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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Church of Christ (VI)

So What Should We be Looking for?
Last time we listened to Article 28 of the Belgic Confession where we were told that there is no salvation outside of the true church and that “all men are in duty bound to join and unite themselves with it…”[1] Real Christians are to submit to the doctrine and discipline of the church and to bow their necks under the yoke of Christ.[2] Article 28 ends with these words, “Therefore all those who separate themselves from the same, or do not join themselves to it, act contrary to the ordinance of God.”[3]
That being the case, Article 28 begs the question: So what should I be looking for when I look for a local church? Or, If I’m in a local church that does not correspond to a true, biblical church, how do I begin investigating where I should be? To many, these are not important questions. As I’ve pointed out before, the modern, 21st century Christian is more concerned to have his or her needs—real or perceived—met. Precious little time and attention is given to whether the preaching is biblical, the liturgy is according to Scripture, or whether what is sung has any significant biblical content. Article 29 deals precisely with “The Marks of the True Church, and Wherein She Differs From the False Church.” It might appear to be an oddity that the B.C. even pauses to ponder the possibility of “the False Church.” What? We watch TV evangelicalism almost totally unreflectively and uncritically. Does it ever occur to us that the congregation down the street that our teenager dearly loves might be a false church? How should we go about determining this important matter? How much have we investigated what is being taught in the youth groups? What kinds of materials are being used? What is the theology behind the material?
“Oh, there’s no theology being taught,” you say. “Our congregation doesn’t believe in teaching doctrine or theology.”
Of course, that’s the biggest lie of all. Every congregation from 1960s hangover and druggie feel good congregation of Anne Lamott to the computer generated people listening to Bob Schuller with a southern accent, Joel Osteen, have a definite theology. Most are not willing to share it with you because they would prefer to play their cards close to their chests. Here is how it works in the practice: Intuitively they know that if they actually told you what they believe even the most muddleheaded minds in the congregation would probably strongly object. Therefore, they just give it to you in bits and pieces and know that you probably won’t ever connect the dots.
Is our only concern that our teenagers are happy or that our wife likes the feminized atmosphere where we attend?
Please don’t get me wrong: I am not opting for a macho-church. At the same time, I am also not suggesting that I’d rather have a church that caters to women and leaves the men on the periphery. It is true, however, that a number of churches today have never extricated themselves from the feminization of the church that took root in the Second Great Awakening with Finney and friends. There was a time when the Church looked like the Church and not some second-rate, vain attempt at a night club. The B.C. hearkens back to such a time in history. So at the risk of offending the megas and Emergents—and a lot of other people—I want to walk you through what Article 29 relates to us. Even if you reject what de Brès wrote, I’m asking you to reflect on what he says and ask yourself if it is biblical and if it makes sense. If it does, then I’m asking you to consider how you might put this into practice for yourself, and, if you have them, your wife/husband and children.

Diligence and Circumspection
Article 29 opens with these words: “We believe that we ought diligently and circumspectly to discern from the Word of God which is the true Church, since all sects which are in the world assume to themselves the name of the Church.”[4] In other words, the first thing required of any serious Christian is both diligence and circumspection in dealing with what Scripture teaches about God’s Church. This might take a little while. Diligence and circumspection are not instant commodities. They require…well, diligence and circumspection. To put it in school categories, they require that we do our biblical homework. There is a presupposition in this article of the confession that people are acquainted with the truths of the Bible. Keep in mind that this was written in 1561 during the time of the Reformation and those who were attending Protestant churches had only recently had the scriptures in the vernacular. De Brès’ thrust then is this: get a Bible, read it and study it diligently and circumspectly, and become familiar with its contents. Remember: the Roman Catholic Church kept its members ignorant of biblical truth and told them that Scripture was too hard for them. By keeping them unacquainted with Scripture the Roman Catholic Church could play all its superstitious and unbiblical games. The church folk in the Middle Ages had an excuse: they couldn’t read Latin and there were no Bibles available. Now things are quite different. Don’t you keep yourself in the dark!
The Reformers were not fearful of being compared to other churches. In fact, they both welcomed and encouraged interaction with their congregations and a searching of Scripture. Why was that? In part, it was due to the fact that the Reformers themselves delved deeply into Scripture and were convinced that anyone looking for a truly biblical Christian congregation would know the difference. In fact, the last sentence of Article 29 reads: “These two Churches are easily known and distinguished from each other.”[5] In the 21st century, however, our powers of biblical discernment are substantially diminished and, as often as not, if you question someone’s church choice they want to know what all the fuss is about.
It is precisely our study of the Bible that provides us with the necessary insights not only to ascertain how God wants to be worshiped (few today ask that question) and what a true, faithful congregation of Jesus Christ looks like. Again, in our society, it almost invariably boils down to preference and entertainment value. We might also add that what many modern Christians are seeking is a sermon that doesn’t threaten them, tell them that they need to change their lives and lifestyles to a holier standard, and that they are sinners in need of the only true Savior, Jesus Christ, but rather one that is nice. This way, men can remain bored out of their minds but thankful that their wives are blissfully happy and not bugging them about being real spiritual leaders in their homes. Besides, if men ever did decide to lead, it would not be in the saccharine way and in the dulcet tones that they hear in church on Sunday. More on this in a moment.

