Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Ohio Alban the Protomartyr of Britain

The Ohio Alban the

Protomartyr of Britain

Alban the Protomartyr of Britain
St. Alban was born in the third century in Roman Britain, and was martyred around 304. According to the English Christian historian, the Venerable Bede, Alban was a pagan, and a soldier in the Roman Army.

Alban offered refuge to a Christian priest named Amphibalus during a persecution. The priest ended up converting him, and when soldiers arrived at his home, Alban dressed in the priest's clothes to protect him. Alban was taken prisoner allowing the priest to flee. When compelled to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods, Alban refused to renounce his new faith, and was beheaded as a consequence. He thus became the first Christian martyr in Britain. The second was the executioner who was to kill him, but who heard his testimony and was so impressed that he became a Christian on the spot, and refused to kill Alban. The third was the priest, who when he learned that Alban had been arrested in his place, hurried to the court in the hope of saving Alban by turning himself in. The place of their deaths is near the site of St. Alban's Cathedral today.

The Collect.

ALMIGHTY God, by whose grace and power thy holy martyr Alban triumphed over suffering, and despised death: Grant, we beseech thee, that enduring hardness, and waxing valiant in fight, we may with the noble army of martyrs receive the crown of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Him We Proclaim...

If there was only one book that a pastor had to read on preaching from the pulpit, my enthusiastic recommendation would be Him We Proclaim - Preaching Christ From All The Scriptures by  Dr. Dennis E. Johnson, Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Calif.  But not only pastors... this is a valuable resource for any Christian who wants to understand how to read the Scriptures in order to strengthen faith and hold fast the hope of the gospel.

Early on in my Christian life I was exposed, like many, to the understanding that the purpose of preaching was to present Christ to the listeners.  Depending on one's template that can mean different things.  Is the purpose of preaching to edify believers? to lead them into a mystical experience of Christ? to encourage Christians to live as Jesus did by the Spirit's power?  to heal hurts and correct dysfunctional living?   Dr. Johnson addresses this question and more as he clearly sets forth the Christ to be preached as the Christ of the gospel of grace as revealed throughout God's redemptive history in the Bible - a proclamation sufficient for both our justification and sanctification.  To paraphrase the Westminster Shorter Catechism, sinners effectually convinced and converted by the Word through the Spirit of God are, by that very same Word, built up in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation; faith that continues to grow as it is nourished by and relies upon the gospel of grace found in the finished work of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

At The White Horse Inn Michael Horton conducts an excellent interview with Dr. Johnson on the topic of the book.  Please listen, it is really worth the time.

To give the reader a taste of  Dr. Johnson's book, below are some excerpts from early parts of the book.

Dr. Johnson provides this helpful quote of Jay Adam's to set the stage:
"I am convinced that the purpose is of such vital importance to all a preacher does that it ought to control his thinking and actions from start to finish in the preparation and delivery of sermons." (p. 25)

Regarding the purpose of preaching:
"Second, one's understanding of the purpose of preaching is controlled by one's theology proper, theological anthropology, and soteriology... A particular diagnosis of our human malady and corresponding prescription of divine cure will produce one sort of sermon rather than another, and will seek one sort of response from the hearers rather than another." (p.26)

Dr. Johnson highlights Tim Keller's view:
"Christians are constantly tempted to relapse into legalistic attitudes in their pursuit of sanctification, so we never out grow our need to hear the good news of God's free and sovereign grace in Christ.  Sanctification, no less than justification must come by grace alone, through faith alone - we grow more like Christ only growing more consistent in trusting Christ alone, thinking, feeling, acting in line with the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2:14).  From this grace alone can flow true sanctification, motivated by gratitude and empowered by the Spirit.  We need to repent not only of our sins but also of our righteousness - our efforts at self-atonement in lieu of surrender to the all-sufficient grace of Christ... Keller insists that the same gospel that introduces people into the family of God is the power that transforms them as children of God... The gospel is not just the A-B-C's but the A to Z of Christianity [footnote 71]" (pp. 55-56, 59)

Dr. Johnson:
"We cannot evaluate our own strengths and weaknesses in preaching, nor our progress in strengthening strengths and minimizing weaknesses, unless we know what preaching is suppose to do, what purpose it is to accomplish." (p. 63)

"Preaching is God's instrument to elicit faith, thereby uniting us to Christ and his community." (p.67)

