Country Boy Can Survive

A great article by D.G. Hart (someone I do not agree with often) highlights the divide between denominational loyalty to the city and the needs of rural congregations. Dr. Hart makes excellent points that I highly recommend you listen to and meditate upon while sipping your latte.

Here is a snippet.

Lost in this understanding of ministry among cosmopolitans is the sense that one might be trying to elevate one’s own status by hobnobbing with the influential, that the church’s egalitarian streak has a preferential option for the meek and lowly, or that touting pastoral success in New York City leads to a generation of prospective pastors who will not remain in rural communities once they have seen the lure of church life in the cosmopolis – not to mention that the scale, anonymity, and standard of living in places like Manhattan skew church life in ways that may not be compatible with the agrarian imagery that comes straight from the pages of holy writ.

Of course, the reasons why evangelicals fawn over the city may stem from sources other than the obvious appeal of bright lights and big buildings. One of them may a born-again infatuation with celebrity and the disillusionment that follows when public figures like Mark Sanford or Miss California, Carrie Prajean, fall from grace. Evangelicals are disposed to understand grace and faith in extraordinary categories and so overlook stories of ordinary believers, routine piety, and even rural congregations as insignificant…

The Abandonement of Hermenuetics, Part 2

Joel 2:28-29 and Acts 2:15-21 are the subject of our next inquiry into the “Science” of Hermeneutics. It has been posited in the comments section of the answer to Part 1 that this should be used as a proof text for those who support Women’s Ordination and to not to leads to “General Assembly-like” pronouncements like women not being able to teach adult men but being able to teach male children.

There are several questions that come up when thinking here and must be understood when looking at these two passages. 1) How should we look at Old Testament passages cited by New Testament authors (inspired by the same Spirit?) 2) How much can we read into a text before we obscure and obfuscate its meaning? 3) Can a text have separate contexts?

However first we need to define the major word of this pericope. PROPHECY. John Calvin in his commentary on Acts 2 says, “…this word prophesy doth signify nothing else save only the rare and excellent gift of understanding, as if Joel should say, Under the kingdom of Christ there shall not be a few prophets only, unto whom God may reveal his secrets; but all men shall be endued with spiritual wisdom, even to the prophetical excellency.” John Chrysostom in his Homily V on Acts 2 also gives the same definition as John Calvin saying,” but for the grace, he fetches the prophet as witness. “I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh.” [“And your sons,” etc.] To some the grace was imparted through dreams, to others it was openly poured forth.” This Prophecy of which both Calvin and Chrysostom speak has nothing to do with teaching or preaching, as some have surmised, but has to do with the revelation of the Will of God. In this case Peter is speaking to the Jews who are wondering why Cretans and Arabs are speaking in tongues they do not understand. They are speaking not only in a tongue the Jews cannot understand but of a way that cannot be understand because the Holy Spirit has not been imparted to them. John Piper in a sermon on Acts 2 says this:

In the Old Testament the Spirit of God is the presence of God in the world to reveal himself by some action or word. Therefore when Joel says that God will pour out his Spirit on all flesh, he means that God will draw near to men and women and make himself known and felt in a powerful way. There is a great difference between perceiving a lake at a distance and being immersed in the lake. So there is a great difference between experiencing God as a distant object of knowledge and being immersed in his presence. The picture of a worldwide pouring compels us to think of being soaked and saturated and swept along by the Spirit of God. Joel wanted his readers to anticipate an unmistakable flood-tide of God’s presence.

The context of Peter’s commentary and quotation of Joel 2 belies nothing that would tell us Peter here is speaking about teaching and preaching in the Church. Peter is speaking to the Jews during the event of Pentecost when Jesus’ words to the Apostles were fulfilled. To make the argument that Peter here is is quoting Joel to give the office of teacher to both men and women is stretching the meaning of the text. As we see from the several commentators we cannot give a meaning to a text that it itself cannot and does not give. This on its own not only breaks Scripture’s internal hermeneutic but it violates the rules of literary analysis, tools that even wacko conservatives use to help determine the meaning of the text. Also as Reformed Christians who hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith as the best summary of the Doctrine of the Christian life we must (unless you are like our dispensational friends that believe that we can still receive prophecy after the death of the last Apostle) say that Prophecy has ceased. Richard Gaffin, Professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia in his book Perspectives on Pentecost in summary says, “The apostolic witness, prophecy and tongues were bound up with the foundation of the church following the ascension of Christ, and therefore, since the foundation has been laid, have no purpose for today.” For a Reformed believer if Prophecy has ceased then what Joel and Peter speak of in this passage cannot have bearing on us because we do not live in the Apostolic age. The Westminster Confession says:

The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 1, section 1:

Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.
Chapter 1, Section 6:
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

Even moreso Paul in 1st Timothy 5:17 says, “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” Now who is to be preaching and teaching? Elders. What are the qualifications for Elders according to Paul (who like Peter and Joel is inspired by the Holy Spirit)? Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 that the office of Overseer, or Elder is restricted to “…the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”

