Friday, January 16, 2015

A Love For the Timeless Truth

My love for God's word goes back to the earliest days of my being awakened to faith in God through faith in Jesus Christ.  I was a 20 year old college student and once my heart was opened to God, I could not get enough of reading scripture.  I didn't understand most of what I was reading, but I began to learn and little by little I began to understand the depth of insight and the wisdom that came with that understanding.
When I felt God's call to go into training for ministry I went to a seminary down south.  While in chapel one morning I listened to the teacher - who frankly I've long ago forgotten who it was - teaching from the book of Ezra.  He was speaking on the text:  Ezra 7:8-10 
8  And Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king.
9  For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him.
10  For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel. 

I believe it was the Holy Spirit who took the words from the book of Ezra and made it my life's desire.  I wanted to study God's word, do it, and teach it to God's people.  It was etched into my spirit by God's Spirit and I have been doing it ever since.

In reading Calvin's Institutes I found a kindred spirit who loved God's word and was faithful to it's authority in all areas of life.  From Book 1, chapter 8, section 11 read his exultation of the four Gospel letters, and the New Testament letters that follow:

"When we proceed to the New Testament, how solid are the pillars by which its truth is supported! Three evangelists give a narrative in a mean and humble style. The proud often eye this simplicity with disdain, because they attend not to the principal heads of doctrine; for from these they might easily infer that these evangelists treat of heavenly mysteries beyond the capacity of man. Those who have the least particle of candour must be ashamed of their fastidiousness when they read the first chapter of Luke. Even our Saviour’s discourses, of which a summary is given by these three evangelists, ought to prevent every one from treating their writings with contempt. 
John, again, fulminating in majesty, strikes down more powerfully than any thunderbolt the petulance of those who refuse to submit to the obedience of faith. Let all those acute censors, whose highest pleasure it is to banish a reverential regard of Scripture from their own and other men’s hearts, come forward; let them read the Gospel of John, and, willing or unwilling, they will find a thousand sentences which will at least arouse them from their sloth; nay, which will burn into their consciences
as with a hot iron, and check their derision. 
The same thing may be said of Peter and Paul, whose writings, though the greater part read them blindfold, exhibit a heavenly majesty, which in a manner binds and rivets every reader. But one circumstance, sufficient of itself to exalt their doctrine above the world, is, that Matthew, who was formerly fixed down to his money-table, Peter and John, who were employed with their little boats, being all rude and illiterate, had never learned in any human school that which they delivered to others. Paul, moreover, who had not only been an avowed but a cruel and bloody foe, being changed into a new man, shows, by the sudden and unhoped-for change, that a heavenly power had compelled him to preach the doctrine which once he destroyed.
Let those dogs deny that the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles, or, if not, let them refuse
credit to the history, still the very circumstances proclaim that the Holy Spirit must have been the
teacher of those who, formerly contemptible among the people, all of a sudden began to discourse
so magnificently of heavenly mysteries."

He follows this with an apology (not apologizing, but a defense) of the work of the Spirit in making scripture alive in our own spirit.  From Book 1, chapter 9, 1 & 2 we read this:

" had been so foretold by the mouth of Isaiah. For when he says, “My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever,” he does not tie down the ancient Church to external doctrine, as he were a mere teacher of elements;7 72 he rather shows that, under the reign of Christ, the true and full felicity of the new Church will consist in their being ruled not less by the Word than by the Spirit of God... 

But what kind of Spirit did our Saviour promise to send? One who should not speak of himself (John 16:13), but suggest and instil the truths which he himself had delivered through the word. Hence the office of the Spirit promised to us, is not to form new and unheard-of revelations, or to coin a new form of doctrine, by which we may be led away from the received doctrine of the gospel, but to seal on our minds the very doctrine which the gospel recommends. 
2. Hence it is easy to understand that we must give diligent heed both to the reading and hearing
of Scripture, if we would obtain any benefit from the Spirit of God..."

