Friday, December 30, 2011

A Voice from the Past - Leo the Great

For not only is God believed to be both Almighty and the Father, but the Son is shown to be co-eternal with Him, differing in nothing from the Father because He is God from God, Almighty from Almighty, and being born from the Eternal one is co-eternal with Him; not later in point in time, not lower in power, not unlike in glory, not divided in essence; but at the same time the only begotten of the eternal Father was born eternal of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. And this nativity which took place in time took nothing from, and added nothing to that divine and eternal birth, but expended itself wholly on the restoration of man who had been deceived; in order that he might both vanquish death and overthrow by his strength, the Devil who possessed the power of death. For we should not now be able to overcome the author of sin and death  unless He took our nature on Him and made it His own, whom neither sin could pollute nor death retain.

Leo the Great, 400-460 AD, Letter 28, To Flavian, commonly called "The Tome," Section II (The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Volume 12, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, 1997, T & T Clark and Wm. B.Eerdmans, The Letters and Sermons of Leo the Great, translated by Charles Lett Feltoe, p. 39)

Why is it important that Jesus was both God and man? What impact does this have on our lives?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Errors of Good Men

It has been said that in the Christian church it is the errors of good men that are the most dangerous. I am convinced this is frequently the case. The ancient Christian church was besieged by alternative forms of Christianity that distorted its basic doctrines. The New Testament shows this was a problem from the very beginning of the church. Now many of the members of the church at the time were poor and uneducated; many were slaves. How could they be protected from being lured away by false doctrine? They were encouraged to listen to their leaders; they would steer them right. But the problem was that the opposing viewpoints also had leaders who taught their beliefs. How would they know which leader to follow?

It was noted that Jesus had instructed the apostles, and the apostles then instructed those who followed them. Who were you going to believe, the church that could trace itself back to the apostles or some new group coming out of left field, claiming to be in possession of the real Christian message? Now this idea does have a certain degree of sense to it. It is one useful criterion for evaluating new teaching. Can we believe that the early church got Jesus' teachings totally wrong, only to have the truth discovered by someone in recent times (Jude 3, Galatians 1:8,9; Isaiah 8:20)? But as the sole basis for deciding on truth, this has problems. It assumes that, unlike Israel in the Old Testament, which had a habit of drifting away from the truth of God, the Christian church could not do so. But this flies in the face of what we already see even in New Testament times (Galatians 1:6,7; Colossians 2:16-19; Revelation 2:12-29). This became more questionable the further removed the church became from New Testament times. Also, as time went on, this developed into the concept that the church descended from the apostles could not be questioned, in spite of the Biblical requirement of holding leaders responsible to follow the Word of God (Acts 17:11; Galatians 2:11-16; Jeremiah 8:8,9). This led to many unbiblical errors. It took the Protestant Reformation to correct these.

Now I say this, not simply to point out the historical error, but to encourage us to avoid falling into this same trap in the present day. There is a temptation for current leaders to walk this same path if they are not careful. It is easier to teach people to just follow their leaders than to do the hard task of really educating them in the truths of the Christian faith. But it is only the second way that will produce the strong Christians we are called to produce (Matthew 28:19,20; Acts 20:27; 2 Timothy 4:1-4). Now I am not saying we should not value and consider the wisdom of great Christians from the past. But we should not strive to produce mindless followers, but strong Christian warriors, who know what they believe and why they believe it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Staking Our Claim

Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues"

One thing that prospectors do is stake claims.  The rest of us have a tendency to do the same thing.  We stake claims to various things as belonging to ourselves.  Yet can we really stake a claim to anything when everything we have comes from God (Job 1:21; Matthew 6:25-34)?  Also, as C. S. Lewis points out in "The Screwtape Letters," there are various senses of the word "my".  It can range from "my God" to "my country," "my church," "my wife," and all the way down to "my boots."  According to Lewis, Satan's strategy is to reduce everything to the level of "my boots."  Something that belongs to me that I can do whatever I feel like with. Sometimes we can be very spiritual about this.  We can speak of "my ministry" (as opposed to other people's ministries), "my Bible study group" (as opposed to other people's Bible study groups), "my church" (as opposed to other congregations) or "my denomination" (even if the differences between it and other denominations are Biblically minor).  Therefore we can promote our ends while claiming to be spiritual. 

