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Monthly Archives: November 2017

We have come to believe that it is somehow the height of piety to say, “I can’t obey.” “I cannot be virtuous.”

Matthew Garnett, rolling over Fake Lutheranism. Listen to his podcast here.

 

So sayeth Matthew Garnett, in the Facebook group Confessional Lutheran Fellowship (which, if you are on Facebook, you might want to check out).

Matthew is a relatively new Lutheran, and as far as I’m concerned, is like the kid in the Emperor’s New Clothes. Breath of fresh air for me.

More from Matthew:

“Duty”, “obedience”, “obligation”, “discipline”, “virtue”, “effort”, “striving” …..these seem to be un -Christian, or at least un-Litheran words to us. They are certainly not positive words in our culture today. But I think these are very human words, especially for men. Men are attracted to these words.

However, sometimes life can wrestle us down to the point where we hate these words. Indeed that is precisely the state we find ourselves in without the gospel…..wanting to be these things, but having no power to do them. It’s a terrible and dark place to be sure.

But with the gospel – and all its gifts – I believe it is a great benefit to us to be restored to a state where men can be men again. We can love these words again. We can begin to be men marked by these words.

It seems most tragic to me when, especially we men, use the gospel, not as a power source to be dutiful or virtuous or obedient, but as an excuse to give up and check out of life. Having been so beaten down by life – mostly by our own sin – all we want to do is not try any more. And we think that part of the gospel is we get to stop trying to be men. That in fact, other men who still embrace their vocations in this regard fully, are just suckers who don’t really get it.

And, while, words like “defeat”, “despair” and “weakness” may have marked our lives thus far, we begin to embrace these words as some kind of new virtue. We have come to believe that it is somehow the height of piety to say, “I can’t obey.” “I cannot be virtuous.”

Men, this attitude is neither Christian nor Lutheran.

Consider the words of St Peter once again.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading kept in heaven for you who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice though now for a little while if necessary you have been grieved by various trials so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

“For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue and virtue with knowledge and knowledge with self control and self control with steadfastness and steadfastness with godliness and godliness with brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.”

FIN

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Posted by on November 29, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Yes David French, We Should Seek Certainty in an Uncertain World

National Review writer David French

 

In an article published in National Review, “The Enduring Appeal of Creepy Christianity,” David French uses the news surrounding Judge Roy Moore to make some critical points about American Christianity.

The sub-title of his article — which definitely caught my attention — provocatively reads “the desire for certainty in an uncertain world yields terrible results.”

French states that Christians have two temptations rooted in the fear of men. One is the path that liberal Christians take: to “forsake Christian doctrine to seek the approval of a hostile culture.” The other path — which French distinguishes from the first by calling it “pernicious” — appeals to the “theologically orthodox: “the temptation to run toward a form of hyper-legalism as a firewall to protect your family from the sins of the world.”

He writes:

“Mothers and fathers are desperate for a way to guarantee that their children will grow up to love the Lord. They want to build high walls against sin, so they seek to create distinct communities that are free of the world’s filth and moral compromise.”

More:

“Theologically, [this temptation] fundamentally denies a very uncomfortable scriptural truth: that this side of heaven we can’t eliminate uncertainty or temptation. We “see through a glass darkly.” We simply don’t have all the answers — for raising children, for sustaining a successful marriage, for thriving in our careers, or for responding to sickness and adversity.

The scriptural response to this fundamental uncertainty is unsatisfying to some. Faith, hope, and love are vague concepts. The Bible doesn’t have a clear, specific prescription for every life challenge. But rather than seeking God prayerfully and with deep humility and reverence, we want answers, now. And thus we gravitate to those people who purport to offer more than the Bible.”

The thrust of French’s article is that there is much that is wrong with American evangelical Christianity, and that unless it “end[s] the cult of the Christian celebrity and the quest for certainty,” this world is “destined for ruin, and before it goes down, it will consume and damage the most vulnerable among us.”

 

I see much that is true in French’s article. His warnings about Christian celebrity are apt. As friend of mine says: “I am so done with celebrity pastors, so called “Christian” leaders, and pop-Evangelical Christian politicians.”

My friend goes on:

“I’ve made a couple of rules for myself.  1) Don’t trust any “Christian” leader who has a New York Times best seller.  2) Don’t attend conferences that attract more than 500 people in attendance or follow speakers that appear at that conference. And maybe 3) any “Christian” leader that appears regularly in the news.”

Perhaps a bit extreme, but he makes a great point.

In like fashion, even though I have not experienced them myself, I understand that there are communities of Christians who have a poor understanding of the law of God and who demand more from Christianity than it gives.

A more sophisticated “seeker-sensitive” attempt.

 

Another friend who read the article had some very challenging thoughts expanding on this:

“I think that the article is largely on target when it comes to the misguided quest of many Christians for certainty on worldly matters. God’s promises are absolutely sure, but they do not include children who will grow up to love the Lord, communities that are free of the world’s filth and moral compromise, successful marriages, thriving careers, proper responses to sickness and adversity, etc. For me, this is one of many manifestations of Western society’s embrace of technical rationality (techne) at the expense of practical judgment (phronesis); we want formulas and procedures with guaranteed outcomes for all aspects of life, but things just do not work that way within our fallen existence.

French quotes Ecclesiastes, which I consider to be the greatest philosophical treatise ever written, since it is the only divinely inspired one. My summary of its overall message is, “Your time is short, your understanding is shallow, and your control is shaky (at best). So fear God, because He rules all; keep His commandments, because He knows best; and enjoy His gifts, while you still can.”

There is much to take in here! Is it really true that the Lord does not promise us, e.g. successful marriages and children who will grow up to love the Lord? I hesitate to go so far in saying this, for it seems to me that passages like Proverbs 22:6 can definitely be taken as promises from the Lord. I know what my friend says above is meant to comfort, but such words make me very sad to. If God desires all persons to be saved, and I can’t be a conduit for His grace to efficaciously reach the flesh and blood who are under my own roof — especially when I beg Him for such mercy! — well, it is something I don’t even want to think about (….and I think, going to I Cor. 10:13 and John 16:12, that God knows what I as a father can bear!)

My kids with Jesus. More.

 

In any case, I think my friend’s words are wise words…(even as I supplement them!).

So David French is touching on some really good stuff.

At the same time, there is also something about the article that really made me uneasy. Maybe it’s this: when French says “[t]heologically, [this concern to protect one’s family] fundamentally denies a very uncomfortable scriptural truth,” I can’t not stop thinking about the following passage from 2 Corinthians (the end of chapter 6 and beginning of 7):

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

“I will live with them
and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they will be my people.”

Therefore,

“Come out from them
and be separate,
says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you.”

And,

“I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.”

Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”

It seems to me that a lot of persons outside the church might read something like that, and think, “Yep, the enduring appeal of creepy Christianity.”

That, however, would be terrible way to read the Apostle Paul. After all, who among us has not identified with what the church has said about the world — namely, that it is a “vale of tears”? And what if there is indeed — as the Apostle insists — true “higher ground” to be found? (see Colossians 3:1-4)

A taste of heavenly fellowship, of un-fallen love… (The Parable of the Prodigal Son, Gerard van Honthorst, 1623)

 

The overall message? Christ is the light of the world, and therefore the church, His bride, is the light of the world.

Even if the light doesn’t look so much like a City on the Hill these days as a candle – maybe even a flickering candle — in the darkness.

I take great comfort in the way Paul begins his letter:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

Yes! And note — this is the kind of certainty we are meant to have. He has loved us with an everlasting love in His Son Jesus Christ.

Exulting in this certainty, I certainly will come out and be separate!

FIN

 

Image: David French pic: CC BY-SA 3.0 ; by Gage Skidmore. 

 

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Matthew Garnett’s Helpful Evaluation of Tullian Tchividjian’s Preaching

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Matthew Garnett, of the In Layman’s Terms podcast and the Federalist, shared an important piece last week on Facebook about Tullian Tchividjian’s Preaching. As I said there in reply to a critical comment (referring to “fear based heretic hunting“):

I’d say we owe Matthew our thanks for his very insightful and careful article here. Tullian does to, of course! — very kind of Matthew to listen to absolutely everything the man has said, and I detect no mallice towards Tullian from him as well, for which I am thankful.”

Matthew has given me permission to reprint his article here in full (and note that his last three podcasts have also been about Tullian’s preaching, here [most recent], here, and here [I’m on this one to]). Enjoy!

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Seven Reasons Why Tullian Tchividjian’s Preaching Is False and Its Dangers to the Gospel

By Matthew Garnett on Saturday, November 4, 2017

Having formerly been a major fan boy of Tullian Tchivijian, having listened to all of his sermons from his time at Coral Ridge, his lectures at “Liberate”, and now seeing him emerge again with his tullian.net site, I have realized I was dead wrong to embrace his teachings and here’s why.

1. He never warns his people of the dangers of apostasy.

Being trained at perhaps the finest Reformed seminary in the country, Westminster, Philly, Tchividjian is in that all too uncomfortable place of “unconditional election” and “limited atonement”. There, you have two options: 1) preach that you might be of the elect since you seem to be doing good works and hanging around the church, but then again maybe not because you might stop doing those things, or 2) preach “once saved always saved” like Tchividjian does in his oft quoted cliché “You’re in forever!”

The only problem with that is the bible warns of apostasy all over the place. Of the two options, the first seems the safest bet, albeit still inadequate. Going with the latter option, biblically speaking, gives a false comfort.

2. He never warns of the temporal punishments of sin.

Of all the people who should be acquainted with the natural consequences of sinful behavior, Tchividjian continues to cruelly withhold that information from people. While he certainly laments his behavior on the new “tullian.net” website, I have yet to find a sermon or blog post there that warns others of the inherent dangers of disobedience to God’s commands. Furthermore, he’s seen fit to post his sermons from Coral Ridge there. Not one of them warns people of the destructive consequences of sin.

I will agree with Tchividjian that there is hope for everyone who has made complete shipwreck of their lives. However, preaching that warns us of this in order that we may avoid such disastrous consequences should be an emphasis in instructing in God’s law. He does a fine job of letting people know that any sin, no matter how severe, is forgiven in Christ, however, he fails to warn people of these dangers. Both should be preached in proper law and gospel preaching.

(NB – the majority of my report here is dealing with Tchividjian’s sermons on the “tullian.net” site and not his blog posts)

3. He never teaches obedience.

In fact, he teaches against teaching on obedience. Yes friends, we are saved by grace through faith, and obedience to the commands of Holy Scripture is a part, in fact a requirement of the Christian life. To say otherwise (which Tchividjian does), is to make total non-sense of about a half to two-thirds of the bible. Tchividjian decries people who preach “clean up your act”, but you don’t have to read very far into 1 Corinthians to realize that St. Paul is preaching precisely this to the Corinthians.

4. The only sin in his book is only a certain kind of self-justification.

There are three forms of self-justification. 1) You believe obedience to God’s law will justify you before Him. (think “Pharisaical legalism”), 2) You’re struggling to overcome a sin. So instead of continuing to repent of that sin, calling that sin a sin, believing that it is forgiven for Christ’s sake, and wanting to do better, you just stop calling that sin a sin. (Sexual sins tend to fall into this category) 3) Thus, you begin creating your own rules by which you can justify your existence.

