Thursday, October 28, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Remembering the Reformation

Remembering the Reformation
First Published: “Reformation Day” October 31, 1997


480 years ago an event occurred that shook the Christian Church and has shaped the world ever since. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther (an Augustinian monk and professor of Theology at the University of Wittenberg in Germany) nailed his now-famous “95 Theses” to the door of the Wittenberg Church. This event is often marked as the beginning of the great sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation. One Baptist minister has recently asserted that: “The Reformation was the greatest revival of Biblical Christianity since the days of the Apostles.”

Martin Luther, who had been troubled by the Roman Catholic theology of salvation for some time, posted these “95 Theses” as a way of challenging someone to a public debate. He could never have foreseen the effect they would have, nor the chain of events that their posting would set in motion. Though there were several great men in the years prior to Luther whom we might call forerunners of the Reformation (such as John Wycliffe and John Hus), the Reformation proper began with Luther (who lived 1483-1546). Key to his theology was the Biblical truth: "The just shall live by faith."

There had been previous attempts to reform the morality of the Roman Church, which had sagged significantly during the late Middle Ages. But Luther wanted to do more than clean up the poor behavior of pope and priest and amend the institutional abuses of Rome. Luther wanted to recover the Gospel! Though Luther was enraged by the manipulative sale of indulgences (certificates or tokens granting the bearer amnesty or absolution for venial sins), his real target was the Roman system of salvation, and particularly her doctrine of justification by faith and works.

Though Luther originally wanted to work for the reform the Catholic Church according to Scripture, Rome utterly rejected his concerns and excommunicated him on January 3, 1521. We call the early Protestant leaders “Reformers” precisely because they desired to reform the Church and return her to the teaching of Scripture. We call the movement they led the “Reformation” because it produced a renewal of Christianity in accordance with Scripture. The Reformational churches were more faithful to Biblical authority and doctrine than the medieval Catholic Church.

Luther's theology focused on the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which he called “the article of a standing or a falling Church.” He taught, contrary to Rome, that we are justified (accounted righteous before God) by the means of faith alone, apart from the works of the Law. Rome, on the other hand, taught that in justification we are “made righteous” via faith and obedience. Luther’s teaching was but a recovery of the Pauline doctrine of justification. Luther stressed imputed righteousness rather than infused righteousness. That is, God justifies sinners by crediting Christ's righteousness to their account, not by implanting righteousness into them and thus justifying them. Our spiritual forefathers were willing to die for this distinction, for the Gospel was at stake.

This doctrine became known as Sola FideFaith alone” (justification by faith alone in Christ alone -- not by faith and works). The other four points of what we might call the "Five Points of the Reformation" are: Sola ScripturaScripture alone” (the Scripture as the sole ultimate authority for Christian faith and practice -- not the Pope, the Church, reason or feelings), Sola GratiaGrace alone” (salvation by God's grace alone, not human merit), and Solo ChristoChrist alone” (salvation by the mediation and merits of Christ alone, not the intercession of priests nor the merits of saints), and Soli Deo Gloriato God alone be the Glory” (life lived for God’s glory alone).

We presbyterians are singularly thankful for the godly Martin Luther. Indeed, our favorite Reformer John Calvin, regarded Dr. Luther as a spiritual father. And so we all are grateful to God for the great service Martin Luther rendered to the whole of Christendom. Soli Deo gloria.

your friend,

Ligon Duncan

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Strong and Healthy Churches

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Strong and Healthy Churches”
First Published: October 31, 2006

A couple of weeks ago, here in the First Epistle, in thinking together about “biblical priorities for our life and ministry together as a congregation,” we began asking ourselves what are the qualities of a healthy church? If someone asked you to list some of the more important characteristics of a strong, healthy congregation of believers, what would you say? There are certainly a number of good answers that could be given to that question, and we began our response by noting two in particular: (1) a love for expository Bible preaching and (2) a passion for biblical worship exploring this issue by pointing to two in particular. Today, I suggest two more:

3. A Devotion to Biblical Doctrine. We live in a day and age when “doctrine” is out and “my personal opinion” is in! And what’s worse, even in the church “doctrine” and “theology” are associated in the minds of many with “as dry as dust!” But the Apostle Paul wanted biblical doctrine (which just means “teaching” or “truth”) to be the staple diet of the church, and a matter of passion for ministers and members alike. That’s why he said in 2 Timothy 1:13-14 “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.”