Yet God takes the opposite approach.  He says we should put other people before ourselves (Philippians 2:1-4; Romans 12:9-21).  He even set the example by giving up His rights in order to redeem us (Philippians 2:5-11; Romans 5:6-8; John 3:16).  And if we have been redeemed, we not only belong to God because of His creating us (Psalms 139:13-16), but also because He has redeemed us (1 Corinthians 6:20).  Therefore we should stop staking claims to things, but offer everything we have, including ourselves (Romans 12:1,2), to live for Him.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Touch of Humor - The Procrastinator

What things can contribute to our putting off what God would have us do? How can we avoid them?

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Voice from the Past - Martin Luther

Here is the Child in whom is salvation. To me there is no greater consolation given to mankind then this, that Christ became man, a child, a babe, playing in the lap and at the breasts of his most gracious mother. Who is there whom this sight would not comfort? Now is overcome the power of sin, death, hell, conscience, and guilt, if you come to this gurgling Babe and believe that he is come, not to judge you, but to save.

Martin Luther, 1483-1546, (The Martin Luther Christmas Book, Nativity, translator Roland Bainton, The Westminster Press, 1948, p. 40)

What can can we learn about God from Christmas? How should it affect the rest of the year?

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Good Invasion

How can we explain this world we live in? There is so much good in it. There is so much wrong with it. We can see it as wonderful world and try to relegate the bad things to something superficial. (We need to be positive and everything will be well.) But confronted with the real facts of the world or even our own lives, this viewpoint seems to crumble. Outside of Scripture I know of only two arguments against the world being basically good. All of human history and all of human experience. Or we can take the view that the world is a nasty place and that is just the way it is. (We must be strong and endure the world with its absurdities.) But if this is really how the world should be, why do we criticize it? Where do we get the standard to do so? And why, in the midst of the chaos, do we find things that reflect that kind of goodness and rightness that we seek but are not consistently able to find in reality as a whole? Is there another answer?

I would submit that the answer that best makes sense of our situation is the Christian one. The world as it was originally created by the hand of God was good (Genesis 1:31; 1 Timothy 4:4,5; James 1:17). But human beings rebelled against God, and as a result evil has come into the world (Genesis 3:1-19; Romans 8:19-23; 5:12-21) and we are sinners in rebellion against God (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9). We are also told there are evil spiritual forces in control of this world as a result of mankind's rebellion, who are instigating evil in this world (Ephesians 2:1-3; Hebrews 2:14,15; 2 Corinthians 4:3,4).  But we still see in that world the remnants of the original goodness (Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:15-17; Romans 2:14,15). This fits with what we see in the world, a good world that has gone bad.

But because of this we have a basis for a solution. If the present world is basically good, we must ignore the depths of the problem. If the evil of the world is how it is supposed to be, the situation is hopeless. But if this world is a good world created by God, and it was corrupted by sin, then He can set it right again. To do this, God became a man (John 1:1-14; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9,10) and paid the price we needed to pay for our rebellion against the true King (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13-15; 2 Corinthians 5:21) and opened the way for us to be reconciled to God through faith in Him (Romans 4:4,5; Ephesians 2:8,9; Philippians 3:9). And ultimately He will return the world to its original state of perfection at His Second Coming (Revelation 21:1-4; Philippians 3:20-21; 2 Peter 3:8-13). Christmas therefore is the beachhead for the good invasion, which God has begun. The question is, which side do we want to be on?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Castle

Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues"

There were some travelers from a far-off village, who in an uninhabited land came across a beautiful castle on a hill. It was a magnificent building, full of beautiful tapestries and impressive ornaments. Also, as they entered the banquet hall they found food laid out for a feast. There were also many empty bedrooms with large four-poster beds. But the really mysterious thing was that every day the table was stocked with food at morning, noon, and evening, and every night they found the beds made with new linen. But they never saw the owner or any servants who did these things. And though they hid and watched for them and set traps for them, they could not catch them.

They went out to all the surrounding towns and told them about the wonder they had found. Many came and were inspired by the place to tell stories about it, often trying to explain its ose who were his pupils and taught others the truths they got from him. But the others rejected such things, considering the man a fraud or a madman or, long afterward, a tale created by his followers. But those who believed in the man claimed theirs was the only real answer. And their tribe persists to this day.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Is Christianity a Myth?