An Important Distinction
De Brès makes a necessary and important distinction at this point in Article 29. He reminds us that he’s not speaking about the hypocrites that make every covenant community a “mixed bag.” He comprehends the concept of the tares among the wheat; the difference between a “lamb” and a “goat.” There is, he insists, a distinction between being externally in the Church and yet not of it.[6] This is a necessary point to ponder, especially for the modern Christian. The Church of Christ is not a more or less loosely connected aggregate of people who just “happen” to be there. They are gathered around the Word of God by the Holy Spirit and given the mandate—in the midst of their diversity—to be one in Christ. It will not do merely to be “pasted” on to a local congregation in a Nestorian-like fashion. Christians are, rather, to be active and integral parts of “the body and communion.”
Here is de Brès’ more complete definition: “but we say that the body and communion of the true Church must be distinguished from all sects who call themselves the Church.” He is making a plea for Christian discernment to be able to judge what is true, right, and pleasing to God and what is a mere counterfeit. Not to possess these faculties of discernment might very well spell disaster for you and your family. And yet, this is one of the begetting sins of the modern Church. Few are concerned with scriptural doctrine and its application; other matters occupy them. There are even some pastors who openly ridicule biblical doctrine and tell their congregants that they don’t need to bother and/or busy themselves with doctrine because it is a waste of time and only causes dissension.
Is it any wonder that many modern Christians have a spiritual I.Q. that is barely in the single digits? It’s shameful when a disproportionately large percentage of Christians cannot tell you what the Ten Commandments are, cannot tell you where to find them, and cannot tell you about foundational, fundamental doctrines of the faith. What is all the more disconcerting is that these folks wear their blatant lack of knowledge and discernment as a badge of honor and look down their noses at other Christians who refuse to join their ranks. The call here is, however, for a biblically discerning mind and heart. These remarks must be taken seriously if we do not want to leave ourselves and those God has entrusted into our care in the lurch.

The Marks of the Church
In order to facilitate our search, de Brès provides us—albeit in summary and outline form—with a list of the "marks" or "notes" of the Church so that we can get a handle on what we’re looking for. He writes, “The marks by which the true Church is known are these: if the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if she maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church. Hereby the true Church may certainly be known, from which no man has a right to separate himself.”[7]
The wording here is both simple and yet highly profound. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to get a good flavor of what Christians ought to be looking for in a local congregation. Of course, the caveat is that the Christian must be armed with adequate discernment and Christian maturity to be able to check on the purity of the doctrine being preached. That is to say, he ought to have a “Berean” attitude, i.e., “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (cf. Acts 17:11). In order to perform such a necessary procedure the modern Christian is going to have to put away his or her copy of The Message and trade it in for a good translation of the Word of God. Then they are going to have to resolve to make a detailed, systematic, and regular study of the Bible coupled with prayer for illumination.
From that study—always being and becoming a student of the Word—our skills of discernment are to be trained and honed so that we discover what the will of God is, “what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). Allow me a word to the women here. If your husband begins such an undertaking, let him proceed; don’t hinder him. If you want him to lead then let him lead and be prepared to follow his leadership. I mention this because there is such a tendency in our overly feminized churches for women to “run the show” from behind the scenes. I have known wives who have actually given their husbands leather bound copies of The Message. That is not a good idea. The Message is a paraphrase and a bad one at that. I have also known women who clamored for their husbands to start acting like spiritual leaders, which is a good thing. Once their husbands started down that path, however, and started looking for a new and better, more biblical church the wife suddenly realized that she was no longer calling the shots and she dug in her heels. Once hubby decided to attend a local church where there was more meat and less fluff, where there was more of a balance between masculinity and femininity, the wife insisted on leaving and getting back to her comfort zone.
Wives, if this is you—or close to you—don’t carp that your husband won’t lead you. Just be honest and say that your husband tried to lead you but that you let him know in no uncertain terms who really wears the pants in your family. Here is the cardinal point: Every Christian needs the pure preaching of the Word of God in his or her life. This is the means of grace God has instituted for the instruction and encouragement of his people. So in your search for a church home, this question must be foremost in your thoughts and minds: Does this church truly preach the Bible? There is a lot today that passes for preaching that isn’t. Preaching is not a fireside chat; it is not an informal discussion; and it is not a mode of entertainment and sunshine peddling. That is not the meaning of the New Testament word for preaching. It is proclamation with a particular content. It is not a string of anecdotes, a Christian variation on the latest political or pop-psychology book or TV show, or the fad du jour. It is the preaching of Christ and God’s will for our lives. This is the first thing we must look for. Now go out and do it.

