Released from the Law (Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 7)

7:1 “Or do you not know, brothers —for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.  3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. “

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles

This is the way of deliverance appointed by Our Redeemer through the salvation He has provided in His Beloved Son, JESUS!

True liberty is found only in Christ. This deliverance from the power and condemnation of sin, is what Christ was sent into the world that first Christmas to accomplish. This is the heart of the New Testament faith and the center of Saint Paul’s preaching and teaching. (see “Imitating the Incarnation” by Benjamin Warfield)

A Christmas gift: the best interpretation I have found on what I believe is the heart of Saint Paul’s life of faith & teaching. “The Apostles’ Doctrine of The Atonement” by George Smeaton (1870). (commenting on Romans chapter 6, pages 161-167)

Older posts on “The Abolition of Death” (2009) and “Understanding Saint Paul” (2008)

20th Century Prophet that captures the theme of Death in his Biblical ethics: William Stringfellow

Your Church Is Too Small: why unity in Christ’s mission is vital to the future of the church. (Zondervan) 2010

A personal review of this new book on the 130th anniversary of the birth of my maternal grandfather, Henry Thomas Young. Personal, because I need to admit upfront that the vision that is so clearly and concisely stated of the Christian church as she has entered the third millennium, the vision of ACT3 is the same vision behind E4Unity Institute.

John H. Armstrong, Director ACT3

The author has placed his life-journey out on the table for all to see. In doing so, he shows us what a passion for Jesus Christ, his church, and the divine mission they are on together in this present age looks like for the eternal blessing of the nations.

My personal sense is that perhaps the best way to describe what we have in this book is a “handbook for observing the unity of the church” in her relationship to the Christ of God. John Armstrong has gone to great lengths to tell us exactly where we are and where we have come from and remind us who we are and what we have been called to both be and do on planet earth. This is the reason, he tells us, why he wrote this book and why he believes that the greatest scandal of all is our disunity before our neighbors and our watching world.

Handbook for promoting Unity

Here is a very wise collection of the realities of our divisions set in the larger context of the vision of  our oneness in Christ and his mission. It’s obvious that John has discovered for himself something of the incredible bigness and largeness of the Christian church. With the help of a glossary of terms we will need to understand the vision, the author takes us through a personal narrative in a helpful and logical progression for the reader to follow.

Beginning with Jesus prayer for our unity (John 17:20-23), John gets into the heart of the issues involved: love-our greatest apologetic, the essential nature of the church (four classical marks), all the while stressing Christ alone as the Biblical focus. The reader is at once aware that the author is deeply involved with a much larger conversation and celebration than what most of us are accustomed to. He is listening to a host of others from the first century church to the contemporary one. He is conversing with brothers and sisters from multiple traditions and denominations such as Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Pentecostal, and of course his own Reformed tradition.

He tells us about those who have been some of the helpers along his journey to seeing the vision of unity. Men like J.I.Packer, Francis Schaeffer, and Leslie Newbigin. John is honest with us about how hard it was to begin to see the ecumenical movement of the twentieth century in positive terms. But he insists that the church will need all the wisdom and experience of the saints in previous generations to equip us for the advance of the Christian gospel and the Kingdom of God that is now before us.

The one thing I probably liked most about this book is that it lifted my own heart to new levels of expectant hope in what God will yet do in and through the community of His exalted and beloved Son. I think he has nailed the major obstacles to “growing up into the fullness of Christ” together. These barriers are not really those outside the church but ones inside us all. In the very beginning he stresses that it is our own vision problem “our common penchant for placing limits on Christ’s church…”. One of the greatest challenges that confront us is that which John describes as “sectarianism”, or the evil that equates the one church with “our own narrow views of Christ’s body”. There is a brief but excellent treatment of this and the topic of “the true church” and this is one of those themes addressed directly on this blog. We simply cannot continue as we are- separated and disobedient to the clear imperatives of our Lord. There are answers for the one who seeks them and this is a good place to begin if you are not already wrestling with this part of the Biblical narrative.

