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Archive for September, 2007

This is part one of a five part series taken from Michael Horton’s article “Reformation Essentials”. A portion of this article will be posted weekly during our study of the Five Solas. Enjoy!

Sola Scriptura: Our Only Foundation

Many critics of the Reformation have attempted to portray it as the invitation to individualism, as people discover for themselves from the Bible what they will and will not believe. “Never mind the church. Away with creeds and the church’s teaching office! We have the Bible and that’s enough.” But this was not the reformers’ doctrine of sola Scriptura–only Scripture. Luther said of individualistic approaches to the Bible, “That would mean that each man would go to hell in his own way.”

On one side, the reformers faced the Roman Church, which believed its teaching authority to be final and absolute. The Roman Catholics said that tradition can be a form of infallible revelation even in the contemporary church; one needs an infallible Bible and an infallible interpreter of that sacred book. On the other side were the Anabaptist radicals, who believed that they not only did not need the teaching office of the church; they really didn’t seem to need the Bible either, since the Holy Spirit spoke to them–or at least to their leaders–directly. Instead of one Pope, Anabaptism produced numerous “infallible” messengers who heard the voice of God. Against both positions, the Reformation insisted that the Bible was the sole final authority in determining doctrine and life. In interpreting it, the whole church must be included, including the laity, and they must be guided by the teachers in the church. Those teachers, though not infallible, should have considerable interpretive authority. The creeds were binding and the newly reformed Protestant communions quickly drafted confessions of faith that received the assent of the whole church, not merely the teachers.

Today, we are faced with similar challenges even within evangelicalism. On one hand, there is the tendency to say, as Luther characterized the problem, “I go to church, hear what my priest says, and him I believe.” Calvin complained to Cardinal Sadoleto that the sermons before the Reformation were part trivial pursuit, part story-telling. Today, this same process of “dumbing down” has meant that we are, in George Gallup’s words, “a nation of biblical illiterates.” Perhaps we have a high view of the Bible’s inspiration: 80% of adult Americans believe that the Bible is the literal or inspired Word of God. But 30% of the teenagers who attend church regularly do not even know why Easter is celebrated. “The decline in Bible reading,” says Gallup, “is due in part to the widely held conviction that the Bible is inaccessible, and to less emphasis on religious training in the churches.” Just as Rome’s infallibility rested on the belief that the Bible itself was difficult, obscure, and confusing, so today people want the “net breakdown” from the professionals: what does it mean for me and how will it help me and make me happy? But those who read the Bible for more than devotional meditations know how clear it is–at least on the main points it addresses–and how it ends up making religion less confusing and obscure. Again today, the Bible–especially in mainline Protestant churches–is a mysterious book that can only be understood by a small cadre of biblical scholars who are “in the know.”

But we have the other side, too. There is a popular trend in many “evangelical” churches to emphasize direct communication with the Holy Spirit apart from the Word. In these circles, tradition and the teaching ministry of the church through the ages are not only treated as fallible (as the reformers believed), but as objects of mockery. The sentiments of Thomas Muntzer, who complained that Luther was “one of our scribes who wants to send the Holy Ghost off to college,” would find a prime-time spot on the nation’s leading evangelical radio and television broadcasts. Calvin said of these folks, “When the fanatics boast extravagantly of the Spirit, the tendency is always to bury the Word of God so they may make room for their own falsehoods.”

Christianity is not a spirituality, but a religion. Wade Clark Roof and other sociologists have pointed out that evangelicals today are indistinguishable from the general cultural trends, especially when it comes to preferring to think of their relationship to God more in terms of an experience than in terms of a relationship that is mediated through words. Ours is a visual or image-based society, much like the Middle Ages, and yet Christianity can only flourish through words, ideas, beliefs, announcements, arguments. There can be no communication with God apart from the written and living Word. Everything in the Christian faith depends on the spoken and written Word delivered by God to us through the prophets and apostles.

