Tuesday, 27 August 2013

What does an Anglican worship service look like to a Muslim woman?

Carl Truman recently posted the fruit of an excellent thought experiment that he and his son conducted after sitting next to a Spanish Muslim woman during a high church Anglican Evensong service.  Afterward they pondered what the Muslim woman in the hijab would have made of the whole thing.  This post is so good, the hardest part for me was picking out an excerpt to quote here.  Trueman points to the paradoxical fact that, here in a Liberal Anglican church, in the liturgy, there is more reverence for God, more Scripture, more biblically ordered worship, than is typically ever found in Evangelical churches which supposedly hold the authority of Scripture in high regard.
"In terms of specific detail, she would also have heard two whole chapters of the Bible read out loud: one from the Old Testament and one from the New. Not exactly the whole counsel of God but a pretty fair snapshot. She would have been led in a corporate confession of sin. She would have heard the minister pronounce forgiveness in words shaped by scripture. She would have been led in corporate prayer in accordance with the Lord's own prayer. She would have heard two whole psalms sung by the choir. She would have had the opportunity to sing a couple of hymns drawn from the rich vein of traditional hymnody and shot through with scripture. She would have been invited to recite the Apostles' Creed (and thus come pretty close to being exposed to the whole counsel of God). She would have heard collects rooted in the intercessory concerns of scripture brought to bear on the real world. And, as I noted earlier, all of this in the exalted, beautiful English prose of Thomas Cranmer."
But you really should read the whole post here

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Bad dreams and the sovereignty of God

The complete and total sovereignty of God in and over all things is a doctrine we teach our children.  We also teach them that they are responsible for their actions.  Both doctrines are clearly taught in Scripture and so we teach them both to our children.  But just because both doctrines are taught in Scripture and we believe them doesn’t mean that, in our day to day lives, we aren’t challenged by one or the other or both at times. 

Our children have sometimes struggled with the doctrine of the sovereignty of God when it comes to the existence of evil in the world or with hard things in everyday life.  Who hasn’t?  One of the day-to-day life issues that our children have struggled to reconcile with the doctrine of the sovereignty of God is bad dreams.  On occasion our children have been so frightened by a particular dream, perhaps because it is so vivid or perhaps because something particularly frightening has happened in the dream, that they have questioned why, if God is good, he allows or ordains such bad dreams to happen. 

[NOTE:  The entertainment habits of a family can be a regular cause of bad dreams.  The points below are not meant as some sort of spiritual inoculation to poor entertainment choices.  Parents should be wise about what and how much they allow their children to watch.  If all your children eat is candy, it will not do to make your them brush their teeth 30 times a day to avoid cavities.  Changing the diet is the first step to fighting tooth decay.  Then you can worry about whether the brush strokes should be clockwise or counter-clockwise.]

Like anything in life, bad dreams can provide good opportunities.  Below are some of the ways our family has tried to deal with bad dreams.

1.  When our kids wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat or in tears due to a bad dream, it is not time for a theological lecture.  The best response at times like this is to calm them down, hug them (if they are quite young still), sing a hymn or a reassuring favourite song of theirs, rub their back, get them a drink, etc., and above all pray for/with them.  Reminding them of some key verses or portions of Scripture is also good.  I don’t mean stuff about the sovereignty of God even over bad things but rather about the love, goodness, kindness, nearness and tender care of God.  Also remind them that you are in the next room (or just down the hall) and that God is closer still.  Remind them that God will never leave them or forsake them and that he cares for his own.

2.  Don’t forget that the way we act when we do the above will likely teach our children as much or more about the Fatherhood of God than what we do.  In the middle of the night, immediately after the drama of a bad dream, how you care for your child is at least as important, probably more so, than what you do.  Reassuring them that there are no monsters under the bed is not most effectively accomplished by barking out, "there's no such thing as a three headed, purple slime-spewing dragon-wolf so go back to sleep."  Gentle nurture is hard at 2 am.  The temptation to be annoyed at being woken up will likely be strong.  You will certainly not be at your best, at any rate.  But remember their frame.

3.  When our children question why God would let them have bad dreams, we should not get after them for asking “such things”.  We should let them know that such a question is a fair one.  Children who are asking sincere and honest questions about the reality and nature of God and how this impacts their daily life should never be stifled with a reply along the lines of “don’t question the inscrutable ways of God for his ways are not your ways and neither are his thoughts your thoughts”.  God’s Word may not spell out a context-specific answer to all the questions of “why” and “how” that our children ask but God does show that he is big enough to take such questions from his people who are genuinely struggling in the midst of some hard circumstances.  The questions of Job (why, God?) and the Psalmist (How long, O Lord?) come to mind, for starters.  God is big enough to take the hard questions and it is a sign of and opportunity for real growth when our kids are asking such questions.  Don't panic and fear that they are doubting God.  Rather, rejoice that they are maturing and wanting to know more of who God is and what he is like.  God can handle such questions and God’s Word, rightly applied, can answer such questions, even if the answers are sometimes along the lines of “that’s not for you to know…yet”. 

