repentance


The Lectionary reading for this 3rd Sunday of Lent, begins with Isaiah 55, which has always been one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. It comes at a very strategic point in the prophet Isaiah’s message to Israel. Understood in this context which provides the clear reason for Israel’s need of the promised Redeemer, but also one of the most tender invitations for individual repentance in God’s Word.

Ho Everyone that is thirsty!

brushyfork by Mitchell Tolle

 

Restoring Unity is what the Christian Message is all about!

Christ's Message to the churches (Revelation)

In the first century churches, the first generation, there was already considerable misunderstanding about the essence of the Church which Christ was building & nurturing- His Kingdom community. Much of the Apostle Paul’s ministry as the Apostle to the Gentiles, had to deal with opposition from the Palestinian churches and their leaders. It should come as no surprise to those who read their Bible that much of his writings include elements of this division and his attempts to heal them. In his letter to the Ephesians it is the major theme- the purpose of God’s pleasure to “unite in Christ all things”; but it is also an integral part of his letter to the house churches of Rome.

In the last century, missional leaders from many diverse church traditions saw that our divisions were directly affecting our task in the world and that the time had come to move the theme of unity to the front burner of our efforts. This effort came to be known as the ecumenical movement and many gains were made by those that participated. But many churches, because of convictions, did not participate. Some condemned the efforts outright, some observed at a distance.

In the new century, much has changed for the churches; or has it? We find ourselves still in the midst of the same world with the same assignment from our King: preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, make disciples of all nations, and above all, live out the new life Christ has inaugurated. Some refer to a “new” ecumenism because it seems that many of those that were not officially a part of the “older” effort want to be distinguished from them. I personally feel this is wrong-headed and counter-productive to the very thing we’re focused on -unity. I love, respect, and esteem some of those who were leaders in bringing into being the World Council of Churches.

I just happen to be reading another book written by W.A.Visser’t Hooft, the first General Secretary, who served the churches with love and dedication for many years. Like another of his books, The Pressure of Our Common Calling, which I posted about earlier, this is a sound theological basis for the Church’s mission, edification, and unity. It is about the perennial importance of renewal grounded in the very character of the Church of God as the new creation in Christ.

I want to quote him at the place where he emphasizes that the whole Church-all the churches, must heed the imperatives addressed to the new creation. To me that means we can never settle for anything less than Biblical unity and diligently work towards that as a goal, knowing that it will come at the consumation of our redemption in Christ.

The need of the whole Church for repentance and renewal is most clearly shown in the second and third chapters of the Book of Revelation. It has often been pointed out that the seven churches to whom the letters are addressed represented the most flourishing part of the Church at that time. But more important is that according to the symbolic language of the author the seven churches clearly represent the Church as a whole. For seven is the figure of totality.

In these letters the whole Church is addressed. This is underlined by the fact that each letter is concluded by the solemn warning: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”. The warning and promise received by each church is meant to be overheard and passed on by other churches and so to reach the whole Church.

Now it is significant that five of the seven letters are in the nature of calls to repentance. For that means that the Church as such is called to live the life of metanoia, of constant readiness to turn away from the path of this world and to let herself be renewed. And once again it is clear that renewal means living by the power of the new age. In the letter to the Church in Sardis repentance is identified with awakening (3:2,3). To be awake is to be ready for the Day of the Lord. ‘ Lo, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is he who is awake’ (16:15).

The churches are called to remember from what they have fallen (2:5) or what they have received and heard (3:3). That is to say they are to realize again that they represent the new creation. If they do, if they turn resolutely away from the old age, then they will receive the new name (2:17 and 3:12) and be counted as belonging to the new Jerusalem (3:12). Such a metanoia is in this world never a completed process; it is to be actualized and implemented every day anew. – The Renewal of The Church, p.47 (1956)

Restoring or renewing the unity of the Church of Christ is never easy work. Church history for almost 2000 years will tell us that. But progress in recent decades has been made- perhaps more than at any other time. This is what our Lord intends and if we are serious about following Him, we have no other path. Unity is not optional for the Church nor for any indivdual Christian. All of us must make it a part of our prayers and efforts by the grace of God and for His fame on earth. This season of Eastertide is a great time to make this a priority in our spiritual journey of faith.

see “Reasons for Neglecting God’s priority

Lessons for the Lenten season: How shall we then pray?