This is timeless truth.  We still have the temptations to teach something other than the word of God, but there is no truth so timeless, and with such eternal implications than the truth contained therein.  And it is God's word that God's Spirit will always make alive in all who love his word.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Necessity of Scripture Over All Other Opinions

I mentioned lately that our society, culture, has shifted its sense of truth...and therefore where authority comes in showing us how to live as a society...from the wisdom and foundation we had in law derived from scripture to one that has no authority - the individual choices of so called intellect of humans.
Think about this.

With the logic of post-modernism ruling in our world today (largely western world I admit), we have  not moved forward in terms of human concerns; but rather we have moved backwards...a sort of devolving.

We have seen regression in terms of economic equality;  regression in terms of racial equality;  regression in terms of human rights;  regression in terms of intellectual growth.  The press gives more weight to the opinion of celebrities in terms of major societal issues than any other social group.

The Post-modernist philosophy is that there is NO truth, so we flit from one crisis to another, from one potential to another, with no sense of where we are going.

It seems the larger question needs to be asked:  "How did we get here?"  Consider this:

We live in a world where the word "terrorism" is part of our daily news.
We live in a world where kids are more likely to grow up with a single parent than a Mom & Dad.
We live in a world where video games regularly drop the "F" bomb, and allow kids to kill virtual humans, or zombies, or alien creature.  It makes no difference, it is a glamorization of taking life.
We live in a world where sexuality in movies and TV shows is uninteresting unless it is provocative, outside of the marriage, and explicit.

We've come along way haven't we?

In reading Calvin's Institutes, I've been struck by how he framed the necessity of reading, understanding, and aligning values to the authority of scripture.  It might not sound that thrilling, but the attack of the post-modernist on the authority of scripture is telling - and I would remind you of what the Apostle Paul said in Ephesians 6..."We don't wrestle against flesh and blood (humans) but against principalities and powers in the heavenlies (i.e., the fight is spiritual, not earthly).

On scripture, Calvin said:

It is necessary to attend to what I lately said, that our faith in doctrine is not established until we have a perfect conviction that God is its author. Hence, the highest proof of Scripture is uniformly taken from the character of him whose Word it is...
Profane men think that religion rests only on opinion, and, therefore, that they may not believe foolishly, or on slight grounds, desire and insist to have it proved by reason that Moses and the prophets were divinely inspired. But I answer, that the testimony of the Spirit is superior to reason. For as God alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit.  The same Spirit, therefore, who spoke by the mouth of the prophets, must penetrate our hearts, in order to convince us that they faithfully delivered the message with which they were divinely entrusted. This connection is most aptly expressed by Isaiah in these words, “My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever,” (Isa. 59:21)...
For what is the beginning of true doctrine but prompt alacrity to hear the Word of God? And God, by the mouth of Moses, thus demands to be heard: “It is not in heavens that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart,” (Deut. 30:12, 14). God having been pleased to reserve the treasure of intelligence for his children, no wonder that so much ignorance and stupidity is seen in the generality of mankind"

Now, I know that many will dismiss Calvin's arguments.  We cannot frame a society by our adherence to the scripture...they will say.
Yet, we continue to see regression that is killing us:  increases in poverty, drug use, suicide, violence, losses in family, parenting, and child hood education... Calvin wrong in pointing out that a society, or persons, who ignore scripture as its authority, demonstrate the "ignorance and stupidity in the generality of mankind."

I don't know about you, but I'll continue to claim that the authority of scripture is far superior to the so called intellectualism of post-modernism.  Insanity reigns when you continue to do the same things over and over expecting different results.

Just something to think about.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Knowing God - Through Scripture Alone

We live in a world that has elevated personal experiences as primary truth.  The essence of this is that people are convinced of their experiences as a primary way of discerning truth over against the reasoned understanding of Scripture.
This is the world in which we live.  If Jesus is described as "full of grace and truth", our secular world has neither an understanding of the need of grace, nor a desire to see Jesus as truth.

John Calvin saw the need for mankind to understand that the Scriptures, as given by God, are primary in understanding both grace and truth - which ultimately lead to the knowledge of God.

"he added the light of his Word in order that he might make himself known unto salvation,"

Later Calvin added:

"With this view the law was promulgated, and prophets were afterwards added to be its interpreters. For though the uses of the law were manifold (Book 2 c. 7 and 8), and the special office assigned to Moses and all the prophets was to teach the method of reconciliation between God and man (whence Paul calls Christ “the end of the law,” Rom. 10:4); still I repeat that, in addition to the proper doctrine of faith and repentance in which Christ is set forth as a Mediator, the Scriptures employ certain marks and tokens to distinguish the only wise and true God, considered as the Creator and Governor of the world, and thereby guard against his being confounded with the herd of false deities. Therefore, while it becomes man seriously to employ his eyes in considering the works of God, since a place has been assigned him in this most glorious theatre that he may be a spectator of them, his special duty is to give ear to the Word,  that he may the better profit."

One more distinctive point to make here from Calvin:

"If true religion is to beam upon us, our principle must be, that it is necessary to begin with heavenly teaching, and that it is impossible for any man to obtain even the minutest portion of right and sound doctrine without being a disciple of Scripture. Hence, the first step in true knowledge is taken, when we reverently embrace the testimony which God has been pleased therein to give of himself. For not only does faith, full and perfect faith, but all correct knowledge of God, originate in obedience. And surely in this respect God has with singular Providence provided for mankind in all ages."

We live in a day that reflectively has marginalized the teaching of the word with the substitute of personalized experiences.  The post-modern mantra is that I have the truth within, I need no other source.

We will suffer for that in the church if we do not cling to the Word alone.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Living With Knowledge Skewed?

Having spent 20 years in a University setting it doesn't surprise me to see the pseudo-intellectuals who proudly proclaim a secular philosophy, and a post-modern interpretation of primary issues concerning life and truth.
It is not limited to the intellectual hallways, it reaches even into religious institutions and the ranks of those who call themselves "teachers" of the word, pastors and elders.

In 1969 I came face to face with the knowledge of God, who in Christ, can save anyone who comes to him by faith.  His grace is sufficient to meet the needs of everyone who calls upon His name, and simply acknowledges the need of Christ's saving work upon the cross.
At the time...before this moment of revelation, my mind with filled with all sorts of strange ideas about life, death, eternity.  I had formed a private mind of false beliefs, and held them firmly!  I was the master of my own mind, soul and heart.  It was God who arrested that and made it clear that His truth -the Gospel's message - was that I was lost in my own sin, and that Jesus' death upon the cross for my sin was all that I needed for life and eternity.

God created the world, and Satan introduced to God's creation a corrupt version, which when they believed, distorted all they knew about God - making God the enemy and their own version of knowledge, the truth for them.  We call it the Fall, and the affects of it continue to this day.

Calvin spoke clearly about this distortion of God and the distortion of the Gospel message, and the error that it creates in the human mind.  From Book 1, Chapter 5, some further thoughts on mankind's tendency to ignore the truth of God apart from faith in Christ.

" ...Hence that immense flood of error with which the whole world is overflowed. Every
individual mind being a kind of labyrinth, it is not wonderful, not only that each nation has adopted
a variety of fictions, but that almost every man has had his own god. To the darkness of ignorance
have been added presumption and wantonness, and hence there is scarcely an individual to be found
without some idol or phantom as a substitute for Deity. Like water gushing forth from a large and
copious spring, immense crowds of gods have issued from the human mind, every man giving
himself full license, and devising some peculiar form of divinity, to meet his own views. It is
unnecessary here to attempt a catalogue of the superstitions with which the world was overspread.
The thing were endless; and the corruptions themselves, though not a word should be said, furnish
abundant evidence of the blindness of the human mind. I say nothing of the rude and illiterate
vulgar; but among the philosophers who attempted, by reason and learning, to pierce the heavens,
what shameful disagreement! The higher any one was endued with genius, and the more he was
polished by science and art, the more specious was the colouring which he gave to his opinions.
All these, however, if examined more closely, will be found to be vain show. The Stoics plumed
themselves on their acuteness, when they said that the various names of God might be extracted
from all the parts of nature, and yet that his unity was not thereby divided: as if we were not already
too prone to vanity, and had no need of being presented with an endless multiplicity of gods, to
lead us further and more grossly into error...

