Saturday Sampler: October 8 — October 14

Saturday Sampler graphic

Mark McIntyre, in Attempts at Honesty, asks us to consider whether or not Christian on Christian crime apples to us. His comment on discernment ministries may prick a bit, but it alone makes the blog post worth reading.

Do you ever feel tempted to skip reading your Bible? I sure do! So I appreciate Michelle Lesley’s response in The Mailbag: I love the Bible, but I have to force myself to read it. (No, I didn’t submit the question.) Michelle answers this question with honesty and compassion while not compromising the truth in any way.

Not that Christians should still be confused on this matter, but the author of Unified in Truth answers the question, Can women teach or exercise authority over a man? with simple appeals to the Word of God. There’s really nothing to complicate the issue except our rebellion.

Ouch! Erin Benziger does some necessary, but painful, wielding of the Sword of the Spirit with her article Acceptable Sins Not Excepted: Gossip in Do Not Be Surprised. She also encourages those of us who struggle with this sin to remember God’s grace.

According to Scott Slayton of One Degree to Another, Before You Get Angry about a News Story you might want to ask yourself some probing questions. Our “righteous indignation” may not be as righteous as we think.

You’ll have to read Elizabeth Prata’s The Gathering Storm in The End Time all the way through to get what she’s saying, but I urge you to work through her crucially important essay. Believe me, this lady understands where our society is headed, and we need to pay attention.

Although I don’t have the time to sign up for the online Bible Studies that Lisa Morris offers, I enjoy reading the companion blog posts she features in Conforming to the Truth. Launching her study of James, Lisa writes Genuine Faith: Knows Considers and Asks Without Doubting in a manner that encourages us to walk through trials as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe you’d like reading her thoughts on James 1:1-5.

Usually I won’t include articles in Saturday Sampler if they quote someone I have significant disagreements with (like Michael Brown) or favorably reference unbiblical practices (like psychology). Walt Heyer’s article, The Transgender Matrix: It’s Time to Choose the Red Pill in Public Discourse is a necessary exception. Heyer lived as a transgendered woman for eight years, only to realize that his surgery couldn’t change his genetic makeup. His article challenges politically correct assumptions about transgenderism, and for that reason  I feel compelled to recommend it.

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Narrow Ways And The Claims Jesus Makes

Shrub3

As a power wheelchair user, I prefer the wide sidewalks of downtown Boston to the comparatively narrower ones in the suburban town where I live. I’ve been known to crank up my chair’s speed on Boyleston Street and leave John in the dust!

Here at home, I keep my wheelchair at a fairly conservative speed. It means a longer time between the bus stop and our apartment building, which gets annoying when the bus is late and we need to get through supper before my Personal Care Attendant arrives. But with my uncontrolled movements due to Cerebral Palsy, I feel safer on narrow sidewalks with a slower speed.

I like the wide sidewalks of Boston.

Most people tend to equate narrowness with negative things, don’t you think? We want wide sidewalks, wide margins and wide religion. And accordingly, we imagine Jesus as an inclusive God Who accepts all people (except those we really dislike, of course) regardless of whether or not they believe in Him or love His Word. Jesus, we insist, is broad minded. Surely He would detest any spiritual narrowness and exclusivity in favor of welcoming everybody into heaven!

The real Jesus, however, has a habit of going against our expectations and making proclamations that, to be honest, seem very intolerant. Let me quote just two of His frustratingly narrow remarks:

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. ~~Matthew 7:13-14 (ESV)

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. ~~John 14:6 (ESV)

These words offend most non-Christians. As a matter of fact, many people who consider themselves to be Christians distance themselves from these words, sometimes even asserting that He never actually said them. But Jesus, because He is Lord, reserves the right to be as narrow as He sees fit, not depending on our approval in making His decrees.

His narrowness confines us in several respects. Most obviously, it demands holy conduct that reflects the new nature He gives His elect at regeneration. The apparent freedom to indulge sinful passions no longer reigns, and we resent His authority to tell us what we should and shouldn’t do.