In my observance of the Lenten season as a time of meditating on the sufferings of Christ that led up to the last week, I have also been focused on the the whole question of Adam’s race in rebellion that necessitated it all. This of course leads me into confessing my own participation in the rebellion which is universal. Learning to pray from this platform is taking me into some interesting requests, not the least of which has to do with renewing my own covenantal vows of the Christian Faith.

Recently I’ve been re-reading a classic book by one of my favorite Puritan writers, John Owen, on beholding the glory of Christ. I mentioned this last year in a post and suggested this is what we are supposed to do in living the Christian life. It can be considered our “reasonable worship” as redeemed people of the New Covenant. In the last few days I ran across a post quoting from this book which I found especially helpful in knowing more specifically how to pray from this same perspective.

“Renewed repentance is seen in fervent prayer. ‘Take words with you. Say to him…’ We must know what we are to pray for. We are to pray for pardon of all iniquity. ‘Take away all iniquity.’ Not one sin must be left to be indulged. We are to pray that God will graciously receive us. ‘Receive us graciously.’ Confession must be made of the sins that caused our backslidings. ‘Assyria will not save us. Nor will we say any more to the work of our hands, “You are our gods.” Fleshly confidence and false worship were the two sins that ruined the people, and of these sins God expects a full and free confession so that we may be healed.

“Believers must renew their covenant with God, renouncing all other hopes and expectations, and put their trust and confidence only and wholly in him, for only in God do the fatherless find mercy (14:3). The result of such repentance is praise and thanksgiving: ‘We will offer the sacrifice or our lips’ (14:2). When God heals our backslidings he will communicate his grace to us, to the praise of his own glory…”  (John Owen)

To read the entire post over at ‘Cultivating Epiphanies’ go here.

The Gospel of Christ Crucified

 

A Faithful Minister grapples with the meaning of tragedy. In 1756,  a

Rev.Samuel Davies (1723-1761)

Presbyterian minister was sharing with his congregation in Virginia his conclusions from Scripture after agonizing over the tragic losses in the great earthquake which had struck Lisbon, Portugal in December of 1755.  In 1759 this same Minister, Samuel Davies, would become the 4th President of Princeton University, then known as the College of  New Jersey. His Biblical text:

“Those who flee in terror will fall into a trap, and those who escape the trap will step into a snare. Destruction falls on you from the heavens. The earth is shaken beneath you. The earth has broken down and has utterly collapsed. Everything is lost, abandoned, and confused. The earth staggers like a drunkard. It trembles like a tent in a storm. It falls and will not rise again, for its sins are very great!”

Isaiah 24:18-20

There are several blogs as well as an op-ed in the Washington Post that are speaking of this tragedy in 1755 and its effects on philosophers and clergymen alike and suggesting contrasts with the way such news is received today. Basically,  Samuel Davies is representative of Pastors all along the east coast following the time of the Great Awakening (ref. Jonathan Edwards sermon, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God”). They openly and clearly spoke of such tragedies as ‘judgments’ of the Providence of God and they got their ideas from their interpretation of the Holy Bible.

Without posting any of the sermon here, I will make the entire sermon available to E4Unity readers and urge you to read it in light of recent tragedies that have come to pass in our world. It also makes a serious read for the true spirit of the Lenten season.

Sermon Lisbon Earthquake

Farewell Sermon, July 1, 1759, to Hanover, Virginia congregation.

Note: Young Samuel Davies is one of a number of outstanding Ministers in Church history who died an ‘early’ death. He was only 37 years old.

 

Using the Lenten season profitably

The Gift of all gifts

Death in Adam, Life in Christ

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come…for if by the one man’s offence many died, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ…the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,  so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord…

(abbreviated from Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 5. ESV Bible)

No one understands at once all that is included in God’s Gift to Adam’s sinful race. In fact, I plan to still be unwrapping the gift of Jesus Christ until the day my life on earth ends. The Lenten season for me has become an excellent time of extended meditation on this gift and the far reaching themes it touches- from the beginning in Adam into the eternal age that is even now breaking in-the new heavens and the new earth.

For Lent, I’ll be thinking about the reality of sin and it’s destruction here on earth. I have plenty to mourn about, starting with my own participation in the rebellion & conspiracy against the Creator. This mourning will only end at the crucifixion of the Holy One of God, Jesus Christ the Righteous son of God.

