White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

What makes a good resume?

We’ve all heard of resume-padding, but this is a little ridiculous:

A pastor who regaled family and parishioners with tales from his time in the Navy SEALs is backtracking after his story turned out to be nothing more than a self-described “ego-booster,” according to reports.

Without knowing the man, his ministry, or his preaching, it’s impossible to say how this lie found its way into his sermons, his counseling, or his leadership. But it certainly had to have an impact. Contrast how this pastor wanted to be seen and known with how the apostle Paul describes his ministry in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5,

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Paul’s perception of his own ministry and of his own place in that ministry went arm in arm with his message of Christ crucified, the power of God displayed in the hiddenness of the cross. Sadly, many modern pastors do not have the same confidence that Paul had in his message.  But when the message changes to something more than the scandal of Christ and Him crucified, there must be a corresponding change to the messenger. Messages that are focused on me and my abilities and my successes are far more convincing if they are delivered by a man who seems to have experienced the success he offers in his sermons.

The foolishness of the cross remains a scandal among those who profess to worship the risen Christ, even among those who are called to be his heralds. When faced with our own personal sins and idols, the temptation is strong to make ourselves more than we really are, to pretend to be more than we have ever been. But when we succumb to that temptation we also turn away from the only hope we can ever have to be loved according to our real circumstances rather than the fiction that we create, believe, and project to others.

I hope that for this particular pastor, someone in his church or some peer reminds him of Paul’s message in 1 Corinthians 2 and I hope it changes the way he preaches to desperate sinners and counsels those who just can’t seem to rise above their circumstances. Having had his glory pulled out from under him, he is in a perfect position to remember the glory of the One who was lifted up for him. May all our pastors take refuge in the foolishness and weakness and hiddenness of God.

WHI-1048 | The Whole Counsel of God

We often hear Christian leaders say things like, “I’m not inviting you to join a church, but to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus.” So in this approach, everything that is formal, official, planned, and public is seen as mere church-ianity, while genuine Christian experience is informal unofficial, spontaneous, and private. But is this biblical? Would the apostles agree with this kind of anti-institutional approach, or would they recognize it as part of the spirit of the age? The hosts will discuss these questions and more as they walk through Paul’s farewell address to the elders of the church of Ephesus in Acts 20.

RECOMMENDED BOOKS

The Christian Faith
Michael Horton
Let’s Study Acts
Dennis Johnson
The Gospel Commission
Michael Horton

PROGRAM AUDIO

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Soular

Revised “Christianity Explored”!

The Great Commission has been our year-long theme at White Horse Inn. In fact, everything we do is focused on getting the gospel right and getting it out. We know we’re not a church, but God has used the White Horse Inn, Modern Reformation magazine, events and our other resources to help Christians know what they believe and why they believe it. And even many pastors have written to tell us that these conversations have changed their own conversations and directions in their ministry.

But beyond helping Christians know the faith better, there is a tremendous need for resources to help us to communicate this faith to those outside the church. There just isn’t very much out there, frankly. Of course, there are lots of evangelistic programs-lines to memorize, with pretty strong (and predictable) pressure to “close the deal” at the end.

Well, we can’t complain any more about our resources. Unlike other evangelistic courses, “Christianity Explored” isn’t formulaic. It isn’t built around themes, but around the unfolding drama of Jesus-his person and his work-in the Gospel of Mark. The author, Rico Tice, is a long-time friend-we roomed next door to each other at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford and kept each other up many a night talking theology and evangelism. Rico’s example alone is a constant source of encouragement to make the most of every opportunity to share the gospel. And it is the gospel that drives him. I love his familiar line, “The bad news is worse than you thought; the good news is greater than you ever imagined.”

Besides the content, there’s finally a practical program. Yes, a program. Only this one is sound! It’s easy for us as ministers to talk about evangelism as a noble ideal, but never get around to it. D. L. Moody once replied to a critic of his methods, “I like my way of doing better than your way of not doing it.” Well now you don’t have to choose. The program is based on the content, not vice versa. But there is a DVD (also CD), with Rico walking folks through Mark. There’s a Leader’s Guide as well as a Handbook for others following along. You can do this with your family, invite over some neighbors over to the house or do the course at a local spot where non-Christians who wouldn’t attend church can show up, listen in, and ask questions. And you can go through the course with your whole church. Even mature believers will gain new insights-and fresh appreciation for the glory of Christ in his gospel.

