemistry of the Blood, a preacher named M. R. DeHaan tried to make the case that the virgin birth was the key to Christ’s sinlessness because the virgin birth kept Jesus from having human blood. Quite honestly, this view is so strange, I will let him speak for himself:

This very fact that sin is in the blood necessitates the Virgin Birth of Christ if He was to be a son of Adam and yet a sinless man. For this very reason Christ could partake of Adam’s flesh, which is not inherently sinful, but He could not partake of Adam’s blood, which was completely impregnated with sin. God found a way by which Jesus, born of a woman (not man), could be a perfect human being, but, because He had not a drop of Adam’s blood in His veins, He did not share in Adam’s sin.

Although Jesus was of Adam’s race according to the flesh, yet He did not inherit Adam’s nature…sin is not transmitted through the flesh. It is transmitted through the blood and not the flesh…. Sinful heredity is transmitted through the blood and not the flesh. Even though Jesus, therefore, received His flesh, His body, from a sinful race, he could still be sinless as long as no drop of blood of this sinful race entered His veins. God must find a way whereby Jesus could be perfectly human according to the flesh and yet not have the blood of sinful humanity. That was the problem solved by the virgin birth.

Since this is only a brief post, I will have to give you the shortened version as to why this is an absolutely horrible teaching that contradicts the Scriptures and is defective at its core. DeHaan based his theory on a strange mixture of bad science and worse theology. The bad science, without getting too detailed, was that the father (not the mother or both together) supplies the blood for a newly formed baby, so the blood of Jesus came from His Father. The fact is that blood is produced within the body, so Jesus’ blood would have been produced by His body, not somehow transmitted to it from the Father (Who also happens to be immaterial and therefore does not have blood!). DeHaan does not successfully dodge this problem by arguing that the father gives life since, in fact, both parents supply the components that produce life.

There is a truckload of bad theology in this view! First, DeHaan makes the very strange case that we sin because we have tainted, sinful blood. This seems to be built on a Platonic view of material things that is contrary to the Bible—it attributes an ethical principle (sin) to a material entity (blood). Biblically, the sin nature is a personal, not material, reality. He even presses his analogy to the point of calling salvation a blood transfusion!

Second, DeHaan undercuts the genuine humanity of Jesus Christ in the same way that the ancient heresy of Eutychus and the Monophysites did. Since, according to DeHaan, Christ is some type of hybrid (human body and divine blood), He is not truly human at all.

Third, DeHaan’s view results in hopeless contradictions. If the blood/life flowing in the body of Jesus Christ is divine, then by definition it cannot die (God is eternal and self-existent). The point of the incarnation of Christ was for the purpose of death—it was necessary to become flesh and blood in order to die (Heb 2:14-17). DeHaan goes so far as to say that the body of Jesus did not decay because it had divine blood in it, yet he allows for that body to die while it has the divine lifeblood still in it. Likewise, he contradicts himself by claiming that the body did not decay because it had divine blood in it and also arguing that all the blood was shed and is preserved in heaven—you can’t have it both ways!

Sadly, DeHaan’s views have had wide circulation among fundamentalists for the past five decades. Whatever one may believe about the present location of the blood of Christ, there can be no biblical retreat from the fact that Jesus’ blood was human blood. (1) The Bible declares that Jesus partook of the same as His brethren, i.e., flesh and blood (Heb 2:14). (2) The Bible declares that Jesus’ blood was shed to atone for man’s sins and it was efficacious because it was a proper substitute (unlike bulls and goats). (3) The real necessity of the virgin birth was to enable a Person to become human without producing another person!

If you want to truly worship Jesus Christ, the virgin-born Son of God, then it is essential to embrace what the Bible teaches about His person and natures. The Christmas that we ought to be celebrating is one that commemorates the entrance into the world of the God-man, One person with two distinct natures, so that He could provide an infinite atonement for mankind’s sin. And He is truly worthy to worship!

No Comments

Modern Speculations & Heresy in Embryonic Form

14Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. Hebrews 2:14-15

The last post looked at some ancient heresies regarding the person of Jesus Christ. In one way or another, these false teachings compromised what the Scriptures teach about the genuineness of the Lord’s deity and humanity. If He were not genuinely human, He could not provide atonement for mankind’s sin. If He were not God, He could not provide an infinite atonement. He must be both to accomplish the miracle of redemption, and thankfully, the Bible clearly teaches both.

It would be nice if the false teachings in yesterday’s post were limited to ancient history, but they are not. For instance, the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that Jesus was “no more and no less than a perfect human,” therefore denying His true deity. Their teaching is simply a repeat of the ancient Arian heresy and must be rejected by Bible-believing Christians.

The straightforward denial of biblical teaching by the JW’s is easier to deal with than the more subtle missteps regarding truth that sometimes circulate even among professing Bible believers. A frightening example of this kind of doctrinal misstep is found in the writings of Henry Morris. While Dr. Morris has provided God’s people with many helpful materials regarding Creation Science, he has promoted a view of the virgin birth that is very speculative and ends up contradicting the Scriptures.

In December of 1993, he wrote, “Thus the body of the second Adam must be formed directly by God and placed in a virgin’s womb…. This wonderful body would not grow from a man’s seed, as in every other human birth, nor would it grow from a woman’s egg, for in either case a sin-carrying and mutation-carrying embryo would necessarily result. It must instead be a seed specially formed by the Creator Himself, then planted in the virgin’s womb, where it forthwith would become His ‘tabernacle’ for thirty-three years as He lived on His planet Earth among those He had come to save.”