"Therefore, the same gospel that initially called us to faith is the means that perfects us in faith.  As surely as Christ's obedience, death, and resurrection constitute the all-sufficient, once-for-all ground of our justification by faith, so also Christ's righteous life, sacrificial death, and vindication in resurrection power are the fount from which flows our sanctification by faith as we now grow in grace.  The preaching that matures and edifies, no less than the preaching that evangelizes and converts, calls believers not beyond the gospel to deeper mysteries (as some were promising the Colossian Christians - Col. 2:16-23) but more deeply into the gospel and its implications for our attitudes, affections, motivations, and actions... [see Col. 2:6-7, Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him...]... The Christian walk follows the path already laid out in the gospel by which Christ was first received, namely the path of faith, with thanksgiving for amazing grace." (pp 68-69)

"Apostolic preaching addresses human needs in all their diversity and depth.  It does not just apply bandages to felt needs, which are symptoms of secret infection.  When God does the diagnosis through his whole Word, he pierces through the surface symptoms all the way to the heart, with the radical cure of God's holy truth exposing our infection n all its ugliness and applying Christ's amazing grace in all its sweetness and strength." (p.71)

"Paul preached nothing but Christ because he knew Jesus to be the supreme revealer of God the Creator and the only reconciler of God's people." (p. 75)

"... Paul's single, Christocentric message:  redemptive history and grace... Preaching Christ is preaching the fulfillment of God's redemptive plan for history."  (p. 78)

"Preaching Christ is preaching grace... Preaching Christ as Paul preached Christ, however, is preaching grace as the sole source and rationale of salvation and transformation from start to finish:  grace that imparts life to the spiritually dead, grace that imputes righteousness to the guilty, grace that instills the Spirit's power in those otherwise impotent to want or to do good, grace that holds fast the feeble and fainting, securing pilgrim's arrival at the destination in glory.  Grace points hearers to the sovereign, saving initiative and intervention of God to do for guilty and paralyzed sinners what we could never do for ourselves, not even with heavenly help" (p. 81)

Get Him We Proclaim here and read it!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dispensing Food - Word and Sacrament...

In the 1662 Book of Common Prayer - The Ordering of Priests, as a new minister is ordained the Bishop exhorts:  And be thou a faithful Dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Following up on my last post, "Feed My Sheep" - Preach Good News, which presents the view that the preaching of the Word is not primarily the giving of Biblical truths and information.  It is not intended to be basically a means of exhortation to more godly living.  The preaching of the Word is a means of grace by which Christ feeds his sheep.  And this food is the Gospel; specifically the righteousness of God received through faith.

Jesus himself makes the point in the Gospels that all of Scripture points to Him.  He is its main character.  His mission as the Lamb of God, the Redeemer of his people is the central drama.

John 5:  39 Ye search the scriptures, because ye think that in them ye have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of me; 40 and ye will not come to me, that ye may have life.
Luke 24:  (Jesus and the 2 disciples on the road to Emmaus) 25 And he said unto them , O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!  26 Behooved it not the Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into his glory?  27 And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself... (later, Jesus with the apostles) 44 And he said unto them , These are my words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must needs be fulfilled, which are written in the law of Moses, and the prophets, and the psalms, concerning me.45 Then opened he their mind, that they might understand the scriptures; ASV

The above passage in Luke makes the point that not only did Jesus show that the entire Scripture foretold and spoke of him, but the he "interpreted to them in all the scriptures the thing concerning himself."  As J. Gresham Machen points out in Christianity and Liberalism, "But Jesus announced not only an event; He announced also the meaning of the event. It is natural, indeed, that the full meaning could be made clear only after the event had taken place. If Jesus really came, then, to announce, and to bring about, an event, the disciples were not departing from His purpose, if they set forth the meaning of the event more fully than it could be set forth during the preliminary period constituted by the earthly ministry of their Master."

