Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Doctrine of God in the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith
Since I have mentioned in my last two posts our studies in the 1689 Baptist Confession on the doctrine of God - I thought it might be helpful to give a sample of that chapter from the Confession. Here is the first paragraph from chapter two regarding the attributes of God:
"There is but one, and only one, living and true God. He is self-existent and infinite in His being and His perfections. None but He can comprehend or understand His essence. He is pure spirit, invisible, and without body, parts, or the changeable feelings of men. He alone possesses immortality, and dwells amid the light insufferably bright to mortal men. He never changes. He is great beyond all our conceptions, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty and infinite. He is most holy, wise, free and absolute. All that He does is the out-working of His changeless, righteous will, and for His own glory. He is most loving, gracious, merciful and compassionate. He abounds in goodness and truth. He forgives iniquity, transgression and sin. He rewards those who seek Him diligently. But He hates sin. He will not overlook guilt or spare the guilty, and He is perfectly just in executing judgment."
Gen.17:1; Exod.3:14; 34:6,7; Deut.4:15,16; 6:4; I Kings 8:27; Neh.9:32,33; Psa.5:5,6; 90:2; 115:3; Prov.16:4; Isa.6:3; 46:10; 48:12; Jer.10:10; 23:23,24; Nah.1:2,3; Mal.3:6; John 4:24; Rom.11:36; I Cor.8:4,6; I Tim.1:17; Heb.11:6.
A Man-Centered View of God
For nearly ten months our church has been studying on Wednesday evenings the biblical doctrine of God, as it is expressed and expounded from the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. This has been the richest study so far in the Confession, and I imagine there will be no other study that will exceed both its depth and importance. Quite frankly, there is no doctrine more important to the Christian faith than the doctrine of God - who God is, what He is like, and how He works. For if we go wrong on this one doctrine, then we will go wrong on every other doctrine in Christianity.
Sadly though, there is probably no doctrine more twisted, misunderstood, and misapplied than the doctrine of God. In other words, how the revelation of God's nature, character, and works are taught in His Word, has got to be the most underminded and distorted truth of Scripture. And the chief reason for this perversion is because when we talk about God, we tend to always begin and end with man at the center of the universe. To say this another way: many people in the church really believe that God exists and works for the sole purpose of making them happy. In short, God exists to glorify man. Consider how Edward Donnelly made this same tragic observation in his book entitled, Heaven and Hell:
"The God people speak about today - if he exists at all - is only for man's benefit. His purpose, it seems, is to supply our needs, to provide for our happiness. God is a heavenly bell-boy. When he is needed you ring for him, and when you don't need him any longer you tell him to go away. The first answer of the Shorter Catechism has been rewritten to read, 'God's chief end is to satisfy man and to provide for him forever.' Even in evangelical churches the impression is too often given that God exists to make us happy, to solve our problems, to answer our prayers, to heal our sicknesses, to improve our marriages, to help us to keep a diet.
[Martin] Luther described this as 'using God'. What a disgustingly accurate expression! Have you ever been used? You thought that someone was your friend. You assumed that they enjoyed your companionship and valued you for yourself. You trusted them, but then found out that they were using you. They cultivated you only for what they wanted from you, then laughed at you behind your back. What would you think of a man who spoke of using his wife? What a wretch he would be! Yet this is exactly what people are attempting to do with God. This is how they think they can treat the Lord of heaven and earth. There is no sense of his holiness, awesomeness or majesty. He is seen as a puppet who stays in a box until we press the switch to let him out.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How Important is the Doctrine of the Trinity?
This morning as I was preparing for our Wednesday evening study in the 1689 Baptist Confession, I came across this searching and sobering observation regarding the biblical doctrine of the Trinity (our present studies right now are concerning this vital doctrine). The observation comes from Dr. James White, in his book The Forgotten Trinity. There is much here that the church at large needs to weigh in and evalute when we think and talk about God:
"The Trinity is a truth that tests our dedication to the principle that God is smarter than we are. As strange as that may sound, I truly believe that in most instances where a religious group denies the Trinity, the reason can be traced back to the founder's unwillingness to admit the simple reality that God is bigger than we can ever imagine. That is really what Christians have always meant when they use the term "mystery" of the Trinity. The term has never meant that the Trinity is an inherently irrational thing. Instead, it simply means that we realize that God is completely unique in the way He exists, and there are elements of His being that are simply beyond our meager mental capacity to comprehend...When men approach God's truth with a haughty attitude, they often decide that particular elements of that truth are not "suitable" to them, so they "modify" the message of the faith to fit their own notions. Since the Trinity is the highest of God's revelations concerning himself, it is hardly surprising to discover that many groups deny it. If one denies any of the preceding truths upon which the Trinity is based, one will end up rejecting the entire doctrine en toto. An unwillingness to worship God as God is and has revealed himself lies behind every denial of the Trinity that appears down through history. We want a God we can fit in a box, and the eternal, Triune God does not fit that mold."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Let Us Work On!
There is probably nothing more discouraging in the work of ministry than personal evangelism. For the most part, those who are faithful to share the gospel will find more "sowing" than actual "reaping." In other words, fewer conversions will be seen in comparison to the number of sinners who are actually reached with the gospel. This is the norm in evangelistic work. But despite this fact, God's faithful servants should not get discouraged - but keep preaching and praying for the salvation of men. Yet, even with this exhortation, discouragement will set in. So, when we are despondent and down in this sacred work because we are seeing little fruit, what should we do? What can keep us pressing on in our spreading of the gospel?
In his wonderful commentary series on the Gospels, J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) gives some sage words of strong counsel and deep encourgement for all saints in the hard work of personal evangelism. He bases these words on John 4:31-42. I hope this will edify you:
"Work for the souls of men, is undoubtedly attended by great discouragements. The heart of natural man is very hard and unbelieving. The blindness of most men to their own lost condition and peril of ruin, is past description. 'The carnal mind is enmity against God' (Rom.8:7-8). No one can have any just idea of the desperate hardness of men and women, until he has tried to do good. No one can have any conception of the small number of those who repent and believe, until he has personally endeavored to 'save some'. To suppose that everybody will become a true Christian, who is told about Christ, and entreated to believe, is mere childish ignorance. 'Few there be that find the narrow way' (Matt.7:14)! The labourer for Christ will find the vast majority of those among whom he labors, unbelieving and impenitent, in spite of all that he can do. 'The many' will not turn to Christ (Matt.7:13). These are discouraging facts. But they are facts, and facts that ought to be known.
The true antidote against despondency in God's work, is an abiding recollection of such promises as that before us [namely, John 4:35-37]. There are 'wages' laid up for the faithful reapers. They shall receive a reward at the last day, far exceeding anything they have done for Christ, - a reward proportioned not to their success, but to the quality of their work. They are gathering 'fruit', which shall endure when this world has passed away, - fruit, in some souls saved, if many will not believe, and fruit in evidences of their own faithfulness, to be brought out before assembled worlds.
Do our hands ever hang down, and our knees wax faint? Do we feel disposed to say, 'My labor is in vain and my words without profit?' Let us lean back at such seasons on this glorious promise. There are 'wages' to be paid. There is 'fruit' yet to be exhibited. 'We are a sweet savor of Christ, both in them that are saved and in them that perish' (II Cor.2:15). Let us work on. 'He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him' (Psa.126:5,6). One single soul saved, shall outlive and outweigh all the kingdoms of the world."