[1] Joel Beeke & Sinclair Ferguson (eds.), Reformed Confessions Harmonized, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), p. 190.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., 192.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid., 193. Italics mine.
[6] Cf. Matt. 13:22-25; 2 Tim. 2:16-20; Rom. 9:6.
[7] Beeke & Ferguson, RCH, 192-193.

Labels:

29 Comments:

Blogger Randy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:03 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Our friend Kamilla was having trouble remembering her password (remember: she's a woman) and asked the compassionate one if he would be so kind and gracious to post her comments, so here goes!

"We watch TV evangelicalism almost totally unreflectively and uncritically."

You mean, like hanging on every word of divorced minister, Charles Stanley, who has taught his congregation so well they reportedly applauded his decision not to step down from the pulpit when his marrital separation led to divorce (as he promised he would)? Or divorced super-preacherett, Paula White, who flogs yet another verions of the blood-type diet (which, beside being bad nutritional advice is based on evolutionary theory)? No me, I took TBN and Daystar off my remote programming, but did leave EWTN on. (no, I'm not swimming the Tiber - they do have some good teaching programs and the music is better than the "praise" dreck served up on the other two stations).

"Please dont get me wrong: I am not opting for a macho-church."

What, no church militant?

Kamilla

8:10 AM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Randy,
You are so tedious. It wasn't simply de Bres, but a whole corpus of theologians/pastors during the Reformation. I just happen to be using the Belgic.
What if McLaren is wrong? What if Randy is wrong? Yes, of course, Randy, the marks of the church are entirely fluid. In Bora Bora they are adultery, drunkeness, and homosexuality. You know, Randy, it's a cultural thing. I agree with half of your last statement: You do not have all the answers.

8:13 AM  
Blogger SolaMeanie said...

Randy,

I thought you got banned. (smile)

What is your point?

9:06 AM  
Blogger Kyle said...

Okay, I'll concede that Randy is deep--deep as a bottomless abyss. It certainly is true he doesn't have all the answers. Maybe he'd have a few more if he actually sought them.

10:32 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:31 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Dear Shallow Randy,
Everything that has come down to us was written at a particular time in history, to a particular group of people, in a particular culture, addressing particular issues--including Scripture. And your hermeneutical point is...?

Just what are those all-important issues that have not been addressed? Give me the top 5. Might they have something to do with homosexuality, women in office, why "pomos" don't like certainty, why doctrine is wrong/bad? (If you opt out of answering this in somewhat detail you are history again.)

Ah, once again we resort to the liberal, pomo hackneyed accusation at that those who value the confessions elevate them to the place of Scripture! Why did it take you so long to get to that dead horse? If you would ever take the time to read the confessions you'd see that they place Scripture above everything AND those who are so silly and antiquated to hold to those confessions, would, by default, how to the same view that the confessions do. Sheeezzz! Or, as Reggie Kidd says, "Pu-leeeez!" Get a new ghost writer.

7:43 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:44 PM  
Blogger Kyle said...

Those're easy, Randy.

1) We shoot them.

2) Obviously starving Christians don't have enough faith, otherwise God would bless them.

3) We love them by forwarding cute E-mail prayers with .GIF images of Previous Moments (TM) dolls.

4) God is energy.

5) God is constantly growing, too!

6) We dehydrate them until they die.

7) We make sure every woman has safe, easy access to abortion.

8:04 PM  
Blogger Kyle said...

Those would be "Precious Moments (TM)," of course.

