Know Justification?

John Calvin once sermonized,

If, as we would have others believe, we are indeed Christians, we ought to be very familiar with what it means to be justified by faith.  Yet, how few of those who claim to love the gospel understand the justification spoken of so frequently in the Scriptures! This being the case, it is very important that we ourselves should know this doctrine, for without it we can have no assurance of salvation.

You should know justification well after hearing our sermon series on Galatians.  Want to hear then click here.


Sunday Ticket and Christ’s Church

Does Sabbath rest include ceasing from various leisurely activities?  Our confessions do not prohibit modest leisure or recreation.  Modest leisure may be appropriate as long as it does not remove or hinder fellowship, worship, and avoids worldly commerce.  Christians should remain separate from worldly pursuits—remember the Lord sanctified the day.[1]  The more commerce done on the Lord’s Day, the more Christians have to work on Sunday.  The Sabbath consists in performing holy works.  In order to do or receive them, we must avoid things that hinder or omit worship.  In this hyper-stimulated culture, we face many obstacles to sanctifying the Sabbath.  Sunday is the second busiest shopping day in America—ask anyone in the restaurant business and he will tell you that Christians pack the house on Sunday.[2]  One cannot do his religious duty at the mall or in front of a big screen, much less, dare I say, at a NFL game.  Will the NFL game conflict with your religions duty, acts of necessity, and mercy?  That is for you to decide, but if the church officers have called two worship services on Sunday, I don’t know how you will get around your commitment to Christ and his Church if the Dallas Cowboys are playing next year in January?  Better to be more committed to Christ’s church than to America’s Team.

If you need a place to worship this Lord’s Day, our service begins at 10:30am and I have NFL rewind so you can watch the game with me on Monday.

[1] Think of the day like your tithe, all your money belongs to the Lord, but a certain amount is specially given to the church for the Lord.  Every day belongs to the Lord and you serve him daily, however, Sunday is a special day because the Lord set it apart for a special purpose.

[2]Most restaurants classify them as the most difficult patrons and poorest tippers.  The worst of the bunch slip tacky tracks with less than 15% in place of a good tip.  Non-Christians with tenure, therefore, often refuse to work on Sunday resulting in Christians to fill the gap, see Clark, Recovering, 324.

Yahweh’s Sabbath

Sunday in America has become a day of relaxation, dare I say a day devoted to the NFL.  The Sabbath is a day for relaxation, however, and more importantly, it is Yahweh’s Sabbath (Ex. 31:13; 20:10; Lev. 19:3, 30; Isa. 56:4).  It is a day of resting and holding sacred assembly (Lev. 23:3).  Because it is Yahweh’s Sabbath, it is a gift and blessing for man (Mark 2:27).  Sabbath is a joy for man where he finds his deepest delight in the Lord. It is a celebration not to be missed (Heb. 10:25).  It is a day to celebrate justification and eschatological hope, to participate in the glorious hope to come.  It is a day of learning about the new-creation (heaven) to get accustomed to its ways of life—it is a day to enjoy God.  Christians do so by going to church for it is also a day of enjoying others, which is why the commandment speaks of equal rest for family, slaves, animals, and foreigners.  Therefore, it is a day of praying together as a family, discussing the service in Christian fellowship, and reaching out to the world.

The Sabbath is a day of Christian liberty not a day of bondage.  God did not design it to constrain Christians but to maximize their liberty.  It is one day in seven to be free from the demands of this world.  It is a day to rest from ordinary duties without feeling bad about it.  Christians have six days a week to focus on work and are not obligated to attend church in those days.  God has commanded six days a week to live in the common kingdom and to interact with the broader world.  Yet, God sets apart one day from this common kingdom and its ordinary cultural activities.  In doing so, the Sabbath offers a wonderful testimony to this world.

