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Lord's Day Liturgy

Calvinist Knees

How does a Calvinist confess his sins? That’s not the start of a joke.

We are a Calvinistic church, meaning that we believe that God is God, God rules over all, and that includes His sovereignty in the salvation of men. We believe that He elects spiritually dead men to be brought to Him as worshippers for eternity. He has their names already written in a book. They are a love gift from the Father to the Son as a Bride.

Whether you like the nickname or not, it’s convenient theological shorthand. The least you could do is hope to be a Calvinist that isn’t weird.

So how does a Calvinist confess his sins? Some don’t. They confess that total depravity is a true doctrine, but they reason that God saves His chosen ones regardless of any specific repentance, so individual confession doesn’t matter. I’d call this a form of hyper-Calvinism, and more than that, I’d call it wrong.

There are some other Calvinists who don’t confess their sins because the truths of the doctrines of grace have caused them to see everyone else’s errors but their own. A certain kind of knowledge puffs up (1 Corinthians 8:1). I’d call this hypocritical-Calvinism, and it is worse than wrong.

Those who realize that they were corrupt and contemptible to God, rebels without a cause, dead in sin apart from God’s free choice and God’s perfect blood and God’s initiated heart-transplant, should not be proud. A Calvinist should confess his sins in humility. A Calvinist should confess his sins on his knees. We could call him a Calvikneest.

As part of our liturgy we’ve been inviting those who are able and willing to kneel in humble confession for many years. It’s not a convenient position for many, and a physical impossibility for a few. But for those who are able, wouldn’t it be a great testimony if others knew we were Calvinists by our knees?

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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Lot of Calvinistic Sun in the Sky

The third request of Jesus’ prayer takes a lot of faith. He taught us to ask our divine Father to set apart His name from every other name. Next we ask Him to establish His promised empire among us. Then we’re to pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

I want to ask, how is this possible? And, what would it look like?

How many servants of Christ have prayed this prayer as sworn Arminians? Do we appreciate that when we make this petition—or any of them really—it assumes that the Father has both the prerogative and the power to make this happen? We pray that God will make God’s will prevail over man’s will. We’re not asking men to obey God’s will, we’re asking God to cause them to obey. That’s a lot of Calvinistic sun in the sky, even more than when we acknowledge that the Father knows what we need before we ask Him (verse 8).

If God answered this prayer—and it is His will for us to pray for His will to be done, so we should expect Him to answer—how would we know? What signs would we see? Well, how are things happening in heaven? We’re not asking for something different here, but that it would be here like it is there.

In heaven His Word is heard, His name is hallowed, His commands are obeyed. That obedience is total—not partial, happy—not sullen, immediate—not delayed, and quick—not slow. The angels don’t question His will or rebel against it. They don’t try to ignore or tweak or replace it.

As we pray for heavenly obedience to come down, let us pray that He cause us to obey on earth first.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Ongoing Application

We believe that God saves sinners. We believe that the Father elected a people for His Son forever ago, that the Son laid down His life to pay for the sins of His people a while ago, and that the Holy Spirit grants new life and repentance and faith any time ago. Our sovereign, triune God designed, obtained, and fulfills all His saving work when He wants.

Because we believe that God drives salvation and that His eternal will cannot be derailed, we might ask, “When is a man saved?” Is he saved when God chose him? Is he saved when Christ rose from the grave for him? Is he saved when he confesses Christ as Lord and Savior? Is he saved when Christ returns and takes him to glory?

A man elected by God cannot not be saved. But from that man’s perspective, he cannot know that he is in that group unless he believes in Jesus. He can’t claim redemption without repentance. John Murray distinguishes between two works of God in his book, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied. Christ does not need to die again, but the Holy Spirit does need to apply Christ’s work at the appointed time. How will we know when it has been applied? The sign is repentance and faith in Jesus.

