If we are faithful, we should always examine ourselves to see what progress we’re making. If a lack of growth or progress doesn’t concern us, there is a bigger problem at play. But we shouldn’t be distraught over a perceived lack of growth—many times we recognize how much we’ve changed when we look back to who we were before Christ.
The growth of trees and plants takes place so slowly that it is not easily seen. Daily we notice little change. But, in course of time, we see that a great change has taken place. So it is with grace. (John Owen)
I am not where I thought I would be as a Christian today. When God saved me eight years ago, I intended to be more holy, more Christlike, more godly than I am now. But I’m not. Not by a long shot.
Sometimes I get too angry; other times I’m a little too impatient. On many occasions my sarcasm comes too natural and my cynicism springs forth too often. I don’t love my wife as I should and my love for the Lord wanes far too easily. In short, I’m less godly than I planned to be eight years in.
Wherever you are in your walk with Jesus—whether it’s been a month, a couple years, or decades—I imagine you feel the same way. We all do. We all get discouraged with our progress.
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By Glenn A. Moots — 2 months ago
Written by Glenn A. Moots |
Wednesday, November 17, 2021
The Protestant ethos of “Ad Fontes” (“to the sources”) demonstrates their appreciation of the ancient faith. Protestants likewise cherished the social and intellectual roots of ordered liberty, and they opposed all efforts by radicals or revolutionaries to tear them up.
If critics of Protestantism are to believed, Reformation Day is a day to lament: Patrick Deneen blames Protestantism for Enlightenment liberalism; Ralph Hancock charges Calvin with rationalism; Catholic intellectuals Hilaire Belloc and Brad Gregory blame the Reformation for destroying Western civilization. So serious and existential are these charges that going “home to Rome” is, for some converts, the ultimate act of resistance against modernity.
But was the Reformation revolutionary at all? If one rightly confines it to the Magisterial Reformation: No. Magisterial reformers are called “magisterial” because they partnered with civil authorities (or “magistrates”) to preserve the corpus christianum and social order in Protestant polities against radicals on one side and Catholic powers on the other. Magisterial Protestantism included the Reformed, Lutheran, and Anglican traditions as well as some British nonconformists. Magisterial Protestants rejected the proliferation of radical sects and dissenters on both sides of the Atlantic and were, by liberal standards, quite severe with their opponents (e.g., Anabaptists or Quakers). According to Sidney Ahlstrom, three-quarters of eighteenth-century Americans were magisterial Protestants.
Progenitors of Individualism?
Even if magisterial Protestants opposed radicalism, didn’t they still seed it by asserting freedom of conscience? That would be true if Protestants had in fact freed the conscience in the way critics assert. Freeing the conscience was not directed at presumed “irrational religious and social norms” (as Deneen put it). Nor did Protestant theology necessitate a successive wave of freedoms, as David Corey has asserted.
Luther refers to the conscience over five hundred times, identifying it as the “coram deo”—that which puts us before the face of God—to distinguish it from the ethical and political rules of society. Luther never frees the conscience; he prioritizes its binding. The conscience of man is bound by ethical and moral rules of society as well as the Word of God—particularly Old Testament Law. Human bindings are conditional; the conscience is unconditionally freed only by the Gospel. Luther did not empower the individual to free his own conscience any more than Thomas Aquinas did. Luther opposed anyone who presumed the conscience to be autonomous and it is impossible to find a magisterial reformer who did not bind the conscience to the authority of scripture and church leaders. Ordered liberty of the conscience is not anarchistic spiritual individualism.
What we now call “Church-State Relations” (an ongoing debate in Christendom) entered a new phase during the Reformation, but “freedom of conscience” had little or no effect on the freedom of an individual. In fact, because a believer’s conscience is inwardly free (as Luther, Richard Hooker, and others argued) it is therefore untrammeled by outward impositions (e.g., conformity in vestments or liturgy) judged prudent by civil or ecclesiastical authorities for the unity of Church and Commonwealth. Nonconformists in England were counseled by continental reformers like Heinrich Bullinger to be prudent in their dissent. So-called “adiaphora” were not presumed to bind in the same way that the Word of God did, but they were imposed for the sake of unity and good order. John Locke’s defense of imposition of adiaphora or “things indifferent” in his unpublished Two Tracts (1660-62) is an inconvenient truth for any Whig history of toleration from Luther to Locke to Madison, for example.
If the Protestant Reformation led to what would eventually become religious liberty, then the path is indirect at best, and not landing there for at least a century or two. If anything, circumstance and pragmatism should get the credit. Arguments like those of Roger Williams were ridiculed, if not forgotten, for almost two centuries and Andrew Murphy makes a good case that principled arguments for toleration probably had little effect. More importantly, Williams, Anabaptists, Congregationalists, or Baptists desiring to separate believers, as wheat, from the tares of society (Matthew 13) were accused of secularizing the commonwealth and abandoning Christendom. Some were martyred. Most Protestants therefore fought against secularization and liberalization.