Christians share life, play, work, trade, etc. with their neighbors six days a week.  On the Lord’s Day, however, they do something different.  They come together to listen to a half hour monologue about the past, only to eat a tiny meal of wine and bread afterwards.  They sing about the blood, pray together, call each other brother and sister.  They speak a foreign language of free grace and in so doing show that the ordinary (common) is not their highest end or love in this world.  In that place stand this non-ordinary day and its duties.  Most Christians get this backwards as they baptize everything in the common kingdom throughout the week making a Christian ghetto with their own music, festivals, magazines, movies, styles, clothing, bumper stickers, etc.  Then secularize the Lord’s Day as much as possible.  They attempt to rob the unbelievers’ common world six days a week only to secularize the sacred that he might feel welcome.  He may but does the Holy Spirit?

I invite you this Sunday to Missoula Reformed Fellowship to enjoy the bounty of the Lord’s Day, to be refreshed by the preaching of the gospel and Christian fellowship.  Our worship service begins at 10:30am followed by a potluck and catechism.  This Sunday we will hear from Galatians 2:17–21 in the Divine service followed by a class on the Covenant of Works.

The Spirituality of the Church

There must be somewhere groups of redeemed men and women who can gather together humbly in the name of Christ, to give thanks to Him for His unspeakable gift and to worship the Father through Him. Such groups alone can satisfy the needs of the soul. At the present time, there is one longing of the human heart which is often forgotten – it is the deep, pathetic longing of the Christian for fellowship with his brethren. . . . There are congregations, eve in the present age of conflict, that are really gathered around the table of the crucified Lord; there are pastors that are pastors indeed. But such congregations, in many cities, are difficult to find. Weary with the conflicts of the world, one goes to Church to seek refreshment for the soul. And what does one find? Alas, too often, one find only the turmoil of the world. The preacher comes forward, not out of a secret place of mediation and power, not with the authority of God’s Word permeating his message, not with human wisdom pushed far into the background by the glory of the Cross, but with human opinions about the social problems of the hour or easy solutions of the vast problems of sin. Such is the sermon. And then perhaps the service is closed by one of those hymns breathing out the angry passions of 1861 . . . Thus the warfare of the world has entered even into the house of God. And sad indeed is the heart of the man who has come seeking peace. Is there no refuge from strife? . . . . Is there no place where two or three can gather in Jesus’ name, . . . to forget human pride, to forget the passions of war, to forget the puzzling problems of industrial strife, and to unite in overflowing gratitude at the foot of the Cross? If there be such a place, then that is the house of God and that the gate of heaven. And from under the threshold of that house will go forth a river that will revive the weary world.

Dr. Hart at the WSC conferenceChristianity & Liberalism Revisited reminded me last night that the church is a “spiritual institution with spiritual means for spiritual ends.”  If this Bible study becomes a Reformed Church, Dr. Machen’s doctrine of the Spirituality of the Church will ever remain a focus in my heart and mind.  If you desire a simple place turned into a holy place every Lord’s Day, then this Bible study is for you.

Why Be Confessional?

As Protestants, who would want to apply anything to the Bible?  Who does the Bible belong?   Well, the Reformed state that it as well as interpretation belongs to the whole church, as a community.  Think about it, Jesus set up an ecclesiastical authority to be obeyed (Heb. 13.7) and Paul pointed to a continuing, special teaching ministry after his death (cf. 1 Tim 3.1-7; 2 Tim 4.2; Titus 1.5-9), why?  The point is that Christians do not interpret individually; the body as a whole with gifted leaders guides the church and interprets Scripture jointly as the Body of Christ.  The Jerusalem church is a great example.  It set up a council to find the underlying cause of a problem within its ranks.  After the decision on the matter, it related the conclusion to other churches to follow.  The Bible proves that men come together and interpret Scripture in community, one cannot read the Bible alone, individually; it needs the community as a whole past, present, and future.  The Bible even actually has many positive statements about tradition (Luke 1:1-4; Mark 7:5-13; 2 Thess 2.15).