Even deeper than resenting His authority over our behavior, we resent His rejection of other religions and belief systems. His narrowness demands that we worship only Him, giving no grace to those who practice other religions.

We forget that, as Lord, Jesus deserves to be our one and only object of worship. We forget that heaven, rather than being a place where all our desires find satisfaction (although that’s certainly the case), revolves around praising and worshiping Him. As wide and expansive as eternity is, Jesus alone is its focus. And He’s more than enough for me!

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What John Calvin And Martin Luther Say To Rick Warren And Beth Moore

Medieval Tower

Yesterday I tried to demonstrate that today’s popular teachers who promote new paradigms and/or claim to receive personal revelations from God are completely different from the Reformers of the 16th Century. I noted that, while these present-day teachers distract us from Scripture, the Reformers called Christians back to God’s Word.

So why should we bring up 500-year-old people instead of tackling Beth Moore, Rick Warren and the others directly?  How does understanding a group of religious dissenters from the Renaissance help us combat the false teachings that permeate 21st Century evangelicalism? Most Christians (even those who have excellent discernment abilities) ask such questions.

And in some respects, the people asking those questions have a point. Yet many of the errors that Beth Moore, Rick Warren and others make run parallel to errors that Martin Luther, John Calvin and the other Reformers had to correct.

For example, Beth Moore often bases her teachings on visions and personal revelations she claims to have received from the Holy Spirit. A simple Youtube search on “beth moore visions from god” will document this fact. One of the reasons discernment bloggers warn so strenuously against Beth Moore is precisely because of her extrabiblical revelations.

But did you know that John Calvin devoted Chapter 9 of his seminal book, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, to the very topic of extrabiblical revelations? It’s a short chapter, which you can read by clicking this link, but it offers a Scriptural argument (as long as you know that he understands prophecy to mean the Canon of Scripture) against personal revelations.

On a wider scope,  Rick Warren’s statement that Catholics and Protestants have the basic doctrines of Christianity in common probably would have perplexed an older Martin Luther. Hadn’t Luther risked his very life refuting Rome’s teaching that grace came through the sacraments and through purchasing leftover merits accrued by Mary and the saints? Hadn’t he insisted that justification comes through faith alone?

Until the Catholic Church rescinds the Council of Trent, which stridently condemns the doctrine of salvation by faith alone, Protestants must recognize that Catholics preach another gospel. Therefore we cannot accept Rick Warren’s embrace of Roman Catholicism. The very Reformation itself exposes Rick Warren as, at best, a seriously compromised evangelical.

Of course, we must ultimately measure truth by the Bible, not by the Reformers. Calvin and Luther had a few blind spots of their own. But the Reformers teach us how to apply Scriptural principles to teachers like Beth Moore and Rick Warren. Studying the Protestant Reformation enhances our discernment. Don’t underestimate its value.

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Why Beth Moore, Rick Warren And Ann Voskamp Aren’t Like The Reformers

Ancient Scripture

We’ve talked a lot about popular teachers such as Beth Moore, Rick Warren and Ann Voskamp on this blog, highlighting their claims that God speaks to them personally and shows them new — or at least  deeper  — understandings of Christian spirituality. Invariably, these understandings (really the same recycled lies of false teachers throughout history) result in twisting Scripture and/or elevating something to the same level as God’s Word.

One might argue that these teachers aren’t a great deal different from Martin Luther, John Calvin and the other 16th Century Reformers who split from Roman Catholicism. On the surface, it admittedly appears to be the case. Can we really consider these 21st Century teachers as heretics when they actually might see a new direction that the Holy Spirit wants for His Church?

I believe there’s a tremendous difference between 21st Century teachers and the Reformers of the 16th Century. And I’m here to tell you why I believe there’s a difference.

In the first place, the Protestant Reformation never set out to divide from the Roman Catholic Church. That fact, sorry to say, gets largely overlooked by both Catholics and Protestants as we discuss 16th Century church history. Some even believe that the Reformers deliberately wanted to start a new religion.

