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Rev. Dan Hawn
Senior Pastor

More on Augustine & Pelagius

posted Jul 25, 2017, 9:58 AM by First Baptist


As noted last Sunday, Augustine (354-430 AD) is one of Christianity’s most influential theologians and is widely considered the “Father of the Reformation.”

 

However, it wasn’t easy for Augustine. For 25 years, he waged a theological war with Pelagius, an influential British monk.

 

Pelagius taught that when Adam fell, he fell alone; his sin was his alone, and the consequences were his alone. This means that Adam’s children (including us) are born innocent with the God-given ability to live lives fully pleasing to Him. We can either choose obedience, or we can follow the errant example of Adam. Either way, it’s up to us.

 

Many people followed Pelagius. His views were like a plague upon the Church and they spread quickly from Britain to Rome and then to North Africa.

 

As mentioned, Augustine fought with Pelagius for a quarter century. He argued that Adam’s fall in the Garden resulted in original sin and the total depravity of humankind.

 

Pelagius conceded that sin appears to be universal, but only because people give in to the example of others. He claimed that it was possible to live a sinless life (as Christ did) and thus earn one’s way into heaven. In short, humans have complete freedom of choice and hold their own fate in their hands.

 

Augustine countered that God alone called people to salvation, and that none can believe or obey apart from God’s wooing grace and the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. He argued that God’s sovereignty and election are the “first cause” of each person’s eternal destiny.

 

The rancorous debate continued until a group of 64 bishops asked the pope to excommunicate Pelagius. This was done in 417. Pelagius was also censured by two separate councils, one in 418 and the other in 431.

 

Unfortunately, Pelagianism eventually gave way to Semi-Pelagianism in the Roman Catholic Church. This was what the Reformers fought against, basically using the same arguments as Augustine.

 

Pastor Dan

Christianity & the American Dream

posted Jul 11, 2017, 10:06 AM by First Baptist

 

On Sunday, I mentioned that Protestantism has its own history of corruption & theological error – perhaps never more prominent than it is today.

 

One example is the degree to which Christianity has been made to accommodate (and indeed assist with) our pursuit of the American Dream.

 

The American Dream is defined as:

 

“A national ethos [philosophy] of the United States, a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers.”

 

Many Christians today, especially Protestants, see Christianity & the American Dream as working nicely together, with Christianity (truth be told) taking the subservient role.

 

However, Scripture presents quite a different picture of the Christian life. Consider these three images of what it means to follow Christ:

 

 

Image #1: The Christian Life is a Daily Battle

 

The Bible wants us to know that the Christian life is hard, really hard. Paul reminds the Ephesians:

 

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the power s of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Ephesians 6:12

 

 

Image #2: The Christian Life is an Endurance Race

 

Two years ago, Rich Freml & I ran a half marathon together. At about the 6-mile mark, my mind & body were screaming at me to quit. The same thing happens in the Christian life.

 

Hebrews 12:1 says:

 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 

 

 

Image #3: The Christian Life is Like Childbirth

 

Obviously, I’ve never experienced childbirth, but I’ve seen it three times. I can only say wow!

 

Paul uses this imagery to explain our groaning as we await our redemption:

 

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  Romans 8:22-23

 

 

The Hope

 

As we consider the battle, the race and childbirth, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. If this is the Christian life, how can we be a people of joy, peace and hope?

 

Consider this:

 

§  A battle is fought in the hope of peace.

§  A race is run in the hope of a victor’s crown.

§  A mother labors in the hope of new life.

 

Jesus explains:

 

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

 

 

Pastor Dan

 

Adapted from an article by Melissa Kruger

Where Did Jesus Go After He Died on the Cross?

posted Jun 27, 2017, 10:18 AM by First Baptist

 

During Core Connect on Wednesdays, we’ve been studying the Apostle’s Creed. One of the statements we haven’t had time to focus on is the statement that, following His death, Jesus “descended into hell.”

 

Is this right? If so, what did He do there?

 

 

Relevant Scripture Passages

 

It should be noted that the Bible isn’t crystal-clear on this. Perhaps the passage that deals with the matter most directly is I Peter 3:18-20, where it says:

 

He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.

 

Another possibly relevant passage is Ephesians 4:8-10. Here Paul writes:

 

‘When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.’ (What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?)