And this is what I think Paul was getting at in 1 Corinthians 1 when he states "but we preach Christ crucified"; and continuing he writes, "But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who was made unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption."  The heart and purpose of the preaching of the Word is the putting forth of this good news - Christ crucified and the meaning (doctrine) of his life lived, his death and resurrection - as indispensable daily food - for the believer.  This must necessarily be presented as the context for all that is preached by the preacher precisely because the demands of the God's holy law, whether that in our conscience or that revealed in the Mosaic Covenant are woven into the very image of man and throughout all of Scripture.  The law demands sinlessness and perfect obedience - that which we do not have.  The gospel gives complete pardon for sin and a perfect righteousness received though faith - by the life lived and the sacrificial death and life-giving resurrection of  Jesus Christ.  As believers our sustenance cannot be found in the sacrifice of our obedience and good works offered to God.  No, our spiritual nourishment can only be found in Christ's sacrifice, his obedience and good works offered to God for the ungodly.  It is to this that the Holy Spirit points and bear witness.

Let's look back at that passage in Luke 24 and road to Emmaus account.  
27 And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.  28 And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they were going: and he made as though he would go further.  29 And they constrained him, saying, Abide with us; for it is toward evening, and the day is now far spent. And he went in to abide with them.  30 And it came to pass, when he had sat down with them to meat, he took the bread and blessed; and breaking it he gave to them.  31 And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight.  32 And they said one to another, Was not our heart burning within us, while he spake to us in the way, while he opened to us the scriptures? ASV

Here we have the repetition of the Lord's Supper which Jesus instituted before his crucifixion.  He blesses the bread, breaks it, and gives it to his disciples.  From his Commentary on this passage Matthew Henry writes:  "See how Christ by his Spirit and grace makes himself known to the souls of his people. He opens the Scriptures to them. He meets them at his table, in the ordinance of the Lord's supper; is known to them in breaking of bread. But the work is completed by the opening of the eyes of their mind..."  The opening of the Scriptures and the breaking of bread work together to communicate Christ's saving benefits to the one who hears and receives.

Q. 96. What is the Lord’s Supper?
A. The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christ’s appointment, his death is showed forth; and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace.  (Westminster Shorter Catechism)

Article XXVIII Of The Lord's Supper reads in part:  ... it is a sacrament of our redemption by Christ's death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith receive the same, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ, and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ... The body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith. (The 39 Articles of Religion)

In the Lord's Supper the Holy Spirit gives and through faith we receive the spiritual body and blood of Christ - the grace of his sacrifice for the pardon of our sins and his perfect righteousness as our own.  Thus in the Supper we eat and drink with thanksgiving the very same spiritual food, i.e. the Gospel, as proclaimed in the preaching of the Word, both being effectual means of God's grace for our justification and our sanctification.  The good news of Christ our righteousness proclaimed in the preaching of the Word thus strengthens and informs our faith as we then come to the Table receiving the same spiritual benefits dispensed in bread and cup.

"Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: 'The LORD is our righteousness.'  (Jeremiah 33:14-16) ESV

Friday, June 10, 2011

"Feed My sheep" - Preach Good News

Gospel food for thought...

15 So when they had broken their fast, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of John, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. -John 21

In the passage from which the above verse is taken, Peter is commanded twice by Jesus to "feed" his lambs or sheep and once to "tend" his sheep. What does this mean? What is feeding the sheep? What is the food, and what is it aimed at, i.e. what is nourished or strengthened by that food? Whatever the answers, Jesus emphasizes its importance by twice commanding Peter, "Feed My..." This command is at the heart of what should be more in focus when it comes to the preaching of sermons, for it leads to a fundamental question - "what is the purpose of preaching?" Is it to teach? to edify? to inform as to the how to's of Christian living? How the question is answered will determine what will be offered to the sheep by the preacher.

Cutting to the chase - I don't think the sermon is primarily intended to show us how to live the Christian life. It is not essentially an essay of Biblical truth communicated through properly exegeted passages of Scripture in order that believers would walk in a godly manner. It is not implicitly or explicitly intended to be an "if - then" message to God's people. If you trust, if you believe this, if you allow the Spirit, if you walk this way - then blessings...

Any "do this" teaching, in and of itself, is essentially the giving of law. And law inherently proclaims what many Reformers referred to as the works principle - 'do this' and receive blessing, fail to 'do this' and receive curse. As important as it is to hear God's law taught, preaching should present more than just expressions of law. It should by intention also dispense a certain kind of necessary food - a sure means of grace - to the sheep; not an admonition, not examples of faith, not a demand or requirement, but food.

From The Westminster Shorter Catechism:
Question: How is the word made effectual to salvation?
Answer: The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them [converted sinners] up in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.

