Semper Reformanda

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Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda (the church reformed, always reforming) is a phrase often used when describing what took place within the Protestant Reformation. In many circles, it has merely been shortened to Semper Reformanda, as the abbreviated phrase encapsulates a large portion of what many men, used by God, sought to accomplish by His grace through the Protestant Reformation.

Tomorrow is Halloween, but better than that, it is the 500th anniversary of the dawn of the Protestant Reformation. 500 years ago, a monk by the name of Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Castle Church Door in Wittenberg, Germany that spawned the second most influential Christian movement since the spread of the first church in the book of Acts (my personal opinion).

However, what is necessary to keep in mind is the motivation behind Luther’s leading. He did not seek to overthrow or abolish the Catholic Church. Luther was a good Catholic. He was trained in the ways of the church. A teacher of the church. A servant of the Church. But, by God’s grace, God began to reveal the truths of His Word to Luther that led Him to question many of the practices of the Catholic Church of the past, and of today. The Church did not practice salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. The Church did not sit under the authority of Scripture, but sat as the authority over Scripture. The Church promoted the gospel + works = salvation. Luther saw the error being promoted by the Church and the oppressive nature of the false gospel they were selling. Yet, Luther desired to see the Church reformed, not begin a movement that might label him an enemy of the Church.

Through men such as John Hus, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, John Knox, John Calvin, and pastors of today, the Church is always reforming (semper reformanda). God’s Word is living and active, sharper than any two-edge sword, and the Word is always purifying, sanctifying, and edifying the Church of God. What Luther began 500 years ago tomorrow is just as much alive today as it was then. Most of our churches, on most of our blocks, need some serious reform. When I say “reform,” I am not speaking in a  “reformed theology” sense (although every church needs some good Reformed Theology), but I am speaking in a return to the authority of God’s Word sense. Too many churches have moved away from the Word of God. We have gotten soft with the culture and allowed rampant immorality to infiltrate the Church. We have allowed man’s ideas and opinions about certain things dictate what is believed and taught, practically tossing out God’s Word, or at least on controversial issues. If the Church in America survives the times we are living and survives the future, it will be a the result of a return to the Word of God. God will continue to bless His Church as they are faithful to Him. God will be faithful to us, but will the Church be faithful to Him?

This is a great question to ask yourself. If you are reading this blog, you may not be a Pastor, you may not be an Elder, a Deacon, or Sunday School Teacher, but you might be a Church Member. It is going to be all of the above leading the way to see God’s Word always reforming the Church. As the family of God, the body has many members (1 Cor. 12), and it will take all of the members of the body to carry out the will of God on earth. Do not let what Luther and the other Reformers started go to waste. Can you imagine what our lives would be like as Protestants if Martin Luther had not been bold enough to stand on the Word of God, even in the face of serious punishment and even death? Praise God for the Protestant Reformation and let us be a people that are Semper Reformanda!

I recommend Roland Bainton’s biography of Luther. Purchase Here: Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (Abingdon Classics Series)

He Doesn’t Owe Us Anything

No one owes you .png

We are an entitled people. Rooted in our sinful flesh, we walk this earth as if everyone owes us something. We often get caught up in thinking that we deserve this, or we deserve that, only to be bent out of shape when we do not receive what we think we ought to receive. Often this is the type of mind we have toward God. We have the tendency to take advantage of our salvation, thinking deep down that we were entitled to have it. We tend to think that God should do this for us, or He should do that for us, because we believe ourselves to be greater than we actually are. I think that a little humility would serve us all well, especially myself, as my prideful flesh creeps up in my entitled thinking.