Is Christianity a myth? First we must ask, what is a myth? This is a word that means many different things to different people. It can mean that something is false. Now as a statement of opinion this is legitimate, but it requires proof. If assumed without proof, it is circular reasoning. Now traditionally the word myth has been used for theological viewpoints that were no longer considered a serious option, at least by civilized people. With the coming of New Age beliefs, it is questionable whether this can still be taken for granted. But Christianity was never in that category. Now one could assert that the old attitude toward these myths is correct and Christianity is basically the same thing. But this, again, without proof is circular reasoning.

Or myths can be see it as a depiction of a mythical experience rooted in existential philosophy. This is a close relative to the approach of allegorism, which sees such stories as, not to be taken literally, but pictures of some underlying truth. Now to the extent allegorism involves reading in a foreign belief, without justification in its original  theological context, it should be rejected out of hand. For me to read my beliefs back into someone else's belief system without a basis within that system is, again, circular reasoning.

Or a myth can simply be defined as an overall view of reality that captures the imagination. In this context I have no  problem with calling Christianity a myth, so long as we allow for the possibility of a true myth. I see no basis for excluding this unless it can be proven beforehand that reality must be pedantic and boring. But there is a danger here that we might believe something, not because it is true, but because it is a good story. Certainly, we should be on guard against this. But used as an argument in favor of a secular view of reality, this has a basic problem. I used to be an agnostic and was a firm believer in the great secular myth, which C. S. Lewis called the myth of evolution (see The Funeral of a Great Myth in Christian Reflections). While it goes back to Shelley and Keats, it can be found more recently in Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek) and Arthur C. Clarke (the 2001: A Space Odyssey series, Childhood's End). This view, which sees mankind as, not at home in paradise, but fighting and clawing their way up to become beings of disembodied power is nothing if not dramatic. If this does not capture the imagination, I do not know what will. If you really want a view of the world that is boring and pedantic, I do not know where you would find one. But if we are not willing to exclude a view because it captures the imagination, we must at least consider the possibility of a true myth.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Touch of Humor - The Hierarchy

Is there a danger of using God as a means to get what we want? How can we avoid this?

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Voice from the Past - Chesterton

Any agnostic or atheist whose childhood has known a real Christmas has ever afterwards, whether he likes it or not, an association in his mind between two ideas that most of mankind must regard as remote from each other; the idea of a baby and the idea of unknown strength that sustains the stars.His instincts and imagination can still connect them, when his reason can no longer see the need of the connection; for him there will always be some savior of savour of religion about the mere picture of a mother and a baby; some hint of mercy and softening about the mere mention of the dreadful name of God.

G. K. Chesterton, 1874-1936, The Everlasting Man; Part II: On the Man Called Christ, Chapter I: The God in the Cave (Dover Publications Inc., 2007, pp. 164-165)

Does this make sense? If so what are the implications?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Impacting All of Culture

It is said that we as Christians need to impact all of life. I agree that this is true, but we need to understand what it means. The Christian church, the body of all true believers, needs to impact all of life as we go out into the world. But part of the problem is that once you get beyond the things the Scripture states and commands, there becomes a question not only of Christian principles but of practical considerations. One thing we need to beware of is the confusion of Scriptural requirements with pragmatic methods. We also need to be careful of involving the organizational church in something that is not part of direct Christian obedience and thus confusing the two. There are things that are very clearly required by Scripture, such as helping the poor and needy, which the organizational church can be involved in directly (Acts 4:32-35; 1 Timothy 5:3-15; James 2:15,16), though not to the detriment of its obligation to instruct people in God's truth (Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 4:11-15; 2 Timothy 4:1-4). A good example of this in Acts 6, where they tried to carefully balance the demands of meeting people's needs with the ministry of the word and prayer.

