On Exorcism and Eternal Security

Albert Mohler has posted some very thoughtful words at his blog about how Protestants ought to think about the rite of exorcism.  He says:

The weapons of our warfare are spiritual, and the powers that the forces of darkness most fear are the name of Jesus, the authority of the Bible, and the power of his Gospel.

Evangelicals do not need a rite of exorcism, because to adopt such an invention would be to surrender the high ground of the Gospel. We are engaged in spiritual warfare every minute of every day, whether we recognize it or not. There is nothing the demons fear or hate more than evangelism and missions, where the Gospel pushes back with supernatural power against their possessions, rendering them impotent and powerless. Every time a believer shares the Gospel and declares the name of Jesus, the demons and the Devil lose their power.

Too often we forget that the Gospel really does render Satan and his minions "impotent and powerless."  While it is true that he does prowl around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8), he has no ultimate power to defeat God's elect.  So, while we must remember to "resist him" (1 Pet. 5:9), we must surely also remember that "the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you" (1 Pet. 5:10).  Satan may wound Christians, but he cannot ultimately defeat them, for he is already disarmed and defeated (Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14).

In our evangelical culture that sometimes promotes the fear of all things Satanic, it is good to remember that Satan need not ultimately be feared.  James puts it quite well when he says, "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7).  Yes - Satan will flee from you!  There is nothing more dreadful to Satan the accuser than a faithful Christian armed to the teeth with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Pilgrims in Babylon

In the very helpful book, Selling Out the Church: The Dangers of Church Marketing, authors Philip Kenneson and James Street remind us, "If the Church's mission is to announce the erupting reign of God, and to do so by being sign, foretaste, and herald of that kingdom, then it will not be able to do that if it expunges all its oddness in the name of building bridges to unbelievers" (145).  The overwhelming biblical witness is that we are pilgrims in Babylon (John 18:36; 1 Peter 2:9-11).  That is, we belong ultimately to another king, another kingdom, another city, another home.  Therefore, if nothing is odd or foreign or strange or new or counter-cultural within our lives or our churches, then how can we possibly point lost souls to God's kingdom (which is truly odd, foreign, strange, new, and counter-cultural when compared to the world's kingdoms)?  As Jesus reminds us, we are not of this world (John 17:14-16), we therefore don't look like the world when we gather for worship and when we live our lives as pilgrims.

In the midst of all of our striving to be relevant, perhaps we need to learn anew a lesson from some of the earliest Christians.  According to one account from the late second century, the early Christian's relevance, apologetic, and cultural influence was grounded primarily in his odd, foreign, strange, new, and counter-cultural way of life.  After calling Christians a "new race of men," the ancient text of The Epistle to Diognetus highlights the "remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship."

For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom.  For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric life-style.  This teaching of theirs has not been discovered by the thought and reflection of ingenious men, nor do they promote any human doctrine, as some do.  But while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one's lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship.  They live in their own countries, but only as aliens; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners.  Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland  is foreign.  They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring.  They share their food but not their wives.  They are "in the flesh," but they do not live "according to the flesh."  They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.  They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws.  They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted.  They are unknown, yet they are condemned; they are put to death, yet they are brought to life.  They are poor, yet they make many rich; they are in need of everything, yet they abound in everything.  They are dishonored, yet they are glorified in their dishonor; they are slandered, yet they are vindicated.  They are cursed, yet they bless; they are insulted, yet they offer respect.  When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; when they are punished, they rejoice as though brought to life.  By the Jews they are assaulted as foreigners, and by the Greeks they are persecuted, yet those who hate them are unable to give a reason for their hostility (quoted from The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd edition, p. 299).

Of the many things that stand out in this early defense of Christianity, perhaps the most significant is the apparent comfort these first Christians had at being foreigners and aliens, even in their own countries.  They knew they were pilgrims in Babylon.  Their lives showed it.  Their witness was strengthened by it.  They were not hip and relevant, they did not have a seat at the cultural table of their day, nor were they fashionable and respected.  But they were faithful.  They loved their God and their neighbor.  And as strange as this new race of men was to the world, they continued to grow and thrive under the blessings of God.