Imagine that! He views doctrine (“the standard or pattern of sound words”) as a treasure to
not only to be retained, but guarded! That’s just one reason the we want to have a congregation full of Christians who are enthusiastic, excited about, knowledgeable of and devoted to rich, biblical doctrine. We want to encourage Christians to know and love and live the truth. We want Christians to appreciate that truth is for life. That doctrine is for daily living. That theology matters.

4. A Vital, Practical, Personal Godliness. Godliness, or what the old Puritans used to call “piety” is “the life of God in the soul of man” (to borrow Henry Scougal’s famous phrase). I do not mean that true spirituality is merely soulish or disembodied, James 1-2 will correct that misunderstanding quickly, as will Romans 12:1-2. But in the Bible, true religion flows from the heart. Evangelicals used to understand that. But one does not have to be a sleuth to detect a marked deficiency of piety in the membership and even the ministry of the church in our own time. We can remember giants in the land, and we feel ourselves midgets. Indeed, for some, the very word “piety” is held in great suspicion as the vestigia of a kind of pietistic revivalism that we are better off without. And yet Calvin himself viewed the Institutes as a “sum of piety” rather than a summa theologia. We need to foster personal piety in the ministers and members of the church. We need to recognize our own spiritual poverty and challenge one another to strive for devotion in love to God and experience of the love of Christ. Paul was concerned to see personal godliness flourish among the Ephesians Christians, and so he told them that he prayed in this way for them: “I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”(Ephesians 3:14-19) That is a prayer for personal godliness. May the Lord make it true of us too.

We’ll continue these thoughts next week. Meanwhile, I’d still love to hear your thoughts on the marks of a healthy church!

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan



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Monday, October 25, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Renewing the Covenant

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Renewing the Covenant”
First Published: January 2, 2007

Happy New Year, 2007! I want to begin this new year of “Pastor’s Perspective” columns reflecting on our “watch-night service” on the last Sunday evening of 2006. Derek conceived the idea and designed the whole service, beginning to end, and so many of you have indicated to me already what a blessing it was. Barbara Porter said to me afterwards that it was the most amazing service she has ever attended in all her life. We had a wonderful crowd, the hymns and singing were rich. Derek’s message was timely and sobering, while encouraging at the same time. Our public covenanting (with the beautiful and meaningful words assembled by Derek) was solemn, and yet exhilarating. But it will be the testimonies of Don Breazeale and Paul Stephenson that linger in my heart for many years to come. I simply cannot describe the profundity and power of what they shared from their hearts. Thank you Derek, Don and Paul.

On Saturday morning, January 12, 1722, right at 285 years ago, Edwards wrote in his diary:
“I have, this day, solemnly renewed my baptismal covenant and self-dedication, which I renewed when I was taken into the communion of the church. I have been before God, and have given myself, all that I am and have, to God; so that I am not, in any respect, my own. I can challenge no right in this understanding, this will, these affections, which are in me. Neither have I any right to this body, or any of its members — no right to this tongue, these hands, these feet; no right to these senses, these eyes, these ears, this smell, or this taste. I have given myself clear away, and have not retained anything as my own. ... I have been this morning to him, and told him, that I gave myself wholly to him. I have given every power to him, ... I have this morning told him that I did take him for my whole portion and felicity, looking on nothing else as any part of my happiness... and that I would adhere to the faith and obedience of the Gospel, however hazardous and difficult the confession and practice of it may be. ...This, I have done; and I pray God, for the sake of Christ, to look upon it as a self-dedication, and to receive me now as entirely his own, and to deal with me, in all respects, as such, whether he afflicts many or prospers me, or whatever he pleases to do with me, who am his”
(Jonathan Edwards, Works 1:xxv).