But there are other cases where we are best served by other organizations, which are parts of the universal church involved in a specialized purpose. This may even involve making common cause with unbelievers to accomplish common goals. We are called to be the light of the world and have an effect on those around us (Matthew 5:13-16; Philippians 2:14-16; Ephesians 5:7-17). But we need to be careful in the process not to be conformed to the world (Romans 12:1,2; 1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4). We need to be careful of confusing our Christianity with other issues God does not speak on. We need Christian politicians and political activists doing what they  think best within the context of their Christian instruction.  We need Christian artists who express themselves within a Christian context. Christian scientists doing science from a Christian context. And if past experience is any guide, this is a hard thing to do without compromise. But there are some things we can do to help. We need to be careful of putting people on too high a pedestal, or we are in danger of encouraging pride and a fall (Proverbs 16:18; 11:2; Romans 12:3). But we should also be careful of too easily criticizing and doing so with the wrong spirit (Galatians 6:1; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Hebrews 12:12-13). But rather let all us consider how to be lights in the place we are, whether it is seen as prominent or obscure from the world's point of view.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Fanastic

Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues"

How should a Christian deal with the various claims of fantastic things in the world? These could include such things as UFOs, ghosts, Bigfoot, and the Loch Ness monster. How are we to explain them? Now for the Christian, there are certain things that can be eliminated as contrary to Christian teaching; (ghosts conflict with the Biblical picture of the afterlife; see Hebrews 9:27; Luke 16:19-31). There may be others which have been given a pseudo-spiritual significance; (some beliefs in UFOs fall into this category). But we are still left with the question of what we think of these things.

We can dismiss them as simply mistakes. Someone saw a weather-balloon or an animal moving at a distance and mistook them for something else. This seems a little simplistic to me as an adequate explanation of all  sightings. Also, such a mistake is much easier to make if you already have an idea that these things exist. There is also the question of fraud. This undoubtedly also happens. There are people who will do things for notoriety or because they like a good story. However, those who see such things are frowned on as crackpots. While this may indeed be the explanation of a specific case, I question that everyone who claims to have seen such things can simply be written off as a fraud.

They could be a legitimate natural phenomenon. Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster could simply be unusual types of animals. (I do not believe Big Foot is the missing link, but it could be an unusual type of ape.) But the fact that the Loch Ness monster never seems to appear when the serious investigators are looking for him makes me cynical. As for UFOs, I tend to lean toward the Klass plasma hypothesis, which makes them a natural phenomena but not extraterrestrial. (This is, they are really an usual type of plasma which is produced under certain conditions, appearing as a large variously-shaped, bright object.) But some such explanation must be considered as a possibility.

Another possibility is that they might be demonic. If we live in a supernatural world, we should not be surprised if we encounter things of supernatural origin. Nor should we be surprised if demonic forces use natural phenomena or  impersonate things that do not exist to accomplish their purposes . While I think it is simplistic to assume all such phenomena are demonic, I think it is also simplistic not to consider the demonic as a possibility. Especially in the cases where there is a direction of worship or something that approximates worship, away from God to some other object. 

But in the end, each case has to be evaluated on its own merits. I think we should avoid the view that dismisses such things out of hand (often with the attitude that people are stupid) or immediately ascribes them all to the demonic. Let us carefully investigate before jumping to conclusions.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

More Spiritual Than God

Sometimes we can try to be more spiritual than God. Now by spiritual, I do not mean more holy. But I mean more focused on the internal and the immaterial, rather than the external and the physical. God created the physical world (Genesis 1:1; Isaiah 42:5: John 1:3). He created us as beings of body and spirit (Genesis 2:7; Psalm 8:4-8; 139:13-16). God became a man to redeem us from our sins (John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9-18). And our goal is the resurrection of the body (Romans 8:11; Philippians 3:20,21; 1 Corinthians 15:1-28). We are not to confuse Biblical spirituality with the minimizing of the physical (Colossians 2:20-23; 1 Timothy 4:3-5; Titus 1:15). Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the area of the sacraments. While unwilling to do away with them because God has commanded them (Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Acts 2:38), we can relegate them to the incidental, just one more thing God has commanded us to do.