Hence we must hold, that whosoever adulterates pure religion (and this must be the case
with all who cling to their own views), make a departure from the one God. No doubt, they will
allege that they have a different intention; but it is of little consequence what they intend or persuade
themselves to believe, since the Holy Spirit pronounces all to be apostates, who, in the blindness
of their minds, substitute demons in the place of God. For this reason Paul declares that the Ephesians
were “without God,” (Eph. 2:12), until they had learned from the Gospel what it is to worship the
true God."

According to the wisdom of the world, there are many ways to God...according to Scripture, there is many ways into error, and there is only One Gospel.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Considering the implications of Knowing God

As Calvin's Institutes unfolds, he addresses the need for the knowledge of God.  Yet we immediately now faced with the implications of what that means.
Calvin addresses it straight forward:

"What avails it, in short, to know a God with whom we have nothing to do? 

The effect of our knowledge rather ought to be, first, to teach us reverence and fear; and, secondly, to
induce us, under its guidance and teaching, to ask every good thing from him, and, when it is
received, ascribe it to him. 

For how can the idea of God enter your mind without instantly giving rise to the thought, that since you are his workmanship, you are bound, by the very law of creation, to submit to his authority?—that your life is due to him?—that whatever you do ought to have reference to him? If so, it undoubtedly follows that your life is sadly corrupted, if it is not framed
in obedience to him, since his will ought to be the law of our lives."

That is the issue isn't it.  Why seek to know God if there's no desire to want to obey him in all things?
He adds to this argument with something profoundly crucial to realize.
This is worth meditating upon:

"He by whom God is thus known perceiving how he governs all things, confides in him as his guardian and protector, and casts himself entirely upon his faithfulness,—perceiving him to be the source of every blessing, if he is in any strait or feels any want, he instantly recurs to his protection and trusts to his aid,—persuaded that he is good and merciful, he reclines upon him with sure confidence, and doubts not that, in the divine clemency, a remedy will be provided for his every time of need,—acknowledging him as his Father and his Lords he considers himself bound to have respect
to his authority in all things, to reverence his majesty aim at the advancement of his glory, and obey
his commands,—regarding him as a just judge, armed with severity to punish crimes, he keeps the
Judgment-seat always in his view. 
Standing in awe of it, he curbs himself, and fears to provoke his anger. Nevertheless, he is not so terrified by an apprehension of Judgment as to wish he could withdraw himself, even if the means of escape lay before him; nay, he embraces him not less as the avenger of wickedness than as the rewarder of the righteous; because he perceives that it equally appertains to his glory to store up punishment for the one, and eternal life for the other. Besides, it is not the mere fear of punishment that restrains him from sin. Loving and revering God as his father, honouring and obeying him as his master, although there were no hell, he would revolt at the very idea of offending him.

Such is pure and genuine religion, namely, confidence in God coupled with serious fear—fear,
which both includes in it willing reverence, and brings along with it such legitimate worship as is
prescribed by the law. And it ought to be more carefully considered that all men promiscuously do
homage to God, but very few truly reverence him. On all hands there is abundance of ostentatious
ceremonies, but sincerity of heart is rare."