Let us so dedicate ourselves to God, this year. I prayed on Sunday night this prayer for our congregation: “O Lord, you have made us for yourself, for your glory and our highest aim in life is to glorify and enjoy you. Yet we are prone to wander, Lord, we feel it, prone to leave the God we love. So here is our heart, Lord, here is all that we have and are, take and seal it for thy courts above. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” May God graciously grant it.

Your friend,
Ligon Duncan


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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: The Healthy Church

The Pastor’s Perspective
“The Healthy Church”
First Published: October 17, 2006


What are the qualities of a healthy church? If someone asked you to list some of the more important characteristics of a strong, healthy congregation of believers, what would you say? There are certainly a number of good answers that could be given to that question, but I want to begin exploring this issue by pointing to two in particular.

1. A Love for Expository Bible Preaching
Every healthy Christian congregation is characterized by a membership that loves the reading and preaching of God’s word, and not only listens to that word but lives it out. Paul earnestly exhorted Timothy: “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” As far as Paul was concerned biblical preaching was a non-negotiable for the health of the Christian church. The reason for this was simple. Christians grow by hearing the word (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and non-Christians become Christians through the ministry of the word (Romans 10:14).

Expository Bible Preaching is not a style but a principle. It’s controlling concern is to expound what Scripture says in a particular passage, carefully explaining its meaning and applying it to the congregation. It is a commitment to hear God's Word and recover the centrality of the Word in our worship.


2. A Passion for Biblical Worship
Another characteristic of a healthy local church is a congregation of Christians who worship God in all of life, 24/7, who long to glorify and enjoy him in everything they do, and who have a driving passion for coming together, Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, to sing and pray God’s word back to him, to hear his word read and proclaimed to them, and regularly to see his words of promised represented and confirmed to them in the “visible words” of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Indeed, Jesus told the woman of Samaria that God is searching for just such worshipers. “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24)

The Psalmist tells us that worship is giving unto the Lord the glory due his name (Psalm 29:1-2). But where do we find the substance of and our direction for our gathered, corporate worship? The Bible. Much that is amiss in modern worship practice would be corrected if we took for our principle of direction: “Sing the Bible, Pray the Bible, Read the Bible, Preach the Bible.” We ought to strive to be sure that all that we sing is scriptural, that our prayers are saturated with scripture, that much of the word of God is read in each public service, and that the preaching here is based on the Bible. And we want our worship to be a Scriptural, simple, Spiritual, God-centered, Christ-exalting, Spirit-enabled, reverent, joyful, delightful, encounter with the living and true God.

We’ll continue these thoughts next week. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear yours!

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Strength from Supper

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Strength from Supper”
First Published: Oct 3, 2006


On this coming Lord’s Day, we will observe the Lord’s Supper in our morning worship services. All of us will want to begin preparing our hearts in advance this week as we anticipate coming to the table. Let us not underestimate this privilege, for in the words of that grand old Scottish minister Horatious Bonar: “Here [at the Lord's table], O my Lord, I see thee face to face; here would I touch and handle things unseen, here grasp with firmer hand thy eternal grace, and all my weariness upon thee lean.” What a blessing to come to such a place of gospel rest.

In our preparation for the Supper, you will want to examine yourself (I Corinthians 11:28), reflect upon what it means to be united with Christ and His people (I Corinthians 11:29), and meditate upon all the spiritual blessings which flow to you in view of Jesus’ finished work of redemption (Luke 22:19-10). Maybe there are some of you struggling with sin or wrestling with assurance, feeling far from God. Prayer and confession are certainly appropriate responses, but more will perhaps be necessary to bring you to the table with joy.

Consider then the comforting Scriptural truth of the Westminster Larger Catechism, No. 172: "One who doubts of his being in Christ, or of his proper preparation for the sacrament of the Lord's supper, may have true interest in Christ, though he is not yet assured of it. Indeed, in God's account he has a true interest in Christ, if he is appropriately affected with the apprehension of the lack of his assurance, yet unfeignedly desires to be found in Christ, and yearns to depart from iniquity. In this case (because the promises are made, and this sacrament is appointed, for the relief even of weak and doubting Christians), he is to mourn his unbelief, and strive to have his doubts resolved; and, so doing, he may and ought to come to the Lord's supper, that he may be further strengthened."

