Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Cessationism and Secularism: Comparing the Arguments

Steve Hays over at Triablogue has an interesting post comparing the hard-core cessationist arguments used by John MacArthur and his followers to those of secular atheists.  Here are a few items from his longer post:
Let's spend a little more time on the parallel between MacArthurites and secular debunkers. As I've documented in the past, MacArthurites resort identical arguments. I'll give back-to-back examples at the end of this post. Unfortunately, the MacArthurites are matching the atheists move for move.
Before discussing that, let's back up a step. In my experience, MacArthurites are so transfixed by errors and abuses in the charismatic movement that that fills their view screen. They are oblivious to the danger which they themselves are fostering in their overreaction to the charismatic movement.  
Their attitude reminds me of the classic Twilight Zone episode ("The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street") in which alien invaders successfully deflect attention from the real threat by making neighbors turn on each other in a self-destructive witch hunt. 
Secular debunkers deploy these arguments to discredit miracles in general. MacArthurites ape the same arguments to discredit postapostolic charismatic miracles in particular. The obvious problem is arbitrarily restricting the force of their arguments to all and only postapostolic charismatic miracles. They act as if their arguments, like smart bombs, will only target just those reported miracles which happen to conflict with cessationism, why allowing biblical miracles, and the subset of postapostolic miracles consistent with cessationism, to escape unscathed. 
Unfortunately, MacArthurites are conditioning Christians who've imbibed their brand of cessationism to commit apostasy if they ever encounter atheists who use the very same arguments to discredit biblical miracles. Imagine teenagers who attend Grace Community Church (or students to attend the Master's College or Master's Seminary). Teenagers (or students) who've dutifully mastered the objections to modern charismatic miracles offered by MacArthurites like Fred Butler, Ed Dingess, Lyndon Unger, et al. 
Imagine, when surfing the web, they are suddenly exposed to atheists who use the identical arguments to discredit biblical miracles? Not only have MacArthurites left them defenseless against this line of attack, MacArthurites have predisposed them to lose their faith on contact the moment they encounter direct, parallel arguments against the miracles of Scripture. The proverbial accident waiting to happen. Instant apostates: just add water. 
MacArthurites are giving atheists a huge opening to begin picking off Christians. Of course, that's not their intention. But when they are warned, they angrily denounce the warning. Obviously, MacArthurites aren't equipping Christians on how to field this challenge, for they don't even acknowledge the problem they've nurtured. The MacArthurite is safe so long as he remains in his freeze-dried condition, sealed in a waterproof container.
 Hays give some specific examples that show the mirror-reasoning used.  Here are two he mentions:

Atheists on cancer

Also, he [God] could say, "Folks, I'm going to do you a favor: make you immune to cancer," where from that day on no cancers are observed in anyone. It would put the oncologists out of business, but it would please everyone else, but more importantly: it would provide excellent evidence that God exists.  
Someone tells us that God loves us as a father loves his children. We are reassured. But then we see a child dying of inoperable cancer of the throat. His earthly father is driven frantic in his efforts to help, but his Heavenly Father reveals no obvious sign of concern. Some qualification is made -- God's love is "not a merely human love" or it is "an inscrutable love," perhaps -- and we realise that such sufferings are quite compatible with the truth of the assertion that "God loves us as a father (but, of course, ...)." We are reassured again. But then perhaps we ask: what is this assurance of God's (appropriately qualified) love worth, what is this apparent guarantee really a guarantee against? Just what would have to happen not merely (morally and wrongly) to tempt but also (logically and rightly) to entitle us to say "God does not love us" or even "God does not exist"? I therefore put to the succeeding symposiasts the simple central questions, "What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a disproof of the love of, or of the existence of, God?"  

MacArthurites on cancer

All of that to say, if contiuationists are correct that signs and wonders are a part of the normal Christian experience and they are happening with regularity among God’s people, then there should be gifted individuals who should do extraordinary signs and wonders with their laying on of hands.  Their ministry should be public — I would suggest a children’s cancer hospital or special ministries department at a local church.  And their ministry should be witnessed by believers and unbelievers alike and those signs and wonders should be both undeniable and verifiable.  
Continuationists would easily smash the cessationist position if any one of the thousands of people who claim to have the spiritual gift of healing would simply clean out a cancer ward on camera with verification by medical staff (and Jesus did this repeatedly – Matthew 4:248:16Luke 4:40), but the fact that nobody ever tries to attempt this is suggestive.  
Atheists on biased sources

We have many of Caesar's enemies, including Cicero, a contemporary of the event, reporting the crossing of the Rubicon, whereas we have no hostile or even neutral records of the resurrection until over a hundred years after the event, which is fifty years after the Christians' own claims had been widely spread around.  

