9 Marks Ministries has released its September 2006 newsletter and it is well worth reading. They address issues dealing with the Emerging Church philosophy that is permeating evangelicalism. Just click on the 9News banner above and look at the column entitled “The Latest from 9 Marks.” Very, very helpful!
Monthly Archives: August 2006
There are so many stony ground hearers who receive the Word with joy that I have determined to suspend my judgment till I know the tree by its fruits …Do you think any farmer would have a crop of corn next year unless he plowed now? You may as well expect a crop of corn on unplowed ground as a crop of grace until the soul is convinced of its being undone without a Savior. That is the reason we have so many mushroom converts, so many persons that are always happy! happy! happy! and never were miserable. Why? Because their stony ground is not plowed up; they have not got a conviction of the law . . . they fall away . . . That makes me so cautious now, which I was not thirty years ago, of dubbing converts too soon. Now I wait a little, and see if people bring forth fruit; for there are so many blossoms which March winds blow away that I cannot believe they are converts till I see fruit brought forth.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity. . .” With those famous words, Charles Dickens introduced his great novel A Tale of Two Cities. Of course, Dickens had the two cities of London and Paris in mind, and much of his story revealed that the tenor of the times depended upon where one lived.
In some sense, that remains true as we consider the state of preaching today. To a large degree, this depends upon where one chooses to look.
(To read the rest of the article by Dr. Mohler, click here.)
“No talk of Catholic [practice] can advance very far without coming upon the topic of the Virgin Mary. And there is no topic, not the papacy, not the Mass itself, that arouses greater consternation, not to say scandal, among non-Catholics.” So writes former Protestant evangelical and now Roman Catholic, Thomas Howard. [On Being Catholic, 179]
And, surely, that is so. Protestants have the greatest difficulty understanding or showing sympathy for the doctrines of Mary that Catholics teach (that she herself, and not only her son, was born and lived without sin [“The Immaculate Conception”]; that she remained a virgin all her life [“The Perpetual Virginity”]; and that, shortly after she died, Mary’s body was raised, reunited with her soul, and then she was taken bodily to heaven [“The Assumption of Mary”]. Where, we ask, is any of this taught in Holy Scripture? Where is there the barest suggestion of such teaching? Is not the simple, artless teaching of the Bible, and of Mary herself that she, like all the elect, was a sinner saved by grace in the same way that all sinners are and must be saved?
Still more, Protestants have the greatest difficulty understanding how Catholics can justify saying prayers to Mary, a mere human being. Why, Protestants point out, Mary is mentioned only a few times in the Gospels after the accounts of the Savior’s birth and is never mentioned again after Acts 1, where we read only that she was together with the Apostles in the Upper Room in Jerusalem after the Lord’s Resurrection. Paul never mentions her, Peter never mentions her. There is nothing, not one word in the Bible about any special place she occupies in the life of Christians. But Catholics have their reply.
First, they say, to pay this honor to Mary, to believe these special things about her, and to pray to her, was the universal teaching and practice of the ancient church, what Catholics often refer to as “the unanimous consent of the fathers.” Now, we have already dealt with the Roman Catholic doctrine of tradition as a source of Christian doctrine and practice alongside the Bible. Catholics are not troubled, as we are, by the fact that the Bible contains nothing of their doctrine of Mary, for they believe that doctrine was handed down to the church in another way: not in the Bible, but in the teaching of the Apostles handed down through the bishops of the church. I am reading a new biography, a magisterial study of the life of John Henry Newman, the 19th century’s most prominent example of a Protestant — he was a member of the Church of England — who left his Protestant church to become a Roman Catholic, indeed to become eventually a Cardinal in the Catholic Church. Newman said what “made me a Catholic [was] the visible fact that the modern Roman Catholic Communion was the heir and the image of the primitive Church.” [Ker, 611] That is, Newman felt that the Roman Catholic Church believed and worshiped as the early Christians did. That was, for him, the proof that Catholicism was right and true.
We have already said why we cannot accept this argument, or the Catholic doctrine of tradition, or its claim faithfully to represent the practice of earliest Christianity, and we have already said why we must rest our doctrine and our practice on the Bible alone. But Catholics, of course, think differently.