How blessed it is that sinners like ourselves are freely invited into communion with our sovereign and loving Lord. May we honor Him with our worship, and may He meet us “face to face” by faith in the administration of the sacrament.

We also ought to use this occasion to re-commit ourselves to our collective vow “to support the church in its worship and work” to the best of our abilities, in at least two ways (by the way, this fourth question of membership will be the topic of our morning message). First, in church attendance. We all need to determine now to continue (or improve or begin) the habit of every Lord’s Day morning and evening worship attendance, and to avail ourselves of the prayer meeting and Wednesday evening’s fellowship times. Healthy Christian life is fostered in a congregation when all the members of the body faithfully commit to the public means of grace – to joining together under the reading and preaching of the word of God, the taking of the sacraments and corporate prayer. Second, in church giving. One of the ways we show that we worship God and not money (Matthew 6:24) is by giving generously to the work of the Lord. One of the ways we show that we understand that everything we have comes from God (Psalm 24:1) is by giving to the work of the Lord. One of the ways we show our commitment to God’s kingdom (Matthew 6:33) is by giving for its upbuilding.
Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


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Monday, October 18, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Obey and Submit

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Obey and Submit”
First Published: August 15, 2006

For the past three Sunday mornings we have been focused on a timely topic as a part of our larger study of God’s New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians. This mini-series is called: God’s Household Rules: Marriage and Family. In it, we are working through a section of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 5:22-6:9) that deals with our household relationships from a Christian perspective. It is directly connected to Paul’s big theme that we are God’s new family, new society, new community in this way: Paul is asking (and answering!) “if we are God’s new community, then what should our family life look like. How are we to be different from the world?”

So, Paul deals with husbands and wives, parents and children, and masters and servants – the sphere of the household in biblical and Mediterranean culture. The timeliness of this for us is obvious.

Two weeks ago, in Ephesians 5:22, we began to tackle the very politically incorrect teaching of the Bible on wives submitting, or subjecting themselves to their husbands. We began by noting that all Christians are called to serve one another, to subject themselves to one another. Then we noted the unique aspects of God’s call in this area to Christian wives. We also found John Piper and Wayne Grudem’s definition of this helpful – “Submission refers to a wife's divine calling to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts.” (Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood)

Then, this past Sunday, we got even more specific on this uncomfortable issue. We observed that when Paul said to us : “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” He meant at least three things. To submit here clearly means for Christian wives to (1) acknowledge, (2) follow and (3) respect their husband’s spiritual leadership of the home. Practically, this means:

  1. A glad recognition of the divinely given order of the household. God has made the husband head. (See v. 23).
  2. A willing embrace and following of one’s husband’s spiritual authority and leadership, under God.
  3. A joyful respect for your husband’s person and position in the home (see v. 33).

This biblical, willing, glad submission might manifest itself as follows. By a Christian wife endeavoring, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to:
  1. Make home a safe place for her husband: one of encouragement, comfort, understanding and refuge (Prov31:11,20);
  2. Be trustworthy and dependable (Prov 31:11-12);
  3. Maintain a good attitude (Prov 31:26, 28, 29);
  4. Discuss things lovingly, openly and honestly (Eph 4:25);
  5. Be content, satisfied with her position, possessions, tasks and her husband’s provisions (Phil 4:6-13);
  6. Be patient, forgiving and forbearing (Col 3:12-14);
  7. Be industrious for the sake of husband and family (Psalm 128:3; Prov 31:10-31);
  8. Offer suggestions, advice, counsel and correction to her husband in a loving way that shows respect (Prov 31:26);
  9. Cultivate inner beauty (1 Peter 3:3-5);
  10. Pursue God and his glory (1 Cor 10:31);
  11. Build loyalty to her husband in the children;
  12. Be grateful and express thanks often to her husband;
  13. Show confidence in his decisions
(thanks to Wayne Mack, Strengthening Your Marriage, for many of these great ideas).