MacArthurites on biased sources

I would even add, verified by unbelievers who knew the person before he or she was healed and now know of the person’s healing. 
Steve Hays has much more to say in his post and a number of other examples.  Be sure to read his post The Monsters on Maple Street for the full text and all the examples.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

In Defense of the Bride of Christ: Why We Should Value the Church

Below are my sermon notes from preaching on Sunday March 23, 2014.

In Defense of the Bride of Christ
March 23, 2014

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering,
for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate
one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling
together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another;
and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
Hebrews 10.23-25


·      Speaking today on the importance and value of the church...

·      Already heard…

o   Psalm 84: Our Call to Worship

§  1-2: “How lovely are your dwelling places, O Lord of hosts!  My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.”

§  10: “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand outside.  I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”

o   Hebrews 10.25: “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some”

·      Not everybody appreciates the church as the gathered community…

o   Claim: “You don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.”

o   Claim: “You don’t need to go to church to worship God.”

o   Claim: “I worship God better in God’s nature by myself.”

·      Donald Miller: author of Blue Like Jazz

o   Blog post: “I Don’t Worship God by Singing.  I Connect With Him Elsewhere” (Feb. 3, 2014)[1]

§  “I’ve a confession.  I don’t connect with God by singing to Him.  Not at all.”

§  “It’s just that I don’t experience that intimacy in a traditional worship service.”

§  “I connect with God by working.  I literally feel an intimacy with God when I build my company.”

§  “So, do I attend church?  Not often, to be honest.”

§  “But I also believe the church is all around us, not to be confined by a specific tribe.”

§  “I’m fine with where I’ve landed and finally experiencing some forward momentum in my faith.  I worship God every day through my work.  It’s a blast.”

·      I want to respond to this mindset and provide a defense of the Bride of Christ.

Why is the church important?  Why is it valuable?  Why defend the church?

o   Eight (8) main points
o   Lots of Scripture: quote some; turn to some for us to read
o   Cumulative case being developed 
o   Notes are on: whiterosereview.blogspot.com

1.    Jesus said he would build his church.

a.    Matthew 16.18

“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”

b.    Jesus assumes it is a big deal: Matthew 18.17

“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

2.    The gathered church is the Spirit-blessed model of the early followers of Jesus.

a.    Acts 2.41-47:  “Continually devoting themselves to…”

                                              i.     Apostles’ teaching

                                            ii.     Fellowship

                                          iii.     Breaking of bread: Lord’s Supper

                                           iv.     Prayer

                                             v.     Communal care: even with possessions

                                           vi.     Meals together

                                         vii.     Praising God

                                       viii.     Seeing God add to their number

b.    Donald Miller writes[2]:

                                              i.     “your church probably doesn’t look anything like the church in the book of Acts, so let’s not get self righteous.”

                                            ii.     “But again, your church likely doesn’t look like the church in Acts.”

c.     Donald Miller is just wrong on this!

d.    Jonathan Leeman responds[3]:

                                              i.     “But you keep saying no one’s church looks like the church in Acts?  Many churches I know do.  People gather to hear the teaching of the apostles.  And they scatter to enjoy fellowship and hospitality and care for one another’s needs.  They baptize as a way of declaring who belongs to ‘their number.’  And they exercise discipline when a professor lives falsely (okay, here I’m borrowing from the epistles, unless you count Peter’s responses to Ananias, Sephira, or Simon as disciple).”

3.    The Spirit-inspired structure of the church implies authority and submission in a community.

a.    Hebrews 13.17 (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5.12-13)

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.  Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”

b.    Makings of church membership

                                              i.     Two groups

1.    Leaders

2.    “Souls” they keep watch over

c.     Mere individualism is inconsistent with this view of the community.

d.    For those who don’t think they need the church to be a Christian…

                                              i.     Question: How do you obey Hebrews 13.17?

e.    For us at here at our church...

                                              i.     Do we pray for our elders?

                                            ii.     Do we seek to bring them joy?

                                          iii.     Do you bring them grief?

                                           iv.     How are you obeying Hebrews 13.17?

