September, 2018

Truth and Politics

Pastor Donny Friederichsen

I’ve been listening to a fascinating audio book on the nature of warfare in World War II. Giles Milton’s book, Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare details the unconventional and sometimes brutal methods employed to defeat the Nazis. Churchill’s belief was that the Nazis were inflicting total warfare on the British. Thus, the only response was to defeat them by any means. The idea of a genteel and gentlemanly war was discarded in favor of espionage, deception, and sabotage. This was a zero-sum game. It was either won or lost, and losing was not an option. It seems that many today are approaching modern American politics with the same zero-sum game attitude. And in this type of battle, the end justifies the means.

The truth is, I planned on writing this reflection weeks ago. When it was scheduled, I didn’t have any idea that the nation would be embroiled in a hyper-politicized “he said/she said.” But here we are; a nation that feels, in many ways, to be ripping at the seams. What is a Christian to make of it? How should believers in Jesus Christ evaluate their political opinions? How should Christians express their opinions (even political ones)? The Scriptures point us to the sanctity of truth, the necessity of honesty, and the maintaining of our own and our neighbor’s good name.

Truth is to be regarded as sacred because it is an attribute of God. God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:5). God’s word is truth (Jn 17:17). God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his truth (WSC 4). But untruth and falsehood is rampant in this fallen world because of sin. Satan is the deceiver (Rev. 12:9). He is the father of lies (Jn. 8:44). Because of this, Christians are to cherish and uphold truth while rejecting what is false.

The ninth commandment instructs us, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exo. 20:16). The Larger Catechism 144 & 145 explains this generally by forbidding whatever is contrary to the truth and to the good name of any person. Honesty is necessary in all aspects of life. Honesty requires a defense of truth and the good name of ourselves and our neighbor. The Larger Catechism 145 forbids opposing this, especially in “public judicature.” Public judicature is the administration of justice in courts of the state or church. False testimony or accusations must be opposed. Likewise, “undue silence in a just cause” is wrong. Justice is perverted if those abused or those who witness abuse remain silent. Their silence only results in the innocent suffering and the guilty escaping. In this respect, the #MeToo movement has been tremendously helpful in encouraging the abused to speak up. Every accuser should have a right to be fairly heard. But every accuser does not have a right to be believed. Only what is true should be believed.

Modern politics excels at what the WLC calls “speaking the truth maliciously.” Though what is said may be technically true, it is wielded solely in an attempt to injure someone’s reputation. Half-truths and innuendo dominate modern political discourse. Social media is filled with memes and articles that purposely distort the truth for political purposes. And we in the church are often complicit in their propagation. Before posting or sharing something we should ask, “Does this fairly characterize or summarize the other person’s point of view? Am I addressing the issue or attacking their person? Are terms clearly defined? Does this statement address the topic at hand?” If we cannot appropriately answer these questions, then posting the meme or article probably violates the ninth commandment. Careless posting on social media without a concern for the whole truth is bearing false witness. It damages others and it damages the ability of the church to speak into important matters in this culture. Honesty is necessary.

Life works best when in line with God’s law. This means that even in political discourse we need to maintain the good of our neighbor’s name. The parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37) instructs us that our “neighbor” may include someone we’ve considered our enemy. The Larger Catechism warns against either “scornful contempt” or “fond admiration.” We must not treat others in our thought, word, or deed in a way that demeans or ignores their inherent human dignity. We must also not have a blind, foolish devotion to some person because they are part of our tribe. It is far too easy to overlook the faults and foibles of those with whom we agree and to target the very same faults and foibles of our enemies. This is sin.

The health of our political and social discourse is reaching a critical point. The words and actions of those in the church should be different. Our words should be true. Our actions should seek and promote the truth. We must strive to preserve our own good name and reputation and that of our enemies. We should debate and disagree with ideas. There is a right and wrong way to lead the nation. There are better and worse philosophies. These things need to be discussed vocally and passionately. But we must not stoop to deceitful or dehumanizing ways. For Christians, our current political discourse is not a zero-sum game. The end does not justify the means. We cannot violate the ninth commandment because doing so brings dishonor upon our Savior.