Philosopher René Descarte wrote, “Instead of thinking he [God] has withheld from me or deprived me of those things that he has not given me, I ought to thank God, who never owed me anything, for what he has bestowed upon me” (Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, p.40). If we do not protect ourselves, and protect our hearts, we will fall into the temptation to think like the first portion of Descartes’s statement. We might think, “if God loved me, he would allow me a job to make more money,” or “why is God withholding from me what he is seemingly giving to the neighbors?” If we allow are sinful flesh to rise up within us, we will begin to look around at everyone through the eyes that God is withholding what we think He needs to be giving us.

However, as Descartes asserts, God never owed us anything. If God owed us anything, it was eternal damnation for being His enemies. Scripture speaks to the reality that all of us are born dead in our trespasses and sins, totally depraved, enemies of God, that deserve nothing but wrath. In fact, Paul goes so far in Ephesians to indicate that we are naturally children of wrath. With this being the case, it would appear that naturally God owes us wrath. Thus, if we let ourselves creep into the thinking that God owes us something, let’s automatically move toward the reality that He owes us wrath.

He does not owe us life, yet He allows us to breathe. He does not owe us shelter, but He provides the means for us to have it. He does not owe us food, yet He blesses us with a job to provide. He does not owe us health, yet He gives that to many of us. Most importantly, He does not owe us salvation, yet He sacrificed His own Son to bestow salvation upon His people. God owes you and I nothing, but being full of grace and mercy, He has given us everything in Christ.

Do not think that God will withhold anything from you. God will never withhold from you what He knows is good for you. He will not withhold something good for His people. While this is entirely true, what God knows to be good for us might not line up with what we think is good for us. You may think that a new Mercedes is going to be good for you, but God may disagree. God knows what is good for you and He is going to give you what is good and perfect. James 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect giftis from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” 

God knows what you need, and He is going to give you what you need. He owes you nothing, but has given you much more than you have ever needed in Christ Jesus. Whether you make another dollar the rest of your life, or have another day of health, be encouraged that the Father loved you so much that He sent the Son to be a sacrifice for your sin, which is beyond anything in this world could offer.

Purchase Descartes work here: Meditations on First Philosophy (Hackett Classics)

Silence and Solitude

Are You Afraid of the Dark

When I was a kid, Nickelodeon used to have a show entitled “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” These episodes can actually be accessed via Amazon Prime and I would be lying to say that I haven’t watched some of them recently. As I have watched some of the episodes into my adult life, I cannot believe that I used to watch that show as a kid. That show is terrifying. I remember watching the show as a kid and can vividly remember some of the episodes that left me with fear, even to this day. I can say the phrase “I am cold” in a high pitched, child’s voice, and it still sends chills down my spine thinking about that episode (ask my little bro, as kids we used to bring fear into his life with that one phrase).

While this show has absolutely nothing to do with this blog post, I do want to pose a similar set of questions: Are you afraid of silence? Are you afraid of solitude? We live in a  loud, noisy, busy society. Everyone always has access to you because you have a phone attached to your hip. The days when you had to call someone on a land line and if they weren’t home you had no way to get in touch with them are over. It’s almost hard to remember because it has been so long, but consider the fact that my Mom would leave and go to the grocery store when I was a kid and we had no way to contact her unless we called the grocery store!! Was she even at the grocery store?!

Because of social media, television, cell phones, the internet, the radio, spotify, Facebook and the million other things that are going on in all of our lives, we rarely have anytime for silence and solitude. Part of the reason for this is because we live in fear of silence and solitude. Culture has conditioned us to always want to know what is going on. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have engrained within us that we are missing something if we do not know what all of our friends ate for dinner, or when they went shopping, or who broke up with who. Because of this, our minds cannot handle a day “cut off from the world.”

But why would anyone want to be quiet and be by themselves. Maybe because it is good for your soul? Maybe because it will enable spiritual growth and conform you more into the image of Christ? Maybe slowing down and being quiet before the Lord and stilling our minds is actually something that can enable us to hear from God? When you talk to someone, it is difficult for you to hear them when you are constantly talking. Maybe silence and solitude is exactly what we Christians need.

