Monthly Archives: October 2017

October 31, 2017: Verse of the day

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Rejecting the Righteous

(The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (5:30–32)

Their haughty disdain for the riffraff inside prevented them from attending Matthew’s banquet, but that did not mean that the Pharisees and their scribes (see the exposition of 5:17 in chapter 27 of this volume for background information on the scribes and Pharisees) weren’t aware of what was going on inside. They expressed their disapproval by grumbling (gogguzō; an onomatopoetic word) at Jesus’ disciples. They would not deign to speak to any of the tax collectors and sinners attending the banquet. But they evidently expected the Lord and His disciples to follow the prescriptions of the rabbinic law, hence their anger and resentment toward them.

Their question, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?” reflects the scribes’ and Pharisees’ outrage that Jesus and His disciples would associate with those unclean outcasts. Their question was a rhetorical one, intended as a stinging rebuke for what they viewed as outrageous behavior on the part of the Lord and His disciples. The question exposes the scribes and Pharisees as proud, focused on externals, and hypocritical. Imagining themselves to be the religious elite, they were in reality void of grace and strangers to salvation. Jesus turned His back on the outwardly moral, and focused on transforming repentant sinners into a holy people.

Overhearing the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus answered their challenge. His reply consisted of three parts. The Lord first gave an analogy, pointing out the self-evident fact that it is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. The scribes and Pharisees could not dispute that the tax collectors and sinners were spiritually sick; they were the sickest of the sick. How could they argue that the Great Physician should not minister to them? The Lord’s reply was a powerful indictment of their cold hearts, wickedness, and hatred of the very downtrodden sinners they should have sought to help. They saw no sin in themselves and no good or value in others.

Second, Jesus answered them from Scripture. Matthew 9:13 records that He also told the scribes and Pharisees to “go and learn [an expression used by the rabbis to rebuke unwarranted ignorance] what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice.’ ” The quote is from Hosea 6:6, and declares that God does not want external sacrifices but a heart that shows mercy (cf. Prov. 21:3; Isa. 1:11–17; Amos 5:21–24; Mic. 6:8). Those who show mercy to others as the Lord commanded (Luke 6:36) will themselves receive mercy from God (Matt. 5:7), but “judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13). The scribes and Pharisees, who prided themselves on their rigid adherence to the law, had no excuse for failing to show mercy to those who so desperately needed it.

Finally, Jesus answered them from His own personal authority as God incarnate, declaring, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” It is a statement full of irony, even sarcasm (cf. Paul’s sarcastic deflation of the conceited Corinthians in 1 Cor. 4:8). Accepting on the surface the scribes’ and Pharisees’ evaluation of themselves as righteous and hence not in need of a Savior, Jesus judicially left them to their self-righteous folly (cf. Matt. 15:14). Later He would again make this point when He told His hearers that “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). God seeks the truly repentant heart, not the hardened, self-righteous one. It was the humble, repentant tax collector, not the self-exalting, self-righteous Pharisee who Jesus said was justified (18:14). It was His classifying of them as sinners in need of repentance that inflamed the Pharisees’ hatred of Jesus.

The truth is that God cannot save those who refuse to see themselves as sinners, who ignore, gloss over, or trivialize their sin. Only those who understand by the grace of God and the convicting work of the Holy Spirit that they are the poor, prisoners, blind, and oppressed, headed for a Christless, Godless eternity in hell, and trust in Christ’s work on the cross as payment in full for their sins (Col. 2:13–14) can be saved. As James wrote, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

The scribes and Pharisees had badly misunderstood God’s purpose in giving the law. He did not give the law as a means of achieving self-righteousness, but to provoke self-condemnation, awareness of sin, conviction, repentance, and pleading to God for mercy. The law is “our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24). As Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 1:9–10,

[God’s] law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching.

Only those who recognize themselves to be in the latter group can embrace the glorious gospel of forgiveness. Such a one was Paul, the self-proclaimed foremost of all sinners (1 Tim. 1:15), who nevertheless found that “the grace of our Lord was more than abundant” to save even him (v. 14).[1]


31–32 It is important to recognize that Jesus not only originated proverbs and parables but also made wise use of current ones. So, citing a self-evident proverb of his day (v. 31), he described his mission in terms that he would go on to amplify in the parables in ch. 15. Since none are truly “righteous” (v. 32; cf. 18:19; Ro 3:23), Jesus used the word here either in a relative sense or with a touch of sarcasm. The prodigal son’s older brother, for example, could rightly claim that he had not deserted his father as the prodigal had (15:29). If, therefore, Jesus meant by “righteous” those who are generally loyal or devout, v. 32 means that he gave more help to those in greater need. But if, as is more likely, Jesus implied that the Pharisees only thought that they were righteous, the point is that one must first acknowledge oneself to be a sinner before he or she can truly respond to the call to repentance. Luke allows the proverb Jesus quoted to come full circle theologically by including the word “repentance,” omitted in Matthew 9:13 and Mark 2:17. With this word Luke introduces a topic of major importance. While the gospel of grace and forgiveness is for everyone (2:10), repentance is a prerequisite to its reception. The tax collector in 18:13–14 met this prerequisite, but not the Pharisee (18:11–12). The Lukan theme of joy is linked with that of repentance in 15:7, 10, 22–27, 32. Repentance was previously mentioned in Luke 3:3, 8, but only in the context of John the Baptist’s ministry.

Jesus’ use of the proverb may contain an allusion to Ezekiel 34, where the leaders of God’s people were accused of failing to take care of their flock since they had not “strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured” (34:4; cf. Green, 248). If this allusion can be established, then Jesus is also saying that his Messianic ministry points to the disqualification of the Jewish leaders as the “shepherds” of God’s people. This challenge to those in power is effectively issued in this context of table fellowship when the “traditional meal praxis” of the society is overturned (S. Scott Bartchy, “The Historical Jesus and Honor Reversal at the Table,” in The Social Setting of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. W. Stegemann, B. J. Malina, and G. Theissen [Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002], 175–83).[2]


5:30, 32 / sinners: This epithet refers to those who could not or would not observe the law of Moses, particularly the oral laws and traditions of the scribes and Pharisees. The Pharisees regarded these people as having no hope for participation in the kingdom of God or the resurrection of the righteous. Lachs (p. 168) cites several rabbinic sources that discuss the undesirability of mingling, especially eating, with those who did not observe the laws of purity.[3]


5:31–32. In typical Jewish teacher fashion, Jesus cited a proverb to emphasize his message. Wellness did not drive people to the doctor. Illness did. Jesus was the spiritual doctor. He came with a message of repentance. That message seemed misdirected. It did not save Israel and the Middle East, where political confusion reigned. It saved those religious leaders considered unworthy of God’s attention. Power began to reveal true positions in life. Who was sick? The tax collector’s friends, people willing to work for the Roman government and thus against Israel? Or religious leaders who knew more about God than God did? The title Righteous One given them by humans was the only title they would ever receive. Jesus picked out the lowest social positions as the positions through which he would work.[4]


31, 32. Jesus answered them, It is not those who are healthy that need a doctor but those who are ill.

The criticism of the scribes has been duly noted by Jesus. He himself, by means of what may have been a current proverb, flings back a clinching answer. When he associates on intimate terms with people of low reputation he does not do this as a hobnobber, a comrade in evil, “birds of a feather flocking together,” but as a physician, one who, without in any way becoming contaminated with the diseases of his patients, must get very close to them in order that he may heal them! Moreover, it is especially the Pharisees who should be able to understand this. Are not they the very people who regard themselves as being healthy, and all others as being sick? See Luke 18:9. If, then, in the eyes of the Pharisees, publicans and sinners are so very sick, should they not be healed? Is it the business of the healer to heal the healthy or the sick? The sick, of course.