Monday, April 13, 2009

What is a Baptist?
There are four essential and historic ways to define what it means to be a "Baptist". At the outset though, it must be stated that the term Baptist is among those myriad of names which identify a particular Christian group (e.g., Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, etc.). Hence, if a person is a true Baptist then they are asserting also by that claim to be a Christian.
Historically speaking, Baptists have been identified by the following distinctives: first, they are orthodox. The broadest and most widely accepted meaning of this term in Christianity refers to the Trinitarian and Christological affirmations of the early church. This means that Baptists would embrace those early Church creeds such as the Nicene (325 AD) and Chalcedon (451 AD) creeds. Each of these orthodox creeds strongly, emphatically, and unapologetically declared the witness of holy Scripture as to the true nature of God and of Christ as both God and man. Baptists therefore have always declared in their confessions and teachings the biblical doctrines of the Trinity and the Deity of Jesus Christ (see Matthew 28:19b; John 1:1,14). So then, for Baptists, there is only one God, in whose being exists eternally and equally three separate and distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, as to the identity of the Lord Jesus Christ, Baptists have maintained consistently that He is fully God and fully man, two distinct natures in one single person. This is the Baptist witness to orthodoxy.
Secondly, Baptists are evangelical. By this affirmation, Baptists assert strongly the divine authorship and authority of the Bible as the Word of God (see II Timothy 3:16,17); the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the personal revelation of God and His exclusivity as the sinner's only way to God (see John 1:1; Hebrews 1:3; John 14:6); the completeness of Christ's work in humiliation and exaltation for the redemption of His people (see John 17; Hebrews 2:9-18; 7:25; 8:1-10:18); the effectual working of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the gospel (see I Corinthians 1:22-2:14); the necessity of an uncoerced response of repentance and faith (see Acts 2:37-39; 16:31); and the justification of the believing sinner on the basis of Christ's finished work (see Romans 3:23-28). At the heart of evangelicalism throbs the redeeming gospel of grace expressed in a missionary zeal that reaches the nations in evangelism. For Baptists, this has always been their deepest conviction which has compelled them as no other group of believers in Christian history to sacrifice all for the spread of Christ's gospel to the unreached peoples of the world. This then is the Baptist witness to evangelicalism.
Thirdly, Baptists have always been separatists. This is the most unique historical distinctive of Baptists because it persists on the biblical concept, that the gathered church is a community of regenerated sinners who have given credible evidence to this divine reality in their lives (see John 3:1-8; I Corinthians 12:12,13). The public affirmation for this regeneration is baptism by immersion (Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:41). For Baptists then, a church cannot exist where there is no "regenerate church membership" and no affirmation of believer's baptism. Three further separate issues for being Baptist are liberty of conscience, freedom of religion, and separation of church and state. However, as important as these three concepts of freedom are to Baptists, they cannot ever take the place of a regenerated church membership. This is really what "separates" Baptists from all other Christian denominations.
Finally, Baptists have always been confessional. Baptists have the conviction in setting forth to the world what they believe, and have done this historically by confessions. A confession of faith never takes the place of the Bible nor have Baptists regarded it as equal to the Bible. However, confessions have served the church as a positive assistance in times of doctrinal controversy, a confirmation in faith and a means of edifying believers in what is righteous. More than anything, confessions for Baptists have been wonderfully used to clarify by way of clear exposition those doctrines of Scripture that are orthodox, evangelical, and distinctively "Baptist" in their "separatist" tradition.
So, what then is a Baptist? To be Baptist means to be orthodox in one's view of the Trinity and the Person of Christ. To be Baptist also means to be evangelical in one's view of holy Scripture and salvation. To be Baptist further means to be consistently separate in one's view of the church and to seek to encourage conditions in which all may hear the gospel. Finally, to be a Baptist is to be confessional in one's doctrinal convictions by making public for all to see exactly what Baptists really do believe the Bible teaches. This is being a Baptist.

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