We also listened to some thoughts and questions from Betsy Ricucci regarding a wife respecting her husband in thoughts, words, deeds. She asked Christian wives to ask themselves: What thoughts spring to my mind when I think of my husband? Are they honoring of him? How do I speak to my husband when we are alone? In public? How do I speak of him to others? Do I show my husband respect through my actions? How? Do I freely show him physical affection? Do I listen when he is speaking, in public and private? Or do my deeds communicate a lack of respect, inattentiveness or even indifference - interrupting him, looking away when he speaks, forgetting or failing to do the things that he has asked.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

editorial note: Dr. Duncan's sermons on Ephesians may be found here


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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Christian Service

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Christian Service”
First Published: August 1, 2006


This past Lord’s day we began a new Sunday morning series, as a part of our larger study of God’s New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians. The new series is called: God’s Household Rules: Marriage and Family. Over the weeks to come, we will not dodge hard issues relating to the relationships between husbands and wives (“Obey him? Are you kidding?” “Love her like Christ loves the church? Get real!”), marriage and family (“How can we live out God’s design for marriage in an age of gender confusion and marital dissolution?”), parenting and children (“What are the mutual obligations of Christian parents and children?”), masters and servants (“Does the Bible condone slavery?” “Can Paul really speak out of his cultural situation to ours?”).

On Sunday, we looked at Ephesians 5:21, as a key verse, setting the stage for what is coming in Ephesians 5:22-6:9. When you enter into this new section of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 5:22-6:9), you immediately realize that this passage deals with our household relationships from a Christian perspective. If we are God’s new community, then what should our family life look like? How are we to be different from the world? Paul tells us here. He deals with husbands and wives, parents and children, and masters and servants – the sphere of the household in biblical and Mediterranean culture. The timeliness of this for us is obvious. Our culture can’t even seem to define marriage! Much less agree upon the dynamics of husband-wife marital roles and the discipline of children.

British Pastor Stuart Olyott, in summing up the flow of argument in Ephesians 4-6, says: “The apostle Paul has made it clear that Christians live differently from other people. When they are together, their behaviour contrasts sharply with the social behaviour of the unconverted (4:1-16). When they are surrounded by the men and women of the world in daily life, their conduct remains distinct (4:17-5:21). Paul is now going to tell us that they also live in a radically different way at home (5:22-6:9). It is fairly easy to live the Christian life at church. It is much more difficult to do so in the world. But the hardest place of all to live as a Christian is at home. This is why the apostle comes to this subject last of all.” ‘Spot on,’ as the Brits like to say.

Well, Ephesians 5:21 provides us with a framework for understanding this whole section, and so we camped on it Sunday morning. Remember how it goes? “Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” There is no better index of a life under the influence of the Holy Spirit, being guided by the Holy Spirit, being filled up or matured by the Holy Spirit than what Paul calls “mutual subjection.”

One thing we tried to learn (I say “tried” because these things are more easily said than lived), is that “being subject to one another” or “subjecting yourselves” means our living out a self-denying, other-serving Gospel-enabled and motivated subjection to fellow Christians. That is, we are deliberate, self-conscious, joyful and willing in committing ourselves to the service of other Christians. Our lives are to be characterized by self-denying, mutual submission in the interests of mutual edification. This means we are (1) willing to be the least (Matt 18:1-4; 20:28); (2) willing to wash the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17); (3) strive to prefer others ahead of ourselves (Romans 12:10); (4) aim to do nothing from selfish ambition but from humility (Phil 2:3).

We become a people not characterized by insisting on getting our own way, but rather we place ourselves at one another’s disposal, and live in such a way that our mutual service becomes a hallmark of our fellowship. There should be in us a willingness to serve any, to learn from any, to be corrected by any. “How may I serve you?” becomes our motto. This sets the stage for everything that follows in Ephesians 5:22-6:9.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

editorial note: Dr. Duncan's sermons on Ephesians may be found here

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Submission

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Submission”
First Published: July 25, 2006

Well, we have come to the end of July, and we are only scant days away from the return of school, and the resumption of a busy post-summer schedule. Many of you will be squeezing in one last summer get-away, while others are concentrating on getting ready for the semester ahead. Whatever the case is and whatever our occupations, let us do all we do with a strong devotion to our gracious God and a grateful dependence on our Lord Jesus Christ.

