Monday, January 25, 2010

Magic Words

Last year a classmate and I began meeting regularly with some kids whom we had met in a tutoring program through the medical school. These kids come from a pretty rough neighborhood in San Bernardino and are not Christians so it has been a great opportunity and privilege to become friends with them and to share the gospel with them. For the last year and a half we have done almost weekly Bible studies with them.

After a time living in Tijuana these kids returned recently and we met with them again for the first time in months. To our most recent Bible study one of the kids brought a friend whom we had never met. After we discussed the stoning of Stephen and the conversion of Saul we began talking about what it meant for Jesus to die on the cross. When we said that Jesus had taken upon Himself our sin and had suffered the wrath that we deserved this boy was excited to hear something he had never heard before. We were excited that one of these kids was showing such interest in what we were teaching. We talked some more about the cross and this boy seemed amazed by the idea that Jesus took upon Himself our sin and that it was because of this that he suffered and died. He said that he could never understand what was so important about Jesus dying on a cross as opposed to every other person who has been executed in various ways throughout history.

After the discussion we were walking back to the car and the boy who had been amazed by this "new teaching" said that he had been in a lot of churches with his family and that he had "accepted Christ" again and again but he was obviously unsatisfied and unconvinced that he had really "accepted" anything. We told him that he should think about what we said about Christ taking upon Himself our sin and suffering the wrath we deserved. We also shared 2nd Corinthians 5:21, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God," with him and tried to discuss that. He said he would come study the Bible with us again and I look forward to future conversations and, Lord willing, discipleship with this kid.

But the lack of satisfaction in this boy and the amazement he showed at the idea that Christ bore our sin reminded me of how concealed and forgotten the gospel is in most churches. This boy had been going up during alter calls and saying the "magic words" but he knew that nothing had happened. I think without an understanding of the atonement and a clear, scriptural teaching of it, the idea of "accepting Christ," the reality of conversion itself, is reduced to some "magic words." Perhaps this boy suffered some real conviction of sin - I believe he has - but no answer has ever been given him about what must be done about this sin - about what has already been done with his sin if he is to believe. This boy knew the "magic words," but he did not know what Christ had actually done. The words had no real content except that somehow he was maybe arbitrarily better off with God if he went up and "accepted Christ." But when "accepting Christ" is emptied of all theological content in regards to who Jesus is and what He has done then it is useless.

Here's what the great preacher A.W. Tozer had to say:

But accepting Christ has become the panacea all over the evangelical world and it has become fatal to millions! A whole attitude of accepting; the passive acceptance of Christ. This easy acceptance! A man will preach a tremendous sermon and then say "Now, what should you do? Accept Christ. Have you accepted Christ?" Or we go to the bedside of a dying man: "Have you accepted Christ?" And if he says he has, why, we pat his head and the next day or two we preach that he's in heaven twanging a harp. Well, now I'm awfully afraid that there are millions of people who are perishing because they are being told to accept Christ and they don't know what's meant by it...

...Somebody suggested that the cross of Christ should not inconvenience people. Well, it is the most inconvenient thing in the world, this cross of Christ! It took a man by the name of Jesus in the height of his healthy human life and took Him out on a hillside and killed Him there - now, that's an inconvenient thing for Him! And any cross is inconvenient; it's a most inconvenient thing, this accepting Christ, if we know what we mean by it. But the accepting Christ of popular theology has no inconvenience attached to it.

-A.W. Tozer, from his sermon, What It Means to Accept Christ

Thursday, January 21, 2010

"... not in any meaningful sense a Christian."

...truth from the mouth of an Atheist.

When I was home for Christmas some of my friends alerted me to an article which had appeared in an issue of a local magazine called Portland Monthly. The article was a dialogue between famed Atheist Christopher Hitchens and a Portland area pastor who claims to be a liberal Christian. While I disagree with many things Hitchens said, I did appreciate his assessment of the liberal's belief system:

Marilyn Sewell (Liberal “Christian”): The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make and distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

Christopher Hitchens (Atheist): I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

The whole interview is here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Because He loves men

My dear friend there has been much rightly said about the glory of God, about God doing everything for His own glory - that is so true. About Christ in a sense dying for God, for the glory of God. That is true out of the mouth of a wise theologian. But some of our younger brethren who say these things forget that the same Christ who died for the glory of God died because He loves men. You throw that out of the equation, my friend, and you’ve lost the gospel.

