Category Archives: Preaching

Sermon Notes: A Tale of Two Sons (Matthew 21:23-32)

The following sermon was preached on October 30, 2011 by Rev. Joe Troutman at Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church in Bedford, Texas. Listen to the sermon at this link, or subscribe to the podcast.

In fulfillment of the old Testament Scriptures, Jesus Christ came to bring salvation to every sinner who repents and believes in him.

A Question of Authority (Matthew 21:23) And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

  • The beginning of a long series of exchanges between Jesus and the Temple leaders which culminates in the seven woes pronounced upon their hypocrisy in Matthew 23.
  • The leaders should have known Jesus’ authority was from heaven.

A Question in Response (Matthew 21:24-27) Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

  • Jesus demonstrates his authority by asking a question of the chief priests.
  • Jesus’ question makes them weigh the politics of their answer. They want to admit John’s authority from heaven, but knew doing so would be to regard Jesus as something more than just a rabble rouser.
  • The leaders lie when they claim to not know the source of John’s authority, and Jesus, knowing this, refuses to answer them.

The Answer (Matthew 21:28-32) “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

  • Jesus’ parable illustrates the chief priests’ weakness and inability which comes from unbelief.
  • Neither the first nor the second son were honorable in their response to the command of their father.
  • The tax collectors and prostetutes represent the first son of the parable.
  • The chief priests and elders represent the second son who professes faith and obedience yet fails in both regards. They should have known
  • Christian churches are full of unbelieving, unrepentant sinners who profess faith but do not demonstrate this faith in their walk.
  • It is often asked how can we hold accountable to God those who never hear about Jesus? But this parable, and Jesus’ encounter with the chief priests and elders of Israel show us that knowing about Jesus is no guarantee of faith and repentance.
  • Without God working in your heart, you will not be able to believe but God is working, using his Word, calling each of us, believer and unbeliever, to repentance and faith.
  • Christ suffered the consequences of the sins of the first son in the parable, and likewise those of sinners today who come to Christ in faith. Repent of your sins and trust Christ today, and you will be forgiven of your sins, and you will have done the will of your Father in heaven.

My Favorite Sport!

Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers

I’m one of those especially unfortunate fellows who grew up with a love-hate relationship with sports. I played several sports on several little league teams as a child, and played plenty of sports in the streets of my neighborhood. My lack of skill then is probably the chief reason I do not follow sports today, although I do tend to catch the Super Bowl, mostly for the commercials. My new membership in a Reformed church and their biblical and confessional (we view these two adjectives as synonymous) emphasis on delighting in the Lord on the Lord’s Day may have implications for the Super Bowl in the future. All I can say is, thanks be to God for digital video recording.

 In light of my lack of interest in sports, I am fond of informing folks that “my sports are politics and religion,” which probably tells people I can relate even less to them, when they may already see me as a socially challenged individual who doesn’t follow sports. It is for this reason that you may not be surprised by my interest in the following lecture series that was held at Christ Reformed Church (URCNA) in Washington, D.C., called “Christianity & Politics,” which is yet another venue for the Westminster Seminary California faculty and alumni, among others, to focus our attention on their attempt at recovering the Reformed notion of the Two Kingdoms approach to the relationship between “Christ and Culture.” A timely offering in this year of presidential politics.

 Here’s their introduction to the series, speaker bios and links to the lectures:

Why We Confuse Church & State

Separation of church and state?

 Whatever you may think of the contemporary application of our first amendment freedom of religion, Christianity and politics are ever confused in our national consciousness. Preachers seek influence in the political sphere; politicians manipulate and calculate the faithful in their constituencies.

What are the faithful to do? How should we understand our callings as citizens, both on earth below and in heaven above?

 Christianity & Politics presents a range of speakers approaching this topic from a range of perspectives while discussing topics as diverse as the mission of the church, the place of evangelicals in American political culture, natural law, and the spirituality of the church.…

Lectures [were] sponsored by Christ Reformed Church, and [took] place in our place of worship, historic Grace Reformed Church, home of President Theodore Roosevelt….


MICHAEL HORTON is the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, Host of the White Horse Inn radio program and Editor-in-Chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is a minister in the United Reformed Church.

 MICHAEL GERSON is an opinion writer for the Washington Post and former head speech writer and senior policy advisor to President George W. Bush.

 DARRYL HART is Assistant Professor of History at Hillsdale College, author of numerous books, and blogs on religion and public life at

 TERRY EASTLAND is the Publisher of The Weekly Standard and an elder at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland.

 BRIAN LEE is the pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Washington, DC (United Reformed Church). He is a Guest Faculty at Reformed Theological Seminary and formerly worked on Capitol Hill, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Department of Defense.

 DAVID VAN DRUNEN is the Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at Westminster Seminary California. He is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and holds a Law Degree from Northwestern University School of Law.

 DAVID COFFIN is the Senior Pastor at New Hope Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, Virginia.


Michael Horton

The Great Commission (Sermon on Matthew 28)

The Great Commission and Social Justice — (Q&A Session)


Michael Gerson, Darryl Hart, Terry Eastland

The Future of Evangelical Politics (roundtable discussion)


Brian Lee

The Primacy of “Church” in “Church & State” (Sermon on Romans 12)

“Govern Well?” or “Be Governed”? — (Q&A Session)


David VanDrunen

Natural Law and Christian Politics — (Q&A Session)


David Coffin

The Biblical Doctrine of the Spirituality of the Church (Sermon on John 18)

The Historical Doctrine of the Spirituality of the Church — (Q&A Session)


HT: Christ Reformed Church Presents

Sermon Notes: “The Fruit of Faith” (Matthew 21:17-22)

The following sermon notes summarize “The Fruit of Faith,” preached on Sunday, October 23, 2011 by Rev. Joe Troutman at Mid-Cities Presbyterian Chruch (OPC) in Bedford, Texas (listen online or subscribe to the podcast). My apologies for not posting last week’s sermon on the cleansing of the Temple, on which this sermon builds. I’ll try to post it at a later date. In the meantime, you can listen to that sermon, “The King Comes Home” (Matthew 21:12-17) at this link

Text of Preparation: John 15:1-17

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

             “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.


