Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The American Mind

Have you ever wondered why intellectual childhood is prolonged in our culture? Has it ever bothered you that fully grown adults are so susceptible to advertisements and the suggestions of mass media? Do you find it disturbing that many educated people are unable to follow logical arguments and speak to the question at hand, or that irrelevant material crops up in committee meetings, or that people regularly fail both to define their terms and stick to those definitions? Why do young people forget most of what they learned in school?

In her classic essay, The Lost Tools of Learning, Dorothy Sayers raised many such questions and offered an obvious solution based on the history of education. Schools stopped teaching students how to think and how to learn for themselves in favor of making them memorize information. Educators stopped emphasizing the “method” of learning in favor of teaching “subjects” in hermetically sealed compartments. The result is that students who are most capable of memorization finish school with heads full of data, but their minds are not equipped to process, question, analyze, and draw conclusions about information. The social effect of such education is a public that is generally incapable of thinking clearly and critically about life. But, it was not always this way.

Dorothy Sayers reminds us that classical schools emphasized the “Trivium,” which is designed to teach students how to think, how to learn for themselves, and to become lifelong learners who love books and love learning. The Trivium is a three stage method of education that follows the normal course of childhood development.

When children are very young, their minds are like little sponges. They are most suited at this developmental stage to absorb large amounts of raw information. Classical education takes advantage of this by teaching them the grammar, or basic facts, of language, history, science, and math. This is called the grammar stage of the Trivium.

When they reach early adolescence, children begin to argue with their parents and to challenge the things they are told. At this stage of development, they are prepared to study formal logic. In the logic stage of the Trivium, they learn the rules of right thinking, logical fallacies, and are taught how to process information properly, to make fine distinctions, and to get behind the mere data to the presuppositions and philosophy underlying school subjects such as math, science, history, language, etc. No longer are students merely handed information on a platter to be stored in memory, but they are taught to think about what foundations undergird the information, the logical consistency of the information, and the logical implications of the information. Furthermore, the various subjects are integrated so that it is shown how science relates to history, how math relates to art, how science relates to literature, and so on. Our world is one great unified creation, the product of one divine mind. We need to be taught to think about all of it wholistically and in light of the total Christian world-and-life-view.

In their later years of schooling, youth become most concerned about appearances, what others think about them, and how they present themselves. Now, they are prepared to learn how to present their thoughts in ways that are attractive to others. They are ready to learn the art of beautiful communication from the best classic literary communicators of history. They are taught to write well, speak well, and read good books. It isn't enough to know the facts or to process the facts. They need to be taught how to communicate winsomely. This is called the rhetoric stage of the Trivium.

The Bible commands, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit according to human tradition” (Col 2:8), and Paul says, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:4-5). Classical Christian Education aims to help train children and young people to do this. This is the vision of Cornerstone Classical Christian Academy, which was born out of the vision of Morningview Baptist Church. I commend Cornerstone to your consideration for the education of your children.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What is a "Devoted" Church?

Acts 2:41-42 says, “Those who received His Word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

This text shows that the New Testament church devoted itself to certain basic activities.  Churches are free to do all kinds of good things, but they must never neglect what is most basic.  Historically, these basic things have been called the "primary means of grace," because they are the first means the church must diligently employ.  They have also been called the "ordinary means of grace" because they are "ordained" or "instituted" by Christ.  The means of grace only sanctify the church and advance the kingdom when appropriated by faith.

The Baptist Catechism says:
Q 93. What are the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption?
A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption are his ordinances, especially the word, baptism, the Lord's supper, and prayer; all which means are made effectual to the elect for salvation (Mt. 28:19, 20; Acts 2:42, 46, 47).

Devoted to the Apostles' Teaching
The Apostles' teaching is deposited in the Bible. The Bible should be read, sung, and publicly preached in corporate worship services on the Lord's Day. God calls His people to faithfully attend public worship to exalt the risen Savior, to be equipped to live in daily fellowship with Christ, to be taught to think rightly about Him, and to live all of life according to His gracious gospel. God's people must not neglect “to meet together as is the habit of some” (Heb 10:25).

Devoted to Fellowship
Fellowship with the saints means knowing one another in Christ, bearing one another's burdens, and encouraging and exhorting one another in holy living. It is not enough to attend public worship without building solid and edifying relationships with other Christians. We need to know each other in Christ to be healthy Christians. Christian fellowship is a means by which the church is strengthened to fellowship with Christ.

Devoted to Baptism
The text doesn't explicitly say they were "devoted" to baptism, but the mention of baptism in verse 41, implies that they certainly were.  The church only baptized those who "received His Word," or professed belief in the message preached.  These baptized Christians were subsequently "added."  To what were they added?  They were added to the number of those counted as belonging to the visible church.  The fact that the converts were baptized and numbered implies that there was a well-defined local assembly and an accounting for who was a member of the church and who was not.

