Flashback Friday: Limiting The Reformation To October

I originally wrote this article on October 18, 2018. Regretfully. I didn’t take heed to myself. Maybe I’ll get better about it.

Reformation

From November 1, 2016 to October 31, 2017 I blogged every Tuesday about the Protestant Reformation in anticipation of its 500th anniversary. Whether or not readers appreciated that series,  I believed they needed to understand the Reformation’s ties to Biblical discernment. The 16th Century Reformers indeed set the standard for discernment ministry, so they have much to teach 21st Century evangelicals. And several of my Tuesday posts made that connection.

When October 31, 2017 had come and gone, I succumbed to the temptation to put the Reformation on the back burner in favor of writing articles that might attract more readers. I know — utter pragmatism!  The very thing I rail against when writing about Rick Warren and the Church Growth Movement, huh? But oh, those climbing stats felt good!

I assured myself that I would continue writing about the Reformation throughout the ensuing year. Maybe not every week. Certainly not on a rigid schedule! But I’d have frequent articles about Zwingli, Knox, the Council of Dort and Bloody Mary. I’d show my readers how the Reformers bravely stood against persecution for the sake of God’s Word, and how they used God’s Word to discern truth from error.

Yeah, well. Here we are in the second half of October 2018, and I realize how little I’ve written about the Reformation in the past eleven months.  The confetti from the celebration had been swept up, brand new controversies rocked evangelical circles and no one really cared what a silly German monk nailed to a Wittenberg church door on October 31, 1517. I guess I got caught up in Beth Moore’s letter to her brothers, the Southern Baptist Convention and the Woke Movement.

I’m not alone.

As October 31, 2018 approaches, a handful of Reformed bloggers have started spitting out the obligatory posts about the Protestant Reformation. I’m hopping on the sparsely populated bandwagon, as I do every October, which is probably better than nothing. But it shames me that a calendar had to nudge me into writing about it.

The Protestant Reformation was monumental in restoring the Word of God to the Church. After the First Century Apostolic era, it was the greatest move of God in the history of Christianity! Besides serving as a model for discernment ministry, it brought God’s Word back to His people, liberating us from an apostate religious system.

This Reformation shouldn’t be politely dusted off each October, only to be packed away in November to make room for Thanksgiving decorations. It should be joyfully proclaimed throughout the year, encouraging us to praise God for His mercy in the 16th Century and to emulate their zeal for the Bible. Hopefully I’ll do better at writing about it all during the coming year.

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Flashback Friday: Starting Discernment Out Right

Originally published January 24, 2019:

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Although I taught children’s Sunday School for several years,  I can’t recall once teaching the basic Bible lessons that I heard as a child (in a liberal denomination, at that). “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” “‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Evangelicals generally have an aversion to teaching children to fear the Lord. Frankly,  we don’t even teach it to ourselves. Yet the Bible explicitly states:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
    and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. ~~Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)

That standard Sunday School verse taught in the 1950s shouldn’t be downplayed, explained away or outright ignored the way it is in our postmodern evangelical culture. Perhaps a main reason that we now equate discernment strictly with polemics comes from our hesitancy to embrace the idea of fearing God.

Yet both the Old and New Testaments contain several verses urging people to fear God. Holy fear doesn’t require feeling terrorized by Him, nor does it negate His love for us. At the same time, His love for us doesn’t negate our proper response of approaching Him with an acute awareness of His holiness and our sinfulness. The apostle Paul told us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:13).

I loved my mother. Until my late teens, I pretty much thought she could do no wrong. But when I misbehaved at school, the absolute worst punishment my teacher could inflict was telling Mom what I’d done. She never treated me harshly, but that initial look of anger and disappointment always shook me to my core. Loving her compelled me to fear her.

Loving God, then, should compel Christians to fear disappointing Him. The fear of the Lord actually encourages us to love Him by keeping His commandments (John 15:10). Rather than avoiding  talk of fearing God, we should cultivate holy fear and let it teach us to live in ways that please, honor and glorify Him.

The fear of the Lord leads us to the wisdom that helps us discern His will from the pages of Scripture. Fearing Him, as an aspect of loving Him, develops discernment in our day-to-day lives.

If we desire to be women of discernment, we must begin by developing a healthy fear of the Lord. Maybe our churches and Sunday Schools need to return to teaching this basic principle.

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Speaking The Truth In Love Doesn’t Mean People Will Feel The Love

Quite often, you’ll hear Christians quote the phrase, “speaking the truth in love” (a phrase from Ephesians 4:15), as if it was a fully fledged point of doctrine. Moreover, you’ll hear them emphasize love, almost as if it truth holds little consequence. By implication, love requires us to make truth palatable, even if it means changing truth or covering it up.

In the early 21st Century, love demands that we never hurt someone’s feelings.

And that’s where discernment bloggers (even the legitimate ones) get in trouble. We call out false teachers and/or identify unbiblical practices, trying our best to be charitable. And even when we manage to be charitable enough that some people accuse us of fence sitting, we still have readers calling us self-righteous and arrogant. According to most people, speaking the truth is the antithesis of speaking in love.

Maybe we should look at Ephesians 4:15 in its context to see what the apostle Paul meant.

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Keys To Discernment: Disappointment And Encouragement

When I posted my first installment of the Keys To Discernment Bible Study on Colossians back in January, I was excited. I had spent several months working through the text. I read commentaries, took notes and acquainted myself with the text. Colossians is my favorite book of the Bible, and the thought of teaching it thrilled me.