Now where do Elders receive their call to head the Church? For that let us take a look at Acts 20:17-38. In this passage Paul is writing to the Elders at the church in Ephesus. He is giving them a sort of pep talk and exhorting them to keep strong in the faith that has been delivered to them and to be vigilant like a shepherd tending to their flocks. Now what does this description sound like to you? Sounds like the daily work of a Pastor does it not? Also worth remembering is the location of Timothy when Paul writes to him. Where is he? Ephesus. So if Paul believes that only qualified men (not all men) can be Elders, and Elders are the Shepherds of the Church, and Elders are to be the ones preaching and teaching what does that say about Joel and Peter and there speaking of Prophesy? Well we can be sure that it does not mean that Peter in Acts 2 and Joel in his book chapter 2 cannot be, if taken with the whole counsel of Scripture, to mean that the act of “Prophesy” which both men and women are called can be conflated to therefore mean that both men and women are called to and can preach and be Teaching Elders in the Church of Christ.

Sermon for May 18th, 2008

For my 200th Post here is the Sermon I am giving tomorrow morning. Here is the audio of the sermon (let me know if it works and how it sounds). The text is Matthew 28:16-20.

Linway United Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) May 18, 2008

Scripture Lesson Matthew 28:16-20
Sermon “Baptizing and Teaching” Benjamin P. Glaser

Jesus in our Scripture lesson today is preparing to leave the Apostles and He is meeting with them here at a mountain in Galilee before his Ascension so that He can advise them what it is they are to do after He is no longer with them in the flesh. He tells them to go out and preach and teach and convert followers to Christ and to baptize them accordingly. One of the commands that Jesus gives them is that they are to make disciples among all the nations and it is here that I would like to focus your attention. If you could I would like you to get out your pink slip provided in your bulletin or open your Bible to the Scripture lesson in Matthew 28:16-20 and I am going to read again this short passage right now and I want you to think over it as I read it and as I preach this morning, especially verse 19 and I want you to think about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in light of this passage.

As a young child I was fascinated by how things worked. I would take apart my toys with screwdrivers and other tools to ascertain how exactly these things operated. I can remember one particular incident with my sister’s easy-bake oven. I had taken the little oven from her room and was sitting on the floor of my room and as I sat there with a screwdriver and a hammer I took the cover off and exposed the electric motor that operated the oven and as I sat there with the oven in various stages of unity I had the bright idea of plugging in the oven to see if it would become hot enough to melt some of the metal matchbox cars I owned. Well to make a long story short, it does and I have the scars to prove it. What I discovered that day, apart from the fact that a toy that it is made to cook actually gets hot enough to melt metal, is that I did not have the technical know-how to operate an easy-bake oven properly, of course one could say I just did not have the good sense to not take apart a working oven. One need not be anything more than a 6-year old to take things apart but to know how things work I needed more than just the tools of the trade I needed to have the know how. If one wants to become an electrician or a carpenter or a plumber or any type of trade you cannot just pick up a hammer and a nail and announce to the world that you are a carpenter. They’ll put you away. There is training you must go through, an apprentice time one must undergo, certifications you must receive and in many areas a union you must join to seek work as a carpenter. So why is it that we believe that all one needs to do to be a Christian, a follower of Christ is to just say, “Hey God I’m one of yours” and then go about your normal life claiming to be a follower of something and a member of something you have not studied or sought teaching about? Well this morning I want to talk with you about why it is we are called to do as apprentices to the Master who is Jesus Christ do and seek to study and know God’s word to his people given to us in His Word, the whole counsel of God not just the stuff we like, and why it is important in our day that when we are challenged by the ways of this world, when you are confronted at work by unbelievers who want to compromise your faith, when you are moved at school to violate the Laws of God that you have more than just a “well it’s a faith thing” answer as if faith is one way or another divorced from learning. One of the pitfalls we have made as a church is that we have somehow come to believe that Faith is antithetical to knowledge, that “science” or “truth” for that matter and “faith” have separate areas of responsibility. In other words we have moved from a place where we once believed as a Christian community that faith in Jesus Christ had a real knowledge component and that knowledge deeply affected our relationship with Christ to the place where “church” and “faith” are for our spiritual life and “science” is for our physical life. This over-reliance by most in the Church on science to answer questions that Scripture already has is an entirely different problem that we do not have time to get into this morning but there is a vibrant and rabid anti-intellectual movement within our community as believers in Christ and it is killing the church in America as it has already killed the church in Europe. The Apostle Paul in his writing to the Corinthian church in the first letter chapter 3 is confronting the same problem we have today in the church, the Corinthians have not moved passed where they were when he last saw them, beginning at verse 1“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” What Paul is saying here is that there is more to the Christian life and the understanding of Christ but since you have chosen to continue in ignorance and apathy I cannot feed it to you because if I do you will be damaged. If we choose not to move past our infancy in our understanding of Christ how can we do as the Apostle Peter demands of his readers and for us today saying in his first epistle chapter 3 verse 15 that we must be able to “[give] an answer to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…” It is not enough and it is not fair to Christ to give some convoluted and contrived answer to your unbelieving co-worker for the reason why you will not look at porn on their computer screen. As a disciple of Jesus Christ you need to be able to not just tell them why you will not scan their screen but to witness the Gospel to them so that they might believe as you have. This is what Christ is calling the Apostles to do and it is what he is calling us to do today not just in the church but in every area of our life.