Further, sola Scriptura meant that the Word of God was sufficient. Although Rome believed it was infallible, the official theology was shaped more by the insights of Plato and Aristotle than by Scripture. Similarly today, psychology threatens to reshape the understanding of the self, as even in the evangelical pulpit sin becomes “addiction”; the Fall as an event is replaced with one’s “victim” status; salvation is increasingly communicated as mental health, peace of mind, and self-esteem, and my personal happiness and self-fulfillment are center-stage rather than God’s holiness and mercy, justice and love, glory and compassion. Does the Bible define the human problem and its solution? Or when we really want facts, do we turn somewhere else, to a modern secular authority who will really carry weight in my sermon? Of course, the Bible will be cited to bolster the argument. Political ideology, sociology, marketing, and other secular “authorities” must never be allowed priority in answering questions the Bible addresses. That is, in part, what this affirmation means, and evangelicals today seem as confused on this point as was the medieval church.

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This is the final installment of J.C. Ryles article on Christian parenting. I hope you have enjoyed it.

Directive Four.

Train your child to a knowledge of the Bible. You cannot make your children love the Bible, I allow. None but the Holy Ghost can give us a heart to delight in the Word. But you can make your children acquainted with the Bible; and be sure they cannot be acquainted with that blessed book too soon, or too well.

A thorough knowledge of the Bible is the foundation of all clear views of religion. He that is well-grounded in it will not generally be found a waverer, and carried about by every wind of new doctrine. Any system of training which does not make a knowledge of Scripture the first thing is unsafe and unsound.

See that your children read the Bible reverently. Train them to look on it, not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the Word of God, written by the Holy Ghost Himself- all true, all profitable, and able to make us wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

See that they read it regularly. Train them to regard it as their soul’s daily food — as a thing essential to their soul’s daily health. I know well you cannot make this anything more than a form; but there is no telling the amount of sin which a mere form may indirectly restrain.

See that they read it all. You need not shrink from bringing any doctrine before them. You need not fancy that the leading doctrines of Christianity are things which children cannot understand. Children understand far more of the Bible than we are apt to suppose.

Tell them of sin, its guilt, its consequences, its power, its vileness: you will find they can comprehend something of this. Tell them of the Lord Jesus Christ, and His work for our salvation- the Atonement, the cross, the Blood, the sacrifice, the intercession: you will discover there is something not beyond them in all this.

Tell them of the work of the Holy Spirit in man’s heart, how He changes, and renews, and sanctifies, and purifies: you will soon see they can go along with you in some measure in this. In short, I suspect we have no idea how much a little child can take in of the length and breadth of the glorious Gospel. They see far more of these things than we suppose. Fill their minds with Scripture. Let the Word dwell in them richly. Give them the Bible, the whole Bible, even while they are young.

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Here is “Directive” (Hint) #3 from J.C. Ryles on Christian parenting. Enjoy.

Train with this thought continually before your eyes- that the soul of your child is the first thing to be considered. Precious, no doubt, are these little ones in your eyes; but if you love them, think often of their souls. No interest should weigh with you so much as their eternal interests. No part of them should be so dear to you as that part which will never die. The world, with all its glory, shall pass away; the hills shall melt; the heavens shall be wrapped together as a scroll; the sun shall cease to shine. But the spirit which dwells in those little creatures, whom you love so well, shall outlive them all, and whether in happiness or misery (to speak as a man) will depend on you.

This is the thought that should be uppermost on your mind in all you do for your children. In every step you take about them, in every plan, and scheme, and arrangement that concerns them, do not leave out that mighty question, ‘How will this effect their souls?’

Soul love is the soul of all love. To pet and pamper and indulge your child, as if this world was all he had to look to, and this life the only season for happiness — to do this is not true love, but cruelty. It is treating him like some beast of the earth, which has but one world to look to, and nothing after death. It is hiding from him that grand truth, which he ought to be made to learn from his very infancy — that the chief end of his life is the salvation of his soul.

