Johnny Law

04.24.2012 by Reed Dunn


This post is part of the the lutheran captivity of the church series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Lutheran Captivity of the Church: Part 5 of 7 - Johnny Law

This post is about God’s Law, not Johnny’s, but if you have never seen the movie Bottle Rocket then please stop reading this blog immediately and go watch it.  Or at least the trailer... 

This post references one of the striking differences between Calvin and Luther* - their view of God’s law.

Even the biblical writers seemed to have a volatile and confusing relationship with the Law of God.  No wonder we as Christians do too.  One example is how the law guards us.  In some passages the law guards us like a kind old watchdog (Psa 94:12) while other passages make it sound like a prison guard (Gal 3:22)! 

So which is it?  Good or bad?  Binding or not?  Or, maybe, what is it?  Is the law a dungeon master making us crave the light of God?  Or is it a well-worn path that acts as our trusty guide?

Lutheran theology doesn’t have much use for the law beyond its ability to show us our sin.  This is definitely a use of the law - it is attested throughout Scripture - but as we have seen Lutheran theology is not always informed by ALL of Scripture.  Rather ALL of Scripture was informed by its view of justification.  In justification, the law is clear.  Before Christ came the law was brutal - it condemned us, killed us, imprisoned us.  But for the Christian, the law is not there to condemn us (Rom 8:1).

For the Lutheran, this is a cycle that is played over and over.  The law shows us our sin.  The Spirit shows us Christ’s mercy.  And we, in turn, live a more righteous life that springs from our thankful hearts.  And then the cycle begins again.

The problem with all this is all the places in Scripture where the law still is in effect, and used for something more than condemnation.  Whether it is Christ intensifying it in Matthew 5-7, Paul calling us slaves of righteousness in Romans 6, or James saying all his Jamesy stuff, any simple reading of Scripture will find that the law (or some form of it) is still an active part of the Christian life.  That it is good, helpful, and keepable.  This is Paul’s presupposition in many passages.

In all my struggles with this, I have found one analogy more helpful than any other.  The Bible writers used analogies all the time to describe the law so I think we are on firm ground to look for such a thing.  And my analogy is that of a map.

A map is powerless.  Anyone that has ever owned a map has probably used it the right way.  We cannot say that about the law.  Paul says the law is powerless to save us, powerless to impart life, powerless to grow us.  It is the Spirit that moves us from one place to another, not the law.  No one has ever wanted to drive to Chicago and tried to do it by climbing onto a map!  The map will tell you how to get to Chicago, but a map by itself cannot get you there.  You need a car for that.  The Holy Spirit is our spiritual car, and the law is our spiritual map.  Without the Spirit the law is worthless for getting us anywhere.

A map can condemn.  So, you want to go to Chicago.  You go to google maps and print out everything you need, maybe even plan your meal stops based on the map.  You walk outside and... O yeah!  You don’t have a car!  What now?  Now you look at the map and you don’t see a road trip, possibilities, and nice scenery, you feel trapped.  The map now condemns you because it shows you just how much you need a car.  Because the map is right it shows you the distance, because the map is powerless it reminds you of your inability.  The same is true for the law.  The law condemns us because it makes God far off and doesn’t provide any transportation.

A map can guide.  But your buddy pulls up in his nice new car.  Now things are different!  Now the map does help you.  Now the trustworthiness of the map becomes crucial.  If you have the wheels, the map is great.  Now, people in Paul’s day tended to make the map more important than the car.  Paul rips them up and, in so doing, makes the map/law seem really bad.  It isn’t.  His comments need the context.  If at a rest stop you told your driving buddy you could finish the trip on your own because you have a map he would laugh at you.  But, get in the car with him, and he sings a different tune, now he needs your map.  The map is not bad and neither is the law. 

Luther placed the law and grace at odds with one another.  He took the tough language about the law to heart and basically overlooked the rest.  For him, or at least for his followers, keeping the law meant legalism.  But to take this position means that you are only reading about half of what Paul wrote and almost nothing of Jesus or the other New Testament writers - something Lutherans can end up doing.  There is much more that could be said about this, but hopefully that helps a little.

My last two posts in this series are coming up, so you are now on the home stretch.  This was my final post on the technical aspects of the theology.

* DISCLAIMER - I am not critiquing the Lutheran Church or even formal/historical Luthern theology.  These posts address a form of Lutheran theology that is active in the Presbyterian Church in America.  Whether the critiques hold true outside the PCA, I would not be the judge.

This post is part of the the lutheran captivity of the church series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Women in Worship

04.17.2012 by Reed Dunn


When it comes to figuring out exactly how women fit into the public worship of the church I have always been dissatisfied with the way I was making decisions.  I believe most of my practices were correct, but the way I got there left a bad taste in my mouth.  The reason: I had no principle that governed my decisions; rather, I was working with nothing more than circumstances and affinities.