And we Protestants must admit that there is a great deal about Mary and her place in the Christian life in the materials of early Christianity, much more than there is in the Bible. Last week we pointed out that the practice of confession of sins to a priest, so much a part of the Catholic understanding of salvation, cannot be found in the teaching of the church fathers or of the church councils for a thousand years after the apostles. But the same cannot be said for the special place that Catholics assign to Mary.
By the later fourth century you find both exalted views of her and of her sinlessness, if not her immaculate conception, and the practice of prayers addressed to her and veneration, even worship, given to her. Gregory Nazianzen tells of one Justina who prayed to the Virgin Mary to protect her virginity because she had come under the spell of a youthful lover –who happened, interestingly, to be Cyprian before his conversion, the man who would later be the celebrated North African bishop–. You also begin to find the proliferation of titles by which Mary would be known: especially, “Mother of God” and “Queen of Heaven.” In the fifth century, when the worship of saints appeared in full bloom, Mary, by reason of her unique relation to the Lord, was placed at their head, the Queen of the heavenly host. Much later, Catholic theology would draw a distinction between latria, the worship due to God alone, dulia, the veneration which is due to all saints and angels, and hyperdulia, the highest degree of veneration below latria, which was reserved for Mary. In the centuries following, the place of Mary in belief and piety continued to develop. The practice of prayer to her often overshadowed prayer to God himself, she was believed to have performed miracles, and became almost coordinate with Christ as a joint or co-mediator invested with most of his attributes and powers. Like him she was conceived sinlessly, lived without sin, was raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven, though these beliefs became doctrines only very slowly and against much opposition. Indeed, the last of these Marian doctrines, her bodily assumption to heaven, did not become the official dogma of the Roman Catholic Church until 1950! The Greek church also followed this pattern and in some of its collects, that is, short formal prayers in the liturgy, substitutes the name of Mary for the name of Jesus.
But Protestant Christians, and Protestant theology have always been much less impressed by this historical argument. First, there were forces unquestionably at work in those early centuries that made virtually inevitable such a development as we see happening in the growing veneration given to Mary. For example, in the apocryphal gospels of the third and fourth centuries — writings that even the Catholic church regards as spurious — there are all manner of fantastic tales told of Mary. In other words, there was a great temptation in that age to extrapolate from the sober and reliable history of the Bible fables and legends that exalted the biblical characters far beyond the facts. What is more, in that culture at that time, there was a predisposition to believe in the mothers of gods, the heathenism of that time, which had worked itself profoundly into the culture, was well used to female deities, to a hierarchy of lesser deities leading up to the great God or gods, and was also accustomed to worshipping heros — as the Greeks and Romans did. It was inevitable that, in that culture, there would be a strong temptation to attribute to Mary the kind of place the mothers of gods occupied in the other faiths and, in that highly ascetic age, to begin to prefer to believe in her perpetual virginity. Christian history demonstrates a thousand times that the church’s thinking is always susceptible to influences from the philosophies and religions round about, is always succumbing to those influences, always having to be purified from them. [Schaff, III, 411, 413-414]
But, in addition to this, the entire development of the doctrine of Mary and the practice of veneration for her and prayer to her is much more complicated than is suggested by such a phrase as “the unanimous consent of the fathers.” There is, as a matter of fact, a slow development of this doctrine with a great deal of disagreement along the way. The Immaculate Conception of Mary, for example, was not brought forward as the formal teaching of the church until 1140 at Lyons and, when it was, it was opposed by no one less than Bernard of Clairvaux himself. From that time on, the doctrine of the immaculate conception was a matter of dispute between the Franciscans and the Dominicans until it was pronounced church dogma by a papal bull in 1854. Early fathers, such as Tertullian, did not hesitate to teach that Mary had other children by Joseph after the birth of Jesus, the brothers and sisters who are mentioned in the Gospels, or that she sinned, even that the Lord rebuked her on several occasions in the Gospels. Prayers to Mary do not appear in the evidence until late in the 4th century, and there is no mention of such prayers in the voluminous writings of Athanasius, Basil, Chrysostom, and Augustine 400 years after Pentecost. Some fathers specifically condemn the practice as blasphemous [Schaff, III, 423 n.].