Did you happen to notice in this critical text, that the Apostle Paul calls the free gift from God to sinners, “the gift of righteousness“? Going back and reading the context of these verses, beginning at Chapter 5, and reading through Chapter 8, I think I will have a deeper unwrapping of the gift. Peace w/ God, access to the presence of the Holy God, and a rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God! (and this will also put suffering in perspective-see chapter 8, verses 18-39).

Slowly unwrapping this “unspeakable gift” has its own reward; through Christ it will strengthen me and enable me to “reign in life” in the midst of this wicked generation together with those “who love God and are called according to His purpose”, and to be “more than conquerors through Him who loved us”.

Speaking of righteousness, see my related post on Psalms 1,2

Once again my good friend John Armstrong at ACT3 has put his finger on a major weakness in our American churches. It comes on the day before we Americans go to the polls to choose our national leaders. What he has to say about the absence of prophetic preaching in the pulpits of America and spiritual leadership by vision, has much to do with the challenges our larger society is facing at this moment. In “What  happened to Prophetic preaching”? He writes,

John H. Armstrong, Director ACT3

“The vast majority of pastors, as revealed in a number of surveys, declare that leadership is their greatest weakness. They admit to having become managers of ecclesial organizations and speakers in churches on Sunday. But less than 10% (in one survey) said that they believed they were leaders. A leader exercises influence, casts vision and helps people to follow that vision. Modern ideology and modern ways of training men and women for pastoral ministry have impacted the church profoundly in this area. We need to understand how and why and what we can do about this problem.

Our schools have prepared future ministers to be students who can exegete a text, clinicians who can listen and help people in personal crisis and managers who can direct programs and serve the social structures of the church. But they have not conveyed clearly how to be a godly, praying, spiritually-formed leaders who can inspire and build up people in their daily lives. And they have not been taught how to prophesy the Word of the Lord.

In my lifetime I have seen the role of the pastor change dramatically. I remember my childhood pastors being shepherds of people and leaders who gave a vision to our collective witness. I held my pastors in high esteem. Today this has changed. Pastors are much less accessible to people, far less able to cast clear vision, and churches collectively languish in spirit. This has created a tragic gulf between leaders and people. People now demand managers for the church. They do not want prophets who will challenge them to think and become truly different in faith and virtue.”

I personally believe this is one of John’s better messages to the churches and the way forward in the future.

The entire article available as   Prophetic Preaching Pastors (pdf).

Recommended reading: The Work of Preaching Christ (1864)

Introductory Essay to John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ –J. I. Packer
It is hoped that this reprint will find itself readers of a different spirit. There are signs today of a new upsurge of interest in the theology of the Bible: a new readiness to test traditions, to search the Scriptures and to think through the faith. It is to those who share this readiness that Owen’s treatise is offered, in the belief that it will help us in one of the most urgent tasks facing Evangelical Christendom today—the recovery of the gospel.

There is no doubt that Christianity today is in a state of perplexity and unsettlement. In such matters as the practice of evangelism, the teaching of holiness, the building up of local church life, the pastor’s dealing with souls and the exercise of discipline, there is evidence of widespread dissatisfaction with things as they are and of equally widespread uncertainty as to the road ahead. This is a complex phenomenon, to which many factors have contributed; but, if we go to the root of the matter, we shall find that these perplexities are all ultimately due to our having lost our grip on the biblical Gospel.
Without realizing it, we have during the past century bartered that gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing. Hence our troubles; for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty.

 

The new gospel conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church. Why? We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do. One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be “helpful” to man—to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction—and too little concerned to glorify God.

The old gospel was “helpful,” too—more so, indeed, than is the new—but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God. It was always and essentially a proclamation of Divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its center of reference was unambiguously God. But in the new gospel the center of reference is man. This is just to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach men to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and His ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. The whole perspective and emphasis of gospel preaching has changed.

From this change of interest has sprung a change of content, for the new gospel has in effect reformulated the biblical message in the supposed interests of “helpfulness.” Accordingly, the themes of man’s natural inability to believe, of God’s free election being the ultimate cause of salvation, and of Christ dying specifically for His sheep, are not preached. These doctrines, it would be said, are not “helpful”; they would drive sinners to despair, by suggesting to them that it is not in their own power to be saved through Christ. (The possibility that such despair might be salutary is not considered; it is taken for granted that it cannot be, because it is so shattering to our self-esteem.)