This coming Lord’s Day, we are beginning a new section of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. This is going to be something of a mini-series, and it may take us a little why to find our way out of Ephesians 5:21-6:9. You will immediately realize that this passage deals with our household relationships from a Christian perspective. If we are God’s new community, then what should our family life look like. How are we to be different from the world? Paul tells us here. He deals with husbands and wives, parents and children, and masters and servants – the sphere of the household in biblical and Mediterranean culture. The timeliness of this for us is obvious. Our culture can’t even seem to define marriage! Much less agree upon the dynamics of husband-wife marital roles and the discipline of children.

In preparation for the series, we are going to revisit Ephesians 5:21 this coming Sunday morning. This verse contains the last of the five participles (Hupotass√≥menoi – subjecting yourselves) that Paul used to describe what a Christian who is being filled with the Spirit looks like. It also provides his segue into the discussion of husbands and wives mutual obligations and roles, as well as those of parents and children, and masters and servants. Remember how the verse goes? – “and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” We said, very quickly just at the end of the sermon, that this means that Paul expects Spirit-filled Christians (and that’s all of us, not just some special few) to manifest a self-denying, mutual submission for the purpose of mutual edification, out of reverence for Christ.

Calvin puts it like this: “God has so bound us to each other, that no man ought to avoid subjection. And where love reigns, there is a mutual servitude. I do not except even kings and governors, for they rule that they may serve. Therefore it is very right that he should exhort all to be subject to each other. But as nothing is more contrary to the human spirit than to submit to others, he recalls us to the fear of Christ, who alone can tame our fierceness, that we may not refuse the yoke, and subdue our pride, that we may not be ashamed of serving our neighbors.”

This mutual subjection, or mutual servitude, or mutual submission, is to characterize all the role relationships in God’s new community. Thus, those who rule, rule in love for the sake of service. Those who are led, follow in respect for the sake of service.

This idea is so dramatically important, so counter-cultural, that we need to unpack it some. And we will, Lord willing, on Sunday morning. Read ahead. Pray ahead. Be here, with hearts ready to be challenged by God’s Word.

Do not miss Derek’s entry in the weblog (Re: Spurgeon on Audubon, here’s the link - http://fpcj.blogspot.com/2006/07/obsessed-by-one-thing-jesus.html). Let me slightly paraphrase and apply part of the quote to us all: “We need to muster a band of [Christians] who live only for Christ, and desire nothing but opportunities for promoting His glory ... for spreading His truth ... for winning by power those whom Jesus has redeemed by His precious blood. [People] of one idea . . . .”

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


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Monday, October 11, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Eleven Things the Bible Teaches about Itself

Eleven Things the Bible Teaches about Itself
(with acknowledgments to Phil Ryken)

1. The Bible is God’s own word to us, and thus more than a merely human book. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.

2. The Bible is God-breathed. It’s words are God’s exhaled words. What Scripture says, God says. 2 Timothy 3:16a All Scripture is inspired by God . . . .

3. The Bible was written by human authors under the direction of God’s Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:19-21 So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

4. The Bible was written by human authors who used their skills and abilities. Ecclesiastes 12:9-10 In addition to being a wise man, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge; and he pondered, searched out and arranged many proverbs. The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly.

5. The Bible is God’s instruction to us on how we are to live this life. Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.

6. The Bible teaches us the way of salvation. 2 Timothy 3:14-17 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

7. The Bible is indispensable – necessary to life itself, as needful as food to the body. Matthew 4:4 But He answered and said, "It is written, 'MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.'"

8. The Bible is given to equip Christians for living the Christian life. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. John 17:17 "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.

9. The Bible is not a dead letter, but a living word – an active force in our life. Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

10. The Bible’s message is clear and accessible to us. God is a good communicator! Deuteronomy 30:11-14 "For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. "It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?' "Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?' "But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.

11. The Bible’s words and truth are eternally enduring. Isaiah 40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever. Mark 13:31 "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away."