One can hardly think the Apostles are ready for such a challenge. I mean was it not less than a week earlier that when their Master, Jesus Christ, had been arrested at Gethsemane that they had fled and hid in the wilderness so as to not be arrested themselves. Are these not the same Apostles that include Peter who had denied that he even knew whom Christ was? Or Thomas who doubted all that he had seen until he actual touched Christ’s physical wounds. How capable really are they to go and teach anyone anything? For one they are not exactly people who we would think would be much good at preaching and teaching. The majority of them barely have an elementary level education, they have not studied under the Rabbi’s or spent their days reflecting and studying the centuries of writings. These are mere fishermen, tax collectors, and a rag tag group of nobodies who have been chosen by Jesus Christ to go out into the world and teach and preach. How is it that Peter is to go and argue against the Jews and the Greeks who have had years of training in rhetoric, public speaking, apologetics, and philosophy? How can Stephen, who is soon to be martyred, stand up and counsel the Pharisees and the Sadducees as to the error of their ways and do so with conviction and confidence? They do so because they have an answer for the faith that is within them, the can do so because most importantly they believe what they are saying contains the words of Life, it is intrinsically what Christ himself had taught them so why should they not be ready to face the struggles and attacks of those who hate Christ? I am sure some of you are saying to yourself, “Well I am not Peter or Stephen” or “I have not had the luxury of sitting at the foot of Jesus” so I cannot hope to come to be able to do such things. Well you may not, like Stephen, ever be called in front of a Church court under the threat of death or you may never be walking around what is modern-day Syria and Turkey defending the faith against Greek philosophers and Jews like Peter. And you would be right to say you could not come to the knowledge that Peter or Stephen had if you do not take the time and the effort to become an apprentice, a disciple of Jesus Christ. Look again at verse 18 through 20, “And Jesus came up and spoke to [the Apostles], saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The word “disciple” as Matthew and others throughout the New Testament use it has a much deeper meaning than we usually inscribe for it. We could just as easily think of a disciple as a “pupil” or a “student”. The real meaning behind what we hear and what we read is that as disciples of Christ we are not meant to be just a follower, like one who follows around a band, the Apostles are not called by Christ to go out and create a sort of Jesus Christ groupie movement, but to go out and teach all that Christ had instructed them, all that the writers of the Older Testament had taught them and see to it that those who through a profession of faith had been moved by the Holy Spirit to proclaim faith in Christ are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. But their discipleship did not end with baptism it had just begun. In the Reformed faith we believe in baptizing infants not just because its pretty and cute but because we believe that in baptism we are bringing this child into a community of faith where the child will be brought up not only by believers but so that the child can become a believer, and not just that, we as a church make a promise that we will teach this child more than just their ABC’s of faith but that we will disciple them, making them students of Jesus Christ. The meaning of being a disciple of Jesus Christ calls us to be students of Christ, Christ is our teacher in the fullest sense of that word. Just as Christ taught the Apostles more than the basics so we should seek to know Christ at a much deeper level than just the nuts and bolts of faith. None of us after learning our ABC’s in kindergarten were able to obtain our High School diploma and go straight into college. There was much more involved in us receiving our High school diploma than just being taught our ABC’s and this is where we are as a church today. We have through the last 100 years or so dumbed down our religious life to the point that we are satisfied with our ABC’s, we are content with just coming to church on the Lord’s day and going home and not allowing the worship of Almighty God to crack through the insulated life that exist outside these four-walls, creating a compartmentalized faith that leaves Christ and his message for two hours each Sunday and maybe a prayer hear and there during the week. This is where Christ’s word to his Apostles strike us to the heart today in this very Service of Worship this morning. Why is it we are here? Are we here to be discipled or are we here to fulfill some kind of social responsibility? Why do we make ourselves get out of bed on Sunday morning when the rest of the world sleeps in? These are all questions we must answer for ourselves and these are questions that can only be answered if we seek ought to know them. Brother and Sisters in Christ I am here to tell you this morning that we are called as disciples of Jesus Christ that we are called to defend our faith and give not only ourselves a reason for being here but to give one to our unbelieving neighbors and family. Because if you cannot answer for the faith and hope that is within you why should anyone else believe either?

But before we trudge off to do the 37 other things we have planned for the Lord’s Day let us remember one thing. Today the session and the members here at Linway have brought these seven young people into the body of the visible church; you have brought these kids into the body of Christ. They are yet apprentices; their learning process has just begun. It is the job of this Church family to lead them and to teach them, discipling them in the way of the Christian Life, in how to properly understand the God whom we worship on the Lord’s Day, teaching them how to observe the Laws of God, teaching them how to observe the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and so on and so forth. The primary teacher in their lives will be and should be the Church. While none of us will ever be the master, because Christ is the Master, we must strive not only to bring ourselves into a deeper and more complete understanding of the faith we confess to believe we must not only exemplify that faith to them through the works of our lives but also through the words we confess.

To God Alone Be the Glory, Amen.