4.  In the morning, remember to talk about the bad dream with your child again.  I don’t mean rehashing every detail of the dream, but we should talk it through.  If there were things in the dream that are untrue of God or of your family or of reality, it can help your child immensely just to state the obvious corrective facts.  It can often be most effective to think through those facts by easy to answer questions posed to your child.  Usually the scariest part of a young child’s dream is when bad things happen to them at the hands of people from whom they ought to expect something else.  Example:  I still remember dreams from my childhood where I had been left behind somewhere, say at a store or a park or some such place, when the rest of my family was gone.  I used to wake up feeling betrayed and forgotten about.  Talking through the dream, my parents would reassure me that they would never leave me somewhere or forget about me, that they loved me too much to ever do that.  I can also recall dreams where I would float way up into the air but not be able to come down again.  The sensations caused by such dreams were truly frightening, but a couple of calm questions from a parent (especially if said parent is sitting on the edge of the bed, holding a frightened child’s hand) can help a child to think through the impossibility of their nightmare ever really happening.

[NOTE:  Further to the above, don’t assume that if a child is having dreams where some type of abuse is happening, that it is a figment of their imagination.  Those sorts of things don’t get invented in the minds of young children all on their own.  Better to ask them some sensitive questions about areas of their lives where you may not be fully aware of all that is going on (school situation, spending time in other homes or places when you are not there or not immediately supervising, things they have been exposed to, perhaps not directly but visually, things other kids have told them, etc.).  Take such things seriously and follow up right away...once it is morning.]

5.  View bad dreams as one of the ways God trains us to trust his Word above our own experiences and emotions.  God ordains that we have experiences in life that challenge the truth of his Word.  This is not because he wants to trip us up, but because he wants us to really believe in and trust him.  He is growing our spiritual muscles of discernment and our trust in him and his Word.  Bad dreams are one of the things God allows to train a child’s mind to rely on his promises and to foster a stronger belief in him despite what their sensations and emotions are telling them at the moment.  This is where a parent has an excellent opportunity to talk through the situation of a child’s bad dream in light of the truths of God’s Word.  Bad dreams can seem so real while the child is having them or has just awoken from them.  Children need to be taught and reassured that, no matter how real those dreams felt, they were not true, but God's promises to them are.  There will be many times in a child's life (more frequent the older they get and the more of culture they are gradually exposed to) when messages in the media or from peers or elsewhere will challenge the truth of God's Word with an alternate "truth".  They need to learn to discern the real truth from things that pose as truth, no matter how sincere or plausible such things seem.

6.  So often, what children watch or hear or do or think about while awake affects their dreams while asleep.  Therefore, we should fill their minds with things that are good, wholesome, right, true and godly (Phil. 4:8).  Our children will probably still have bad dreams, but they will be better equipped to deal with them when they come.

Don't forget, our children daily face things in their waking lives that challenge their belief in the truths of God’s Word and we aren't always be there to help them in the moment.  Many challenges to the truth that they face will seem very plausible, quite convincing, and have powerful emotional pull on them.  But such things are ultimately like bad dreams.  They seem so real at the time, and their emotional after-effects can last for a while, but when we wake up to the reality of truth, when compared to the sure promises and character of God, we come to see them for the fictions they are.  We want our children to have this type of discernment and trust in God.  But that will only happen if our children are solidly grounded in the truth of God’s Word.  Bad dreams are good opportunities to train them in this.

Exegetical Fragments: The Ordination of Priests

As part of the ceremony of the ordination of Aaron and his sons as priests in Leviticus 8, Moses takes some of the blood of the ram of ordination and puts it on the right ear lobe, right thumb and right big toe, first of Aaron and then of his sons (Lev. 8:22-24).  Later, after the ordination offering has been made, Moses then takes some of the anointing oil and some of the blood that was on the altar (presumably some of the blood of the bull of the sin offering which has made atonement and which was placed on the horns of the altar and poured out at its base as well as some of the blood of the ram of the burnt offering which was thrown against the sides of the altar and also of the ram of ordination whose blood was also thrown against the sides of the altar) and he sprinkles them both on Aaron and his sons, who are being ordained as priests in Israel (8:30). 

