Does God Really Save Us by Faith Alone?




Calvin on Fictitious Worship

I come now to ceremonies, which, while they ought to be grave attestations of divine worship, are rather a mere mockery of God. A new Judaism, as a substitute for that which God had distinctly abrogated, has again been reared up by means of numerous puerile extravagancies, collected from different quarters; and with these have been mixed up certain impious rites, partly borrowed from the heathen, and more adapted to some theatrical show than to the dignity of our religion. The first evil here is, that an immense number of ceremonies, which God had by his authority abrogated, once for all, have been again revived. The next evil is that, while ceremonies ought to be living exercises of piety, men are vainly occupied with numbers of them that are both frivolous and useless. But by far the most deadly evil of all is, that after men have thus mocked God with ceremonies of one kind or other, they think they have fulfilled their duty as admirably as if these ceremonies included in them the whole essence of piety and divine worship.

With regard to self-abasement, on which depends regeneration to newness of life, the whole doctrine was entirely obliterated from the minds of men, or, at least, half buried, so that it was known to few, and to them but slenderly. But the spiritual sacrifice which the Lord in an especial manner recommends, is to mortify the old, and be transformed into a new man. It may be, perhaps, that preachers stammer out something about these words, but that they have no idea of the things meant by them is apparent even from this – that they strenuously oppose us in our attempt to restore this branch of divine worship. If at any time they discourse on repentance, they only glance, as if in contempt, at the points of principal moment, and dwell entirely on certain external exercises of the body, which, as Paul assures us, are not of the highest utility (Col. 2:23; 1 Tim. 4:8). What makes this perverseness the more intolerable is, that the generality, under a pernicious error, pursue the shadow for the substance, and, overlooking true repentance, devote their whole attention to abstinences, vigils, and other things, which Paul terms “beggarly elements” of the world.

Having observed that the word of God is the test which discriminates between his true worship and that which is false and vitiated, we thence readily infer that the whole form of divine worship in general use in the present day is nothing but mere corruption. For men pay no regard to what God has commanded, or to what he approves, in order that they may serve him in a becoming manner, but assume to themselves a license of devising modes of worship, and afterwards obtruding them upon him as a substitute for obedience. If in what I say I seem to exaggerate, let an examination be made of all the acts by which the generality suppose that they worship God. I dare scarcely except a tenth part as not the random offspring of their own brain. What more would we? God rejects, condemns, abominates all fictitious worship, and employs his word as a bridle to keep us in unqualified obedience. When shaking off this yoke, we wander after our own fictions, and offer to him a worship, the work of human rashness, how much soever it may delight ourselves, in his sight it is vain trifling, nay, vileness and pollution. The advocates of human traditions paint them in fair and gaudy colors; and Paul certainly admits that they carry with them a show of wisdom; but as God values obedience more than all sacrifices, it ought to be sufficient for the rejection of any mode of worship, that it is not sanctioned by the command of God.

John Calvin; The Necessity of Reforming the Church

Further Thoughts on Hospitality

Aaron Denlinger’s recent post (HT @rscottclark) over at Reformation21 about hospitality renewed a recent thought I had about church discipline and pastoral/elder home-vists.

My sister got married a little over one week ago and the wedding made me think on the nature of hospitality – how we show deference to guests by the location, what we provide, who we have speak, what kind of activities go on, etc. One of the things that came to mind was that one of the requirements for eldership in the church is hospitality.

What was interesting as I reflected on the wedding is that this requirement of hospitality for elders should not be isolated from its practice in the church – that is, the reason hospitality is important for those being considered for the role of elder isn’t just to find out if they’re a good guy. The point is that hospitality, like proper household management,  is a necessary role that will need to be carried in the duties as an elder.

One of the common interpretations in the reformed understanding of Elder is of one who visits the home of the church members to carry out church-discipline (not in the negative sense, but to check in with the family and see where they might encourage faithfulness amongst them as well as hear their needs and infirmities).

But this practice is almost non-existent among most reformed churches that I am aware of. I’ve read both positive and negative arguments for the practice of home-visitation in this manner (home-visitations for the sick is a different issue and not a matter of church-discipline), with some saying that home-visitations of this kind should actually be discouraged. I can see both sides as having merit, but I think this dimension of hospitality should inform how we view the issue of home-visitation and church-discipline.

I believe the trouble with home-visitations is due in part to trouble people have with anyone in authority over them. The problem is when that authority is detached from a personal relationship. It is much easier to hear instruction from someone who doesn’t simply say they care about you, but who actually demonstrates their care for you. It seems that if elders practice hospitality in the manner suggested below that this will not only overcome the innate aversion to authorial exercise, but additionally to warm people to the practice of home-visitation and proper church-discipline.

When an elder invites a member to their home they are, as Denlinger points out from Calvin, proving themselves to be “disinterestedly liberal”, which is someone who is not only safe, but primarily has the guest’s interests in mind not their own. This is not only disarming but engenders a level of trust and confidence in the church member.

In my estimation, it would be wise for elders to have in their home the members under their oversight. The point of this requirement in the NT is that elders should already be practicing such things and to do so would not be considered burdensome (within reason). This shouldn’t be done merely as an avenue to practice home visitation but as an effort to show kindness and hospitality to the members of one’s specific congregation.

The practice of home-visitation should always be viewed in subordination to the practice of hospitality by the elders of a congregation. As Luke shows us in 22:24-30, Christ has invited us to his table in his house and has prepared a feast for us. He has called us to go and do likewise (emphasis added):

A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

“You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

A Brief Response to Mark Jones on “Does the Gospel Threaten?”

Mark Jones recently asked the question, “Does the Gospel Threaten?“. I heartily disagree that the Gospel itself threatens. Within Mark’s question (and subsequent post) he seems to be positing that the Gospel itself contains within its announcement threatenings. As if to say that the Gospel consists of not only Good News but also Bad News (threats).

I do not dispute that there are “Gospel threatenings” if by that you mean there are particular threatenings that accompany or attend the Gospel. What is crucial to maintain though is that these threatenings are distinct from the Gospel (e.g., “Do not neglect so great a salvation) yet are a natural consequence of the nature of the Gospel itself. We must warn all that there are mortal consequences for our reception or rejection of the Gospel. And we must warn believers that our lives must be a reflection of and in accordance with this Gospel lest we so prove ourselves not to actually believe this Gospel.

By saying that they are a natural consequence I mean that they do not consist in or make up any part of the Gospel but do result from it. The grace of Christ abundantly poured out on wicked sinners is not lightly spurned. When the Son of God must become a man and die it is a matter of life an death when we consider our response to this message. But threatenings are by no means good news. The Gospel, by definition, is the good news par excellence. To refuse such good news is to our peril, but that does not change, alter or add to the content of that good news. It does not suddenly change the Good News to be simultaneously Good News and Bad News.