Monday, September 14, 2015

An example of Calvin's practical outlook on Predestination

People will sometimes caricature Calvin’s doctrine of predestination by saying “Well, if everything is predestined then it doesn’t matter what we do…because it was predestined.”.  

This, of course is a careless way to understand the bible’s teaching and Calvin’s explanation thereof. 

The Westminster Confession rightly affirms the biblical doctrine of predestination and offers an excellent pastoral warning-

The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men, attending the will of God revealed in His Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the Gospel. (WCF 3.8)

To understand Calvin’s practical outlook on predestination, his comments on Isaiah 6 and John 12 are helpful.  These passages have to do with God hardening the hearts of the Jews so they would not respond to the gospel.  Who’s fault is their unbelief? See Calvin’s comments connected to these passages:

Though he (Jesus) had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, 

“He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
and understand with their heart, and turn,
and I would heal them.”   John 12:36b-40

John quotes Isaiah 6  as a clear demonstration of the stubbornness of the Jews. He does not indeed absolutely give the very words, but he states the meaning clearly enough.

Therefore, says he, they could not believe, because Isaiah said, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart.

True, this prediction was not the cause of their unbelief, but the Lord foretold it, because he foresaw that they would be such as they are here described. The Evangelist applies to the Gospel what had already taken place under the law, and at the same time shows that the Jews were deprived of reason and understanding, because they were rebels against God. Yet if you inquire into the first cause, we must come to the predestination of God. But as that purpose is hidden from us, we must not too eagerly search into it; for the everlasting scheme of the divine purpose is beyond our reach, but we ought to consider the cause which lies plainly before our eyes, namely, the rebellion by which they rendered themselves unworthy of blessings so numerous and so great.   (Calvin's commentary on Isaiah 6)

Did you catch what Calvin said? The ultimate driver behind the actions of men is God’s sovereign hand, however understanding the purpose on the level of predestination is too hard and not clearly revealed to us. For us, practically speaking, we are to see rebellion for what it is- sin.  Man is responsible for his sin no matter what the hidden, sovereign plan of God might be accomplishing. In Isaiah 6 and John 12 the Jews were responsible for their disbelief. Unbelievers are responsible for their unbelief. 

We can never use predestination to excuse sin and disbelief.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Why the big, central pulpit and not a Plexiglas lectern with a stool?

Great question!

The various features of our church architecture and layout are based on things we see as biblically important. Our building looks a certain way for a specific reason. Our choice of furnishings and the particular layout of the pulpit, baptismal, and communion table are purposeful. 

It’s not that other types of church buildings or layouts are unbiblical or wrong. For example, it seems the big, central, wooden pulpit is rare in new church buildings. Many modern churches opt for a stool or chair in front of a Plexiglas lectern for their casually dressed pastor to sit and  teach or “talk with" his congregation. I do something similar on Sunday nights and in other teaching venues. Certainly the Word of God can be taught or preached in different set ups.  The bible doesn’t prescribe the arrangement of furniture in a church worship setting. 

Whatever your set up, something is being communicated.  

The sitting pastor with small Plexiglas lectern on Sunday morning definitely communicates casual, informal, personal interaction. It seems such a set up is intended to make the pastor come across as non-threatening, even a bit less authoritative. I am sure this is a reaction to the stereotypical yelling, pulpit-pounding, fundy preacher.  The stool/lectern approach is meant to put people at ease as they listen to a “message” from the bible. The pastor’s choice of casual dress while teaching or preaching Sunday morning tells the congregation- “Hey, I’m one of you! Listen what I’ve learned this week.”  I think much of the trend toward a casual set up for teaching/preaching Sunday morning has come from “millennial” pressure.  Millennials are characterized as being skeptical or dismissive of authority.  The traditional big, central pulpit with the pastor wearing a suit or robe is a bit offsetting to a generation that doesn’t acknowledge levels of authority readily. 

So why do we, at Redeemer, opt for the set up we have?  Why the big, central, wooden pulpit?  Again, whatever your set up, something is being communicated.  Our intention is to communicate importance and authority.  The most important activities of the church are signified by the furnishings we have- the pulpit, the baptismal, and the communion table.  The ministry of Christ’s church is the ministry of the Word and Sacraments.  Our furnishings are meant to make a statement about the priorities of the church.  As for the pulpit in particular- it’s big, central, and strong, for a reason.  It’s meant to promote the preaching of God’s inspired, inerrant, sufficient, and authoritative Word as the central activity of the Church.  The pulpit is bigger than the preacher.  The pulpit requires the person who brings the Word to stand up and step in to it. It demands the preacher consider the solemnity of the role he is exercising when preaching the Word.  Yes, the big, central pulpit is meant to exude authority-the authority of the preached Word.  The authority is not based on the preacher, but on the Word that is preached.  In our church, the pastors wear robes so the congregation’s attention is not on his clothes, but rather the role he is filling for that hour.  Some will say- “the robe distracts me…it reminds me of when I was Catholic.”  I say, skinny jeans on the pastor distracts me.  The pulpit manned by a minister in a robe communicates importance and authority.  This set up promotes the bible being preached. Teaching is explaining what has been written and how it may apply, which is important and should happen in multiple ways in the life of a healthy church. Preaching however, is proclaiming the truth of the Word and exhorting the congregation to believe and obey.  The pastor is commanded to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2) as part of his essential shepherding duties and our pulpit set up serves to assure this practice. The pulpit set up is a reminder to the pastor and the people about God’s authoritative Word.  There’s a sense in which pastors come and go, but the big, solid pulpit from which the Word is preached, will remain for generations.  A preacher “filling the pulpit” is a great way to describe what a faithful pastor should be doing.  He should know what the pulpit is meant for (preaching the Word) and do the task. So many important messages can be relayed by architecture and set up. 

I would rather go to a church that has a modern set up where the pastor believes and teaches the bible faithfully than one with a traditionally arranged big, central pulpit, and the pastor doesn’t believe or actually teach the bible. The essential priority for a biblical, healthy church, is a right view and teaching of the bible.  I do have some anxiety however, concerning what the modern set up says about the convictions of a given church leadership.  But thankfully for everyone, Jesus is the head of His church, not me.