I can think of no better way for every Christian to join the celebration of one-hundred years of world mission advances since the Edinburgh World Conference of 1910, than by making this book your handbook. For the last one hundred years have also seen the greatest labors toward true ecumenism that the church has seen since the earliest councils. Yes, John, unity is vital to our future. Thank you for your journey and the gift it represents to the churches of the twenty-first century.

p.s. Happy birthday grandfather. It is a joy to remember your own life vision and faithfulness to the New Covenant in Christ’s blood.

The Coming of The Missionary Spirit- Roland Allen

 (abridged from Pentecost and the World)

The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was the coming of a missionary Spirit. The Spirit stirred in the hearts of the disciples of Christ a great desire to impart that which they had received. He revealed to them the need which Christ the Redeemer alone could supply. He enabled them to pass on to others that Gospel which they had so generously received. He directed them to reach out farther and farther into the Gentile world, breaking down barriers of prejudice which might have hindered their witness, or prevented them from receiving into communion those most remote from them in habits of thought and life.

pentecost

In the book of Acts, the gospel was spread not only by those set apart for this work, but also by the general body of disciples. After the death of Stephen “they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word”, and the Apostles are expressly excluded from the number of those who were so scattered. In Galatia, after Paul’s second visit, it is said that the churches were established in the faith, and increased in number daily. From Thessalonica “the Word of the Lord sounded forth, and not only in Macedonia and Achaia”, but far beyond. The whole history of the Church in the early centuries witnesses to the fact that the disciples were missionaries to the nations among whom they lived.

This Spirit, the missionary Spirit, was given to every believer. Whosoever received the Spirit of Christ in some degree, if only by approval and support of the efforts of others, expressed that desire for the conversion of the world which the Spirit inspired. What was wholly unknown, what was unthinkable in the early Church, was that Christians should oppose, or deride, or even fail to support, men who were laboring to spread the knowledge of Christ in the regions beyond. Those that knew the Biblical narrative knew that God had the “ends of the earth” as His ultimate passion.

Not even the Judaizing party in Jerusalem did that. The Judaizers protested strongly against the form in which the Gospel was proclaimed to the Greeks; they sent out their own emissaries to attack, to undermine, and to destroy the influence and teaching of Saint Paul. But their opposition was directed, not against the conversion of the Gentiles, not against missionary work itself, but only against a particular form of evangelism which they deemed to be dangerous. It was universally agreed that the Gospel must be preached to all the nations. (see Luke’s statement from the resurrected Christ himself that is used to bring to a close his first volume- Luke 24:45-49)

All who received the Spirit of the exalted Christ were more or less conscious then of the missionary passion and impulse of the Spirit. They all truly obeyed the command of their Lord to go into all the world, for they possessed a Spirit which impelled them to desire the world-wide manifestation of their Lord. Now it is the world-embracing Spirit himself which obeys the command rather than the wandering body. Christ came into all the world, though in the flesh He never went outside Palestine. It is obviously necessary to avoid the mistake of thinking that the reception and expression of the missionary Spirit of necessity involves going on missionary journeys, or that missionary journeys are truer and fuller expressions of the missionary Spirit than any other. The Spirit of redeeming love is manifestly expressed as truly in striving for the salvation of those around us where we live as in preaching to multitudes across the seas. It is the reception and the expression of redeeming love which is the all important issue, rather than the manner or the form of the work in which that Spirit is expressed.

The desire produced by the Spirit for the salvation of the world may be expressed in any form of Christian activity; but that Spirit is not revealed to others with equal clearness by every form of activity. In the book of Acts, Saint Luke makes the revelation of the Spirit clear to us by setting before us the acts of those whose lives were devoted to what we, today, call “missionary” work. If he had dwelt upon the labors of those who were not engaged in this special missionary work the revelation would have been less clear. The work of those who organized the churches may well have been as true expression of the Spirit of redeeming love as the work of those of whom we are told the most. But if Luke had written at length of church organization we should have probably missed the revelation of the Spirit of Christ as the Spirit which labors for the salvation of the world.