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Thursday, October 07, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Contending for Truth

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Contending for Truth”
First Published: May 23, 2006


A month or so ago, I shared with our elders this excellent quote from John Piper’s book Contending for our All (Crossway). The book is superb and the quote is extremely helpful in this truth-challenged age. Read and learn.

“Some controversy is crucial for the sake of life-giving truth. Running from it is a sign of cowardice. But enjoying it is usually a sign of pride. Some necessary tasks are sad, and even victory is not without tears—unless there is pride. The reason enjoying controversy is a sign of pride is that humility loves truth-based unity more than truth-based victory. Humility loves Christ-exalting exultation more than Christ-defending confrontation—even more than Christ-defending vindication. Humility delights to worship Christ in spirit and truth. If it must fight for worship-sustaining truth, it will, but that is not because the fight is pleasant. It’s not even because victory is pleasant. It’s because knowing and loving and proclaiming Christ for who he really is and what he really did is pleasant.

“Indeed knowing and loving the truth of Christ is not only pleasant now, it is the only path to everlasting life and joy. That’s why Athanasius (298-373), John Owen (1616-1683), and J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937) took so seriously the controversies of their time. It was not what they liked; but it was what love required—love for Christ and his church and his world.

“There are more immediately crucial tasks than controversy about the truth and meaning of the gospel. For example, it is more immediately crucial that we believe the gospel, and proclaim it to the unreached, and pray for power to attend the preaching of the gospel. But this is like saying that flying food to starving people is more immediately crucial than the science of aeronautics. True. But the food will not be flown to the needy if someone is not doing aeronautics. It is like saying that giving penicillin shots to children dying of fever is more immediately crucial than the work of biology and chemistry. True. But there would be no penicillin without such work.

“In every age there is a kind of person who tries to minimize the importance of truth-defining and truth-defending controversy by saying that prayer, worship, evangelism, missions, and dependence on the Holy Spirit are more important. Who has not heard such rejoinders to controversy: “Let’s stop arguing about the gospel and get out there and share it with a dying world.” Or: “Prayer is more powerful than argument.” Or: “We should rely on the Holy Spirit and not on our reasoning.” Or: “God wants to be worshiped, not discussed.”

“I love the passion for faith and prayer and evangelism and worship behind those statements. But when they are used to belittle gospel-defining, gospel-defending controversy they bite the hand that feeds them. Christ-exalting prayer will not survive in an atmosphere where the preservation and explanation and vindication of the teaching of the Bible about the prayer-hearing God are devalued. Evangelism and world missions must feed on the solid food of well-grounded, unambiguous, rich gospel truth in order to sustain courage and confidence in the face of afflictions and false religions. And corporate worship will be diluted with cultural substitutes where the deep, clear, biblical contours of God’s glory are not seen and guarded from ever-encroaching error.”

Every Christian needs to know and remember what Piper says here. For Satan loves to rob us of the truth. So we must be prepared, with Athanasius, to “contend for our all.”

Your friend,


Ligon Duncan


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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective:Deal with sin

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Deal with sin”
First Published: May 9, 2010

Thanks for your kind remarks and responses to the messages in Ephesians of late. I have found these sermons personally convicting to prepare and deliver, but encouraging at the same time. God’s word has certainly uncovered much sin in my heart and life as I’ve studied and preached through these searching passages, but it has also pointed me to God’s grace and given me hope. I trust that’s been your experience too.

I have had a number of emails and conversations in which folk have asked various questions relating to Paul’s exhortations in Ephesians 4:17-5:4, and the issues that they raise are so good and important that I want to mention one of them here. It is, what ought to be our reaction to Paul’s commands here? Is he merely giving us a list of dos and don’ts, thus reducing Christianity to “being good”? This is huge, because we live in a culture that is very concerned about keeping up external appearances, looking like everything’s okay, and covering up our sin and weakness. Is that what Paul is doing and is that what Paul wants us to do? No and no! Emphatically.