Take another example. The famous Catholic prayer, the “Hail Mary” or “Ave Maria” is composed of three parts. The first part is the salutation of the angel which we read in our text, “Hail Mary, full of grace” — so read the Latin translation; the NIV has the meaning more accurately, “you who are highly favored” –. The second part is Elizabeth’s greeting in Luke 1:42: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.” The last part — “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and in the hour of our death,” is the controversial part, obviously. It used to be claimed that this part of the prayer went back to the 5th century. It is now widely admitted that it originates in the 16th century and the closing words, “now and in the hour of our death,” are even later. Even the first two parts of the “Hail Mary,” did not come into general use as a prayer until the 13th century. In other words, the development of Marian devotion in the church happened as we might have expected it to happen in such a religious culture as the culture the early church found herself in, and, even then, it was a development in fits and stages that came only gradually and much later into the form in which it is now known.
But in the second place, the Catholics argue that their practices in regard to Mary are really but an extension of principles of great importance taught in Holy Scripture. This was the particular emphasis of the teaching on Mary that I have studied over these past weeks, that is, the teaching about Mary given by former Protestants who are now Catholics, such as Thomas Howard and Scott Hahn. They want us to hear them say with great emphasis, for example, that they are not praying “to” Mary, as if they believe that she can, in her own strength and by her own virtue, hear and answer prayer. They are asking her to pray with us and for us as she is there is the very presence of her Son our Lord. And so with prayers to other saints. Thomas Howard is quite willing to admit, indeed, that this point is often missed in Catholic practice and that many “an ill-instructed peasant supposes that Mary somehow is more approachable than her Son”  Those are his words. Or, he says, “multitudes of poorly instructed Catholic faithful have not altogether grasped the distinction between what they are doing at this image of St. Anthony or St. Lucy [or, we might add, this image of Mary] and what they do when they kneel in the Lord’s presence” . That is, of course, true. I saw an interview with Catholics about Mary and one woman was happy to say that she felt that, as a woman, Mary understood her better and was more approachable than the Lord Christ himself.
But, he goes on. We Christians ask one another to pray for us all the time. Why would we not ask those brothers and sisters, and the chief among them especially, who are now gone on from us and are among the spirits made perfect, to pray for us? We do not cast any aspersion on the power of Jesus’ intercession for us when we ask others to pray for us, do we? Of course not. So, why should it be thought some kind of diminishment of Christ to ask Mary for her prayers? And, then, he appeals to the tradition of the church and the practice of such prayers for prayers already in early church history. The problem is that the fine distinctions that these modern writers wish to maintain are not so easily demonstrated in the tradition. Mary is prayed to; she is asked herself for blessings. It is not the case that only her prayers to Christ himself are sought. She is given a role that is not only utterly absent from the teaching of the Bible, but which is utterly foreign to the teaching and practice of the Bible, where, from Genesis to Revelation, the saints call upon God himself and directly!
A grand illustration of the problem was furnished for us some years ago when Pope John Paul II, the present Pope, was shot in St. Peter’s square. This Pope is known for his Marian devotion. After he was shot he was placed still conscious in an ambulance and rushed to a hospital. From the time he was wounded to the time he lapsed into drug induced unconsciousness on the operating table he is reported to have uttered but one word, and that word over and over again: “Madonna.” Not, “Lord,” not “God,” not “Christ,” not “Savior” or “Redeemer,” but “Madonna.” When his life was in the balance, he lifted up his heart not to the Prince of Life but to the Lord’s mother. Are we not right to think that something fundamentally unbiblical is at work here? Not simply extrabiblical, but unbiblical. Something has been placed between the soul and the Savior himself that is never placed between by the Bible itself. In the Bible people do not pray so. For the thousands of years covered in Holy Scripture no one prayed so. It was the glory of their faith that they were given immediate access to God who was willing to hear their prayers and answer them.
