Monday, April 10, 2017

The Church

Praying together

The church began at Pentecost when Christ sent the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4) and is comprised of all those born of the Spirit until Christ returns for us. I believe we have a common love, a common labour, and a common Lord who makes us all one body (Ephesians 4:4-6), so we not only individuals but also a group, and we should own this and meet together (Hebrews 10:25). It is together that we appreciate God’s love (Ephesians 3:18-19), spread his message, and represent his nature (John 13:35). Our unity transcends the Jew-Gentile boundary, among others (Galatians 3:28). I take Christ’s commands to celebrate his Supper (Luke 22:19) and to baptise new believers (Matthew 28:19) to apply to all the church; in these ordinances, we signify Christ’s work and our faith in and participation with him. Meeting together and carrying out these ordinances naturally means organised local groups. Variation, non-centralisation and even debate are okay; they are not always the sin of division.

Religion, institution, and church, notwithstanding their unpopularity, are fine English words that apply to real Christians in the true church of Christ.

As with individual sanctification, the church must not expect ease, but will be infiltrated and diluted throughout the age (Matthew 13:29-30). This age is the church’s betrothal or pilgrimage; it is fools or charlatans who claim that their version of the church has already ‘arrived’; they defraud us of a hope and striving which gives us fellowship with Christ. In this fellowship lies the true pilgrimage triumph: Christ promises to equip the church to overcome temptation and endure persecution (Revelation 2:10, 25).

God, who established family and government, gives us beautiful and loving patterns of hierarchy to live by, and the church is no exception (Titus 1:5). While Christ is uniquely the high priest and head of the church, I recognise church leaders amongst Christians, and I am open to a variety of leadership styles and systems of appointment (elders, bishops, etc.) (Hebrews 13:17, Ephesians 5:21). I believe that meeting in groups and following leaders also allows us to follow Christ’s instructions for discipline (Matthew 18:15-17).

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Satan

Defeat of Satan (St Michaelis Church, Hamburg)

Satan and demons are real. They are created beings and were created good, but Satan misused his free will to choose pride (Ezekiel 28:15) and some angels joined him, becoming his demons (Revelation 12:4). Satan seeks to ruin God’s work and usurp God’s original plan for dominion, and indeed led humankind into corruption (Genesis 3:6) and is the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). However, Satan is confounded by Christ’s incarnation (Hebrews 2:14) and cross (1 Corinthians 2:8), so that this once-exalted angel will lose and God will have his way for his kingdom after all (Psalm 82:6-8). God’s victory was always certain and was sealed with the advent of Christ (Luke 10:18, Revelation 12:9). Satan will one day be fully judged (Revelation 20:10), but, in the meantime, he is still active and dangerous on earth, tempting and harassing, and we must be cautious and rely on God (2 Peter 5:8) who is greater (1 John 4:4). I understand that human experience of Satan is closely blended with imagination and legend, and I aim for a balance between credulity and scepticism.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Return of the Lord

The orb is a traditional symbol of Christ's authority over the globe. We wait for him to come and fully rule.


Christ will return personally and bodily to earth. His return is a profitable object of close attention, not only in its overall implications but every detail the Scriptures mention (Revelation 1:3, 2 Timothy 3:16), and a proper source of motivation, so that the unbeliever may fear and repent and the believer hope and labour (1 Thessalonians 1:10, 5:6). His impending return is also wise: it is an elegant component of the divine plan, mirroring his ascension (Acts 1:11) and showing his justice and his anointing in several necessary dimensions (international, historical, political, etc. – Psalm 2:4-9). I believe that the saints will not gradually overtake the zeitgeist but be suddenly rescued by Christ (Revelation 19:11-16). This knowledge keeps me from loving the world, while I am nonetheless inspired to engage with the world through mercy, work, conversation, art, play, learning, etc. by knowing that the New Earth will be a restored earth, not an abandonment of physicality, community, and many other blessings we have in part today (Romans 8:21).


I am an irenic premillennialist and pretribulationist.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Eternal Security

Child in the Hand of God by Jeff Tiner

Christians cannot lose salvation; we are eternally secure, as Christ promises (John 6:39, 10:28-29), the apostles assure (Romans 8:38-39, 1 Peter 1:4-5), and the Psalmist celebrates (Psalm 84:7). What-if questions (‘What if we do such-and-such’) can prompt sober and salutary reflection on how terribly Christians may sin, but ultimately fail to take into full account God’s sovereign power and the transformation he implants in us (1 John 3:9). God is honour-bound to keep his promises. Eternal security is not about license, but provides the proper context for our loyalty (Jude 1b, 21, 24).

What we can lose, through sin, is our joy, (Psalm 32:4) fellowship (Revelation 2:4), reward (1 Corinthians 3:13-15), etc., incurring the Father's discipline (1 Corinthians 11:30, 32) and hurting others (2 Samuel 12:14).

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Gifts and Indwelling of the Holy Spirit

Pentecostes - El Greco

The Holy Spirit baptises (1 Corinthians 12:13), seals (Ephesians 1:13) indwells (John 14:17) and gives gifts to (1 Corinthians 12:7) every believer from salvation. While gifts can be exercised to one degree or another (Romans 12:6-8), I am sure of the baptism, sealing and indwelling of every believer, regardless of whether they have spoken in tongues (Romans 8:9). I interpret being filled with the Spirit as living under his influence, and we are commanded to be filled, because we are not always (Ephesians 5:18).

My understanding of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is that they are abilities (teaching and serving are among many examples) that the Spirit endows believers with so that we can build up the church (1 Corinthians 12:4-11, Ephesians 4:12). Our gifts vary, but the division of labour need not be too sharp (for example, all should serve).

Gifts such as prophecy, tongues, and healing proved that a new age had come, for example, tongues fulfilling Joel’s prophecy as the apostle Peter said (Acts 2:16). Now that the church age is already underway, it makes sense that we are in a time not primarily associated with those gifts. This fits with the pattern of God’s work: sets of miracles mark special transitions or stages, like Israel’s exodus.

Apostles in the sense of authoritative figures had to be eyewitnesses of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:1), and their authority gave a stamp of credibility to the New Testament (Matthew was an apostle, Mark was associated with the apostles, etc.). Christ instructed that the faith should be passed on through evangelism and teaching (Matthew 28:18-20, 2 Timothy 2:2), amply backed up by his own personal authority (Matthew 28:18) and divine providence (2 Timothy 2:19), not a continued apostolic office. Pretension to such an office is, at best, a proud mistake and, at worst, charlatanism.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Sanctification

1 Corinthians 1:30. Boom!

Some of the inevitable blessings of salvation are not cashed out immediately, and we exist in a state of tension until they are (2 Corinthians 5:4). One of these is resurrection at the end of the age. Another is full freedom from the influence of sin in our lives. We fight with sin until we die. Christ has transformed us (2 Corinthians 5:17), he has replaced sin as our master, and he has freed us to serve him (Hebrews 9:14), but sin retains a rebel presence in us, for example, in our appetites (Romans 7:22-23). I take care to remember this so as to be watchful. Nevertheless, the very tension in which we live is the stuff of the journey of faith, in which Christ is our trailblazer (Hebrews 12:2), and God gets glory by proving he is enough for us even now (2 Corinthians 4:7, Psalm 110:2). I count the unbeliever’s calmness as a ‘slippery place’ (Psalm 73:18) and the believer’s tension, conversely, a vehicle for true peace (Philippians 4:7). We are now by nature overcomers and, generally, will overcome (1 John 3:9), but we need to strive day by day (Philippians 3:14).

For every believer, sanctification involves separation from certain things. Separation is part of the Biblical concept of holiness. We should step apart from the zeitgeist (James 1:27) and even from ourselves, both in general (1 Corinthians 9:27) and especially particular aspects of ourselves (Matthew 18:9) as we draw near to God. This separation must be at the level of the heart, and can be subtle. Some questions of what to be separated from and how are grey areas in which we should humbly seek the truth, follow our consciences, and love each other (Romans 14:2-3). Individual believers may be consecrated to serving God in particular ways (Acts 13:2) that not all believers are called to. However, one prominent example of essential separation is that no believers should marry unbelievers (1 Corinthians 7:39b) (though verse 12 affirms existing marriages).

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Virgin Birth of Christ

Annunciation by Kris Lewis
Jesus Christ is God, the second person of the Trinity. To achieve God’s plan of salvation, he took on a human nature two thousand years ago as recorded in the gospels, and has both natures as one person (Philippians 2:5-11). He took on this nature by being conceived by Mary, not through sex, but when she was a virgin, through the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:34-35). The Spirit here affirms Christ’s divinity, while being Mary’s son makes Christ human. He now has her genes. This is important because he had to be from the House of David to fulfil prophecy (Psalm 89:3-4) and because we must be redeemed by a kinsman, as figured in the story of Ruth; as Shai Linne says: ‘Only a human can substitute for human lives / but’ – to consider again the divinity – ‘only God could take the wrath of God and survive.’