First, we have repeatedly emphasized that Paul's commands to us here are not some kind of legalism, but an expression of Gospel logic and the life of grace (see this sermon on Ephesians 4:25, on “Lying and the Glory of God” at the FPC website, if you need to think about this issue some more: ). Second, one of our responses to Paul’s exhortations here in Ephesians 4:25-5:4

25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another. 26 BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity. 28 He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. 29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. 3 But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; 4 and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

is for us to stop pretending that we don’t struggle with real and serious sin, to get real about our sin-struggles and their impact on ourselves and the family of God’s people, and to seek God’s help in our sanctification.

This will entail (among other things) acknowledging our sin and its seriousness, seeking forgiveness and being ready to give it as well as receive it, working for reconciliation, living a life of repentance, doing the hard relational work that goes along with really dealing with sin, and being patient with one another as we grapple with it. That is, at least in part, what it means to live out God’s grace. Unbelievers often try to “deal” with sin by covering it up or pretending its not there. We don’t. We acknowledge it and deal with it, with the help of God’s grace.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

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Monday, October 04, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective:

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Preparing for the Lord’s Supper”
First Published: April 4, 2006

As we prepare for the Lord’s Supper, an act of public worship and a precious privilege for believers that displays our union and communion with Christ, let’s meditate on the meaning of the Lord’s Supper with the help of J.I. Packer, who says:

“The Lord’s Supper is an act of worship taking the form of a ceremonial meal, in which Christ’s servants share bread and wine in memory of their crucified Lord and in celebration of the new covenant relationship with God through Christ’s death.

Our Lord Jesus, in the night wherein he was betrayed, instituted the sacrament of his body and blood, called the Lord’s Supper; to be observed in his church, unto the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of himself in his death; the sealing of all benefits thereof unto true believers, their spiritual nourishment and growth in him, their further encouragement in and to all duties which they owe unto him; and, to be a bond and pledge of their communion with him, and with each other as members of his mystical body. (Westminster Confession 29.1)

“The passages dealing with the Supper on which the above statement is based are the four institution narratives (Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-25) and 1 Corinthians 10:16-21; 11:17-34. Jesus’ sermon (John 6:35-58) about himself as the Bread of Life, and the need to feed on him by eating his flesh and drinking his blood, was preached before the Supper existed and is better understood as being about what the Supper signifies (i.e., communion with Christ by faith) than about the Supper itself.

“At the time of the Reformation, questions about the nature of Christ’s presence in the Supper and the relation of the rite to his atoning death were centers of stormy controversy. On the first question, the Roman Catholic church affirmed (as it still affirms) transubstantiation, defined by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. Transubstantiation means that the substance of the bread and wine are miraculously transformed into the substance of Christ’s body and blood so that they are no longer bread and wine, though they appear to be. Luther modified this, affirming that was later called “consubstantiation” (a term that Luther did not favor), namely, that Christ’s body and blood come to be present in, with, and under the form of the bread and wine, which thus become more than bread and wine though not less. The Eastern Orthodox churches and some Anglicans say much the same. Zwingli denied that the glorified Christ, now in heaven, is present in any way that the words bodily, physically, or locally would fit. Calvin held that though the bread and wine remained unchanged (he agreed with Zwingli that the is of “this is my body . . . my blood” means “represents,” not “constitutes”), Christ through the Spirit grants worshippers true enjoyment of his personal presence, drawing them into fellowship with himself in heaven (Heb. 12:22-24) in away that is glorious and very real, though indescribable.

“On the second question, all the Reformers insisted that at the table we give thanks to Christ for his finished and accepted work of atonement, rather than repeat, renew, reoffer, re-present, or reactivate it, as the Roman Catholic doctrine of the mass affirms.

“The prescribed ritual of the Supper has three levels of meaning for participants. First, it has a past reference to Christ’s death which we remember. Second, it has a present reference to our corporate feeding on him by faith, with implications for how we treat our fellow believers (1 Cor. 11:20-22). Third, it has a future reference as we look ahead to Christ’s return and are encouraged by the thought of it. Preliminary self-examination, to make sure one’s frame of mind is as it should be, is advised (1 Cor. 11:28), and the wisdom of the advice is obvious.”

Let us reflect on what the Lord’s Supper means to us, not only while observing it, but throughout all our days.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan


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