But, finally, the Catholics respond, when we venerate Mary we are entering into that spirit of faith and humility that she demonstrated so magnificently in the way in which she undertook the astonishing service that was granted her to perform. And by looking to her we are seeking to put ourselves in her place and to respond to the Lord with the same faith, the same submission, the same devotion, his grace working in and through us as it did in her. Thomas Howard and Scott Hahn particularly have some beautiful and moving things to say of Mary’s example as a perfect example of all that Christians aspire to be. And that, surely, is true. Absolutely true. Listen to these words.
“As mother of the Savior of the world, the Virgin Mary unquestionably holds forever a peculiar position among all women, and in the history of redemption. Even in heaven she must stand peculiarly near to Him whom on earth she bore nine months under her bosom, and whom she followed with true motherly care to the cross. It is perfectly natural, nay, essential, to sound religious feeling, to associate with Mary the fairest traits of maidenly and maternal character, and to revere her as the highest model of female purity, love, and piety. From her example issues a silent blessing upon all generations, and her name and memory are, and ever will be, inseparable from the holiest mysteries and benefits of faith. For this reason her name is even wrought into the Apostles’ Creed, in the simple and chaste words, ‘Conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.'” [Schaff, III, 410]
Those words were written by a Protestant, a Reformed Christian. And surely we can give our assent to them with all our hearts. Let no Roman Catholic take our crown in the reverence in which we hold the mother of our Lord. It is in saying more than this that we face the problem. Here Thomas Howard and Scott Hahn fail to persuade us. Faithful she was, wonderfully! Humble and submissive to God, she was, as we must be! But the Bible, and the Lord himself, seem to treat her as other Christians, seem to place her with the rest of us, who must live by faith, die in faith, and await the resurrection of the dead.
Indeed, in a most interesting passage, perhaps a text that has always bothered us a little, the Lord Jesus seems to be even a bit dismissive of his mother (as many have also thought, at first glance, he was at the wedding at Cana in John 2). He was not dismissive of her in either case, of course. But, he does not take the opportunity provided in Matthew 12:46-50, to exalt his mother above the others who trust in him and walk with him. This has always stuck in my memory. My father was reading this text at family worship one evening when I was a boy. And he wondered aloud why the Lord spoke as he did. Why he spoke in such a way as might be taken by some as not properly respectful of his mother. You remember: the Lord was teaching the crowds and his mother and brothers appeared on the outskirts wanting a chance to speak with him. Someone told the Lord that they were there wanting to see him and he replied, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” And, then, pointing to his disciples around him he said, “here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” To Protestant ears, that sounds almost as if the Lord was anticipating mistakes that would be made about Mary in ages to come! I should say, as an aside, the Lord’s reference to his brothers, again, would naturally be understood, as the other references to them in the Gospels, as a reference to his younger siblings, the other children of Joseph and Mary [remember he is described as her firstborn son, and the Scripture says that she had no relations with Joseph until she gave birth to a son (Matthew 1:25).], which, of course, would contradict the claim that she remained a virgin all her life — an idea that is completely without support in the Bible, or good reason in the Bible, but would have been increasingly attractive a few centuries later as the church took from the surrounding world the notion that a sexless life, an ascetic life was a superior and more holy life.
Why does the Bible say nothing of her in those ways in which Catholics think of her and pray to her? When it describes the life of faith, when Jesus taught that life and Paul and Peter, for whom Catholics have a special reverence, why do they say nothing about Mary or seeking her prayers. Why do they describe a life and a piety without mentioning any of this? Thomas Howard can only say that the Bible’s silence may be “the veil shrouding a mystery worth guarding from profane eyes” . But who is to say? Why should we believe any of this system of prayer to Mary or the practice of devotion to her and, all the more, given its slow, fitful, and controversial development even within the Roman Catholic tradition?
You see, I do not doubt that Scott Hahn and Thomas Howard believe that God alone can answer prayers and that the purpose of Mary in the Catholic system is really simply to confirm gospel principles that are taught in Holy Scripture. But, what the Catholic system of theology and piety has done in extrapolating from the biblical account of Mary this entire set of beliefs and practices that are utterly unknown in the Bible, utterly foreign to the teaching of the apostles themselves, is to place something between the soul and the Savior. There is our fundamental objection. I do not doubt that some Catholics are not fundamentally confused by this interposition of Mary and the other saints between themselves and the Lord. Thomas Howard admits that multitudes of Catholics have been so confused and misled. But the question is: are we to believe that the place given to Mary in this system is faithful to the truth as it is taught in Holy Scripture.