Sorry to go on about this, but “Christianity Explored”-especially with this newly revised edition-is exactly what we’ve need for a long time. My prayer is that churches faithful to getting the gospel right will become just as known for getting the gospel out. And “Christianity Explored” is the best supporting resource I know of for helping us to do that. The best way of getting more information on “Christianity Explored” in the US is by contacting Brad Byrd at The Good Book Company. You can also visit www.christianityexplored.org.

IX Marks on Church Membership

There are few evangelical churches that practice formal church membership anymore. Our friends at IX Marks (associated with Mark Dever and Capitol Hill Baptist Church) recently posted a new eJournal on the topic of church membership. Matt Chandler’s lead article, Is Church Membership Biblical?, is especially good and worth your time to read. Here’s the intro:

I was 28 when I became the pastor of Highland Village First Baptist Church (now known as The Village Church). I had had a rough go early on in my church experience, and at that time I was not fully out of my “disenchanted with the local church” phase.

In all honesty, I wasn’t sure at the time that church membership was biblical. Despite that, the Spirit had made it all too clear that I was going to be pastoring this small church in the suburbs of Dallas. That was one of the many ironies of my life in those days.

Highland Village First Baptist Church was a “seeker-sensitive” church in the Willow Creek mold and had no formal membership process, although they were actively working on one and wanted the new pastor’s input. I had a strong understanding of the church universal but wasn’t well versed—and, as I said, somewhat skeptical—about the church local. We started growing quickly with young and oftentimes disenchanted 20-somethings who usually had no church background, or bad church backgrounds. They liked The Village because we were “different.” This always struck me as strange because we weren’t doing anything but preaching and singing.

In conversations with these men and women I began to hear things like “The church is corrupt; it’s just about money and a pastor’s ego,” or “I love Jesus, it’s the church I have a problem with.” My favorite one was, “When you organize the church it loses its power.” Although something occasionally resonated in me with these comments (I, along with most of my generation, have authority and commitment issues), I found them confusing since they were being made to me by people who were attending the church where I was the pastor.

Read the whole thing here.

Crumbling Sacred Space

Our friends over at Get Religion posted an interesting news story about church architecture: small, rural churches whose buildings are in  need of repair, what their choice of architecture indicates about their place in the community, and how new churches are making different choices when it comes to the buildings in which they worship.

After you read the short news piece, take a look at this article from Mike Horton, “Why Does Sacred Space Matter?” (from the May/June 1998 issue of Modern Reformation):

Theology is practical, and there is no better testing ground than in the so-called “worship wars.” But, with few exceptions, such debates rarely address one of the most important questions: If matter matters, why don’t our church buildings?

“It’s just a building,” we say of the church-and so it is. “The church is the people, not the brick and mortar.” Right again. According to Scripture, worship is no longer bound to the ceremonies of Mosaic covenant, types and shadows of the reality to come; namely, Christ. He is, after all, the true Sanctuary and Temple of God’s dwelling among his people, and we worship “neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, for the time is coming and now is when people will worship in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:21-24). God commanded the old covenant worship, with its elaborate regulations governing liturgical, ceremonial, and sacrificial rites, but when the “temple greater than Solomon’s” (Matt. 12:42) arrived and, after being reduced to rubble was rebuilt after three days (John 2:19-21), the Holy of Holies could not be located in any particular earthly structure. Instead, as Jesus promised the Samaritan woman, new covenant worship is eschatological-that is, it takes place in the heavenly sanctuary in which believers are already “seated with Christ” (Eph. 2:6).

Calvin’s impatience with liturgical extravagance and novelty focused on just this concern. Like the covenant people gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai around the golden calf, we are all inveterate idolaters. We want to worship “our way,” and our minds are “idol factories,” so “our way” always ends up at odds with God sooner or later. The greatest tragedy in all of this is that, in our impatience with God’s redemptive time-table (like Israel at Mount Sinai), we create our own “image of the invisible God” instead of waiting for the advent of the only legitimate incarnation of God (Col. 1:15).

Read the entire article.

We’re also making a special article from Dr. Donald Bruggink available. Dr. Bruggink’s article traces the meaning and loss of many of the visual elements of church architecture. His article first appeared in our May/June 2007 issue.

The Death of Osama bin Laden: What Kind of Justice Has Been Done?

Osama Bin Laden - Dead 2011Dr. Horton’s post below was originally published on Christianity Today.

Understandably, news of Osama bin Laden’s demise at the hands of U. S. Navy Seals provoked cries of celebration. The mastermind of terror, even against civilians (indeed, against fellow Muslims) has been brought to justice. But what kind of justice?