Jewish worship was coming to an end. The Temple gave the appearance of worship as the leaves on the fig tree in today’s text give the appearance of fruitfulness. In their Temple worship, the Jews honored God with their lips, but their heart was far from him. Christ’s cleansing of the Temple in the previous passage was a judgment against their worship, not their commercialism.

Matthew 21:17-22 illustrates the importance of context. In his cursing of the fig tree, Jesus was not being vindictive, but performing a prophetic act against the nation of Israel as a whole: Those who don’t bear fruit will be cursed like the fig tree, but those who believe will bear the good fruit of true worship and righteousness.

In Search of Fruit (Matthew 21:17-19) And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.  In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.

  • The glory of God having departed the Temple, Christ returns to Bethany. Matthew and Mark use differing chronologies in their accounts of the cleansing of the Temple and the cursing of the fig tree. But both show the relationship between both events. One cannot be understood apart from the other.
  • The fig tree was a symbol of the nation of Israel. “Woe is me! For I have become as when the summer fruit has been gathered, as when the grapes have been gleaned: there is no cluster to eat, no first-ripe fig that my soul desires (Micah 7:1).
  • Jesus went to the tree in search of fruit, just as he went to the Temple in search of true worship. Neither provided what he sought.
  • Professed faith is unfruitful for those who do not truly abide in Christ by faith (see John 15 above). As John the Baptist warned, the tree that does not bear fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. “’Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire’” (Matthew 3:8-10).
  • Thus Christ’s cursing of the fig tree as a prophetic warning was an act of mercy and a call to repentance. May believers never depart into false worship—we must trust the Lord to instruct us in the true worship of God, not our own wisdom.

Faith Yields Fruit (Matthew 21:20-22) When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

  • Christ’s reference to the moving of a mountain by faith seems to allude to Zechariah 4:6-9, in which Zerubbabel’s obstacles to rebuilding the Temple after Israel’s return from Babylonian captivity are compared to a mountain being made a plain. “Then he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’” Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.
  • The marveling of the disciples evidenced their lack of faith. Had they the faith of a mustard seed, they would have understood that nothing is impossible for God, be it the withering of a tree, the moving of a mountain or the production of the fruit of true worship and righteousness.
  •  True worship is impossible “in the flesh,” that is, apart from faith in Christ, but is possible “in Christ,” that is, through saving faith in him. The corporate worship of God is an amazing event: believers stand on holy ground in God’s presence. Unbelievers who presume to worship will prove unfruitful in the worship of God, and they will be judged by Christ as were the fig tree and the Temple.
  • The promise in verse 22, “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith,” is simply an encouragement to come to God in faith by prayer in acknowledgement of our utter dependence on him.  Lack of prayer is the result of self-sufficiency. Christians depend on the outpouring of God’s grace upon them, as a tree is dependent on the rain for life and fruitfulness. Faith in Christ will bear the fruit of the Spirit as described in Galatians 5:22-23, which reads, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

The Once and Future King (Matthew 21:1-11)

Sermon Notes from Sunday, October 9, 2011. Delivered by Rev. Joe Troutman at Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church (OPC). Listen online.

Jesus comes into Jerusalem as king, but in a week’s time he will have been crucified and raised from the dead for sinners like you and me.

Westminster Shorter Catechism 26

Q. How doth Christ execute the office of a king?

A. Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us (Psalm 110:3; Matthew 28:18-20; John 17:2; Colossians 1:13), and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies (Psalm 2:6-9; Psalm 110:1-2; Matthew 12:28; 1 Corinthians 15:24-26; Colossians 2:15).

“The Lord Has Need of Them” (Matthew 21:1-5) Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

  • Jesus demonstrates that he is Israel’s Messiah by fulfilling Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9
    • Behold, the LORD has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your salvation comes; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.”(Isaiah 62:11 ESV)
    • Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9 ESV)
  • What was this need? To show us that “[our] salvation comes” (Is. 62:11)
    • “By sending for the donkey and colt, Jesus is giving us what we need to believe in him as our Savior.”
    • Our need was for a Passover Lamb—we need Someone to die in our place; to wash us clean; to be protected and redeemed from our captivity to sin.
    • To those who need God to show that he is real, he has done so by these prophecies of Israel’s Messiah, and their fulfillment hundreds of years later in Jesus of Nazareth.
      • God shows us that he is the true God of Israel: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and that Jesus is the true King of Israel, who subdues sinners to himself, rules and defends us who believe, and restrains and conquers all his and our enemies.

 “Hosanna” (Matthew 21:6-9) The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

  • Foreshadowed in Jehu’s servants’ response to Jehu’s anointing as King of Israel, and prophecy to defeat the evil king Ahab
    • Then in haste every man of them took his garment and put it under him on the bare steps, and they blew the trumpet and proclaimed, “Jehu is king.”  (2 Kings 9:13 ESV).
    • In crying “Hosanna (Heb. “O Save!” ) to the Son of David!”, the people declare who Jesus is, the rightful King of Israel.
    • In crying “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” the people sing a portion of the Hallel (Psalms 113-118)—a portion of which is sung after the drinking of “the Cup of Redemption” during the Passover seder (see Psalm 118:26a). Jesus comes to redeem his people from sin, as God redeemed Israel from Egypt.
  • Parallels between Israel’s captivity in Egypt and their present occupation by Rome spark strong Jewish nationalism during the Passover season. Rome watches for seditious behavior. The notion of a pretender to the throne of Israel is the very kind of threat for which they watch, and this makes Christ’s entry into Jerusalem especially dangerous. But notice the humility of this King who enters triumphantly, not on a warhorse, but rather on a lowly donkey.

