Monday, July 14, 2008

Daily Dose of Spurgeon

I've been going through Spurgeon's Morning and Evening devotion for the last several months, and thought today's entry was pretty timely for those of us concerned about the current state of affairs in the church. The subject text is Exodus 20:25, which is a command from God concerning the building of an altar. In it, God commands that any altar be made of undressed stone. Spurgeon's analysis shows the unity of Scripture, and the fact that even the Old Testament regulations point toward the Gospel:
God's altar was to be built of unhewn stones, that no trace of human skill or labour might be seen upon it. Human wisdom delights to trim and arrange the doctrines of the cross into a system more artificial and more congenial with the depraved tastes of fallen nature; instead, however, of improving the gospel carnal wisdom pollutes it, until it becomes another gospel, and not the truth of God at all. All alterations and amendments of the Lord's own Word are defilements and pollutions. The proud heart of man is very anxious to have a hand in the justification of the soul before God; preparations for Christ are dreamed of, humblings and repentings are trusted in, good works are cried up, natural ability is much vaunted, and by all means the attempt is made to lift up human tools upon the divine altar. It were well if sinners would remember that so far from perfecting the Saviour's work, their carnal confidences only pollute and dishonour it. The Lord alone must be exalted in the work of atonement, and not a single mark of man's chisel or hammer will be endured. There is an inherent blasphemy in seeking to add to what Christ Jesus in His dying moments declared to be finished, or to improve that in which the Lord Jehovah finds perfect satisfaction. Trembling sinner, away with thy tools, and fall upon thy knees in humble supplication; and accept the Lord Jesus to be the altar of thine atonement, and rest in Him alone.
Our attempts to alter scripture based on our own limited understanding will always produce something short of what God intended. This problem has revealed itself in many ways, most importantly in our understanding of salvation. As humans we want to believe that we have some role in our justification before God. Our limited understanding of time and space prevents us from fully grasping our relationship to God, but one thing is perfectly clear throughout the New Testament: Christ's death accomplished everything necessary for our salvation. It did not merely make our justification possible. It did not give us the opportunity to "make that decision" and save ourselves. In fact, though we are saved 'by grace through faith', even the very faith through which we are saved is a 'free gift from God.' This problem is more pervasive than most recognize. Even the most conservative of churches in America teach a means of salvation that is not entirely biblical - one in which we are the initiator in our saving relationship with Christ. If we are, as Scripture asserts, dead in sin, how are we able to 'choose' Christ?

And yet this problem is not limited to the area of soteriology. There are numerous issues in Scripture that have been diluted or even eliminated from the teachings of the church over the past decades, based on the ever evolving human mindset and culture. One such issue is that of the ordination of women as pastors. I don't particularly believe that women are any less effective than men at teaching or leading a body of believers. However, I tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to directly contradicting Scripture. Paul's clear command in I Timothy 2 is not a popular one in some circles. But what is the reason for its unpopularity? The fact that it offends our sense of equality and justice - or that our culture rejects such a sexist idea - is usually the answer given. Is this a good enough reason to reject a clear biblical teaching?

I would have to say that any argument based on human understanding or reason is a pretty weak one. And yet the most common argument in defense of women's ordination is that Paul was simply trying to blend in with the surrounding culture. Now that our culture accepts equality between men and women, we can simply ignore that little phrase. Well, what if we apply that rationale to every teaching in the Bible? At this point in time our society pretty well accepts homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle. Does this mean that we should ignore the numerous teachings in both the Old and New Testaments regarding its prohibition? And what if one day adultery is deemed acceptable by our culture? Where do we draw the line?

This is yet another result of a failure to teach sound doctrine in our churches. If we continually underestimate our basic condition before God (ie., total depravity), then we will always overestimate our own understanding of Scripture and it's teachings.

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