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By In Theology, Worship

Confessing Jesus as Lord

Writing into a Roman context to tell people that the proper response to the gospel was to confess “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10.9) would have been provocative. “Lord” was the designation given to Caesar. Caesar was Lord and all other loyalties were subservient to him. You may pray your prayers to the god of your choice, but at the end of the day, when push came to shove, your god must submit to the will of Caesar. Everything, including your loyalties to your gods, must serve the greater purpose of the Empire and, more particularly, Caesar himself. To declare that there was a loyalty that was higher than Caesar to which one must submit was subversive to the unity of the Empire. If one dared to challenge Caesar in this regard, the full weight of Rome would come down upon him. Many of our fathers and mothers who confessed Jesus as Lord endured the consequence of challenging Caesar.

But Paul’s call was much deeper than the present empire situation. Sure, this was the situation into which he wrote. The Caesar situation was the challenge of his day where the rubber met the road concerning the implications of allegiance to Christ. However, in the section of the letter to the Romans in which this call to confession is found, Paul is speaking concerning the Jewish situation and their allegiances. Caesars come and go. Empires rise and fall. But the Jews worshiped the one true and living God: YHWH. Echoing what he has already claimed in Romans 9.5–that Jesus is God over all, blessed forever–Paul attributes to Jesus the word commonly used to refer to YHWH in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint): kyrios. Jesus is YHWH, the one true and living God, and, therefore, Lord over all. Failure to worship him is to reject the God of Abraham.

Confession of Jesus as Lord in response to the gospel changes everything for Jew and Gentile. Jesus has been declared Lord of the world by God the Father. Every area of life–from my individual life to the structures of nations–belongs to him and is to be conscious submission to him.

Consequently, the call of the gospel is an all-or-nothing commitment. Either a person comes to submit to Jesus as the one true and living God, having his life arranged under his lordship, or he is an enemy of Christ. If you were a Jew living in the first century, that meant giving up the old distinctions of he Law, confessing that Christ was the end of the Law (Rom 10.4). If you were a pagan Gentile living in the first century, that meant giving up your idols and not merely adding Jesus to the pantheon of gods to be worshiped. For all in the first century it meant that Jesus’ lordship over your life superceded every other lordship in the world, including the lordship of Caesar.

For twenty-first century Americans, the call of the gospel remains the same though the situations have changed. Confessing Jesus as Lord means the re-ordering of the way that I think and live. It means that no other loyalty supercedes loyalty to Jesus. All other loyalties are subservient to and are to serve the cause of Christ and his kingdom. We cannot confess the American creed that we are all “Americans first” and then Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc. Our allegiance to Jesus is not a slave to the “indivisible” nation. Friends and family, though good things, can never become idols that take my primary loyalty so that I will disobey Christ Jesus. Money or some position in the world cannot be the god that controls my life. I must have my thinking and the order of my life arranged under the lordship of Jesus.

Submitting to Jesus’ lordship is not an optional extra to the call of the gospel. It is the necessary response to the gospel. Because Jesus loves us and knows that any idol we serve as equal to or above him will destroy us, he cannot allow us to serve these other idols along side him. Though we all progress in different ways and at various rates in our growth in our understanding of Jesus’ lordship in our lives, submission to that lordship is not optional no matter our situation. Whether you are turning from a lifestyle of sexual immorality or covetousness, all idols must be forsaken. Idols of the lower class and idols of the upper class, idols of Africa or idols of America, must all be forsaken. If and when people forsake these idols, then and only then is the promise of salvation theirs.

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By In Theology, Worship

Do This

Rev. Dr. James Jordan is scholar-in-residence at Theopolis Institute. This post was originally found at Biblical Horizons.

(The essay that follows concerns a rather touchy subject: how the Lord’s Supper is to be done. I am not writing to insult or offend, but to challenge. To that end I have not “held back” but have “gone ahead” and said what I think needs to be said — for your consideration.)

There is only one ritual commanded in the New Testament for routine use in the Church: the ritual of the Lord’s Supper. I believe that Satan does not want the Church to do the rite of the Lord’s Supper, and has expended tremendous energy to prevent our doing it the way Jesus said to do it. (more…)

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By In Podcast, Worship

Episode 19: A Mighty Fortress, Then & Now

A Mighty Fortress: Then & NowIn this Reformation Day episode of the Kuyperian Commentary Podcast, Jarrod Richey discusses Luther’s original version of the hymn “A Mighty Fortress.”

