This is what the church should celebrate today!
This time of year brings a strange situation that I continue to puzzle about – the non-starter of Reformation Day in almost all Protestant denomination churches.
Fact -> If the pivotal events which Reformation Day embodies and represent had not occurred (by God’s grace, of course), then each and every single person in all Protestant denominational churches would today be either a Roman Catholic or a non-believer, or both.
Fact -> Not only does Reformation Day and the events thereof go largely ignored and uncelebrated in most churches today, but the church seems much more concerned with Halloween silliness than with any awareness of the events that shaped (and contiues to shape) their church history.
What does this mean? What does it say about the church today?
I have, over the years, attended a number of churches – mostly Baptist and mostly Reformed in varying degrees. With one exception, they have proceeded to ignore the Reformation, as if the work of the Reformers of the 1500 and 1600s was largely unrelated to their freedom from Rome and their doctrinal beliefs.
I have no explanation other than willful intellectual hubris and entitlement of the first order, and I just don’t understand it.
They look hither and yon for alternatives to Halloween, running about in many case with great anst over things are for the most part meaningless if one takes the power of Christ seriously. At the same time, they ignore that which formed the foundation of their beliefs and which would provide something real to celebrate in the Lord.
Any questions concerning this to clergy or church leadership generally evoke non-answers, avoidance or clear ignorance of church history, along with a side order of disinterest.
I can only attribute the phenomena to a subtle man centered theology that will concentrate on almost anything of flesh rather than celebrate the reality of spirit that has shaped the church.
Mores the pity since we are all poorer for this…
Next week is Reformation week, containing Reformation Day, October 31 – the celebration of the event that is the source of all Protestant denominations.
Yet in 99% of North American churches, including the one I attend, nary a word will be spoken of this great event. It is truly a travesty and betrayal of all those saints and martyrs who went before us by the Grace of our Lord…
In my Bible reading today, re-reading this psalm was just so wonderful that I decided to post it…
A Prayer of David.
1 Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
2Preserve my life, for I am godly;
save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God.
3 Be gracious to me, O Lord,
for to you do I cry all the day.
4Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
5For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
6 Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer;
listen to my plea for grace.
7In the day of my trouble I call upon you,
for you answer me.
8There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
nor are there any works like yours.
9 All the nations you have made shall come
and worship before you, O Lord,
and shall glorify your name.
10For you are great and do wondrous things;
you alone are God.
11 Teach me your way, O LORD,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name.
12I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify your name forever.
13 For great is your steadfast love toward me;
you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
14O God, insolent men have risen up against me;
a band of ruthless men seeks my life,
and they do not set you before them.
15But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me;
give your strength to your servant,
and save the son of your maidservant.
17 Show me a sign of your favor,
that those who hate me may see and be put to shame
because you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me.
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Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory.
Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine;
let me find Thy light in my darkness,
Thy life in my death,
Thy joy in my sorrow,
Thy grace in my sin,
Thy riches in my poverty,
Thy glory in my valley.
(from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, edited by Arthur Bennett)
The world is the creation and possession of the Lord. He and He alone sovereignly controls it in all things. As we often sing in hymn, “the battle belongs to the Lord”.
As a backdrop it is important to remember Ephesians 6:12 “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Our reality is a reflection of much larger struggles than might be apparent on the surface. And in those struggles while viewing the world, though we are always imperfect as men (or women), intent counts. Even our intent in differing to Him and turning from fretting is a significant form of praise and worship, which is our primary purpose as His creatures.
Our purpose is to praise and worship Him. Irrespective of the world around us, our task is to preach the Gospel and to follow His commandments.
What unbelievers do is between them and the Lord. They alone answer before Him. They are not ‘of us’ and we are not ‘of them’. If they have gone out from us (or never were with us), then they were never of us. (1 John 2:19)
When someone rejects the Lord, with all that implies, they and all that they are offends God, who is holy and righteous. They may have offended us, but having offended God they have much bigger problems! It is God’s mandate, not ours, to deal with it. If we have preached the Gospel in word and deed, and are not knowingly participating in their iniquities, then we are worshiping appropriately. Their worldly iniquities may be dealt with by the state, but that also is within the mandate granted by the Lord. One way or the other, their iniquities before Him will be dealt with by Him, in His time.
The second part of Prov 24:19 tells us not to envy them. Why? Envy can be even more insidiously than fretting. In the background, it aligns one with the object envied – in this case the sinner, his activities and their worldly fruits. It draws one into the world of flesh and away from spirit. That is the antithesis of our correct alignment with the Lord. Recall that “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (Gal 5:17). You can not serve two masters.
We must always bear in mind the real fruits of the worldly activities of the unbeliever are always bring condemnation because, in their willful rejection of the Lord they always serve Satan. This in not always apparent in any surface success we might observe. Irrespective of appearances, we have no part in that since it is not worship acceptable to God.
Prov 23:17 similarly admonishes the believer not to align with the sinner. But then we are given the correct posture. We are to continue in the fear of the LORD all the day. And what is that fear of the Lord? It is completing our duty as His people.
Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (Eccl 12:13)
And how do we keep His commandments?
Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge. (Prov 23:12)
In other words, read and attend solely to the Word of God. Significantly, it does not say that we will always be successful. But again, intent counts.
And we are to do this all the day. That’s 24/7 folks.
We might even make the message clearer by somewhat boldly combining the verses to yield
Fret not yourself because of evildoers…but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day.
Along with the method we are given (keeping His commands from His Word), this presents the optimal stance for the believer striving for closeness with the Lord and holiness. Disregard the sinner and the sinful world in the sense of personal worry, and concentrate wholly on the things of the Lord.
We are, after all, not of this world. We are, to steal a phrase from the title of Robert Heinlein’s archetypal SciFi novel “Strangers in a Strange Land”.
Fret(ting) – an irritated state of mind; annoyance; vexation. An ongoing state that is corrosive and abbrasive.
Fret not yourself because of evildoers, and be not envious of the wicked, (Prov 24:19)
Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day. (Prov 23:17)
Yet many believers that I know fret quite a bit about one thing or another. Let’s consider these two verses, with the help of the couple of others.
First, the grammar. These are not suggestions, as in “Try not to fret if you can help it..” or “It is understandable to fret but you should resist it…” etc., etc. Even though these are Proverbs and therefor somewhat general words of wisdom, these are nonetheless more that mere offhanded suggestions for optimal living. Let’s remember “which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Luke 12:25). The phrase “do not be anxious” appears numerous times in the New Testament, applying to the circumstances and concerns of life. Overall, Christians are admonished throughout the New Testament to worry for nothing because our sovereign Lord has it all in hand, always.
Now, Let us narrow to a particular kind of fretting that seems to be encouraged in our day. That is, fretting about the declining state of the world and the seemingly universal actions of ungodly people. Many believers seem to spend a great amount of time in fretting about these two topics.
In Prov 24:19 we are instructed to stop worrying about the second of these – the evil being perpetrated in the world by others. The wicked cited here are unbelievers, since they are evildoers (ie. sons of disobedience – Eph 2:2), outside the circle of the saved (or elect).
But if we are not to fret over them, what are we to do, if anything? “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God ” (Rom 12:19). Dealing with the wicked and their iniquity is the exclusive mandate of the Lord. Both judgment and vengeance are His alone, not ours. In fact, if we judge, we will be judged similarly (Matt 7:1), since we too are recalcitrant sinners all.
Bear in mind that this worry is different from discernment. We are not to judge, but we should be discerning and avoid willful association (aside from entering situations to preach the Gospel) with the sinful behaviours and their perpetrators. This require appropriate situational judgment and thought, which is separate from the judgment of the Lord.
This is also separate from the requirement for enforcement of law and order within society. That is separately mandated to the state by the Lord. As such, the that judgment is part of His mandate and within his sovereign plans.
Since we, having “Put on the whole armor of God” (Eph 6:11), are instructed not to worry, it would seem rebellious to do so. God is absolutely sovereign in all things in the world. It is His concern and not ours. We are to live in faith, within the outworking of His sovereign plans. To make the worry ours is to claim a portion of His sovereignty in ourselves.
Yet, like Paul (Rom 7:15), we often do what we endeavor not to do! Thank heavens for Grace!
With all this in mind, if we are not to fret, what are we to do?
Irrespective of the world around us, our task is to preach the Gospel and to follow His commandments.
In Isaiah 29:13 we have
And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips,while their hearts are far from me,and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,”
And repeated in Matt 15:8-9
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'”
Remind you of today? Surely these are verses that could describe our times as well the times in which they were written – a people who purport to be of the Lord, yet honouring Him only in words and worldly activity. Or churches that are filled with worldly programs and concerns as first priority, rather than the fear of the Lord and the Gospel at front and center.
Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, (Acts 17:29-30)
Notice that there is no time limit on this statement going forward. It is from that time forward, to the end (the return of our Lord). Unlike the things of men, God is not at our beck and call, available when we decide to call Him, or conceived in terms that would imply we somehow have input to His demands upon us. The Lord is separate and sovereign, demanding repentance from every single person, irrespective of their feeling or expectations in the matter.
Even aside from the fact that He is the sole creator, owner and sustainer of all, He gives another more explicit reason that should speak to every person.
because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31)
Christ will judge every person. His power is demonstrated in having been raised from the dead, showing God’s absolute sovereignty. And since, as God, He is completely righteous and holy, exactly the same as the character of the Father in all aspects, that judgment can brook no compromise or excuse.
The only course of actions is clear. Repent and believe in Jesus Christ! What else can one say? The day of judgment looms, and failure to turn wholly to Him will bring the unthinkable to each one who does not. But then it will be too late.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil 1:2)
This grace and peace is, as expressed through the Biblical context in which it is used, only available to those who belong to Jesus, the Lamb of God.
But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. (Matt 28:5-6a)
Proving the power of the Christ over all of creation.
Proving that atoning for all the sins of all of the elect could not overpower Him.
Allowing me to stand before the Father blameless and cleansed.
Allowing me to be with Him forever.
Setting the stage for the coming of the Spirit upon all believers, always.
And then to return to eternal fellowship with the Father.
So much more beyond words.
In the wonderful words of an old hymn “Oh what a Saviour”.