Even as believers who worship by confessing our sins each week, we don’t do it because we are uncertain about the outcome of Christ’s sacrifice. We seek forgiveness and restoration to fellowship as an ongoing application of the Son’s work. Humble admission demonstrates the Spirit’s ongoing work, and that should encourage us that God’s eternal plan is alive and being written out among us.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Chosen for Humility

Even Calvinists need to be humble. I preached all the way through John chapter 6 without using the word Calvinism once, though I most assuredly taught the truths from John 6 that Calvinism seeks to summarize. The Father chose a group of people to give to His Son. The Son gave His life, His flesh, for that group. The Spirit brings that group to life, giving them the desire to come to the Son. Each person in the group is guaranteed to be raised on the last day.

Not a one of them deserved it. They were hungry and Christ fed them. They could only behold Christ through unbelief until the Spirit opened their eyes. They were prone to walk away, and all of them would have except that Christ keeps them.

Peter’s affirmation of truth (in verses 68 and 69) was met by Jesus with another affirmation: Peter (and the staying disciples) believed because they were chosen (verse 70). There was no place for presumption, no place for uppityness, no reason to pat themselves on the back for theology well spoken. But for the grace of God they would have walked away with “many of His disciples” (verse 66).

Our time at the Lord’s table is similarly humbling. We affirm our belief that His sacrifice for sins is our only hope. We confess our personal trust in Christ when we eat and drink. We share a meal of peace with God and with God’s people. And the fact that we can do so says more about God than about us. But for the grace of God, we would walk away from the Table, not towards it.

We have every reason to be humbly thankful. We have every reason to boast in Christ. We have every reason to come to Him. He chose us for Himself.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Initiated without Our Interest

We love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). We live because He lives and we have eternal life because His Spirit breathed life into our souls. We rejoice in response to His initiating and effective grace.

Gospel is a one-word name for the New Covenant which is a two-word name for God’s eternal, Triune love story. From the first chapter to the last, the story is all about how He goes first. All things are from Him and then through Him and back to Him. Not only do we blow it when it is up to us, we don’t even have the brainwaves to know that we were blowing it or to care without God as antecedent.

Adam and Eve, with Adam representing all of humanity, ran and hid in shame after sinning. Adam’s sense of shame was a grace as God made man in His image; even conviction was something the pot was not entitled to. Adam did not draw near to God after he disobeyed. Adam did not seek forgiveness and reconciliation. He did not start preparing a sacrifice. Had not God gone and sought them, their bones would still be behind those bushes. God did not wait for them to cry out to Him.

Jesus did not wait for the Jews to cry out for Him. He clothed Himself with flesh to give life to the world (John 6:51), but not because the world wanted Him to. Jesus died on the cross, but not because we asked Him to. It wasn’t our idea, it wasn’t our petition. All we did was need Him to do.

The bread and the cup were prepared for us. Peter explained that Jesus was the spotless Lamb foreknown before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:19-20). Through Him we are believers in God, who raised Christ from the dead and gave His Son glory, so that our faith and hope are in God (1 Peter 1:21). He did not wait for us to draw near. The Incarnation and Redemption were planned, initiated, and executed without our interest or input. Then He let us hear His voice calling. Now He invites us to come by faith and be filled because He came to seek and save the lost.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

The Same God

Many who love to profess their love of God’s sovereignty struggle to profess their love of God’s love. Perhaps that’s because it is easier to be proud about knowing that He’s sovereign, which is quite an ugly cacophony if you think about it. Nevertheless, if He acts for His own name (and He does), if He seeks His own glory (and He does), then how could He be for us? How can we know He loves us?

Yes, God controls everything. Yes, God punishes those who will not praise His infinite excellencies. But the same God who told us that He is omnipotent also told us that He is love. The creation story reveals God’s love for His image-bearers as He couldn’t wait to show them all He’d made for them. The Incarnation puts love into flesh and bones. The Word came who into the world because He loved the Father and those the Father was giving Him.

How do we know it was done by love? Look at the Lord’s Table. The Son gave His flesh, gave His life so that we who believe might share His life and know His love. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The bread and the cup represent life laid down and that represents love.