Taking away creeds and councils from the church disrupts hermeneutics. Having been a Christian for some time, you have heard Christians arguing over contrary theological problems.  Each side appeals to Scripture.  Who is right, whose interpretation is correct?  Appealing to Scripture to justify a position is an appeal to an interpretation of Scripture, and the question is begged, “Whose interpretation?”  The position of “The whole Bible and nothing but the Bible,” adheres to individual reason and conscience as the supreme interpreter, which leads to solipsism.  One’s mind stands alone as the absolute judge.  Any claim to absolute authority results in circular reasoning. This is unavoidable, for any secondary premise for or against the first claim of authority results in a new absolute, which begs the question again.  The Bible is the authority, but it does not interpret itself, it needs an interpreter.  If the interpreter claims neutral individual reasoning in the interpretive process, he claims autonomous reasoning.  His reasoning then stands as the absolute standard in interpretation.  Therefore, autonomous reasoning becomes an equal or supreme authority over Scripture.  In addition, no one comes to Scripture void of presuppositions.  The idea of neutrality is the product of the Enlightenment with its doctrine of tabula rasa.  This rationalistic approach to Scripture is neither biblical nor valid.

History displays the problems with this approach.  The heretic Arius appealed only to Scripture to denounce the deity of Christ. The early wishes of the Council to use only biblical language to counter his claims changed.  They realized they needed extra-biblical language based on proper, holistic interpretation of Scripture, which considered tradition to combat this heretic. Improper individualistic interpretation was the problem—Arius used Scripture alone.  The Anabaptists called for interpreting Scripture using reason and conscience alone.  However, this led many like Sabastian Frank into extreme individualism and the denial of key doctrines like the Trinity.  The creeds and councils of the historic church with its interpretation keep individuals from heresy.

The Bible alone approach finds its roots in the Radical Reformers, rationalism of the Enlightenment, and the democratic populism of early America.  The Radical Reformers, rationalism and democracy all have the same underlying position of autonomy.  The assumption is that all one needs is individual conscience and reason to survive, whether in religion or secular disciplines. The Reformers did not cohere to autonomy; they sought to prove a historical link through tradition to the apostolic age to fix their pedigree.  The Reformation was not a movement based on Scripture verses tradition but rather between Rome’s idea of tradition and the early Churches idea of tradition.  The Reformers agreed to distinguish true tradition from corrupt tradition.  They did this by testing tradition according to its faithfulness to Scripture.  Thus, Scripture became the standard for identification of true tradition, rather than tradition the standard for interpretation of Scripture.

Lastly, the Bible alone tradition needs an anachronistic reading of modern conditions back into periods of history.  Many in the ancient church did not have access to a Bible.  They relied on the church and its interpretation.  Even today, there are parts of the world where men do not have Scripture.  These churches and those of antiquity relied on church leaders and tradition to guide them, there was no individuality.

Without creeds, there would be no certain doctrine because each individual would be responsible for fixing his own doctrinal boundaries.  In the end, the catholic church is seized by a plethora of autonomous churches.  The local church in reality would consist of a community of doctrinal mini-individual churches under one roof.   If there is no authority to check one’s interpretation then any doctrine can be tossed to suit one’s interpretation.  The examples above of Arius prove this premise.  The least of the problems for Bible alone tradition is that individualism, which results in subjectivism leading to skepticism, is the result.  The gravest problem is self-condemnation.

The Bible alone Tradition carries with it some practical problems.  When the sole authority of interpretation lies only with individuals apart from the church, division is the result.  During the Reformation, this was one of Rome’s critiques of Luther’s doctrine of private interpretation.  They said if every person was able to read scripture alone there would be many interpretations dividing the Church.  There is truth to this statement, obvious today with all the different splits within Protestantism.  If there is no outside source to say who is right or wrong, the church may split with no solution.  Luther’s doctrine of private interpretation did not mean individual interpretation apart from the church.  If this was true, which the Bible alone tradition holds, there would be no church authority.  If Christ’s disciplinary authority remains in the church and the churches authority is taken away, then Christ’s authority is demolished.  Christ did not set up a democracy; he set up a church with different gifts and elders with responsibilities and authority or else Scriptures call to believers to submit to church authority would be vain (Heb 13.17; Acts 20.28).  Scripture does call Christians to submit because God has gifted leaders with authority.  These men only have authority in so far that they submit to church doctrine.  Church doctrine has authority in so far that it represents Scripture.