Don Whitney’s book Spiritual Disciplines For The Christian Life (purchase here Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life) has a chapter on Silence and Solitude that has really challenged me. I have been teaching through the book on Wednesday nights in our Adult Bible study and I do not live a life that regularly practices the Spiritual Discipline of silence and solitude. While I do not regularly practice this, Whitney makes  a strong case that this should be a regular part of all of our lives. He gives many different biblical reasons for why we should be still before the Lord in seeking Him, seeking HIs Will, and desiring to hear from Him. But more importantly than this, He begins with the life of Christ. Jesus’s life was characterized by times He would seclude Himself for times of silence and solitude. He understood the value of escaping the craziness of society at times and being still before the Father.

As I have been challenged within the pages of the book, I challenge you as well. Do not just be silent and have a time of solitude just to do it, it must have a purpose. If you practice this without a spiritual purpose, then you are just sitting in silence and accomplishing nothing. The purpose might be to hear from God, it might be to pray, it might just be to listen. But take some time throughout the day to still your heart before the Lord. Take some time to seclude yourself from your cell phone, or from something else that may be hindering you from stilling your mind before God and be silent before the Lord. I am going to try to improve this practice in my own life as I see a biblical mandate as well as a benefit in cutting off my brain for a time. It will be tough, but I’m going to give it a try! Deep down, I think I am afraid of silence!!! But we all have to face our fears.

“God Presented Him as a Propitiation”

raiders of the lost ark

I recently reviewed a book entitled The Glory of the Atonement: Biblical, Theological, and Practical Perspectives (purchase the book here: The Glory of the Atonement: Biblical, Theological & Practical Perspectives)

The topic under review is the atonement and the nature of the work of Christ in the sacrifice he made on the cross. For Carson, it was a substitutionary death in which Christ stood in the place of His people and absorbed the wrath of God on their behalf. A hinge point within the chapter surrounds verse 25 of the text involving the Greek term hilasterion, which can be either translated as “expiation – the cleansing or wiping away of sins” or “propitiation – the appeasement or satisfaction of God’s wrath.” The reasoning behind a careful word study and the proper translation within the context is the reality that one’s understanding of the atonement can be shaped by inserting either of these two words and can be turned one of the two ways.

Carson understands the gravity of this one term, as we all should, and points the readers attention to the term hilasterion within the Septuagint (LXX). He links the term with the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant in which he writes, “the cover of the ark of the covenant over which Yahweh appeared not eh Day of Atonement and on which sacrificial blood was poured” (129).One other occurrence within the New Testament exists in the book of Hebrews in which it clearly refers to the mercy seat. In addition to this reference, the LXX references this term twenty-seven times, twenty-one of which are directly related to the mercy seat. Carson asserts, “It follows, then, that Paul is presenting Jesus as the ultimate ‘mercy seat,’ the ultimate place of atonement, and, derivatively, the ultimate sacrifice” (129).

So what does this mean? This means that God has satisfied His wrath with the ultimate sacrifice of blood through His Son Jesus Christ. This means that God is both the subject and object of propitiation as Christ’s blood has satisfied the the Old Testament sacrificial system and he has absorbed the wrath of the Father on our behalf. This means that the New Covenant of Christ’s blood has appeased God’s wrath and turned it aside from His people for all of eternity. This means that those who repent of their sin and are saved by grace through faith will not have to absorb that wrath as it has been absorbed by Christ.

Carson adds gasoline to the flame of penal substitutionary atonement by inserting the nature of hilasterion as it is viewed through the lens of the Old Testament sacrificial system and the atonement narrative. Understanding its placement in the whole of Scripture and the history behind the mercy seat adds a new dimension to the writings of Paul within this passage. One cannot merely dismiss the validity of Carson’s argument based upon the consistency of the term used throughout the LXX possessing an overwhelming commonality in translation. By making this connecting point, the authors point to the Old Covenant and the system revolving around animal sacrifice has been fulfilled through human sacrifice by the initiation and propitiation of God the Father through God the Son Jesus Christ. This idea offers strong biblical and historical support for the nature of penal substitutionary atonement.

Book Review: Simon Gathercole, Defending Substitution

Gathercole Defending Substitution graphic

Gathercole, Simon. Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015. 128 pages. Paperback, $15.20.

To Purchase, Click Below:

Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul (Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology)

Simon Gathercole serves as Reader in New Testament Studies at the University of Cambridge, as well as the Directory of Studies in Theology at Fitzwilliam College. In addition to his positions at the listed institutions, he is frequently called upon as a guest lecturer and speaker in numerous academic settings. Gathercole possesses degrees in Classics and Theology from Cambridge. To further his theological studies, Gathercole also studied at the University of Tübingen and the Jewish Theological Seminary. His areas of expertise revolve around Pauline studies and Christology. He has authored a variety of books and essays including The Gospel of Thomas: Introduction and Commentary and The Pre-existent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.[1]

For Simon Gathercole, the substitutionary atonement of Christ is of the utmost importance. Understanding the importance of the topic provides insight to the reader concerning the background from which the author writes. While context is key, Gathercole also places great emphasis upon defining terms. Before venturing into the bulk of his defense for substitutionary atonement, the author thought it necessary to briefly outline an extensive definition. The substitutionary standpoint the author advocates is simply defined, “that when Christ died bearing our sins or guilt or punishment, he did so in our place and instead of us” (17). Another important note of information contained within the introduction is the author’s decision to draw a distinction, yet togetherness, between substitution, penalty, representation, propitiation, and satisfaction. Closing the introduction, Gathercole offers a brief synopsis of the common arguments against substitutionary atonement from some well-known thinkers and philosophers. While not extensive, this offers insight into some predominant thoughts against the doctrine as the author prepares to make his defense.

Apart from the introduction and conclusion, the work consists of three sections: Exegetical Challenges to Substitution, “Christ Died for Our Sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3), and The Vicarious Death of Christ and Classical Parallels (Rom. 5:6-8). Addressing exegetical challenges to the viewpoint that Gathercole is proposing, he inspects three differing concepts that have been offered throughout the years. The approach he takes is helpful as he gives a summary of the position, followed by a evaluation of the perspective and an assessment of the issues. A primary aspect of the chapter involves what Gathercole refers to as “The Omission or Downplaying of ‘Sins’” (47). For the writer, the three perspectives he presents in regard to the atonement are guilty of “downplaying sins, that is, individual transgressions” (47). As Gathercole notes, the deficient views presented “neglect a crucial factor in Paul’s conception of the atonement, that is, that Paul sees Christ’s death as dealing with sins plural. Sins – individual infractions of the divine will – are frequently mentioned in Paul, and yet one finds them frequently marginalized in scholarship” (48). Gathercole employs a detailed chart mapping out the singular instances to sin in contrast to the plural instances within the writings of Paul. The plural use opposed to the singular use of “sins” holds tremendous importance for Gathercole. He suggests “to explicate the atonement overridingly in terms of victory over Sin as a power is one-sided” (50). He notes that Paul refers to the human plight in terms of sins, transgressions, and trespasses, and so it is no surprise to see reference to Christ’s death as dealing with these – even summarizing his gospel this way” (50).