Ordinary Means Podcast: On Prayer and Idolatry

Another great discussion from our "Ordinary Means" friends.  You don't want to miss this one!

Ordinary Means: On Prayer and Idolatry

And, if you're on a podcast roll (as I am), check out this archived "Ordinary Means" talk from Ligon Duncan on what an ordinary means of based graced ministry is.

Ordinary Means: Ligon Duncan on the Ordinary Means

More Resources for Learning Reformed Catechisms

The White Horse Inn interviews Dr. Packer and Dr. Parrett (authors of the forth-coming book, Grounded in the Gospel) on the issue of the importance of catechesis in the local church.  This is an important interview as it addresses the question of how the church equips its young people with the truths of biblical doctrine. Listen here.

During the interview, Dr. Packer challenges us to relearn the Bible through catechesis with these words:

We today in the evangelical community are far further out of sync with Christian discipling in the first century and the apostolic age than we have any idea.  We claim to be Bible people, we talk a lot about the Bible, whereas they, in the first century, drilled people in Bible doctrine.  We simply don't do that....  We simply aren't close enoough to Bible doctrine, Bible truth, even to the Bible text, to really have the right to call ourselves evangelical Bible people.

Also - yet another book to help us learn the Reformed Catechisms.  In God's School: Foundations for a Christian Life.

In his preface Dr. Marcel writes, "Our knowledge of salvation can never be more than the Word of God, or such as God has revealed in the Holy Scriptures."  Wow, a better motivation to study biblical doctrine cannot be imagined!

Preaching As Though We Had Enemies

Here are some excerpts by an article by Stanley Hauerwas on "Preaching As Though We Had Enemies":

  • Christianity, as the illumination of the human condition, is not a Christianity at war with the world....  Psalms such as Psalm 109, which ask God to destroy our enemies and their children, can appear only as embarrassing holdovers of "primitive" religious beliefs.  Equally problematic are apocalyptic texts that suggest Christians have been made part of a cosmic struggle.... Most of us do not go to church because we are seeking a safe haven from our enemies; we go to church to be assured we have no enemies.  Accordingly, we expect our ministers to exemplify the same kind of bureaucratic mentality so characteristic of modern organizational behavior and politics....  The ministry seems captured in our time by people who are desperately afraid they might actually be caught with a conviction at some point in their ministry that might curtail future ambition.  They therefore seek to "manage" their congregations by specializing in the politics of agreement by always being agreeable.  The preaching such a ministry produces is designed to reinforce our presumed agreements, since a "good church" is one without conflict.
  • I am suggesting that our preaching should presume that we are preaching to a Church in the midst of a war.
  • Humility derives not from the presumption that no one knows the truth, but rather is a virtue dependent on our confidence that God's word is truthful and good.  Ironically, in the world in which we live if you preach with such humility you will more than likely be accused of being arrogant and authoritarian.  To be so accused is a sign that the enemy has been engaged.  After all, the enemy (who is often ourselves) does not like to be reminded that the narratives that constitute our lives are false.  Moreover, you had better be ready for a fierce counteroffensive as well as be prepared to take some casualties.  God has not promised us safety, but participation in an adventure called the Kingdom.  That seems to me to be great good news in a world that is literally dying of boredom.
  • Theories about meaning are what you get when you forget that the Church and Christians are embattled by subtle enemies who win easily by denying that any war exists.  God knows what He is doing in this strange time between "worlds," but hopefully He is inviting us again to engage the enemy through the godly weapons of preaching and sacrament....  May we preach so truthfully that people will call us terrorists.  If you preach that way you will never again have to worry about whether a sermon is "meaningful."

Read the entire essay to absorb its weight and significance for the Church.

HT: John Piper - "one of the best essays on preaching I ever read."

Sermon Leftovers

In my studies last week I came across a wonderful quote from Martin Luther on how Christ has turned the Law, sin, and death upside down.