 

Finally, a third passage of note is Jesus’ conversation with the thief who was crucified next to him. The thief said “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus replied:

 

“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

 

 

OT Background

 

In trying to sort all this through, it’s important to note what the OT teaches about the afterlife.

 

From the OT, we know that when a person dies, the body decays while their soul goes to sheol. Sheol is a Hebrew word that means “place of the dead.” The Greek (or New Testament) equivalent of sheol is hades. Hades is sometimes translated as hell.

 

Sheol/hades evidently has three compartments: (1) the abyss, or place of confinement for the demons who sinned in the days of Noah; (2) torments, or place of suffering for the unrighteous; and (3) paradise (also called “Abraham’s bosom), or place of blessing for the righteous. “Abraham’s bosom” is where Lazarus went to in Luke 16.

 

 

Putting It All Together

 

Among theologians, there is nearly unanimous agreement that, upon his death (and prior to his resurrection), Jesus went to sheol/hades. However, to which compartment he went, and what he did there, is subject to much debate.

 

I think a good case can be made that Jesus visited all three compartments. Based on the 1st Peter passage, to the fallen angels & unrighteous, Jesus “preached” or proclaimed his victory to them. (He didn’t seek to evangelize them.) As to paradise, the Ephesians 4 passage suggests HE EMPTIED IT, meaning he took the souls there with him to heaven.

 

Eventually, the demons in the abyss & the human souls in the place of torment will be cast into the lake of fire, which is the final hell. Meanwhile, the righteous in Christ will receive their resurrected bodies and will live forever with God in the new heaven & new earth.

 

Pastor Dan

More on the Providence of God

posted Jun 20, 2017, 10:08 AM by First Baptist


Judging by the Q&A time in both services last Sunday, I think many of us were challenged by our discussion of God’s providence.

 

One theologian defines providence as “the continuing action of God by which He preserves in existence the creation which He has brought into being, and guides it to His intended purposes for it.”

 

And so, there are two aspects to God’s providence: (1) His preserving or maintaining of creation; and (2) His governing of it.

 

It was this 2nd aspect that was the focus on Sunday’s message.

 

The Extent of God’s Governance

 

God’s governing activity is universal; it extends to all matters, including that which is obviously good and even that which seemingly is not good.

 

The Bible speaks of God’s governing activity as applying to the following:

 

1.      Nature (Psalm 135:5-7)

2.      The animal world (Psalm 104:21-29)

3.      Human history & the destiny of nations (Daniel 2:21)

4.      Personal circumstances (I Samuel 2:6-7)

5.      The free actions of human beings (Exodus 3:21, 12:35-36; Psalm 33:15)

 

God’s governing activity even extends to seemingly accidental or chance occurrences. Proverbs 16:33 says: “The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is wholly from the LORD.” Wow!

 

The Paradox

 

The difficulty comes when the reality of God’s governance bumps up against the reality of human free choice, which often results in sin & evil. Despite the difficulty, the Bible affirms that: (a) God is not the cause of sin; and (b) humans have meaningful choice for which they are responsible.

 

The Westminster Confession

 

In the 2nd service, I referred to the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646). Confessions & creeds are not infallible, but are helpful resources for understanding the teaching of Scripture. Here’s what it says in Chapter III:

 

“God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty of contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”

 

That God ordains all things is not simply the result of His knowing all things, as the Confession makes clear. Chapter III also says:

 

“Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, …”

 

 

What It All Means

 

The same theologian I quoted earlier sums up the importance of this doctrine:

 

“Providence is certain ways is central to the conduct of the Christian life. It means that we are able to live in the assurance that God is present and active in our lives. We are in His care and can therefore face the future confidently, knowing that things are not happening merely by chance.”

 

Amen.

 

 

Pastor Dan

Who’s in the Driver’s Seat?

posted Jun 13, 2017, 12:35 PM by First Baptist

 

2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. As I explained in a sermon awhile back, the Reformation was sparked by Martin Luther’s opposition to the selling of indulgences by the Roman Catholic church. (The selling of indulgences was a scheme to raise money for the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.)

 

Eventually, the protest came to be about papal authority in general; the long-standing idea that the Pope was to be obeyed, no matter what.

 

The Pope responded by charging Luther with heresy and ordering him silenced. However, Luther would not be silenced and was thus ordered to appear before the Imperial Diet of Worms to explain himself and recant his insubordination. (Luther was a monk.)