God is autonomous; He has no need for others. His glory is untouchable; we cannot steal it away from Him. And yet the Father sent His only Son as a sacrifice to save and secure all those given to Him. Here is love vast as the ocean. Here is life in Jesus. Come to Him and commune with Him and He will raise you up on the last day.

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Every Thumb's Width

Calvinism as Guaranteed Fellowship

On Calvinism as a life-system, or worldview, that explains how men relate to God’s eternal purpose:

Calvinism takes its stand with a fundamental thought which is equally profound. It does not seek God in the creature, as Paganism; it does not isolate God from the creature, as Islamism; it posits no mediate communion between God and the creature, as does Romanism; but proclaims the exalted thought that, although standing in high majesty above the creature, God enters into immediate fellowship with the creature, as God the Holy Spirit. This is even the heart and kernel of the Calvinistic confession of predestination.

In other words, our enjoyment of eternal life is part of God’s eternal plan to share His eternal life with us. Among other things, His eternal life is Triune communion, and Calvinism summarizes His intent to share communion with men. This is good news, and it is the “mother thought” of all God’s “heroes and heralds.”

[P]redestination was inexorably maintained, not for the sake of separating man from man, nor in the interest of personal pride, but in order to guarantee from eternity to eternity, to our inner self, a direct and immediate communion with the Living God.

—Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 21.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Theology to Justify Rebellion

There are at least two corrupt ways to witness about Christ to others that we must confess. The first sinful approach is thinking that witnessing depends on us. The second sinful attitude is thinking that witnessing doesn’t depend on us. Stated as such, we’re always in sin; so is there a way out after we confess?

It is sinfully proud to think that our timing, our tone, our terms make the difference in evangelism. Spiritual darkness and deadness are spiritual conditions that only God’s Spirit’s can overcome. God causes men to be born again, and we can no more make someone a child of God than a doctor can make a baby have life. God is not impressed when we act like we can do His job.[1]

Likewise, it is sinfully proud to think that we have no responsibility whatsoever in evangelism. This pride masquerades as humility, but this modesty poorly masks disobedience to God who commands His people to make disciples, to proclaim the gospel, to defend the eternal hope within them. God is not impressed when we use theology to justify our rebellion.[2]

Pride may open our mouths or keep them shut, but it must be confessed as sin either way. So how can we witness and not sin? How can we be bold without getting big heads? By believing Him.[3]

Belief is the problem in both. In the first case, belief is misdirected, put in a place He didn’t say to put it. In the second case, belief is partial, not held in all the ways He did say to hold it. As we call men to believe, we need to be examples of believers even in what we believe about our place and God’s place in calling them to believe.


[1] Pelagian and semi-Pelagian/Arminian evangelizers should confess their sin.
[2] Hyper-Calvinist non-evangelizers should confess their sin.
[3] There is only one other soteriological paradigm for evangelism that honors God’s sovereignty and man’s responsbility.

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Preach the Word

Inspiration

Creation begins to make the case for the giving essence of God’s authority. The incarnation of His Son also demonstrates willing exposure of His sovereign Self. In both creation and the incarnation, God shows not only who He is, but also what His goal is with us: fellowship. The revelation of His Word is the third aspect that demonstrates the purpose of disclosed truth and the inviting nature of true authority.

Inspiration

The Scriptures reveal God’s righteousness and our unrighteousness. The law stops every mouth and makes every man accountable to God (Romans 3:19). None are righteous, no one understands, no one seeks God, there is no fear of God before our eyes (Romans 3:10-11, 18). The Bible exposes our weakness, our ungodliness, our rebellion, and our deadness (Romans 5:6, 10; Ephesians 2:1-3).

But the Word doesn’t see our deadness and mock us. It sees us dead and raises us to life. We “have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God, for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you'” (1 Peter 1:23-25). The Word wields authority for our life.

David wrote about the potency of special revelation to change us for good.