“The King Enters His City” (Matthew 21:10-11)   And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

  • Christ enters Jerusalem but is not recognized by her citizens as their long-awaited King.
    • The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. (John 1:9-11 ESV)
      • Foreshadows Christ’s rejection by the people at the end of this Passion Week. Jesus comes to Jerusalem as King, but Jerusalem was not his Kingdom.
      • When Jesus walked the earth, his Kingdom was located wherever he went. Jesus wasn’t entering his Kingdom in his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, he brought his Kingdom with him. Christ’s Kingdom is “not of this world” (see John 18:36).
  •  Christ does triumphantly enter to conquer, but not to conquer the Romans.
    •  The Triumphal Entry clearly showed that Jesus was Messiah according to Zechariah 9:9.
    •  The Triumphal Entry set in motion the events that would lead to his crucifixion.
    •  The Triumphal Entry threatens Rome, but Christ’s act in the following passage will be a threat to the Jewish priests and other religious leaders.
  •  Christ did not come to overthrow the Romans and reign in Jerusalem, but to die on a cross for the very people who sent him there: sinners like you and me. He went willingly, but it was yours and my sins which drove him to the cross. He went lovingly to suffer and to die for those who will come to believe. In his crucifixion, the King of Israel will conquer by accomplishing the salvation of his people.
  •  The King came once riding on the foal of a donkey; he went unrecognized by some, met with indifference by others and still others met him with hostility. He was openly rejected and nailed to a cross.
  • But the King will come again riding on the clouds with power and glory (Matthew 24:30). The time of his return remains hidden but he will come to judge as the Ruler of the earth.
    • At this time, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (see Philippians 2:9-11).
      • Those who already believe, trust and love Jesus will rejoice at his coming and will kneel again.
      • Those who refuse to humbly submit to the Lord in response to his first coming will be humbled and bowed against their wills when he returns to judge.

Everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ will bow his knee willingly, lovingly, obediently and instantly. Repent, believe in him—today—now!—while it’s still called today (see Hebrews 3:13), so that when he comes in glory he will know you as his own and you will rejoice at his coming and not be fearful.

Walking By Faith, Not By Sight (Matthew 20:29-34)

My daughter, Abigail, frequently announces that our pastor at Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church (OPC), Rev. Joe Troutman, is her favorite preacher. Mine, too, Abigail! I think I’ll begin posting links to his sermons so his exposition and application of God’s Word can build you up in your faith, or grant saving faith to those of you who may not already have it. I’ll include my notes of his remarks and sometimes will include a few of my own. Sunday, October 2, 2011, the text was Matthew 20:29-34 and the sermon was entitled, “Walking By Faith, Not By Sight.” (Listen here)

The Son of David, our Lord Jesus Christ, opens the eyes of the blind and sets his people free.

Blind Men Who Could See “And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him. And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, ’Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!’” (Matthew 20:29-30 ESV)

  •  “Lord, have mercy!” This phrase was adapted and sung as Kyrie Eleison in Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican liturgies, but according to church historian, Philip Schaff, “The Reformed liturgies dropped it altogether” (The New Schaff-Hertzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, “Liturgics,” page 503).
  • Jesus approaches Jerusalem in military procession in anticipation of his triumphal entry. Blind men are bold to call out for him to stop. We are given such boldness by in faith in Christ, to call on God with our requests.

Lord Have Mercy “The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, ‘Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!’ And stopping, Jesus called them and said, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, let our eyes be opened’” (Matthew 20:31-33 ESV).

  • How persistent are you in your prayers? If God will listen to a couple of blind beggars, he will certainly listen to his children who believe, worship and glorify him. These blind men have literally “walked by faith, not by sight.”

Mercy “And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him” (Matthew 20:34 ESV).

  • “Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him” (Isaiah 30:18 ESV).
  • Healing these blind men was part of Christ’s mission; he was not sidetracked by their bold request.
  • Christ’s touching the blind men to heal them was not necessary, but rather a benedictory laying on of hand.
  • “[T]he LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous” (Psalm 146:8 ESV).
  • Their calling Christ the Son of David indicates their confession of faith in him as the Messiah who has come to save them. Healing is a sign of the deity of Christ who came so sinners who believe will have eternal life.
  • The Lord Jesus Christ, the true King of Israel, does what we cannot: he gives spiritual sight to us who are spiritually blind, that we may see him as the coming Messiah who was born to die for our sins. May your eyes be opened, and may the Lord graciously grant you such saving faith!

What To Do? Ten Days After Camping’s Failed Prediction

So it has been ten days since Harold Camping’s prediction failed to come to pass as “guaranteed” by himself, rather than the Bible (as he falsely claimed).  In the wake of this failure, many people around the world are left in various states of loss. For some, it is a loss of pets who were euthanized in preparation of last Saturday; for others, the loss of money; and for many more, the loss of pride in their teacher’s genius and their own “inside scoop” about the end of the world.

There are various ways people respond to anti-climactic events such as this one: some may (please grant it, Lord!) repent of their blasphemous repudiation that the institutional church is under Satan’s control (Matthew 12:31) and resubmit themselves to the ministry of the Word of the gospel preached and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper along with the oversight of biblically faithful elders who are watching out for the souls of those entrusted to their care (Hebrews 13:17). This is the ideal result, but may sadly be the minority report barring the grace and mercy of God, and the loving care of the Christians around them who come along side them to help in this matter. If you are a believer who reads Scripture and confesses the essential truths of the faith along with the rest of the universal church as expressed in the ancient catholic creeds and the historic Protestant confessions, please stand by ready to pray for and with these imperiled souls, graciously ready to assist those around you who were victimized by Camping’s false teachings. 