-Paul Washer from his sermon The Lost Gospel

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hitting the nail on the head

Christians schooled in this rather anti-intellectual, common-denominator evangelistic approach to faith responded to the later twentieth-century decline in church attendance by looking not to more substantial catechesis but to business and consumer models to provide strategies for growth. By now we’re all familiar with the story: increasing attendance by means of niche marketing led church leaders to frame the content of their sermons and liturgies according to the self-reported perceived needs of potential “seekers” shaped by the logic of consumerism. Now many American consumer-congregants have come to expect their churches to function as communities of goods and services that provide care and comfort without the kind of challenge and discipline required for authentic Christian formation to take place.

-David Nienhuis in Modern Reformation

H/T: Justin Taylor

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Precious Merits of Jesus

I've been reading Memoirs of Early Christianity in Northern Lapland and a few passages have especially caught my attention. One of these is a testimony written by Erkki Antti Juhonpieti. Juhonpieti was born in 1814 in Pajala, Sweden and would become a co-worker of Laestadius. In this passage he writes of his conversion and the struggles of the Christian life, powerfully proclaiming the gospel. The translation is a bit rough in places but I think it conveys the meaning well:
In the exchange between fear and hope I however seized ahold of the promises of grace in God's word. Now, I felt peace, rest and also joy; and realized that through the employment of Jesus' blood through faith my heart was broken. I went into the house to tell others of what great grace had taken place. For a whole week I was in such ecstasy that I knew nothing of sin or its effects. But then the feelings of corruption revived again to life. From these came occasion to doubt whether I was on the right track after all. Then faith and doubt fought their battle over sovereignty, but later I have learned to live solely by faith, contrary to the feelings of corruption, as the Apostle Paul, in his epistle, directs the Roman Christians to live.

During my walk of faith I have experienced so many kinds of sins and corruption in my members that I am unable to relate them all.

I have also felt God's grace and love, sometimes in a smaller measure, sometimes in larger portion. But faith I have strived to keep in a good conscience, though the feelings have been transitive, for in feelings there is no foundation for salvation, only in the precious merits of Jesus is there a full ransom for condemnation of sin and the fulfillment of the law.

- Erkki Antti Juhonpieti (1814-1900)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Random Update #5

Writer's block... I don't feel I have the ability to write at this point but I don't want to completely neglect this blog. It's happened from time to time but I've always gotten over it before so this is probably not the end of Northwest Anglican. The "update"...

1. I had a good two weeks at home for Christmas break. The high point (or points) was 4 snowboarding trips I made with friends and family to Mt. Hood. On New Year's Eve I was on the mountain with a brother and a friend snowboarding (in the rain) until 2AM on New Year's Day.

2. Over the break I attended the Apostolic Lutheran Church in Hockinson and then met with the pastor during the week. It was a good experience. I hope to worship there again.

3. Lately I've been reading Memoirs of Early Christianity in Northern Lapland as a devotional book before I go to bed. The stories are interesting and there are some wonderful exhortations about the Gospel which renew my hope and remind me of how wonderful and merciful my Lord Jesus Christ is.

4. I'm on my family medicine rotation now at Riverside Community Regional Medical Center. It's been a good first week in which I've gotten to do and see a lot. On Tuesday I assisted on a circumcision.

5. As is often the case when I quit writing, this time has been for me a time of spiritual struggle. I read something which seemed to speak to my condition lately. I don't agree with every sentiment expressed but I think this article by Michael Spencer offers a corrective to some falsehoods often believed and preached in the church. Here's a quote:

I fall down. I get up….and believe. Over and over again. That’s as good as it gets in this world. This life of faith, is a battle full of weakness and brokenness. The only soldiers in this battle are wounded ones. There are moments of total candor- I am a “wretched man” living in a “body” of death. Denying this, spinning this, ignoring this or distorting this reality is nothing but trouble in the true Christian experience. The sin we are killing in Romans 8 is, in a sense, ourselves. Not some demon or serpent external to us. Our battle is with ourselves, and embracing this fact is the compass and foundation of the Gospel’s power in our lives.

Read it all here.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Winter in Battle Ground

Here are some pictures I took around the farm at Christmas break.

The farm with some interesting clouds in the background.

Ice on one of the ponds.

This horse kept following me around.

Frost on a salal leaf.

Chinese lanterns.