The law of the Lord is perfect, > reviving the soul; > the testimony of the Lord is sure, > making wise the simple; > the precepts of the Lord are right, > rejoicing the heart; > the commandment of the Lord is pure, > enlightening the eyes; > the fear of the Lord is clean, > enduring forever; > the rules of the Lord are true, > and righteous altogether. > More to be desired are they than gold, > even much fine gold; > sweeter also than honey > and drippings of the honeycomb. > Moreover, by them is your servant warned; > in keeping them there is great reward. > Psalm 19:7-11

Paul wrote about the efficacy of “the word of His grace” to protect and establish us.

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:29-32)

The Word saves, the Word sanctifies, the Word builds. Authoritative truth seeks our good. Paul loved the truth, he wanted the Ephesians to be alert for the truth, and he gave himself ceaselessly and affectionately so that they might have the truth. Why? Because truth invites life. Revelation invites relationship with God (and with each other). Carl Henry’s second thesis was:

Divine revelation is given for human benefit, offering us privileged communion with our Creator in the kingdom of God. (God, Revelation, and Authority, Vol 2, 30)

That’s the authoritative Word at work for us, not against us or in spite of us or at a distance from us. Truth works and wins us. God uses truth to bring us into His true joy.

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Enjoying the Process

I Don’t Do Découpage

It’s been more than three months since my last post. Fantastic. The long absence moved one friend to ask via email if I had abandoned the Void. I did go on a Google Reader fast from May 13 to June 26. Little did I know that break from blog reading also would include a break from blog writing. I have done a few things since April 1st.

Much of my time in April and May was spent preparing for June, because in June I spoke 25 times in 21 days starting June 5th with the Grace Academy high school graduation. The next morning I flew to Fresno to meet up with my friend Greg Perkins, youth pastor at Grace Community Church in Madera. We headed to Silver Spur Camp and Retreat Center in Tuolumne for his junior high and high school summer camp titled, Branded: What it means to live like Christ. The following Thursday I flew from Fresno to Columbus for our seemingly annual summer trip to Ohio (see my posts from 2006, 2007, and 2008). Mo and the kids flew from Seattle on Friday to meet me. The next speaking go-round was for the Reformation Conference at Faith Bible Church. Last year they asked me to preach on the five points of Calvinism. This year they asked for follow up messages. I titled the series: We Are Not Our Own: The Implications of Calvinism, driven by this quote from Calvin in his Institutes:

We are God’s: let us therefore live for Him and die for Him. We are God’s: let His wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward Him as our only lawful goal. (3.7.1)

The audio for each session is available if you’re interested.

The Heart of Calvinism – How to Live Like a Whole-Hearted Calvinist

God May Perhaps Grant Repentance – How to Correct Opponents Like a Calvinist

For the Sake of the Faith of God’s Elect – How to Tell THE Story Like a Calvinist

Created to Walk in Good Works – How to Obey Like a Calvinist

Born Again to a Living Hope – How to Suffer Like a Calvinist

After the church conference I traveled with the youth from Faith Bible to Cedar Lakes Conference Center in Ripley, West Virginia, home of the best Gino’s pizza parlor. This year was the tenth time I’ve spoken at their camp and I covered The Myth of Adolescence. We flew back to Washington a week ago tonight, but returning home has been little rest. One of the things requiring much work is the serious remodel at our house. I took the following video on my (new 3GS, yeah, that’s right) iPhone to provide a small glimpse into our new, but hopefully only temporary, look.

That’s it for now. It was something, and that’s the deal I made with myself earlier today. If you’re reading this in Google Reader or the like and are thinking about clicking through to leave a comment about how glad you are to see a post from me or share some other encouraging word, don’t bother. Comments are now closed indefinitely. Maybe I’ll have more to say about that decision later, maybe not. For that matter, the old Void posts are absent, though they will eventually reappear from the www abyss. Feel free to email me if you have questions or concerns or well-wishes, or send me a Facebook message, though you should probably keep in mind that I don’t do Facebook any more than I do découpage or herbal tea.