And here I answer as I have answered in regard to other such questions in our examination of Roman Catholic belief and practice. The way they extrapolate from the Bible and build an entire edifice of practice that cannot itself be found in the Bible, is precisely what the Jews did in the days of Jesus Christ, and before and after. They too were intensely interested in the faith and serious about their practice of it. They too developed traditions, both of doctrine and of the practice of piety, that they felt would help them be more faithful. Some of those traditions were very much like Roman Catholic practices, such as the rosary. I can very easily imagine a devout Jew arguing for the worth and value of their practices in virtually identical language to that used by Thomas Howard or Scott Hahn as they argue for Catholic devotion to Mary and the like.
But those traditions, Jesus himself said, actually got in the way. The stress they placed upon those traditional ideas and practices drove a wedge between the soul and God himself and created a sense of dependence upon the believer’s works, even pious works, for his salvation instead of concentrating all attention upon the faith that a believer is to place directly in the Lord and his mercy. And that was a crucial, a fatal error, and led eventually to such a different conception of salvation, that it was loyal members of the church of God who crucified the Savior of the world when he came among them. Their traditions and traditional practices had hidden the Savior himself from their eyes.
No, what is at stake here is finally something terribly immense. What Christianity offers is the very knowledge of God. You, yourself, you pipsqueak, you inconsequential and sinful human being, you can know God, can know God personally in his love and tender mercy, in his fatherly interest and provision, in his kingly protection. You, your very own self, can speak to him with the knowledge that the Almighty will hear and answer, can love him and be loved in return. Christ came among us in part to prove this to us: that the Creator of heaven and earth and the King of Kings would really stoop to know and be known by us.
But in our sinful rebellion, and in our craven fear of a holy God on account of our sins, we are always wanting to put a greater distance between ourselves and God, to put something in between, to manage, to make safe and predictable, this otherwise so personal and so intimate relationship with the living God himself. After all, whenever, in the Bible, someone comes face to face with God, it is no casual affair; it is devastating, terrifying, at least at first. So we are always tempted to domesticate this Christian faith, to make it more predictable and to place it once again under our control. It isn’t just Roman Catholics that do this. Oh no. Don’t anyone take that away from this message. What concerns us in their practice of Marian devotion should concern us as well in our own Protestant, Presbyterian, Reformed practices and our own approach to our life of faith. We too are always tending to make our relationship with God more comfortable for ourselves by placing something between ourselves and him, by giving ourselves a little distance as it were. We place our works, our pious acts of worship, or intermediaries like Mary and the saints, between ourselves and God. We turn our faith into a lifestyle, or an ethic, or a set of practices until, before we know it and without our realizing it, it is no longer a personal relationship with God, a walking with God through this world. Now we are dealing with a distant God, a more remote deity according to a set of rules or procedures. We are more comfortable with that.
But, in that we lose the glory and splendor and power of the gospel, which brings us directly to God and gives us to know him and be loved and ruled by him. It is not always easy to have your life open entirely to God and to have to deal with Him directly regarding your days and your nights, your choices, your sorrows, your disappointments, your failures, and your sins. But that is what God requires.
And what he promises is that if you come to Him, directly, lay your soul, your life at his feet, as Mary did, look to him for your salvation, not only in the world to come but day to day, and live your life in active dependence upon his living presence with you, as Mary did, He will give you rest, the forgiveness of your sins, the promise of eternal life, his love shed abroad in your heart, his Spirit to support, comfort, and encourage you, his law to guide you, his hand to direct your steps, and he will give you the longings, the delights of your heart, as you trust in him. Nothing can come between you and Him. That is the secret of all life and all truth: God himself may be known by us as our Father in heaven, Christ as our Savior, the Holy Spirit as our Comforter. But sinful little creature that you are, you will struggle all your life to believe that and to act upon that truth. Whether it frightens you, the prospect of facing God, or whether you believe it too good to be true, you will struggle to accept. But you must for, as the Lord Jesus himself said, “he who comes to me, I will never drive away!”
