Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Sermon on the Mount

I've been preaching through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) on Sunday mornings, and as I near the end of the sermon, I've been especially enjoying a sight of the whole. There is an amazing unity.

Here is how the sermon is structured as I understand it. The entire sermon is about what it means to be in the kingdom of Christ and under His rule. It means kingdom members have Christian hearts. Kingdom members are different from the inside out.

In this sermon, men and women are called to:

1. Have a kingdom heart (5:1-16). In the beatitudes, Christ outlines the heart of a Christian, explaining that those who are born again bear witness to God's love shed abroad in their hearts.

2. Keep the kingdom law (5:17-48). Christ explains that those who are in His kingdom don't just keep God's law externally, but obey it from the heart. Kingdom members aren't simply outwardly righteous, but are righteous from the inside out.

3. Engage in kingdom worship (6:1-18). Those who are in love with the Lord from the heart don't simply perform religious acts to be noticed and approved by others, but they give, fast, and pray in order to honor the Lord from the heart.

4. Seek kingdom treasure (6:19-34). Kingdom members don't worship this world or seek to be satisfied in its treasures; rather, they seek Christ's kingdom first and trust God to take care of their physical needs.

5. Have kingdom relationships (7:1-12). Because kingdom members understand their own sin and God's grace, they treat others the way they would want to be treated and the way that they have been treated in Christ. They don't condemn others, though they practice wise and prayerful discerment.

6. Choose the kingdom way (7:13-29). This is the close of the sermon. It is an appeal to practice and apply what Christ has been teaching up to this point. Christ says that there are two lifestyles. There is the kingdom lifestyle and the doomed lifestyle. Christ urges His hearers to be in the kingdom and never to listen to teachers who teach against the kingdom.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Eternal Covenant of Grace

I was doing some reading on the covenants in A.A. Hodge's Outlines of Theology and ran across an argument for the existence of an eternal covenant of grace (or redemption) among the members of the Trinity. Hodge provides seven points in favor of the position.

"1st. As shown at the opening of this chapter such a Covenant is virtually implied in the existence of an eternal Plan of salvation mutually form by and to be executed by three Persons.

2d. That Christ represented his elect in that Covenatn is necessarily implied in the doctrine of sovereign personal election to grace and salvation. Christ says of his sheep, 'Thine they were, and thou gavest them me,' and 'Those whom thou gavest me I have kept,' etc. - John 17:6, 12.

3d. The Scriptures declare the existence of the primse and conditions of such a Covenant, and present them in connection. - Isa. 53:10, 11.

4th. The Scriptures expressly affirm the existence of such a Covenant. - Isa 42:6; Ps. 89:3.

5th. Christ makes constant reference to a previous commision he had received of his Father. - John 10:18; Luke 22:29.

6th. Christ claims a reward which had been conditioned upon the fulfillment of that commission. - John 17:4.

7th. Christ constantly asserts that his people and his expected glory are given to him as a reward by his father. - John 17:6, 9, 24; Phil 2:6-11." Charles Hodge, Outlines of Theology (reprint, Carlisle, PA: Banner, 1991), 371.

I also stumbled across something very unexpected in my recent readings on the topic. I was thumbing through L.S. Chafer's Systematic Theology (which I just recently purchased because it was on sale for an unbelievably low price!), and he also affirms the existence of an eternal covenant of grace among the members of the Trinity. That's right. The father of Dallas dispensationalism believed in the eternal intra-trinitarian covenant of grace. Check it out: Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol 1 (reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1976), 42 and in Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol 5 (reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1976), 27-28.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Church

The universal Church of Christ is composed of all believers everywhere, both in heaven and on earth, but is specifically manifested in individual local churches. Such local churches are established, not by the authority of any form of successionism (baptismal, churchly, or official) but solely by the authority of Scripture (sola Scriptura). Therefore, local churches are formed when credibly professing disciples of Christ voluntarily covenant with one another to believe and obey the gospel of Christ on the basis of a common confessional statement. A local church’s confession of faith is a summary of Scriptural doctrine in small compass, and is to be used both for the instruction and discipline of church members.

The local church is autonomous, free from any hierarchy of organization. Its governing officials include elders (or bishops, overseers, pastors) and deacons. Both officers must meet the qualifications set forth in the Bible. Local church government is congregational, which means that under Jesus Christ and His Word, the highest authority and court of appeal is the church membership.

A true church consists of any group of disciples covenanted together and centered upon the true gospel of Jesus Christ.[1] But, a healthy local church is one in which the preached Word of God is central in the corporate worship service, the ordinances of professing believers baptism by immersion and communion are rightly administered according to the prescription of Scripture, and the pattern of church discipline revealed in the Bible is faithfully practiced.

Corporate worship is central in the life of the church, involving the preaching of God’s Word, the reading of Scripture, the giving of offerings, the offering of prayers, and the singing of Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, as well as any other elements revealed in the Bible alone. We are required to worship God in the corporate worship service only according to what He has prescribed in sacred Scripture and not by our own wisdom or innovation. Circumstances of worship should be ordered according to the light of nature so that they facilitate and support the elements prescribed by Scripture. The proper effects of corporate worship are the mutual edification of believers and evangelism of the lost.

While every gospel church has the same biblical charge and end, God gives churches members of varying spiritual gifts, such that the particular ministries of every local church will differ according to the gifts given.

[1] The true gospel of Jesus Christ includes the basic content of the ecumenical creeds (Apostles', Nicene, Chalcedonian, Athanasian) as well as the five solas of the Reformation (sola Scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria).