Thursday, July 28, 2011

Salvation is not "Quid Pro Quo".

In the April 15, 1999 Watchtower, the article entitled "The Only Way to Everlasting Life" asks, "What is the only way to everlasting life?"  What's their response? How would you respond? The article provides a quotation from Romans 6:23, “The gift God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord”.  A good answer right?  You may have answered the same way.  Don't be fooled. 

What the Watchtower appears to give with one hand, they mercilessly take away with the other. Notice what they say next,

"Would you expect to receive God’s grand gift of everlasting life in Paradise without any effort on your part?  Is it not reasonable that God would require something?  Surely it is. God does not, in effect, just throw the gift at us.... effort is involved. Are you not thrilled that a Savior has been provided?”

Your Savior has provided?  Effort on your part?  If you have to do someting in order to get something else, then it isn't a gift. You've earned it.  It's a wage. 

"For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.' Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 'Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.'" (Romans 4:2-8 ESV)

Notice how the Watchtower continues:

"You may ask the same question the rich young ruler asked Jesus:  ‘What good must I do in order to get everlasting life?’ or that the Philippian jailer asked Paul, ‘What must I do to get saved?’"

The article then goes on to list the standard conditions for salvation that are usually given by the Watchtower, viz. take in knowledge, exercise faith, preach, etc.

"Taking such steps is completely reasonable... Staying on this cramped road takes real effort!”

This is nothing but the Law.  This isn't good news, this is not the Gospel.  The Law says, "Do this and live".  The Law works in a "quid pro quo" kind of way. It's an "If you then God..." formula. 

"For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.' Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for 'The righteous shall live by faith.' But the law is not of faith, rather 'The one who does them shall live by them.' Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree'— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith." (Galatians 3:10-14 ESV)

This kind of teaching is only going to condemn you, because the law demands perfection and we by our own fault are not perfect. "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:47-48 ESV).  "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin." (Romans 3:20 ESV) "So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith." (Galatians 3:24)  The law shows us our sin with the express purpose to despair of ourselves and make us cling to Christ. 

The Watchtower teaches a salvation that is dependent on human ability and achievements.  They teach a salvation conditioned upon our ability to live up to God's commandments.  This is nothing but a curse and condemnation, and there is no need for a crucified and risen savior.

Now, finishing off with a rabbit trail, most Christians can see how a proper distinction between the Law and the Gospel is essential if we are to understand the Gospel.  But when it comes to sanctification, it seems many Christians are content to be put right back under the Law again. 

Notice what Paul says though:

"O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?  Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham 'believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness'?" (Galatians 3:1-7 ESV)

Sanctification is not what you do to become more holy.  It's what God the Holy Spirit does to conform you to the image of Christ. But it seems that we have to contribute something. We think this way because the Law is etched on our conscience since creation.

But I believe the Scriptures teach that the more we grow in grace, the more we despair of ourselves and recognize our need for Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit make us lose all self-confidence so we might trust in Christ alone. The foundation of our growth in grace is to despair of all hope in self and, as Paul said, to have "no confidence in the flesh".  The only way to get there is through the proper preaching of the Law, that is, show us our sin.

The gospel is the power and motivation for holy living because it points away from us to Christ. Our sanctification is no more grounded on our ability than justification. Christians should and do live lives of obedience.  Cows moo, dogs bark, and a true Christian obeys. The law commands us to live a certain way, but does not give us the power to do it. The fault is not with the law but with us. The obedience that is required of us by the Law has already been rendered by Christ. The Spirit now works in us, through the Gospel, faith and trust in the promise of Christ.  Christian obedience to the law, which has lost its condemning power, is now and always done in light of and motivated by the Cross. The Cross is the central mantle piece in true Christianity.

Christianity is not ultimately about us or about our piety, (although our piety is important), but about Christ and what He has accomplished outside of us. This destroys our pride because it crushes self reliance and removes every possibility of human contribution. Apart from this Christocentric understanding in both justification and sanctification, the law can only lead us to either hopelessness or self-righteous pride.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Te Deum - We Praise You and Acknowledge You

Here is an awesome version of "Te Deum".

Te Deum Laudamus, is an early Christian hymn of praise. The title is taken from its opening Latin words, rendered literally as "Thee, O God, we praise". Authorship is traditionally ascribed to Augustine on the occasion of the baptism of Ambrose.

This versification is done by Pastor Stephen Starke, a prolific hymn-writer.  The tune is from Gustav Holst’s The Planets, specifically the movement “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity.”

MP3 - Te Deum - We Praise You and Acknowledge You - LSB 941

We praise You and acknowledge You, o God, to be the Lord, the Father everlasting, by all the earth adored. To You all angel powers cry aloud, the heavens sing, the cherubim and seraphim their praises to You bring: "O holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth; Your majesty and glory fill the heavens and the earth!"