Thus with the sweetest names Christ is called my Law, my sin, and my death, in opposition to the Law, sin, and death, even though in fact He is nothing but sheer liberty, righteousness, life, and eternal salvation.  Therefore, He became Law to the Law, sin to sin, and death to death, in order that He might redeem me from the curse of the Law, justify me, and make me alive.  And so Christ is both: While He is the Law, He is liberty; while He is sin, He is righteousness; and while He is death, He is life.  For by the very fact that He permitted the Law to accuse Him, sin to damn Him, and death to devour Him He abrogated the Law, damned sin, destroyed death, and justified and saved me.  Thus Christ is a poison against the Law, sin, and death, and simultaneously a remedy to regain liberty, righteousness, and eternal life.

Martin Luther, Luther's Works

Introducing Genesis in Blog Posts

This is the genesis of what I hope to be a long-running, continuous series of posts. To correspond with my current Sunday evening sermon series in Genesis, I would like to make a series of blog posts. My aim is to post a summary of the sermon with appropriate application, go deeper into issues not covered in the sermon, and explore people and actions in a deeper manner. By doing these things, I can explore the history of redemption as it unfolds in Genesis both in word and print. The task of preaching or teaching through a book like Genesis is daunting given the hot-button issues of creation as well as some of the strange behavior by the patriarchs. The blog posts will aid me in this task so that I can further elucidate passages by going a bit deeper in explanation or pointing to further reading. I will attempt to answer legitimate questions to the best of my ability. I hope that this undertaking will help you as you seek to hear and apply the Word of God. So, feel free to comment or ask questions in response to the posts.

Co-Belligerence and the Manhattan Declaration

On November 20, 2009, the Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience was released.  The Declaration addresses several key moral issues and it was signed by numerous leaders within the Christian tradition, from men in the PCA (our own denomination) to Roman Catholic Archbishops.  A summary statement from the document highlights their key concerns:

Because the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife, and the freedom of conscience and religion are foundational principles of justice and the common good, we are compelled by our Christian faith to speak and act in their defense. In this declaration we affirm: 1) the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every human being as a creature fashioned in the very image of God, possessing inherent rights of equal dignity and life; 2) marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and non-believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society and; 3) religious liberty, which is grounded in the character of God, the example of Christ, and the inherent freedom and dignity of human beings created in the divine image.

While the declaration affirms many important truths, and while it properly highlights the dangers of neglecting our moral duties as Christians and human beings, it also seems to make some errant assumptions about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We can see this in the following statement:

We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty.

First, the declaration appears to assume unity around this gospel, and this of course begs the questions, "Are Protestant Christians really speaking of the same 'Gospel' as Catholic Christians?"  Second, the declaration also appears to suggest that to proclaim the message of the gospel is to speak and act out against these moral issues.  Again, this raises a question about the very nature of the biblical gospel.  Is the gospel a message and declaration about what God has done on behalf of man in history, or is the gospel about what man does?

For answers to these questions (and for reasons why they didn't sign the declaration) consider the thoughts of the following men:

Michael Horton

R.C. Sproul

John MacArthur

Alistair Begg

We can be thankful for the healthy debate that has arisen over the nature of the gospel and the proper way to understand co-belligerence.  We should pray, work, and fight toward the end of the evils and moral depravities that the Manhattan Declaration addresses, but we should never think of the gospel as a message about what man does, nor should we assume unity around it in the midst of significant historical and theological differences.  R.C. Sproul summarizes his position well, "While I would march with the bishop of Rome and an Orthodox prelate to resist the slaughter of innocents in the womb, I could never ground that cobelligerency on the assumption that we share a common faith and a unified understanding of the gospel."