When I broke my back at the end of February, obviously I had to discontinue the series for a while. But as my strength returned, I rebooted the series and then managed to write a couple new installments. I covered my very favorite passage of Scripture:

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When Righteous Anger Becomes Self-Righteous

Discernment ministry often gets maligned. Sometimes the criticisms overstate the problem, causing people to think discernment is intrinsically wrong. We can overreact to the abuses, allowing ourselves to disdain everyone who dares to call out a false teacher.

Notice the acknowledgment that abuses exist within discernment ministries. Several self-proclaimed discernment ministries have degenerated into portals of gossip and slander, dedicated to ruining the reputations of anyone they deem to be in error. As a result of their sin, some people have learned to view all discernment ministries and bloggers with suspicion.

Usually, the critics of discernment ministries conclude that discernment in and of itself is intrinsically bad. Although they started out rightly challenging discernment bloggers, they now categorically dismiss any blogger who speaks out against false teaching.

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Keys To Discernment: Reconciled And Immovable

Every December we sing “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing” with Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang. The familiar lines slide easily from our mouths — usually so easily that we barely give them serious thought.

“God and sinners reconciled” is one such line. How often do we reflect on the truth that Jesus, Who is God in human flesh, brought reconciliation between us and the Father? For that matter, how often do we reflect on the truth that we actually needed to be reconciled to the Father?

Colossians 1:21-23 helps us understand the necessity of reconciliation, as well as the wonderful effects of that reconciliation. In so doing, it also refutes errors that make people think they can accomplish reconciliation through their own efforts. As a cherry on top, it also assures believers that this reconciliation is permanent. Let’s look at this passage for a moment, and then talk about it.

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Keys To Discernment: It Pleased The Father

Gold Key

As Christians, we often wonder how we can please the Lord. And we definitely ought to read Scripture with the expectation of learning how to bring pleasure to Him.

But Scripture also shows us that God has done things for the purpose of pleasing Himself. I don’t think about that idea nearly as much as I should, and I’m not sure many of us do. Thankfully, the two concluding verses of the magnificent passage we’ve been studying these past few weeks adjusts our attention back to to the truth that God does everything with the ultimate goal of pleasing Himself.

For the sake of context, let’s once again look at our passage as a whole before we talk about verses 19 and 20.

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Keys To Discernment: Christ As The Preeminent God

Are we supposed to have favorite verses or passages in the Bible? Probably not.

But I certainly do have a favorite passage, and I won’t apologize for having it! I love that passage because it shows us Jesus as God incarnate — a doctrine that has fascinated me since my first few months as a born-again Christian. 49 years later, the concept still fills me with wonder and adoration, as well it should!

Last week we looked at the first few verses of my favorite passage, exploring how Paul refuted the false teachings of both the Judaizers and the pre-gnostics by proclaiming that Jesus is God. Why don’t we look at the passage again and enjoy the reminder that Jesus Christ indeed is God Himself:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. 19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. ~~Colossians 1:15-20

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The Third Spiritual Law: Right, But Incomplete

This is the third Tuesday I’ve written about The Four Spiritual Laws, a popular evangelism tool that Christians have used over the past 50 years. This tract doesn’t contain false teaching per se, and it can be helpful in presenting the Gospel. So I don’t condemn anybody who uses it to open a conversation with an unbeliever.

But as I’ve demonstrated here and here, The Four Spiritual Laws fall short of giving a fully orbed explanation of why people need Christ. In many respects, it offers a man-centered theology in place of a theology that revolves around the Lord Jesus Christ. I’ve been writing this short series to help you develop a more complete understanding of the Gospel that you can in turn utilize in witnessing to others.

The Third Spiritual Law states that “Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for man’s sin. Through Him alone can we know God personally and experience His love.” It quotes Romans 5:8, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 and John 14:6 to substantiate its point.

I’d agree with most of this section, and I think the writers chose their Scriptures well. Nothing in this section falls outside the bounds of orthodoxy.

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Keys To Discernment: A Portrait Of The Real Jesus (Reboot)

How I wrote this post on February 24 baffles me. Three days earlier, I’d been in the Emergency Room, where doctors misdiagnosed me with a pulled back muscle and told me to sit in my wheelchair and remain active. The following Sunday I returned to the ER and a CT scan revealed that I had a compression fracture in my lumbar region.

I’d been so excited about getting to the passage in Colossians 1 that my need for bed rest really disappointed me. But once I recovered from my injury, so much I time had elapsed that I decided reboot the entire Bible Study series. Today is the final reboot before we pick up where we left off. I’ll update it with some additional comments, though, so don’t ignore it.

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False teaching invariably attacks, perverts or (at the very least) distorts the nature of Jesus Christ. Beth Moore, for example, reduces Him to a romantic playmate Who speaks directly to her and is “the bossiest thing.” For proper discernment, therefore, Christians must possess an accurate understanding of Christ’s nature.

Over the past few weeks we studied Paul’s prayer for the Colossian church to be filled with knowledge, wisdom and understanding. We also studied the way God qualifies believers to share in His inheritance.  As we closed last week’s study, we shifted our attention from the Father to His Son, and Paul now picks up the discussion with a powerful description of Christ’s deity.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. 19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. ~~Colossians 1:15-20 (NASB)

Today we’ll work through verses 15-17, worshiping the Lord because we see His exalted nature. Before we do so, however, we should understand a little more about the philosophies that would develop into Gnosticism.

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