The band of the apostles in glory sing Your praise; the fellowship of prophets their deathless voices raise. The martyrs of Your kingdom, a great and noble throng, sing with the holy Church throughout all the world this song: "O all majestic Father, Your true and only Son, and Holy Spirit, Comforter -- forever Three in One!"

You, Christ, are King of glory, the everlasting Son, yet You, with boundless love, sought to rescue everyone: You laid aside Your glory, were born of virgin's womb, were crucified for us and were placed into a tomb; then by Your resurrection You won for us reprieve -- You opened heaven's kingdom to all who would believe.

You sit in splendid glory, enthroned at God's right hand, upholding earth and heaven by forces You command. We know that You will come as our Judge that final day, so help Your servants You have redeemed by blood we pray; may we with saints be numbered where praises never end, in glory everlasting. Amen, o Lord, amen!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Quotes of the Week

Luther on Predestination

"Concerning predestination, it is best to begin below, at Christ, as then we both hear and find the Father; for all those that have begun at the top have broken their necks. I have been thoroughly plagued and tormented with such cogitations of predestination; I would needs know how God intended to deal with me, etc. But at last, God be praised! I clean left them; I took hold again on God?s revealed Word; higher I was not able to bring it, for a human creature can never search out the celestial will of God; this God hides, for the sake of the devil, to the end the crafty spirit may be deceived and put to confusion. The revealed will of God the devil has learned from us, but God reserves his secret will to himself. It is sufficient for us to learn and know Christ in his humanity, in which the Father has revealed himself." Martin Luther, Table Talk, DCLVII.

Machen on the Law and the Gospel

“‘The law is not of faith (does not partake of the nature of faith), but as Scripture says, ‘He who does them shall live in (or by) them.’ Paul means to say, “describing the nature of the law, it requires doing something. But faith is the opposite of doing. So when the Scripture says that a man is justified by faith, that involves saying that he is not justified by anything that he does. There are two conceivable ways of salvation. One way is to keep the law perfectly, to do the things which the law requires. No mere man since the fall has accomplished that. The other way is to receive something, to receive something that is freely given by God’s grace. That way is followed when a man has faith. But you cannot possibly mingled the two. You might conceivably be saved by works or you might be saved by faith; but you cannot be saved by both. It is ‘either or’ here not “both and.” – J. Gresham Machen, Notes on Galatians p. 178

Walther on trusting your conversion instead of Christ

"We are not to look back to our conversion for assurance, but we must go to the Savior again and again, every day, as though we had never been converted. My former conversion will be of no benefit to me if I become secure. I must return to the mercy-seat every day, otherwise I shall make my former conversion my savior, by relying on it. That would be awful; for in the last analysis it would mean I make myself my savior." C. F. W. Walther, The Proper Distinction of the Law and the Gospel p. 207

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Good and Joyous News

Human beings have not kept the law of God but have transgressed it. Their corrupted human nature, thoughts, words, and deeds battle against the law. For this reason they are subject to God’s wrath, to death and all temporal afflictions, and to the punishment of the fires of hell. As a result, the Gospel, in its strict sense, teaches what people should believe, namely, that they receive from God the forgiveness of sins; that is, that the Son of God, our Lord Christ, has taken upon Himself the curse of the law and borne it, atoned and paid for all our sins; that through Him alone we are restored to God’s grace, obtain the forgiveness of sins through faith and are delivered from death and all the punishments of our sins and are saved eternally. . . . It is good news, joyous news, that God does not want to punish sin but to forgive it for Christ’s sake (Formula of Concord: Solid Declaration, V:20).

That is how the Lutheran Confessions explain what the Gospel is all about. I really like this quote. Short, simple, to the point. This is a great summary of the Gospel and the heart of the Reformation.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Watchtower and Scripture Part 1

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
(2 Timothy 3:14-15 ESV)

Paul here tells Timothy that the sacred writings, the Scriptures, are able to make one wise for salvation. They are sufficient. Scripture contains all of the information that we need to know in order to be saved.

Westminster Confession of Faith (1.7) has a good summary on teaching of the Perspicuity/Clarity of Scriptures. "All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all (2 Pet. 3:16); yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them (Ps. 119:105, 130)."

Notice how the Roman Catholic Church denies this claim....

"It is the teaching of the Church that the Old Testament Scriptures were transferred to her ownership by Christ himself in view of her position as the new 'Israel of God' and the heir of the Old Testment promises; and that the New Testament Scriptures being written within the Church by some of its members for the benefit of all (or more precisely, within the society of Catholic Church by Catholics and for Catholics), are likewise her exclusive property, of which she is the absolute Owner, Guardian, Trustee and Interpreter."
(A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, 1951 pg 8 with imprimatur and acknowledgment of Pope Pius XII)

"...no one, relying on his own skill, shall,--in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, --wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church,--whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures,--hath held and doth hold," (Trent, Session 4, "Decree Concerning the Edition, and the Use, of the Sacred Books")

The problem that the Catholic Church has with the idea of the Sufficiency of Scripture, (that scripture contains all that is sufficient for salvation), is that they say this position is irrational because all of us have to interpret the scriptures and the Christians have no official interpreter to interpret them right, and so we Christians end up in disagreements over many things. Rome claims to not have this problem because God knowing that the Bible is a hard book to understand, has given in his goodness the gift of the Church and Spirit guiding the church to a correct interpretation of Scripture.