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, President George W. Bush authorized “Operation Infinite Justice.” Especially after his comment that “this crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while,” however, the mission was renamed “Operation Enduring Freedom.” Reportedly, the name-change was due at least in part to the concern raised by Muslims that only God can execute “infinite justice.” One would have hoped that the change had been provoked instead by Christian reaction.

Islam, of course, is not just a religion; it’s a cultural and even geo-political reality. As such, its strict adherents excoriate co-religionists like Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im who call for an “Islamic Reformation” that would make jihad into a spiritual struggle rather than an armed military conflict.

Unfortunately, Christianity has had a long and complicated history of its own on this score. On one hand, the fourth-century theologian Augustine responded to the sacking of Rome with a detailed scriptural argument for two cities: the City of Man and the City of God. Each city has its own origins, ends, and means. As citizens of both kingdoms, every believer is called to recognize the difference between them. Compared with the City of God, the City of Man is hardly a true commonwealth. It cannot ensure ultimate peace, security, justice, and love. Nevertheless, Augustine argues, it can still be considered a commonwealth in a limited, provisional, and penultimate sense. Out of these reflections (especially in the City of God) there arose a legacy of just war theory and a Christian realism about the legitimacy and limitation of human societies in this time between the times.

Nevertheless, the Middle Ages gave rise to a fusion of Christ and culture known as “Christendom.” In the name of Christendom, kings and their knights rode off to crusades with papal blessing, as David and the hosts of Yahweh redivivus, cleansing the Holy Land of infidels.

In spite of its own contradictions in practice, the magisterial Reformation sought to distinguish between the kingdom of Christ, which conquers by Word and Spirit, and the kingdoms of this age that are given the divine authority to defend temporal justice. Drawing on the New Testament and church fathers, especially Augustine, the reformers realized that there was no theocracy in the new covenant; all nation-states were “secular” in the sense of being common rather than holy. With no holy land, there can be no holy war. Only just wars, based on natural law.

But ideas like “Christendom” die hard. We saw that with the memorial service after 9/11. Held in a building popularly known as the “National Cathedral,” with military honor guards processing and the strains of “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” announcements of a resolve to secure infinite justice in an open-ended “crusade” provided fodder for Islamic extremists in their effort to replay ancient battles. A romantic patriotism has always seethed beneath the professed separation of church and state, as in the famous “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Written by a Unitarian, the hymn confuses Union victory with Christ’s final judgment. Something very close to “infinite justice.”

Cultures are the most dangerous when they invoke holy texts for their defense of holy land through holy war. However, Christians have no biblical basis for doing this in the first place. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly abrogated the ceremonial and civil law that God had given uniquely to the nation of Israel. Now is the era of common grace and common land, obeying rulers—even pagan ones—and living under constitutions other than the one that God gave through Moses. As Paul reminds us in Romans 13, secular rulers are given the power of the temporal sword—finite justice—while the gospel conquers in the power of the Spirit through that Word “above all earthly pow’rs.”

What does all of this mean for our response to the news about the most notorious terrorist in recent history?

First, it means that we can rejoice that even in this present evil age, God’s common grace and common justice are being displayed through secular authorities. “For [the ruler] is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. … Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Rom. 13:4, 7). Yet the divine wrath that rulers execute is temporal and finite rather than eternal and infinite. Such justice is never so pure that it is unmingled with injustice, never so final that it satisfies God’s eternal law. In view of the image of God stamped on every person, justice must always be tempered by love. Commenting on Genesis 9:6, John Calvin reminded us that we cannot hate even our most perverse enemies, because of the image of God in them. In one sense, the creation of every person in God’s image provokes the temporal sword against murderers. Yet in another sense, it also restrains our lust for revenge. “Should any one object, that this divine image has been obliterated, the solution is easy; first, there yet exists some remnant of it, so that man is possessed of no small dignity; and, secondly, the Celestial Creator himself, however corrupted man may be, still keeps in view the end of his original creation; and according to his example, we ought to consider for what end he created men, and what excellence he has bestowed upon them above the rest of living beings.”

Second, it means that we cannot rejoice in the death of the wicked any more than does God (Ezek. 18:23). We may take satisfaction that temporal justice has been served, but Christians should display a sober restraint. When Christ returns, bringing infinite justice in his wake, his saints will rejoice in the death of his enemies. For now, however, he calls us to pray for our enemies, even for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44). This is the day of salvation, calling sinners to repent and believe the gospel. We may delight in the temporal justice shown to evildoers, but leave the final justice to God.