By insisting upon the missionary aspect in the book of Acts, we learn to know the Spirit as the Spirit who inspires active zeal for the salvation of others which enables us to easily perceive the same Spirit in other forms of activity as well. We understand that the organization of the churches and the addressing of social conditions are equally forms in which the Spirit in us finds expression. Every form of work can be undertaken by that same Spirit, each individual finding his unique activity to best manifest that same desire for the salvation of humanity which the Holy Spirit inspires.

In this sense, if we believe in the Holy Spirit as He is revealed in the Acts, we must be missionaries. We cannot accept the teaching, we cannot believe that the one thing of eternal importance to our souls is to receive and to know this Spirit, without feeling ourselves impelled to the missionary task of Christ. We cannot believe that the Holy Spirit reveals our own need and the need of all humankind without beginning to feel that need of others for Christ laid upon us as a serious call to participation. We simply cannot believe that this Spirit is given to us precisely that those who so need Christ may be brought by us to find the one way of salvation for their souls and bodies in this world and in the world to come, without feeling impelled to present ourselves as His human instruments. We must embrace the world because Christ embraces the world, and Christ has come to us, and Christ in us desires to embrace the world.

Activity world-wide in its vision and intention and hope and goal is inevitable for us unless we are ready to deny the Holy Spirit of Christ revealed so clearly in the Acts.

Roland Allen was an Anglican missionary in China working with the Society of the Propagation of the Gospel. Later he labored some 40 years writing missionary principles, retiring to Africa, where he died in Kenya in 1947. First edition of Pentecost and The World was in 1912. 
-another selection from Pentecost and the World: The Sole Test of Communion
-for further reflection, The Embodying of The Spirit , A.J.Gordon
Spirit of Life in The Life of Christ – John Owen
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T H E  I N T E R P R E T E R

adapted from a sermon by Joseph Parker (1830-1902)
“And the LORD answered me, and said: 
‘ Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables,
that he may run that readeth it’.”

Habakkuk, the prophet
 
“Which being interpreted”, that is what we need:  a man to tell us the meaning of hard words and difficult things and mysteries which press too heavily upon our staggering faith. The interpretation comes to us as a lamp. We instantly feel the comfort and the liberty of illumination.When we heard that word Emmanuel we were bewildered; it was a foreign word to us. It brought with it no familiar associations nor did it speak to anything that was within us. But when the interpreter came, when he placed his finger upon the word and said to us, “The meaning of this word is God with us”, then we came into the liberty and into the wealth of a new possession.
So we need the interpreter. We shall always need him. The great reader will always have his day, come and go who may. We want men who can turn foreign words, difficult languages, into our mother tongue. Then how simple they are and how beautiful, and that which was a difficulty before becomes a gate opening upon a wide liberty. We need a man who can interpret the meaning of confused and confusing and bewildering events; some one with a key from heaven, one with divine insight, the vision that sees the poetry and the reality of things; a man with a clear, simple, strong, penetrating voice who will tell us that all this confusion will one day be shaped into order, and all this uproar will fall into the cadences of a celestial and endless music.

We shall know that man when we meet him; there is no mistaking the prophet. He does not speak as other men speak, nor is he in difficulty or in trouble as other men are. On his girdle hangs the key, the golden key, that can open the most difficult gates in providence and in history, and in the daily events that make up our rough life from week to week. How much more we might have elicited from him if we had listened more intently to his wonderful voice! What miracles of music he might have wrought in our nature, but we take the prophet sometimes as a mere matter of course: he is a man in a crowd, his specialty we overlook, and we know not that he is talking to us from the mountain of the heavens, from the altar of the temple unseen ….

It is the prophet’s business to interpret things to us, to tell us that everything has been from the beginning, to assure us that there are no surprises in providence, to calm our hearts with the deep conviction that God has seen the end from the beginning, and that nothing has occurred on all this theatre of time which God did not foresee and which God does not control.  The devil is but a domestic servant in the kitchen of God; the devil has limited chains; he counts the links, he would like to make seven eight, he strives to strain the links into greater length, he cannot do it, he was chained at the first, he has been chained ever since, he will be chained forever– Hallelujah!  The Lord reigneth!  There is but one throne, and all hell is subject to the governance and the authority of  that throne….