 

 

 

The Bible – Book by Book – 2 Corinthians

Jared Smith

Gospel ministry and life in the church are full of great difficulties and trials. These difficulties are on full display in Paul’s second recorded letter to the church in Corinth. The Apostle Paul’s most personal letter is the final letter of several that he wrote to the church: the letter mentioned in 1 Cor. 5:9, our canonized 1 Corinthians, which could arguably be the “severe” letter mentioned in 2 Cor. 2:3-4 (or the “severe” letter could be a separate letter altogether) and finally 2 Corinthians. 2 Corinthians was written while Paul was in Macedonia roughly one year after he wrote 1 Corinthians (55/56 AD).

Many times we read Paul’s epistles as theological treatises or systematic theologies. Though they are chock full of theology (it’s Holy Scripture; it’s all theological), we would do well to remember that Paul’s epistles are personal letters from an apostle and church planter to churches that he either planted or ministered to. 2 Corinthians reminds us of this personal nature in that the main thrust of the letter is Paul’s defense of his ministry. Ironically, Paul does not defend his ministry by discussing his great theological and rhetorical abilities, but rather by exposing and boasting in his suffering and weakness. In the midst of defending his ministry, Paul exhorts the church to give generously to their fellow Christians in need, particularly the Christians in Jerusalem (chs. 8-9).

After his customary greetings (1:1-2), Paul jumps right into discussing the “affliction we experienced in Asia” (1:8), reminding the Corinthians of the comfort that can only be provided by God himself. He then moves to explain why he didn’t visit them. The church saw Paul as fickle, so he explained that he stayed away to spare the church an inevitably painful visit rather than from a lack of confidence or decency (1:23-2:2). One of the disappointments that Paul had with the church was the lack of forgiveness for a repentant brother (2:7-8). His other disappointment is due to the church’s lack of discernment regarding false teachers (which he discusses later). Unlike the “peddlers of God’s word” who have seemingly bewitched some in the church, Paul and his companions are “men of sincerity, commissioned by God” (2:17). He continues to defend his ministry writing that his ministry is not due to his own sufficiency (3:4-5) but to the mercy of God (4:1). And it is not a ministry about him, but rather one that is empowered by the Holy Spirit to point the church towards Christ Jesus. Paul boasts that his Christological responsibility is to “give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (4:6). This focus enables Paul to endure various trials without being destroyed or quitting the ministry. Rather, Paul’s Spirit-empowered resilience encourages the saints so that, in their own trials, they too can know that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (4:17).

The apostle knows that his despair is temporary, but life in Christ is eternal. He points the church to the day in which Christ will judge both good and evil (5:10). Yet the saints should not be fearful because they have been reconciled to God through Christ (5:18) and are therefore new creations (5:17). As an ambassador for Christ, Paul sees his ministry as one of reconciliation. The church can find joy in that they are reconciled to God because of the substitutionary work of Christ Jesus – “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (5:21). Due to the ministry and message that has been entrusted to Paul, he warns the church to have no partnership with those who practice and teach evil (6:14).

After his initial defense of his ministry (1:3-7:1), Paul writes to the Corinthians of the great joy he has for them upon hearing from Titus how the church was a repentant church (ch. 7). In the midst of their questioning of Paul’s ministry, the apostle can still rejoice because the majority of the church had accepted Paul’s authority via the letter sent to them (7:12) and Titus’ visit. Though a church should be very much known for its theological and ethical purity, it is just as vital that a church is known for its lifestyle of repentance. Upon writing these thoughts, Paul swiftly couples his commendation of their repentance with exhortations for their generosity (chs. 8-9). Paul exhorts them specifically by recalling the generosity of the Macedonian church in their poverty (8:1ff) and by reflecting on God’s love of and supply to cheerful givers (8:9ff).

Paul ends his epistle defending his ministry once again by boasting in sufferings.  The Corinthian church sees Paul as physically and rhetorically inferior (10:10), yet Paul sees his suffering and inferiority as proof of ministry. Over against the so-called “super apostles” (11:5), Paul boasts in the many dangers he endured for the sake of the gospel (11:24ff). Though he could boast of his pedigree (11:22-23) and his revelations (12:1-6), he would rather boast in his weakness so that “the power of Christ may rest upon me” (12:9). Paul makes his final plea by writing “aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you” (13:11).  A sober reminder even for the church today.

 

The Bible – Book by Book – 1 Corinthians

Assistant Pastor Christopher Diebold

A long time ago, a certain wise man said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Indeed, Paul’s first letter to Corinthians is a prime example of that truth. If you’ve ever thought that Christ’s church has been in a downward spiral since the death of the last Apostle, don’t worry; 1 Corinthians shows that Christ’s church is really in a closed loop. The same or similar problems that plague the modern church also plagued the churches in the time of the Apostles, and 1 Corinthians is an example of the on-going need for the bride of Christ to fix her eyes upon her groom. It reminds us that our problem is a universal sin problem that is only overcome by Christ and will only be finally overcome when Christ comes again to make all things new. Let’s now look at 4 “W” questions.

Who wrote 1 Corinthians? The Apostle Paul. And to whom did Paul write? The church at Corinth, which he founded during his second missionary journey (cf. Acts 18).

When did Paul write? He wrote in ~55 AD. This is based on the fixed timing of Gallio’s proconsulship (Acts 18:12), which we know from other sources was roughly 51/52 AD. During that time Paul was in Corinth. Paul then continued his travels, and approximately three years later wrote this letter from Ephesus (1 Cor 16:8).

Why did Paul write this letter? Two factors in particular prompted Paul’s writing of this letter. First, after leaving Corinth to continue his missionary journeys, he received verbal reports about the Corinthian church’s behavior (1:11, 5:1). In these verbal reports, Paul also learns that the church has misunderstood his first letter to them on at least one point (5:9-13). Yes, Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthians before 1 Corinthians, but in God’s providence it was not preserved for the church universal.

Second, Paul received a written letter from the Corinthians in which the church laid out a number of issues facing it (7:1). This letter was delivered to Paul by Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (16:17). The subjects addressed in 1 Corinthians remind us that temporal proximity to the Apostles did not equate to greater sanctification.

What does 1 Corinthians say? Structurally, it is divided by these two factors. After an initial greeting and thanksgiving section, Paul addresses the issues that came to him verbally in 1:10-6:20. These issues include false wisdom, internal divisions, scandal, litigiousness, and sexual immorality in general. Then, in 7:1-16:12, Paul addresses the issues brought up in the Corinthian’s letter to Paul. These topics are marriage (ch. 7), food offered to idols and proper table fellowship (chs. 8-10), conduct in the assembly of Christians (ch. 11), spiritual gifts (chs. 12-14), resurrection (ch. 15), benevolence (16:1-4), and Apollos’ visit (16:12). Paul concludes with a final exhortation and greetings.

Theologically, the fact that Paul is reacting to specific issues means that this letter is not “systematic” like Romans. Paul offers correction with respect to both theology and practice throughout this letter, but his corrections do form one sustained point.

Having said that, there still are certain themes that are woven throughout the various discussions. One of those themes is the reality that Christians are redeemed sinners. On the whole, 1 Corinthians is a negative letter. Paul has strong words of rebuke for this church. For example, Paul says, “Do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? … Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not” (11:22), and “I say this to your shame” (15:34). Those are difficult words to swallow. Nevertheless, when Paul addresses his audience he calls them saints (1:2). Saints! People who are divisive, who are wise in their own eyes, who despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing, are saints! For all of their warts, they have been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God (6:11), so they—and we—ought to rejoice because we are redeemed sinners.

A second—and related—theme that runs through this letter is union with Christ. These saints, or holy ones, are made holy in Christ Jesus (1:2). They receive God’s grace because they are in Christ Jesus (1:4). Because of God, they are in Christ Jesus, “who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1:30). Paul later says, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? … He who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. … You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (6:15, 17, 19-20). Finally, Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are united to Christ through resurrection. Christ is the first fruits by his resurrection, and we who belong to him will also be made alive in resurrection bodies (15:20-13).