Third, it means that the mandate to believe and to proclaim the gospel to every person is all the more urgent. After all, where would we be ourselves if Christ, in his first advent, had brought final and infinite justice instead of bearing it on behalf of his people? On the cross, Christ willingly offered himself as the lightning rod for God’s infinite wrath, rising triumphantly on the third day. The events of 9/11 did not change everything in the way that the events of 33 A.D. did. Nor will the death of Osama bin Laden on 5/1/11 satisfy the final justice that awaits him—and all of us—on the last day.

So as we take satisfaction in the honorable service of U.S. forces in bringing a terrorist to justice in the court of the temporal city, let us never dare to confuse this with “the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). In our response, let us use this opportunity to display to our non-Christian neighbors the radical contrasts between the biblical view of God, humanity, redemption, and the last judgment, and the religious and secularist distortions—even those that profess to be Christian.

WHI-1047 | Proclamation & Persuasion

As part of their yearlong study of the Great Commission, the hosts have been focusing on key events in the book of Acts where Christ’s mandate to preach the gospel, to baptize, and to make disciples of all nations is being worked out on the ground. In this program they’ll walk through Acts 18 and 19 to see how Christ is advancing his kingdom in this age, not by the power of the sword, but through Word and Spirit as we find the apostles reasoning in the synagogues and marketplaces about the basic truth-claims of the Christian faith.

RECOMMENDED BOOKS

The Gospel Commission
Michael Horton
Selected Shorter Writings
J. Gresham Machen
Tactics
Greg Koukl

PROGRAM AUDIO

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Doug Powell

Seized by Secularism

Like Europe, the United States has now been “seized by secularism,” Newt Gingrich warned at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on Wednesday. As evidence of the replacement of Christianity with secularism, the former House Speaker cited the following: replacing Anno Domini (A.D.) with the Common Era (C.E.), banning school prayer, striking out “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and the court battle over the Mojave Desert Cross that commemorates World War I veterans. Gingrich explained how “secularist fanaticism” encouraged him to join the Church of Rome in 2008. He asked the audience to imagine themselves as the pope, facing a culture that tears down crosses and bans school prayer.

At the same time, Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly was ruffled over the current TIME cover story, reporting the denial of hell by evangelical pastor Rob Bell in his book, Love Wins. O’Reilly said we need hell for the Pol Pots, Lenins, and Hitlers of the world, though he cited official Roman Catholic statements about those who try sincerely to do good as unlikely candidates for hell. So Ghandi is in, but Hitler is out. Ah, so good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell—and, of course, I’m a good person. If this isn’t a secularization of the Christian faith, I don’t know what is.

Also in the last couple days, MSNBC commentator Lawrence O’Donnell took on Rusch Limbaugh for distorting Jesus’s teaching. After a tirade against the Left for using Jesus as a mascot for socialism, Limbaugh used Jesus as a mascot for capitalism. Not “What Would Jesus Do?”, but “What Would Jesus Take?”, is the question to ask. And the answer, of course, is nothing. Jesus was against high taxes. Au contraire, O’Donnell responds, quoting Jesus’s conversation with the rich young ruler and the separation of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25. For his part, O’Donnell invokes Jesus for a progressive income tax structure.

So what do all of these stories have in common? Lots of things come to mind, but I’ll mention two. First, all of these stories point up the remarkable ignorance of Scripture and a consequent inability to do anything more with it than find quotable sound-bites for positions that one would have if Jesus had never lived. Second, they suggest that there is indeed a creeping secularism that is threatening vital Christianity. However, I would suggest that the kind of Christianity that many worried souls have in mind is not really that different from creeping secularism.

In the 1950s, C. S. Lewis was asked by Decision magazine whether he was concerned about the “de-Christianizing” of the West, especially Europe. Lewis replied, “I’m not really qualified to speak to the question of the culture, but there is definitely a de-Christianizing of the church.” It’s one thing for Christian churches to lose their cultural influence. Fusing Christ with a particular civilization is already a gross distortion of the faith. Nevertheless, “Christendom” is over, regardless of whether you think it was a good or bad idea in the first place. Benign prayers to an unkown god in public schools, apart from the Mediator, is already a capitulation to secularism. Who cares whether crosses no longer dominate national memorials where Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, and atheists are buried? The question is whether the cross is proclaimed in our churches.