(Robert L. Reymond is Professor of Systematic Theology at Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He holds B.A., M.A., and Ph. D. degrees from Bob Jones University and has done doctoral and post-doctoral studies in other Seminaries and Universities. He is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America, who has lectured in various countries in Europe and the East. Prior to taking the chair of Systematic Theology at Knox Theological Seminary he taught at Covenant Theological Seminary for more than twenty years. Then too, he has authored numerous articles in theological journals and various reference works, and has written some ten books.)
A certain Christian once said to a friend, “Our church costs too much. They are always asking for money.” [Her friend replied in this fashion]: “Sometime ago a little boy was born in our home. He cost [us] a lot of money from the very beginning: he had a big appetite; he needed clothes, medicine, toys, and even a puppy. Then he went to school, and that cost a lot more; later he went to college; then he began dating, and that cost a small fortune! But in his senior year at college he died, and since the funeral he hasn’t cost [us] a penny. Now which situation do you think we would rather have?”
After a significant pause, the friend continued, “As long as this church lives it will cost. When it dies for want of support it won’t cost us anything. A living church has the most vital message in all the world today; therefore I am going to give and pray with everything I have to keep our church alive” (Alan Redpath, The Royal Route to Heaven. Westwood, NJ: Revell, 1960, p. 27).
Some people believe it is unspiritual to talk about money. Some say not to worry about money but just let God provide. We should not worry about anything because God will provide, but as we’ve mentioned at various times, we must be good stewards with what God has given us in using the brains God has given us to do the work God has commissioned us to do.
And the fact of the matter is that the way to continue these operations from keeping our electricity and our phones to funding various ministries is monetarily. But we will see that if we realize all that God has given to us in Christ, then it will be no problem for us to give to God’s work. So how are we to give?
Last Sunday, two children from our congregation stepped forward in believer’s baptism to testify of what Christ accomplished in their hearts. As is our custom here at Boone’s Creek, we give all those who are baptized a new Bible.
I had a choice. Find a nice Bible for little kids that they would outgrow as they matured a couple years — or get them a real Bible that they could use indefinitely.
I chose the latter. So I went to my local Lifeway Christian Stores outlet and purchased on our church account two ESV Children’s Bibles.
Here are some of the specs:
- 11-point type
- Size: 5.5″ x 8.5″
- No center-column cross-reference system
- Words of Christ in red
- No CD-ROM request card included
- Maps and illustrations
- Not thumb-indexed
- The inside is based on the large-print editions
- Over 200 full-color illustrations
- See sample 1 or sample 2 of the inside.
The ESV is written on a 10th grade level, yet it has a translation philosophy known as Essentially Literal. That is what I want my little girl to have in her hands — a Bible that stays true to the original manuscripts.
An objection would be, “But Matt, she’s too young to understand it.” Well, this Bible has over 200 age-appropriate color illustrations to help them know that great stories and doctrines of the faith. And when she reads along with us, we can stop and I can explain what these words mean. It allows me as her father (and pastor, for that matter) to give her a good grounding of the faith from a wonderful literal translation.
Have any of you seen the ESV Children’s Bible? What think ye?
Recipes and I do not get along too well. The extent of my cooking knowledge is praying that the box says, “Microwaveable” … then I proceed. But when it comes to recipes for revival, that’s a different story. It’s exciting to read how God moved in various awakenings throughout history. The most amazing one is found in Acts when 3000 people came to Christ in one day as Peter preached in Jerusalem. From that, many more revivals and awakenings came to pass as Peter, Stephen, Philip and the Apostle Paul traveled and preached throughout the entire Roman Empire, turning that powerful empire upside down. Though allegiance to Caesar was required (under penalty of death), many turned their allegiance to Christ (and faced the penalty of death).
Revivals have come throughout church history as well. The Great Awakening of the 1730s -40s in colonial America, eventually spreading to Europe, under the ministry of Jonathan Edwards in America and George Whitefield in England, brought awakened many to the Spirit’s work — among whom are John and Charles Wesley.