 This view clearly contradicts the text above and many other Scriptures that make it clear that Jesus was a physical descendant of both Abraham and David (e.g., Rom 1:3; 9:5; 2 Sam 12:7). The fulfillment of the promises and the provision of a sacrifice both demanded that Jesus partake of His humanity from the human race, not by a direct work of creation. Although Morris, thankfully, does not deny the genuine humanity of Jesus Christ, he does inject vain speculations into the biblical teaching regarding the virgin birth.

The fact that the eternal Son of God could take to Himself a genuine human nature is truly a mystery—what the Apostle Paul says is part of the “mystery of godliness” (1 Tim 3:16). Rather than speculate about how it was accomplished (e.g., theories about a transplanted embryo), we should accept the revealed truth and marvel at the wonder of God Incarnate, Jesus our Lord!

No Comments

Ancient Heresies that Might Still Haunt Us

2By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world (1 John 4:2-3).

The Bible informs us that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl 1:9), and that principle applies to doctrinal errors too. Before we move to consider the biblical teaching about the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, we need to be reminded that Satan has launched attacks at the doctrine of Christ for centuries. The Apostle John issues the warnings above because the person and work of Christ are at the center of salvation, and the devil’s efforts (“the spirit of antichrist”) seem to focus on distorting the truth about Jesus Christ.

These two verses from 1 John teach clearly the deity (“has come”) and humanity (“in the flesh”) of Jesus Christ. Over the course of centuries many heresies have developed which denied one of these two essential truths. Please allow me to give a quick heresy overview:

  1. Nestorianism—an ancient heresy developed from the teachings of Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople. Nestorians believed that Christ has two distinct personalities, one human and one divine (i.e., He was a divine person [Son of God] and a human person [Jesus of Nazareth born of Mary]). This was condemned at the Council of Ephesus in A. D. 431.
  2. Docetism—this heresy takes its name from the Greek word dokeo which means “to seem or appear” and denied the genuine humanity of Jesus Christ. In other words, Jesus was not truly human; He only seemed to be human. A second century Gnostic, Valentinus, argued that from conception to birth the Lord Jesus passed through the body of His mother “like water through a pipe” and that He derived no part of His humanity from her.
  3. Ebionism—this heresy arose, apparently, as an attempt to square belief in the deity of Jesus Christ with the biblical teaching about monotheism. Sadly, it did so by denying the deity of Christ (along with the biblical teaching about the virgin birth).
  4. Monarchianism
    • Dynamic—originated by Theodotus, a Byzantine leather merchant, and introduced to Rome @ 190 A.D. “He maintained…that prior to baptism Jesus was an ordinary man, although a completely virtuous one. At the baptism, the Spirit, or Christ, descended upon him, and from that time on he performed miraculous works of God” (Erickson, p. 333). The point was that there was no substantive presence of God in Jesus, only the working or force of God upon or in or through him.
    • Modal—in its attempt to guard the unity of the Godhead, modalism affirmed that there is one “Godhead which may be variously designated as Father, Son, or Spirit. The terms do not stand for real distinctions, but merely names which are appropriate and applicable at different times. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are identical—they are successive revelations of the same person. The modalistic solution to the paradox of threeness and oneness was, then, not three persons, but one person with three different names, roles, or activities” (Erickson, 334). One element of modalism was the belief that the Father suffered along with the Son, “since he was actually present in and personally identical with the Son” (p. 335). This is called patripassianism and is properly rejected as heretical.
  5. Arianism—an Alexandrian elder named Arius formulated a more thorough doctrine regarding Christ than did the Ebionites, but his basic teaching was the same—Jesus was not divine. Again, the driving force was an unrelenting, but distorted, defense of monotheism. The Word was not God, but the highest created being. He was not self-existent or eternal.
  6. Eutychianism/Monophysitism—in an overreaction to the Nestorian heresy, a group arose which denied that Jesus possessed two natures. They believed that Jesus possessed only one nature, God made flesh and become man. Some even seemed to move so far as to imply that this one nature was really a hybrid, a mixture of deity and humanity.

Failing to honor properly the Bible’s teaching about the deity and the humanity of Jesus Christ always results in heresy. The doctrine of the virgin birth, therefore, is a wonderful window into how these two natures are united in One person—the God-man Jesus Christ.

No Comments

Cornerstone or Stumbling Stone?

22Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23“BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” 24And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. Matthew 1:22-25

The doctrines of the virgin birth and deity of Jesus Christ have been at the center of theological debate for centuries. In the early centuries of Christianity much of the debate focused on the deity of Jesus Christ, although there are also ancient heresies related to the virgin birth. In the theological battle between modernists and fundamentalists in the early portion of the 20th century, the doctrine of the virgin birth rose to a place of prominence. This is interesting in light of the limited amount of Scripture that records and addresses it. The significance of the virgin birth as a watershed issue was not its prominence in the Bible, but the precision it brought to the doctrinal debate with liberals.

Fundamentalists made belief in the virgin birth a watershed issue because it immediately opened a window into crucial theology: (1) the deity of Christ, (2) the possibility of miracles, (3) the transcendence of God, and (4) the inspiration of the Bible. Those who accepted the virgin birth generally accepted each of these; those who rejected the virgin birth generally denied these. The virgin birth became a litmus test as to whether one believed in divinely revealed truth as the basis for Christianity or not. It made a clear divide between the fundamentalists and the modernists, or, in other words, between Christianity and liberalism.

Loyalty to God and the Scriptures maintains a cutting edge on our commitment to make clear distinctions between truth and error. As we move into the Christmas season, I want to focus the next few posts on the virgin birth of Jesus Christ in order to enable us to worship God for the great gift of His Son and to call us to remain steadfast in sound doctrine.

,

No Comments