An example of my previous thought processes: Women can’t preach or be elders (that is easy from Scripture).  But can women speak?  Scripture says no (at least in some respect), but then there are clear exceptions – women sing, women can share prayer requests or make an announcement; women obviously do all the corporate prayers and confessions.  And what if Elizabeth Eliot showed up at church?  Would I let her share during a Missions Moment?  If so, then is it only the non-famous women that must remain silent?  Trouble.

You see?  I had nothing but circumstances and no guiding principles.  On top of that, I was afraid to start studying the women’s issue because I didn’t want my wife wearing head-coverings, nor did I want to feel convicted if she didn’t.  Godly stuff, I know.  But then came a study I had to do with our elders and, finally, I feel at peace about this.  The most helpful article was one by D.A. Carson on the issue (entitled "Silent in the Churches" on the monergism website).

One of the most important things to realize (and a surprise to me) was that many of the early Christian heresies included feminist teachings.  The whole head-covering thing was a sign of marriage and submission.  So it sounds like those ladies in Corinth were basically burning bras and hiding their wedding rings.  Into that fray, Paul asserts that women should remain, well, women.  They should remain married and they should keep submitting to their husbands.

But he also says that women are allowed to prophesy and pray in church (1Cor 11:5) but they don’t have the right to judge, expound, or interpret prophecies that have been uttered (1Cor 14:34).  This 14:34 comment about silence is made during the discussion about the chaos of the worship service and especially interpreting prophetic speech.  I know there are different ways to read these passages but if, read this way, we get a very helpful principle to guide the church as it uses the gifts of our women.

My interpretation of this… Women can be active in the worship service.  Women can speak, pray, and even read Scripture in worship.  What women can’t do is be the guardians of the gospel message as it is contained in the Scriptures.  The women in Corinth could pray and prophesy (reading Scripture?), but they could not comment upon it.  God did not give women the responsibility of maintaining and ruling the church and her doctrinal purity.  That is why women should not be elders or preach.  But that is why women should be allowed to do everything short of that.  We should be bold as we involve women.  Scripture, not chauvinism, guides us.  We have a message of liberation – even though that liberation does not break the created order. 

There are many other things to consider in this, not to mention the various other views to take on these and other passages.   One thing our elders have decided, is that in certain situations women reading Scripture is great while other times it isn’t.  We don’t have women read the call to worship or assurance of pardon – places where the reading is highly declarative.  But we do like them to read at times of meditation.  Arbitrary?  Maybe.  But we have to discern the best we can. I might not have it totally figured out, but for the first time I feel more confident in the reason why the Bible says what it says and I feel less haphazard as I try to install those principles in the church.

Topics: worship

Related Posts: Wine at Communion


The New You

04.10.2012 by Reed Dunn


This post is part of the the lutheran captivity of the church series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Lutheran Captivity of the Church: Part 4 of 7 - The New You

Here is a conversation I once had with a Lutheran-styled pastor.*  It is not the only one of its kind.

Me: I am just struggling to trust God that he will provide.

Pastor: That makes sense.  You actually mean, you don’t really want to trust God.

Me: No, I really do.  I desperately want to.

Pastor: No, you are depraved and want your own way.  Not Christ's.  You need to realize that you don’t seek God.  You are not faithful and your desires are turned against him.

This brings us to a less clear, but very important critique of some who are of the Lutheran camp.  I say “some,” because I believe this is a common mistake as much as anything else.  But it has happened often enough - especially within the Lutheran camp - that I feel it should be addressed.

Luther spoke often of the “alien righteousness” that is necessary for our salvation.  Every good Christian should agree with this doctrine.  It means that there was a righteousness, different from our own, that championed our standing with God.  This is clearly taught throughout Scripture.  But follow Luther for very long and he sometimes seems to imply that all righteousness remains alien.  Whether or not this is explicit Lutheran teaching, echoes of it seem to pop up every now and then among those who hold to a more Lutheran form of salvation. 

For years I could not put my finger on this.  Then, studying for a sermon on Romans 1:16-17, I read the following in Douglas Moo’s commentary.

Luther viewed this righteousness [of God] as purely forensic - a matter of judicial standing, or status, and not of internal renewal or moral transformation. (Romans, pg 71)

Did you catch that?  According to Luther, the righteousness of God doesn't change us.  This belief is based in the previously posted definition that justification does not transform your personal merit (it does not make you a good person), it just declares you righteous because of Jesus’ own merit.  On this, Reformed and Lutherans agree.  But if you have a justification-centered view of the Christian life, then this is where you stay... You stay untransformed!  All good merit still belongs to Jesus.  You are evil, the good in you is still alien.

When a pastor is making this mistake, he is basically preaching to his people as if they are all driven by their flesh in everything they do.  You will hear them have to qualify certain hymns that speak of our faithfulness or our desires for good, they may even qualify Scriptures that suppose the Christian is capable, willing, and desirous of doing good.  I have heard people misuse Keller’s book The Prodigal God this way.  They will assume that we as Christians are always acting as the Older Brother or the Younger Brother.  Such thinking leaves out the possibility that Christians have indeed been transformed and, though sometimes faltering in the flesh, are maturing and being more and more conformed to the likeness of Christ.

So, what is the problem with this?  First of all, it ignores one of the clearest verses on how we are to consider each other as Christians.  2Corinthians 5:16-17 says that since we are a new creation, we no longer consider each other according to the flesh.  When I preach, I am expecting that the Christians in my church want to hear it.  I am expecting that the Spirit is indeed transforming them.  The alien in a Christian’s life is not righteousness; according to Romans 7:17 the alien is now sin!

We have been transformed.  The categories of Total Depravity (as outlined in places like Romans 3) are not true us anymore.  We do seek God, we do understand!  In fact, we believe that the image of God has been restored in those who believe so that we can now please him with our works. 

We do still sin, and there are definitely plenty of times we don’t want to please God.  While on earth, we must daily fight our flesh and make the choice to live according to the restored image of God in us (Col 3:10) rather than walk according to the flesh.  Once glorified, there will be no choice; we will act according to the Spirit in all that we do.  But, even as we wait to be perfected, the Christian is not totally corrupt.  Righteousness is no longer alien.  The Christian is a new creation.  The Christian has been transformed.  We need to learn to think that way about our people and ourselves. 

We must always remember the depth of God's great love to send his Son to pay for our sins. But we must also never forget that the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is now breathing life into our mortal bodies. You are now different. You are new

* DISCLAIMER - I am not critiquing the Lutheran Church or even formal/historical Luthern theology.  These posts address a form of Lutheran theology that is active in the Presbyterian Church in America.  Whether the critiques hold true outside the PCA, I would not be the judge.

This post is part of the the lutheran captivity of the church series (click to view the other posts in this series).

The Day of Atonement

04.03.2012 by Reed Dunn


One day a year, the High Priest of Israel offered sacrifices for the sins of the people of God.  That day was called Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement.  The priest represented the people as he walked where no man could and did what no other man was authorized to do.  And as the church universal turns its attention to the death and resurrection of our Lord, I think it is a good time to learn a bit about that great day.

Actually, there were two goats that were used on the Day of Atonement.  The one we typically identify with is the goat of the “sin offering.”  That goat was killed and the priest took its blood behind the veil and sprinkled it over the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant.  This goat, the Bible says, made “atonement for the Holy Place” (Lev 16:15).  All of Israel should have been there making things right with God, but only the priest could go behind the veil.

The second goat is less often associated with the Day of Atonement.  They didn’t kill the second goat.  Instead, Aaron laid his hands over its head and “confessed over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, all their transgressions, all their sins” (Lev 16:21).  He placed Israel’s sins on the head of this goat and sent it away into the wilderness.  It bore the sins of God’s people to a remote and desolate place.  This goat is where we get the term scapegoat.

Of course, in the New Testament, we find out that Jesus is the True Sacrifice and the True High Priest.  We are told he went where we could not, did what we could not, and represented us while there.  No place is this more overt, and yet more slight, than in Romans 8:3.  There, Paul says that Jesus came in “the likeness of sinful flesh” (the scapegoat) and “as a sin offering” (the sacrificed goat).  The book of Hebrews has Christ offering a sacrifice in the temple while Peter pictures Christ as our scapegoat, but one verse in Romans has it all.  Christ’s atonement on the cross was the real atonement that the Old Testament procedures had actually foreshadowed.  Christ was our True Priest on that True Day of Atonement. 

Here’s some incredible proof...
Before Aaron entered the Holy of Holies on that great day of sacrifice, he was to put on the proper clothes.  The holy garments were all made of linen - he was wrapped, literally, from head to toe (Lev 16:4).  Flash forward to our Lord where, right before they buried him they wrapped him in a “clean linen shroud” (Mat 27:59).

Of course, Christ burst from that grave on Sunday morning and, according to John 20:5-7, he even burst from his death shroud as well - it was the only evidence Peter and James found of Christ at the resurrection.  But that’s not all.  Jesus apparently took time to neatly fold the face cloth and leave it in the tomb before he left.  But why?  Flash back to ancient Israel after all the work of atoning was complete: “Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting and shall take off the linen garments that he put on when he went into the Holy place and he shall leave them there” (Lev 16:23, emphasis added of course!).

Christ really is our High Priest.  Not in some vague divine notion.  He really made an atoning sacrifice by the procedures God had given Israel.  He was wrapped in linen to do the work and when he finished it, he left them there!  What a great God and what a wonderful Savior.

Happy Easter.

Topics: atonement

Related Posts: Christ, The Cornerstone

Best Barbie Movies of All Time

03.20.2012 by Reed Dunn


This is a special, Spring Break, edition of the Farian Papers.  Below, I have ranked the top five Barbie movies of all time.  To date, there are seventeen Barbie movies spanning the golden age of film - 2001 to present.  Whittling it down to only five best was surprisingly easy.  Here goes...

The Nutcracker: The fifth best Barbie movie of all time isn’t really the fifth best at all.  I felt I had to include it because it is the movie that started the Barbie movie franchise... Surely that is worth something.  The nutcracker in this movie is awkward and an idiot.  I did like the giant rock monster.  I don’t really have much to say about this movie, besides the fact that it was first.

The Island Princess: This movie seems tired and long, but the colors are brilliant.  I love it when a movie has a dominant color and sticks with it throughout the film (an adult example is the color green in Great Expectations).  Anyway, the peacock is a tiresome character and only redeems himself by providing Ro with the most dazzling dress of all the Barbie movies.  In every Barbie movie, you can bank on two things: Barbie will inevitably “find herself,” and there will be wonderful music.  The music in the Island Princess is the best from an all-around catchy perspective.  Ro does find her long lost family.  It’s also great to see her botanical knowledge save the whole wedding party.

The Diamond Castle: The plot of this movie is the best of all the Barbie movies.  The singing is strong.  The characters - especially the twin male “heroes” - are really wonderful.  This is an adventure tale full of enchanted songs, a trance-inducing flute, and a mean dragon that isn’t too scary.  The only reason this is not ranked higher is because the antagonist is as annoying as anything in any Barbie movie and the tune she plays on her magical flute will be stuck in your head for days.  (It is now stuck in my head as I right this review!)  This is a great movie to watch with your kids, but a horrible one to have going in the minivan when all you can hear is the music.

The 12 Dancing Princesses: The second best Barbie movie of all time gets in for the music alone.  This was our first Barbie movie to see and I was literally stunned at the beauty of the music.  The plot is not bad either.  Having twelve daughters must be hard for the king, but being poisoned by your cousin must make it even worse.  If only Geneveive would be more honest or her father more perceptive, it seems like all the problems would go away!  Luckily the girls find the magic dancing pavilion and the kingdom, somehow, gets saved because of it.

Rapunzel: Everything in this movie is strong - that is why it is number one.  The plot is simple enough, Barbie has her hidden paint brush that transforms her to new worlds (a must!), and the music is solid enough not to lose ground to the Dancing Princesses.  Of course, there is very little overlap between the real story of Rapunzel and this one, but you probably expected that by now if you are a connoisseur.  Barbie Rapunzel has the honored designation of being the only movie to produce a song that ended up on my iPhone.  Constant as the Stars Above is a beautiful song and an absolute favorite of my girls - my oldest daughter used to weep every single time she heard it. 

And the worst of the worst... Just because.

Mermadia: This is the worst Barbie movie of all time!  She is catty and her friends are worse.  I could’t believe it was a Barbie movie.  It was like the B team came in and did this one.  I still don’t know what is going on in the plot and I am 37 years old and have seen it at least a few times (we have since thrown it away).  What Timothy Dalton was to James Bond, this is to the Barbie franchise.

I would love to hear your comments aobut your best/worst Barbie movie, because I know some of you have an opinion.  Your thoughts?

My next post will be during Holy Week.  Have a happy Spring Break!


Understanding Sanctification

03.06.2012 by Reed Dunn


This post is part of the the lutheran captivity of the church series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Lutheran Captivity of the Church: Part 3 of 7 - Understanding Sanctification

Much of the Bible describes and teaches sanctification, yet sanctification is a concept that Lutheran theology* fails to fully grasp.  This makes it confusing to hear Lutherans talk about large chunks of Scripture.  This theology, as mentioned before, is so focused on justification by faith that it doesn’t have much room for anything else.

Here are some quick definitions to help you understand this post.  If you already understand this, feel free to skip it. 

  1. JUSTIFICATION: Our sin requires a sentence from God - a death sentence.  Justification describes the act where God pardons us from that sentence - he declares us not guilty and declares us righteous.  It is the works of Jesus that God sees and, based upon Jesus' merit, we are justified.  But this declaration of God does not actually make us a good person - judges don’t make people “good,” they simply acquit them of the crime.
  2. SANCTIFICATION: This is where we are made righteous.  Our sin corrupts our ability to know, worship and obey God.  Sanctification is the act of God where he renews us so that we can be conformed to his image - we can know him, worship him, and obey him.  He basically gives us the tools to grow and assists us through his Spirit.
  3. DISTINCTION: Our salvation depends on us being completely justified.  Sanctification, on the other hand, is a life-long process that happens under the umbrella of justification.  Sanctification is not necessary for salvation the way justification is: there will be plenty of partially mature Christians in heaven, but there will be no partially pardoned ones!  All of this happens through our union with Christ but that would require a whole different post - suffice it to say that justification and sanctification are connected, but not the same thing.