This can be a reaction to a real danger. We can go through the external motions of following God without the inner reality (Malachi 1:10; Isaiah 66:3-4; Matthew 6:1-18). Scripture makes it clear that we are saved by faith in Christ (Romans 4;4,5; Ephesians 2:8,9; Philippians 3:9). Therefore, the reality of the sacraments is based on faith (Romans 4:11,12; Acts 16:30-33; John 6:47-58). It is this faith, rather than the person administering them or the exact mode or theory of the ordinances, none of which is taught in Scripture, that is the issue. They are a sign and a seal of that faith (Romans 4:11). This makes them, not one more act of obedience, but the recognition and celebration of what God has done. And while the external act means nothing apart from the inward reality (Romans 2:25-29; 9:6-8; Jeremiah 4:4), it is not to be despised. Now I want to be clear that the focus of faith is not on our own feelings, but on Christ and what He has done for us (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21). If we turn to Christ and rely on Him, we have faith (1 John 5:11-13; John 3:16; Romans 3:21,22).

Now Scripture makes it clear that the ordinances are the normal expression of belonging to Christ (Acts 10:47,48; 16:14,15; 20:7). Now I find it interesting that those who make the sacraments secondary come up with other physical actions as expression of faith, such as walking an aisle or raising a hand or saying a prayer. Now I do not want to condemn any legitimate expression of faith, but it should be noted that these acts have the same possibility of abuse as the ordinances. People can go through the motions and not really mean them. Since we seem to naturally choose physical acts to express our faith, might it not be better to reemphasize the acts God originally commanded? For the physical part of us is something God created and is part of who we are.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Touch of Humor - The Spirit of Christmas Presents

How can keeping the commercial aspect of Christmas become a distraction? Is there a way to keep a better balance in this regard?

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Voice from the Past - Athanasius

And just as a notable wrestler who is great in intelligence and strength does not choose opponents for himself lest he should give suspicion that he is afraid of some opponents, but gives the choice to the power of the spectators, and especially if they are unfriendly, in order that when he has overthrown the one with whom they match him he may be believed to be superior to all; even so the life of all, our Lord and Saviour Christ, did not himself contrive death for his body lest he should appear frightened of a different death, but accepted and endured on the cross that inflicted by others, especially by enemies, which they thought to be fearful, ignominious, and horrible, in order that when it had been destroyed he might be believed to be life, and that the power of death be completely annihilated.

Athanasius, 295-373 AD, The Incarnation of the Word, 24:10-20, (Athanasius, Contra Gentes and De Incarnatione, translated by Robert W, Thomson, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1971, p. 193

Does this make sense of why Christ died the way He did? Are there other explanations? (Athanasius does give others.)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Dangers of One Man in Charge

The fundamental issue of the Protestant Reformation was justification by faith, that we are declared righteous before God based on our faith in Christ's death on the cross for us, apart from anything we can do to earn it (Romans 3:28; Ephesians 2:8,9; Philippians 3:9). The second related issue was the authority of Scripture, that every claim to teach God's truth must be tested by Scripture (Isaiah 8:20; Galatians 1:8,9; Jude 3). But there was another issue which fostered the corruption of the church at that time. That was the putting of the church under the control of a single individual who could not be questioned. There were attempts to deal with this corruption short of the Reformation. There was a movement to make church councils the authority rather than the pope, but this ultimately failed. Or they would require men to swear to make reforms before choosing them as pope. But when they became pope they would absolve themselves from keeping this oath. Now I am convinced it was in God's providence that these limited reforms failed, because the church needed the deeper reform of the Reformation. But there is a principle here of not giving too much power to one person. I do not bring this up just to criticize Roman Catholicism, but to point out that there is danger in giving unquestionable authority to one or a few individuals.

Now I do not want to take away the respect that should be given to good leaders of the past and present. They are a gift for God (Ephesians 4:11), and we are called to submit to those in a position over us (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12,13). Nor should we go to the opposite extreme of individualism and refuse to listen to the instruction of others (Proverbs 15:22; 1 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 12:3) But no one should place themselves above the Word of God or above correction (Acts 17:11; Galatians 1:8,9; 2:11-16). Also, Jesus Christ is the only one we must go through to get to God, and no other should make that claim (1 Timothy 2:5; Colossians 1:18; Hebrews 4:14-16). Now I am convinced that, particularly in our modern celebrity culture, it is possible to exalt people to a level where they are seen as unquestionable. This is bad even if the individuals involved are godly people, because we all have our sins and failings and making someone unquestionable perpetuates their bad qualities as well as their good. Also, once such an authority cannot be challenged, bad people can replace the good without hindrance. Those who established the power of the papacy were using it to fight the corruption of the church. But in the end it resulted in worse corruption than they set out to cure. We should respect those leaders worthy of it, but we should regard no one as above correction.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Bethesda Factor

Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues"

Does God always heal if we just have enough faith? Jesus came to the Pool of Bethesda and found a crowd of sick people (John 5:1-17).  But Jesus approached and healed only one of them.  There is no indication that this individual had any high degree of faith (he was looking to be healed by being dipped in the pool). But Jesus only approached this one man. Now there are cases where it says Jesus healed all the sick brought to Him (Matthew 8:16; 12:15; Luke 4:40), but it is clearly speaking of those who happened to be there at that day and time.  But as Bethesda shows, Jesus could also be selective. We see this even more clearly in the case of the Apostle Paul.  Paul had a consistent record of praying for people and having them be healed (Acts 19:11,12), and he continued to do so at least till the near end of the book of Acts (Acts 28:1-10) and most probably beyond it.  Yet he could not obtain healing for himself (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) or Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25-30), or Timothy (1 Timothy 5:23), or Trophimus (2 Timothy 4:20). 

Therefore, God does not heal in every case nor has He ever healed in every case.  Now many who believe healing has passed away at the present time seem to believe that in New Testament times, God did always heal, and now He has ceased doing it.  But I would suggest that while God still heals today (and I see no basis in Scripture for believing He does not), He never healed in every case. Now it is true that faith is a factor in whether an individual is healed (Matthew 13:58; 9:22; Mark 2:5).  Though the one case where the disciples failed to accomplish a miracle (it was casting out a demon rather than a healing), Jesus rebuked the disciples for lack of faith, not the demonized boy or his father (Matthew 17:14-20).  He then cast out the demon based on the father's shaky faith (Mark 9:14-29).  But though faith is a factor, it is also clear that there is in healing a matter of God's will, and to assume that God will heal everyone if they only have enough faith is simplistic. Therefore, we should pray to God that He will heal people but be willing to accept the fact that there may be cases where it is God's will not to heal. And we should avoid jumping to the conclusion that if someone is not healed it is because of their lack of faith.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Do We Really Believe It?

It is easy to mouth words. We as Christians claim we are sinners saved by grace. But do we mean it? Do we really believe we are sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9), who could only be saved by Christ's paying the price for our sins (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21)? Or do we really believe deep inside that we are good people, who knowing God has made maybe a little better? I do not speak this to condemn others, as if I were innocent. When I examine my own motives, I find that I must constantly fight the idea that I am not all that bad. But the question might be asked, is that not what I was back then? Now that I am Christian, surely I can put that behind me and claim to now be able to be acceptable to God through my good deeds. But what does the Scripture say? It says that nothing good dwells in me and that I fall short of the good I try to do (Galatians 5:17; Romans 7:7-25; 8:8 ). (Many would say that the struggle in Romans 7 refers to the unbeliever or carnal Christian, but it is in the present tense and concludes in 7:25 with a statement that the struggle still exists.) We are told not to consider ourselves as having attained it, but to press on with Christ (Philippians 3:12-16; 1 John 1:8-10; Hebrews 12:1,2). We are told that apart from God we are not able to do anything and that it is only through His power working in our life that we can live for God (John 15:5; 2 Corinthians 3:5,6; Ephesians 2:10). It is not that we are basically good people, as our society would teach us, but we are those destitute of our own goodness, who need God to forgive us (Romans 8:33,34; 3:24-26; Ephesians 1:7) and change us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29).

What is the result of this outlook on life? We will trust in God not only for our salvation (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:8,9), but also for all of life (Psalms 127:1,2; Proverbs 3:5,6; Hebrews 11:6). I will be motivated to live for God, not to impress Him or to earn anything from Him, but out of love for Him for a salvation already received (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Galatians 5:13). Also, we will not be motivated to look down on other people because we regard them as sinners, but we will realize that we are sinners even as they are (Luke 7:36-50; 19:10; Matthew 9:11-13). The basis for all this is humility, and this comes from an honest assessment of who I am (Romans 12:16; 1 Corinthians 13:4-6; Luke 22:24-27). It is then that I can put my life in perspective. So the question remains, do we mean what we say?