What exactly is “revival”? Stephen Olford says, “Revival is an invasion from heaven that brings a conscious awareness of God.” Vance Havner once said that, “Revival is the church falling in love with Jesus all over again.”
Some say we are past the era of revivals and see little use for them. One lady asked the great evangelist Billy Sunday, “Why do you keep having revivals?” Billy Sunday asked her a question right back, “Why do you keep taking baths?” The message is clear — individual Christians and churches need to set aside time to simply focus on our life in Jesus Christ. That’s the plan for this coming Sunday through Tuesday.
Getting back to our recipes — is there a recipe for revival? Is there something that one can do to conjure it up? We are going to find out that the answer is ‘no.’ We are not the ones who initiate revivals. But Psalm 85 will show us how to prepare ourselves and be ready for when revival comes.
(To read the rest of this sermon click here. Preached on April 24, 2005 at the Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY)
This list is quite good. Michael Foster runs The Gaslight Gospel blog. Any thoughts?
(HT: Mark Combs)
The Reformation doctrine of justification by faith is, and has always been, the number one target of the enemy’s attack. It provides the foundation of the bridge that reconciles God and man-without that key doctrine, Christianity falls. But the doctrine the Reformers so painstakingly clarified, even spilled blood over, has become so muddled today that many Protestants barely recognize it.
Sadly, there are some who react against a clear presentation of justification, calling it nothing more than useless hair-splitting. Some evangelical reactions to Protestant doctrine are even more severe. Recently, popular talk-show host, Marty Minto, was fired by evangelical station management for discussions he was having on his daily radio program. His crime? In response to callers, he was applying a traditional Protestant perspective to the teachings of John Paul II and the Roman Catholic Church.
Many evangelicals, ignorant and unconcerned of their Protestant roots, are blithely embracing Roman Catholics as brothers and sisters in Christ. They’ve become more concerned about offending and alienating Roman Catholics than they have in clearly articulating the truth. What’s so important about that? Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32).
The issue, may I remind you, is justification by faith alone. Those who do not adhere to that fundamental biblical doctrine are not going to heaven.
Back to the Beginning
In the 1500s a fastidious monk, who by his own testimony “hated God,” was studying Paul’s epistle to the Romans. He couldn’t get past the first half of Romans 1:17: “[In the gospel] is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith” (KJV).
One simple, biblical truth changed that monk’s life-and ignited the Protestant Reformation. It was the realization that God’s righteousness could become the sinner’s righteousness-and that could happen through the means of faith alone. Martin Luther found the truth in the same verse he had stumbled over, Romans 1:17: “Therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith” (KJV, emphasis added).
Luther had always seen “the righteousness of God” as an attribute of the sovereign Lord by which He judged sinners-not an attribute sinners could ever possess. He described the breakthrough that put an end to the theological dark ages:
I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that “the just shall live by his faith.” Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the “justice of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven.
Justification by faith was the great truth that dawned on Luther and dramatically altered the church. Because Christians are justified by faith alone, their standing before God is not in any way related to personal merit. Good works and practical holiness do not provide the grounds for acceptance with God. God receives as righteous those who believe, not because of any good thing He sees in them-not even because of His own sanctifying work in their lives-but solely on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, which is reckoned to their account. “To the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness” (Romans 4:5). That is justification.
Declared Righteous: What Actually Changes?
In its theological sense, justification is a forensic, or purely legal, term. It describes what God declares about the believer, not what He does to changethe believer. In fact, justification effects no actual change whatsoever in the sinner’s nature or character. Justification is a divine judicial edict. It changes our status only, but it carries ramifications that guarantee other changes will follow. Forensic decrees like this are fairly common in everyday life.
When I was married, for example, Patricia and I stood before the minister (my father) and recited our vows. Near the end of the ceremony, my father declared, “By the authority vested in me by the state of California, I now pronounce you man and wife.” Instantly we were legally husband and wife. Whereas seconds before we had been an engaged couple, now we were married. Nothing inside us actually changed when those words were spoken. But our status changed before God, the law, and our family and friends. The implications of that simple declaration have been lifelong and life-changing (for which I am grateful). But when my father spoke those words, it was a legal declaration only.