The doctrine of sola scriptura does not mean “Bible Alone” or “Me Alone.”  Nevertheless, this is where this tradition inevitably leads; the individual becomes the final authority.  This theology pervades much of the church today because of the Enlightenment.  This approach matured during the Enlightenment, which was an act to free itself from the restraints of tradition.  Modern thought developed in a crisis of authority, wishing to flee from authority, founding itself on autonomy from all traditional influence.  Today’s worldview sees autonomy as king and this has pervaded the church.  When one believes he approaches the Bible without bias, which is what autonomy assumes, that person is the most bias.

Nowhere in Scripture is there a single hint that every individual believer is free from bias, and able to decide for himself and by himself what is and is not the right interpretation.  American Evangelicals must do away with John Locke’s doctrine.  No 21st century Christian is free from his heritage.  Only with a historical confession in hand, might we find purer catholicity of the church.

Reformed Worship: The Elements and the Circumstances

Reformed took great caution with the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW).  They only applied it to worship.  Those areas that God had authoritatively addressed, all other areas of life were considered adiaphora (Greek: indifferent things). If the RPW controlled all areas, life would get difficult to resemble Phariseeism against our freedom found in Christ.  Freedom, nevertheless, is controlled by God’s holy rule.  All other areas of life are “ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word.”  General rules of Scripture influence private Christian piety.  The Christian life is one of wisdom; the RPW only reigns in corporate worship.

What about the things in worship that are unique to a certain culture or time?  There are objects in worship that seem neutral with no biblical evidence for or against like amplification.  Can the church use amplification when doing so is not commanded in Scripture?  Should the church worship in a house or out in a field?  These are a few issues in worship not clarified in Scripture.  The question is begged, “How can the church actually follow the RPW, when there are so many things found in worship not found in Scripture” and “ Should worship rid all 21st amenities to only resemble the culture and time of the 1st C.E.?” The distinction between circumstances and essences has the answer, Westminster Confession 1.6:

There are some circumstances about the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be obeyed.

Reformed Christians agree that not everything connected with worship is worship.  For instance the shape of buildings, the length of service, sitting and other non-religious activities have no religious significance.  These are circumstances; Dr. Clark notes that anything that culture or wisdom can potentially change without affecting worship is a circumstance.[1] Some things found in worship are just natural without any moral cultic overtones.  Some things, Dr. Clark explains, are physical circumstances that aid worship, which occur alongside other civil and religious actions done by men and are not part of worship.  They do not contribute moral goodness or badness to the agent in performance. Some physical circumstances, however, become moral because God sanctifies it. For example, the seventh day of the week became the Lord’s Day because he sanctified. Elements are those things that God has given spiritual significance to like prayer and the reading of Scripture.  Circumstances are physical man-made things that surround worship like time or place. The RPW does allow practices as amplification to aid worship as long as the church realizes that these are only physical circumstances that could be taken away without affecting biblical worship.  A pastor could remove the microphone and remain biblical, however, for example he could not remove the sermon and remain biblical.  The church, therefore, may employ 21st amenities (i.e. microphone), while recognizing them as mere circumstances that help and are not worship.

[1] Clark, “Recovering the Reformed Confession,” 230.

Justification is the Heart of the Message of Salvation.

Purchase “Justified” and not your soul and learn that God justifies the “ungodly” (Rom. 4:5).  This book is written for the thoughtful lay person as well as pastors. It supplies background, and context for those not up to speed on this historical Protestant doctrine.  There are also chapters on the history of this doctrine, recent studies, insights into justification and preaching, and finally justification and the Christian life, how justification relates to sanctification.  Anyone who loves the doctrine of Salvation will find this collection valuable.