Jesus adds: I have not come to call righteous people to conversion but sinners. Substantially this is the reading also in Matthew and Mark, though in Matthew these words are preceded by a quotation from Hos. 6:6, and prefixed by “for”; while Luke here adds the phrase “to conversion,” where most translators favor “to repentance.”

The passage makes clear that the invitation to salvation, full and free, is extended not to “righteous people,” that is, not to those who consider themselves worthy, but rather to those who are unworthy and in desperate need. It was sinners, the lost, the straying, the beggars, the burdened ones, the hungry and thirsty, whom Jesus came to save. See also Matt. 5:6; 11:28–30; 22:9, 10; Luke 14:21–23; ch. 15; 19:10; John 7:37, 38. This is in line with all of special revelation, both the Old Testament and the New (Isa. 1:18; 45:22; 55:1, 6, 7; Jer. 35:15; Ezek. 18:23; 33:11; Hos. 6:1; 11:8; 2 Cor. 5:20; 1 Tim. 1:15; Rev. 3:20; 22:17). It is a message full of comfort and “relevant” to every age!

As reported by Luke, Jesus adds that the call he had come to extend to sinners was “to conversion.” Not only “repentance” or sorrow for sin is needed, but nothing less than complete transformation: change of mind, heart, will, conduct. For more material in defense of the rendering “conversion” instead of merely “repentance” see the note on Luke 5:32 on page 306.

Are we now finished with the explanation of Luke 5:27–32? Not entirely. Something must still be added. Otherwise the reader might conclude that the main purpose of the section is to show what a wonderful man Levi (= Matthew) was. He was, indeed, wonderful. Nothing should ever be said to detract from the value of his complete and immediate surrender to Jesus. However, that is not the legitimate point of emphasis. What is far more important is the fact that Jesus, who even at this early point in Luke’s Gospel had performed so many miracles of mercy, added this to them all, namely, the exhibition of his power to bring about a radical and permanent change in the mind, heart, will, and life of … Matthew. So, whenever we read his beautiful Gospel let us think of the saving power of the Triune God as revealed through his Spirit in Christ.[5]


32 Luke replaces Mark’s aorist ἦλθον, “I came,” with the perfect ἐλήλυθα, “I have come,” probably because he sees a permanently changed state of affairs introduced by Jesus and carried on into the life of the church. He also adds at the end of the verse εἰς μετάνοιαν, “to repentance”: Luke assures his reader that Jesus with his magnanimity in no way condones sin. The addition also facilitates the application of the medical similitude of v 31 to this verse. Jesus’ sentiment is: “Where the need, there the deed.” Jesus’ ministry is a ministry of restoration. To ask whether there are, or who are, the righteous whom Jesus does not call to repentance misses the thrust (as it does in 15:7). The contrast is determined by the imagery of v 31.

While it would be attractive to consider Jesus’ call as an invitation to the great eschatological banquet of God (so H. Schürmann, Worte des Herrn: Jesu Botschaft vom Königtum Gottes [Freiburg: Herder, 1961] 38: Jesus as host; Pesch, “Das Zöllnergastmahl,” 79–80: Jesus as messenger), at least for the Lukan text with its “call to repentance” only a more general sense for “call” may be claimed.[6]


5:32 The Pharisees considered themselves to be righteous. They had no deep sense of sin or of need. Therefore, they could not benefit from the ministry of the Great Physician. But these tax collectors and sinners realized that they were sinners and that they needed to be saved from their sins. It was for people like them that the Savior came. Actually, the Pharisees were not righteous. They needed to be saved as much as the tax collectors. But they were unwilling to confess their sins and acknowledge their guilt. And so they criticized the Doctor for going to people who were seriously ill.[7]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2009). Luke 1–5 (pp. 332–334). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] Liefeld, W. L., & Pao, D. W. (2007). Luke. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 125). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Evans, C. A. (1990). Luke (p. 97). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[4] Butler, T. C. (2000). Luke (Vol. 3, p. 79). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[5] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke (Vol. 11, pp. 304–305). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[6] Nolland, J. (2002). Luke 1:1–9:20 (Vol. 35A, pp. 246–247). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[7] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1386). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

The Obscenity of Indulgences

Code: B171030

Have you ever seen St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome? Whether you see it in person, or in pictures, it’s spectacular. From the vast piazza surrounded by tall columns to the gigantic dome that dominates Rome’s skyline, it is unforgettable. Those who step inside witness vast marble hallways lined with priceless works of art, including Michelangelo’s Pietà.

Even the casual observer can tell that no expense was spared when Pope Leo X set out to rebuild the cathedral in the sixteenth century. Five hundred years later it is still a monument of architectural grandeur and lavish beauty.

But beneath the outward appeal of its construction lies the ugly truth about its funding. The elegance of St. Peter’s quickly becomes an eyesore when you realize its extreme opulence was financed primarily through the extortion of Europe’s longsuffering peasants.

Pope Leo X used the sale of indulgences as the primary means of funding his massive building projects in Rome. Leo sent representatives throughout his dominion to extort the masses through the sale of indulgences.

To understand indulgences, we need to go outside the teachings of Scripture and acquaint ourselves with the codified Catholic dogmas of purgatory, penance, and the treasury of merit.

Purgatory

Catholics believe in a place between heaven and hell called purgatory. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church

All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation, but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. [1]

Roman Catholicism denies the clear biblical teaching that final judgment follows death (Hebrews 9:27), when the redeemed inherit eternal life (Revelation 21:27) and the unredeemed inherit eternal damnation (Revelation 20:15). The belief in purgatory implicitly denies Paul’s teaching that there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). In fact, Catholicism goes so far as to pronounce damnation on anyone who denies their doctrine of purgatory:

If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema. [2]

Even for the serious Catholic, who has already worked hard to achieve salvation, purgatory remains an inevitable dread. The only mystery on this side of the deathly veil is how much punishment awaits and how long it will take before one reaches “the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”

In the medieval church, purgatory sentences were widely thought to be much longer than our earthly life spans. Understandably, that caused a great deal of anxiety among church members. The offer of a reduced sentence, or escape altogether, had even the poorest parishioners eager to empty their pockets—especially if it allowed them to sidestep the grueling acts of penance.

Penance

The Catholic belief in penance is a distortion of the biblical doctrine of repentance. Whereas repentance refers to a newfound hatred for sin and the profound desire to turn away from it, penance is a process by which the sinner makes satisfactory payment for his own sins. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must “make satisfaction for” or “expiate” his sins. This satisfaction is also called “penance.” [3]

Making satisfaction for sins often involved the recitation of certain prayers, gifts to the church, and other good works. More extreme acts of penance required periods of self-denial and even self-harm. Brutal flagellation and starvation were not uncommon, especially for people guilty of egregious sins, or those tortured by a tender conscience.

Prior to his conversion, Martin Luther suffered enormously through those acts of satisfaction. He had an acute awareness of his own depravity and thus willingly put himself through the most rigorous of penitential acts. James Kittelson describes them in vivid detail:

Long periods with neither food nor drink, nights without sleep, bone-chilling cold with neither coat nor blanket to warm him—and self-flagellation—were common and even expected in the lives of serious monks. . . . [Luther] did not simply go through the motions of prayers, fasts, deprivations, and mortifications of the flesh, but pursued them earnestly. . . . It is even possible that the illnesses which troubled him so much in his later years developed as a result of his strict denial of his own bodily needs. [4]

For many, the more extreme forms of penance were even more unappealing than time spent in purgatory. Both false doctrines put an incredible burden on the members of the Catholic Church. There was no hope of reprieve, in this life or the next.

The Treasury of Merit

That absence of hope created a market that the Roman Catholic Church could exploit. To that end, they instituted the treasury of merit, a heavenly slush fund for Catholics to draw on to reduce their future suffering, or perhaps escape purgatory altogether. Composed of the excess righteousness achieved by Christ, His mother Mary, and all the saints, Catholics could draw on the treasury of merit—for the right price.

According to Catholic dogma,

The “treasury of the Church” is the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ’s merits have before God. They were offered so that the whole of mankind could be set free from sin and attain communion with the Father. . . . This treasury includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. . . . [and] the prayers and good works of all the saints. [5]

Indulgences were sold as a way to tap into the treasury of merit. The bottomless nature of that reservoir amounted to a conveniently limitless income stream for the coffers of Rome.

The Sale of Indulgences

Pope Leo X called on a monk by the name of Johann Tetzel to lead the sale of indulgences in Germany. Tetzel was a master salesman—the spiritual forerunner of the charlatans we see dominating Christian television today. He may have also been the pioneer of seductive advertising jingles. His sales pitch was certainly effective: “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” And while that’s an English translation, it rhymed just as well in the original German—the money klingt and the soul springt.

The scene was imposing. Tetzel preached under the pope’s banner and the sanctimonious aura of the church. It was extortion and emotional manipulation of the highest order. It was quick and dirty business. The money flowed freely and the transactions were finalized swiftly. Tetzel’s entourage rapidly moved from town to town, amassing a vast amount of wealth along the way.

Behind Tetzel lay a long trail of German peasants with empty pockets. But in front of him stood one very angry monk who was about to put an end to Tetzel’s obscene racketeering.

 


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Albert Mohler Blog: “Here We Stand”

In this essay, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. celebrates the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and discusses the continued significance for the Reformation today. Mohler writes:

“Christ’s church will remain in need of a continuing reformation until He comes. But here we must be very careful. More liberal churches claim to embrace the Reformation call of Semper Reformanda – as the church always being reformed. This can open the door to doctrinal revisionism and liberalism in the name of reformation. The true churches of the Reformation, however, understood that the right call was for a church always reformed by the Word of God.”

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Sanctification  — Belonging, Not Behaving

“Belonging to another isn’t something that can be compartmentalised for certain times or certain people. Holiness is a radical, all-in call to submit our lives daily to God. It’s the call to live for our Possessor’s glory, not our own. To be holy means to surrender our lives to God and grant him free access into every corner.”

We get the word sanctify by glueing two little Latin words together: sanctus (which means holy) and fiacre (which means to make). Therefore, to be sanctified is to be made holy and sanctification is the gradual ‘holy-fying’ that takes place in a believer’s life from the very first moments of regeneration. The Westminster Shorter Catechism calls it ‘the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness’. You and I might call it ‘holistic upcycling’, as dark habits are broken, sinful patterns are corrected, and lives are remade to the image of Christ by the power of God’s Spirit.
However, sanctification is much bigger than simply becoming more like Jesus. As glorious as that is, sanctification is God’s planned cosmic restoration happening before our very eyes. Ever since Adam rebelled, the world and its people were plunged into ruin. Throughout the Bible story, our God promises a renewed earth, decisively rid of grief and death. This hope is made certain through Christ’s death and resurrection and will be seen when Christ returns to reign. In the meantime, however, we glimpse his new creation in the church. Have you known a brother live more peaceably or behave more gently or kindly? Behold what God is doing! He’s making all things new (Rev. 21:5).
Belonging, not just behaving
But if sanctification is about becoming holier, what does ‘holy’ mean?
We might be surprised by the answer. Our instinct says that holiness has to do with purity and morality; holiness is about right behaviour. But that’s only half the story. Holiness is about behaviour, but it’s firstly about belonging.
In his first letter, Peter uses the word ‘holy’ a lot. It’s a dominant theme throughout the book, as he seeks to comfort a suffering church and call them to live distinctly amid an unbelieving world. In chapter 1 verse 15 he bids them, ‘Be holy, as he who called [them] is holy,’ then, to drive his request home he quotes from Leviticus, another book in which the theme of holiness runs throughout.
The term ‘holy’ is used in a surprising way in Leviticus. Almost everything is holy in Leviticus: people, tables, tents, breads… Bread!? That should set off alarm bells if we think holiness is simply a matter of right behaviour. How can a piece of bread behave properly?
In the Hebrew language, ‘holy’ literally means ‘set apart’; that is, to exist for God’s use alone. Our instinct is wrong. Holiness is more than behaving: it’s belonging to God. To be holy is to realise that we are a people for God’s own possession (1 Pet. 2:9). We no longer belong to ourselves. We are his.

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October 30, 2017: Verse of the day

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10 The introductory rhetorical question establishes the point that the wife of noble character is not easily found; but when she is, she is a treasure. Her description as “a wife of noble character” (ʾēšet-ḥayil) signifies that she possesses all the virtues, honor, and strength to do the things the poem will set forth. It is interesting to notice that this woman, like wisdom, is worth more than rubies (cf. 3:15; 8:11).[1]


An excellent wife will contribute to your success (v. 10)

‘An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels.’ She is a strong woman who will strengthen you. The Hebrew word translated ‘excellent’ (or ‘virtuous’) is the same word translated ‘strength’ in verse 3. This word was also used of valiant warriors. The ‘weaker sex’ is not weak in every sense. Such a woman is a rare and valuable gift from God (18:22; 19:14). Just as God made Eve from the flesh of Adam, only God can create a woman like this for you. Just as the young man is exhorted to search for wisdom, so he should earnestly search out a woman like this, not settling for less.[2]


31:10 The question “who can find …?” is somewhat ambiguous. It could indicate impossibility; cf. Job 28:12, where another form of the question implies the answer “no one”—wisdom cannot be found because wisdom is with God. In Prov 18:22 the possibility of “finding a wife” is affirmed, but only as a gift of God. The verb means more than a casual finding, and, significantly, it indicates acquiring Wisdom in 1:28; 8:35; cf. Job 28:12–13. In the context of the acrostic poem the question may be indicating a paradox. On the one hand, finding a (good) wife is not possible for merely human effort since it is God’s doing, 18:22. But on the other, the present poem describes a wife who is married, and so was “found,” and is deservedly the object of her husband’s praise, vv 28–29. The value (מכר, literally “price,” a commercial term) of the woman is beyond that of precious jewels, usually translated as “corals” or “rubies”; cf. 3:15; 8:11; 20:15.[3]


31:10. The wife of noble character (ḥayil) is also mentioned in 12:4 (cf. “noble” in 31:29). Ruth was called “a woman of noble character” (Ruth 3:11). The word for noble character is translated “capable” in Exodus 18:21. The question who can find? (cf. Prov. 20:6) does not suggest that such women are nonexistent but that they should be admired because they, like noble men, are rare. Also they are more valuable than rubies (cf. a similar statement about wisdom in 8:11).[4]


[1] Ross, A. P. (2008). Proverbs. In T. Longman III, Garland David E. (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Proverbs–Isaiah (Revised Edition) (Vol. 6, p. 247). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Newheiser, J. (2008). Opening up Proverbs (p. 176). Leominster: Day One Publications.