Spurgeon, the Bible, and the Blood of Martyrs

175px-Charles_Haddon_Spurgeon_by_Alexander_MelvilleBy the time Charles Spurgeon was 22 years old, his preaching ministry in London was enormously successful, and with that success came controversies of various kinds throughout his life.  The first serious public controversy he dealt with was over a small hymnbook named, "The Rivulet," published in 1855 by Thomas Lynch.  Soon after its publication the hymnbook's theology was criticized for being contrary to evangelical religion, and Spurgeon himself saw the hymnbook as an affront to the biblical gospel.  The controversy soon faded, but Spurgeon's sermons, of course, live on.  During that controversy Spurgeon preached a message on 1 Timothy 3:15, "the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth," and here Spurgeon makes a compelling appeal for pastors and churches to stand firm in the truth of God's Word. He opens the sermon saying:

This is a day of strife, a day of division, a time of war and fighting between professing Christians.  God be thanked for it!  Far better that it should be so than that the false calm shall any longer exert its fatal spell over us.

What follows is a powerful appeal to the Church to remember its vital calling to defend the truth at all costs.  As I read this sermon, I couldn't help but think about how important Spurgeon's message is for today's church, where so often biblical doctrine, theology, and truth have taken a backseat to lesser ends.  So this evening I thank God for Spurgeon, but more importantly, for the eternal Word, and for the Church, which is a "pillar and buttress of truth."  May we heed Spurgeon's words well...

Remember how your fathers, in times gone by, defended God's truth, and blush, ye cowards, who are afraid to maintain it!  Remember that our Bible is a blood-stained book; the blood of martyrs is on the Bible, the blood of translators and confessors.  The pool of holy baptism, in which many of you have been baptized, is a blood-stained pool: full many have had to die for the vindication of that baptism which is "the answer of a good conscience toward God."  The doctrines which we preach to you are doctrines that have been baptized in blood, swords have been drawn to slay the confessors of them; and there is not a truth which has not been sealed by them at the stake, or the block, or far away on the lofty mountains, where they have been slain by hundreds.  It is but a little duty we have to discharge compared with theirs.  They were called to maintain the truth when they had to die for it; you only have to maintain the truth when taunt and jeer, ignominious names and contemptuous epithets are all you have to endure for it.  What!  Do you expect easy lives?  While some have led through seas of blood, and have fought to win the prize, are you wearied with a slight skirmish on dry land?  What would you do if God should suffer persecuting days to overtake you?  O craven spirits, ye would flee away, and disown your profession!  Be ye the pillar and ground of the truth.  Let the blood of martyrs, let the voices of confessors, speak to you.  Remember how they held fast the truth, how they preserved it, and handed it down to us from generation to generation; and by their noble example, I beseech you, be steadfast and faithful, tread valiantly and firmly in their steps, acquit yourselves like men, like men of God, I implore you!  Shall we not have some champions, in these times, who will deal sternly with heresies for the love of the truth, men who will stand like rocks in the center of the sea, so that, when all others shake, they stand invulnerable and invincible?  Thou who art tossed about by every wind of doctrine, farewell; I own thee not till God shall give thee grace to stand firm for his truth, and not to be ashamed o fhim nor of his words in this evil generation.

And all that, over a little hymnbook.

O, for more champions of truth, like Spurgeon, today!

The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come"

The last reference in the Bible to God's people (the Church) is as a bride, and the last word credited to this Bride, in reference to Christ her Bridegroom,  is simply, "Come" (Rev. 22:17).  Ray Ortlund Jr. explains the powerful significance of this culminating passage in the book of Revelation:

John's pastoral purpose in setting forth this great vision of the end is focused into one sharply defined point in 22:17, where he calls the church to the single, essential response appropriate to all that has been shown:  The Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come.'  And let him who hears say, 'Come' (RSV).  The suffering church militant of this present evil age is to cultivate one great impulse throbbing in her soul, viz. an aching longing for the Bridegroom to come to her, to take her in his arms, with nothing within herself to wrest her away, and to be held there for ever.  Until such time as he is pleased to come, she is to centre her life around 'the love of Jesus Christ, the King, Bridegroom, and Husband of his church....

Ray Ortlund Jr., God's Unfaithful Wife: A Biblical Theology of Spiritual Adultery (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2002), 168-169.