8:16 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:28 AM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Randy,
Thanks for the comic relief. As tough as the questions were, I'll give it a shot:
Ad 1: Numbers 15:15-16. What is it that you liberals don't understand about the word "illegal?"

Ad 2: Who is justifying big church structures? Didn't Jesus say that we'd always have the poor with us? You're at the wrong address. I'm sure you'll find this hard to believe, but conservatives actually do more to relieve the suffering of the poor than (theological) liberals, who just talk about it. Write Bob Schuller a letter and ask him.

Ad 3: That you have stock in FedEx and UPS.

Ad 4: How do we understand quantum physics in light of what the Trinity teaches us?

Ad 5: Take a few moments and read Scripture.

Ad 6: Yes there is a time to allow a dying person to die. There is no "absolute" value to human life, but we'd do a lot better if we stopped sucking the brains out of our unborn.

Ad 7: If you mean universal health care--which is another darling of Hillary and you liberals--the answer is no. Or, NO!!!! If you think socialized is such a good idea: go and live under it for 10 years like I did. Or, you can search on my blog site and find my article called "Are You Sure You Want Universal Health Care?"

You pomos are really funny.

5:22 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:10 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Randy,
If you really think that you're asking hard questions you are living under a powerful delusion. All of this claptrap is just warmed over from the hippies.
You have to be one of the most uninformed people--both from a Christian and secular perspective--I've ever encountered. My German Shepherd, Hosanna, has thought through more than you have.
Have a happy pomo, liberal day.

7:31 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:54 AM  
Blogger SolaMeanie said...

Randy,

I'll make one quick comment here. God is by nature a non-analagous being. There is none other like Him. He dwells outside time, and is separate and distinct from His creation. In that context, quantum physics would not matter a whole lot because God dwells outside of universe-bordered rules.

Make sense?

12:30 PM  
Blogger SolaMeanie said...

Oh, let me throw this in also. I believe an attorney in court would say, "Objection. Relevance."

In other words, the questions you are asking do not take away from what has been already established i.e. doctrine. Should Christians arrive at positions on these troubling issues of our day? Sure. But they'd better jive with what Scripture has already set forward as divine principle.

12:31 PM  
Blogger Kamilla said...

Oh, I dunno. I kinda like Hosanna. When our parish priest was telling us about the naming of their old dog, he said his wife and daughters wanted to name him "Deacon", but Fr. Phil said he was NOT staning out on the steps in his collar calling out, DEACON, Here Deacon!"

hehehe,

Kamilla

3:56 PM  
Blogger Kyle said...

Is there something blasphemous about naming a dog "Hosanna"? What if he named the dog "Anna"? Would that be blasphemous?

As for the war, what do you suggest be done about murderous suicide bombers and sectarian Islamic brigades slaughtering each other and innocent civilians? Do you think the U.S. has killed more innocents in the war, or the so-called insurgents?

6:07 PM  
Blogger SolaMeanie said...

Kyle,

You could have named the dog "Rosanna" and claim that Toto named a song after her. I have a hunch you'll also find an Emergent Church that uses Rosanna for an altar call.

Just kidding. Really.

7:23 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:00 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Randy,
Ad: Does it not bother us that our own country has killed thousands of people in Iraq over the past six years?

Does it not bother you that Hussein savagely raped and murdered hundreds of thousands? Does it not bother you that over 3,000 Americans were savagely murdered on 9/11? Does it not twinge your conscience that over 6,000 died on the beaches of Normandy to protect your freedom to be so imperious to truth and so unpatriotic. Does it not bother you that at the Berlin Wall not ONE West Berliner was ever shot for trying to flee into East Berlin?

If issues of war and murder (Blackwater) are not issues of significance to the church - then we have absolutely nothing to proclaim. (And yes I know a few things about Blackwater - my sister once dated Eric Prince)

Ad: The last time I checked, issues of war and murder was on the radar of the Church. Where have you been? I'm thrilled that your sister dating Eric Prince gave you such extensive background knowledge into Blackwater. I'm thankful I've never met you personally. With all of the top secret info you have you'd probably have to try to kill me just on the introduction alone, but thankfully I know I'm a much better shot. By the way, did I mention that I taught a top secret class on Soviet and U.S. tanks? But I don't have a sister and if I did, I'm sure she won't have dated anyone from the rogue SEALs, Marine Recon, Para Jumpers, and Delta Force.

If the kingdom of God and the gospel is not good news to the Iraqi people - then we have nothing to proclaim.

