Monthly Archives: September 2013

Jesus and the Kingdom

Here’s a great quote from George Eldon Ladd in The Presence of the Future.

“The mission of Jesus brought not a new teaching but a new event. It brought to men an actual foretaste of the eschatological salvation. Jesus did not promise the forgiveness of sins; he bestowed it. He did not simply assure men of the future fellowship of the Kingdom; he invited men into fellowship with himself as the bearer of the Kingdom. He did not merely promise them vindication in the day of judgment; he bestowed upon them present righteousness. He not only taught an eschatological deliverance from physical evil; he went about demonstrating the redeeming power of the kingdom, delivering men from sickness and death. This is the meaning of the presence of the Kingdom as a new era of salvation. To receive the Kingdom of God, to submit to God’s reign meant to receive the gift of the Kingdom and enter into the joy of its blessings.” (p 216-217)

 

A “weak and useless” path to God

Hebrews 7 is an interesting chapter. In it, the pastor (shorthand for “the person who wrote Hebrews”) gets to the meat of his discussion and proves that (1) the Old Testament anticipates and necessitates a priest to come in the order of Melchizedek (2) that Jesus is that High Priest, and that (3) this allows us to be saved completely. (Read the whole chapter to get context over at BibleGateway.com.)

In doing this, the pastor demonstrates the superiority of the Jesus as the High Priest to that of the old priestly system. The perfection that could not be obtained through the Levitical priesthood (7:11, 18) is realized now in Christ (7:24-28).

This passage is about the great and free salvation in Christ:

“Such a high priest meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.” (7:26-28)

But, it’s not just about the superiority of the new. It’s about the inferiority of the old.

The pastor is almost harsh in the way he speaks: “The former is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect)” (7:18-19a). This is startling to me because God was the one who setup the Levitical priesthood. The priesthood wasn’t just some pagan ritual. This was the way that God ordained for his people to worship Him. And now this new Christian pastor calls it “weak and useless”!

Them fightin’ words.

He better have a good reason for saying them. Why is the old useless? In short, because it was dependent on human priests, people who were subject to weakness, sin, and death, men who were the recipients of God’s blessing, not ones who are in a position to give it, men who are priests based on a human regulation, not by the oath of God.

The pastor says elsewhere in Hebrews 8, “For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people…” Notice that the problem with the first covenant isn’t on God’s side (as though God made a bad decision) but on the side of the people.

God’s solution? Fix the people. The new Covenant, for which Jesus is the guarantor and the mediator, is one in which God transforms the hearts and minds of his people (gives grace) and remembers their sin no more (grants mercy) for those who draw near to God through Christ (8:10-12; 4:16).

All of this is excellent and orthodox truth and yet I confess that I am finding it difficult to draw out applications for my message. The reason is this: Hebrews was written in order to encourage new Christians to remain faithful to Christ despite strong pressure to return to Judaism. They needed to be convinced that the Levitical system was now obsolete.

Now, I don’t know about your church, but I suspect our church will not be filled with people who are tempted to go to Jerusalem and offer burnt sacrifices. But…

I suspect there will be people who are tempted to replace the free offer of salvation in Jesus – based on promises of God – with a man-centered, man-dependent religious system.

I suspect there will be those who feel that Jesus’ work is not sufficient, that they must add something to it, or that they need someone else to stand for them – a priest, a pastor, a parent.

I suspect there will be those who think that Jesus’ work is not necessary, that they can do it on their own, that their good deeds outweigh their bad.

The common error is this: Any system that says you can get to God through another person, or that you need to add the work of someone other than Christ (yours or another’s) is bound to fail because it relies on man who is weak, sinful, and mortal.

But the freeing truth of Hebrews 7 is this: Christ is both necessary and sufficient. Because He is holy, and because He has an indestructible life, He truly meets our need.

Dear Pastor, You are not King David

Dear Pastor,

You are not King David. You are not Saul. You are not “God’s Anointed.”

Here’s a story I’ve heard more than once.

Somebody challenges the church pastor. Maybe it was because of sin. Maybe it was because of a controversial decision. Maybe it was because of a hard line on some theological issue. Whatever the reason, some courageous soul challenges the pastor and the pastor comes back with this brilliant line: “You can’t oppose me, I am God’s anointed.” Better yet, he pits it as a struggle between man-made system and the call of God. Here’s another line: “God called and appointed me to this position, no man can remove me from it.”

I’ve seen this most often with people who have come out of an Apostolic tradition. The pastor, it is viewed, carries the authority of an Apostle through some kind of system of succession (i.e., laying on of hands). But, I’ve seen this kind of thinking in other contexts as well. After all, do you really need some arbitrary system of succession if you want to say that God has given you extra authority?

These “super apostles” are above rebuke. To oppose them is to oppose God. They put themselves on par with David or Saul (or maybe Moses). Their particular theological system is flawless. Their leadership decisions cannot be questioned. If they sin, they are immune from church discipline.

Let’s take that last one – our Anointed Pastor for whom church discipline doesn’t apply, the one who can’t be removed from ministry because of sin.

Wait, you might say, that’s not biblical. God dictated qualifications for elders and deacons. Presumably failing to meet one of those qualifications disqualifies a pastor from ministry (1 Timothy 3:1-12, Titus 1:5-9).

