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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, November 15, 2007

The Church of Christ (X)

The Marks or Notes of the Christian (III)
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.



Blogger Randy said...

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6:46 AM  
Blogger SolaMeanie said...


You must not have read this as thoroughly as you say you did.

By the way, what is a "tyrad?" Never heard that term before.


1:30 PM  
Blogger The Future Dr. Martinez said...

In literature the word is typically used as a tumultous event.

7:02 AM  
Blogger SolaMeanie said...

Actually, Dr. "M," I think he meant "tirade." I was just tweaking the Randster. Since he comes here largely to tweak Dr. Gleason, I thought I'd get in a little tweakage myself.

All in good fun.

5:35 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:21 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

If you are a CRC (Emergent) church planter or a CRC member, I would have thought that you would be very familiar. If you have taken the time to have read the other posts I've written I've pretty much spelled out what de Bres was saying. You must have missed a couple of installments.
Did you also miss what de Bres was saying about the RC Church?
I have not said that the Reformed confessions were the only ones to get the gospel right. I have said--and will continue to say--that McLaren, Wright, Hybels, Schuller, and others have definitely gotten the gospel wrong.
McLaren's new book is disgusting, dreadful, and deplorable. To anyone with a modicum of sense that will become apparent as I use his own words to build my case.
Rattlesnake 6

1:59 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

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5:21 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

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7:34 AM  
Blogger SolaMeanie said...


If McLaren loved God so much, I wonder that he would take some of the positions he does. The god of McLaren seems quite different to the God of the Bible.

Second, I wonder that you would fall into the secular mindset on Thanksgiving, calling it Turkey Day. Will you now begin calling Christmas "Winter Solstice?"

10:28 AM  
Blogger SolaMeanie said...

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10:29 AM  
Blogger SolaMeanie said...

BTW, no doubt mainline churches have "moved" in their theology, as you put it. And almost uniformly, they have moved away from Scripture, not closer to it. It's sad how the Second Law of Thermodynamics seems to apply to churches when it shouldn't. What an indictment.

10:32 AM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Sure read the documents of Vatican II, but keep in mind as you do that Trent is still fully in play. Re: Negatives to describe and define a position. Did you ever hear of a little meeting called Chalcedon?
This morning read Dan Kimball's section on women in "They like Jesus but not the Church." The Emergent tribe is worse than the mega-church tribe that they despise so much. It's all about feelings and senses. In both McLaren as well as Kimball not one shred of real exegesis to back up what they say.
I had planned to have turkey for Thanksgiving, but he gobbled to me that killing him would make him feel bad. I guess I'll have to settle for a tofu smoothie, light some votive candles, contemplate my navel, do some cool labyrinth prayer, and just love Jesus.

11:34 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

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9:57 PM  
Blogger SolaMeanie said...

Again, Randy..doesn't loving Jesus involve obeying His Word and not redefining it out of existence? Does loving God involve insisting He didn't say or mean something when in fact He did (homosexuality)? People can talk about loving Jesus until they're blue in the face, but when they show profound disregard for His Word, I have to look askance at their claims. They might be in love with a Jesus of their own making, but it's not the God of the Bible.

I also disagree profoundly that "most" pastors see our modern day illegals in the same vein as discussed in the Old Testament. Maybe it would be more accurate to say "most pastors that are in the circles where I run." And if that is their view, they are dead wrong and then some. That is wild eisegesis if I've ever seen it. Totally different time, totally different context, totally different law.

Aren't you allowing your political views to affect your reading of Scripture? If I chose, I could have real fun with the verse that says "a foolish man's heart inclines to the left," but that would be meanie of me. ;)

9:30 AM  
Blogger SolaMeanie said...

While I am at it, let me just state this baldly. While I can't know Brian McLaren's heart -- only God does -- I have serious doubts whether the man is even saved. By their fruit you will know them, and I see very little genuine fruit coming from McLaren except heresy and division.

9:32 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

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12:42 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

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12:45 PM  
Blogger SolaMeanie said...

Ah, Randall..Randall..Randall...

Where did I say that Scripture was unclear on treating "the least of these?" Putting words in my mouth, are you? But since you brought it up, who is identified by Jesus as the "least of these?" Who are "brethren" in Christian terminology? Even leaving that side issue aside, again you are mixing apples and oranges. Individual treatment of the poor has nothing to do with how a nation state controls crime and controls its borders. You seem to have a hard time grasping that distinction. To really illustrate my point, there is a huge difference between Corrie Ten Boom's Hiding Place and Christians today sheltering illegals. I have observed some that try to make that comparison and its obscene. Just like the homosexuals who try to hitch their pink train to the black civil rights movement -- which most black pastors find highly offensive.