The universal nature of sin accounts in large part for why these words are so instructive for the church today. We continue to battle against sin. So also, the union with Christ that every believer from every age possesses is the reason we need to hear Paul’s words to the Corinthians. We continue to hope for the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting: new creation. For this reason, Paul ends his letter with this: our Lord, come!

The Bible – Book by Book – Romans

Pastor Donny Friederichsen

It can be argued that no other book of the Bible has impacted the formation and history of the Church more than the Epistle to the Romans. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said it was the most important and most crucial book in the Bible. Augustine cites Romans as the place to which he turned after hearing the words, “Tolle lege” when he was converted. The early church pastor John Chrysostom, perhaps the greatest preaching in the early church, had Romans read to him twice ever week. Martin Luther came to an understanding of justification by faith alone while studying Romans 1:17. John Wesley considered his conversion to Christ to come after reading Luther’s commentary on Romans and feeling his heart “strangely warmed.” John Bunyan was converted through his study of Romans. Samuel Coleridge, the English poet, literary critic, philosopher, declared the Romans was the “profoundest piece of writing in existence.” Perhaps Luther summarized best by saying:

This epistle is the chief part of the New Testament…the purest gospel, which indeed deserves that a Christian should not only know it word for word by heart, but deal with it daily as with the daily bread of the soul, for it can never be read or considered too much or too well, and the more it is handled the more delightful it becomes and the better it tastes.

There is little doubt among scholars that the Apostle Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans. He likely wrote this letter while he was in Macedonia and Greece (Acts 20:1-3), specifically while staying in Corinth with Gaius (1 Cor 1:14, Rom 16:1, 2). The exact date is difficult to nail down, but a timeframe of 51-53AD works. It was prior to his delivery of the collection which he had taken up for the church in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17, Rom 15:25).

Non-Christian historical records indicate that the church at Rome had been around since at least before 50AD. Suetonius records, “Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome because under the instigation of Chrestus they were incessantly making tumults.” Secular historical accounts frequently confused the common name Chrestus with the Greek form of Christ, Christus. Though some scholars debate the its composition, the church was most likely a majority Gentile body with a minority of Jewish believers. There is no indication in Scripture or in historical records that either Peter or Paul founded this church. In fact, the Scriptural records seems to imply that they did not. Paul had pledged to not “build upon another man’s foundation” (15:20). So, it appears that the church at Rome was not founded by any apostle. Likely, it was birthed as a result of Roman highway system. There was a constant and steady stream of movement around the area. Travelers from around the known world would hear the Gospel and inevitably end up in Rome, the world’s capital. Once there, believers in Christ would seek out one another for fellowship.

Paul’s letter does not focus just on the particulars of the church at Rome. It is more general in scope. As the capital of the world, the concerns of the people of Rome were the concerns of the people of the world. His letter spoke to the general needs of all people. Paul systematically explains the nature of the Gospel, but it is more than just a systematic textbook. It is a letter written to real people. This is not just ivory tower theology, but this is nitty-gritty real world application of the truths of the Triune God. Paul is presenting the hope of the Gospel to the world.

There are three basic sections to Romans. The first is an exposition of the Gospel (chs. 1-8). Then Paul addresses the question of Israel (chs. 9-11). Finally, he lays out some of the practical results of the Gospel (chs. 12-16). The theme of Paul’s exposition of the Gospel is found in Rom. 1:16, 17. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation. In it the righteousness of God is revealed. The righteous shall live by faith. The need (1:18-3:20), the way (3:21-31), the model (4), and the results (5-8) of the Gospel are explained in the first section. There is a crucial point made in chapter 4, where Paul explains that there is nothing new in the Gospel. Everything promised by faith in the Gospel was found in seminal form in the Old Testament model of Abraham. This becomes important in chapters 9-11 where Paul argues that Israel’s rejection was not a failure of the covenant, but rather it corroborates the promise of God to Abraham. Finally, Paul explains that because of the Gospel we must live in love toward one another and submission to our authorities (12-16).