 

However this may be (and we shall say more about it later), the result of these omissions is that part of the biblical gospel is now preached as if it were the whole of that gospel; and a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth. Thus, we appeal to men as if they all had the ability to receive Christ at any time; we speak of His redeeming work as if He had done no more by dying than make it possible for us to save ourselves by believing; we speak of God’s love as if it were no more than a general willingness to receive any who will turn and trust; and we depict the Father and the Son, not as sovereignly active in drawing sinners to themselves, but as waiting in quiet impotence “at the door of our hearts” for us to let them in. It is undeniable that this is how we preach; perhaps this is what we really believe.

But it needs to be said with emphasis that this set of twisted half-truths is something other than the biblical gospel. The Bible is against us when we preach in this way; and the fact that such preaching has become almost standard practice among us only shows how urgent it is that we should review this matter. To recover the old, authentic, biblical gospel, and to bring our preaching and practice back into line with it, is perhaps our most pressing present need. And it is at this point that John Owen’s treatise on redemption can give us help.

( from J.I.Packer’s Introductory Essay to The Death of Death, 1959)

( continue reading the essay here )

Related Essay: The Old Cross and the New Cross – A.W.Tozer (print version)

 

 

Keith Green (1953-1982), a radical disciple.

Here is one of those special gifts from Father’s right hand to the American Church in the 60’s and 70’s. He loved the Church but loved the Jesus he followed even more and was attempting to wake the Church from it’s sleep and return to authentic discipleship.

 

See this related post: The Church and Her Prophets

April 2011 Update :This was a synchroblog. Here are some of the other posts:

Listen to Keith’s ‘Make my Life a Prayer

A Prayer – attributed to Sir Francis Drake, 1577.

” Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed to little, when we arrive safely because we sailed too close to the shore.

” Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess we have lost our thirst for the waters of life; having fallen in love with life, we ceased to dream of eternity; and in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new heaven to dim.

” Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes, and to push us into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love.”

What a beautiful prayer for our Lenten journey. It is quoted by John Armstrong in his new book, “Your Church is Too Small“. In fact John uses it as the title of the final chapter. He says, ” that the prayer of this remarkable explorer makes a fitting conclusion”,  for the adventure he has taken the reader on.

He confides in us that he has “always had an insatiable desire to learn new things and discover new places. Perhaps this is why the greatest explorer of the Elizabethan Age, Sir Francis Drake (1500-1596), holds such a particular fascination for me”.

Knowing John Armstrong, I believe that his own exploration of the theme of Christian unity in the mission of Christ for the third millennium is going to continue. In his words, “There is more to learn and much more to obey. I feel like I have only just begun”.

I hope, along with some 100 fellow bloggers, to post a review of John’s book in March. I can’t think of a more fitting time for Zondervan to release this particular book. Not only will it await us as we complete Lent and celebrate afresh the death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ, but it converges on the 100 year anniversary of the first world-missions conference in Edinburgh, 1910, and the rising expectation that the Church has entered a new chapter of its existence.

For the e4Unity blog, you just can’t ask for much more than that.

Read a Catholic review (extensive).

More about John and his book.

An excursion into a universal experience.

I find myself following a train of thought into the Lenten season of discovering why churches have found this time before Easter ideal to talk openly about- Sin. And like the sacrament of confession, to do so together, as a spiritual family.

So, after we just had a very public “apology” for infidelity by one of our fallen sports heroes, and just before the first Sunday in Lent, I went looking for a serious, in-depth treatment of this thing we call Sin. I found much more than I was hoping for in Paul Tillich’s book, The Eternal Now” (Scribner’s Sons, 1963).

In Chapter 4, entitled “The Good that I will, I do not”, taken from the Apostle Paul’s statement in his Roman epistle :

” For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me.”
Romans 7:19-20

I think Tillich just about hits the Biblical image of Sin and what Christians must understand if they in turn are to fully appreciate the “good news” of what God has gifted us with in the New Being. Here are some of the better thoughts. I hope you will take time to read them all and receive the intended blessing.

” In these and countless other cases, we experience a power that dwells in us and directs our will against itself.

The name of this power is sin. Nothing is more precarious today than the mention of this word among Christians, as well as among non-Christians, for in everyone there is a tremendous resistance to it. It is a word that has fallen into disrepute. To some of us it sounds almost ridiculous and is apt to provoke laughter rather than serious consideration. To others, who take it more seriously, it implies an attack on their human dignity. And again, to others — those who have suffered from it — it means the threatening countenance of the disciplinarian, who forbids them to do what they would like and demands of them what they hate. Therefore, even Christian teachers, including myself, shy away from the use of the word sin.”