Maybe “fanatical secularists” who are so nervous about public expressions of faith have something to worry about, when burning Qur’ans and using Jesus for whatever left-wing or right-wing policy become the most familiar presence of religion in public life. Maybe it’s time for us to stop taking God’s name in vain and begin again to be Christians in a pagan culture.

Modern Reformation Preview

The May/June issue of Modern Reformation is almost here! This new issue, entitled “Embassy of Grace,” is packed with thought-provoking articles, Bible studies, and book reviews. Here’s a glimpse at what’s coming up:

Features

The Ministry of Reconciliation: Embassy of Grace: Like an embassy in a foreign country, the church is a safe haven for its citizens. From its many locations, the policies of the Great King, Jesus Christ, are announced to the world. As Christ’s ambassadors, aren’t we still called to herald this good news to the world in a ministry of reconciliation?
By Michael Horton

“And He Gave Gifts to Men”: What was once regarded as a high calling is now trivialized by the every-member-a-minister movement. When Luther and the Reformers proclaimed that the pastoral office was a necessity and of divine origin, could anyone infer from the Lutheran church’s contemporary practice that we still hold to this? If not, is there a remedy?
By Brent McGuire

Missionalism, Church Style If God has elected a small and elite few to be saved, what’s the point of sharing the gospel with anyone? Is being “missional” an answer? Can churches Reformed by definition be truly missional in their ministry?
By Jason J. Stellman

Missions and the Work of the Church: In 1932, Harvard professor Ernest Hocking published Re-Thinking Missions, a stunning rejection of Protestant missions as it had been conducted for almost two centuries. What was the church’s reaction then and what does it mean for us today? The author looks at various responses, notably by Pearl Buck and J. Gresham Machen.
By D. G. Hart

What Do We Do About Sunday School?: Is Sunday school primarily a moral training ground for children, from which adults eventually graduate and mature to making autonomous and acceptable moral choices based on feelings? Or is it still about the gospel and seeing Christ in all the Scriptures?
By Susan E. Erikson

The Church in a Pluralist Society: After Lesslie Newbigin returned from the mission field to his “home” in the West, what did he begin to realize about a theology of mission in an increasingly diverse and pluralistic culture?
By Shane Lems

Ad Extra: Articles Aside

Studies in Acts
Acts 3: The Ambassadors of the Kingdom
By Dennis E. Johnson

Focus on Missions
A Servant’s Enduring Faith
By Marie Notcheva

From the Hallway: Perspectives on Evangelical Theology
Defending Nothing, Evangelizing No One: “Oh Apologetics, Where Art Thou?”
By Craig A. Parton

For a Modern Reformation
Missional & Vocational
By Michael Horton

The Latest Ideas Sweeping the Land…

SimChurch:  Being the Church in the Virtual World, By Douglas Estes
Reviewed by Nick Lannon

A Dialogue: In and Out of Our Circles
Defining the Church, White Horse Inn Interview with Edmund Clowney

Lutheranism 101, Edited by Scot A. Kinnaman
Reviewed by John J. Bombaro

Welcome to a Reformed Church: A Guide for Pilgrims, By Daniel R. Hyde
Reviewed by Ryan Kron

Christianity at the Religious Roundtable: Evangelicalism in Conversation with Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, By Timothy C. Tennent
Reviewed by John D. “Jady” Koch, Jr.

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God, By John Piper
Reviewed by Beryl Clemens Smith

Point of Contact: Books Your Neighbors Are Reading
The Finkler Question, By Howard Jacobson
Reviewed by W. Robert Godfrey

WHI-1046 | Proclaiming the Cross & Resurrection

On this edition of White Horse Inn, the hosts take a look at the conversion of St. Paul and the numerous sermons that he and others preached from Acts 9 through 17. In all of these sermons, the message appears to be the same. The focus is Christ-centered, and the emphasis in particular is on his sacrificial death and resurrection from the dead. The hosts also discuss the different tactical approaches that Paul uses in a Gentile context as he delivers his famous Mars Hill address in Athens, Greece.

RELATED ARTICLES

Can We Still Believe in the Resurrection?
Mike Horton
For the Sake of the Gospel
Kim Riddlebarger
History & Faith
J. Gresham Machen
WHI Discussion Group Questions
PDF Document

RECOMMENDED BOOKS

The Gospel Commission
Michael Horton
Scandalous: The Cross & Resurrection of Jesus
D.A. Carson
What is Faith?
J. Gresham Machen
The Testimony of the Evangelists
Simon Greenleaf

PROGRAM AUDIO

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MUSIC SELECTION

Doug Powell

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