AcquariThe sun was setting at about 7pm one balmy Summer day during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. The stadium was emptying after a day of track and field events. The 20 mile marathon’s gold medal had been awarded about an hour earlier. Suddenly the sound police sirens caught everyone’s attention. They were clearing traffic for a lone figure to enter the stadium.

John Steven Acquari was the last runner in the marathon. Wearing the colors of Tanzania, he was grimacing in agony as he hobbled onto the track for the final 500 yards.

He had taken a serious fall in the race and had ripped a hamstring and badly grazed the skin off his legs. He was bleeding and cramping, but tenaciously shuffled around the field toward the finish line. The crowd quickly gathered to cheer him on. They were clapping and shouting encouragement to him as he finally collapsed over the finish line in sheer exhaustion and pain. After he had recovered somewhat a journalist asked him the question on everyone’s mind: “You were so seriously injured, why didn’t you just quit running?’

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In a twitter conversation, a friend mentioned to me that the prosperity gospel is simply ancient pagan fertility religion (namely Ba’al worship) in a modern garb…which got me thinking.  In thinking about the Biblical classification of the Prosperity Gospel, I would have to suggest that it is a system of very old false religion, but not necessarily Ba’al worship.

Now, it’s fairly easy to see that the “gospel” of the prosperity gospel isn’t the biblical gospel, regardless of how some try to soft pedal it.  The “good news” isn’t the death/resurrection/ascension of Christ resulting in restoration with God, it’s the death/resurrection of Christ resulting in the restoration of your credit rating.  It’s also fairly easy to get the whole “Balaam” and materialism connection (2 Peter 2:15-16; Jude 1:11), and it’s easy to recognize that those who push the prosperity gospel are false teachers since those who use God as a means to get financial gain are, on the basis of that one characteristic, labelled “false teachers” in the New Testament (1 Tim. 6:3-10; 2 Peter 2:15-16; Jude 1:11).  Nobody gets into ministry to get rich, and those who do aren’t actually “in ministry”.

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SpiritFilledChurch advertisements can be interesting. I’ve seen things like, “Always an open door,” one that advertised a concealed weapons class, and “You have a friend request from Jesus: Accept? Ignore?” But one that confused me the first time I saw it was “Spirit-filled.” What does that mean? And are only some churches Spirit-filled? Or all of them? Or partially filled? What’s the difference between a Spirit-filled and non-Spirit-filled church?

Generally, the advertisement means that the Holy Spirit’s power and presence are observable in that local church. Praise God if that’s true. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with such advertising. But, assuming accurate advertising, what ought we expect from such a church? What will that look like?

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January 29, 2014

Judges for US

by Jesse Johnson

Every passing week makes it simply more obvious that the American culture is essentially one prolonged celebration of immorality. This is true at the popular level—gay marriage at the Grammys? Really?—as well as at the more erudite academic level, where it is a virtue to be critically authoritative with a healthy disdain for absolute truth.

Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP--used under Fair Use

Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP–used under Fair Use

While once we held to a Christian veneer, now sexual sin is  pushed as progressive, abortion is funded by tax dollars, and the fear of the Lord has been replaced with the celebration of self. Where people used to blush, they now boast. Having been been “liberated” from biblical ethics, our society has instead produced a culture of death. People define virtue not on God’s terms, but instead as doing what is right in their own eyes. Even in churches the gospel of grace is often replaced with a man-centered watered-down substitute, as if acceptability were the goal and compromise the means God has chosen to establish his church.

Has there ever been another culture that has slid this far, this fast?  Continue Reading…

Clement of RomeClick here to read Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3.

The gospel of grace was both proclaimed and preserved in the earliest decades of church history. It was overwhelmingly affirmed by the apostles at the Jerusalem Council (in Acts 15), such that Paul could later tell the Ephesians, “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9).

Shortly after the Jerusalem Council, Paul wrote a letter to the churches he had planted on his first missionary journey. That letter, known as the book of Galatians, admonished its readers not to acquiesce to the works-righteousness of the Judaizers. To do so, Paul stated, would be to embrace another gospel—one which was not really good news at all (Gal. 1:6–9). The apostle went on to clearly explain that justification is not based on keeping the law, but is only granted by grace through faith in Christ (cf. Gal. 3:1–14). Given the theme of that epistle (justification by faith vs. justification by works), it is not surprising to learn that Galatians was Martin Luther’s favorite book of the New Testament, because in that text he found the gospel of grace so clearly revealed.

The New Testament emphasis (on a gospel of grace apart from works) became the foundation for the Protestant Reformation and its central tenet of sola fide. The biblical teaching on that issue remains the authoritative basis on which an evangelical understanding of the gospel is built. But while modern evangelicals rightly conclude that the doctrine of sola fide is founded in Scripture, many wrongly assume that there is relatively little support for that position in pre-Reformation church history. Nothing could be further from the truth. Continue Reading…

iMagnetOne of the most graphic and disturbing war movies is Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Set during the Second World War, an American widow, Mrs Ryan, is informed that three of her four sons have been killed in action, during the Normandy invasion. The army decides to bring her youngest son home. They dispatch a platoon on a quest to locate and rescue Private Ryan.

The platoon of intrepid soldiers risk their necks, brave terrifying circumstances on this perilous mission, and several of them lose their lives in the effort to save his. But when they finally find Private Ryan and announce the good news that they have come to rescue him, they encounter the one obstacle they could not have anticipated: he refuses to come with them. He doesn’t think it’s fair for him to be saved while his compatriots are left behind. And so he “resists” the rescue.