 

 

The Testimony that Changed History

 

In his testimony, Luther said something that truly altered the course of history. Here’s the key passage:

 

“You demand a simple answer. Here it is, plain and unvarnished. Unless I am convinced of error by the testimony of Scripture, my conscience is taken captive by God’s word. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. So help me God. Amen.”

 

What was Luther doing here? He was arguing for the supremacy of Scripture over that of the Pope. His basic point was that Scripture, not the Pope, was the supreme & final authority in all matters of faith and practice.

 

This was quite a shock to the Roman Catholic church and it resulted in Luther being excommunicated and branded an apostate.

 

 

So What?

 

As Protestant Christians (and especially as Baptists), we readily accept the authority of Scripture. However, we still need to ask ourselves who or what is in the driver’s seat of our church (and lives).

 

I recently read an article in Leadership magazine in which the author uses the analogy of a car.

 

In some churches (and in some lives for that matter), the Bible is in the trunk of the car. It was put there a long time ago and is mostly forgotten.

 

In other churches, the Bible is in the backseat of the car – and we all know how irritating backseat drivers can be. These churches find the Bible more of an irritation than a help, because it says things they don’t want to hear.

 

In still other churches (the majority, according to the author), the Bible is in the passenger seat of the car. It’s there to be consulted as a map reader or navigator.

 

Ideally, the Bible is in the driver’s seat of the car. In this kind of church, God’s Word sets the agenda and calls the shots. The people are eager to hear from and obey it; the Bible saturates their lives and “drives” them every day.

 

So, which analogy best describes FBC – and you?

 

Pastor Dan

More on Sola Gratia

posted May 23, 2017, 10:24 AM by First Baptist


In our study of Acts 15 on Sunday, we learned how a number of early believers were uncomfortable with the doctrine of sola gratia (grace alone). Sola gratia means that God’s acceptance of us is entirely by grace, without any personal merit whatsoever.

 

Thankfully, the apostles spoke very clearly & forcefully on this. And yet, the church has always had to do battle with this tendency we have to mix together law & gospel, merit & grace, what we do with what Christ has done.

 

One objection to the doctrine of sola gratia is that it encourages unrighteous living. Specifically, the concern is that, if God accepts us no matter what we do or don’t do, that gives us license to sin. A poet put it this way:

 

“I like committing crimes.

God likes forgiving crimes.

The world is really admirably arranged.”

 

Let me say, first, that a right understanding of grace should provoke or give rise to this concern; in fact, if this isn’t a concern, our understanding of grace is probably deficient.

 

But the answer isn’t to moderate grace by mixing in some element of personal merit (however small). Instead, we need to understand how the apostles dealt with the concern about grace giving a license to sin.

 

What the apostles talked about was the EFFECT of grace. And what grace does is change our desires, or what one author calls, our “want to.” Quoting Bryan Chapell:

 

“Prior to experiencing the grace of God, our inclinations are hostile or indifferent to him. But when the kindness and mercy of God become profoundly real to us, at the same time that we deeply perceive how totally undeserving we are of them, then we desire nothing greater than to love him – and to love what and whom he loves.

 

I am not contending that grace removes all the allure of sin, but our love for it (which gives sin its power) is broken by the greater love grace produces.”

 

This is an important insight, summed up in these words by the apostle John: “We love because he first loved us” (I John 4:19).

 

And so, let’s continue to celebrate God’s grace and not worry that we’re going too far with it. The apostle Paul certainly wasn’t concerned, as evidenced by these words:

 

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” (Titus 2:11-12)

 

 

Pastor Dan

The Benedict Option – Part 4 (final)

posted May 16, 2017, 10:13 AM by First Baptist

 

 

I’ve been reviewing this book by Rod Dreher. Per some of the feedback I’ve received, not everyone agrees with some of his conclusions or recommendations.

 

That’s okay; neither do I, but I think it’s good to be challenged in our thinking. And I certainly agree with his premise that the culture has become more hostile toward biblical Christianity in recent years. That alone forces us to think differently about how we live & minister.

 

The last two chapters are very powerful. Here’s how Dreher sets it up:

 

“None of [my suggested strategies] will work, however, unless Christians think radically different about the two most powerful forces shaping and driving modern life: sex and technology.”

 

Chapter 9: Eros and the New Christian Counterculture

 

The book is worth reading for this chapter alone. I’ll share a series of quotations, then summarize the author’s suggestions.