It has been reported, regrettably, that for others, deliverance didn’t come, but their own deaths, whether at their own hands, or the hands of others (don’t neglect to read these two previous links!). Responsibility for tragic unintended consequences such as these have been denied by Harold Camping, who minimizes his role (listen to his callous responses from last week’s press conference). 

Whatever the circumstances in the lives of Camping’s followers, it would behoove all of the surviving ones to take a half an hour and give a thoughtful listen to Redeemer Broadcasting’s recent episode of A Plain Answer, entitled, “One Week After Harold Camping’s May 21 Date.” Those of you who ought to be watching for opportunities to minister to Camping’s bewildered followers will also be equipped by it. If nothing else, encourage them to stop listening to Family Radio altogether and seek the greener pastures of Redeemer Broadcasting. This page will explain why

Harold Camping Preached Judgment, Not Christ

This is the day proclaimed by false teacher Harold Camping as the beginning of Judgment Day. According to him, May 21, 2011 begins a five month period in which earthquakes will destroy those of us who do not believe his false gospel of God’s wrath. But God will rapture those, and only those, believers in him who have believe that Satan is in control of all the churches (and has been since 1988), have left them and have embraced the message, not of Christ’s sinless life, propitiatory death and glorious resurrection for sinners, but of the coming of Judgment Day on this day, May 21, 2011. Camping and his followers see themselves, not as the apostles bearing witness to the death and resurrection of Christ and proclaiming the forgiveness of sins through repentance and faith in his name, but as the Old Testament prophets, principally like Jonah, who are sent with a message of impending judgment, calling on all to “cry mightily unto God for mercy.”

This is nothing but a simple case of losing focus on the centrality of the cross of Christ in Christian proclamation. The apostle Paul writes that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Elsewhere, he writes, “But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame” (Romans 10:8-11). What is the principal work of Christ in focus in this call to faith? His resurrection on the third day after his death for sinners. Verse seventeen of this very passage points out that it this word of Christ, his death and resurrection for sinners, through which faith comes, and no other. If we lose focus on the cross of Christ, even in favor of his other works, like his promised return in glory, we will not be preaching the message through which the Holy Spirit will impart faith, and those to whom we preach will not be saved. This is just one of Harold Camping’s numerous errors, not to mention heresies, in his so-called “radio ministry.”

For this reason, I want to survey the Acts of the Apostles and see how that they who were called to lay the foundation of the church (see Eph. 2:20) bore witness to Christ throughout the world in order to be reminded of the centrality of the cross in our testimony before the lost world.

In the first book [The Gospel According to Luke], O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

            And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart fromJerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But 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.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:1-11; emphasis mine)

With this introduction of Christ’s call to bear witness to him throughout the world to an ever-widening extent, our focus in this survey will be upon a selected few of the ten major speeches recorded in the Acts. Three are preached by Peter, one by Stephen, and six by Paul, of whose consist of one from each of his missionary journeys (the first addressing Jews, the second Gentiles, the third Christians, followed by three defense speeches before authorities).

 Peter’s Witness (Acts 2:14-36)

In Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost after Christ’s Ascension, he first explains how that the disciples’ speaking in tongues is a fulfillment of Joel’s apocalyptic prophecy (Joel 2:28-32) emphasizing not the coming of Judgment Day, but salvation through faith (Acts 2:14-21). In verse 22, he transitions from the miraculous to the subject of his sermon by the fact that Jesus’ miracles attested to his divine sanction, and immediately proclaims the death of Christ as being the predetermined plan of God (v. 23), and proclaims his resurrection, explicitly stating that it is this to which they bear witness: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:32).

Stephen’s Witness (Acts 7:1-53)

After preaching Christ as the promised prophet who is like Moses in that he would mediate a better covenant than that which Moses mediated (Acts 7:37; cf. 2 Cor. 3), although explicit reference is not made to Christ’s death and resurrection, it is at least assumed (his audience were Jews who were well aware of the death of Jesus), and his resurrection and ascension are implied by his declaring his vision of the exalted Christ, sitting on the right hand of God the Father (Acts 7:56). Then Luke, the human author of Acts, portrays Stephen’s death as an allusion to the propitiatory nature of Christ’s crucifixion (that it renders God favorable toward sinners) as the martyr prays that his executioners’ sins would be forgiven, just as Christ also prayed (see Luke 23:34), and his very death is thus a testimony to the cross of Christ itself (cf. Col. 1:24). The word “martyr” in fact means “witness,” and such witness Stephen indeed bears to his death. Saul of Tarsus held the coats of those who stoned Stephen, but he would not come to faith until he himself would come face to face with the risen Christ.

Paul’s Witness (Acts 17:22-31)

Contrary to Harold Camping’s emphasis that the cross and resurrection need not be preached, but exclusively the coming judgment, Paul preaches God’s judgment as signified and assured to come due to Christ’s resurrection from death (v. 31). The response of the Athenians to Paul’s preaching of the resurrection shows its central character in his sermon (v.32) and we see that as a result of such preaching, faith was granted to Dionysius the Areopagite and Damaris (v.34).



If I’ve learned one thing in my past teaching ministry, it is that the easiest thing in the world to do is to forget to tie that which you teach or apply to the cross and resurrection of Christ. We must redouble our efforts to make sure the gospel is kept central in all of our preaching and teaching because it, and only it is the message by which God promises to save those who believe (1 Peter 1:25; James 1:21). If we learn anything from the tragedy playing out before our eyes this weekend, let it be the importance of the cross of Christ. Pray for your friends and loved ones who may have been deceived by Camping’s false gospel of Judgment Day that they might lose faith in Camping, but that their faith in Christ crucified and risen for them may not fail. 

Reformed Concept of the Means of Grace

The final question of the April 27, 2011 episode of the Office Hours podcast by Westminster Seminary California, “Ask the Profs,” provided a good summary of the Reformed concept of the means of grace. Precisely at the 22 minute mark, the question was raised by a listener and the helpful answer was provided by Dr. John Fesko. Below I have appropriated some of his summary with a little of my own reflection on the topic in light of the teaching of Scripture.