What do Lutherans say sanctification is?
Lutheran teachings sometime define sanctification as “delighting in God” (Gospel Centered Life, pg 8).  According to Lutheran theology we do grow, but that growth comes from joy over our justification.  As we understand more of our sin and the holiness of God, we rejoice all the more in the grace of Jesus.  The more grateful we become the more obedient we become, and it is only this joy/fruit that is “approved” by them.  One Lutheran study actually defines legalism as, “obeying even though you don’t feel like it” (GCL, pg 52).  By this definition, Jesus was a legalist in his commitment to the Father’s will despite his own desire (Luke 22:42).

Secondly, Lutheranism teaches that joy only comes from justification; joy found anywhere else is misplaced.  One of the most striking errors of Lutheran theology is how it overlooks simply being a good Christian.  There is no category for it.  You can see it in the following quote from the Sonship Mentor Guide...

“If you stopped doing that bad thing, would you feel more righteous?  If you did that good thing (like regular, effective witnessing, etc...) would you feel more righteous?  If your answer is ‘yes,’ to either question it means you are turning from the ‘spring of living water,’ and substituting your own ‘success’ to attain a righteousness of your own.  You have trashed the gospel.”

This teaches that if you feel a growing sense of satisfaction over being an obedient child of God then you are trashing the gospel.  That quote is correct if it is about justification, but it isn’t correct if it’s about sanctification.  But for the Lutheran, there is little difference. 

Here is another example...

“If you imagine God as anything but overjoyed with you, you have fallen into a performance mindset.  Because the gospel truth is that in Christ God is deeply satisfied with you.” (GCL pg. 19)

Again, this is absolutely true... of justication.  But once God has adopted you into his family, he reserves the right to be grieved by your actions (Eph 4:30), discipline you (Heb 12:7-8), and even judge you (James 5:9).  The problem isn’t that those quotes are untrue, it is that Lutheran theology reduces all of sanctification to this.  Part of our sanctification entails meditating on our justification, but it includes a lot more than that too.

Sanctification is a different kind of work than justification, but Lutheran theology can’t see that.  It struggles to understand how Paul can expect the Christian to take off the old self and put on the new (Col 3:9-10).  Paul, unlike the Lutheran, doesn’t tell his followers to believe in their justification, he tells them to simply do it; at another point even telling them to imitate him (Phil 3:17, 2Thes 3:7)!

So, what gets lost in Lutheranism?

  1. Lutheran theology doesn’t always make a clear distinction between believers and non-believers.  It assumes all those who want to please God with obedience are trying to win salvation by it.  Yes, all Christians fall into manipulating God with our works, but neither Paul nor we should consider that to be the default Christian experience.
  2. Lutheran theology has almost no sense of Christian duty.  A joy-filled-heart would be great, but sometimes the best way to get that joy is to stay committed and obey.  We walk by faith, not by sight.  That means there is a war between what we sometimes think is true and what actually is true.  And we must act based on what is true... that will require commitment and, yes, “obeying even though we don’t feel like it.”
  3. Lutheran teaching can produce a shallow sense of Christian growth.  I grew up in a revivalist church where all they wanted you to do was pray “the prayer.”  My growth was stunted because all they talked about was conversion.  Lutheranism is just a more sophisticated version of this, trading conversion for justification.  Lutheran preaching can starve you after a few years.  Not everyone feels it, but those who do often have a sense of guilt that justification isn’t sweet enough to them.  But, take heart, richer food is out there - the whole Bible is out there!

When teaching our kids, none of us always include the relationship we have with them.  Of course, I never leave the father/daughter relationship, but I don’t make every conversation about it.  (But Lutherans, when describing God, do.)  Not only that, I expect my children to want to obey me and find joy in it; even if it is out of obligation.  Similarly, I see my children’s faults and help them improve.  Because of our relationship they know they can come to me with anything and will never be cast out no matter what they do.  But they also know that life as my child comes with at least a little bit of law and if they obey it their life will be better than if they don’t.  In short, none of us parent like a Lutheran... not even God.

This has been a long post but this is pretty weighty stuff.  This is probably the fundamental problem within Lutheranism so all the other topics will seem simple compared to this one.  I want to reiterate my own love of justification by faith and how indebted I am to Sonship for God’s work in my life.  We are even teaching the Gospel Centered Life in our adult Sunday School right now, but we provide the nuance it requires.  And nuance, firm though it may be, is what I have tried to provide here.

* DISCLAIMER - I am not critiquing the Lutheran Church or even formal/historical Lutheran theology.  These posts address a form of Lutheran theology that is active in the Presbyterian Church in America.  Whether the critiques hold true outside the PCA, I could not be the judge.

This post is part of the the lutheran captivity of the church series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Wine at Communion

02.28.2012 by Reed Dunn


It is the practice of our church to use real wine when we partake of the Lord’s Supper (we do offer grape juice as an alternative).  Our practice has raised questions about alcohol in general and alcohol at communion in particular.  So here are some thoughts…

In the prophetic literature of the Old Testament, the absence of wine represents sorrow and loss (Isa 24:11; Jer 48:33) and wine accompanies the promises of a day of great joy.  On that great day, when God swallows up death forever and wipes our tears away, God will “make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine” (Isa 25:6).  This is the setting into which Jesus comes.  Wine is the language of joy and celebration.  Wine is shorthand for talking about the day of God’s blessing.

Jesus’ first miracle announces this.  Jesus (John 2) attended a wedding feast and turned water into wine; and not just any wine – the really good wine!  His wine is that well-aged wine that can only come from the wine cellar of God.  Why does John record this miracle first?  This miracle is a summary of Jesus’ entire ministry: Jesus changes peoples’ sorrow into joy, their filthy water into heavenly wine.  And this is only the beginning!  The Revelation of John ends where the Gospel of John began… a wedding.  The wine mentioned by the prophets does not just represent joy, according to Revelation it represents the great Marriage Supper between Jesus Christ and his Bride, the church (Rev 19).  On that day we will finally be married to our Savior, Lord, and King, and the banquet will be a fine feast indeed.  On that day Jesus Christ, just as he did in John 2, will be our host and provide us with our joy and our new wine.

That great banquet will be the next time Jesus drinks wine with his followers.  The last time he shared wine with his disciples he instituted the Lord’s Supper (Mat 26:29; Mk 14:25; Lk 22:18).  This communion meal looks forward to that wedding feast where our shadows will become reality.  It became the practice of the earliest church to celebrate this communion meal whenever they gathered for worship and wine was certainly an element of their practice.  We know that the New Testament church used real wine at communion because the Corinthians were scolded by Paul for actually getting drunk on it (1Corinthians 11:21)!

We don’t use wine simply to be unique.  Nor do we simply do it because we can.  We use real wine because we desire to be faithful to the Scriptures and we believe that the deep imagery of the Lord’s Supper demands that we use it.  We use real wine because Jesus did and will use it.

Meanwhile, conservative Christianity in the Southern United States has gone to great lengths to convince the church that alcohol is indeed bad.  There is simply no biblical evidence for this position and, to the contrary, the Bible even attests that God gave us wine “to gladden the heart of man” (Psa 104:15).  The rejection of alcohol is actually a recent phenomenon in Christianity and peculiar to America – it really took force in the 1880’s.  Our church aims at submitting to Scripture alone concerning matters of faith so we will not preach that consumption of alcohol is wrong when the Bible does not say it.  Much of the New Testament was written against teachers who would add cultural and legalistic trappings to the central message of Jesus Christ – we refuse to do so (see Galatians, Colossians, etc).

Some people do not drink for personal reasons and that is commendable.  And, of course, there are times when the use of alcohol is wrong.  Drunkenness is explicitly forbidden in the Scriptures.  Drinking before the legal age is against the law of our nation/state and such usurping of authority is forbidden in Scripture. Our desire is to be faithful to the Scriptures without “going beyond what is written” (1Cor 4:6).  It should be the Christian’s aim to believe what the Bible teaches, and add nothing else to the Christian faith – especially a cultural phenomenon that is rooted in nineteenth century America.

Topics: sacraments, worship

Related Posts: Women in Worship


Getting to Know Mr. Luther

02.21.2012 by Reed Dunn


This post is part of the the lutheran captivity of the church series (click to view the other posts in this series).

The Lutheran Captivity of the Church: Part 2 of 7 - So, what is Lutheranism anyway?

Martin Luther was, obviously, the father of Lutheranism.*  He was, by all accounts, obsessed over his sin.  He could never feel free from the guilt he carried with him.  When Luther made the turn towards what would become Protestantism, he saw it as a triumph of grace and forgiveness over and against the law and guilt of sin.

Luther was not all wrong.  In fact, he was way more right than anything else.  But he did steer the church in a very specific direction and it is fair to say that going in any one direction means overshadowing some of the other directions the Bible wants to go.  Luther’s “one direction” was justification by faith alone.  Justification, to the Lutheran, is everything.  It is the grid to evaluate all things Christian.  Lutherans teach that we are sanctified by believing in our justification.  They teach the sole purpose of the law is to show our need for justification.  They teach that all the antagonists in Scripture denied justification.  Their sermons always come back to the same application: justification.

Once, while attending a Lutheran/PCA church, I heard a sermon on Matthew 5:20.  The minister preached that, since no one but Jesus is more righteous than the Scribes and Pharisees, Christ was telling his followers to rely upon his righteousness rather than their own.  "Grace alone" had to trump even the Sermon on the Mount!  That sermon was a turning point for me.  It convinced me that at least some Lutherans were abandoning the whole council of God to maintain a philosophy of grace.  I don't know how Luther dealt with Matt 5, and I don't really care.  This teaching is out there, it's happening in books and in pulpits.

Let me add this disclaimer: I am not against justification by faith.  I am all for it!  I talk about grace as much as the Bible does, which is a lot.  But if you will stick with me you may see that taking one theological concept and making it absolutely central to everything is dangerous.  It stunts us.  The lessons are all around us...

The Lesson from James
: Do you ever wonder why Romans is towards the front of our Bibles while James is at the back?  It is because Luther saw justification taught in the book of Romans, but not in the book of James.  Luther thought this book was suspect primarily because it didn’t preach justification by faith alone.  Let that sink in.  Luther decided what the "real" Bible should be, instead of letting the "actual" Bible teach him.  James is a kind of leftover after the Pauline meal - and that is the Lutheran teaching.

The Lesson from the Pharisees
: What do you think of the Pharisees?  Do you think they were a bunch of legalists who were working their way to heaven?  You probably do.  On what text do you base that?  Jesus doesn’t  call the Pharisees legalists, he mostly calls them hypocrites.  Jesus attacks every single aspect of their religion, but rarely (if ever) charges them with trying to please God based solely on their works.  Why do we see them as legalists?  Mostly because Luther saw himself as Jesus and the Pharisees as the Roman Catholic Church.  (I want to be on record as sayting that I do believe Paul charges "Jews" with legalism - but whether that be Pharisees or judaizers it isn't always clear.)

The Lesson from Jesus
: And lastly, to get at Luther’s influence, we need to look no further than our own Savior.  Most of us struggle to understand what Jesus is doing when we read the gospels.  That's partly because Jesus doesn’t speak our language - Luther's language.  It is hard to find justification in Jesus' teaching - though it is in places, of course.  I think we miss out on Jesus because he is talking about something we don’t quite have categories for, mostly because our categories are so influenced by Luther.

Calvin was a much more well rounded theologian, but we borrow more from Luther.  The Bible is our only rule in all of life yet we sometimes see only justification in its pages. In short, I believe that Luther’s obsession has rubbed off on us.  I think most Protestants have zeroed in on what “gets us to heaven” at the expense of everything else.

In this series, I plan to take Lutheran teaching to task in some of the areas it oversteps.  Topic by topic, it will be my goal to provide a richer, more biblical alternative for talking about our salvation. I am not a great theologian, I just plan to post my observations.  Further reading will be necessary if you really want to get at the bottom of all this, but this issue has dominated much of my study for years.  As we get into the nuts and bolts of this thing, it is my hope that you will be encouraged, even if you don't fully agree with me.

* DISCLAIMER - I am not critiquing the Lutheran Church or even formal/historical Lutheran theology.  These posts address a form of Lutheran theology that is active in the Presbyterian Church in America.  Whether the critiques hold true outside the PCA, I could not be the judge.

This post is part of the the lutheran captivity of the church series (click to view the other posts in this series).


Lutheranism: My Introduction

02.15.2012 by Reed Dunn


This post is part of the the lutheran captivity of the church series (click to view the other posts in this series).

The Lutheran Captivity of the Church: Part 1 of 7 - My Personal Story

I am starting a new series entitled The Lutheran Captivity of the Church, but I think it needs a little introduction.  This is a tricky subject and one that may not seem that important, but it really is.  I know it is something I feel strongly about.  My own story is probably a decent way to get at the issue.

When I came into the Presbyterian Church in America I was nothing more than a Reformed Baptist.  I didn’t know much beyond the Five Points of Calvinism and was still emerging from that Calvinistic-jerk-phase.  In my first year or so, I was introduced to the Sonship Bible Study program created by World Harvest Mission.  It explained grace in a way I had never heard it explained before.  I fell in love with it. 

Sonship taught me I could not keep the law and my efforts to do so were coming from my flesh.  It taught me that the only true and good use of the law was to drive me to Christ.  It taught me that the correct cycle was this: despair over my inabilities and run to the forgiveness of Jesus.  Quit trying.  Quit doing.  Just believe and be forgiven. 

At first this was great.  But then it turned dark.  Anytime I tried to read my Bible I would feel judged that I could not read enough of it.  The same went for prayer.  Instead of reading and praying, I found myself just trying to feel the forgiveness of not being able to do either well.  I remember feeling judged when I tithed because I couldn’t give with all my heart or with the joy that should be there.  In short, this teaching took the disciplines of godly living away from me.  David enjoyed being righteous (Psa 18:20-24) - I had no category for the feelings he felt. 