Indeed it is the Holy Spirit who is at work applying God's grace to us believers, believers who are still yet sinners. The sermon is meant to address a condition, and that condition is not an information problem, an encouragement problem, etc. The problem, if you would, for the believer is the same problem for the unbeliever. It is the moral problem resulting from the knowledge of God's law and the presence of sin - the ever present reality of how, in and of ourselves, we fall miserably short of the perfection required by God's law. And ever-lurking on our shoulders is the judgment of that law. This is not just some external template. It is written on our hearts, our consciences bearing witness.

From Romans 1:
19 because that which is known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it unto them...
32 who, knowing the ordinance of God, that they that practise such things are worthy of death...
and Romans 2:
13 for not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified:
14 (for when Gentiles that have not the law do by nature the things of the law, these, not having the law, are the law unto themselves;
15 in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them);

David VanDrunen in his essay "Natural Law and The Works Principle Under Adam and Moses" (The Law is Not of Faith) writes: ... they [many Reformed theologians] teach that it is precisely the image-bearing nature with which God created human beings that makes his imposition of the works principle [moral law] upon them appropriate and even that the image-bearing nature itself impresses this natural knowledge of the law and its consequences upon human consciousness. [pg. 288]

As a sinner made in the image of God I'm inwardly aware of God's law and its consequences. I can't escape that. And as a sinner saved, I am also aware of an internal conflict between my new right-willed heart desiring to do good and my all-too-often reflexive sinful nature that does evil.

The Apostle Paul gives expression to this reality in the believer in Romans 7:
19 For the good which I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I practise...
21 I find then the law, that, to me who would do good, evil is present.
22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
23 but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members.
24 Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?

Someone will say, "but we have been forgiven - justified - saved from sin!" Indeed the penalty for our sin has been borne by our Savior. By faith we have been accounted as righteous for Christ's sake. As our Mediator, Jesus has fulfilled our obligation to the law. But please don't assume that this is just information or truth which everyone has already absorbed. Jesus said, "Feed My lambs." We are but lambs who need to be fed again and again that gospel food for our comfort when the Word is preached. As Article XI from the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion states in part: "...Wherefore that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort..."

So here is a lamb sitting in the pew as law (do this) is preached - preached as it should be. Whatever is required of him - Old Testament or New - triggers an automatic image-bearing reality within him, uncomfortably reminding him not only that he has fallen short in the past (sins) and that of his own works he will fall short again in the future, but also of an evil resistance (sin) to holiness very present in him. And this corresponds to the true state of things as noted above by Paul. In this case the resultant judgment in his conscience is no trick of Satan, the Accuser of the brethren. Instead, it is the just verdict of God upon the things he has done and left undone in thought, word, deed and upon the very principle of sin which dwells within him.  From whence comes his comfort?

OK, back to the WSC - Question: How is the word made effectual to salvation?
Answer: The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.

The word rightly preached is an effectual means of grace applied by the Holy Spirit to sinners when the announcement of God's free gift of righteousness in Christ is proclaimed, heard, and believed. It declares good news that sinner-saints need to hear - news that strengthens faith and is laid hold of only through faith. We find no righteousness that faith can receive nor rely upon either in the law (it only demands and doesn't give) or within us. Preaching must cause us to look not only within, which the law does as it highlights our plight - our sinful condition - causing us, out of desperate need, to look for another righteousness. The sermon also needs to present God's comfort - the gospel - which invites us to look away from our rags of failed righteousness to the perfect righteousness of Another, One who has accomplished for us what we should do but can't. The food that feeds our faith is Christ Jesus crucified for our sins... Christ raised for our justification... Christ our substitutionary law-keeper. There in Him, our mediator, we find credited to us the verdict of "well done." In Him we find justification now and cause for a sure hope... the hope of righteousness on that final day. It is in the proclamation of this good news that the Holy Spirit leads us to the food of God - the Lamb slain for lambs. It is the very same food of grace that is offered and received by faith when we partake of the Lord's Supper. Food that convinces, converts, and builds holiness and comfort in sinners through faith which finds its object only in the always needed good news of the cross of Christ... And it is that gospel food that nourishes the sheep. And their response by the grace of God... is thankfulness with encouraged hearts and renewed obedience, walking by faith that looks not for a righteousness within themselves but a faith that looks away unto Christ Jesus, who was made unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption. (1 Cor. 1:30)

All Scripture verses from the American Standard Version.