Reasons of the Heart by Bill Edgar
Surprised my Laughter
Few things dislodge the complacency of certain skeptics as humor. Closely related to a sense of the extraordinary, humor has an element of mystery that makes it a powerful tool for conversation. Why is a good joke funny? Why do certain animals make us laugh? Why does someone slipping on a banana peel strike us as droll? One reason is that in each of these situations two realms clash—the ideal and the ordinary. We spend much of our lives focused on the ordinary, where life can be sadly dark and meaningless. But at times the other reality intrudes and there is a clash, to which we respond with laughter.
In the classic film Modern Times, Charlie Chaplin satirizes the rule of technology. At one point, Chaplin is invited to test a remarkable new eating machine—one that feeds him mechanically without any human effort required. Something inevitably goes wrong, and the robotic arms and dishes become out of the synch, food is flying around, and chaos reigns. We laugh at such a scene because the pretensions of modern technology have been shown to be inadequate to the needs of humanity. The ideal realm, where eating is more than a biological function, forces its way into the ordinary sphere of the dull technology.
Humor can be cynical and destructive, showing a lack of shame and a loss of honor. Often this negative humor is escapism rather than a reality check. Not only is it an indiscriminate judgment, it is not good humor. Distrust, which lies at the heart of humor, can work both ways—being a sign of arrogance or a conventionally permissible way to reveal problems. Such literary and dramatic masters as Shakespeare and Cervantes deploy humor through the clown, revealing truth as the two worlds clash. Through humor we can proclaim basic truths about God, sin, and redemption, and even suggest the great surprise of the gospel.
James is one who journeyed toward faith in Christ through humor. He’s now an Episcopal priest, but as a young man he was thoroughgoing skeptic. Though he had been raised in a Christian family, he had had several negative experiences and was turned off by some unattractive Christians. A number of the most outspoken believers he encountered were not consistently living out their faith—some were terrible parents, for instance, and others were dishonest in business dealings. James found that many Christians were, in a word, hypocrites. If the gospel is true, he wondered, how could so many of adherents be so phony?
What arrested his attention was essentially a joke. On one occasion he raised his objection to Christian belief with a believing friend. After telling his friend that he could not join a religion with so many hypocrites, the Christian turned to James and said there was room for at least one more! The rather elementary quip jolted James into the realization of Augustine’s wisdom, that the church is not a museum of saints but a hospital of sinners
The Guardrail of the Creeds
The value of creeds and confessions in the life of the believer and the church.
Rivaling the Apostle's Creed
Michael J Kruger writes:
Aristides, a converted Athenian philosopher, wrote an apology to emperor Hadrian around 125 A.D. As such, it is one of the earliest patristic writings we possess. It is a lengthy treatise which compares the God of Christianity with the gods of the barbarians, the Egyptians, and the Greeks.
But, at one point, he summarizes what Christians believe in a manner that would rival even the Apostle’s Creed:
The Christians, then, trace the beginning of their religion from Jesus the Messiah; and he is named the Son of God Most High. And it is said that God came down from heaven, and from a Hebrew virgin assumed and clothed himself with flesh; and the Son of God lived in a daughter of man. This is taught in the gospel, as it is called, which a short time was preached among them; and you also if you will read therein, may perceive the power which belongs to it. This Jesus, then, was born of the race of the Hebrews; and he had twelve disciples in order that the purpose of his incarnation might in time be accomplished. But he himself was pierced by the Jews, and he died and was buried; and they say that after three days he rose and ascended to heaven (Apol. 2).
Aristides makes it clear that Christians affirm a number of key truths:
1. The divinity of Jesus: “God came down from heaven…” In the mind of Aristides, Jesus is not an angel, or a semi-divine being, but the very God of heaven itself.
2. The incarnation: “clothed himself with flesh.” In very vivid language, the author affirms that Jesus is God enfleshed; he took upon himself a real human body (contra the Docetists).
3. The virgin birth: “from a Hebrew virgin.” This doctrine flows naturally from the prior two. If Jesus is God, and he took on human flesh, then his conception would be distinctive from other human beings.
4. The authority of the Gospels: “taught in the gospel…and you also if you read therein, may perceive the power which belongs to it.” Notice for Aristides, there are books called a “gospel” which you can “read” to learn more about the person of Jesus. Moreover, these gospels contain a certain “power” which the reader can discern.
5. The authority of the apostles: “and he had twelve disciples.” Aristides recognizes that Jesus had an authority structure through the twelve that was necessary “so that the purpose of his incarnation might in time be accomplished.”
6. His death on the cross: “pierced by the Jews.” This is a clear reference to Jesus’ crucifixion under Pontius Pilate at the request of the Jewish leadership.
7. His resurrection: “after three days he rose.” Jesus did not stay in the grave but was raised from the dead.
8. His ascension: “ascended into heaven.” Jesus returned to his former heavenly home, in a position of power and glory.
This is a surprisingly thorough and wide-ranging summary of core Christian doctrines at a very early point in the life of the church. And it was this form of Christianity that was publicly presented to the Emperor. Once again, we can see that core Christian beliefs were not latecomers that were invented in the fourth century (or later), but appear to have been in place from the very beginning.
Why does it have to hurt? by Dan G. McCartney
The novelist Peter deVries wrote a very moving story about the loss of faith entitled The blood of the Lamb. He puts it pointedly: to pray to God for healing implies his sovereignty, and thus the suffering must be within his sovereign disposition. But to Don Wanderhope, the hero of deVries’s story, (and presumably to deVries himself) this is intolerable. In the story, Don says to his girlfriend Rena, who is dying of tuberculosis,
I simply mean that asking Him to cure you—or me, or anybody—implies a personal being who arbitrarily does us this dirt. The prayer then is a plea to have a heart. To knock it off. I find the thought repulsive. I prefer to think we’re victims of chance to dignifying any such force with the name of providence.