Tchividjian fails to preach #’s 2 and 3. And not only this, while he recognizes that this is the ultimate sin, he fails to realize that other, perhaps “lesser” sins act as “gateway sins” to the ultimate sin. For instance, if I have a problem with stealing pens from my company. Instead of recognizing that theft, at any level, is a sin against the 7th commandment, I justify that sin saying, “Oh well. My company doesn’t pay me enough anyway so I’m justified in stealing their property.” Now I will admit that he does attempt to preach #3 on occasion. He does warn of dumbing down the law, but not for the purposes of instructing in obedience, but for the purposes of demonstrating that you cannot obey. The problem there is, if we do not hold ourselves behaviorally to the standard of Scripture, then we’re going to default to some lesser standard. Tchividjian seems to think that most people, even most Christians trend toward #1 when in fact it is quite the opposite. Most realize they aren’t cutting it when it comes to obeying God’s law, so instead of repentance, they self-justify their evil misdeeds.

5. False teaching of the “light life”

Strewn throughout his sermons is this notion of the “light life”. When confronted with the commands of Scripture in certain passages, Tchividjian will say something to the effect of, “This is what it looks like to lead a lighter life.” This is yet another twist on the Osteen quip of “Your Best Life Now”. Nowhere in Holy Scripture will you find that the Christian life is one of ease and “lightness”. In fact, as a baptized believer in Christ, the war and struggle has just begun. If you’re looking for an easy and light life, I would not recommend becoming a Christian. Note well, this is not the gospel. The calling of a Christian is one of struggle and discipline and self-sacrifice in this life. To preach this only gives a person a false sense of comfort.

6. The false gospel of “God’s perfect demands” and “you’re not pulling it off”

When Tchividjian attempts to preach the law, he preaches it as something that must be done perfectly or not at all. Here, he, at least partially, misunderstands what God’s law is. The law is not a description, even in theory, of how one attains eternal life. It is a description of what man was created to be and how he was created to act. It is how Adam and Eve behaved in the garden before the fall. It is how we will behave in the hereafter.

To preach the law as something given in order to gain eternal life, in any sense, is a confusion of law and gospel. The only remedy for our rebellion against God’s created order is the person and work of Christ. Thus, Jesus restores us, in part now and fully in the resurrection, to what we were created to be. Having been raised from death to life with Him means that we now can make a beginning of being alive as we were meant to be and cease to exist as dead people.

So for Tchividjian to preach, “God demands perfection and you’re not pulling it off” is to say that you’re dead and all you’ll ever be is dead. But that’s not what St. Paul preaches is it? (viz Rom 6) And this “gospel” of Tchividjian’s sounds really good to the itching ears of dead people. “What?”, they’ll ask, “I don’t have concern myself with living how God created me to live? That’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time! I was so tired of struggling to be alive. I’m much happier being dead!”

The really sad irony in this preaching is that, while it’s meant to be comforting, just like any false gospel, it leaves the person in bondage to sin, death, and the devil. It tells you that you’re simply going to keep existing as a dead person in this life and there has not been nor will there ever be something done about this sad state. It is in fact a denial, in part, of the gospel.

7. Preaching gospel to unrepentant sinners

Over and again in Tchividian’s sermons, we find him recommending that if someone is living an unclean life and is happy doing so, the answer is not to “tell them to clean up their act”, the answer is to preach the gospel to them. His final solution to all of this is to say (and this is in summary form), “Be perfect” then “You can’t be perfect” then “It doesn’t matter because Jesus was perfect for you”.

That is a far cry from calling people to genuine repentance. “Being sick and tired of trying at life” does not equal biblical contrition. Being terrified at the wrath of God you deserve for your sinful, destructive life and sorrowful for your rebellion against Him and how you’ve hurt others with your sin is biblical contrition that leads to true repentance. Telling someone essentially that “nobody’s perfect but Jesus was” is a watered-down version of law and gospel preaching at best.

