The task of the Christian then, is to be less and less the foul odor of sin, and more and more the pleasing aroma of Christ. We are to be little pockets of the new creation in the midst of a desert of sin. Or, to put it another way, we are to be reservoirs of beauty and greenness in the middle of the smog and harsh realities of sin.
Within the city I live in, there is limited natural, green space in which to escape the cacophony and the concrete. But there is one place my family and I frequent that gives us some sense of escape. It is a small water reservoir with a dirt path on the perimeter and populated by a variety of birds and flowers. It’s a nice place, other than the the greenish, contaminated water, the beer bottles, the lost shoe, the bag of garbage, etc.
This little reservoir reminds me of how sin contaminates our world and compromises its goodness and beauty. I don’t just mean sin in a general sense, I mean my own sin. My sin makes this world an ugly place because it hurts others and is an offense to God.
That was true for Israel as well. God had promised his chosen people a land flowing with milk and honey – symbols of its flourishing. It was to be a little bit of Eden in a desert of sin. It was to be a holy land and a place where people could go and catch a glimpse of what the world was like before sin crept in and infested everything under the sun.
But Israel could not keep herself holy. The nation was rarely a light to the nations and the land was frequently defiled with immorality. Despite the prophets warnings, Israel persisted in her sin and continued polluting the land.
And then God said enough!
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By Glenn A. Moots — 6 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 Justin Dillehay — 4 months ago
God does more than just influence—he predestines. That’s why all things will work together for the good of the called, and Christ will be the firstborn among many brothers (Rom. 8:29). God is in charge. The outcome is secure. And that, my friends, is a guarantee.
To this day, whenever I stand behind a pulpit and say things like “All true saints will persevere to the end and none will be lost,” I still have to pinch myself. I laugh inwardly and think, What would the 22-year-old me say if he could hear me now?
You see, I wasn’t always a Calvinist.
I was raised a classical Arminian in the Free Will Baptist tradition. As a teenager, I cut my teeth on theologians like F. Leroy Forlines and J. Matthew Pinson, along with older divines like James Arminius and John Wesley. As a 22-year-old man, I believed and taught that grace was always necessary but never irresistible, and that genuine Christians could abandon Christ and forfeit their justified status.
Beneath these beliefs lay a view of the God/man relationship that went like this: humans were created to exist in a loving relationship with God. The nature of that loving relationship requires a free—and undetermined—response on our part. To quote Forlines, I saw God working with man in an “influence-and-response relationship” rather than a “cause-and-effect relationship” (like the Calvinists thought). God could influence us, but he respected our personhood by always leaving the final decision up to us. And God did this, not because he was weak, but because this was how he meant for the relationship to work.
And in case you’re wondering, the difference between a God who influences and a God who causes can be summed up in one word: guarantee. Forlines puts it this way in his book The Quest for Truth:
I think the description of God’s relationship to man that Calvinists would give would be much like my description of influence and response. However, the result is thought to be guaranteed…Any time the result is guaranteed, we are dealing with cause and effect. When the guarantee is gone, Calvinism is gone.
He’s right. I agreed with him then; I agree with him now. I’ve simply changed sides. So what happened? The short answer is I ran up against Romans 8:28–30.
Passionate Preacher, Problem Passage
Romans 8:28–30 is often referred to as “the golden chain of redemption”—so called because of its five “links” of divine foreknowing, predestining, calling, justifying, and glorifying.
As an Arminian, I saw Romans 8:28–30 as a problem passage. Verse 29 was definitely a key prooftext for election-based-on-foreseen-faith. But the rest was difficult. I knew what my preferred commentators said about it, but I’d never been fully satisfied. So I chalked it up to an anomaly. After all, no theological system explains everything perfectly.
Then I started listening to John Piper’s sermons on Romans, and my world was unmade. It was 2004, I was 22, and I had never heard such preaching. His meticulous exposition exposed all the weaknesses I already sensed in my interpretation of the passage, while uncovering some new ones. I can’t say I emerged from those sermons a convinced Calvinist. But my confidence was severely shaken. And eventually I came to realize that Paul’s golden chain, like Calvinism, was very much about a guarantee.
By Sarah Ivill — 3 months ago
God is love and He has loved us. In a self-centered society, God transforms love from selfishness to selflessness. Where many churches sound the call to love without doctrine and obedience, John sounds the call for love, obedience and doctrine. When we think it easier to love God than to love our neighbor, beginning with our own family members, John reminds us that to love God means to love those around us.
One of the greatest memories I have of Valentine’s Day is from my time in seminary when my friends and I helped each other focus on the love of God. We were in an accountability group together and all single at the time. Far different from the romantic cards, chocolates, jewelry, and flowers being promoted by the stores for gifts, we gave each other the reminder that God loves us.
In 1 John 4:7-21 the apostle John focuses the minds of believers on the truth that God is love. Significantly, John does not call his readers to “love one another” without telling them from where this love comes, “for love is from God” (1 John 4:7). Only those who have been born again spiritually and know God in an intimate, affectionate way, can extend true love to others.
The greatest expression of God’s love came in the incarnation. God loved us so much that He sent His only Son into the world to live a life of perfect obedience on our behalf and to satisfy God’s wrath on the cross. In light of His great love for us, we should love others. In fact, since God is invisible, we have the responsibility and the privilege to reflect His love to those around us. As He “abides in us” and “his love is perfected in us” we display His love to those around us (1 John 4:12).
The Spirit of God assures our hearts that we abide in God and He abides in us. Since our blind eyes have been opened by God’s grace to know the truth, we should be witnesses, teaching the gospel of Christ to those around us and confessing “that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 4:15). God’s abiding in the believer is transformational. He is perfecting His love in us and will bring it to full completion when we are glorified.