[3] Murphy, R. E. (1998). Proverbs (Vol. 22, p. 246). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[4] Walvoord, J. F., & Zuck, R. B., Dallas Theological Seminary. (1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 972). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

The Story of Martin Luther’s Conversion

The actual date of Martin Luther’s conversion is disputed. Some place it before the posting of the Ninety-Five Theses; some put it before the Heidelberg Disputation. It is highly likely, however, that Luther’s conversion came in 1519. In reading the whole of the Ninety-Five Theses, it is clear that Luther still held on to a number of formative Roman Catholic doctrines. At that point, he was not in favor of jettisoning the whole of it; he sought instead to correct and purify it from the corruptions that he saw as creeping in during the 1200s through the early 1500s. The corruption culminated in the indulgence sale of Tetzel and Albert and the relic exhibit at Wittenberg. There is also Luther’s own testimony that his “breakthrough” came while he was lecturing through the Psalms a second time. Those lectures were given in the early months of 1519. Many years later, in 1545, Luther reflected on his conversion, and offered up an extraordinary account of this event, one that hinges on understanding the difference between the active and the passive. So, Luther tells us:

Meanwhile, I had already during that year returned to interpret the Psalter anew. I had confidence in the fact that I was more skilful, after I had lectured in the university on St. Paul’s epistles to the Romans, to the Galatians, and the one to the Hebrews. I had indeed been captivated with an extraordinary ardor for understanding Paul in the Epistle to the Romans. But up till then it was not the cold blood about the heart, but a single word in Chapter 1, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed” that had stood in my way. For I hated that word “righteousness of God,” which, according to the use and custom of all the teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically regarding the formal or active righteousness, as they call it, with which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.

Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience.

Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me.

Thereupon I ran through the Scripture from memory. I also found in other terms an analogy, as, the work of God, that is what God does in us, the power of God, with which he makes us wise, the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God. And I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word “righteousness of God.” Thus that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise.

This excerpt is adapted from Stephen Nichols’ contribution to The Legacy of Luther.

Source: The Story of Martin Luther’s Conversion

Why Wagner WAS the Leader of the NAR (Part 3): called “the defining father figure of the [NAR]”

WAGNER’S LIE: “THE NAR…..HAS NO LEADER.”

The above quote from C. Peter Wagner was in an article he wrote titled ‘The New Apostolic Reformation Is Not a Cult‘. His attempt to distance himself as being the head of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) needs to be noted.

“The NAR is not an organization. No one can join or carry a card. It has no leader.
I have been called the “founder,” but this is not the case.

This is a half truth, which means Wagner was lying. The truth is that he became the leader of the NAR because of what he observed developing over time through the New Order of the Latter Rain (NOLR) movement’s Charismatic Renewal Movement (CRM). He observed, and documented, the rise of this apostolic phenomena and even named it. His research and defense of Charismatic Apostles and Prophets eventually led him…

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The New Calvinism: Areas of Weakness

Popular blogger and pastor Tim Challies examines the New Calvinism — watch or read:

The New Calvinism has become a worldwide movement of Christians who are looking to the past to recover and live out the precious truths of Reformed theology. Having introduced the movement and having identified some ways in which we see evidences of God’s grace in and through it, I am now suggesting some weaknesses it may do well to address. Here’s that video in Facebook and YouTube formats, followed by a transcript for those who prefer to read.

View article →

Source: The New Calvinism: Areas of Weakness

Reformation 500: Can Roman Catholicism be Considered Christianity?

From Berean Research:

Eric Davis of The Cripplegate looks at ten doctrines which render Rome outside of Christ. After reading his exposé you’ll understand the reasons Protestants believe that the RCC stands in stark opposition to biblical Christianity, thus it is apostate.

Sadly, a vast number of Roman Catholics cannot be considered authentic Christians.  In other words, Catholics aren’t born again (regenerate) believers. And because our Catholic friends are unsaved, we must share the true Gospel of Jesus Christ with them.

Pastor Davis concludes with this reminder:

The Reformers were forced to depart from Roman Catholicism in order to unite with Christ. Five hundred years later, evangelicals still cannot come together with Catholics. Those who desire true salvation in Jesus Christ must break from Roman Catholicism. This 500th anniversary, may we pray to that end.

Now to his excellent exposé:

It’s that time of year again when we remember the Protestant Reformation. But this year, it’s really something special: 500 years have passed since the greatest movement of God in church history next to the birth of the church at Pentecost.

But was the Reformation really necessary? Were the Reformers merely a pack of spiritual naysayers looking to rain on Rome’s innocent parade? Were they not looking to take their ball and mitt to start their own game?

The Reformers were not moved by preferences to seek and start another denomination. They were moved by Scripture to break from something that could not be considered Christian. Five centuries have not improved Rome’s doctrine. The need for her reform could not be greater.

Tragically, several reasons remain why Roman Catholicism still is not Christian. At this 500th year anniversary, it’s worth taking a thorough look at ten doctrines which render Rome outside of Christ. Many of these are sufficient on their own.

View article →

Source: Reformation 500: Can Roman Catholicism be Considered Christianity?

Should our church sing Bethel Music worship songs?

New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) false prophet Bill Johnson is the senior pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, CA. Jesus Culture (JC) bills itself as not “just a band, but…a ministry of Bethel Church.” JC has had a huge impact on Christian youth who flock to their international conferences. Holly Pevic of Spirit of Error offers her advice to those who wonder if it’s okay to sing JC’s so-called worship songs in a church service:

Jesus Culture’s “Show Me Your Glory” sung by Kim Walker-Smith

A frequent question I hear has to do with the music being made by groups coming out of Bethel Redding and other churches that have New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) beliefs. The question is, is it OK to sing their songs as long as the lyrics don’t contain any error?

By way of background, Bethel Music, a popular record label, is known for producing high quality music, and their songs are sung in churches across America on Sunday mornings–not just in NAR churches, but even in many mainstream evangelical and non-denominational churches. And the truth is that many of the people in these churches sing along, having no idea that these songs come from a leading church in an aberrant movement. I, myself, have sung along with songs in church or on the radio, only later to discover that those songs came from Bethel Music.

View article →

See also Jesus Culture: The next generation of heretics

Source: Should our church sing Bethel Music worship songs?

The Passion of Luther and the Reformation

Blog-The-Passion-of-Luther-and-the-Reformation-10.29.17The Beginning of the Reformation

This week we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation. October 31, 1517, Martin Luther (1483-1546) posted his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This act led to a tumultuous time for Luther, ultimately appearing before Charles V on behalf of Pope Leo X at the Diet of Worms where he was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. Sheltered by Frederick the Wise, elector of Saxony, Luther went into hiding at Wartburg Castle from May 1521 to March 1522, where he translated the New Testament from Greek into German.

Luther’s Passion

At this time in history, the Catholic Church sold indulgences to people in order to gain merit with God with hope of going to heaven. Essentially, Catholic dogma requires people to earn their way to heaven through good works. However, the Church taught that it was impossible to do it on your own works. So the Church offered indulgences for purchase.

An indulgence was basically a receipt that said you had purchased good works from a past saint through the Church. Catholics taught that various saints had done a super-abundance of good works when alive, which created a treasury of merits and graces that could be drawn from when purchased. People would purchase indulgences for self-gain in order to pay for their own past sins, for loved ones who had died, and even for their own future sins.