The Doctrine of Vocation vs. Egalitarianism
Protestants not only opposed an autonomous conscience, they opposed leveling the social institutions essential for civil society. Activities of daily life, freed from their implicit inferiority to holy orders like monasticism, were elevated almost to the level of worship. Daily life was directed by one’s vocations. Though Luther is most famously associated with the Protestant doctrine of vocation, its fullest presentation was in a remarkable work of 1626 by William Perkins, a Cambridge theologian of the Elizabethan settlement more popular at the time than Shakespeare or Richard Hooker. Perkins argued that every calling must be “fitted to the man, and every man be fitted to his calling.” And though Perkins argued that God is the author of each man’s separate calling through Creation and Providence, the application of that fact is neither individualistic nor egalitarian but instead deeply conservative. One learns one’s desires and gifts within a community, particularly the communities of family, the Church, and one’s neighbors. Our contribution to these communities invests our vocations with moral significance, not some modern individualistic and existential search for personal identity.
By Peter Krol — 4 months ago
Observations of the primary narrative tension and its accompanying resolution gave us hope that we could sift through the flood of details to discern the author’s main point in this chapter.
When our church’s team of preachers decided to preach through Acts, I knew chapter 27 would be a doozy (notice how I cleverly ignored this chapter in my interpretive overview of Acts). I have always been confused by this chapter and its role within the book, and though I’m sure compelling sermons have been preached on this text, I have yet to hear one of them. I’m used to hearing otherwise fantastic preachers punt on this chapter, in the name of practicality, to talk about “weathering the storms of our spiritual lives.” So the extraordinarily detailed travelogue of Acts 27 is reduced to a parable and a few minor observations (typically surrounding verses 23-25) seeking to inspire us toward deeper trust in Christ—a wonderful thing to be inspired toward, of course!
Therefore, since I’m in charge of managing our sermon schedule, I made sure to assign Acts 27 to someone else. Pro tip: When you don’t know what to do with a text, require a friend or colleague to deal with it instead. This resulted in one of the most exciting “aha!” moments in my Bible study this year.
A Key Structural Observation
The sucker fortunate fellow to receive the assignment was a good man and marvelous student of the word named Tom Hallman. Tom eagerly set himself to observe the text inside and out, to give him the raw materials for a series of interpretive questions. Our practice is that our team of preachers gives feedback on every sermon before it is preached. We collaborate in two phases: the study of the passage and the delivery of the sermon. So in that first phase, Tom regularly laid before us the fruit of his study for comment and evaluation.
And Tom made a key structural observation that shed tremendous light on the passage for me. In following the narrative’s plot, Tom observed that the main conflict centers on the centurion’s failure to listen to Paul’s counsel in Acts 27:11. This led Tom to recognize a few arcs within the plot:
Acts 27:9-20: Paul speaks, and the centurion pays more attention to others. The result is that all hope of being saved is abandoned.
Acts 27:21-44: Paul speaks, and the Romans start listening to him. The result is that all are brought safely to land.
These observations of the primary narrative tension and its accompanying resolution gave us hope that we could sift through the flood of details to discern the author’s main point in this chapter.
By Paul Tautges — 2 months ago
Jesus is greater than all human priests. The author calls Him a “great” priest because He did not bring a foreign sacrifice to God, but instead offered Himself. “Once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb 9:26). Only absolute purity would do. Only sinless flesh could satisfy God’s justice and mediate for sinners. As High Priest, Christ entered the holy place not made with hands to offer one sacrifice, one time, for all people. As a result,
He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords; who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen or can see (1 Tim. 6:15-16).
Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith (Hebrews 10:22).
Is it inconsistent for the Bible to teach that God dwells in “unapproachable light” while at the same time exhort us to approach Him? If God dwells in the white-hot light of His holiness, how can sinners like you and I ever hope to take even one baby step toward Him? If God is so pure, so completely undefiled, so sharply separate from sin, how can we approach Him? Indeed, He is unapproachable.
Yet, the author of Hebrews strongly encourages us to not only approach God, but to do so with confidence. How can this be? Is this not contradictory? It would be if it were not for two words, “since” and “since.”
Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh (Heb 10:19-20).
The first reason why it is possible to approach the unapproachable God is because Jesus paved the way to God with His blood. He tiled a “newly slain way” into God’s presence. How did He do this? “Through the veil, that is, His flesh.” Through suffering and death, Jesus opened the door to God.