“Means of grace” was originally a medieval Roman Catholic technical term for the sacraments, teaching that they are the means by which we receive the grace of God. Baptism was the means by which the infused righteousness of Christ was received, and the Lord’s Supper was the means by which the physical body and blood of Christ were received for eternal life.

The Reformers reformed the doctrines, but retained the terminology. First, they emphasized the centrality and priority of the Word of God preached by which God’s grace was received by those who believe, and condemnation received by those who do not believe. The sacraments were likewise means which confirm the grace received by those who believe the Word or condemnation by those who do not believe.

Contrary to Romanism, Reformed theology teaches justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ which is receied by faith alone; thus baptism does not convey the grace by merely submitting to the rite regardless of the recipient’s spiritual condition. Furthermore, Reformed theology agrees with Rome that Christ is present in the elements of the Lord’s Supper, but they disagree on how he is present–Reformed theology teaches that Christ is present via the Holy Spirit, not physically. Thus the efficacy of both sacraments is the work of the Spirit, and not the magical work of a human priest. The benefits of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross are given by the gracious work of the Spirit alone and received by faith alone.

It is interesting to note that Scripture clearly presents the dual truth that grace is received by the believer in the sacramental means of grace, while condemnation is received by the unbeliever who presumes to participate in the sacraments. Consider the following passages:

One may legitimately argue against the use of this passage, due to its questionable manuscript evidence, nevertheless Mark 16:16 emphasizes the necessity of faith for the efficacy of baptism: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” This shows how the believer who is baptized receives the grace by faith, but the one who is baptized but never finally comes to faith in Christ will be condemned.

First Corinthians 10:16 shows the blessings received by those who believe the Word and partake in faith in terms of communion or participation in the body and blood of Christ: “the cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” The following chapter then shows how condemnation is received by those who partake of the Supper unworthily: “Whoever therefore eats the bread or drinks the cup in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:27).

Thus we see that the Reformed concept of the means of grace is centered around the centrality of the Word of God preached and received through faith alone by the grace of God the Holy Spirit alone. This grace is signified and sealed to the one who believes in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but condmenation comes to the one who does not believe, even if he is baptized or partakes of the Lord’s Supper.

Michael Horton on Rightly Divided

Here is Lane Chaplin’s video interview of Dr. Michael Horton on his new book, The Gospel Commission (2011, Baker Book House)part three of a series starting with Christless Christianity, followed by The Gospel-Driven Life. I’d also like to direct you to the Riddleblog, where Dr. Kim Riddlebarger has provided a nice launch pad to read all seven parts of Dr. Horton’s lengthy and informative review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins.

The Bible’s Inconvenient Truth

Dr. K. Scott Oliphint (left) with Rev. Joe Troutman (right)

The following was preached on March 6, 2011 by Rev. Joe Troutman, pastor of Mid Cities Presbyterian Church, in Bedford, Texas. This just happened, in the providence of God, to be the weekend after the controversy about which I’ve been posting for the past couple of weeks. The heresy of some becomes an opportunity for the orthodox to proclaim the truths of the Bible with all the more clarity. I hope you find the following words at the same time edifying and challenging.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:47-50 ESV)

The third parable, which is found in verses 47-50, is the longest of the four. There is some similarity here to the first two, but overall it is different. Some commentators group it with the parable of the wheat and the tares because it describes a harvest–a harvest of the sea, as opposed to a harvest of the field. In this parable, Jesus says again, “The Kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea, and gathered fish of every kind. Like the second parable, there is a great search taking place. But instead of a search for a precious pearl, it is a search for fish. This search is being done, it says, by angels.

The first two parables describe men who find the Kingdom, but this parable is about the Kingdom finding men. We may think we found God. We may think that in some way we stumbled across him; that in our search in the marketplace, we have found the pearl of great price. But in reality, the parable shows, Jesus is continuing to tell us that it is God who found us. It is God, the Lord Jesus Christ himself—who sought us out. Jesus said in Luke 19:10, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” The value of God’s Kingdom, and the place of God’s elect in it, are so great that the purchase price was nothing less than Jesus Christ himself. It is, in fact, more than you and I could pay. More than we could ever pay. It is a debt that is too great for us. Because God made a covenant with himself to save a people for himself, he was willing to go to any length to procure his people’s salvation. He was willing to give his Son as a ransom for lost sinners like you and me. This is what the Lord was willing to do for all who truly believe.

In this parable, the Kingdom of heaven is compared to a net. Don’t think of a fishing net, don’t think of a net that’s at the end of a pole, that people use to scoop up a fish at the end of a fishing line. Don’t necessarily even think of a net that is cast out into the water. This is a large net. This is a dragnet. This is what may be termed a seine. One of the things my dad, my grandfather, my brother and I would do when we were younger, we had a creek running through the property of our farm, and every so often we would take a seine and we would go, men on one side and men on the other, and go up the creek and catch whatever we could find–turtles, snakes, fish–whatever it was, we would try to catch it. This is the kind of thing that Jesus is describing here in this parable. The angels, the reapers, are catching whatever they can get, and the sorting of the good fish from the bad ones would take place on the shore, which is what Jesus says in verse 48. He says, “When it was full, men drew it ashore, and sat down and sorted the good into containers, and threw away the bad.”

Then he explains this part of the parable in verses 49-50. He says, “So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” What is Jesus talking about? He’s talking about the final judgment. He’s talking about when he returns; when he returns as the Savior of his people and the Judge of those who have rejected him. What is he saying will happen? He is saying that some will be kept, and some will be thrown away. There will be a final sorting that takes place: some will be welcomed into glory by their Savior, and others will be cast into hell by their Judge.