As Bob Kellemen chronicles Luther’s internal battle, he quotes Luther:

“I bewail the gross misunderstanding among the people which comes from these preachers and which they spread everywhere among common men. Evidently the poor souls believe that when they have bought indulgence letters they are then assured of their salvation.”

The Reformer then directly addresses the Cardinal, “0 great God! The souls committed to your care, excellent Father, are thus directed to death. For all these souls you have the heaviest and a constantly increasing responsibility. Therefore, I can no longer be silent on this subject.”[1]

Luther objected to the practice of selling indulgences because he understood the crooked practice was for financial gain to the Catholic Church and did nothing to get someone to heaven. There are two errors here. First, no one can gain heaven through good works. Second, the Church was robbing the people while giving them false hope of eternity.

Luther’s Understanding

Luther correctly understood what the Bible teaches regarding going to heaven. The Bible unequivocally denies any person the option of earning his or her way into heaven.

Jesus made it clear that the only way to heaven was through Him, not through personal merit or good works. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:7). It is Jesus’ work on the cross that enables us to go to heaven, not our work on earth.

Paul also taught this same truth. It is impossible to earn your way to heaven. He wrote, “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Here Paul teaches that God only saves people through faith. There is no amount of good works that can save a person. Heaven is only possible through God’s grace, unearned favor from God to man.

Paul explained that the just (those who are saved and on their way to heaven) shall live by faith (Galatians 3:11), not by works. There were those teaching that through works a person could go to heaven. Paul called this type of teaching foolish. In reference to those who try to work their way to heaven, he declares those individuals cursed (Galatians 3:10).

Likewise, Paul shared his own personal testimony in Philippians 3. Here he rehearsed all the good works that he had done – works that, if possible, would earn him heaven. He declared all his good works as useless. Describing his relationship with God, he wrote, “…not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:9). In other words, righteousness is only possible through faith in the work of Jesus on the cross where God poured His wrath upon Jesus as a sacrifice for the sins of the world (cf. 1 John 2:2).

Luther’s Invitation: How do you get to Heaven then?

Clearly the answer begins with this simple truth: nothing that you can do or can be done for you through a church can earn you a relationship with God or a way into heaven.

Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He have His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). It requires belief in the person and sacrificial work of Jesus on the cross. In other words, you must trust Jesus’ work to get you to heaven and not your own merit or the church’s.

In Romans, Paul wrote, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified (declared righteous) by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Romans 5:8-9).

He further clarified, “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation…For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:9-10, 13).

Luther’s Personal Responsibility

Luther was driven by the simple message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He lamented that the Catholic Church perverted the Gospel and that the Church taught what could only send people to hell not heaven. He understood his personal responsibility in light of the forgiveness of sin.

“Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).

Luther faithfully proclaimed this truth 500 years ago.

I faithfully proclaim this truth to you today.

Be reconciled to God.
Turn to God, recognizing your sin and the fact that you deserve hell.
Ask Him for forgiveness of your sin based upon the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross.
God promises to forgive your sins and to begin a new relationship with you.

[1] Kellemen, p. 6.

Pastor Kevin’s Blog | Walking together through life as friends in Christ sharing wisdom along the journey

© 2017 PASTORKEVINSBLOG.COM

Source: The Passion of Luther and the Reformation

How many followers of Jesus are there in the Mideast? Read the new “State of the Epicenter 2017” report.

Joel C. Rosenberg's Blog

Epicenter-Stateof-2017

(Jerusalem, Israel) — Over the last few months, my Joshua Fund colleagues and I have been working on a new report concerning the “State of the Epicenter 2017.”  Working with pastors, ministry leaders and experts in the region, we carefully examined the question of how many followers of Jesus Christ currently reside in Israel, the Palestinian territories, and in the five Arab neighbors around Israel.

It was the first time since my wife, Lynn, and I founded The Joshua Fund in 2006 that our team has drilled down into the data — and the trend lines — to assess the health and growth (or decline) or the church, country by country.

Personally, I found the research fascinating, and the results encouraging. At the recent Epicenter Conference held in Orange County, California, I shared those results with the attendees. Now I’d like to share the results with you

STATE OF…

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95 Affirmations for Gospel-Centered Counseling

Luther’s 95 Theses for Salvation and the Biblical Counseling Coalition’s 95 Affirmations for Sanctification 

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his now famous 95 Theses to the door of the All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany. In doing so, Luther was launching a reformation in how the church understood the gospel of Christ’s grace for salvation.

In 2010, over three dozen biblical counseling leaders gathered together to launch theBiblical Counseling Coalition (BCC). Over the next nine months, they crafted ten drafts of what became the BCC’s Confessional Statement. In doing so, they were seeking to capture in summary form how the church understands the gospel of Christ’s grace for sanctification and one-another ministry—applying the gospel to daily Christian living.

In September 2017, New Growth Press released my book, Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life. As I explain in the book:

“Martin Luther not only reformed theology; his understanding of the gospel reformed daily Christian living, biblical counseling, pastoral counseling, one-another ministry, and soul care.”

So, it seems only natural for me to combine my appreciation for Luther’s pastoral counseling and my involvement in facilitating the BCC’s Confessional Statement into this document: 95 Affirmations for Gospel-Centered Counseling.

In this document, I’ve taken the BCC’s Confessional Statement and divided it into 95 positive affirmations or thesis statements. My prayer is that you might find these summaries to be a helpful presentation of what it means to apply Christ’s grace to daily living through the personal ministry of the Word—gospel-centered biblical counseling.

Note: One of my fellow BCC Council Board Members, Dr. Heath Lambert, recently released his 95 Theses for an Authentically Christian Commitment to Counseling. I’d encourage you to read Dr. Lambert’s work. 

Preamble: Speaking Gospel Truth in Love—A Vision for the Entire Church 

  1. Gospel-centered counseling focuses on a central question: “What does it mean to counsel in the grace and truth of Christ?” (John 1:14).
  1. Gospel-centered counseling flows from our calling to equip God’s people to love God and others in Christ-centered ways (Matthew 22:35-40).
  1. The vision for gospel-centered counseling is for the entire church to speak gospel truth in love (Ephesians 4:11-16).
  1. Gospel-centered counseling is dedicated to developing the theology and practice of the personal ministry of the Word, whether described as biblical counseling, pastoral counseling, personal discipleship, one-another ministry, small group ministry, cure of souls, soul care, spiritual friendship, or spiritual direction.

Introduction: In Christ Alone 

  1. The goal of gospel-centered counseling is spiritual, relational, and personal maturity as evidenced in desires, thoughts, motives, actions, and emotions that increasingly reflect Jesus (Ephesians 4:17-5:2).
  1. Personal change must be centered on the person of Christ (Colossians 1:27-29). We are convinced that personal ministry centered on Christ and anchored in Scripture offers the only lasting hope and loving help to a fallen and broken world (Colossians 2:1-9).
  1. We confess that we have not arrived. We comfort and counsel others only as we continue to receive ongoing comfort and counsel from Christ and the Body of Christ (2 Corinthians 1:3-11). We admit that we struggle to apply consistently all that we believe. We who counsel live in process, just like those we counsel, so we want to learn and grow in the wisdom and mercies of Christ.
  1. All Christian ministry arises from and is anchored in God’s revelation—which is both the written Word (Scripture) and the living Word (Christ). This is true for the personal ministry of the Word (conversational and relational ministry which our culture calls “counseling”) and for the various public ministries of the Word. In light of this core conviction about Christ-centered, Word-based ministry, we affirm the following central commitments as gospel-centered counselors. 

Confessional Statement # 1: Gospel-Centered Counseling Must Be Anchored in Scripture

  1. We believe that God’s Word is authoritative, sufficient, and relevant (Isaiah 55:11; Matthew 4:4; Hebrews 4:12-13). The inspired and inerrant Scriptures, rightly interpreted and carefully applied, offer us God’s comprehensive wisdom.
  1. We learn to understand who God is, who we are, the problems we face, how people change, and God’s provision for that change in the Gospel (John 8:31-32; 10:10; 17:17).
  1. No other source of knowledge thoroughly equips us to counsel in ways that transform the human heart (Psalm 19:7-14; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3). Other systems of counseling aim for other goals and assume a different dynamic of change. The wisdom given by God in His Word is distinctive and robust. God comprehensively addresses the sin and suffering of all people in all situations.
  1. Gospel-centered counseling is an insightful application of God’s all-embracing truth to our complex lives (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:6; Philippians 1:9-11). It does not merely collect proof-texts from the Bible. Wise counseling requires ongoing practical theological labor in order to understand Scripture, people, and situations (2 Timothy 2:15). We must continually develop our personal character, case-wise understanding of people, and pastoral skills (Romans 15:14; Colossians 1:28-29).
  1. When we say that Scripture is comprehensive in wisdom, we mean that the Bible makes sense of all things, not that it contains all the information people could ever know about all topics.
  1. God’s common grace brings many good things to human life. However, common grace cannot save us from our struggles with sin or from the troubles that beset us. Common grace cannot sanctify or cure the soul of all that ails the human condition.
  1. We affirm that numerous sources (such as scientific research, organized observations about human behavior, those we counsel, reflection on our own life experience, literature, film, and history) can contribute to our knowledge of people, and many sources can contribute some relief for the troubles of life. However, none can constitute a comprehensive system of counseling principles and practices.
  1. When systems of thought and practice claim to prescribe a cure for the human condition, they compete with Christ (Colossians 2:1-15). Scripture alone teaches a perspective and way of looking at life by which we can think biblically about and critically evaluate information and actions from any source (Colossians 2:2-10; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Continue Reading 

You can continue reading the rest of these 95 Affirmations and download the entire document here: 95 Affirmations for Gospel Centered Counseling.

If you would like to share the link to the PDF with others, you can use this shortened link: http://bit.ly/95Affirmations

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14 Free Resources for Counseling Under the Cross

Counseling Under the Cross Releases Today!

Today, September 11, 2017, is the official release date by New Growth Press of my latest book, Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life.

Martin Luther not only reformed theology; his understanding of the gospel reformed daily Christian living, biblical counseling, pastoral counseling, one-another ministry, and soul care.

Through Counseling Under the Cross, learn how Luther richly, relevantly, robustly, and relationally applied the gospel to suffering, sin, sanctification, and our search for peace with God.

Through lively vignettes, real-life stories, and direct quotes from Luther, you will be equipped to apply the gospel to yourself and others—finding hope and help in Christ alone.

Counseling Under the Cross guides pastors, counselors, lay leaders, and friends toward a rich understanding of the gospel that will directly impact their personal ministry to others.

14 Free Resources for Counseling Under the Cross 

You can download all of the following resources here. If you want to send this link to a friend, here’s a shortened version: http://bit.ly/LutherResources

  1. Read and download 95 Martin Luther Quotes of Note (PDF Version)
  2. Read and download 95 Martin Luther Quotes of Note (Word Document Version)
  3. Read and download 15 Martin Luther Quotes of Note on The Sufficiency of Scripture/Sola Scriptura
  4. Read and download 15 Martin Luther Quotes of Note on Comforting the Suffering
  5. Read and download 15 Martin Luther Quotes of Note on Looking at Life through the Lens of the Cross
  6. Read and download 15 Martin Luther Quotes of Note on Preaching the Gospel to Yourself
  7. Read and download 15 Martin Luther Quotes of Note on Growing in Grace
  8. Read and download 20 Martin Luther Quotes of Note on Salvation by Faith Alone/Sola Fide
  9. Enjoy 15 Q&A Responses by Author Dr. Bob Kellemen on Counseling Under the Cross
  10. Download PowerPoint Slides: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Suffering (PowerPoint Presentation from Wittenberg Germany on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation)
  11. Download Outline Notes: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Suffering (Lesson Handout/Notes from Wittenberg Germany on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation)
  12. Download PowerPoint Slides: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Sin and Sanctification (PowerPoint Presentation from Wittenberg Germany on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation)
  13. Download Outline Notes: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Sin and Sanctification (Lesson Handout/Notes from Wittenberg Germany on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation)
  14.  Read Endorsements for Counseling Under the Cross. 

Enjoy Your Autographed Copy at 25% Off

You can purchase an autographed copy of Counseling Under the Cross on sale at 25% off for just $14.99 at the RPM Bookstore.

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Biblical Preaching and Biblical Counseling: What Makes Them “Biblical”?

My friend, David Murray, wrote a piece for The Gospel Coalition in 2012 that was re-posted this past week: How Biblical Is Biblical Counseling? In it, David shares the following analogy about what makes “biblical preaching” “biblical.”

Take, for example, “biblical preaching.” “Biblical” here does not mean we only use the Bible in sermons. Biblical preaching expounds the Bible, but it also draws from non-biblical sources—some of them authored by unbelievers—such as syntactical, grammatical, lexical, and textual guides and commentaries. We often incorporate historical, geographical, sociological, and cultural research. We regularly draw from current scientific findings and the modern media to teach, explain, or illustrate a point. Even the form and communication style of most modern sermons has been derived largely from ancient and modern philosophical and political speech forms. However, although some of the content and form of biblical preaching is drawn from outside the Bible, we believe that God has provided a Bible that is up to the task of filtering out the false and admitting the truth of God that he has graciously placed in the world.

Related to this analogy, David writes:

For some in our family, “biblical” means “Bible only.” For them, biblical counseling could be more accurately renamed “Bible counseling.” In principle, it means they use only the Bible in counseling people; nothing else is helpful, and anything else is compromise.

The Ministry of the Word 

In the spirit of friendly dialogue, I’d like to follow-up on David’s analogy. I don’t believe his analogy captures the concerns of biblical counselors. Before I make that analogy, consider a comparison: both biblical counseling and biblical preaching are ministries of the Word.

  • Biblical Preaching: The pulpit ministry of the Word, the public ministry of the Word.
  • Biblical Counseling: The private ministry of the Word, the personal ministry of the Word.

When the pastor preaches from the pulpit, he focuses on relating God’s truth to life. When the pastor shares in interactive, conversational ways in the pastoral counseling office, he focuses on relating God’s truth to life.

The question I want us to consider is, “Should extra-biblical worldviews have a role in biblical preaching or biblical counseling?”

Is It “Biblical Preaching” If the Content, Foundation, and Worldview Are 95% Secular?

Here’s the first analogy that biblical counselors would use. Some counselors say they are doing Christian counseling when they open and close in prayer and perhaps sprinkle in one verse during the 60-minute meeting. To use the preaching analogy, is it biblical preaching if the content, foundation, and communication of the message is composed of 95% secular worldview with an opening and closing prayer and one verse mentioned but never developed? If 95% of the message contains the viewpoints of 20th Century atheistic philosopher Bertrand Russell, and Gandhi, and liberal theologians, is it biblical preaching?