Notice who else holds this exact same view....

"We all need help to understand the Bible, and we cannot find the Scriptural guidance we need outside the "faithful and discreet slave" organization," (Watchtower, Feb. 15, 1981, p. 19).

"Thus the Bible is an organizational book and belongs to the Christian congregation as an organization, not to individuals, regardless of how sincerely they may believe that they can interpret the Bible," (Watchtower, Oct. 1, 1967, p. 587).

"He does not impart his holy spirit and understanding and appreciation of his Word apart from his visible organization. (Watchtower, July 1, 1965, pg. 391)

"Only this organization functions for Jehovah's purpose and to his praise. To it alone God's Sacred Word, the Bible, is not a sealed book," (Watchtower, July 1, 1973, p. 402).

"We should eat and digest and assimilate what is set before us, without shying away from parts of the food because it may not suit the fancy of our mental taste...We should meekly go along with the Lord's theocratic organization and wait for further clarification, rather than balk at the first mention of a thought unpalatable to us and proceed to quibble and mouth our criticisms and opinions as though they were worth more than the slave's provision of spiritual food. Theocratic ones will appreciate the Lord's visible organization and not be so foolish as to put against Jehovah's channel their own human reasoning and sentiment and personal feelings," (Watchtower, Feb. 1, 1952, p. 79-80).

"From time to time, there have arisen from among the ranks of Jehovah's people those, who, like the original Satan, have adopted an independent, faultfinding attitude...They say that it is sufficient to read the Bible exclusively, either alone or in small groups at home. But, strangely, through such 'Bible reading,' they have reverted right back to the apostate doctrines that commentaries by Christendom's clergy were teaching 100 years ago..." (Watchtower, Aug. 15, 1981).

"All who want to understand the Bible should appreciate that the "greatly diversified wisdom of God" can become known only through Jehovah's channel of communication, the faithful and discreet slave," (Watchtower, Oct. 1, 1994, p. 8).

From the book Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life, on page 12, paragraph 3, the Watchtower comments: "But if you were given a legal document outlining what you had to do in order to receive a valuable inheritance, would you not take the time to study it carefully? If you find certain parts of the document hard to understand, likely you would get the help of someone experienced in such
matters."

The Watchtower teaches that the Bible can only be understood with God's Organization in mind, and that the Governing Body are the only ones who may properly interpret Scripture.

However, the Scriptures themselves are sufficient and clear. We do not need a Governing Body or any man-made organization (like the Watchtower) to understand Scripture. "The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple." (Psalms 19:7)

When people misunderstand Scripture, it's their own fault.

Theologian Wayne Grudem, comments, "Jesus’ responses always assume that the blame for misunderstanding any teaching of Scripture is not to be placed on the Scriptures themselves, but on those who misunderstand or fail to accept what is written. Again and again he answers questions with statements like these: “Have you not read what David did . . . ? Or have you not read in the Law . . . ?” (Matt 12:3, 5). “Have you not read . . . ?” (Matt 19:4). “Have you never read in the scriptures . . . ?” (Matt 21:42). “Have you not read what was said to you by God . . . ?” (Matt 22:31). “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice’” (Matt 9:13). “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” (John 3:10). “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matt 22:29). On the road to Emmaus, he rebuked two disciples: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25). The blame for failing to understand is always on the reader, never on the Scriptures themselves."

Martin Luther, in the Bondage of the Will, commented similarly, placing the blame on the individual for not correctly understanding the Scriptures. He says, "But, if many things still remain abstruse to many, this does not arise from obscurity in the Scriptures, but from [our] own blindness or want [i.e. lack] of understanding, who do not go the way to see the all-perfect clearness of the truth... Let, therefore, wretched men cease to impute, with blasphemous perverseness, the darkness and obscurity of their own heart to the all-clear scriptures of God... If you speak of the internal clearness, no man sees one iota in the Scriptures, but he that hath the Spirit of God... If you speak of the external clearness, nothing whatever is left obscure or ambiguous; but all things that are in the Scriptures, are by the Word brought forth into the clearest light, and proclaimed to the whole world."

And again, Grudem summarizes my main point nicely.

"But neither the teachings of Jesus nor the NT epistles give any hint that believing readers need an authoritative interpreter of Scripture such as the Bishop of Rome (or Governing Body). Not even in the first century did the apostles suggest that ordinary believers needed an authoritative interpreter in order to understand Scripture rightly. The Scripture remains clear enough that it is able to be understood, now as in all previous ages, by ordinary believers who will take the needed time and effort, employ ordinary means, and rely on the Holy Spirit’s help."