You may counter by reminding me that the teachers I’ve mentioned also have no desire to divide the Church. Indeed, Beth Moore and Rick Warren famously advocate for unity among professing Christians, even to the point of obscuring differences between Protestants and Catholics. Doctrine, they say, divides the Church. In contrast, they believe the Holy Spirit has given them new revelation that leads to new ways of knowing God and/or “doing” church.

The Reformers, on the other hand, based their reforms on the Scriptures in their original languages. They saw inaccuracies in the Latin translations of the Bible, as well as false teachings within Roman Catholic tradition and an unbiblical elevation of papal authority. As a matter of fact, they objected to the supposed special revelation that God allegedly gave to popes, insisting instead that God’s Word contains all the revelation we need.

The Reformers eventually did have to break from the Roman Catholic Church, but only because the Roman Catholic Church first broke from Biblical Christianity. Luther, Calvin and the others went back to God’s Word as the only trustworthy means of hearing God’s voice. Furthermore, they labored hard and long to make the Word of God accessible, both through translating it into common languages (only clergy in the 16th Century knew Latin) and by preaching expositional sermons verse by verse to teach Christians proper ways of interpreting the Bible.

One hallmark of false teachers is that they promise something new. The Reformers, however, restored God’s people to the old Gospel of Jesus Christ. To them, novelty and innovation only breeds the corruption of sound doctrine, drawing people away from the simple truth of Scripture.

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Perspectives In Titus: Remember How Ugly We Used To Be?

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Last Monday, dear sisters in Christ, we concluded our Bible Study with the apostle Paul’s exhortation to show perfect courtesy to everyone. Today we’ll talk about the primary motivation for treating people with such courtesy. But before we get into our discussion of Titus 3:3, we should read it in it’s immediate context.

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. 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. But 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 3:1-7 (ESV)

To refresh your memory, Paul’s letter to Titus has the purpose of instructing Titus on ordering the churches in Crete. Chapter 3 continues the apostle’s specific directions to this young pastor.

In verses 1 and 2, Paul wanted the Cretan Christians to submit to civic authorities and to treat all people with respect. As we approach verse 3, we learn why the Lord calls us to this attitude. Essentially, each of us used to  be as wretched as the non-Christians God commands us to respect.

Remembering who we were and how we behaved prior to receiving God’s grace helps us approach non-Christians with the attitudes Paul prescribes in verses 1 and 2. This list speaks in generalities, of course, but it sums up a lifestyle apart from the Lord. Certainly, the Christians in First Century Crete had been this vile, reflecting the debauchery of that culture.

Paul begins by assuring them that their debauchery was in their past, and he will explain why it’s in their past in verses 4-6. Yet as Christians recall their lives before Christ, we constantly need the comfort of knowing that Jesus has cleansed us (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and Colossians 2:13-15 as examples).

In describing our pre-conversion condition, Paul first of all says we were foolish. Matthew Henry defines this foolishness as “without true spiritual understanding and knowledge, ignorant of heavenly things.” Psalm 14:1 tells us, that a fool says in his (or her) heart “There is no God.” Foolishness lives without regard to the Lord’s authority.

Disobedience naturally follows foolishness. As Barnes points out, rebellion against authority is natural. Anyone who has been around small children has seen how readily they disobey. Adam Clarke indicates that the Greek word means “unpersuaded, unbelieving, obstinate, and disobedient.”

In addition to our past foolishness and disobedience, we were led astray by both our inherent inclination towards sin and by false teaching. As we’ve seen throughout this study of Titus, the Cretans definitely allowed their lusts to deceive them, and the Judaizers were deceived by their false gospel. 2 Corinthians 4:4 plainly states the Satan blinds the eyes of unbelievers, thus keeping them in deception

Deception, in turn, makes unbelievers slaves to their passions and pleasures. And weren’t we all there? John Gill describes non-Christians (and therefore us before conversion) as “servants of sin, vassals and slaves to their own corruptions.”

