The Church of Christ (X)
In this installment we’ll finish what the Belgic Confession teaches us about the marks of the true and false churches. It has been instructive to listen to this confessional statement from the Reformation, although at times it might have sounded strange to our ears. Next time, Lord willing, we’re going to begin on an analysis of Brian McLaren’s new book Everything Must Change. With a title like that, you just have to know that this is going to be a real “toe-tapper.” This is McLaren’s (vain and lame) attempt at some form of ethics. It is quite expansive in its reach: Everything and, given the fact that the Emergent chit-chat doesn’t care for authority, the word Must seems like a bit of a fremdkörper in the Emergent church vocabulary. Anyway, if you like really left-wing Socialism in Birkenstocks, then McLaren is the kinder, gentler guy to read.
For today, however, we want to continue listening to what the B.C. teaches about the lives/marks of true believers. By way of quick review, here is what has been said concerning them up to this point: “With respect to those who are members of the Church, they may be known by the marks of Christians; namely, by faith, and when, having received Jesus Christ the only Savior, they avoid sin, follow after righteousness, love the true God and their neighbor, neither turn aside to the right or left, and crucify the flesh with its works.”
To the modern church-goer this description not only sounds quite strange, but probably overly pious as well. Modern Christians are not adept at avoiding sin because their pastors will not talk to them about sin and are afraid if they do their “audience” will “beat feet” out of the building. All the talk about walking the straight and narrow path and not turning to the right or left is about as appealing, hip, and upbeat as crucifying the flesh with its works.
Did you see the latest episode of Desperate Housewives? No, I was busy crucifying my flesh and its works. In short, to date, with all the talk about engaging the culture, most Christians don’t have a clue what that means (neither do their pastors, by the way) and have settled in on getting engaged by the culture rather than engaging it. Granted engaging the culture is a complex issue, but it would seem with all the intense admonitions for modern Christians to get out and engage the culture it might be helpful for someone to give a few helpful specific references to precisely which culture (high, medium, low, pop, hip-hop) we’re supposed to engage and how we are to engage it. Otherwise engaging the culture becomes an abstraction that is discussed while drinking beer and shooting pool at the local pub or eating suicide chicken wings at Hooters.
What strikes me about this description of the true marks of Christians is the pastoral approach that de Brès employs. He’s not dealing with abstractions or “pie-in-the-sky” descriptions. Here is a man who is both a good theologian and a pastor. That breed is rapidly dying out and is all but extinct in the modern Church. If the breed is not yet dead in mega-church and Emergent church circles it is on the endangered species list.
In this confessional statement we’re not fed the myth of the “model” or “perfect” or “victorious” Christian, but rather the Christian who struggles against sin daily. The caveat is, however, that they do struggle against it. Here is the qualifier de Brès uses, which is the pastoral and realistic approach: But this is not to be understood as if there did not remain in them great infirmities.
The true believer has not and will not reach perfection in this life. They know—from Scripture and experience—that they still have to struggle against great spiritual infirmities all their lives. How do they cope with all that doctrinal expository preaching that tells them about sin? They listen carefully and also hear about grace; God’s wondrous grace of forgiveness because of Jesus Christ.
Many today believe that the gospel can no longer be preached as it was before. I totally disagree because the Savior is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). I also wonder how sin has changed significantly since Adam and Eve fell. Anyway, the answer that de Brès gives is that Christians will struggle against sin until they draw their last breath. The rest of his explanation goes like this: But they fight against them (the infirmities) through the Spirit all the days of their life, continually taking their refuge in the blood, death, passion, and obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom they have remission of sins, through faith in him.
The Holy Spirit working in and through the Word of God strengthens them in and for this spiritual battle. The Spirit also teaches them about prayer, the use of the sacraments, and Christian fellowship as God’s ordained means of grace in addition to the preaching of the Word. And when they sin—not if they sin—they take refuge in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. De Brès uses words like “blood,” “death,” and “passion” to describe the Savior. Oh yeah, he also uses one more, but that word—according to the Federal Visionists—shouldn’t be there. Surely, truly, de Brès must be mistaken when he refers to the obedience of Christ. Why, whatever might that mean? Are we to assume that a good Reformed man like Guido de Brès entertained a notion of the active obedience of Christ somehow being applied to the life of the believer?
According to some, the gospel must be “repackaged,” but what Luther referred to in Wider Hans Worst as the “old faith” seems to make good sense. Believers fight, struggle against sin through the Holy Spirit all their lives; they continually—because of indwelling sin—take their refuge to the total Christ exclusively; believe that he fulfilled all righteousness—including keeping the Law of God according to its letter and spirit—for them; and that through his Person and Work alone they have remission of sins. How? By faith, which contains a sure knowledge and firm confidence (head and heart), they are assured that Christ loves them and gave himself for them (cf. Gal. 2:20). I think I’d rather know that than shoot pool or eat chicken wings at Hooters.
But what is the “false” church all about? Few pause to ask or ponder that question anymore. Church choices are made on substantially more pragmatic motives. Even with the mega-church movement waning, that does not mean that we should expect a return by them and their staffs to a more regulative form of worshiping God. What do you do if your mega-church is in trouble? The answer is easy: You hire some public relations experts to tell you which way the wind is blowing and you conform to the theology du jour. So if Bill Hybels’ Willow Creek is losing interest and by their own admission have not fulfilled what they initially set out to do, Bill simply makes a “Dr. Spock-esque” confession and looks forward to bringing in the Emergent chit-chat for a Spring conference.
I’m going to allow de Brès’ remarks concerning the false church simply to pass in review and will have ample opportunity to comment on them when we examine McLaren’s new book. What, then, are the marks or notes of the false church? As for the false church, it ascribes more power and authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God, and will not submit itself to the yoke of Christ. Neither does it administer the sacraments as appointed by Christ in his Word, but adds to and takes from them, as it thinks proper; it relies more upon men that upon Christ; and persecutes those who live holily according to the Word of God and rebuke it for its errors, covetousness, and idolatry.
Clearly, the historical context of these words points us to the Roman Catholic Church, but mutatis mutandis the words can also apply to the modern Church at the front end of the 21st century as well. Two examples will suffice. Perhaps it’s just me, but I have viewed the title of N.T. Wright’s What Saint Paul Really Said as just a tad on the arrogant side. For approximately 2,000 years the Church has stumbled in blindness regarding one of the key, essential doctrines of salvation and the Church: justification by faith. Thankfully, Bishop Tom has come along to enlighten the Church. The same type of gross and blatant arrogance is evident in McLaren’s books, but his latest really is off the charts when it comes to the arrogance factor. Time after time, McLaren will take a text and attempt to convince the reader that it really means just the opposite of what it says. He also adeptly dismisses the history of the Church as an exercise in ignorance. Thankfully, the Church has now been blessed with Tom and Bri!
It is shockingly amazing and amazingly shocking that McLaren can correct two thousand years of muddleheaded theology, but still doesn’t seem to know what Scripture teaches about the atonement or homosexuality. He will, no doubt, clear those matters up as well in subsequent treatises. Unbelievable!
Here’s de Brès’ parting shot: These two Churches are easily known and distinguished from each other. Have you done the requisite investigation? Are you certain that where you are attending now or where you are a member now is a true Church? If you haven’t ever thought about this, today might be a good day to start.
Labels: The Church of Christ