This is the concern of biblical counselors: is the authority basis for the Christian life built upon biblical theology? Or, is the authority basis for the Christian life built upon the theories of secular philosophy, secular psychology, and secular sociology? The key word here is theories—worldview, the source of understanding of people, problems, and solutions.

Now, some may say, “You’re using an outlier, Bob. No Christian counselor would be 95% secular.” I recently read a major Christian Integrative Counseling text. The index of sources was multiple pages—with the majority of those sources being secular. The Scripture index consisted of 3 verses—covering over 750 pages of text. I love my Christian Integrative Counseling friends, but I would humbly encourage them to consider if sometimes there is a lack of theological richness and biblical robustness.

Is It “Biblical Preaching” If the World’s Authority and Wisdom Are Placed Over the Word’s Authority and Wisdom?

But let’s assume the first analogy is an outlier. Here’s a second question: “Is it biblical preaching if the secular worldview holds sway over the Bible’s worldview?” Both are quoted in a sermon (the world’s wisdom and the Word’s wisdom), but when there’s a discrepancy, the world’s wisdom trumps the Word’s wisdom. How many of us would attend a church where an entire 12-week series placed the world’s authority over the Word’s authority?

And yet, some models of integrative counseling do that. This is where biblical counselors are concerned. The analogy is not about syntax, but about worldview and the source of authoritative wisdom for life.

Is It “Biblical Preaching” If the World’s Authority and Wisdom Are Seen as Equal to the Word’s Authority and Wisdom?

Again, David or others may say, “But the committed, well-trained Christian Integrative Counselor is not going to place the world over the Word.” So, let’s ask another question. “Is it biblical preaching if the world’s authority and wisdom are seen as equal to the Word’s authority and wisdom?” Both are quoted an equal amount. Both are seen to have areas or spheres of authority. Bertrand Russell’s secular worldview is given equal credence in matters of faith and practice as Peter, Paul, James, John, or Jesus.

How many of us would listen to sermons for 12 weeks when worldly wisdom for living is given equal footing with the wisdom of the Word? How many of us should attend 12 counseling sessions where the counselor gives worldly wisdom for living equal footing with the Word’s wisdom for living?

Is It “Biblical Preaching” If the Word’s Authority and Wisdom Are Seen As Superior to the World’s Authority and Wisdom, Yet the World’s Wisdom for Living Is Still a Major Foundation and Component of the Preaching? 

Again, David and others may say, “Wait, Bob. The Christian Integrative Counselor uses God’s Word as the grid by which anything from the world is evaluated.” I would respond, “Remember, we’re not talking about syntax. We’re talking about worldview. We’re talking about whether a fallen world has comprehensive wisdom to explain people—humanity, anthropology, who we are, and how we are designed in our souls in relationship to God.”

I’d continue, “And we’re talking about whether a fallen world has comprehensive wisdom to explain sin—the fall, hamartiology, what went wrong, how our souls are in rebellion before God and lack shalom.”

And I’d keep going, “We’re talking about whether a fallen world has comprehensive wisdom to explain solutions—salvation, reconciliation, sanctification, recovery from suffering, victory over sin, who God is, who Christ is, what the gospel is and how it makes a daily difference.”

So, yes, a preacher might quote from a movie—but illustratively to help describe a biblical principle. But if that preacher, even if he talks about the authority of the Word over the world, builds the thesis of his sermon from the movie, or builds major points of his sermon from a liberal theologian’s understanding of life, or builds components of his sermon from a secular philosopher’s worldview—for 12 weeks in a row—how many of us would keep attending that church?

This moves us to the heart of the issue. Do we have confidence that God’s Word has robust, rich, relevant, relational, profound wisdom and insight for the soul issues we face every day? Or, do we believe that the fallen world, in rebellion against God, has robust, rich, relevant, relational, profound wisdom and insight for the soul issues we face every day?

Biblical Counselors and Biblical Worldviews 

Biblical counselors are concerned about a biblical worldview—about building our understanding of people, problems, and solutions from a rich, robust, Christo-centric, gospel-centered, God-glorifying foundation. We are “Bible only counselors” when it comes to biblical worldviews about people, problems, and solutions—living whole, healthy, and holy lives in a fallen and broken world.

Biblical counselors are not “Bible only counselors” when it comes to understanding medical science, neurological research, or descriptive psychological research. (For a robust presentation of the biblical counseling view, see the Biblical Counseling Coalition book Scripture and Counseling, and for a summary statement see the Biblical Counseling Coalition’s Confessional Statement). A couple of examples might help—first, neuroscience. Dr. Charles Hodges, an MD and a biblical counselor, wrote the book, Good Mood Bad Mood where he quotes many neuroscience articles. They were all placed under a biblical grid. Neuroscience, when it “stays in its lane” of doing neurological research, is not a “worldview.” There’s a worldview behind it (often an evolutionary one) that must always be considered. But neither Dr. Hodges nor I would have a problem with a legitimate neurological finding being shared with a counselee. That may be more like the syntax analogy that David Murray uses.

What about psychological research? Again, even worldview perspectives creep into how one does research. Yet, biblical counselors have expressed openness to descriptive psychology—a description of what happens, not a diagnosis of why and not a prescription of what to do. When descriptive psychology “stays in its lane,” I could potentially use a finding under the authority of Scripture. For example, in God’s Healing for Life’s Losses, I briefly introduce one descriptive model of the grief process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It’s one way of describing how people stereotypically respond to loss in a fallen world. It is not prescriptive. In the rest of God’s Healing for Life’s Losses, I explore what the Bible’s wisdom communicates to us about a Christ-centered way of moving through grief—prescriptive, theoretical, theological biblical counseling. The description comes from research. The diagnosis and prescription comes from the Word.

The Takeaway

Biblical counselors do not want to integrate a biblical worldview with a secular worldview. Neither does a biblical preacher. That’s the central analogy. That’s the central message of Colossians 2:8:

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.”

Biblical counselors do not want to integrate biblical counseling theory with secular counseling theory—ideas about people, problems, and solutions—because those are fundamentally theological issues—yes, biblical issues. In theory-building (theology-building), yes, biblical counselors are “Bible only” without apology. Just like preachers who build their messages on the exegesis of the text of Scripture and on a comprehensive biblical worldview are “Bible only” preachers—without apology.

Join the Conversation 

So, what do you think—what makes biblical preaching and biblical counseling biblical? 

Note: As my post was going “live,” I noticed that David also has a more recent post on this topic: Do We Need More Than the Bible for Biblical Counseling? I think his argument in this more recent post is similar to the analogy David used in his 2012 TGC post.

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Martin Luther, Pastoral Counseling, Sola Scriptura, and the Sufficiency of Scripture

In Biblical Preaching and Biblical Counseling: What Makes Them Biblical?, I dialogue with my friend, David Murray. My focus in that post is on how biblical counselors use God’s Word to build the foundation for our counseling model—our biblical counseling worldview, our theology and theory of people, problems, and solutions. It is from God’s Word that we find foundational wisdom for life for building our way of thinking about helping hurting people in their daily lives.

Talking with a Counselee 

But what about the practice of pastoral counseling? When I’m sitting across from a hurting person who is struggling either with an issue of suffering in a fallen world, or with an issue of sin and sanctification, what is the relative role of Scripture in our conversation? Does Scripture only control my thinking about understanding the person, diagnosing the problem, and interacting about wisdom-based solutions?