This ordination of Israel’s priests is a picture and a type of the ordination of believers, who are a royal priesthood in Christ (1 Pet. 2:5, 9).  First, the blood of Christ is applied to believers, and as the blood was placed on the right ear lobe, thumb and big toe of Aaron and his sons, so it is that Christ’s blood is applied to all of us in all we do.  Like Aaron and his sons, we are to dedicate our lives and all we do to the sacred service of God.  We are to hear the Word of God so that we can proclaim it.  We are to serve God in all we put our hand to.  And we are to walk in the ways of God.  Aaron and his sons, as priests, were not to put their hands to manual labour as the other Israelites would do.  They were to reserve their service for the sacred things of worship and ministry in the tabernacle before the LORD  and on behalf of the people.  Christians are to understand all the labour we do, manual or otherwise, as sacred to the Lord.  All we do is service offered to God for his glory and in the service of others out of love. 

As Aaron and his sons were sprinkled with the blood and the anointing oil, so too Christians have been sprinkled with the blood of Christ and the Holy Spirit is poured out upon us to anoint and equip us for ministry.  Both of these sprinklings, the blood of Christ and the out-pouring of the Spirit, are pictured in baptism.  Like Aaron and his sons, we are consecrated by atoning blood that has been shed on our behalf and in our place, and we are filled up by God for ministry (the Hebrew root word for ordination means ‘to fill up’).  We do not serve in the tabernacle or temple.  We are the temple.  We are priests.  All we do is to be service to God and on behalf of others. 

The process of the ordination of Aaron and his sons took seven days (Lev. 8:33, 35).  It is interesting that it is the eighth day upon which Aaron and his sons begin their ministry on behalf of the people.  It is upon the eighth day, which is to say, the first day of the week, for the seventh day was the Sabbath, that Jesus rose from the dead, and it is upon the eighth day that the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the church (it was on the day of Pentecost, which is fifty days, seven sevens plus one, after Passover).  It was on the eighth day that the LORD revealed his glory to the people of Israel at the tabernacle, after Aaron and his sons made all the required sacrifices on behalf of the people who were all gathered together and after Aaron and Moses went into the tent of meeting and came out and blessed the people.  The glory of the LORD appeared to the people and fire came out from the LORD to consume all the offerings.  At Pentecost, when both Father and Son send the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7) upon the church, all the disciples are gathered together and fire comes out from the Lord and rests upon each one of them, consuming them for service.  When the glory of the LORD appeared to all Israel at the tabernacle and fire came out from the LORD, the people all shouted and fell on their faces.  When the fire came out from the Lord at Pentecost and fell upon all the church gathered together, they spoke.  It must have been loud, for they were together in a house, and devout men from all over the world were gathered in Jerusalem and they heard the disciples.  The Holy Spirit ordained the disciples, who became apostles, and who, along with all the church, began that very day to serve the ministry and mission of God.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Paul's Gospel: Jesus Christ - Crucified Saviour and Risen Lord

“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2, ESV).

“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord...” (2 Cor. 4:5, ESV).

In 1 Cor. 2:2, Paul reminds the Corinthians what message he proclaimed while he was among them preaching the gospel and establishing the church.  It is the gospel of “Jesus Christ and him crucified”.  He preached Christ crucified without resorting to lofty speech or worldly wisdom (1 Cor. 2:1).  Paul preached the cross of Christ. 

In 2 Cor. 4:5, Paul reminds the Corinthians again of the message he and his fellow gospel workers’ consistently preach among the churches and, specifically, what they preached to the Corinthian church:  “Jesus Christ as Lord”.  Paul preached Christ as Lord without using cunning or tampering with God's word but simply by the open statement of the truth (2 Cor. 4:2).  Paul preached the Lordship of Christ. 

The two statements above, taken respectively from Paul's first and second epistles to the church at Corinth, are clearly parallel statements.  If Paul determined to know nothing among the Corinthians but “Jesus Christ and him crucified,” and if this is consistent in Paul’s mind with the overarching statement that his proclamation is always “Jesus Christ as Lord,” we have to conclude that Jesus Christ crucified and Jesus Christ as Lord are synonymous in Paul’s mind.  For Paul, to proclaim Jesus Christ as Saviour and Jesus Christ as Lord is to proclaim the same message.  Paul preached salvation through the cross of Christ and salvation into the Lordship of Christ.  It was the same message to Paul; it was the gospel message.

This is why, in his epistles, you don’t see Paul writing only doctrinal exposition of salvation.  The first half of each letter (not always exactly half) explains and expounds the doctrines of the gospel.  But then he always moves on to calling the church to a way of life which is to be lived in light of the doctrines of salvation he has just expounded.  Paul sees the indicatives of the gospel as only half of the story.  True gospel proclamation includes gospel imperatives, the way of life for the one who is in Christ.  This is not something that follows later at some future point.  Paul does this with new believers and immature churches (like the Corinthians and Galatians) as well as with more mature churches (such as the Philippians and Thessalonians). 