Then I started to notice a pattern and the deep structure of this Sonship theology.  There was a cycle of three quotations ALWAYS present in these studies.  Martin Luther, Tim Keller, the Book of Galatians - that is the cycle.  Over and over.  If they used another character from church history they usually could only use one sentence (like Calvin’s quote about our hearts being idol factories).  Or if they used some other part of Scripture I noticed they usually had to take it out of context or even bend the intended meaning.

More and more this just didn’t seem to jive with much of the Bible or much of the other stuff I was reading at the time - like the puritans.  Then I went off to seminary.  In seminary I discovered that this wasn’t just some little theology cooked up by the good people at World Harvest, this was the formal teaching of Lutheranism.  One of my professors took Lutheran* views to task one day and my jaw was hanging open.  I had finally heard the true Reformed position.  I had finally gotten the necessary vocabulary to navigate the various positions.  It was incredibly helpful.

The PCA is currently being overrun with Lutherans.  I will unpack their theology later, but suffice it to say that the “cool table” in the PCA right now is full of those who teach Lutheran theology rather than Reformed theology.  That wouldn’t really matter except that I believe Lutheran theology to be somewhat unbiblical - or at least not the most biblical.  It also can have very serious consequences as people emerge from it.  In short, it is not something that should go unchecked throughout the church.  I do not want this blog to be a place of ranting and finger pointing, but it is a goal of mine to use this blog as a place to work through some of the important differences between a good, biblical view of salvation and the one that is presented in the Lutheran sectors of our denomination. 

I hope it will help.  Maybe you, like me, are being crushed by "grace."  Maybe you, like me, are struggling to know what to do with all those passages in the Bible where good works are expected and even relished.  God used the Lutheran theology in my life, make no mistake.  But it is not just our goal to make people feel forgiven, it is our goal that their lives be conformed to Christ.

* DISCLAIMER - I will not be critiquing the Lutheran Church or even formal/historical Lutheran theology.  These posts address a form of Lutheran theology that is active in the Presbyterian Church in America.  Whether the critiques hold true outside the PCA, I could not be the judge.

This post is part of the the lutheran captivity of the church series (click to view the other posts in this series).


Genesis: Keep’m Separated

02.08.2012 by Reed Dunn


This post is part of the contours in genesis series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Much of the creation account is about keeping things separated, with apologies to The Offspring, of course.  God separates the light from the dark (Gen 1:4), the water from the water (Gen 1:7), the water from the dry land (Gen 1:9) - and that is just in the first three days.  Once God starts to make stuff, he seems really interested in keeping things separated from each other.  That second kind of separation is communicated with the phrase, “according to its kind.”  Seeds, vegetation, birds, beasts, livestock and reptiles - all were created according to its kind.

But what does that mean?  Why bring it up?  And what does that tell us about God?

Explanatory note: Let me say that I do NOT believe that God was fending off the theory of evolution when he used that phrase.  If all you want from Genesis 1 is a defense against evolution then you can certainly find it; but that is all you will get.  Genesis 1, like all of the Bible, is something to be fulfilled, and it is hard to fulfill a treatise against evolution.

Separation & Israel
God makes it pretty clear that separation matters.  I believe the seed of a separation theology is planted in Genesis 1 because of how important being separate will matter down the road.  Jews were some categorizing folks - it was in their law, their culture, and even their creation story.  But it was there for a reason.  God was holy (i.e. separate).  They were to be like him.  In Leviticus 20, God gives the clearest reason.  God says that it is Israel who has been separated off from the rest of the world (20:24).  And, therefore, they should separate the clean from the unclean around them (20:25).  So God wanted separation in their DNA.  He wanted them to see themselves as separate.

Separation & Jesus
Enter Jesus.  Jesus begins the work of desegregating the Jewish world.  Jesus doesn’t do it by abolishing the laws of separation, he actually changes those that were separated.  His healing ministry changed those separated by their body, his ministry to the sinners and Gentiles brought them into the religion they’d been cut off from, and his actions on several occasions challenged the over separating of the Sabbath.  Jesus was always attacking the self-inflated and separation-crazed ideologies of the Jews.  They had taken God’s law and turned it into a badge.  Separation had become a thing of pride, not of service.  Of course, Jesus’ final act on earth was to actually destroy the veil of separation between God and his people (Matt 27:51)!

Separation & the New Creation
In his earthly ministry, Jesus simply began the work of desegregation.  In his later work, we will see it come to full bloom.  If this old world is marked by separation, then don’t you wonder about the new?  In Revelation 21 we find that the New Heavens and the New Earth will lack some of the categories so dominant in our current creation.  There will be no more sea, no more temple, no more sun or moon, and no gates.  All of these represent separation, and that world won’t have them.  There will be no night/day, land/sea, sun/moon, sacred/secular, us/them. 

You see, God wasn’t hinting at the work of Darwin when he made things “according to their kind,” he was hinting at the work of his Son.

This post is part of the contours in genesis series (click to view the other posts in this series).

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