Or, can and should God’s Word play a central role in our actual conversation? Am I confident as a pastoral counselor in the power of God’s Word in the counseling conversation? Am I competent as a pastoral counselor in using God’s Word to comfort and encourage the hurting and to reconcile and guide the person struggling against sin?

In light of this practical issue, I thought it might be instructive to consider Martin Luther’s practice of pastoral counseling. What did sola Scriptura—Scripture alone—look like as Martin Luther interacted with parishioners?

Luther and The 14 Consolations 

One of Luther’s benefactors and protectors, the Elector Frederick the Wise, was seriously ill. Frederick’s chaplain asked Luther to write Frederick some words of consolation. They have come down to us as The 14 Consolations. In the superstition of the day, a shepherd had claimed to see a vision of 14 saints. As a result, sick Christians began praying to these 14 saints.

Luther took the motif of the number 14, and moved it from superstition and saints to Scripture and the Savior. He presented the Elector Frederick the Wise with 14 scriptural images—7 images of Christ crucified and 7 images of Christ resurrected.

Luther kept Jesus on every page of his counseling.

The English version of The 14 Consolations is 45-pages long. In those 45 pages, Luther quotes 169 passages. The average small book today is about 5 times that size. So, had Luther written Frederick a small counseling manual today, he would have quoted, developed, and discussed nearly 850 passages!

This is not to say that Luther’s focus on Scripture means he would have ignored science—see below on that. It is simply to say that sola Scriptura and sufficiency of Scripture played a central role in Luther’s actual practice of pastoral counseling.

Luther’s words of pastoral counsel were Word-saturated.

Luther was confident in the power of God’s Word. Luther always pointed people to the Word of God as their ultimate hope and primary help in suffering, sin, and sanctification. The Scriptures, for Luther, were sufficient to comfort the hurting, confront the sinning, and cheer the saint.

Luther and the Sufficiency of Scripture for Comforting the Suffering 

Consider just a few examples from Luther’s various writings, where he highlights the sufficiency of Scripture for counseling the hurting.

“You have the Apostle Paul who shows to you a garden, or paradise, which is full of comfort, when he says: ‘Whatever was written, was written for our instruction, so that through patience and the consolation of the Scriptures we might have hope’ (Romans 15:4). Here he attributes to Holy Scripture the function of comfortingWho may dare to seek or ask for comfort anywhere else?[I]

“Comfort yourself with the Word of God, the pre-eminent consolation.”[ii]

“It is thus very true that we shall find consolation only through the Scriptures, which in the days of evil call us to the contemplation of our blessings, either present or to come.”[iii]

“I have learned by experience how one should act under temptation, namely, when any one is afflicted with sadness…. Let him first lay hold of the comfort of the divine Word.”[iv]

“Christ heals people by means of his precious Word, as he also declares in the 50th chapter of Isaiah (verse 4): ‘The Lord hath given me a learned tongue, that I should know how to speak a word in season to the weary.’ St. Paul also teaches likewise, in Romans xv 14, that we should obtain and strengthen hope from the comfort of the Holy Scriptures, which the devil endeavors to tear out of people’s hearts in times of temptations. Accordingly, as there is no better nor more powerful remedy in temptations than to diligently read and heed the Word of God.”[v]

“Those who are tempted by doubt and despair I should console in this fashion. First, by warning them to beware of solitude and to converse constantly with others about the Psalms and Scriptures.”[vi] 

Luther and the Sufficiency of Scripture for Overcoming Sin and Temptation 

Consider just a few examples from Luther’s various writings, where he highlights the sufficiency of Scripture for counseling people dealing with sin and temptation. 

Nothing helps more powerfully against the devil, the world, the flesh, and all evil thoughts than occupying oneself with God’s Word, having conversations about it, and contemplating it.”[vii]

“Therefore, whenever any one is assailed by temptation of any sort whatever, the very best that he can do in the case is either to read something in the Holy Scriptures, or think about the Word of God, and apply it to his heart.”[viii]

“If you now attempt, in this spiritual conflict, to protect yourself by the help of man without the Word of God, you simply enter upon the conflict with that mighty spirit, the devil, naked and unprotected.” Such an endeavor would be worse than David against Goliath—without God’s supernatural power helping David. You may, therefore, if you so please, oppose your power to the might of the devil. It will then be very easily seen what an utterly unequal conflict it is, if one does not have at hand in the beginning the Word of God.”[ix]

“Let us learn, therefore, in great and horrible terrors, when our conscience feels nothing but sin and judges that God is angry with us, and that Christ has turned His face from us, not to follow the sense and feeling of our own heart, but to stick to the Word of God.”[x] 

“No man should be alone when he opposes Satan. The church and the ministry of the Word were instituted for this purpose, that hands may be joined together and one may help another. If the prayer of one doesn’t help, the prayer of another will.”[xi]

“For one has to instruct consciences that the comfort of the gospel is directed to each individual particularly; therefore, as you people who understand these matters know, the gospel has to be applied through the Word to each individual particularly, so that each individual in his conscience is tossed about by the questions whether this great grace, which Christ offers to all men, belongs to him too.”[xii]

“So we also labor by the Word of God that we may set at liberty those that are entangled, and bring them to the pure doctrine of faith, and hold them there.”[xiii] 

Scripture for the Soul, Medicine for the Body 

Luther’s doctrine of sufficiency was robust enough to make room for the appropriate use of medication.

“Accordingly a physician is our Lord God’s mender of the body, as we theologians are his healers of the spirit; we are to restore what the devil has damaged. So a physician administers theriaca (an antidote for poison) when Satan gives poison. Healing comes from the application of nature to the creature . . . . It’s our Lord God who created all things, and they are good. Wherefore it’s permissible to use medicine, for it is a creature of God. Thus I replied to Hohndorf, who inquired of me when he heard from Karlstadt that it’s not permissible to make use of medicine. I said to him, ‘Do you eat when you’re hungry?’”[xiv]

On the other hand, when convinced that an issue was spiritual in nature, Luther did not hesitate to call for spiritual, rather than medicinal cures. Scripture is God’s prescription, God’s choice medicine, for soul sickness. Luther writes to his friend John Agricola concerning John’s wife:

“Her illness is, as you see, rather of the mind than of the body. I am comforting her as much as I can, with my knowledge. In a word, her disease is not for the apothecaries (as they call them), nor is it to be treated with the salves of Hippocrates, but by constantly applying plasters of Scripture and the Word of God. For what has conscience to do with Hippocrates? Therefore, I would dissuade you from the use of medicine and advise the power of God’s Word.”[xv]

Note: The preceding quotes from Luther came from my recently-released book,Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life.

[i]Luther, LW, Vol. 49, p. 16.

[ii]Tappert, Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, p. 63, emphasis added.

[iii]Luther, LW, Vol. 42, p. 124.

[iv]Nebe, Luther As Spiritual Adviser, pp. 175-176.

[v]Nebe, Luther As Spiritual Adviser, p. 179.

[vi]Tappert, Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, p. 117.

[vii]Luther, The Large Catechism, p. 187, in Krey, Luther’s Spirituality.

[viii]Nebe, Luther As Spiritual Adviser, p. 178.

[ix]Luther, Commentary on Romans, pp. 179-180.

[x]Luther, Commentary on Galatians, pp. 333, 126.

[xi] Luther, LW, Vol. 54, p. 78.

[xii]Luther, LW, Vol. 50, p. 77.

[xiii]Luther, Commentary on Galatians, pp. 333, 126.

[xiv]Luther, LW, Vol. 54, pp. 53-54.

[xv]Smith, The Life and Letters of Martin Luther, p. 402.

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