Paul combines the saving work and Lordship of Christ in 2 Cor. 5:14-15: 

“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”  (ESV)

Here Paul declares that the love of Christ compels the apostle and his co-workers to minister as they do and preach what they do.  They have drawn a conclusion:  that Jesus has died for all – he is the Saviour – and whoever is in Christ has died with him (see also Gal. 5:24).  Paul further concludes that those who have died with Jesus have also been raised with him to new resurrection life, a life which is no longer to be lived for self (since those in Christ have died to self and sin), but lived for Jesus, the one who died and rose for their sake (see also Gal. 5:25 and 2:20)In other words, in Paul’s mind, the roles of Jesus as Saviour and Lord in the life of a believer can no more be separated than can his death and resurrection.  In Jesus’ death, we who are in him die to idolatrous self-mastery.  In Jesus’ resurrection, we are raised to life under a new master.  We who once pronounced ourselves as lord of our own lives died with/in Jesus and have been raised in Jesus to a new life which is oriented toward Jesus as Lord.  We no longer live for self but for him.  This is Paul's point as well in Rom. 6:1-14. 

Taking these passages from First and Second Corinthians together should be enough to end once and for all the “Lordship gospel” debate.  Unfortunately, there are many in the church who still believe that you can “receive Jesus as Saviour” but not acknowledge him as Lord, or at least not until some undefined time in the future.  There are many others who, while verbally professing a “Lordship gospel”, don’t live as though they actually believe it.  To look to and proclaim Jesus as Saviour and not, at the same time and to the same degree, as Lord is something Paul would have considered another gospel.

The apostle’s proclamation of the gospel no more permits Jesus' Lordship and “Saviourship” to be separated in the life of a Christian than it permits Jesus' death and resurrection to be separated in the saving work of God.  So-called evangelicals who say that a person can turn to Christ and be saved from sin but not simultaneously turn to him as Lord and submit to his Lordship in their lives have edited and compromised the gospel every bit as badly as mainline liberals who admit the death of Jesus but deny his bodily resurrection.  Both result in an empty and vain faith.  Those who would turn to Christ for the benefits of his salvation but refuse the demands of his Lordship are effectively seeking to profit from his death without being constrained by the new resurrection life that union with him brings.  This is ultimately an attempt to be saved from the wrath and judgment that sin deserves but still retain the "right" to walk in that sin.  Along with taking the Father's punishment for sin, Christ's death serves also to free us from our slavery in sin, but it frees us to something. It frees us to be slaves of Christ, which, in typical gospel paradox, is true freedom indeed!

The biblical gospel is the proclamation of the resurrection as well as the crucifixion of Christ and biblical Christians are those who proclaim Christ’s Lordship with their lives as well as proclaiming the cross with their mouths.  While you can distinguish between the death and resurrection of Jesus (two different historical events three calendar days apart), you cannot separate them in God’s saving work.  Along with Jesus’ incarnation, obedient life, present reign and future return, his death on the cross, his burial, and his walking out of the tomb three days later are all part of God’s saving work through him.  If Jesus only died and did not rise, then we would still be slaves to sin and our faith would be in vain (1 Cor. 15:14, 17).  But the resurrection did happen, and those who are in Christ not only died with him but rose with him as well.  And the life the believer now lives is not his/her own (recall again Gal. 2:20).  This means that, by very nature, a true believer is someone who views Christ as Lord and Saviour, and acts like it.  

So, while you can differentiate between Jesus’ work as Saviour and his reign as Lord, say for the purposes of discussion or theological examination, you cannot separate them either in the person and work of Jesus or in the life of any one of his true disciples.  Surely this is what Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth were all about.  In those letters, we witness him reminding the Corinthians of the gospel they received and calling them to live lives not only worthy of it but also as a witness to it, just as Paul saw his own life, complete with its sufferings, to be.  Sure, disciples may be in various stages of their maturity and therefore in different places in their submission to Christ as Lord.  An apple tree sapling may only be growing blossoms whereas a mature apple tree may bear blue ribbon-winning Granny Smiths.  But every true disciple bears fruit in keeping with their nature.  In Christ, united to Christ, Christians live lives in the power of Jesus' resurrection just as they first died with him. 

Paul preached the gospel of Christ to the Corinthians.  For him, that meant preaching the death and resurrection of Christ.  For him, that meant preaching the cross of Christ and the throne of Christ.