This is what Jesus is teaching. Yet if we affirm this, we are in danger, we need to know, as being regarded as radical fundamentalists by most of the people in our society–even by fellow evangelicals. Yet there is an inconvenient truth for those who would deny the existence of hell and eternal punishment in it by the Lord. And this is it: Scripture says it exists! Scripture repeatedly talks about the existence of hell. The weeping and the gnashing of teeth, the casting of those who refuse to believe into hell, Jesus himself–regarded by many on the more liberal side of the church as just a friendly and nice guy, a lovable teddy-bear type of Savior–Jesus himself talks about hell. It is inescapable.

Now we are not to revel in it; it should sadden us that some are lost. And yet, in God’s casting unbelievers into hell, he is glorified. This may be difficult for us, but just because it is difficult does not give us the right to throw this doctrine away. In so doing, we are throwing portions of Scripture away. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus warned his followers not to fear someone who could kill the body but not the soul; he says instead to fear him who can destroy both the body and the soul in hell. In other words, fear God.

The book of Revelation also has something to say about that. It is the place where Satan and his angels and everyone whose name is not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. It is described in Revelation 21:8 as the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the Second Death. There are many today who are challenging Jesus’ teaching in our passage, and many others that say he will save some and send others to hell, but they are denying God’s Word. If they’re denying that he sends some to hell, they are denying his Word, and they have nothing left to stand on when they make their own pronouncements.

In the photo above, Rev. Troutman is posing with Dr. K. Scott Oliphint, professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He came to town as a speaker at the recent Full Confidence Conference, about which I posted a few weeks ago. In the Q & A Session at the end of the conference, Dr. Oliphint concludes the entire event with some very compelling words on the nature of hell as eternal, conscious torment. I highly recommend you give it a listen as well.

Full Confidence Audio

I can't wait to load these messages on my iPod!

At last we are able to download the lectures delivered at the recent Full Confidence Conference at Grace Community Presbyterian Church in Ft. Worth, Texas. A link to the messages may be found on GCPC’s home page, or you can simply link to the messages from the list below.

Having heard the lectures in person myself, I must say that I was awed by Dr. Oliphint’s ability to make the point of his messages (both the one at the conference, and his Sunday morning sermon at Mid Cities OPC, which I will provide in a future post) very powerfully by presenting opposing viewpoints, effectively dismantling them, and then so unpacking the truth of God’s Word in such a way, that the hearer (at least, I was) has such a clear concept in his mind of the given topic that it is simply overwhelming, effectively prompting a spontaneous response of worship of the Lord.

Also, don’t miss Dr. Oliphint’s remarks about hell at the end of the Q&A session. It’ll prove a helpful defense of the orthodox doctrine of eternal conscious torment in hell in the light of the current controversy with Rob Bell.

Likewise, Dr. David Garner’s communication skills shone through in his messages. He is a genuine word smith.

I’m sure that you, too, will find much to admire and learn from each of the three conference speakers.

Session 1: The Context for Confidence (Dr. K. Scott Oliphint)

Session 2: the Gospel from Above (Dr. David Garner–not recorded due to technical difficulties)

Session 3: Who Says? (Dr. Timothy Witmer)

Session 4: Vital Inspiration in a Virtual World and Q&A Session (Dr. David Garner/All of the above)

Emerging Monastic Transformationalism versus Biblical Christianity

How timely. The March/April 2011 issue of Modern Reformation magazine has arrived, featuring an article related to the postmodern liberal (aka, “emerging”) emphasis on being “missional.” Editor-in-Chief Dr. Michael Horton attempts to demonstrate how this emphasis tends to emphasize certain aspects of medieval monasticism in his piece called, “Missional Church or New Monasticism?“.

Medieval monasticism was divided between those who prized the contemplative life (spiritual ascent to heaven through private disciplines of the mind) and those who gave priority to the active life (spiritual ascent through good works, especially for the poor). Francis of Assisi–and the Franciscan Order named after him–emphasized the latter.

First, today we see a revival of contemplative spirituality. It is a traditional evangelical emphasis on personal piety: discipleship as inner transformation through spiritual disciplines. Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline (1979) introduced many evangelicals to the medieval mystics and contemplative writers. From The Divine Conspiracy (1998) to The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship (2006), Dallas Willard has repeated this call to discipleship: inner transformation through the spiritual disciplines.

Next, Horton explains how contemplative and postmodern liberal writers tend to confuse Scriptural gospel indicatives with sin-exposing legal imperatives of Scripture, tending to warp the gospel into how one lives, rather than the message Christ sent ambassadors to proclaim.

Both contemplative (“spiritual disciplines”) and active (Emergent) writers tend to blur and merge commands and promises, indicativees and imperatives. That is, there is a strong tendency to identify the gospel with what we do rather than with what God has done for us–and the world–in Jesus Christ. We are active agents more than beneficiaries and witnesses of God’s reconciling work, building his kingdom through our efforts more than receiving a kingdom that expands through preaching and Sacrament. . . . (emphasis mine)

Although the Emergent movement reflects a more communal emphasis on social transformation, it shares the medieval, Anabaptist, and Pietist emphasis on deeds over creeds. Brian McLaren explains, “Anabaptists see the Christian faith primarily as a way of life,” focusing on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount rather than on Paul and doctrines concerning personal salvation [Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan: 2004), 206.] More than proclaiming Christ’s finished work of reconciling sinners to the Father, the focus is on completing Christ’s redeeming work of social transformation. Tony Jones, another leader in this movement, relates: “In an emergent church, you’re likely to hear a phrase like ‘Our calling as a church is to partner with God in the work that God is already doing in the world–to cooperate in the building of God’s Kingdom.'” Trying to anticipate Reformed objections he notes, “Many theological assumptions lie behind this statement,” although “the idea that human beings con ‘cooperate’ with God is particularly galling to conservative Calvinists, who generally deny the human ability to participate with God’s work” [Tony Jones, The New Christian: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier (New York: Jossey-Bass, 2009), 72].