“Which being interpreted”.  We need the interpreter every day.  We say, Affliction, and he says, I will interpret that word to you;  it needs interpretation, it is a very bitter word, but affliction being interpreted is chastening, refining, sanctifying, making meet for the Master’s use.  The Cross being interpreted is law, righteousness, pardon, redemption, atonement, salvation.  Being misinterpreted, it is to one class a sneer, to another an offence, to another foolishness; but to believe its interpretation at its best, it is the power of God and the salvation of God.  Man being interpreted is child of God, son of the Eternal, a creature made in the image and likeness of God, and meant to live with God and to enjoy Him and glorify Him forever.  The Church being interpreted is the most vital centre of the most blessed influence, an association of souls that love the Cross, that live in Christ, that are saved by Christ, and that have no joy that is not consonant with the purposes and pleasures of God.
______________________________________________________________________
Quoted in Bernard Ramm’s Protestant Biblical Interpretation, (1950) e4unity@cs.com

See my post “Do we need an Interpreterat SIMPLECHURCH

Did you ever hear the old saying,

DYNAMITE SOMETIMES COMES IN SMALL PACKAGES

I’m thinking especially about books that have made an impact on my life. Some of the most powerful books have been little paperbacks. I have a dear friend that is an avid reader, and that’s putting it mildly. He once said to me, “I don’t do paperbacks!” But I said, there are some precious little gems that only come in paperback. “Well”, he said, “I guess I’ll just have to wait until the hardback edition comes out, won’t I.”

Some of my most treasured books over the years are paperback classics, I’ll just name three: Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer,Harper & Row (1954), 122 pages,and The Obedience of Faith, by Paul S.Minear, SCM Press (1971)110 pages. I wish every Christian in America could read these as well as the third one I’ll mention now, regardless of which church tradition they call mother kirk.

The third little treasure is a little book on the church, Body Life, written by Pastor Ray Stedman in 1972, and telling the story of the Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California. The basic message of this little book and what it represents is still dynamite today. The Church, PBC, and their vibrant ministries are a testament to that.  

 He makes this statement in the early part of the book after discussing many of the negative ideas that come to mind when the word “church” is mentioned: 

“Let’s be honest: The church has been all of these things at one time or another. Again and again, it has justified every bitter charge, every gripe and criticism that was ever leveled against it by angry atheists and disillusioned agnostics.

“Yet–despite all its obvious flaws, weaknesses, hypocrisies, sins, and excesses–the church has been the most powerful force for good on the face of the earth, century after century, from the time of the apostles right up to this present moment. It has been light in the midst of the blackest darkness. It has been salt–both a preservative and a delightful seasoning–in a corruption-prone, unsavory society.”

He goes on to ask the obvious question, “How can this be?” And his answer is one we need to ponder very very carefully today when the world desparately needs what only the “True Church” was designed to provide.(see my earlier post on,”I Belong To The One True Church“.

Two Churches

How can we unravel this paradox? How can the church be both sin-ridden and salt and light? How can the church be both a source of disillusionment and a source of illumination at the same time? The answer, as found in the Bible, is this: What we call “the church” is really two churches! One is selfish, power-hungry, and sinful. The other is loving, forgiving, and godly. One has a long history of stirring up hatred, conflict, and bloody persecution, all in the name of God and religion. The other has always sought to heal human hurts, break down barriers of race and class, and deliver men and women from their guilt, shame, fear, and ignorance.

One is a false church, a counterfeit, masquerading as Christianity, but whose head is Satan. The other is the true church, founded by Jesus Christ, mirroring His authentic character through acts of love, self-sacrifice, courage, and truth.

Well there you have the gist of what I really believe about the Church and all of her many different manifestations and the urgent task of unity. To read more of this chapter from the late Dr.Stedman’s book, go here.