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Touch of Humor - The Holiday Celebration

How important is it to be concerned with issues like Christmas creches? How involved should we be in such issues?

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Voice from the Past - Augustine of Hippo

But all are gifts of my God; it was not I who gave them me; and good these are, and these together are myself. Good, then, is He that made me, and He is my good; and before Him will I exult for every good which of a boy I had. For it was my sin, that not in Him, but in His creatures -- myself and others -- I sought for pleasures, sublimities, truths, and so fell headlong into sorrows, confusions, errors. Thanks be to Thee, my joy and my glory and my confidence, my God, thanks be to Thee for Thy gifts; but do Thou preserve them to me. For so wilt Thou preserve me, and those things shall be enlarged and perfected, which Thou hast given me, and I myself shall be with Thee, since even to be Thou has given me.

Augustine of Hippo, 354-430 AD, Confessions, Book I, Section 31 (translated E. B. Pusey, Barnes &; Noble Books, 1999. p. 21)

Is this the right attitude toward God? How would it affect the way we live our lives?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

To Paddle or Not to Paddle?

How should Christians approach living for Christ? Is it active or passive?  I can see the main thing as my working hard to become more like Christ. This takes my focus off Christ and puts it on what I do. I end up relying on my own self-control and often being frustrated at my inadequacies. The proponents of the opposing view have likened this to being required to paddle our own canoe. It leads to either self-righteousness or discouragement. But Scripture says the Holy Spirit is at work in us to transform us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29). It says God has given us the power we need to accomplish His purposes (2 Corinthians 3:5,6; Ephesians 2:10; 2 Peter 1:3). It claims God has given us the victory (2 Corinthians 2:14; Romans 8:37; 1 John 5:4,5). This does not sound like being left to paddle our own canoe.

The opposite is to advocate a state of passive surrender: I should give myself over to God, and He will take it from there. This is like having a motor on the boat; I turn it on and it takes me where I want to go. The problem is that it is not quite that simple. What I have found is that when I take that first step, I am still me and am still faced with living my life out, day by day, by making specific choices. And if my life fails to reflect what is promised by this method, I must conclude that I am doing the first step wrong and become discouraged. Or if I can convince myself I do live up to it, I can think I have arrived spiritually, which leads to complacency. Scripture, however, likens the Christian life to a battle (Ephesians 6:10-18; 2 Timothy 2:3,4; 2 Corinthians 10:4-6). It likens the spiritual life to training and to competing in an athletic event (Hebrews 12:1,2; 1 Timothy 4:7,8; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27). It also pictures growth in Christ as a process that takes place over time (Hebrews 5:12-14; Philippians 3:12-16; Colossians 2:19). This does not sound like surrendering one's self, with God taking it from there.

How then can these be brought together? The key issue Scripturally is, what am I trusting in (Psalms 127:1,2; Proverbs 3:5,6; Isaiah 40:29-31)? None of the promises of the Spirit's working in our life are conditional for the Christian. But we are still required to respond to them (Galatians 5:16; Romans 6:12-14; Ephesians 5:18). Returning to the boat analogy, God's power is the current that carries us along. We do paddle to direct the boat down the center of the current. But if we try to paddle forward, expecting to get ahead of the current, we will simply wear ourselves out . But we can, if we choose paddle hard against the current and slow our progress toward who God wants us to be. But we did not make the current and cannot start it or stop it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Leap of Faith?

Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues".

What is faith? It is one of the most variously defined words in the world. In fact, there are so many different versions of what it is that it is clear if one is correct, many others are not. More importantly, what is the Scriptural definition? First and foremost, faith is faith in God (Hebrews 11:6) and not other things (Psalms 20:7; Isaiah 42:17). Also, faith is not against reason (Scripture gives reasons to believe; see 1 Corinthians 15:1-11), but against sight (2 Corinthians 5:7, Hebrews 1:1). We need to have faith to believe God's promises even if we do not currently possess them (Romans 4:18-21). Faith is therefore not faith in faith or a leap of faith into darkness, but reliance on God, whose truth we know.

