Sunday, June 21, 2015

Christ in the Charleston Massacre

Rev. Clementa Pinckney of Emanuel AME, Charleston SC
In his sermon on the mount, our Lord Jesus exhorted his weak little flock of disciples, saying, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16 KJV). Last week, the relatives of the slain in the Charleston Massacre embodied, with stunning humility and love, the character of Christ as they addressed the killer, 

Dylann Roof, face to face in the courtroom. One after another, tearfully, they forgave him, prayed for God’s mercy on him, and called him to repent. In effect, they called the killer to become their bother. The life of God in the souls of men, the overcoming love of Christ before the powers of hell, was movingly on display before a watching world.

Rev. Clementa Pinckney, descended from the slaves of the signer of Charles Pinckney, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was clearly a great pastor. The response of his church to his murderer shows that Jesus is a great Savior. Here is the testimony.

Nadine Collier, daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance: “I forgive you. You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul. You’ve hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. But God forgive you. And I forgive you."

Anthony Thompson spoke for the family of Myra Thompson: "I forgive him. My family forgive you. But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ, so he can change your ways no matter what happens to you, and you'll be okay. Do that! And you’ll be better off than you are right now.”

Felicia Sanders, mother of young Tywanza Sanders: “We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms. You have killed some of the most beautifullest people that I know. Every fiber in my body hurts, and I will never be the same. Tywanza Sanders was my son, but Tywanza was my hero. Tywanza was my hero! But as we say in the Bible study, we enjoyed you, but may God have mercy on you.”

Alana Simmons, granddaughter of 74-year old Rev. Daniel Simmons: "Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof—everyone’s plea for your soul is proof—that they lived in love and their legacies will live in love, so hate won't win."

The sister of DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49, admitted, "For me, I’m a work in progress and I acknowledge that I am very angry.” But she remembered her sister teaching her, “We are the family that love built! We have no room for hate so we have to forgive. And I pray God on your soul. And I thank God that I won’t be around when your judgment day comes with him. May God bless you.”

The late Christopher Hitchens, a notorious atheist, claimed that "religion poisons everything." These people are evidently not poisoned. Indeed, just the opposite. They are being perfected in love. Ask yourself: Is my church and my personal discipleship in Christ helping me (and my children!) grow to become more like these people?

In his diabolical ignorance and confusion, this miserable young man wanted to provoke a race war. Instead, he got deeper sympathy and understanding between black and white Americans than we've seen in a long time, perhaps when we need it the most.

When times are darkest, Christ shines the most brightly. Consider the cross itself. Satan's death blow was the triumph of Christ. What Roof meant for evil, God is using for good. So ask, “How can I be part of this good?”

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Anchoring in the Basics of the Christian Faith

Jules-Alexis Muenier - La Leçon de Catéchisme (1890) Musée d'Orsay, Paris
For a thousand years, we have lived in Christendom, the Christian West, in which the truths of the Christian faith have been taken for granted societally. This is no longer so. Mothers can be denied custody of their children for being "religious extremists," i.e., biblically serious Christians. The cultural elite increasingly sees biblical Christianity as an appalling religion on par with the Taliban. Consider the Google homepage, a kind of town square. It offers well wishes to all sorts of groups for their special days and seasons, but at Christmas there are no holiday felicitations to Christians for the celebration of their Savior's birth. There is just a secular "Tis the Season" banner. They cannot even recognize the existence of what they obviously view as a dangerous presence among us. 

This shows how strange and even abhorrent biblical Christianity has become to many people. Now, just as in pagan Rome, Christians need a strong centering in the fundamental teachings of the Bible to be able to answer the scoffing, accusations, and distortions that come from the ungospelled world around us.

When the Apostle Paul was answering objections from his Jewish opponents in the first century, he made repeated reference back to the basics of the faith, the fundamental principles that are clear in the Bible and on which believers of good faith would never disagree. When you nail down the basics, you have the clear teachings in light of which you can navigate your way through the more complex truths of the faith. You are better equipped through the more clear passages and teaching to interpret the less clear. And you are less likely to be taken in by the seductive tends of the culture that pass themselves off as wisdom and goodness, less likely to be "tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes" (Eph. 4:14).

We find these biblical basics in the ecumenical creeds, like the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed.  These are good as far as they go, but they address fourth century issues (still important issues). They do not address issues of the twenty-first century like the inerrancy of Scripture and the way of salvation. Catechisms like the Westminster catechisms and the Heidelberg catechism collect and systematize these biblical basics so as to equip people of every age to believe and live in way properly glorifying to God. That's what a catechism does.

More than ever, Christians need to anchor themselves in the fundamentals of their faith, the biblical basics, even such starting points as creation, fall, and redemption...the garden, the curse, and the cross. 

Let me offer these 12 "biblical basics" from which you may launch into the wider fundamentals and the deeper truths of God's Word.

1. God is Sovereign – he created all things and governs all things.

2. God is Righteous – this includes that he is good, true, faithful, and just.

3. God is Trinity in unity – one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

4. God alone deserves glory  Ps. 115:1. The universe & even God himself are God-centered!

5. Christ is fully God and fully man – if you deviate from either one of these, you’re a heretic.

6. Christ is Savior – he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

7. Christ is Lord – he’s the boss; not me.

8. The Bible is the word of God  it is true in all that it teaches.

9. The Bible is the only rule of faith & life – what we’re to believe regarding God, love, and sin.

10. Man is created in the image of God – this should affect how you think of others.

11. Man sins in all he thinks, says, and does – this should affect how you think of yourself.

12. Salvation from that sin is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.

Hold fast to what is true! You can have peace, and bring peace to others, when you clear away confusion and noise and focus on the fundamental truths of the Bible.

Look for the sermon on this topic delivered at Trinity Church (OPC) on Long Island (December 28, 2014) through SermonAudio.