Saturday, May 12, 2012

Calvinism in Conversation

When the debate over Calvinism and Arminianism comes up, it can often lead to intense vitriol. I think this conversation is a good example of how to defuse what can quickly become and intense wrangling over theological terms and concepts. It is a good way of 'taking down the daggers' as it were.

If you are a Calvinist, like me, this is a good example of how to be winsome in our defense of it.

A conversation between Charles Simeon and Charles Wesley on Dec. 20th 1784

Simeon: “Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions... Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?”

Wesley: “Yes, I do indeed.”

Simeon: “And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?”

Wesley: “Yes, solely through Christ.”

Simeon: “But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?

Wesley: “No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.”

Simeon: “Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?”

Wesley: “No.”

Simeon: “What, then, are you upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?”

Wesley: “Yes, altogether.”

Simeon: “And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?”

Wesley: “Yes, I have no hope but in Him.”

Simeon: “Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things where we agree.”

quoted from J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God pp13-14.

I don't totally agree with Simeon if he means that we should set aside differences. However, I think this is a good way of pointing out a key emphasis in Calvinism is that salvation is all a work of God. Some Arminians agree with that even if they parse the specifics differently. For those that claim Calvinism makes God into a devil, I think this conversation is quite instructive about the intentions, purposes, motivations and heart of Calvinism (without reference though of the texts that support this position).

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Homosexuality and the Evolution of Progress

The web is abuzz with responses to President Obama's statement regarding his position on homosexuality. Although in are day it is never far from discussion, it seems that in a number of ways and in a number of venues the topic has recently risen to the attention of many. With that in mine, I am reposting an short essay that was written by a pastor friend of mine named Davis Duggins. Pastor Davis is the Pastor at the Berean Bible Fellowship Church in Stroudsburg Pa. He posted this earlier today on facebook and I think it deserves a wider audience. I post it here with his permission.

I commend to you this essay by Pastor Davis.

The President’s statement on same-sex marriage stirred quite a bit of discussion this week. In many ways, his “evolution” mirrors the changing views of society.

In 1996, I was part of a smaller debate in Oak Park, IL. Municipal officials in that Chicago suburb were discussing a registry for same-sex domestic partners. Our community was one of the first in the nation to consider such a “progressive” step.

At a local hearing, I spoke out against the plan. I said such a registry would represent a major shift for government – no longer tolerance of homosexuality but endorsement. My comments were quoted briefly in the Chicago Tribune and on the local TV news. I suppose I was the token conservative included for balance.

A lot has changed in 16 years. Today the debate is not just same-sex registries or even civil unions. Today we are discussing marriage itself. 

The proponents of same-sex marriage say it’s a matter of equality and civil rights. Some even claim it’s a matter of moral necessity. They say the rest of us shouldn’t worry. Homosexual marriage is no threat whatsoever to heterosexual marriage. Besides, they point out, we heterosexuals don’t have the best track record for marriage ourselves. Who are we to tell other couples they shouldn’t be married? 

I’m not convinced. The radical changes of the past 16 years seem incredibly reckless to me. Are we so sure of ourselves, so confident in our moral superiority, so contemptuous of the past, that we are ready to experiment with this most basic of human relationships?

I’m not convinced that all sexual activity is equally beneficial.

I’m not convinced that all family structures are equally nurturing to children.

I’m not convinced that Biblical moral standards are no longer relevant.

I’m not convinced that the government has the right to expand the boundaries of marriage.

Some things are strengthened when boundaries expand. For instance, music often thrives when artists combine various styles and instruments. Other things, however, are weakened by expanding boundaries. If my concept of color blends green and red, you will say I am color-blind. I have lost something beautiful because I cannot see the distinction.

What makes us so sure that we won’t lose something by expanding the boundaries of marriage? No past society has pushed the boundaries this far. What if those old-fashioned boundaries are actually beneficial? What if they preserve something beautiful? Are we ready to risk that?