Perhaps what is most deceptive is that Tchividjian and others of his ilk frequently insist that preaching the free gift of grace in the gospel does not carry the risk with it that people will misunderstand it and use it as an excuse for licentiousness. Over and again, all of the New Testament writers warn of this, but Tchividjian’s answer to this is much different. He maintains that the answer to this problem is “going deeper into the gospel”. As with any sin, this misbelief should be met with the law which is precisely what St. Paul, St. Peter, and St. James do in their epistles. Not so with Tchividjian. Here again, he preaches gospel when the biblical move is to preach the law to correct this misunderstanding.

The Dangers of Tchividjian’s preaching and teaching

1. Licentious living

Tchividjian all but gives permission to his audience to continue in living destructive lives. Let’s not forget what sin is and what it does. First of all it is a “high handed rebellion” (a Hebraism for what we would call “flipping the bird”), to God. “God you created me to be this way? Well forget that! I’m going to act however I want to act….” is the idea here.

Secondly, when Tchividjian flippantly says, “You’re not pulling it off” think about what that means for those around you. If I’m not pulling off being a good employee for my employer, that means not only will he suffer, but my wife and children are going to suffer. “Not pulling it off” when it comes to obedience to God’s commands means you are wreaking destruction on everyone around you. It also places your faith at risk. As stated, he fails to warn people of these dangers.

2. The Gospel is lost

This is the greater consequence to this false teaching. As I am wont to say, “The degree to which you lose the law is the degree to which you lose the gospel.” The most deceptive false teachers preach part of the truth with some key lies sprinkled in among what is right. Tchividjian preaches rightly that we will not be perfect in this life, but then turns and says tying to live as we were created to be is not to be attempted. Preaching the law in its full sternness means preaching that, yes, God demands perfection *and* that we should strive, struggle, and fight to be that, even though failure is guaranteed. Only in this context does the gospel make sense and enter into our lives in its full sweetness.
Indeed, we merely assume that “failure is guaranteed”. The Scriptures don’t speak this way. Jesus, St.Paul, St. James, and the rest do not add the tag line “but you’ll surely fail in this” to their many exhortations and commands to us. Why? Well first of all, if we take those passages seriously, our Lord and these men writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit expect obedience from us as once dead and now alive men. Secondly, this kind of preaching is sure to do the work of driving us again and again to the cross of Christ and His saving power. Most tragically, Tchividjian’s preaching utterly fails in this task for the reasons stated.
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In addition to Matthew’s article, I also offer this recent post from Jon Alan Schmidt at my blog, The Lutheran Catechism: Law, Gospel, Discipleship, as well as this recent talk from Pastor Cooper, Good Works in the Christian Life, which I think complement Matthew’s points very well:
FIN
Images: Tullian Tchividjian, preaching at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church on March 13, 2011, User:DashHouse. The original uploader was StAnselm at English Wikipedia, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
 
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Posted by on November 8, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

The Lutheran Catechism: Law, Gospel, Discipleship

 

Guest Post By Jon Alan Schmidt

Contrary to common usage among Lutherans, the term “Catechism,” strictly speaking, refers to neither of the two documents (Large and Small) first published by Martin Luther in 1529 and included in the Book of Concord in 1580. By the time of the Reformation, it was well-established in the Western Church as designating the standard content for basic instruction in the faith: the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, often in that order. Luther’s most obvious innovation was revising this sequence, and he explained his rationale for doing so as follows in his 1522 Personal Prayer Book (from Luther’s Works, American Edition, vol. 43, pp. 13-14):

Three things a person must know in order to be saved. First, he must know what to do and what to leave undone. Second, when he realizes that he cannot measure up to what he should do or leave undone, he needs to know where to go to find the strength he requires. Third, he must know how to seek and obtain that strength. It is just like a sick person who first has to determine the nature of his sickness, then find out what to do or to leave undone. After that he has to know where to get the medicine which will help him do or leave undone what is right for a healthy person. Third, he has to desire to search for this medicine and to obtain it or have it brought to him.