In the next section of the work, the author’s purpose is to draw the reader’s attention to a Scriptural defense of substitution. Gathercole dominates the section by addressing First Corinthians 15:3, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” and reads it in light of the influence of Isaiah 53. Commenting upon the comparison of the two passages, Gathercole adds, “there is virtually a scholarly consensus now that Paul’s letters were influenced by Isaiah 53 in their depictions of Jesus’s atoning death” (64). Adding another chart to the work, Gathercole inserts another to examine the Greek word order of First Corinthains 15 and Isaiah 53. With the idea of “sins” being a driving force of his theological disposition, the author quickly explains the construction of hamartia, the word Paul interjects for “sins,” is used six times in the Greek translation of Isaiah 53. Noting that the Old Testament model, for which Isaiah would have been familiar, carries the connotation that “sins” lead to death. Building upon this idea, Gathercole begins to diverge into substitutionary atonement as seen in Isaiah 53 and supported by First Corinthians 15. In doing so, the author views the Old Testament understanding of a vicarious death, concluding “in the premonitions of Isaiah 53, there is precedent for the miraculous salvation of others taking place through God’s bringing the consequences of the sins of others onto an innocent individual. In this way, Christ dies both in consequence of the transgressions of others and in order to deal with those infractions of the divine will” (79).

The final portion of the work looks historically into the language that Paul uses in Romans 5 in regard to Christ dying on behalf of others. As Gathercole seeks to uncover, the language is not unique in nature, but is seemingly common within ancient Greek non-Christian literature. Upon review of differing English translations of Romans 5:6-8, Gathercole includes that the death of Christ Paul is alluding to “is death for another individual that is involved – dying for a (singular) righteous or good person” (90). With this being the case, Gathercole asserts a variety of Greek stories that use the same language to address a vicarious death. He points out views that involve love for one another and friendship; all leading to the idea of a person dying for another and what might constitute such an action. One may question Gathercole’s methods in seeking non-biblical Greek literature in order to enforce Paul’s writing in Romans. For Gathercole, the idea is not merely to draw comparisons to the ancient Greek literature, but to point out differences. In his conclusion drawn from the examination of the Greek writings and the writings of Paul, he notes, “in the case of Christ, however, his death does not conform to any existing philosophical norm. In Romans 5, Christ’s death creates a friendship where there had been enmity” (106). Within the Greek literature, one must have had an existing love and affection before justifying death for another individual. Whereas with Christ, he stood in the place of his enemies in order to make them friends.

Simon Gathercole has constructed a work that is rich theologically, biblically, and historically. His working propositions on substitutionary atonement are well written and defended, proving his work to be indicative of his convictions and ability to discern the Bible. From a biblical position, Gathercole’s focus is primarily upon the works of Paul in First Corinthians 15 and Romans 5, compared with the language of Isaiah 53 and the historical perspective of vicarious death through extra-biblical Greek literature. A major biblical insight regarding the language of Corinthians and Isaiah revolves around the idea of Jesus dying for “sins” (plural). Instituting a language chart of the Greek translation of Isaiah 53 and First Corinthians 15:3, the author enforces the point he is attempting to make in his defense of substitution. For Gathercole, to omit the notion that Christ died for “sin” and not “sins” removes a crucial aspect of the atonement. If atonement by way of substitution is the biblical model, it is imperative that a right understanding of “individual infractions” against a Holy God be rightly understood. The author offers helpful insight into the history of Israel, Isaiah’s understanding of atonement, and the similarities of Paul’s language as influenced by Isaiah’s in his understanding of substitutionary atonement.

A major strength of the book is its brevity and precision. While a theologian might compile volumes on the topic of the atonement, Gathercole has successfully pieced together a shorter, precise exploration of the substitution persepctive. Another great strength in addition to its brevity and precision involves its readability. While Gathercole has proven himself to be a distinguished theologian and professor, one of his purposes within the work is the building up of the church. An academician by trade, Gathercole still exhibits his love for the church and its building up through theological education. With this being the case, the book can serve both as a theological resource within academic circles, but also a source a practitioner might enjoy. If one were to point out a weakness of the book, one might be difficult to identify. However, for the sake of critique one weakness might be the lack of address of other primary theories of atonement. With the debate being so broad, multiple theories do exist. While Gathercole addresses three in the opening section of the work, the ones noted may not be universally known. In seeking to defend substitutionary atonement against other leading positions, he may have addressed the moral influence theory or the ransom theory, as these hold “more weight” within theological circles.