 

“Sex is a divine gift that, if cherished properly, becomes a source of joy, abundance, and flourishing – of the couple and their community. But if we use sex in a disordered way, it can be one of the most destructive forces on earth.”

 

“Sexual practices are so central to the Christian life that when believers cease to affirm [biblical teaching] on the matter, they often cease to be meaningfully Christian. It was the countercultural force of Christian sexuality that overturned the pagan world’s dehumanizing practices. Christianity taught that the body is sacred and that the dignity possessed by all humans as made in the image of God required treating it as such.”

 

“Gay marriage and gender ideology signify the final triumph of the Sexual Revolution and the dethroning of Christianity because they deny [the Christian understanding of what it means to be human] at its core and shatter the authority of the Bible.”

 

Author’s suggestions:

 

1.      Don’t water-down biblical truth on sexuality in order to attract young people.

2.      Affirm the goodness of sexuality.

3.      Moralism is not enough; teach that sex is part of our submission to & life with God.

4.      Parents must be the primary sex educators.

5.      Love & support unmarried people in the church.

6.      Fight pornography with everything you’ve got. Pornography makes it impossible for men to form normal relationships with women.

 

Chapter 10: Man and the Machine

 

Highlights include:

 

“Online technology, in its various forms, is a phenomenon that by its very nature fragments and scatters our attention like nothing else, radically compromising our ability to make sense of the world, physiologically rewiring our brains and rendering us increasingly helpless against our impulses.”

 

“We think our many technologies give us more control over our destinies. In fact, they have come to control us.”

 

“Technology is not morally neutral. [Instead, it] is a worldview that trains us to privilege what is new and innovative over what is old and familiar and to valorize the future uncritically. It destroys tradition because it refuses any limits on its creativity.”

 

“The most radical, disruptive, and transformative technology ever created is the Internet. At the neurological level, the brain refashions itself to conform to the nonstop randomness of the Internet experience, which conditions us to crave the repetitive jolts that come with novelty. The result of this is a gradual inability to pay attention, to focus, and to think deeply.”

 

Suggestions for Christians:

 

1.      Practice digital fasting as an ascetic practice.

2.      Take smartphones away from kids.

3.      Limit the amount of technology used in worship.

4.      Teach children to do things with their hands.

5.      Question progress.

 

My Conclusion

 

The book is well-written and thought-provoking. Not everyone will agree with the author’s pessimistic outlook with regard to the American church. Nor will everyone agree with his prescription for what the church needs to do. However, it seems undeniable that our culture is moving very rapidly away from Christian values & beliefs. This makes The Benedict Option an important book.

 

Note: If you’re not inclined to read Dreher’s book, there’s an excellent 57-minute interview with him conducted by Issues, Etc., a Lutheran organization. You can find the interview either on iTunes or the Issues, Etc. website.

 

 

Pastor Dan

The Benedict Option – Part 3

posted May 9, 2017, 11:27 AM by First Baptist


 

I was asked this past week if I agree with everything in this book.

 

While I don’t agree with every detail or recommendation, I do agree with the author’s basic premise; namely, that the Church in America is in trouble and some big changes need to be made.

 

The author is intentionally provocative, especially in the chapter on education. He writes:

 

“The insidious forces of secular liberalism are steadily robbing us and future generations of our religious beliefs, moral values, and cultural memory, and making us pawns of forces beyond our control. This is why we have to focus tightly and without hesitation on education.”

 

Unfortunately, according to the author, the educational system on which we depend is deeply flawed and outright dangerous for the young Christian. His analysis goes much deeper than what we typically hear or read.

 

Here are his key recommendations:

 

1.      Double-down on teaching children the Bible.

 

Professors at Christian colleges are shocked at how poorly the typical freshman (at a Christian college!) understands the Bible.

 

2.      Immerse the young in Christian & Western history.

 

The deeper our roots in the past, the more secure our anchor against the swift currents of modernity.

 

3.      Pull your children out of public schools.

 

The author calls the public school system a “toxic environment.” Get your kids out of there!

 

4.      Give your children a classical Christian education.

 

A classical Christian education is one that orders everything around the Logos, Jesus Christ, and the quest to know Him with one’s heart, soul, and mind.

 

5.      Don’t send your kids to public university.

 

As many as 90% will – for all intents & purposes – forsake the Christian faith by the time they graduate.

 

Next week: sex & technology.

 

 

Pastor Dan

The Benedict Option – Part 2

posted May 2, 2017, 10:29 AM by First Baptist

 

In this present series of articles, I’m reviewing The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher.