Finally, says Paul, we lived in malice and envy, causing others to hate us and us to hate them. Vincent’s Word Study Commentary quotes Calvin’s definition of malice as ” viciousness of mind opposed to humanity and fairness.” Unbelievers can’t love each other with the love that 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 describes; even their supposed love for each other is selfish compared to godly love.

Come to think of it, might we not say that godly love on our part compels us to remember that we used to be just like the non-Christians God calls us to respect?  And doesn’t remembering who we once were (and indeed, who we still would be without the grace of Jesus Christ) give us greater compassion for those who don’t know Him?

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Remember His Faithfulness

As we look back at the Reformers this month, can we help noticing how faithful the Lord was in helping them proclaim the Gospel? For that matter, can we look back further to see His faithfulness to the apostles? To the Old Testament prophets?  To all who trusted in Him?

Observing how the Lord has cared for his own throughout history gives us hope that He will continue caring for us. And that care goes well beyond this earthly life, extending into eternity!

This week’s hymn commemorates God’s faithfulness to our spiritual fathers and anticipates that He will show us that same faithfulness.  In this wonderful month of celebrating 500 years of reform, let’s treasure the promise that He will never leave us nor forsake us.

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Saturday Sampler: October 1 — October 7

Fantasy Flowers Sampler

Fall has arrived, meaning that the time all too quickly approaches when cold New England winters will prevent John and me from going anywhere. Including church. We grieve that many able-bodied evangelicals don’t appreciate the privilege of weekly church attendance. Perhaps Scott Slayton’s post, What You Miss When You Don’t  Gather With Your Church in  One Degree to Another, can give you a different perspective on the importance of meeting with your church as often as possible.

In Growing 4 Life, Leslie A. lists Five ways to know that you are too in love with yourself. Gulp! Her insights don’t  comply with psychological principles, but they definitely agree with God’s Word. Please make this one a high priority on your reading list!

I love Rachelle Cox’s Let’s Get Real About Women’s Discipleship in Gospel-Centered Discipleship. This article puts forth some unexpected thoughts about ways women disciple each other, and I think those thoughts might encourage some of you. See what you think.

For an accurate and concise explanation of Revelation verses Illumination, please visit Unified in Truth and start using the two terms Biblically. If you still believe that the Lord gives revelation now, you may need to rethink your theology.

Some of you are probably married to elders in your church. If so, you might appreciate An open letter to elder’s wives by Andrew Gutierrez in The Cripplegate. I find it also instructive to those of us who are friends with women married to elders. Let’s not place these ladies in awkward positions.

As an introduction to a new series in her Do Not Be Surprised blog, Erin Benziger writes about The Lie of ‘Acceptable’ Sins. This series, she promises, won’t be comfortable, but it will lead us to find comfort in the Gospel of God’s grace. I’m looking forward to it, knowing that Erin writes with fidelity to the Scriptures and with reverent passion for the Lord.

For a truly intriguing discussion on a perplexing passage in Genesis, you shouldn’t miss Mercy, Hope, and The Tower of Babel by the author of A Narrow-Minded Woman. She brings out a variety of points that I’ve never noticed, making the incident much more compelling and applicable. I especially like her emphasis on the sovereignty of God.

In an article for Meet the Puritans, Joel Beeke enumerates Ten Lasting Fruits of the Reformation. Those who consider history to be boring and irrelevant should read this piece, if only so that they can see why geeks like me keep writing about the Reformation as if it actually matters.

Have you been sending positive thoughts to Las Vegas this week? In Why Your Positive Thoughts Are Not Helping Anyone, Josh Buice of Delivered By Grace explains why Christians err when they speak of sending positive thoughts. He also tells us how we can actually help hurting people.

I want to close this week’s edition of Saturday Sampler by sharing the video below of the sermon my pastor, Jeremy Garber, preached at First Baptist Church in Weymouth, MA last Sunday. The reminder to use discernment fits so seamlessly with the purposes of this blog that I believe I must include it.

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