Given the nature and content of the work that Simon Gathercole has put forth in the realm of substitutionary atonement, it is one that cannot be looked over. As he asserts within the opening of the work, the atonement debate has been going on for quite some time and has had shifts in the theological understanding of the atonement within recent decades. Gathercole’s book Defending Substitution is a necessary resource for anyone desiring to expand his or her knowledge of the topic. In addition, it is written from an evangelical point of view, which allows it to be ready devotionally where other theological works may fall short. The Christian can read Gathercole’s work and become enamored by the glory of God and the magnitude of what took place on the cross of Christ. It is the recommendation of this review that Gathercole’s work be considered anytime a person is seeking further information and understanding in regard to the atonement of Christ.

[1] University of Cambridge, “Dr. Simon Gathercole,” accessed September 14, 2017, http://divinity.cam.ac.uk.

Courage To Pray

courage

Do you ever find yourself lacking the courage to pray? This may sound silly, but it is a reality for most normal Christians that live in a fallen world. Often we get bogged down in the hustle and bustle of life that we fail to pray. Maybe we have been struggling with sin and giving way to temptation that has led us to think that God is angry with us or we cannot approach Him because of what we have been involved in. Maybe we do not know how to pray or what to pray, therefore we do not pray at all. I am sure that if we put our heads together, the list of things that discourage us from prayer would be quite lengthy.

But are these legitimate reasons? Should we allow life circumstances, sin, or any other instance discourage us from prayer if we have been reconciled to God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? The answer is quite simple: no. In 1 Chronicles 17, God is making a covenant with King David that Davids house will live on forever. God is telling David that He will build this great house, ultimately alluding to the Messiah, which is Jesus Christ. At the end of the chapter, David is responding to the Lord in prayer and he voices two sentences to God that caught my eye. 1 Chronicles 17:25, “For you, my God, have revealed to you servant that you will build a house for him. Therefore your servant has found courage to pray before you.” At some point, we can rightly assume, David lacked courage to pray. Up until God established the house of David and the covenant promise of a lasting kingdom, the Kingdom of God, David was seemingly discouraged in his pursuit of God through prayer. So if you find yourself discouraged in your prayers, you are in good company.

However, something changed for David. God’s covenant promise with David communicated the grace, mercy, and love of God toward David and his people, giving David a lasting understanding that the faithful God of the universe will be faithful to His covenant promise with David. Because of this covenant promise, David knew that God was for him, not against him, and he could approach the Holy God in prayer with courage. You may say, “I get it. David was a man after God’s own heart. David had a covenant promise established with him by God. But that is David, not me.”

Believer, what you need to know is that you have a covenant promise established with you through the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ. You can have courage to pray because God is for you not against you. If you have repented of your sin and placed your faith in Christ, you are a covenant people, set aside for a covenant keeping God, who welcomes all of His blood bought children to His throne in prayer anytime. Hebrews 4:14-16, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Do not miss this. Because of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus, He welcomes us to the throne of grace in prayer, not with timidity, but boldly. This means that we can have courage in our prayers. And guess what….it is not based upon anything that you have done but solely based upon the grace, mercy, and good pleasure of God. You do not earn this right, it was earned for you by Christ Jesus. This means that you and I can have courage when we pray. This means that even when we are exercising our depraved stupidity and giving way to sin, we are still welcomed at the throne of grace to “find grace to help in time of need.” How mind blowing is this?