Now, as to McLaren. "Conservatives" don't set the standards for who "makes it" into the kingdom. God sets those standards and He plants some pretty strong clues in His Word. I find it astonishing that you bridle so much at McLaren getting rebuked for stuff that comes out in his books and out of his own mouth. McLaren is a heretic. Period. Scripture is also very clear on how we are to deal with false teachers in the church. If you remember a man named Paul, he stated very clearly that we have no business judging those outside the church. But we ARE to judge those in the church, especially those who claim to be teachers.

You will never win a debate on this, Randy. Give it up. Better yet, open your eyes before you do yourself any more spiritual damage. I sympathize with and admire your desire to be compassionate and tenderhearted. But false teachers who spread doctrinal poison are not to be on the receiving end of that compassion. They are to be confronted and corrected, and if they won't repent they are to be refused fellowship until they repent.

I hope you can hear my heart on this. While the tone here and elsewhere has at times been sharp, I am not intending to be sarcastic in an ugly way. If anything, I am truly pleading with you to open your eyes and don't be deceived by letting your compassion outweigh your spiritual discernment. God's Word says what it means and means what it says. We ignore it and distort it at our peril.

2:06 PM  
Blogger Mr. Julio Martinez, Jr. said...

Wow. I see that Randy's true colors have come to the fore. Apparently he's forsaken confessionalism as a hallmark for Reformed theology.

Randy said: "As for McLaren I find it AMAZING how 'conservatives' are so fast to set the standards for 'who' makes it into the kingdom of God."

Response: You're kinda jumping the gun, aren't you? While the so-called "conservatives" set the standards, you just done the same. Your by standards only make you look foolish.

Randy: "Furthermore. I am astounded that people can speak of eternal hell for others without having ever broken bread with them. "

Response: This is where your ultimate turpitude leads to--baneful ideas even of the Lord's Table. If I'm correct, are you saying that we can break bread with the unbeliever, i.e., the Lord's Table? If so, then the CRC has come a long way, beyond aberration. However, if you are saying that we eat with the heathen without pronouncing them damned, this is most unloving. I could do nothing so unloving as to pat the unbeliever and feed him or her without giving them what Jesus came to eat, that is, the will of Him who sent Him. This is not the biblical model.

4:08 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Which "Jesus" does McLaren end up loving? For example, on pp. 177-178 ("Joining Warriors Anonymous") McLaren conjectures what Jesus (one can only ask which Jesus) would say to him and Chris Hedges (liberal Presbo and Harvard grad; Pacifist, who hates America, and a coward who is more than willing to allow others to protect his pantywaist backside). Guess what? Jesus wouldn't say anything about sin and salvation but would make pronouncements about global warming and being against war. You and McLaren have the audacity to suggest that others have created Jesus after their image. You all of tribe of unscriptual hypocrites.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Don said...

Well, I guess the Truth has won the debate in this thread. The Emergent approach to debating is always one strewn with straw men and red herrings.

I for one, appreciated the post and am certain that the Emergent folks who read these critiques loose sleep due to their pricked conscience. What they do with that is between them and the Lord. Keep proclaiming the Truth, Rattler!

"Do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ" (Gal 1:10)

"Your word is truth" (John 17:17).

"I am the Lord, I do not change" (Malachi 3:6).

“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24)

“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Tim 4:3-4)

For Him, (Jesus of the Bible)

4:36 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

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7:56 AM  
Blogger CB in Ca said...

Indeed, Scripture does require the Christian to HOLD MEMBERSHIP in a true visible Church! On this, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Reformed agree! The American evangelical enterprise is still infected with revivalism. Hence the anabaptist practice and denial of the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood! A true visible church will administer Baptism to the infant children of Christians; false "churches" will not.

7:23 PM  
Blogger CB in Ca said...

I should mention I hold membership in a United Reformed Church in San Bernadino County.

7:26 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:36 AM  
Blogger Charles E. Whisnant said...


Here is my problem. I agree with your over all point of the ten posts about the BC Confession. And I agree with how you address the current condition of the church in America.

My problem is I am a Baptist, but am more Scriptural than Baptist. And attend a church where the pastor is Reformed.

If I agree with BC on Article 27 and 28 and 29, I disagree with Article 37 and 33 and 35. Is this possible?

You made a great presentation and I totall agree with, and yet at the same time disagree with the postions of the Lord Supper's purpose and baptizing children of parents.

I read and downdown load all ten post and the BC. Its the best I have read on the subject.



12:43 PM  

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