This is a book of grace. John Murray notes that Paul’s transition from Pharisee to Apostle was one of grace. The spell of religion was broken by Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul responds by saying, “And the commandment, which was unto life, this I found to be unto death!” Paul’s life is a reflection of the antithesis he posits in Romans. Grace and law, faith and works, these are the poles of Paul’s life which was divided by his conversion experience. His zeal for persecuting the church was transformed into a zeal for reaching the lost. The story of Romans is a story of God’s grace poured out on a world in desperate need of Christ.

Updated Child and Youth Protection Policy and Nursery Policy and Procedures

CPC CYPP NPP

The Bible – Book by Book – Acts

Pastor Donny Friederichsen

 

I am constantly surprised that there is enough interest in movies like Transformers and the Fast and the Furious, that they keep churning out sequels. Occasionally though, sequels like The Empire Strikes Back or the Godfather II come along and capture and progress the whole sweep of the original perfectly. The Book of Acts is the perfect sequel to the Gospels. More specifically, the Book of Acts is the perfect sequel to the Gospel of Luke.

The physician Luke wrote both the Gospel which bears his name and the Book of Acts. The Gospel of Luke opens with Luke’s explanation to Theophilus as to why he wrote a gospel. Acts picks right up where Luke left off. “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). Now, Luke endeavors to tell the rest of the story. What happened after Jesus ascended into the heaven and the Holy Spirit descended upon the Church?

Just as Luke undertook to compile an orderly account of the life of Jesus, he does so with the events following Jesus’ resurrection. He includes a perfect outline for the book of Acts in the first chapter. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Acts will focus initially on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the growth of the gospel in Jerusalem and Judea in chapters 1-7. Then it will document the expansion of the gospel primarily into Samaria but with a few episodes reaching beyond (e.g. The Ethiopian Eunuch and Cornelius) in chapters 8-12. Then the apostle Paul takes center stage as he takes the gospel to the end of the earth in chapters 13-28. The draw of God’s redemption for the nations seems to have a centripetal force (drawing inward like a funnel) prior to the Holy Spirit’s outpouring in Acts 2. But after that explosive act of God’s grace, His redemptive force is centrifugal (pushing outwards) to the end of the earth.

Luke’s narrative of the expansion of the Church is a story of great opposition and greater power. As the Holy Spirit moves in the lives of the disciples, they see tremendous fruit in their ministry. But this success is frequently met with conflict. And each conflict is met with a stronger still Spirit. Peter preaches a sermon at Pentecost and “there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). Peter preaches again and, “many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of men came to about five thousand” (Acts 4:4). But Peter and John are arrested for their preaching. They are instructed to not speak or teach about Jesus. They reply, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19, 20). Success in the growth of the Church is met with opposition, which is then met with added strength from the Holy Spirit. And the Church grew in the face of opposition (Acts 6:7, 9:31, 11:21, 12:24, 13:49, 14:21, 16:5, 19:20, 28:23).

We see in the Book of Acts that God is faithful to supply our every need. Where God wills, he provides. But God will often provide in unexpected times and ways. The martyrdom of Stephen is an example. Stephen is ordained as a deacon in the church and soon after is seized by the authorities. He is wrongly accused of speaking blasphemous words against God (Acts 6:11). But God does not deliver Stephen from the hands of his oppressors. They kill him (Acts 7:60). God does, however, give Stephen a spirit of peace throughout the melee. He gives Stephen a boldness to declare the gospel while being attacked. He gives Stephen courage to stand faithful. And God gives the Church an unexpected gift through Stephen’s death. In the midst of the crowd, stoking the flames of rage, stood Saul. “And Saul approved of his execution” (Acts 8:1). God would give Saul the gift of Christ.

Saul is converted in a remarkable encounter on the road to Damascus. Now Saul, who was also called Paul, is trained in the gospel. He is filled with the Holy Spirit. And with all the passion and gusto with which he had persecuted the Church, he now preaches Christ. And Paul’s preaching will take this Good News to the end of the earth. Luke is presenting the narrative of Acts as if it is a bridge connecting God’s promise in Genesis 12:2-3, “…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” with God’s faithful fulfillment in Revelation 7:9, “…and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb”. God’s plan will succeed over this present evil age. “Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (Acts 28:28).