“Well….I just don’t know what to pray…I’ve had a bad day…or I am in a spiritual dry season…” It continues to get better. As Jesus sympathizes with us in our weakness, He is well aware of our discouragement and our times of need. He is well aware that dry seasons exist and we do not always know how or what to pray. But God has not abandoned us in this. Romans 8:26, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” We do not always know what to pray because we are weak and frail. It is okay for us to admit that we are weak. It is okay for us to admit that we do not have it all together. It is okay for us to admit that we do not know what to pray. Why? Because that is where grace meets us. Even when we do not know how to pray as we ought the Spirit of the living God, the Third Person of the Trinity, intercedes on our behalf with groanings too deep for words. This means that He prays in a way that you and I cannot pray and He does this when we are clueless on how and what to pray. Amazing.

Child of God courageously approach the throne of Grace. Just as God built the house of David and established His Kingdom giving David the courage to pray, He has done the same for you in Christ Jesus and expects us to have the courage to pray because He gladly welcomes His children into HIs throne room. Exercise this right, do not neglect it, and be encouraged by the love found in our great God.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas

I have postponed commenting on the tragedy in Las Vegas for two reasons: First, so many people jumped on this tragedy responding emotionally and posting emotionally charged blogs and thoughts online in order to push their own agenda in regard to political issues. Second, I wanted to check my own heart and respond reasonably and not out of emotion because this event has rocked all of us to the core in our desire to understand how such a thing could happen. Thus, my desire is not to push a political agenda within my response. While incidents such as this provoke debates about gun control and governmental legislation, most of the arguments divide people on further issues that will probably never be resolved and the last thing our nation needs is more division. My thoughts naturally gravitate toward something much deeper than any modern law. At the root of the tragedy in Vegas is not the debate over gun control, it is beyond any political debate in history.

To begin, I think that I was shaken by that incident more than I have been in a while. The reality of the statement I just made is shocking to me. It seems that every other day stories about tragedy are headlining the news and I feel that to a degree I have become callous to the evil that exists in the world. However, something about the reality of this one man killing so many people in such quick time struck me deeper than many other incidents that I have seen scrolling across headlines.

Even in this moment, I have the tendency to place Stephen Paddock (the shooter) into a category of evil that is beyond our earthly comprehension. We naturally ask the question, “how could someone do something so horrible?” On the surface, the answer does leave us baffled. We ask the same questions about some of the most “evil” people in all of history. How could Hitler extinguish so many Jews? However, the spiritual answer to the question is one of greater depth. How could someone do something so horrible? The answer is simply sin.

Stephen Paddock seemingly gave no evidence that he would carry out something so horrible as a mass murder. Sure, he may have drank a little too much and gambled more than he should, but other than that all of the reports that I have seen are nothing less than confusing because he did not give the the typical signs of someone that would do such of a thing. But, there is one thing that lies within Stephen Paddock that our news media fails to see, sin.

Stephen Paddock was born dead in his trespasses and sins. Ephesians 2:1-3, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of the world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (ESV). Paddock was doing nothing but acting directly in accordance with his nature. Because of sin, we should not be surprised when someone carries out an act as heinous as the one that he performed. While we should be grieved and while we should not approve of such behavior, the reality that someone would do something so horrible is the very evidence that we live in a fallen world and sin still reigns in the hearts of many until the return of King Jesus.

But keep in mind one important reality, the difference between Stephen Paddock and ourselves may not be so far off. As Paddock was born dead in his trespasses and sins, so are all of us. We may look at this situation and think, “I would never do something so terrible. I have never murdered anyone. I have never stolen anything. I can’t be as bad as this guy. I’m a pretty good person.” While culture might agree with this line of thinking and say, “you are right, you are not that bad of a person,” Scripture says otherwise. Scripture contends that you and I are the same person as Stephen Paddock within the eyes of God. Scripture indicates that we share the same standing before a High and Holy God which is condemned, enemies, and guilty. Apart of the grace and mercy of God we stand in unity with Stephen Paddock.