If marriage is nothing more than a contract between two people who love each other, then maybe same-sex marriage makes sense. But marriage aims higher than that. It’s something better and more beautiful. Marriage is supposed to be the union of two opposites, a partnership that combines the unique strengths of both genders. It creates a synergy that no other relationship can match. 

As a Christian, I see marriage as part of God’s creation pattern (Genesis 2:21-25). It was God who made us male and female. It was God who designed the synergy of marriage. It was God who instituted the rules governing sexual relationships. He gave us those rules for our good, to protect the beauty of marriage. Societies flourish when they honor marriage and define it by the Creator’s standards.

So no, Mr. President, I do not think your evolution on this issue is a sign of progress. I think it lowers our view of marriage and therefore weakens society.

Proponents of same-sex marriage claim that it poses no risk to the rest of us. What they fail to understand (or purposely ignore) is how much social norms affect individuals. If our society accepts homosexual marriage as the moral equivalent of heterosexual marriage, it will change the way individuals think about sexuality, relationships, the role of government, and even our Creator. Those changes will hurt us all.

by Rev. Davis Duggins.
reposted at Christians in Context

Philemon & Love inside the Church

I would submit to you that many people love the idea of the church but it is quite another thing to actually love the people in the church in a way that is sacrificial and keeps no records of wrongs in a 1 Corinthians 13 like manner. I have, over my time as a pastor, encountered people who claimed to be filled with love but actually have a lot of trouble loving the church in a manner that is expressed by consistent attention to her and the people within her. In short, it is often to easy to cut and wrong when loving people actually becomes hard work. It is often easier to leave and start over. But is that the most Christ-like thing to do?

I think the book of Philemon here is can be quite instructive. Philemon, who has living for the Lord and committed to the body, regularly refreshing the people of God was called to do the hardest thing yet and actually love a brother in cross who had wronged him. He was called to forgive and welcome Onesimus as a Christian brother after being stabbed in the back when Onesimus ran away as a slave. 

This is not the time or the place to get into a detailed exegesis of Philemon. I will point out that Onesimus running away was probably more akin to a trusted employee skipping town after plundering the company safe, not like a Southern slave running North around the time of the Civil War. 

I recently preached from Philemon as part of a 'vision' series for my church. What is interesting to me is how Paul remarks that Philemon often 'refreshed' the hearts of the saints and of Paul and then he is asked to do the Christian thing and forgive Onesimus.

Paul opens his letter with the following:
4 I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, 6 and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. 7 For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.
With the phrase 'sharing of your faith,' Paul doesn't have evangelism in mind here but I think rather it is the communion or fellowship that comes from the faith. He wants the 'fellowship/sharing of the faith' to become effective. This 'fellowship' is becoming effective has Philemon refreshes the saints but will also become effective as Onesimus is welcomed by Philemon.

That said, I think there are three things that I should expect then in going to church:

1. I am going to hear God's Word and worship Him. --to do this properly I have to be gathered with other saints in some way. Hearing God's Word and worshipping Him is not something I should only do by myself.

2. The saints are going to refresh me. --I should expect that there is something that should happen in the body that cannot happen without loyal, regular participation with the body. If fellowship is going to refresh me it has to go deeper simple friendship.

3. I am going to refresh other saints. --I should go to church with the expectation that I will love and invest in the lives of others. This means putting back into the church with my spiritual gifts. This means sacrificially love for the benefit of others so that they may become spotless and clean as I serve them. Think of how Jesus washed the disciples' feet and ask yourself do I love my church that much?

Our fellowship in the faith will not become effective unless we lock arms with fellow believers in the local expression of the body of Christ. It can be tough and hard at times. It can be easier, at times, to leave. But if Christ is patient with his body, seeking to clean them up and constantly forgiving them, how much more can we who are his children be committed to making the sacrifices that love entails in order to be true disciples and share in the fellowship of Christ's love. 

I think the question should be how do we make our fellowship more effective?

What does it say about the effectiveness of our sharing of the faith if we are quick to leave when it comes to our grievances or those who have wronged us?

"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...