A true Christian must be no slave to fashion, if he would train his child for heaven. He must not be content to do things merely because they are the custom of the world; to teach them and instruct them in certain ways, merely because it is usual; to allow them to read books of a questionable sort, merely because everybody else reads them; to let them form habits of a doubtful tendency, merely because they are the habits of the day. He must train with an eye to his children’s souls. He must not be ashamed to hear his training called singular and strange. What if it is? The time is short — the fashion of this world passeth away. He that has trained his children for heaven, rather than for earth — for God, rather than for man — he is the parent that will be called wise at last.

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This is “Directive Two” of Mr. Ryles’ article.

Train up your child with all tenderness, affection, and patience. I do not mean that you are to spoil him, but I do mean that you should let him see that you love him. Love should be the silver thread that runs through all your conduct. Kindness, gentleness, long-suffering, forbearance, patience, sympathy, a willingness to enter into childish troubles, a readiness to take part in childish joys — these are the cords by which a child may be led most easily — these are the clues you must follow if you would find the way to his heart.

Few are to be found, even among grown-up people, who are not more easy to draw then to drive. There is that in all our minds which rises in arms against compulsion; we set up our backs and stiffen our necks at the very idea of forced obedience. We are like young horses in the hand of a breaker: handle them kindly, and make much of them, and by and by you may guide them with thread; use them roughly and violently, and it will be many a month before you get the mastery of them at all.

Children are weak and tender creatures, and, as such, they need patient and considerate treatment. We must handle them delicately, like frail machines, lest by rough fingering we do more harm than good. They are like young plants, and need gentle watering- often, but little at a time.

We must not expect all things at once. We must remember what children are, and teach them as they are able to bear. Their minds are like a lump of metal — not to be forged and made useful at once, but only by a succession of little blows. Their understandings are like narrow-necked vessels: we must pour in the wine of knowledge gradually, or much of it will be spilled and lost. ‘Line upon line, and precept upon precept, here a little and there a little,’ must be our rule. The whetstone does its work slowly, but frequent rubbing will bring the scythe to a fine edge. Truly there is need of patience in training a child, but without it nothing can be done.

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This is Part 2 of J.C. Ryle’s article that I began posting yesterday.

Directive One.

First, then, if you would train your children rightly, train them in the way they should go, and not in the way that they would. Remember children are born with a decided bias towards evil, and therefore if you let them choose for themselves, they are certain to choose wrong.

The mother cannot tell what her infant may grow up to be- tall or short, weak or strong, wise or foolish: he may be any of these things or not- it is all uncertain. But one thing the mother can say with certainty: he will have a corrupt and sinful heart. It is natural to us to do wrong. ‘Foolishness,’ says Solomon, ‘is bound in the heart of a child’ (Proverbs 22:15). Our hearts are like the earth on which we tread; let it alone, and it is sure to bear weeds.

If, then, you would deal wisely with your child, you must not leave him to the guidance of his own will. Think for him, judge for him, act for him, just as you would for one weak and blind; but for pity’s sake, give him not up to his own wayward tastes and inclinations. It must not be his likings and wishes that are consulted. He knows not yet what is good for his mind and soul, any more than what is good for his body. You do not let him decide what he shall eat, and what he shall drink, and how he shall be clothed. Be consistent, and deal with his mind in like manner. Train him in the way that is scriptural and right, and not in the way that he fancies.

If you cannot make up your mind to this first principle of Christian training, it is useless for you to read any further. Self-will is almost the first thing that appears in a child’s mind; and it must be your first step to resist it.

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I ran across this article, The Duties of Christian Parents by J.C. Ryle, while researching. I will break it down into five parts, so expect a new post every day this week. Enjoy! – Pastor Chris

Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).

I suppose that most professing Christians are acquainted with the text at the head of this page. The sound of it is probably familiar to your ears, like an old tune. It is likely you have heard it, or read it, talked of it, or quoted it, many a time. Is it not so?

But, after all, how little is the substance of this text regarded! The doctrine it contains appears scarcely known, the duty it puts before us seems fearfully seldom practised. Reader, do I not speak the truth?