Unless you grew up in a Lutheran church, chances are that you’re singing quite a bit different version of that great hymn of the Reformation, Ein feste burg ist unser Gott or A Mighty Fortress is Our God. This great hymn based on Psalm 46 has a story that the average evangelical Christian has not heard. Here’s an audio post with sound clips explaining how this hymn has changed over the years. There is more that could be said and those who could say it more eloquently, but my hope is that we can begin to better appreciate this hymn in ways we hadn’t before.

Also, Here’s a link to the PDF of the Lutheran version closest to what Martin Luther penned:

 http://kuyperian.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/AMightyFortress-Lutheran-LETTER-.pdf

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By In Culture, Theology, Worship

Does ‘Sola Scriptura’ Mean What You Think It Means?

“This is the only book I need,” says the evangelical, holding up his Bible. “We don’t recite creeds at my church,” says another, pointing to hers. Anyone who has spent much time in low-church Protestant circles will be familiar with these Bible-only sentiments. But how well do they square with the Reformation idea of Scripture alone? Is this what the Reformers meant? (more…)

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By In Family and Children, Theology, Worship

On Living As if God Is Real

Guest post by G. Shane Morris

Last night I watched PBS’s new full-length documentary, “Martin Luther: The Idea That Changed the World,” and was impressed. As soon as Carl Trueman showed up, I knew it was going to be good, but this thing is an achievement. It gets Luther right, warts and all, even if it does try a little too hard at the end to connect him with secular sensibilities. You will be more thankful for the Reformation this Augustinian monk started and better prepared to appreciate its 500th anniversary after watching this. If you’re fuzzy on the details of Luther’s life and work and don’t expect to get a good biography before November, this program is for you. (more…)

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By In Worship

Altar Wars

It had happened again. After God delivered the children of Israel from the Jabin, king of Canaan, and his right-hand man, Sisera, through the hand of Barak, Israel did what was evil in the sight of YHWH. Instead of tearing down the altars of the gods of the land and establishing the altar of YHWH (which was the mandate given to them after the death of Joshua) Israel began to worship the gods of the land. The altars of Baal became central to the life of Israel. They allowed Baal to tell them who they were and how they were to live together. Baal was their judge, not YHWH.

Because they wanted the culture of Baal, YHWH turned them over to what they wanted, giving them into the hand of the Midianites for seven years. Like the locusts that consumed Egypt when God was destroying that culture, the Midianites were like locusts consuming Israel (Jdg 6.5) . Israel had been warned that, if they weren’t obedient, God would bring upon them the plagues of Egypt (cf. e.g., Deut 28.27, 60). If they acted like Egypt, they would be destroyed like Egypt. That is what happened.

Under the severe oppression of the Midianites, Israel cries for mercy. YHWH, in his mercy, raises up Gideon. The Angel of YHWH comes to Gideon while he is in a winepress threshing wheat. YHWH tells Gideon his mission: he will save Israel from the hand of the Midianites (Jdg 6.14). Gideon wants assurance that this is YHWH’s word, so he asks him to stay and accept an offering from him. Gideon brings a goat and unleavened bread and presents them to YHWH, and YHWH consumes them in fire. In this act, YHWH establishes peace with Israel through Gideon (Jdg 6.24).

The nature of the war is established from the beginning. This is an altar war. We might say it is a sacramental war.

From the establishment of the peace through building an altar to YHWH, Gideon goes out and tears down the altar of Baal, a feat that gets him the name “Baal-fighter,” Jerubbaal. Only now is Israel in a position to engage war with their oppressive cultural lords.

Through a threshing process, Gideon’s army is reduced from thirty-two thousand to three hundred men. Gideon is, understandably, afraid. He needs assurance. So YHWH tells him to take his servant and go to the camp of Midian. There Gideon overhears a dream that one of the Midianites had about a barly loaf rolling down into the camp and destroying the tent-house of Midian. They know that this is Gideon and that God has delivered them into his hand.

It does seem strange that they would be scared of a loaf of bread. Was this some type of weaponized bread? A militaristic culinary creation? This was the new loaf of Israel embodied in Gideon that had been created by God. This was a worship war; our bread against your house. Our bread wins.

The war continues today, and the fundamentals of the war remain the same: our bread against their house. Each Lord’s day when we come to the Table, eating the bread that is Christ’s body, we are formed anew into one loaf. We are one body, Paul says, because we all partake of that one bread (1Cor 10.17). Each week as we are dismissed, this new loaf rolls out to destroy the house of the false gods in our culture.

Our battles aren’t over family values or generic morality. Our wars are altar wars: will Jesus be acknowledged as our King, or will we worship some other Baal? We must understand that this is where the enmity lies. It is not merely in differences in economic policies or foreign relations (though each of these is affected). How we form our economic policies or foreign relations, for example, are consequences of the altar at which we worship.