Similarly, when a jury foreman reads the verdict, the defendant is no longer “the accused.” Legally and officially he instantly becomes either guilty or innocent-depending on the verdict. Nothing in his actual nature changes, but if he is found not guilty he will walk out of court a free person in the eyes of the law, fully justified.
In biblical terms, justification is a divine verdict of “not guilty-fully righteous.” It is the reversal of God’s attitude toward the sinner. Whereas He formerly condemned, He now vindicates. Although the sinner once lived under God’s wrath, as a believer he or she is now under God’s blessing.
Justification is more than simple pardon; pardon alone would still leave the sinner without merit before God. So when God justifies He imputes divine righteousness to the sinner (Romans 4:22-25). Christ’s own infinite merit thus becomes the ground on which the believer stands before God (Romans 5:19; 1 Corinthians 1:30; Philippians 3:9). So justification elevates the believer to a realm of full acceptance and divine privilege in Jesus Christ.
Therefore, because of justification, believers not only are perfectly free from any charge of guilt (Romans 8:33) but also have the full merit of Christ reckoned to their personal account (Romans 5:17). Here are the forensic realities that flow out of justification:
We are adopted as sons and daughters (Romans 8:15) We become fellow-heirs with Christ (v. 17) We are united with Christ so that we become one with Him (1 Corinthians 6:17) We are henceforth “in Christ” (Galatians 3:27) and He in us (Colossians 1:27)
How Justification and Sanctification Differ
Justification is distinct from sanctification because in justification God does not make the sinner righteous; He declares that person righteous (Romans 3:28; Galatians 2:16). Notice how justification and sanctification are distinct from one another:
Justification imputes Christ’s righteousness to the sinner’s account (Romans 4:11b); sanctification imparts righteousness to the sinner personally and practically (Romans 6:1-7; 8:11-14). Justification takes place outside sinners and changes their standing (Romans 5:1-2, sanctification is internal and changes the believer’s state (Romans 6:19). Justification is an event, sanctification a process.
Those two must be distinguished but can never be separated. God does not justify whom He does not sanctify, and He does not sanctify whom He does not justify. Both are essential elements of salvation.
Why differentiate between them at all? If justification and sanctification are so closely related that you can’t have one without the other, why bother to define them differently? That question was the central issue between Rome and the Reformers in the sixteenth century, and it remains the main front in renewed attacks against justification.
Justification in Roman Catholic Doctrine
Roman Catholicism blends its doctrines of sanctification and justification. Catholic theology views justification as an infusion of grace that makes the sinner righteous. In Catholic theology, then, the ground of justification is something made good within the sinner-not the imputed righteousness of Christ.
The Council of Trent, Rome’s response to the Reformation, pronounced anathema on anyone who says “that the [sinner] is justified by faith alone-if this means that nothing else is required by way of cooperation in the acquisition of the grace of justification.” The Catholic council ruled “Justification … is not remission of sins merely, but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man, through the voluntary reception of the grace, and of the gifts, whereby man of unjust becomes just.” So Catholic theology confuses the concepts of justification and sanctification and substitutes the righteousness of the believer for the righteousness of Christ.
What’s the Big Deal?
The difference between Rome and the Reformers is no example of theological hair-splitting. The corruption of the doctrine of justification results in several other grievous theological errors.
If sanctification is included in justification, the justification is a process, not an event. That makes justification progressive, not complete. Our standing before God is then based on subjective experience, not secured by an objective declaration. Justification can therefore be experienced and then lost. Assurance of salvation in this life becomes practically impossible because security can’t be guaranteed. The ground of justification ultimately is the sinner’s own continuing present virtue, not Christ’s perfect righteousness and His atoning work.
What’s so important about the doctrine of justification by faith alone? It is the doctrine upon which the confessing church stands or falls. Without it there is no salvation, no sanctification, no glorification-nothing. You wouldn’t know it to look at the state of Christianity today, but it really is that important.
Adapted from The Gospel According to the Apostles, © 1993 and 2000 by John MacArthur. All rights reserved. Used with permission.