Even though the thought is “repulsive” to Don, it is inescapable. Don is not wrong to suppose that, If God can heal, then he must also send, or at least allow, suffering. Sadly, Don cannot see any greater purpose or higher good than his own comfort and therefore thinks of such suffering as arbitrary and cruel. But he recognizes that unless God has sovereign control over suffering, it is completely pointless to pray about it.
Confusion on this point has led to much misunderstanding by Christians on what is involved in asking God for healing. Don Carson argues that the failure of Christians to reckon with God’s sovereignty in suffering is perhaps the root of the “signs and wonders” movement in Christianity. These enthusiastic Christians rightly insist on seeing Gods power displayed by his vanquishing sickness, which we see in the Gospels. Disease is a work of the Devil, and God through Jesus does destroy the works of the Devil, including disease. But what is sometimes lacking is a proper appreciation of the source of health. God’s hedge is around us to keep Satan from us (Job 1:10), and if God removes that hedge, he does so for some good reason. If we don't recognize God's sovereignty in suffering, then suffering becomes an evil untampered by any good purpose. Either God has not yet dealt with it (contrary to the gospel), or else he is prevented from dealing with it by our lack of faith (which places a huge load of guilt upon the sufferer, in as much as Job’s friends tried to lay guilt upon him.)
The Extraordinary Power of Ordinary Means
The Marks of a True Church and the Ordinary Means of Grace.
What is Really Happening in the Lord's Supper?
A Biblical overview of Communion, it's frequency, qualifications and importance as a means of grace for the believer.
The Preach, The Counselor, and The Congregation
By Kevin DeYoung and Pat Quinn
The word of God is sufficient.
All we need for life and godliness, for salvation and sanctification has been given to us in the Bible. This doesn’t mean the scriptures tell us everything we need to know about everything or that there is a verse somewhere in the Bible that names all our problems. The Bible is not exhaustive. But it is enough. We don’t have to turn away from God’s Word when we get to the really hard and messy stuff of life. The Bible has something to say to the self-loathing, the self-destructive, and the self-absorbed. We do not need to be afraid to preach and counsel from the Word of God into the darkest place of the human heart.
The Word of God is authoritative.
The Christ who is Lord exercises his lordship by means of His Word. To reject His Word is to reject Him. In a day filled with sermonettes for Christianettes, we must not forget that what most distinguished Jesus’ preaching from that of the Scribes and Pharisees was His authority. The Word gives definitive claims, issues obligatory commands, and makes life changing promises. All three must be announced with authority. This authority may be spoken in a loud voice or a soft whisper, in a prayer or in a personal note, with an outstretched finger or an open embrace. Authority is not dependent on personality or ones position within the church building. Authority comes from God’s Word and the counselor, no less than the preacher must bring this authority to bear on all those encountered, especially on those who swear allegiance to Christ.
God’s Word is relevant.
Terms change. Science changes. Our experience changes. But the human predicament does not change, the divine remedy does not change, and the truth does not change. This makes the word of God eternally relevant. Whatever work we can accomplish in the church apart from the Word of God is not the work that matters most. When it comes to matters of heaven and hell matters of sin and salvation, matters of brokenness and healing, we are powerless in ourselves to effect any of the good change we want to see. This is why we must rely on the unchanging Word of God. If Christ is relevant—and what Christian would dare say He is not—then we can never ignore what he has to say to us. This is less wisdom in our new techniques than we think and more in God’s Word than we imagine.
The Question of Altar Calls
A Transcript: From the second Question and Answer session at "The Truth of the Cross - 2014 Regional Ligonier Conference"
What is your opinion of altar calls?
Dr. Stephen Nichols: I’ll speak about a Church history sermon, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” and Eleazar Wheelock was there present at Enfield when that sermon was preached. He went on to found Dartmouth University (College), and he recorded for us what happened at that sermon. And this of course is the sermon when Edwards had to stop speaking because of the shrieks of the congregation. And so at the conclusion of this Eleazar Wheelock writes that the minister concluded his sermon. We sung a hymn and we went home.
In those days they had this idea that if someone was so anxious they would, after the sermon, write a note and then have an elder or deacon from the Church come to them, and then as they counselled with them they would make a profession of faith and then on another Lord’s day or a few Lord’s day following they would then make their public profession of faith, and they would become full members and communicate members and partake of the Lord’s supper. This was how it was done in Edward’s Churches and the new England Churches in the Great Awakening. We really see the altar call as an American phenomenon in the Second Great Awakening with Charles Finney. And Finney had this idea of what he called “The Anxious Bench” – if you are so anxious then come down forward and you’ll be dealt with here in the service, and Finney called that an “anxious bench.” And that’s where the introduction of the altar call in American Church history. And this is what Church historians are good for. They simply give you the historical data; they leave it to the pastors and the theologians to judge. I just report. You can judge.
Dr. Lawson, you come from a Baptist tradition where altar calls are prominent. What is your opinion on that?
Dr. Steve Lawson: I remember when I graduated from seminary in 1980 I immediately went to a large Southern Baptist Church, and the very first week I was there I stepped into the College ministry, overseeing it as well as young marrieds. And I remember the very first weekend that I was there. There was already scheduled a young couples retreat. So there were about 50-60 of us that went on this young couple’s retreat and I remember Friday night we all got in a big circle and just as kind of an ice breaker way to start the weekend and for me to know the people I said “let’s go around the circle and I would like for everyone to give us your name, where you are from and give us your testimony, when you came to know Christ."
The Biblical Case for Church Membership: