Exiles in a Post-Christian Society (Williams)

Exiles on Mission: How Christians Can Thrive in a Post-Christian World - Williams, Paul S - 9781587434358 I’ve been working through Exiles on Mission by Paul Williams.  So far I’m enjoying it – it’s getting me to think about living as Christians in a post-Christian context. I don’t agree with everything I’ve read, but it is surely a good resource on this topic. Here’s a paragraph I read this morning that I marked up quite a bit.  There’s more to this discussion, of course, but this is worth thinking about:

In our own day we may not have been physically exiled, but Western culture has changed around us.  Although the West was formed out of the rubble of the classical world by two thousand years of Christian influence, it has decisively thrown off that heritage and rejected the faith that brought it to birth.  Many believers have still not come to terms with the fact that we now live in a post-Christian society.  By this I mean not at all that Christ is no longer relevant but that society has turned away from Christ.

Indeed, Lesslie Newbigin speaks of a post-Christian paganism, different from the pre-Christian kind because it is inoculated against Christianity, yet equally instrumental – and thus dehumanizing – in its inner life.  We hark back to the days of greater Christian influence, and this nostalgia makes it all the harder to live faithfully in the present.  Our culture may be godless, but it is also wealthy and comfortable.  Comfort plus nostalgia for a half-remembered past form a dangerous emotional combination capable of numbing us to the reality of exile in our day and the missional challenges it presents.

Great food for thought!

Paul Williams, Exiles on Mission, p. 39.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

 

Point of Contact: The Image of God (Schaeffer)

 What is one point of contact between the Christian and someone who isn’t a Christian?  When you, a follower of Jesus, are talking to someone who doesn’t submit to Christ and his ways, what is your common ground?  There are a few possible biblical answers to this question that has to do with apologetics and evangelism.  One basic answer is explained here by Francis Schaeffer in a helpful way:

…Nothing is to be autonomous from God.  The inward areas of knowledge, meaning, and values and the inward area of morals, are bound by God as much as the outward world. As the Christian grows spiritually he should be a man who consciously, more and more, brings his thought-world as well as his outward world under the norms of the Bible.

But what about the non-Christian? As a Christian approaches the non-Christian, he still has a starting place from which to know the person in a way that the non-Christian does not have, because he knows who the person is.  One of the most brilliant men I have ever worked with sat in my room in Switzerland crying, simply because he had been a real humanist and existentialist.  He had gone from his home in a South American country to Paris, because this was the center of all this great humanistic thought.  But he found it was so ugly.  The professors cared nothing.  It was inhuman in its humanism.  He was ready to commit suicide when he came to us.  He said, ‘How do you love me, how do you start?’  I said I could start.  ‘I know who you are,’ I told him, ‘because you are made in the image of God.’ We went on from there.

Even with a non-Christian, the Christian has some way to begin: to go from the facade of the outward to the reality of the inward, because no matter what a man says he is we know who he really is.  He is made in the image of God; that’s who he is.  And we know that down there somewhere – no matter how wooden he is on the outside, or how much he has died on the outside, no matter if he believes he is only a machine – we know that beyond the facade there is a person who is a verbalizer and who loves and wants to be loved.  And no matter how often he says he is amoral, in reality he has moral motions.  We know that because he has been made in the image of God.  Hence, even with a non-Christian, the Christian has a way to start, from the outside to the inside, in a way that non-Christians simply do not have.

Francis Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent, p. 82-83.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

They Shall Come To Me (Bunyan)

In John 6:37 Jesus said, “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (NIV). These words of Jesus convey a precious relatity and a comforting promise. They are well worth memorizing! Here’s how John Bunyan commented on these words in Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ. I’ve updated the language slightly for ease of reading:

[I conclude] that coming to Jesus Christ rightly is an effect of their being, by God, given to Christ beforehand. Note: They shall come. Who? Those that are given. They come, then, because they were given, “They were Yours, and You gave them Me.”

Now, this is indeed a singular comfort to those that are coming in truth to Christ, to think that the reason why they come is because they were given by the Father beforehand to him. Thus, then, may the coming soul reason with himself as he comes: “Am I coming, indeed, to Jesus Christ? This coming of mine is not to be attributed to me or my goodness, but to the grace and gift of God to Christ. God gave first me to him, and, therefore, has now given me a heart to come.”

John Bunyan, Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ, p. 254 (Works, Volume 1).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

Turn to Me and Be Saved!

  Many of us have probably heard or read God’s great call to come to him for salvation in Isaiah 45:22: Turn to me so you can be delivered, all you who live in the earth’s remote regions! (NET). It’s a great text to think about for evangelism.  But sometimes we might forget about the context.  Right before God’s great call is something like a courtroom scene where Yahweh talks to foolish idolaters and declares their idols to be worthless (45:20-21).  At this point, one might expect a word of judgment from the Lord.  However, he opens his arms and calls all people – even idolators! – to himself for salvation.  I appreciate how Brevard Childs commented on this text:

What now occurs in vv. 22–25 is astonishing and unexpected, going beyond anything so far seen in Second Isaiah. Instead of the disputation with the nations ending in a resounding pronouncement of judgment (cf. 41:21–24), the widest possible invitation to salvation is extended by God: “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth.” The old division between Israel and the nations has been forced to give way before the salvation that God has both promised and achieved. A new world order of righteousness has emerged. The old is passing; the new age is dawning. God will rule and to him “shall every knee bow, every tongue confess” (cf. Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:10).

Earlier the nations had begun to sense this reality at least in part (45:14). Now it is confirmed by God’s divine oath (v. 23). However, this invitation to participate is not a blanket offer of universal salvation. There are still those who receive the promise and those who resist. This division no longer breaks along ethnic, national, or geographic lines. Rather, the “offspring of Israel” is now defined in terms of those who find in God their righteousness and strength. They shall triumph and exult, indeed from all the ends of the earth.

Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah: A Commentary, ed. William P. Brown, Carol A. Newsom, and Brent A. Strawn, 1st ed., The Old Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 355–356.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002

The Kindness of God in the Gospel (Luther)

 In Titus 3:4-5 the apostle Paul wrote about the goodness (χρηστότης) and kindness (φιλανθρωπία) of God in saving sinners by his mercy and not their merit.  While it is true that God is just and will punish the hard-hearted unrepentant sinner, it is equally true that he is good and kind towards sinners.  We can’t forget that great reality as we tell others about Jesus and as we follow him ourselves.  In other words, the gospel is not law, it is good news of God’s great kindness and love shown in Christ to sinners.

Martin Luther discussed this reality – God’s goodness and kindness in the gospel – in a sermon on Titus 3:4-7.  Here are a few parts of it that are good reminders of the kindness of God shown in the gospel:

So God also, by the gospel, is preached and offered unto us wholly good, bountiful, and sweet, open to all, rejecting none, bearing all our sins and offences, repelling no man with excessive severity; for we read and hear nothing declared in the gospel but mere grace and goodness, whereby he most mercifully hears us, and most gently handles us, and not any man according to his deserts [deserving].

…The meaning of the Apostle is this; our God hath in the gospel shewed himself unto us not only bountiful, kind, gentle, and sweet, which can bear and will receive all, but also he so loveth us, that of his own accord he joineth himself unto us, seeketh to have to do with us, voluntarily showeth and offereth his grace unto us, and most gently embraceth as many as only do not refuse his grace and love, and desire to draw nigh unto him.

What should he do more? Who cannot see why we count the gospel a preaching, joyful, and full of all consolation of God in Christ? For what can be spoken more lovingly and sweetly to a sinful and afflicted conscience than these words?

Martin Luther and Philip Melancthon, “Of Salvation by Grace, without Works,” in Thirty-Four Sermons on the Most Interesting Doctrines of the Gospel (London: Gale and Fenner, 1816), 98.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Hammond, WI, 54015

Come to Christ – A Promise! (Bunyan)

 Jesus often called people to come to him for help, salvation, healing, and hope.  And the Lord promised that those who come will not be heavily burdened or cast aside: whoever comes to me I will never drive away (John 6:37 NIV).  Sometimes people might be hesitant to come to Jesus for various reasons.  They might be afraid that for some reason Jesus will not welcome them.  John Bunyan had an excellent discussion of this topic in his book, Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ.  

“I will in no wise cast out.” For had there not been a proneness in us to “fear casting out,” Christ needed not to have, as it were, waylaid our fear, as he doth by this great and strange expression, “In no wise;” “And him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”

There needed not, as I may say, such a promise to be invented by the wisdom of heaven, and worded at such a rate, as it were on purpose to dash in pieces at one blow all the objections of coming sinners, if they were not prone to admit of such objections, to the discouraging of their own souls. For this word, “in no wise,” cutteth the throat of all objections; and it was dropped by the Lord Jesus for that very end; and to help the faith that is mixed with unbelief. And it is, as it were, the sum of all promises; neither can any objection be made upon the unworthiness that thou findest in thee, that this promise will not assoil [absolve].

But I am a great sinner, sayest thou.
“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I am an old sinner, sayest thou.
“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I am a hard-hearted sinner, sayest thou.
“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I am a backsliding sinner, sayest thou.
“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I have served Satan all my days, sayest thou.
“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I have sinned against light, sayest thou.
“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I have sinned against mercy, sayest thou.
“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

But I have no good thing to bring with me, sayest thou.
“I will in no wise cast out,” says Christ.

Thus I might go on to the end of things, and show you, that still this promise was provided to answer all objections, and doth answer them. But I say, what need it be, if they that are coming to Jesus Christ are not sometimes, yea, oftentimes, heartily afraid, “that Jesus Christ will cast them out?”

 John Bunyan, Come and Welcome, to Jesus Christ, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2006), 279–280.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Election and Evangelism (Bucer)

Concerning the True Care of Souls Bucer, Martin cover image Some people say that the doctrine of election is a hindrance to evangelism.  I do admit that a hyper-calvinist view of election is a hindrance to evangelism.  However, a historic Reformed, biblical view of election does not get in the way of evangelism at all.  Martin Bucer (d. 1551) put it quite well when he was explaining the evangelistic side of the pastoral ministry:

…Sadly, however, not all are chosen by God and there are many who despise the salvation which the Lord offers them: this is shown in the parable quoted above [from Luke 14], where none of those who had been invited would get a taste of the Lord’s banquet.  But it is not the Lord’s will to reveal to us the secrets of his election; rather he commands us to go out into all the world and preach his gospel to every creature.  He says: ‘into all the world’ and ‘to every creature.’  The fact that all people have been made by God and are God’s creatures should therefore be reason enough to go to them, seeking with the utmost faithfulness to bring them to eternal life.

That is why the Lord has expressed it in general terms: ‘to every creature.’  He does not want to be invited to his banquet only those who show themselves to be citizens and inhabitants of his city, but he tells his servant: ‘Go out into the streets and alleys and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’  And again: ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in.’  From this the Lord teaches us that his ministers are simply to endeavor to lead to his church and to the perfect fellowship of his salvation all those who wish to come, no matter how wretched and corrupted they may be – indeed, not only to lead but urge and compel them.

Martin Bucer, Concerning the True Care of Souls, p. 77

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015