Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Not the Man but the Message!

The Apostle Paul in Galatians is the angriest he is in any of his letters, he omits the giving of thanks and laynches straight into his argument - that the Galatians are in danger of falling away from the doctrine of grace because of the Judaizers' mixing up the Law and the Gospel in their preaching. He has nothing to be thankful for! But in Philippians 1.15 Paul speaks of those who "Preach Christ even from envy and strife," and goes on to say how they "Preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, hoping to add affliction to my chains." These were insincire Gospel ministers! So what does he say of them? "What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice." Here were these wicked men who weren't preaching the Gospel because they believed in it, but to make Paul's life more difficult, and he says, "I rejoice," because Christ is being preached.

But in Galatians he says, "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed."

Take these two passages together, and we find that it was Paul's principle - and ought to be ours - that we are not to judge the man, but the message. It has happened that men who once taught the truth have become heretics - the Bible commentator George Bush (no relation) became a Swedenborgian minister, but the great question is not, what did he become, but rather, what do his books teach! At the same time, after he became a Swedenborgian, the fact that he was a respected Bible teacher did not make the heresy he taught right! Not the man, but the message.

The personal character of a minister is important, but it does not necessarily affect his message. The King James Bible was translated by a group of Anglican ministers and one layman. One of the translators was a drunkard, others were involved in persecuting God's people, even to death! King James himself, who commissioned it, held drunken parties at his palaces (in mitigation, this was partly because his father-in-law was a very heavy drinker, and thus any party he went to involved a lot of alcohol). Does this matter? Only if it can be shown to have affected the text! In fact the AV does an excellent job of faithfully rendering warnings about drunkenness. Not the men, but the message.

So no expose of a teacher that majors on personal things is enough to prove that we ought not to be listening to him. On the other hand, many (not all) heretics have led blameless lives - this is one of the ways they draw people in! Again we say, Not the man but the message. Of course, sinners that we are, we all like a little bit of prurient gossip, but if all we can say against a man is that he had a less than wonderful personal life, we may be able to say that he is unfit to teach, but we have not proven that he is a false teacher.

Not the man, but the message.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Separated For God

What does it mean for a Christian to be separated? We could say a lot about what we, as Christians, out to be separated from, false teaching, immorality and such like. But what we are separated from is only part of true Biblical separation. Many people have derived the name Pharisee from the Hebrew pharez, to separate. The Pharisees were separatists, they separated from all sorts of things - and finally they separated themselves from Christ and from salvation. A purely negative view of separation will lead there, to Pharisees going to hell in their own very religious clique - without Christ.

Biblical separation includes a positive element, and that positive element must be emphasised unless we want either to drive people away, or to make people into Pharisees. The positive element of separation is this - that separation is not end end in itself, but rather it is a preparation for service.

Separation is not end end in itself. We must be so careful in our Evangelical and Reformed Churches never to be fooled into thinking this way, that once we have separated from error we are all fine. Still less should we always be narrowing the circle, looking for more and more people to separate from. In fact I would go so far as to say that we ought not to be looking for people to separate from at all. What we need to separate from are false teachings, and so we separate from the people who teach them, not because of the man, but because of the doctrine! Satan is tempting us to think that, once we have borne a witness by separating, everything is fine. It isn't.

Separation is for service. We separate from false teaching to better bear witness to the truth. Let me illustrate. Suppose that I am in a church where there are two pastors, one of whom is evangelical, the other liberal. Well, the message of that church will be confused, the watching world will not be able to work out what it is actually teaching. If the evangelical pastor separates from the liberal, then his church will bear a consistent witness.

This is the whole point of separation. It therefore follows that we are only to separate from false doctrine, and from gross immorality. We are to separate only over the issue of the Gospel, which does not include Church government or the proper subjects of baptism. My own church has elders who actually differ on these matters. We are, however, all united on the Gospel, Jesus Christ as the propitiation for sins. We separate for the sake of the Gospel, and fo no other reason.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Simple Gospel

The following quotation comes from a sermon by C.J. Vaughan, Dean of Llandaff on the Ethiopian Eunuch.

"Lastly, the narrative before us illustrates the importance, both for strength and for comfort, of holding a simple Gospel.

"Many of us pass through life without one single experience of the effect of the Gospel upon this stranger. We are so mistaught, or else so slow to learn; we are so afraid of presumption, and so fond of adding something of our own to the work and word of God; that we never reach anything that can call itself the glad tidings of Jesus, or send us forth on our way rejoicing. What Philip preached, what the Ethiopian received, was something which needed but one conversation for its statement and but one hour for its reception. Evidently it was the simple declaration of a Saviour; a Saviour complete in His work for man; a Saviour, Himself our Propitiation, our Righteousness, and our strength; our Sacrifice for sin, our Example of holiness, our Almighty Enabler and Renewer by His holy and in-dwelling spirit. This is what Philip preached. If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and Shalt believe in thine heart that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. That is the Gospel, as God sent it, as Christ ratified it, as the Evangelists and Apostles preached it. Out of this Gospel flows all peace and strength. Alas! We have added to it, and we have subtracted from it, till the vital energy is lost. God give us grace, ere it be too late, to call it back! There is none other. Any other Gospel is destitute of God's strength, because destitute of God's wisdom. No other Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. By that test shall ye know the precious from the vile. Take Christ wholly for your Saviour; see yourself lost, see Him an entire Propitiation; ask of God to receive you as you are, and to look upon you only in Christ: and upon you, in the same proportion, will arise in no long time a glorious light: in you will be fulfilled, as in thousands before you, the memorable words, Surely, shall one say, in the Lord I have righteousness and strength... in the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory!"

C.J. Vaughan, The Church of the First Days Vol. 1 (London, Macmillan, 1873) Pp. 334-6.