” We know how many distorted images it can produce. We try to avoid it,or to substitute another word for it. But it has a strange quality. It always returns. We cannot escape it.It is as insistent as it is ugly. And so it would be more honest — and this I say to myself — to face it and ask what it really is.”

” It is certainly not what men of good will would have us believe — failure to act in the right way, a failure to do the good one should and could have done. If this were sin, a less aggressive and less ugly term, such as human weakness, could be applied. But that is just what sin is not. And those of us who have experienced demonic powers within and around ourselves find such a description ludicrous. So we turn to Paul, and perhaps to Dostoevski’s Ivan Karamazov, or to the conversation between the devil and the hero in Thomas Mann’s Dr. Faustus. From them we learn what sin is. And perhaps we may learn it through Picasso’s picture of that small Basque village, Guernica, which was destroyed in an unimaginably horrible way by the demonic powers of Fascism and Nazism. And perhaps we learn it through the disrupting sounds in music that does not bring us restful emotions, but the feeling of being torn and split. Perhaps we learn the meaning of sin from the images of evil and guilt that fill our theaters, or through the revelations of unconscious motives so abundant in our novels.”

” It is noteworthy that today, in order to know the meaning of sin, we have to look outside our churches and their average preaching to the artists and writers and ask them. But perhaps there is still another place where we canlearn what sin is, and that is in our own heart.”

Paul seldom speaks of sins, but he often speaks of Sin — Sin in the singular with a capital “S,” Sin as a power that controls world and mind, persons and nations.”

” Have you ever thought of Sin in this image? It is the Biblical image. But how many Christians or non-Christians have seen it? Most of us remember that at home, in school and at church, we were taught that there were many things that one would like to do that one should not. And if one did them, one committed a sin. We also remember that we were told of things we should do, although we disliked doing them. And if we did not do them, we committed a sin. We had lists of prohibitions and catalogues of commands; if we did not follow them, we committed sins. Naturally, we did commit one or more sins every day, although we tried to diminish their number seriously and with good will. This was, and perhaps still is, our image of sin — a poor, petty, distorted image, and the reason for the disrepute into which the word has fallen.

The first step to an understanding of the Christian message that is called “good news” is to dispel the image of sin that implies a catalogue of sins. Those who are bound to this image are also those who find it most difficult to receive the message of acceptance of the unacceptable, the good news of Christianity. Their half-sinfulness and half-righteousness makes them insensitive to a message that states the presence of total sinfulness and total righteousness in the same man at the same moment. They never find the courage to make a total judgment against themselves, and therefore, they can never find the courage to believe in a total acceptance of themselves.”

‘It is dangerous to preach about sin, because it may induce us to brood over our sinfulness. Perhaps one should not preach about it at all. I myself have hesitated for many years. But sometimes it must be risked in order to remove the distortions which increase sin, if, by the persistence of wrong thoughts, wrong ways of living are inevitable.”

“I believe it possible to conquer the dangers implied in the concentration on sin, if we look at it indirectly, in the light of that which enables us to resist it — reunion overcoming estrangement.

” Sin is our act of turning away from participation in the divine Ground from which we come and to which we go. Sin is the turning towards ourselves, and making ourselves the center of our world and of ourselves, Sin is the drive in everyone, even those who exercise the most self-restraint, to draw as much as possible of the world into oneself. But we can be fully aware of this only if we have found a certain level of life above ourselves. Whoever has found himself after he has lost himself knows how deep his loss of self was. If we look at our estrangement from the point of reunion, we are no longer in danger of brooding over our estrangement. We can speak of Sin, because its power over us is broken.”

Perhaps Tillich’s words may sound a little strange, his vocabulary isn’t exactly what evangelicals, for example, are used to hearing. But when he talks of “reunion overcoming estrangement”, he is speaking of the Christian Gospel, of what the New Testament writers all witness to. That God was ” in Christ, reconciling (re-connecting) the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them… For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”.

This is the direction that I am taking in these 40 days of Lent and I will try to blog about what I discover.

(Read more of Tillich’s essay)

see also Francis Schaeffer’s TRUE SPIRITUALITY-“Law of Love”

A related excursion, Richard Sibbes on “The Conflict of the Soul

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