This apparently doesn’t apply to the Anointed pastor. He’s not a run-of-the-mill elder/pastor. He’s much more like David. He’s God’s Anointed. David wasn’t removed from office when he sinned. Neither should our Anointed Pastor.

There are numerous problems with this logic. First, though David wasn’t removed from office, he sure did experience judgment, and he was not above rebuke (see Nathan the prophet). Second, Israel isn’t the church and what applies to Israel doesn’t necessarily apply to the church. Third, being a king isn’t like being a pastor. In fact, there is hardly any correlation. Fourth, there is an interpretive problem in trying to draw an application from descriptive text in opposition to clear commands elsewhere in Scripture (qualifications for leadership).

Fifth, it seems just a wee bit conceited to compare yourself to King David.

Speaking of David, here’s another line I’ve heard on more than one occasion. “Even King David refused to usurp Saul because Saul was God’s anointed (1 Sam 24:6)” Or, they could share the scary story of the young man who killed Saul (2 Sam 1:1-16). Even though Saul was a bad dude and he was already dying, David still had the young man killed because he had killed the “Lord’s anointed.” This is a good story for our Anointed pastor to share because (1) he acknowledges he’s not so great, while comparing himself to a king and (2) it strikes the fear of death into the hearts of those who oppose him.

Here’s the problem: He’s not Saul and nobody is trying to kill him (I hope). The fact that he’s not Saul is important because what we have in 1 and 2 Samuel is a description of what happened, not a prescription for what we should do today. Making interpretive leaps take time and careful study. The fact that nobody is trying to kill him is important too, because that’s the issue 1 and 2 Samuel are dealing with. This isn’t a story about church leadership, qualifications for ministry, decision making, church discipline, or doctrinal disagreements. In short: This story does not apply to pastoral ministry.

Dear pastor,

Here’s where the problem lies:

If you believe, as a pastor, that your authority comes unmediated from God Himself, apart from a local church, apart from your giftedness, apart from your sin or holiness, even apart from the commands of Scripture, then what you say goes. Period. You have been called, appointed, and anointed. Once that’s done, it cannot be revoked.

But that’s not how it works.

If you’ve been called:

You have been called according to Scripture. You meet the qualifications of an elder. You have demonstrated the gifts of pastoral ministry. You have sound doctrine. You practice personal holiness. If you fail to meet those qualifications, you are disqualified from ministry.

You have been called to a church, as part of a church, to serve the church. Everything you do you do with the church and the quality of your giftedness is directly related to its role in building up that church. If you intentionally hurt the church to which you were called then you are disqualified from ministry.

You have been called to a provisional role. You don’t serve your church, you serve God’s church and God’s the boss. If he wants to replace you, he will.

You have been called to serve as an under shepherd. There is one head of the church, Christ. He is God’s Anointed. You are not.

Blessings,

P.S. Dear church member: If your pastor starts comparing himself to David, Saul, or Moses, you need to take a hard look at getting out of that church. I’ve never seen this end well.

God’s Word for Your Church (via Kevin DeYoung)

I subscribe to Kevin DeYoung’s Gospel Coalition blog and I highly recommend it. 

In today’s post, DeYoung asks:

What does Jesus want to say to the church in the West? To the church in North America? To the church in the South, or in New England, or in the Midwest? What does Jesus want to say to your church?

The answer, of course, depends on the strengths and weaknesses of your church. In the post below, DeYoung draws on Jesus’ letters to the churches in Revelation and shares some excellent insight.

Check it out here: A Word for Us All

Book Review: Gods at War by Kyle Idleman

eae75-20132316godsatwar“Lots of good sermon material in there,” said Corky as he handed me a copy of gods at war by Kyle Idleman.

Indeed, Gods at War: Defeating the Idols that Battle for Your Heart, written by a teaching pastor, reads like a sermon series, and a quality one at that. Idleman opens up the book by explaining that idolatry, far from being an obsolete sin, is really the root cause of many surface sins. It’s a root cause because, for Idleman, idolatry is all about misplaced worship and disordered loves. In combating idolatry, the battle for our heart is one or lost.

After a few introductory chapter Idleman looks at a series of “gods” which battle for our hearts – modern day examples of idolatry. In three sections (the temple of pleasure, the temple of power, and the temple of love) he works through issues such as “the god of food”, “the god of money”, and “the god of family.” He concludes with the chapter “the god of me” where he contends that at the root of all of the other idols is the desire for us to be our own gods.

Each chapter concludes with a series of “diagnostic questions” to help the reader determine where they might be susceptible to false worship. For instance, concluding the chapter “the god of success” Idleman asks “What’s your operating definition for success? What goals… chart your course?” In light of the chapter, these are probing questions. They also make the book ideal for group study.

Idolatry is a big issue in the bible and it can be difficult to know how to apply commands against idolatry to modern day life. Idleman does a good job of bringing out some key applications. After reading the book in its entirety I would like to read a more scholarly approach to the same topic. How legitimate is the connection between commands against Old Testament idolatry and modern day vices? I still feel like there are some unanswered questions at this level. However, I was unable to find fault with Idleman’s applications. On the whole, his book answered more questions than it raised.

I intend to use this book for group study with our church’s youth group. It is written for adults but the ideas are relatively basic and fundamental. The ideas of the book get to the heart, rather, to our hearts. There is a battle raging for our hearts. It might be easier, sometimes, to deal with surface issues, but it is necessary to allow God to search our hearts and to cleanse us from within.