Something to think about:


Monday, January 5, 2015

Highlights of Year of John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion

I follow a posting that is devoted to Reformed Theology.  At the beginning of the year those who lead the account gave a challenge...sort of an read through John Calvin's "Institutes of the Christian Religion" in the next year.  
I had read most of the Institutes, but not all of it, in Seminary...which for the reader's sake is now 40+ years ago.  So, I took the challenge.  I decided to read through this now almost 500+ year old book, simply because it's one of the most excellent statements on the core of the Christian faith.  First a little background:

John Calvin completed the Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1559 during the height of the Reformation.
The writing of the Institutes was actually a progressive writing.  The first edition appeared in 1536, written in Latin, and then in 1541 Calvin translated it into his native French language.  Subsequently, it was revised five times over the course of Calvin's life.

Extremely important for the Protestant Reformation, the Institutes made clear the nature of Protestant Theology over the claims of the Roman Catholic church.  His writing succeeded in being the basis for most of the theological writings for these last five centuries of theological works.

Calvin wrote the Institutes following the order of the Apostle's Creed and is divided into four parts, or four books:

The first part looks at God the Father;

The second part, The Son;
The third part, The Holy Spirit; and
The fourth part, The Church.

Lest you think reading this book is an easy challenge, it is not.  The Institutes is a massive work and that is why digesting it over the course of the next year became so appealing to me personally.  When I first read it I was in Seminary and force-fed myself the writings in one semester; so in many ways this will be a first reading as I take time to digest what he had to say.

I am not known as a Calvinist...nor as one who is a Reformed Theologian.  I was raised Lutheran, came to Christ at age 19, and went to a Baptist school in the south.  My theology professors were non-apologetic Calvinists.  They challenged me to think through my own understanding of what I meant by "Theology" - which simply means "knowledge of God".  One does not have to embrace everything Calvin wrote to appreciate the depth of his logic and spiritual knowledge.  

This long post is to say that I've decided to publish highlights of his reading through the course of the year.  It won't be everyday, but it will be frequent.  
If you are so inclined, you can download Calvin's Institutes for free and read along.  Let me know if you're interested in the daily reading schedule.

Today I read from Book 1, chapter 1, on the theme of "The sum of true wisdom - viz. the knowledge of God and of ourselves.  Effects of the latter.

His argument unfolds:

"Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.

So long as we do not look beyond the earth, we are quite pleased with our own
righteousness, wisdom, and virtue; we address ourselves in the most flattering terms, and seem only less than demigods. But should we once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and reflect what kind of Being he is, and how absolute the perfection of that righteousness, and wisdom, and virtue, to which, as a standard, we are bound to be conformed, what formerly delighted us by its false show of righteousness will become polluted with the greatest iniquity; what strangely imposed upon us under the name of wisdom will disgust by its extreme folly; and what presented the appearance of virtuous energy will be condemned as the most miserable impotence. So far are those qualities in us, which seem most perfect, from corresponding to the divine purity.

Hence that dread and amazement with which as Scripture uniformly relates, holy men were struck and overwhelmed whenever they beheld the presence of God. When we see those who previously stood firm and secure so quaking with terror, that the fear of death takes hold of them, nay, they are, in a manner, swallowed up and annihilated, the inference to be drawn is that men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance, until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God. 

My meaning is: we must be persuaded not only that as he once formed the world, so he sustains it by his boundless power, governs it by his wisdom, preserves it by his goodness, in particular, rules the human race with justice and Judgment, bears with them in mercy, shields them by his protection; but also that not a particle of light, or wisdom, or justice, or power, or rectitude, or genuine truth, will anywhere be found, which does not flow from him, and of which he is not the cause; in this way we must learn to expect and ask
all things from him, and thankfully ascribe to him whatever we receive. 

.... For, until men feel that they owe everything to God, that they are cherished by his paternal care, and that he is the author of all their blessings, so that nought (nothing) is to be looked for away from him, they will never submit to him in voluntary obedience; nay, unless they place their entire happiness in him, they will never yield up their whole selves to him in truth and sincerity."

Thus I begin some highlights of Calvin's masterful work.