Ad: Why don't you spend a week in a room with Islamic terrorists? It might be enlightening, but you wouldn't be around to tell us about it. Who says we're not proclaiming the gospel. Just for your information, I've been corresponding for the last two years with chaplains who have not only ministered to our troops but who have also taken the gospel to the streets. That doesn't quite fit into your preconceived liberal framework does it?

Either the gospel is what Jesus proclaimed or it is a resounding gong. I believe the Apostle Paul believed it was the later.

Ad: Not only did he think it was the later, but he also thought it was the latter as every real Christians does as well. Your point is...?

Of course - if we are not required to love our neighbor then bombs are a good and fine thing. IF democracy is our god then bombs are a good thing to promote our god.

Ad: Democracy isn't my thing. America is a republic. It is neither illogical nor inconsistent to love my neighbor and have a bomb, or several handguns as I do. If a burglar breaks into my home I don't have the time to sit down and have a nice chat with him. If he's trying to rape my wife or harm my children the very best I can expect from a 911 call is that the police will be at my home in 15 minutes--a little on the late side. I don't have a sister who dated a S.W.A.T. team member, but I do know several law enforcement officers personally--although I've never actually dated any of them, unless meeting for coffee and praying with them counts as a date.

On the other hand if Jesus was serious when he said 'Blessed are the peacemakers' then perhaps we should take his voice seriously.

Ad: You pomos surmise--not "know" for that is verboten--that Jesus was never serious about anything but swearing. Why do you choose to take one or two things seriously--as if we really know what Jesus said--and neglect the rest? That really smacks of a theology of convenience.

Or not... then you can call me a liberal and laugh and make light of the bodies strewn all over this earth under George W. Bush's reign.

Ad: You have bought into the liberal lie that this is all Bush's fault. I will continue to call you a liberal, precisely because that is what you are, and you are a very bad one at that. I will continue to laugh at your musings and drivel. But what I take serious exception to is that I would ever laugh at the bodies--ours or theirs--strewn all over the earth. Nor would I laugh at one of our soldier's bodies being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia by thugs because Bill Clinton wanted them to distribute food. You ought to be ashamed, but you have none. You are a despicable person! How dare you!!! Get off my blog site!!

11:12 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:45 PM  
Blogger SolaMeanie said...

Randy,

One of the things Scripture tells us is to rightly divide it. Perhaps you are confusing what the church and individual Christians are supposed to do with what the state is supposed to do. For instance, in Romans it says "the state doesn't bear the sword for nothing."

I think you would be hard pressed to make a case for total pacifism from Scripture. Part of the responsibility of a state is to protect its citizens. If you have a group of people (whether as a shadowy jihadist group or as a state sponsor of terror) determined to kill you, the God-ordained state is responsible to act. Obviously, this isn't carte blanche for indiscriminate action or genocide, but neither is it an instruction to sit on our collective hands and sing Kum-bay-yah to jihadists.

8:38 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:18 PM  
Blogger Blake's Blog said...

I hope to add a comment from an outsider perspective. I think the conversation got a bit off track.

Pastor Gleason is looking at the Biblical & Historical record of the question, "What is the church?" It seems that Randy is more concerned with practical application of the "ethics of Jesus." These two things really should not be separated. I'm afraid the Emergent Movement has tried to create an ecclesiology baed on what they think Jesus would do pragmatically, or based on a romanticized notion of what the early church was.

We do need to follow Micah 6:8, but not apart from Sacramental Gospel Preaching and the discipline of the church. We can't drive a car without an Engine.
blake
blakeberk.wordpress.com

4:51 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Randy,
The ethics of Jesus is no different from the ethics of, say, Paul, Isaiah, Moses, David, or any other biblical writer.
By paying attention only to the ethics of Jesus, you're falling into the liberal ploy of separating what I Lord taught from the rest of Scripture. That is, at best, an awful hermeneutic.
As I've written before, I see no biblical warrant for pacifism. Certainly, Jesus didn't teach that at all, but it sounds so cool and so loving to make such silly assertions, doesn't it?
I'm glad you finally discovered what pomo means. Du bist aufgeklaert!

10:39 PM  
Blogger SolaMeanie said...

If all Scripture is God-breathed, that means God (including God the Son) inspired the parts of Scripture that call for severe action just as He did the parts that call for mercy. Too many people try and forcefit Jesus into the mercy category and excise out the part of Jesus that is the wrath of God personified.

4:48 AM  

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