Instead of removing him by force, they decide to fight alongside him to protect him where he is, until he changes his mind. {Spoiler alert…} In the process the valiant rescuers all die, failing their mission to save Private Ryan. *Sniff*

I hope I’m not being overly “relevant” to suggest that the film illustrates all that is wrong with the Arminian view. Jacobus Arminius taught that God’s saving grace could be resisted by an exercise of the free will of the person God extended his grace to. What the Bible teaches, on the other hand (and what John Calvin’s followers articulated in the “I” of the TULIP acrostic), is that when God’s invincible grace dispatches his Son to die for a sinner and his Spirit to save that soul, the mission of redemption will most certainly be accomplished. The grace of God is thus irresistible.

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If you weren’t born into a Christian home and came to know the Lord a little later in life, you may remember your first experiences with “Christian Culture”.  You discovered a whole bunch of bands that you’d never heard of, a whole new realm of celebrities, and a bunch of strange new language.  Words that used to be somewhat acceptable were now taboo (i.e. certain terms associated with the bathroom), words that you never heard previously became part of your vocabulary (i.e. “Calvinism” or “eschatology”), and words that used to mean one thing now meant something else entirely (i.e. “charismatic” or “world”). testamints If you entered the faith via a Charismatic church (like me), one of the most quickly re-defined terms was “fire”.  “Fire” used to be what you called the results of tossing a match on something flammable, or maybe something you did with a gun.  Now it meant something way different. In Charismatic circles, there is often talk about “fire” of some sort: Holy Fire, Divine Fire, Heavenly Fire, the Fire of God, etc.  The idea of “fire” is basically paralleled with one or more of the following ideas: spiritual passion, having an emotionally intense worship/church service, really “getting serious” with God (or some form of personal revival), or some sort of outpouring of divine power on a person/church meeting/event resulting in a renewed passion of some sort (i.e. evangelism) or various “manifestations” of the Holy Spirit (i.e. euphoria, tongues, healings, prophecies, “miracles”, holy laughter, holy glue, holy vomiting, barking, crying, being slain/laid out in the spirit, visions, trances, screaming, physical pain, teleportation, etc.).

I had generally gone along with the Charismatic usage of the term “fire” with regards to passion or zeal, and not really questioned it since the term is often used in non-Charismatic circles in nearly identical ways. But, as I’ve grown in my knowledge of the Lord and his word I’ve found myself continually questioning my own assumptions and understandings and going “back to the drawing board”.  When we speak of “fire” in the previously mentioned ways, are we using the term in a proper Biblical sense? Continue Reading…

Yesterday I participated in The March for Life, an annual protest march held on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision.  If you weren’t there, you likely didn’t hear much about the event. Today I want to describe it to you, and then tell you why I have participated the last two years:

marchforlife25

The march begins at the National Mall, then makes its way up past the Capitol Building to the steps of the Supreme Court. It is impossible to know how many people were marching, but it feelt like less than last year, which was owing to the fact it was VERY COLD, and DC was hit by its biggest snow of the year the day before the march. Even so, last year there were lots of people, although estimates of how many were all over the map. Some news papers said there were about 65,000 people, and some others said there were 650,000 people.Obviously those numbers aren’t reliable. Most people don’t care, because the march is hardly covered by the press at all (last year despite having over 500k people there, an anti-gun rally with 5k people drew bigger headlines in most papers).

Two things stand out about the marchers: they are very young, and very Catholic. This is pure guess work, but it looked like 75% of the crowd was under 25, and about 75% of the crowd was wearing something that designated them as Catholic (such as church scarves, friar robes, or giant banners of the Virgin). In fact, I ran into a friend at the march who said, “whoa, another protestant!”

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evictionSuppose there was a landlord who rented out his house to others. One day he sends a messenger to collect rent, and the tenants not only refuse to pay, but physically abuse the messenger and send him away empty-handed.

Instead of summoning the police, the owner sends another messenger. After all, this may have simply been a case of mistaken identity. This new messenger will have all of his credentials in order. But this second messenger is likewise abused.

Yet the landlord is still reluctant to evict the tenant, much less to call the police. Instead he sends a third messenger, and this one gets murdered. Still, the landlord holds out hope that one more messenger will do the trick, and get the tenants to pay the rent they owe. So he sends messenger after messenger, some of which are murdered, all of whom are abused and rejected.

Finally he sends his son—his only son—thinking that he will command the respect of the tenants, but instead they of course think, “if we murder the son, then there is nobody to charge us rent, and we can live here forever!”   Continue Reading…

January 21, 2014

A Reformation Quiz

by Nathan Busenitz

Last week, I gave a version of the following “quiz” to the students in my church history classes. It wasn’t actually for credit, but it proved to be a helpful discussion starter for the new section we are starting on the Reformation.

Today, I thought it might be fun to give our readers (that’s you) an opportunity to take this quiz. It’s pretty simple. (Just don’t peek at the answers until after you’ve completed the entire quiz.)

For each of the following 10 quotes, identify whether the statement was written by someone during the Reformation or prior to the Reformation:

1. When was this written?

It is well known that You [O Lord] give to all freely and ungrudgingly. As for Your justice, so great is the fragrance it diffuses that You are called not only just but even justice itself, the justice that makes men just. Your power to make men just is measured by Your generosity in forgiving. Therefore the man who through sorrow for sin hungers and thirsts for justice, he will let him trust in the One who changes the sinner into a just man, and, judged righteous in terms of faith alone, have peace with God.

2. When was this written?

And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

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