Article XVI-Salvation-Regeneration

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶117 Salvation-Regeneration

Regeneration is a biological term which illustrates that by a new relationship in Christ, one does in fact have a new life and a new spiritual nature capable of faith, love and obedience to Christ Jesus as Lord. The believer is born again and is a new creation. The old life is past; a new life has begun.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Ezekiel 36:26-27; John 5:24; Romans 6:4; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10; Titus 3:4-5; 1 Peter 1:23.

The last Article we had dealt with salvation as justification, which is a legal term and speaks to our guilt of sin and freedom from judgment because of that guilt. This Article deals with salvation as a brand new creation. This is important. Our salvation is not just about moving from guilty to not guilty. That is one, vital aspect, but it is not all there is.

Regeneration reminds us that our salvation is also about moving from death to life. All of creation is dying. Many insightful people have said that the moment we are born we begin to die. The arrow of time for physicists is entropy, the natural process of decay in the universe. Everything and everyone dies. Salvation is the antidote to that seemingly inevitable process.

Because a saving relationship with Jesus Christ involves new creation, we human beings are restored to our immortal selves we were supposed to be. Obviously, this statement can be argued against very vehemently, since all of the Christians who have ever lived still died. Yet we hold by faith this very important concept that without Christ, without the regeneration of the Holy Spirit in our lives because of salvation, we are spiritually dead and condemned. With the regeneration that comes from salvation, we have passed from death to life and even though our bodies still hold the consequences of sin in them, resulting in them either burning out or rusting out and ceasing to function, our spirits have been awakened. Because our spirits are now alive in Christ we will continue on long after our bodies do not, and we will receive a new body that will never perish. Regeneration leads directly to one of our later Articles on resurrection and eternal life.

Practically speaking, this means that if we are in Christ, we do not just revel in the idea that we are now forgiven and not guilty. We also know that we have been given a new life in Christ and we are called to live out that new life by the standards Christ has set. We are called to live as if we truly are citizens of the New Jerusalem here and now. And we are called to live as faithful ambassadors of the King whom we serve.

Article XII-Humankind-Good Works

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶113 Humankind-Good Works

Good works are the fruit of faith in Jesus Christ, but works cannot save us from our sins nor from God’s judgment. As expressions of Christian faith and love, our good works performed with reverence and humility are both acceptable and pleasing to God. However, good works do not earn God’s grace.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Matthew 5:16; 7:16-20; Romans 3:7-28; Ephesians 2:10; 2 Timothy 1:8-9; Titus 3:5.

In this Article, we try to show the distinction between living a Christian life and how we are saved. Free Methodists stand firmly in the tradition of the Reformation and boldly declare that we are saved by grace alone. Yet we also know that this salvation is for a purpose, and it is to live a holy life in Christ Jesus. Therefore, we also boldly proclaim that our lives ought to exhibit good works because of our faith.

faithworksTo put this very simply, and to try and avoid a lot of debate on the nature of good works and faith, we believe that we need faith in Christ to be saved, but it must be a faith that is strong enough to change the way we live. If we say we have faith but continue to live a life as if we were never brought into contact with God in Christ–never having an experience of the Holy Spirit in our lives–then it really is a faith in words only. If my faith does not prompt me to yield my life to God and allow God to transform me from the inside out into the new creation God wants me to be, then it is not a faith that is worth anything.

John Wesley said essentially the same thing when he said that we are not saved by good works, but neither are we saved without them. Our good works become the result of our saving faith as we are transformed more fully into the image and likeness of Christ.

Chapel at Central Christian College

I had the honor and privilege of preaching in Chapel on Wednesday morning this week. This is the service. The sermon begins around fourteen minutes into the service. The prayers and the poems before the sermon were really good as well. If you have time for this service, enjoy!

Article VI-The Holy Spirit-His Relation to the Church

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶107 The Holy Spirit-His Relation to the Church

The Holy Spirit is poured out upon the church by the Father and the Son. He is the church’s life and witnessing power. He bestows the love of God and makes real the lordship of Jesus Christ in the believer so that both His gifts of words and service may achieve the common good and build and increase the church. In relation to the world He is the Spirit of truth, and His instrument is the Word of God.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. Acts 5:3-4; Romans 8:14; 1 Corinthians 12:4-7; 2 Peter 1:21.

This Article reminds us that it is only by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives that we do anything, either individually or together as the Church. Many human organizations can do lots of good in the world and even effect major change in actions and behaviors, yet it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that the Church can be something more than simply another charitable organization that does good.

Because the Holy Spirit enlivens the Church, the body of believers together become more than they are apart from one another. The Holy Spirit not only creates individual people who are living in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, He also creates a community that is the very presence of God on earth. This may sound way too self-aggrandizing, yet it is what we believe because it is what we have experienced in history. This does not mean that every congregation that calls itself Christian is the presence of God on earth. It is believers who are committed to having Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord that fall into this category together.

As well, there is a check and balance to this whole idea. I know pastors who speak as if they are the mouthpiece of God and that in them, personally, dwells the direct connection to God that the congregation needs to acknowledge, follow, and unify around. Yet the last sentence of this Article gives us the balance needed to combat such spiritual narcissism. The Holy Spirit speaks through Scripture to the whole Church. As such, for something to be obviously from God, it has to be understood through Scripture and it has to be the same message to all of the Church. This means that for the narcissistic pastor, if the decisions are not confirmed in the congregation, the idea is the pastor’s, not God’s. The same Spirit does not speak radically different ideas to different people in the same congregation. This is because the Spirit “makes real the lordship of Jesus Christ”–a lordship that is followed by pastors and laity alike–and He speaks for “the common good” and to “build and increase the church.”

unnamedOne last item from those phrases. It is the role of the Holy Spirit to “build and increase the Church.” Too many times we think it is our job to grow the Church. We try new programs (although we don’t call them programs because we give lip-service to the idea that programs don’t grow the Church), new worship styles, new times, new logos, new advertising, new bulletins, new projectors, new pastors, all in the attempt to “build and increase the church.” Jesus was adamant. Our job is to make disciples. God will grow the church when we are faithful in making disciples. Any time you see a congregation more concerned with growing the church rather than making disciples, you can know that its priorities are misplaced.

Why Gathering as Church is Necessary

Blog Photo- Church AttendanceI recently read an article entitled Is Attending Church Really Necessary for Christians? I got excited about the title and clicked the link. What I found was woefully inadequate for the actual topic. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people feel like this article, though: Jesus is somehow there, and the Bible says we should gather, so it is important. There is so much more to this issue that I felt compelled to write something on it myself.

First, when dealing with the topic of Church, it is very important to remember that Jesus founded a Church. He did not come and create a group of individuals who gather together every once in a while when they feel like it. He was explicit in Matthew 16:18 when he said that the Gates of Hades will not be able to withstand the Church. He did not say that it would not be able to withstand individuals or believers or disciples or apostles, but the Church. Paul writes in Ephesians 1:22-23, “And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” And again he writes in 1 Timothy 3:15, “if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”  If the Church is what can overcome the Gates of Hades, and the Church is the fullness of Christ, and the Church is the pillar and bulwark of the truth, then there is something absolutely necessary about Church in the life of a Christian.

It is true that Christ is uniquely present in the Church. When the people of God gather to worship, the constituent parts of the Body of Christ are together. Ideally, they are all following the guidance and direction of the Head, Christ. When this happens, the presence of God is among us. This ties in to the injunction in 1 Peter 2:5 that we when we are in Christ we are living stones being put together in the new Temple of the Holy Spirit. No one individual stone can be a full temple in and of itself, and no one Christian can be independent of others.

Part of the reason that Christ is present in Church in a unique way is because it is in the context of corporate worship that we celebrate the sacraments. The presence of God and the grace of God are with us in a very real way through the faithful participation of the people of God in the celebration of the sacraments. Christians may debate how, exactly, Christ shows up when we celebrate Holy Communion, for example, but one thing we cannot deny is that Christ does show up. We have 2000 years of experience to prove that fact.

Perhaps the most important reason the Church as a communal gathering is necessary, though, is because we, as Christians, are supposed to be renewed and transformed into the image and likeness of God. You can see this all throughout the New Testament, but especially in 2 Corinthians 3:18. God is Trinity. God is an eternal communion of three persons. God is eternally in relationship among those three persons. This means that if we are to truly be transformed into the image and likeness of God, and if we are to truly reflect the likeness of God in the world, we must be in community with others. We cannot do this as individual believers who come together only when they feel like it, seeing Church as an optional add-on to their faith-walk with Christ. Our very being as Christians necessitates the fact that we be in community with others who are also being renewed in the image and likeness of Christ.

Jesus also said this in a completely different way on the night in which he was betrayed. In John 13:35 Jesus says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” We can only have love for one another if we are in community and communion with one another. We can only be in community and communion with one another if we gather together on a regular basis. Therefore, if we do not gather corporately as the Church, we can never hope to show the world that we are truly Jesus’ disciples. Not only our very being as Christians in the image and likeness of the Triune God is at stake, but our growth in grace and relationship with Jesus Christ and our mission to the rest of the world is at stake.

All of this rises and falls on the very reality that Jesus created a Church, a community, through which he chose to transform the world.

Revelation 19:7-8 and the Bride of the Lamb

0c4b598464e74cf48cf92730223e6c5aGood guys wear white.  This is true in old westerns where the good guy always had a white hat, and it is true in Revelation.  If someone is wearing white, they are a part of the covenant people of God, an angel, or Christ himself.  Look at these verses towards the end of the book:

Let us rejoice and celebrate, and give him the glory, for the wedding day of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. She was given fine, pure white linen to wear, for the fine linen is the saints’ acts of justice.

The bride of the Lamb, the bride of Christ, is the Church.  She wears white because she has been redeemed.  Yet there is more to the white clothes than just being redeemed.  The wedding clothes she has were given to her.  By whom?  By God.  This is something called a divine passive voice in writing.  Jewish authors would write in passive voice (as opposed to active voice) if they were talking about something God does so they could communicate the idea without writing God.  This is one of those instances, since John was one of the original apostles, and thus Jewish.

So, the garments were given by God, yet they are white because of the saints’ righteous deeds.  There is a sense of cooperation here.  God gives grace to us, then it is up to us what we do with that grace.  Since grace is really a short-hand way to speak of God’s power and presence in our lives through the person and work of the Holy Spirit, the framework looks something like this:

God gives us his presence in the Holy Spirit, and it is up to us to allow the Spirit to conform us to the image and likeness of Christ.  When we do this, we become more and more holy and accomplish righteous deeds.  If we do not allow the Spirit to transform us, we reject God’s grace because we have turned our backs on the Holy Spirit in our lives.

There is another wedding story in the Bible that helps illustrate this point.  In Matthew 22 Jesus tells a parable of a wedding feast.  The guests would not come, so the servants are sent out to invite anyone they can find to come.  When the king is walking through the party, he sees a man without a wedding garment and has him thrown out.

My initial thoughts on this parable were always confused.  People don’t usually walk around carrying their best clothes in case they might be invited to a wedding that very hour!  But knowing how weddings worked at that time and in that culture makes perfect sense of the parable.  It was the duty of the groom’s father to provide the clothes to all the guests of a wedding.  When the servants invited people and brought them to the party, they gave them the clothes from the king to wear.  This man refused to wear the clothes provided.  In essence he was saying to the king, “I’ll accept your invitation and I’ll feast at your banquet receiving from you all the wonderful aspects of being at the party, but I’ll do it on my own terms.  Don’t expect me to conform to your desires.  I’m just here for what I can get out of it.”

God gives the garments.  God gives his Spirit, his grace.  It is our responsibility to put the garments on, to allow the Spirit to transform us.  It is not enough to be invited to the wedding feast; we must fully accept all that God has for us, which includes working with him to change and renew us in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.

Revelation 2:20 and Tolerating Heresy

It always amazes me how many Christians will tolerate heresy within their churches and denominations. Sure, there can be differences of opinions on many different aspects of the faith which are not heretical, but there are denominations that have people in leadership who deny the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, and other central aspects of God.

The letter to Thyatira, contained within Revelation 2, deals with this issue. Jesus dictates seven letters to seven different churches, and this one has issues like this. Jesus praises the church in Thyatira, and then he follows it up with this:

20 But I have this against you: you put up with that woman, Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. You allow her to teach and to mislead my servants into committing sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols.

Jesus counts it as a sin for righteous and faithful people to tolerate heresy being taught within the Church.

This Christmas, as we celebrate the Incarnation of the Living God, we would do well to remember that differences of opinion are one thing, heresy is something completely different. A good starting point to tell the difference would be a few questions:

  • Does this opinion contradict who the Church proclaims God is? Does it deny the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the personhood of the Holy Spirit? Does it try to blend the identity of our God with other gods through teachings, rituals, or other corporate events?
  • Does this opinion lead people to behavior or condone behavior that the Church has taught is immoral?

If any of these questions can be answered yes, then you may want to take Jesus’ warning to Thyatira seriously for yourself.

Jolly old St. Nicholas did not tolerate heresy. He is famous today for giving gifts to children, but he was also famous during his lifetime in the 300s for punching Arius at the Council in Nicaea in 325 when he heard Arius’ position that Jesus was not God but was created.