According to McLaren, being “missional” means that we encourage Buddhists, Muslims, and Jews to become better Buddhists, Muslims, and Jews to become better Buddhists, Muslims, and Jews as followers of Jesus’ example. It is not what we proclaim but how we live that transforms the world. McLaren writes, “To say that Jesus is Savior is to say that in Jesus, God is intervening as Savior in all of these ways, judging (naming evil as evil), forgiving (breaking the vicious cycle of cause and effect, making reconciliation possible), and teaching (showing how to set chain reactions of good in motion)” [McLaren, 96]. There is no mention of Christ bearing God’s wrath in our place–in fact, no mention of the cross having any impact on the vertical (God-human) relationship. “Then, because we are so often ignorantly wrong and stupid, Jesus comes with saving teaching, profound yet amazingly compact: Love God with your whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, Jesus says, and love your neighbor as yourself, and that is enough.” This is what it means to say that “Jesus is saving the world” [McLaren, 97]. Although Jesus called this the summary of the law (Matt. 22:37-40, citing Deut. 6:5) for McLaren it becomes the summary of the gospel.

Horton then goes on to constructively explain the proper distinction between law and gospel:

First, “living the gospel” is a category mistake. By definition, the gospel is news (euangelion, “good news”). You don’t “do” news: you do law and you hear gospel. Second, the specific content of this good news is the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ’s saving life, death, and resurrection. We are beneficiaries of this action, not active participants. Scripture certainly teaches that we live in view of God’s mercies, in a manner worthy of the gospel we profess, and so forth. However, it represents our lives and good works as the fruit of the faith created by the gospel, not as part of the gospel itself. (emphasis mine)

Third, the Scriptures teach consistently that faith comes through the proclamation of the gospel, not through good works. Christ himself was not arrested and arraigned because he was trying to restore family values or feed the poor. Even his miraculous signs were not by themselves offensive, except as they were signs testifying to his claims about himself. The mounting ire of the religious leaders toward Jesus coalesced around him making himself equal with God (John 5:18) and forgiving sins in his own person, directly, over against the temple and its sacrificial system (Mark 2:7). In fact, at his trial he was chared by the Jewish Council with announcing the destruction of the temple. When the high priest asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus answered: “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” With that, “the high priest tore his garments and said, ‘What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death” (Mark 14:53-64).

Jesus was never charged on the grounds of trying to bring world peace: quite the contrary (Matt. 10:34-37). Jesus’ opponents never included a revolutionary blueprint for improving world conditions among the indictments against him. In fact, his mission was an utter failure for those who saw him as a leader of political revolution. He will return in glory to judge, to deliver, and to make all things new in a global political kingdom of righteousness and blessing. However, between his advents is the space in history for repentance and faith.

Thus, Horton contrasts the Jesus of the Bible and the Christianity of the Bible with the Jesus of postmodern liberalism and it’s appropriation of medieval contemplative spiritual disciplines and politically liberal social justice activism. The simple fact is that the Christian is not the gospel, and his Christian obedience is not the gospel (but rather its result)–the gospel of Jesus Christ will be heard each Lord’s Day at a church that is committed to proclaiming it, and that is likewise committed to doctrinal (doctrines like the deity of Christ, his virgin birth, his penal-substitutionary atonement, etc.) as well as practical discipleship in Christian obedience that leaves Christians to work this out in the various vocations to which the Lord may call his people, not specifically the favored social agenda of any local church, be it a liberal or conservative agenda. Here is the context in which true liberty in Christ will emerge, in a spirituality that will gradually, neither instantaneously nor holistically (in this age before Christ’s return to glorify his people) see Christians growing in love for God and neighbor in response to the preached gospel of the grace and forgiveness of God in the Lord Jesus Christ.

A Review of Dr. John Fesko’s Lecture on Word, Water and Spirit, part 2

In an attempt to explain why he wrote such an extensive presentation of the development of the doctrine of baptism in Word, Water and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on Baptism, Dr. John Fesko paints a picture of a pair of believers who begin discussing their differences on a given theological issue, and the lively conversation lasts a number of hours. When a third party approaches and asks what they’ve been talking about, they are faced with the daunting task of rehearsing the entire track of the conversation. On a broader scale, just such a conversation has been going on, not just for a few hours, but for nearly two thousand years. Getting his readers caught up on this conversation was Dr. Fesko’s goal for the historical-theological section of his book, which makes up roughly half of the book. This is intended to help the reader see that what the Roman Catholic believes about baptism differs from what the Reformed Protestant believes and teaches, and also the differences between Reformed and Lutheran, as well as Anabaptist and Baptist.

In Part I: “The History of the Doctrine,” Dr. Fesko covers early church witnesses such as Augustine and what the medieval church thought about Augustine’s doctrine of baptism. There is also a presentation of medieval theologians such as Bonaventure, Peter Lombard, and Thomas Aquinas. The bulk of the historical section covers Reformation views, with a chapter on the view of Luther and the later Lutherans. He also brings us through the developments of figures like John Calvin and Ursinus, with the contributions of the venerable Three Forms of Unity. His description of this development progresses on from the writers between the time of the Reformation and the production of the Westminster Confession of Faith, through the later development of the London Baptist Confession. Sketching the history up to the present day, theologians such as  Moltmann and Karl Barth are treated.

Dr. Fesko introduces the Roman Catholic teaching that baptism literally cleanses the recipient of sin, introducing what is known as the “created grace” of God into him. He explains that uncreated grace is the Holy Spirit’s incommunicable power; created grace is created by God and infused into the recipient at baptism. This is said to then create a “habit,” the newly formed ability to do good works.