Only as we are formed into one loaf at the Table of the Lord on the Lord’s Day are we able to fight the six-day battle with the culture the rest of the week. But as we faithfully attend to Jesus’ altar, eating at his Table, being formed up by the Spirit, he will make us a loaf that will tear down the house of our enemies.

 

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By In Theology, Worship

Attaining Unity: A Reply to Mike Allen

By Peter Leithart

Mike Allen of Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, scores some points in his review of The End of Protestantism. He lodges the fair complaint that my rhetoric sometimes outruns my evidence. He argues that more stress on the present reality of the church’s unity deepens the tragedy of division; divisions in the church “straightforwardly oppose reality.”

Of course, I have parries to these criticisms. The complaint about rhetoric misconstrues the genre of the book, which is sermonic rather than academic. Sermons need arguments too, but sermons aim to move, not merely to convince.

Mike is right that I don’t provide complete arguments or probative evidence for many of my assertions, that doesn’t mean there are no arguments or evidence to present. In some cases, I mistakenly wrote as if the reader would be familiar with my other work, where I offer fuller arguments. Mike is also right that my assertion that “nothing has so weakened our witness as our tragic divisions” is unprovable. But there’s plenty that makes it plausible – the New Testament’s forceful emphasis on unity as a part of the church’s witness, the testimony of unbelievers over several centuries, and the cultural effects of the church’s fragmentation documented by writers like Brad Gregory. (I suspect Mike is as skeptical of Gregory as he is of me, but I’ll leave that for another day.)

Some of his other criticisms miss the bull’s eye. Mike thinks he can rebut my discussion of global Christianity by saying that the globalization of the church is likely to make Christianity more “fissiparous” rather than more unified. But I make exactly that point (p. 128), and his criticism misrepresents my argument in any case. The north-south inversion of Christianity isn’t evidence that “unity is just around the corner” (Mike’s mischaracterization, not my words). Along with the softening of Protestant-Catholic and East-West boundaries, it’s evidence that God is busting up the old world of post-Reformation Christianity, an end that offers opportunities for fresh beginnings. Mike doesn’t think these trends have much of anything to do with one another, but, working within the biblical paradigm I outline in chapter 8, I take both trends as signs of what appears to be an epochal internal restructuring of Christianity.

Mike’s point about the present unity of the church is criticism of a different order and requires a different sort of response. Like many, perhaps most, Reformed thinkers, Mike takes the present unity of the church as an invisible or heavenly unity, and characterizes my position as illegitimately empirical. Mine, he charges, is an ecclesiology of sight rather than faith. He acknowledges that I occasionally speak of present unity (p. 28), but thinks that present unity doesn’t play a large enough role in my book.

Let me attempt a slight restatement of my position that I hope takes account of Mike’s criticisms.

For starters, a methodological remark that addresses one of the underlying issues in Mike’s review: He characterizes the “underlying logic” of my book as “sociological” rather than “theological.” I don’t accept the criticism because I don’t acknowledge that disciplinary separation. More positively, I write from the conviction that theology is inherently sociological and that biblically-informed history-writing is a mode, and should be one of the chief modes, of theology. Are Samuel and Kings political science or theology? Is Acts history or ecclesiology? To my way of thinking, The End of Protestantism is a thoroughly theological treatise.

To the question of unity more particularly: An empirical test is integral to the biblical portrayal of unity. Jesus prays the church would be unified enough for the world to recognize it (John 17:21, 23). This cannot be a unity discernible only to faith, since Jesus expects the world to discern it. If our unity doesn’t show the world that the Father sent the Son, it’s not the unity Jesus prayed for.

On the basis of Ephesians 4:4-6, Mike argues that the unity of the “one body” is a present reality but not an empirical reality. The unity must be the unity of the invisible church. “God reveals oneness first as a gift in the present” that “must be maintained.” It “can be stretched and even scandalized” but remains inviolable. In the midst of stretch and scandal, we need to view the church theologically rather than sociologically or empirically.

This is a questionable reading of Ephesians. Nothing in the passage suggests that Paul is speaking of an invisible body (a strange category in any case). Immediately after the “poem” on oneness, Paul writes of gifts distributed by the ascended Lord Jesus to His church (vv. 7-11), gifts including visible apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers who build up what must be the visible “body of Christ” (v. 11). Does it make sense to say that “body” in verse 4 is an invisible company when “body of Christ” in verse 11 is a visible communion? What warrants the insertion of a visible-invisible distinction? It seems more straightforward to conclude that for Paul the unity of the body is as visible as the unity of baptism. (more…)

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