While this is naturally the case, this is not the supreme verdict declared upon us all because of Christ. Paul goes on to say in Ephesians 2:4-9, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (ESV). Keep in mind where salvation comes from. It is a “gift from God.” Paul says that your salvation has nothing to do with you. It has nothing to do with your goodness, or how good of a person you are, or how many good works you have done. It is strictly a gift given to you based upon God’s good pleasure. It is given to you despite the fact that you possess the same sinful nature as Stephen Paddock. It is given by grace and mercy despite your own depravity.

So when you think about Las Vegas, when you think about Stephen Paddock, when you think about this tragic event, grieve and pray for these families effected. Pray God might use these undesirable circumstances for His glory and the exaltation of Christ. But also thank our Great God for your salvation. Thank God that He rescued you from a life that could have resulted in the very same thing. Thank God that despite your wicked heart and hostility towards Him, by grace you have been saved through faith, not of your own doing, but based upon what has been gifted you in Christ.

JBTM_14-2_Fall_2017

The following link will take you to the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry. The Fall 2017 edition contains articles written in commemoration of  New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Centennial Celebration. Contained is a book review that I have written on Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention. I hope you enjoy. My review begins on page 104.

http://baptistcenter.net/journals/JBTM_14-2_Fall_2017.pdf

The Importance of October

95 Theses

October is a month of high importance for people across the world whether they realize it or not. It is the month my first child was born! (J/K) While it is the month that my first child was born, this is not what would be of high importance for most people, although it definitely is for me. Historically, October is the month in which has been credited with the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, a German monk, nailed a collection of writings most commonly known as The 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany.

These writings of Luther were intended to begin a conversation between the Catholic Church and himself in regard to many of the practices being employed as a means of salvation, and his questioning them as unbiblical. What is interesting about Luther and his relationship with the Catholic Church, he never sought to overthrow the church or begin a movement like the Protestant Reformation. Luther had a deep affection for the Catholic Church, being a good Catholic himself, and his attempt was to see it reformed in order to align more precisely with Scripture. However, this did not go as Luther had planned and the Reformation had begun.

Throughout the years, we have accredited the Protestant Reformation predominantly to Luther. While credit should be given where credit is due, Luther was not alone in his endeavors in seeking a biblical church and biblical church theology. Luther did a tremendous work, but Luther lit the fire of which many men after him would fan the flame. Men such as John Calvin, John Hus, William Tyndale, and Huldrych Zwingli to name a few. In addition to these men, hundreds of others through the years stood upon the tenets of the Reformation and are continuing to stand upon these tenets today. So what exactly are the tenets of the Reformation that are so important?

While numerous theological truths emerged from the Protestant Reformation, many hang their hat on five truths that sum up the dominant theology. They are known as the 5 Solas: Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), Sola Gratia (Grace Alone), Sola Fide (Faith Alone), Solus Christus (Christ Alone) and Soli Deo Gloria (God’s Glory Alone). These 5 Solas are dominant themes throughout the Reformation and should stand as dominant themes within the modern Protestant Church, or any church for that matter.

It is the idea that Scripture Alone is our sole source of authority. God has spoken through His word and the church does not stand over Scripture, Scripture stands over the church. Scripture is sufficient for every man in their pursuit of God and is to be followed in every area of life. Salvation is then by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Nothing outside of the gospel is needed in order to secure one’s salvation. Ephesians 2:1-10 is clear in regard to man’s salvation as God makes man alive by grace through faith in Christ. The Catholic Church is inundated with ways of obtaining salvation outside of the gospel. It is not the gospel plus something that saves, it is the gospel plus nothing. Then, all of this is for God’s Glory Alone. Everything in life is for the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” You exist for the glory of God. Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, you exist for God’s glory as everything else in all of creation exists for God’s Glory.

This is only a brief survey of the Protestant Reformation. I encourage everyone to further their studies of the Reformation and dive into the rich history that comprises all of us that are not Catholic. It is by God’s grace that He has brought us to where we are today and we stand upon the foundation of men like the Reformers as we carry on their legacy in the Lord’s Church for His glory and His glory alone.

Soli Deo Gloria!