4.    We get to learn how to love strange people.[4]

a.    “We are going to church today to learn how to love strange people.  Almost everybody only wants to spend time with people who they feel most comfortable around.  People generally want to hang out with people who have their same amount of money, have the same skin color, are their same age, like the same food, and watch the same TV shows.  Other kinds of people are strange to them.”              --Matthew Westerholm

b.    Ephesians 2.11-14

                                              i.     Jew/Gentile barrier broken down in the community of Jesus

                                            ii.     “For he himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (v. 14)

c.     Galatians 3.26-29

                                              i.     “baptized into Christ”  (v. 27)

                                            ii.     “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (v. 28)

                                          iii.     “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.”  (v. 29)

d.    These “strange people” are different but oriented around a common confession that Jesus is Lord

                                              i.     Strange mix of people

                                            ii.     Theological center

e.    Donald Miller has it backwards!

                                              i.     “Imagine the relationships people lose out on, the incredible life memories, the healing and community they aren’t involved in because they can’t engage or have community with people who do not agree with them theologically.  I’ve no interest.  People are either kind or mean.  I choose kind ones, I don’t care what they believe.  This is part of why I feel like my community is so healthy.”[5]

                                            ii.     Two issues to note:

1.    Are there no theological boundaries?: “I don’t care what they believe.”

2.    Donald Miller is the center: “I choose…”

a.    Jonathan Leeman responds:

“Your idea of community, to my ears, honestly sounds more American and Romantic (as in the –ism of the 19th century) than biblical.  All authority remains with the individual to pick and choose, come and go, owing some of the obligations of love, perhaps, but always on one’s own terms, happy to stay as long as the experience ‘completes me’ and my sense of self.”[6]

3.    Individualistic mentality: treats the church like a prostitute!

5.    Jesus considers the gathered church with the utmost seriousness.

a.    1 Corinthians 11.17-34: Lord’s Table

                                              i.     17-22: Problems in the church

                                            ii.     23-26: Tradition passed on regarding the Lord’s Table

                                          iii.     27-34: Caution and danger in regards to the Table

1.    “Judge the body rightly” (v. 29)

a.    Look outward (to the body)

b.    Do I despise my brother and sisters?  Do I judge them by standards other than the gospel?

                                                                                                    i.     Economic
                                                                                                  ii.     Intellectual
                                                                                                iii.     Social

2.    “For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.”  (v. 30)

b.    I do not have the right to despise those whom Jesus accepts!

                                              i.     What to do while waiting for your turn to go to receive the sacrament…consider the body of Christ!

6.    The church is the body of Christ Jesus.

a.    1 Corinthians 12: “Now concerning spiritual gifts…” (v. 1)

                                              i.     Verses 4-7

1.    Spiritual gifts given for the  “common good” (v. 7)

                                            ii.     Verses 12-14

1.    One body…

2.    Many members

                                          iii.     Verse 27: “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.”

7.    The church is the wife of Jesus.

a.    Ephesians 5.22-33: focus on verses 25-29 -- What Christ does…

                                              i.     Loved the church

                                            ii.     Sanctifies and cleanses her

                                          iii.     Desire to present her in “all her glory”; holy and blameless

                                           iv.     Nourishes and cherishes the church!

                                             v.     We are members of his body (v. 30)

b.    A brief note on singing  --  Ephesians 5.18-19

                                              i.     Donald Miller: Post entitled: “I Don’t Worship God by Singing.  I connect with Him Elsewhere”[7]

“I don’t connect with God by singing to Him.  Not at all.”

                                            ii.     Admission of weakness: not a reason to not sing!

                                          iii.     Perhaps God connects with us through singing?!

1.    God sings over us: Zephaniah 3.17[8]

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you with his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.  (ESV)

                                           iv.     Singing in our culture

1.    Church sings

2.    Who else? 

8.    Jesus gave his blood for the church: Acts 20.28
     Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which he purchased with his own blood.

a.    The value of the church is measured by the price God has paid for her!

b.    The church is valuable because God has shed his blood for her!

c.     Do we value what Jesus values?

d.    We cannot love Jesus without loving his church!

e.    I love the church…

                                              i.     Not because she is perfect…

                                            ii.     but because Jesus loves the church!

                                          iii.     I want to love what Jesus loves!

·      We get to sing now -- “The Church’s One Foundation”

·      Listen to some of the words…

(1)The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord;
she is his new creation by water and the Word:
from heav’n he came and sought her to be his holy bride;
with his own blood he bought her and for her life he died.
(4)The church shall never perish!  Her dear Lord to defend,
to guide, sustain, and cherish, is with her to the end;
though there be those that hate her, and false sons in her pale,
against or foe or traitor she ever shall prevail.

[4] Matthew Westerholm, “Why Do We Have To Go To Church Again?” http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgcworship/2014/03/06/why-do-we-have-to-go-to-church-again/
[8] Sam Storm’s book The Singing God: Discover the Joy of Being Enjoyed by God (Creation House, 1998) is a good gospel-centered meditation on this theme.