Devoted to the Breaking of Bread
The "breaking of bread" denotes the Lord's Supper (1 Cor 10:16). The Lord's Supper is a church ordinance, which Christ commanded His church to observe together to strengthen its corporate faith and unity as it remembers the sacrifice of Christ, its union with Him, and its call to die to sin and live as Christ lived. The Lord's Supper is not an empty ceremony. It is a vital memorial meal, and a faith strengthening ordinance for the church, which God said to observe until Christ returns (1 Cor 11:26). Scripture says that faithfully taking the Lord's Supper with the church of the Lord Jesus is an act of communion with Christ (1 Cor 10:16-17).

Devoted to Prayers
The New Testament churches devoted themselves to corporate prayer. Private prayer is important (Matt 6:6), but so is praying together as a church (Acts 4:24-31; 12:5, 12).  Scripture shows how God works mightily through the prayers of His people assembled. Our personal and corporate devotion to Christ is strengthened by corporate prayer. Charles Spurgeon, the great English Baptist preacher of the 19th Century, said that the secret of the power of preaching and the advancement of the gospel in his time was the praying church.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

How Should We Treat Our Opponents in Theological and Churchly Controversy?

On Controversy by John Newton
As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord's teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him; and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.
If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom, are very applicable: "Deal gently with him for my sake." The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.
But if you look upon him as an unconverted person, in a state of enmity against God and his grace (a supposition which, without good evidence, you should be very unwilling to admit), he is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger. Alas! "He knows not what he does." But you know who has made you to differ. If God, in his sovereign pleasure, had so appointed, you might have been as he is now; and he, instead of you, might have been set for the defense of the gospel. You were both equally blind by nature. If you attend to this, you will not reproach or hate him, because the Lord has been pleased to open your eyes, and not his.
Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation. If, indeed, they who differ from us have a power of changing themselves, if they can open their own eyes, and soften their own hearts, then we might with less inconsistency be offended at their obstinacy: but if we believe the very contrary to this, our part is, not to strive, but in meekness to instruct those who oppose. "If peradventure God will give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth" (1 Tim 2:24-25). If you write with a desire of being an instrument of correcting mistakes, you will of course be cautious of laying stumbling blocks in the way of the blind or of using any expressions that may exasperate their passions, confirm them in their principles, and thereby make their conviction, humanly speaking, more impracticable.
Read Newton's whole letter here.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Baptism as a Means of Grace

Here are some of my notes from Dr. Fred Malone's sermon at the ARBCA GA on baptism as a means of grace. If you've never read Dr. Malone's book, Baptism of Disciples Alone, I highly recommend it!

What baptism is a means of grace to the believer?
1. Baptism that is a means of grace is the baptism instituted in the New Testament.
2. New Testament baptism is a baptism of disciples alone.
3. New Testament baptism is a baptism of immersion.
4. Baptism is a church ordinance; therefore, the only instituted baptism is one performed by someone authorized by the church.

Is baptism a means of grace?
1. There is no ex opere operato (from the work performed) grace conveyed in baptism.
2. Baptism is not a "seal" of the new covenant.  The Holy Spirit is the "seal."  Baptism is a "sign" of covenant membership.
3. Baptism is a means of grace appointed by God to strengthen and encourage the faith of the believer who is baptized. Baptism also strengthens other believers and proclaims the gospel to unbelievers who witness the ordinance.
4. Some Baptists wrongly think baptism completes conversion. That notion is neither taught in Scripture nor the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith. Those who would make baptism a part of conversion overturn the Bible's gracious doctrine of justification by faith alone because of Christ alone.

How is baptism a means of grace?
1. Baptism is a sign to the person baptized of the full salvation accomplished by Jesus Christ.  We should never think of baptism without thinking of the Lord Jesus Christ and saving union with Him. The work of Christ on Calvary's hill must always take precedence in our minds and hearts over the ordinance of baptism itself. As the believer joins faith to his baptism, the Spirit of Christ strengthens the believer's faith, which lays hold of Christ who is proclaimed in the ordinance.
2. Baptism confirms forgiveness of sins in the heart of the believer. It testifies to the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. But, baptism itself has no power to accomplish forgiveness of sin, either as an atonement or as a means of appropriating the atonement.
3. Baptism is an appeal to God from a good conscience. We are not to appeal to baptism itself, but we are to appeal to the Lord Jesus Christ directly in baptism. Baptism, therefore, calls us to turn from sin and to Jesus Christ.
4. Baptism becomes a means of grace in older believers who reflect on their previous baptism.  It reminds them of Christ and so strengthens their faith.
5. Baptism is a sign of the believer's future resurrection from the dead in glorification.