 

Dreher argues that Christianity in America is under existential threat. “Existential” means having to do with its very existence. He says that not since the fall of the Roman Empire at the end of the 5th century is the outlook for the Church in the West so bleak.

 

The Church needs a new strategy. And that’s the subtitle for the book: “A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation.”

 

 

The Strategy in a Nutshell

 

Quoting from the book:

 

“The way forward is actually the way back – all the way to St. Benedict of Nursia. The sixth-century monk, horrified by the moral chaos following Rome’s fall, retreated to the forest and created a new way of life for Christians. He built enduring Christian communities based on principles of order, hospitality, stability, and prayer. His spiritual centers of hope were strongholds of light throughout the Dark Ages, and saved not just Christianity but Western civilization.”

 

Dreher’s main thesis is that, for the sake of the Christian faith, and especially for the sake of our children, serious Christians can no longer afford to be as engaged with the world around us. In short, we must retreat from the culture in meaningful ways and embrace a simpler, more disciplined, and more communal existence.

 

 

The Idea of a Christian Village

 

By “communal,” Dreher means vastly closer relationships with fellow believers in the church. Here are some of the statements I highlighted in this chapter:

 

§  The church can’t just be the place you go on Sundays – it must become the center of your life.

§  Your kids need to see you and your spouse sacrificing participation in other activities if they conflict with church. Whenever church is sacrificed for something else, you are communicating to your children in a not-so-subtle-way the secondary importance of their spiritual life.

§  Raise your kids to know that your family is different – and don’t apologize for it.

§  Make certain your kids’ closest friends are in the church. Nothing forms a young person’s character like their peers.

§  At the same time, make sure your children have spiritual heroes (i.e., others in the church whom your children can admire for their spiritual maturity).

§  Understand that technology isn’t morally neutral; restrict & monitor its use in the home and church.

§  In selecting a church, we typically equate size with success (the American mindset), but the size of a church isn’t as important as its depth. The depth of the pastor’s sermon will typically provide valuable insight into the spiritual depth of a church.

 

Next week: Dreher has some important things to say about education.

 

 

Pastor Dan

The Atonement

posted Apr 11, 2017, 10:51 AM by First Baptist

 

This week, as we commemorate the death of Christ and celebrate His resurrection, it is good for us to reflect on the doctrine of the atonement. The atonement is considered the central doctrine of the Christian faith. As with all doctrines, but especially this one, we want to be precise in our thinking.

 

 

Theories of the Atonement

 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, different views exist as to the purpose & meaning of the atonement. Here are several:

 

1.      The Example view – maintains that the real value of the death of Jesus lies in the beautiful and perfect example which it supplies us, epitomizing the type of dedication and sacrificial love which we ourselves are to practice.

2.      The Moral-Influence view – sees Christ’s death as the ultimate demonstration of God’s love for us.

3.      The Governmental view – Christ’s death is a demonstration of God’s hatred of sin, intended to induce in us a hatred of sin as well.

4.      The Ransom view – this was the dominant view of the early church. The idea is that Christ’s death was the “ransom” Satan required for humans to be set free from bondage to him.

 

The Moral-Influence view is probably the dominant view today (i.e., the view most talked about) and it certainly contains an element of truth (even more than an element). For example, Romans 5:8 clearly states:

 

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

 

And yet, the Moral-Influence view doesn’t quite capture the full essence of the atonement as revealed in Scripture.

 

 

The Penal-Substitution View

 

The view of the atonement that best reflects the teaching of Scripture AND is the view deemed orthodox by Christians for the vast majority of the Church’s history is called the Penal-Substitution view.

 

According to this view, Christ died to satisfy the justice of God’s nature. He rendered satisfaction to the Father (not to Satan!) so that we might be spared from the just deserts of our sins.

 

There are 4 key ideas or motifs in the Penal-Substitution view:

 

1.      Sacrifice – Christ gave His life as an offering to the Father.

2.      Propitiation – Christ died to appease God’s wrath over our sin.

3.      Substitution – Christ died for our sins, not His own.

4.      Reconciliation – Christ’s death brings to an end the enmity and estrangement which exist between God and humankind.

 

We must never take lightly our salvation. Although it is free, it is also costly, for it cost God the ultimate sacrifice.

 

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (I John 4:10)

 

 

Pastor Dan

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