On the other end of the spectrum, Dr. Fesko describes how that the Anabaptists in Zurich, Switzerland developed the unintended consequences of Ulrich Zwingli’s doctrine of baptism. Zwingli did accept the term sacrament, but he emphasized the term’s patristic-era usage as an oath taken by a Roman soldier who swears loyalty to his commanding officer. From this, he concluded that baptism was no more than one’s pledge of allegiance to the Lord. While Zwingli did include more nuance than this in his own teaching, the first Anabaptists reduced his argument and developed a doctrine that  featured exclusively this oath-taking emphasis. For the Anabaptists, baptism became no more than the believer’s pledge of fidelity to the Lord. In this view, there was no grace attached at all to the rite.

Thus, whereas the Roman Catholic formulates an undue admixture of grace and the water of baptism, the Anabaptist radically separates the water of baptism from almost any reference to the grace of God, making it merely a believer’s pledge and in no way God’s pledge. Insofar as modern Baptists generally tend to appear to hold a view that appears to broadly coincide with this Anabaptistic kind of emphasis, Dr. Fesko assures his Baptist friends that he understands that they teach what man is doing in baptism, but he would ask them what they believe that God is dong in baptism, if anything. Why water? Why not some other substance? Or, why not some other ceremony? Even Charles Ryrie, he indicates, suggested a non-water ceremony would be just as acceptable. Maybe this could be a viable option, if baptism is all about what the believer is doing, but the historical Reformed tradition calls baptism a sign and a seal. It signifies Christ, not a thing or a substance, but Christ himself. Dr. Fesko says that what he likes about the historical Reformed view is that it reflects the ancient view that baptism is the visible Word: that which is heard in preaching is seen, felt and tasted in the sacraments—baptism, no less than the Lord’s Supper—making them what some have called “the double preaching of the Word.” In this regard, the sacrament is dependant upon the presence of the Word preached for its efficacy. The Word preached may stand alone and retain its efficacy apart from the sacrament, but the sacrament has no efficacy apart from the Word preached and so cannot stand alone.

According to Dr. Fesko, contemporary theologians are trying to run as far away from tradition as fast as they possibly can. They’ll claim that previous ages engaged too much in bad philosophy, and simply desired to defend “the traditional view.” But to these innovators, Dr. Fesko says our generation was not the first to open the Bible. For example, the middle ages are maligned as always and only engaged in extra-biblical, or even unbiblical philosophical speculation. But consider, for example, the case of Aquinas, who, before he taught theology, was first required to teach exegesis, and wrote a number of Biblical commentaries. This does not mean we must uncritically accept everything he wrote, but it at least indicates that medieval theologians were not utterly disengaged from the text of Scripture, and many of their writings do contain Scripturally-based insights from which the church in all ages can benefit.

Next time, we’ll review Dr. Fesko’s description of Part II: Biblical-Theological Survey of the Doctrine.

Read part 1

Revisiting “The Right Story”

  • (The following was originally posted on March 3, 2006. It reappears here in a slightly edited form.)

“You can’t help nobody if you can’t tell ‘em the right story.” Jack Cash, brother of Johnny Cash, as portrayed in the movie, Walk the Line.

Every story is about fall and redemption in one way or another. There would be no plot if there were no problem to solve or conflict to resolve. The story of the entire human race is that of its fall and redemption. Your story is about your fall and your redemption. The mission of the church is to tell this story; to introduce the characters to the plot: they’ve fallen and they can’t get themselves up on their own, their problem is so bad, they can’t solve it themselves, they need Another to solve it for them, the conflict that has entered their life has killed them, and they need Another to return them to life.

Stories are often considered mere entertainment. And to be sure, the church in this Laodicean (Revelation 3:14-22) generation has caught on to the idea that entertainment will help them tell the Story. Even if at times they’re telling the right story, that of the fall of man into sin and the sinless Christ who was crucified and raised for sinners, they’ve wrapped it up in so much entertainment that many are in danger of overlooking the Gift because they’re so fascinated by the wrapping paper. If sinners are distracted from the Story by trappings geared toward appealing to their interests, or meeting their felt needs, the church can’t help them. At other times, the church forgets to get around to the Story at all because they’re so aware of all the other stories in the Bible. “Christians don’t need to hear the Story this week, they’ve already heard and believed and received it, now they need to hear what they need to do,” and thus the Story is placed on the shelf in the interest of relevance or practicality. But no matter how much they mean to help, they “can’t help nobody if [they ain’t tellin’ ’em] the right story.”

The church seeks to tell a story, but all too often it’s not the Story they were commissioned to tell (Matthew 28:19-20). Many times they tell their own story. A story about how they’ve picked themselves up by their own bootstraps, a story about what a great example they are. When this is the story they tell, the Holy Spirit won’t bring sinners to life, nor will he empower believers to serve. All applications and all examples, and all pastoral autobiography are not to stand alone. They are to be built on the firm foundation of the Story, explicitly told each week.

We’ve fallen into sin so there’s nothing we can do to redeem ourselves:

the sinless Christ was crucified because we are sinners who deserve to die;

Christ rose from the dead on the third day because God has accepted Christ’s death in the place of sinners who come to believe and repent of their sins;

saved sinners are called to be holy and to serve others, which brings them into conflict with the sin that yet remains in their natures and they aren’t always able to be holy and serve others (Romans 7).

That’s why the Right Story must remain central: The Gospel is for Christians, too!

They must be reminded that even though they’ve been saved they still need to hear the Gospel addressed to them (1 John 1:9) to cleanse them so they can progress on the journey to glorification by way of sanctification (Proverbs 4:18).

When the preacher neglects to tell the church the Right Story, he can’t help the church grow in grace.

  • (Dr. R. Scott Clark gives a fuller, more Christ-centered summary of the Right Story at Westminster Seminary California’s Valiant for Truth blog. Read his post, “The Christian Life.”)

Listen to This. . .

Cover of Herman Bavink: Pastor, Churchman, Statesman, and Theologian by Ron Gleason

Don’t miss these great podcasts this week.

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