Thus the commandments teach man to recognize his sickness, enabling him to perceive what he must do or refrain from doing, consent to or refuse, and so he will recognize himself to be a sinful and wicked person. The Creed will teach and show him where to find the medicine—grace—which will help him to become devout and keep the commandments. The Creed points him to God and his mercy, given and made plain to him in Christ. Finally, the Lord’s Prayer teaches all this, namely, through the fulfilment of God’s commandments everything will be given him. In these three are the essentials of the entire Bible.

Luther then added discussions of Holy Baptism, Confession, and the Sacrament of the Altar, since these are the means by which the Great Physician dispenses the medicine of grace to those afflicted by the sickness of sin. These “six chief parts” together comprise The Lutheran Catechism, and its structure reflects the following:

  • The Law instructs us how to think, speak, and act, and reveals our inability to do so perfectly as God the Creator demands.
  • The Gospel offers us forgiveness through the redemption of Jesus Christ, and new life through the sanctification of the Holy Spirit.
  • Discipleship is our exercise of faith in constant prayer, daily repentance as a return to Baptism, regular Confession and reception of the Lord’s Supper, and conscientious discharge of our various vocations at home and in the world.

As illustrated by the diagram below, the first six petitions of the Lord’s Prayer recapitulate key aspects of the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed, while the seventh petition serves “as the sum of all” by asking God for deliverance from evil. The Sacraments are then His efficacious answer!

Although now widely perceived to be a one-time doctrinal manual to prepare youths for the rite of confirmation, Luther advocated sustained employment of his Small Catechism by people of all ages. Each part is explicitly intended, not primarily for pastors or other church workers, but “as the housefather should teach it in a simple way to his household.” In sixteenth-century Germany, that would have included not only his own immediate and extended family, but also any servants or other employees, and perhaps even their families—a genuine “house church.”

Out of a desire to facilitate such consistent usage, I have decided to create a daily devotional that pairs each item and explanation in the Small Catechism with passages from the corresponding section of the Large Catechism. I am now in the process of arranging the content accordingly, as well as preparing questions to prompt meditation—within one’s own mind, through journaling, or perhaps in conversation with others—and brief accompanying prayers, all of which I am posting each morning at http://twitter.com/LutherCatechism. Since Luther did not include Confession as a distinct topic in the Large Catechism, those readings will instead come from relevant portions of his 1537 personal confession of faith, the Smalcald Articles, which was also included in the Book of Concord in 1580.

I began the daily tweets on October 1, so it is not too late to start following them and get caught up. The material will be spread out over twenty-six weeks, such that it can be covered in its entirety twice per year; by comparison, Lutheran pastors in the sixteenth century routinely preached on the Catechism as many as four times per year. I am omitting later additions to the Small Catechism that were likewise left out of the 1580 Book of Concord; these include Andreas Osiander’s 1531 insertion regarding “The Office of the Keys,” as well as “Christian Questions with Their Answers,” which debuted in 1551, five years after Luther’s death.

Luther strongly recommended memorizing not only the basic texts themselves, but also his short explanations in the Small Catechism. I encourage taking his advice, either as an initial step or over the course of the first six months. One helpful discipline for cementing the words in the mind is to recite the six chief parts in their entirety on a weekly basis—for example, the Ten Commandments on Monday, the Apostles’ Creed on Tuesday, the Lord’s Prayer on Wednesday, Holy Baptism on Thursday, Confession on Friday, and the Sacrament of the Altar on Saturday; perhaps appending “Christian Questions with Their Answers” on Sunday, as preparation for receiving the Lord’s Supper.

My hope is eventually to publish the results of this labor of love as a book. The project is dedicated to my wife, Irene, my partner in all things, but especially in training up our children in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6); and to those children, Timothy and Cristina, to whom I have sought to teach The Lutheran Catechism in a simple way throughout their lives. May God richly bless them and all who use this resource as they read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the truths of His holy Word, and then put them into practice as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit!

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Jon Alan Schmidt is a professional engineer, amateur philosopher, and LCMS layman who lives in Olathe, Kansas and is a member of Redeemer Lutheran Church.

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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