We live in days when there is a mighty zeal for education in every quarter. We hear of new schools rising on all sides. We are told of new systems, and new books for the young, of every sort and description. And still for all this, the vast majority of children are manifestly not trained in the way they should go, for when they grow up to man’s estate, they do not walk with God.

Now how shall we account for this state of things? The plain truth is, the Lord’s commandment in our text is not regarded; and therefore the Lord’s promise in our text is not fulfilled.

Reader, these things may well give rise to great searchings of heart. Suffer then a word of exhortation from a minister, about the right training of children. Believe me, the subject is one that should come home to every conscience, and make every one ask himself the question, ‘Am I in this matter doing what I can?’

Come now, and let me place before you a few hints, about right training. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost bless them, and make them words in season to you all. Reject them not because they are blunt and simple; despise them not because they contain nothing new. Be very sure, if you would train children for heaven, they are hints that ought not to be lightly set aside.

Hint #1 tomorrow. . .

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“…in God the Father…”

By confessing our belief in and faith toward God the Father, we are committing ourselves to the self-revealed God of the Bible, not to a god of our own making or of our own choosing. The God of the Bible is Father in at least three senses:

1. God is Father in His essential nature.

This is what philosophers and theologians would refer to as the ontological sense. God has revealed Himself in Scripture as Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, because that is who He is. His Fatherhood is an objective reality of His being. In this sense, He cannot not be Father. If He ceased to be Father, He would cease to be God. That is an impossibility.

2. God is Father to all men in the sense that He is Creator.

Malachi 2:10a says “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us?” (ESV). Isaiah 64:8 says “But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (ESV). These verses have sometimes been used to prove the universal Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man. But God is not the universal Father to all men in terms of relationship simply because He is the creator of all men.

3. God is Father spiritually to all who place their faith in the Lord Jesus as Savior.

I like very much what A. W. Pink has written about the spiritual fatherhood of God in his little book on the Lord’s Prayer. After affirming that it is the duty of everyone to pray, and that the God who hears the ravens cry (Ps. 147:9) will not turn a deaf ear to the requests of a rational creature, Pink writes: “But the depth and full import of this invocation [Our Father] can be entered into only by the believing Christian, for there is a higher relation between him and God than that which is merely of nature. First, God is his Father spiritually. Second, God is the Father of His elect because He is the father of their Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:3). Thus Christ expressly announced, ‘I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God’ (John 20:17). Third, God is the Father of his elect by eternal decree: ‘Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will’ (Eph. 1:5). Fourth, He is the Father of His elect by regeneration, wherein they are born again and become ‘partakers of the Divine nature’ (II Peter 1:4). It is written, ‘And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father’ (Gal. 4:6)”
It is this last sense which bonds us together as brothers and sisters in Christ and enables us to confess what we believe together.

“…Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…”

With the adjective “Almighty” attached to “God the Father” we acknowledge the power, supremacy and uniqueness of God. He is not simply a mighty god among others who are not so mighty — He is the omnipotent, all-powerful God who created and upholds all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3). He is the One who spoke and the universe leapt into existence (Genesis 1: 3, 6, 9, 14, 20, 24, 26, 29). As a Christian, you must affirm the existence of God as Creator and your faith in Him. Belief in God as Creator will lead you to embrace biblical creationism and reject Darwinian evolution. Embracing creationism as the Bible teaches it in Genesis 1-2 means literal six-day creation ex nihilo, “out of nothing.”

Given the existence of a Creator and the fact of creation, belief in any subsequent miracle should be no problem:
Virgin birth? No problem.
Bodily, physical resurrection? No problem.
Glorious, visible return of Christ? No problem.
God made the world with His word. Why should it be a problem for Him to do anything else He desires to do?

As a legacy document of the Westminster Confession, the 1689 London Baptist Confession affirms this truth when it says, “It pleased God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning to create or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good.” (Chapter IV, Section 1)

~ GD

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