What are some applications of baptism as a means of grace?
1. When we administer baptism, we ought always to explain the meaning of baptism. We should explain that it represents the work of Christ in history, union with Christ, the work of Christ within the believer, and the promised bodily resurrection of the believer in the future at the coming of Jesus Christ.
2. When we administer baptism, Dr. Malone recommends including it in the worship service proper. Why not perform it in the middle of the worship service after congregational singing to make sure the people understand it one of the elements of worship, not something merely tacked on to the end, or something preliminary accomplished quickly at the beginning?
3. Some say baptism should be administered immediately after conversion as it was in the book of Acts. But, the converts baptized by John, Jesus, and the Apostles in the New Testament already had a thorough understanding of the OT Scriptures and the basics of divine truth. They lived in a culture of the knowledge of the biblical worldview and the expectation of a holy life. By contrast, many in our society do not have that kind of knowledge. They have little understanding of the gospel that they are committing to believe or the Ten Commandments that they are committing to obey. We are to make disciples before we baptize them. If we do not carefully guard this portal to our church, then we will lose the meaning of the gospel because we will lose regenerate church membership. Our churches will go into decline.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Defining the Means of Grace

I'm attending ARBCA's General Assembly this week with my father-in-law and Fred Malone; so, I thought I'd pass along some of the material.  Dr. Jim Renihan, dean of IRBS out at Westminster Theological Seminary West, just gave a thought provoking talk on the nature and meaning of the "means of grace."  Here is my outline of some of what he said:

How does God dispense His grace to the elect? He does so through means of grace.

What does “means of grace" mean?
1. “Grace” is God's unmerited favor extended to sinners. It originates with God, and it comes only from Him.  Grace provides every aspect of salvation and is completely apart from any works.
2. “Means” comes from the Latin word “media.” These are the instruments, or methods, God employs to bring grace to the elect, both in the inception of salvation and in the continuance of salvation.

What are “the means of grace?”
1. They are not merely good or useful activities in the Christian church and the Christian life.
2. If you examine the Reformed Confessions, you will find technical language used to define and identify the “means of grace.”

From the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession
2LBCF 28:1. Baptism and the Lord's Supper are ordinances of positive and sovereign institution, appointed by the Lord Jesus, the only lawgiver, to be continued in his church to the end of the world.
2LBCF 29:1. Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.
2LBCF 30:1. The supper of the Lord Jesus was instituted by him the same night wherein he was betrayed, to be observed in his churches, unto the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance, and showing to all the world the sacrifice of himself in his death, confirmation of the faith of believers in all the benefits thereof, their spiritual nourishment, and growth in him, their further engagement in, and to all duties which they owe to him; and to be a bond and pledge of their communion with him, and with each other.
There are two criteria of "means of grace" in the statements above.
1. Divine Institution. Or, in sharper language, "dominical" institution. Only the Lord may institute means of grace. Some of God's institutions are limited to a particular covenant, such as circumcision. But dominical institution are divine institutions that come from Jesus Christ in the new covenant.
2. A Promise of Divine Blessing Attached to the Institution. This is covenantal thinking. The acts God commands, or institutes, are related to His covenant. God explicitly promises that He will bless these acts, and thus, we are able to trust His promise of blessing.

What, then, is the method God has appointed by which He accomplishes His converting and sanctifying will in the church?
It is primarily through the preaching of His Word. The preached Word of God is the preeminent means of grace. But God's primary means also include baptism, the Lord's Supper, and prayer. There are some other secondary means as well. Occasional days of fasting and thanksgiving should not be neglected, for example.

Some Cautions
1. This doctrine is not intended to teach that the above activities are the only activities that may or should ever be present in the church. There is a wide variety of activities in which our churches may and should participate. But, the "ordinary/ordained means of grace" are the things we must always do and never neglect. And, these are the only activities upon which we may expect and anticipate God's blessing.  there are, however, some things churches may do and perhaps ought to do, but are they are not means of grace and therefore no promise of blessing rests upon them. Such acts may include: associations of churches, ministerial training institutions, youth groups, small groups, Christian schools, home schools, counseling centers, SS, fellowship meals, discipleship meetings, financial giving, etc.

2. We must take care not to invent man made means of grace for ourselves and wrongly expect God to bless them. For example: altar calls [the anxious bench, marketing/business strategies, pomp and ceremony, lights and fanfare, etc.].  That was the error of Roman Catholicism.

3. Not Ex Opere Operato (in the doing it is done). God never promises to bless any acts of obedience to the means of grace when faith is lacking.  For example, the preaching of the Word only brings grace to the hearer when the hearer believes the message preached.

For further consideration: Consider how the means of grace relate to the five solas of the Reformation: sola Scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria. Consider how the means of grace relates to the regulative principle of worship (proper worship is “means of grace” worship).