Saturday, June 24, 2017

When Is a Foot No Longer a Foot

Epictetus said, “A foot is no longer a foot if it is detached from the body, so you are no longer a man if you are separated from other men.” (Discourses of Epictetus, book 2, chapter 7). He may have been overstating his case a bit, but he has a point.

For all practical purposes, a foot is no longer a foot while separated from the body. As soon as a foot is separated from the body, the body loses all benefit from that foot. The body is crippled. Even if, in theory, we want to say that Epictetus is wrong, and it still is a foot, it cannot function as a foot. So, in functional terms, it is not a foot.

I suspect you know where this is going, so I will not belabor the matter.

As a foot separated from the body is (functionally speaking) no longer a foot, so the Christian separated from the body of Christ is (functionally speaking) no longer a Christian. Just as our physical body derives no benefit from a foot that has been separated from the body, so the body of Christ derives no benefit from those members who no longer take part in the life of the body. (See Rom 12; 1 Cor 12; Eph 1:23)

Even if you are just a toe in the body of Christ, you make a difference, and your absence makes a difference. Do your part, whatever that part may be.

Satan wants you to believe that you can remain separated from the body of Christ and still remain a Christian. Satan is a liar.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Cornelius Van Til

I have a special place in my heart for Cornelius Van Til. I never met the man. I never sat in his classes. I have not read many of his books (and the ones I did read I found difficult). And, to top it all off, if I ever had known him, I am sure we would have had significant doctrinal differences.

So why do I have a soft spot for Cornelius Van Til?

I graduated from Oklahoma Christian in August of 1978, and began working with the church in Kent, Ohio. By November of 1980, the inadequacy of my preparation for the ministry had become evident. Besides that, the church in Kent was headed for financial trouble, and I needed to move on. So I began to inquire at various schools. I cannot recall why I wrote to Westminster Theological Seminary. It did not make sense. I was not in agreement with many of their theological positions. I knew no one in Philadelphia; and I had no way to cover room and board for my family. But for some now forgotten reason, I wrote to that school.

I received from Westminster, as from all the other schools, an application packet and a sales pitch from the admissions staff. But I also received something else from Westminster. I received a personal hand-written note from Cornelius Van Til. I am sure that many others who applied to Westminster at that time received a similar note. It would be silly to imagine otherwise. But still, I appreciated it. An eighty-five-year-old professor, known around the world, had taken a few minutes to pen a note to me. It was not a long letter, just a simple note. But I saved that note for many years.

When was the last time you wrote someone a note of encouragement? Postage is higher than it used to be, but it is still a bargain. For less than a dollar, you could brighten someone's life today; you could share a word of encouragement that might make a difference for years to come. Don't think about it. Do it.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


How long will a congregation last without a preacher? How long will a congregation continue gathering without a place to meet?

In 1810 a church in Creich, Scotland was assigned a preacher. In those days, the government in Scotland decided who would preach in the church. This particular church did not approve of the minister assigned to them, they did not believe that he taught proper biblical doctrine. So they began to assemble outdoors, leaving the preacher to address an empty building. It may have been fairly pleasant in the summer, at least on sunny days. But what about when it rained? What about in the winter?

They kept up their outdoor meetings for two years, until they could afford to build a place of worship. The church elders took turns doing the teaching for more than thirty years. It was not until 1843 that they were finally able to bring in a trained minister to aid them in the work. When they invited the new minister to join them in the work, 280 members signed the invitation.

If we had lived in Scotland in 1810, what would we have done? Would our commitment to the Lord have been firm enough to keep us functioning as a church under such conditions?

The next time we are tempted to think that the church asks too much, the next time we are tempted to neglect the assembling of the believers, we need to think of these people. Someday those people will stand with us before the throne of God. In that moment of judgment will we be tempted to offer the excuses that we offer now?

Our Task

I have often felt that I was born at the wrong time and place.

I have wished that I could be like Peter at Pentecost and preach a sermon to which thousands would respond. But if I were like Peter, I would carry with me the memory of having denied my Lord, and of having engaged in a terrible display of racial prejudice at Antioch.

I have wished that I could be like Paul and write wonderful documents that would be treasured through the centuries. But if I were like Paul, that would mean carrying with me the memory of having caused others to suffer and die for their faith in Christ. It would involve facing beating, imprisonment and other abuses.

Maybe I should just be satisfied to be me. Maybe I should just serve the Lord in the here and now, in the quiet ways he has assigned to me, in this generation. As the song says,

If you cannot sing like angels,
If you can’t preach like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus,
And say He died for all.

Or as the Lord told Baruch,

… do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the LORD. But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go. ( Jeremiah 45:5, ESV)

Or as Paul told the Colossians,

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24, ESV)

He Didn’t Skip, Neither Should We

What if the Gospel According to Matthew had ended at chapter 17? What if Mark and Luke had ended at chapter 9? What if Jesus had ascended from the mount of transfiguration? He came from heaven and returned. What if he had returned a little early? What if Jesus had skipped the agony of Gethsemane and the shame of the cross?

We would still have the Sermon on the Mount and accounts of various miracles. We would still have the confession of Jesus as the Christ, and his promise to build a church. We would have a lot of interesting teaching, but we would not have the gospel.

The Sermon on the Mount is not gospel; it is law. It shows us what we should be. It reminds us of what we are not.

The miracles are not the gospel. It is good to know that he healed others, but that does not heal us as we need to be healed.

Jesus was the greatest teacher; but it is not as a great teacher that he saves. Jesus was the perfect healer. His cures were instantaneous and complete; but it is not as healer of illnesses that he saves. He came to give his life a ransom for our sins (Matthew 20:28). Without the death, burial and resurrection, we would be dead in our sins (1 Cor 15:17).

It is not Jesus the carpenter that saves. It is not Jesus the teacher that saves. It is Jesus Christ crucified that the apostles proclaimed (1 Cor 2:2), for it is only in the death, burial and resurrection that our ransom is paid. Jesus did not skip the death, the burial, the resurrection. If he had, he would not be the Savior and we would not be saved. Nor can we skip the death to sin and the resurrection to the new life (Rom 6:1-14). If we attempt to do so, we are not Christians and he is not our Savior.