We are also promised great things through faith the size of a mustard seed (Matthew 17:20), which is a seed known for its smallness. Now certainly, the presence of faith is relevant (Matthew 13:58), but the chief word for doubting in the New Testament is a strong word "to waver". It pictures someone actually fluctuating back and forth between two opinions (James 1:6-8), not someone who has an occasional doubt pass through their head. One example of God's graciousness, even when our faith is imperfect, is Acts 12:1-19. Herod Antipas puts to death James the son of Zebedee and throws Peter into prison. The church calls together a prayer meeting to petition God for Peter's release. So God sends an angel, who rescues Peter from prison. Then Peter goes to the house where they are praying for his freedom and knocks on the door. And when the maid runs into the gathering and tells them Peter is at the door, they do not believe her. It is only when Peter, after much knocking, is let in that they recognize it is really him. I am convinced God often does things for us in spite of our imperfect faith.

I am therefore convinced that faith is not a mental exercise; it is not a state of mind we work up; it is not an indefinable experience that flies in the face of reason. It is, rather, our imperfect reliance on the promises of God, even though we do not see them now. And if we have even a spark of a real faith, God will meet us there.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Other Stories of Miracles

Do accounts of miracles by other beliefs prove the Christian accounts are false? Do particular falsified Christian accounts of miracles prove the rest are false? Before we can deal with this, we need to put it in perspective. Not only in the supernatural but in the natural realms we are continually confronted with stories that have different degrees of probability. There are various opinions on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, reaching from the single bullet theory, to the government conspiracy theory, to the story he continued to survive somewhere on a desert island theory, most of which do not involve the supernatural. But that does not make them equally plausible. To reject the moon landing as historical does not require the supernatural, but that does not mean we should give it credence. History is full of stories and anecdotes, some of which are true, some of which are false, and some of which may be argued both ways. Is it surprising the same thing is true in regard to the supernatural? The truth is that if you want to know what the truth is, you need to weigh the evidence. But to assume the supernatural must be dismissed as dubious is circular reasoning unless you have already proved the supernatural cannot happen. And if you can do this, there is no need to argue from questionable instances of the supernatural. The usual argument here is that science disproves the supernatural, but science cannot really deal with this issue.

While it is certainly not definitive, the existence of miracles and stories of miracles in many belief systems is an argument in favor of miracles. If you believe in a supernatural world, there may be a variety of supernatural beings. There may be demons out to fool us into following the wrong beliefs. Even if almost all accounts of miracles are false, we have to ask where they got the idea from. It is more reasonable they are imitating something that was known to exist. The fact that counterfeit currency exists does not prove that real currency does not. In fact, it suggests the existence of real currency. Now if the fundamental miracles that undergird Christianity (or even the important related ones) can be shown to be false, we have a problem. If it can be shown that the Christian miracles are no better substantiated or no more indicative of the power of God than any others, we have a problem. But the fact there are false stories of miracles does not prove anything (beyond calling into question the individual who worked them). My father was a taxidermist, and liked to try to convince the city slickers that jackalopes (the offspring of a jack rabbit and an antelope) were real. Because this is false, does that mean jack rabbits and antelopes do not exist? 

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Touch of Humor - The Usher

How important are some of the things we divide over? Where should the boundaries be drawn?

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Voice from the Past - Anselm

I do not endeavor, Oh Lord, to penetrate thy sublimity, for in no wise do I compare my understanding with that; but I long to understand in some degree thy truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, -- that unless I believed, I should not understand.

Anselm, 1033-1109, Proslogium, Chapter I (Open Court Press, 1926, translator Sidney Norton Deane, p. 22)

Is this the proper approach? How would it affect how we live?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Dancing in the Dungeon

Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues".

Sometimes the best thing to do in a difficult time is to rejoice in God and praise Him. Paul and Silas were in a jail in Philippi and were praying and singing hymns of praise (Acts 16:22-25). I do not believe this was because Paul and Silas were super-spiritual and did not feel the difficulties of their situation, but because they did and rejoiced in response. We are told rejoicing is an appropriate response to trouble (James 1:2-4; Matthew 5:11,12) and that we can rejoice in the Lord even if the situation is dark (Philippians 4:4). I remember a time when the church I was in was going through tough times. An accusation had been made against the pastor and it had to be dealt with. I remember shortly after I learned of this doing what I call my "prayer dance." It consists of playing praise music and praying as I dance to the music. I have often felt God's presence powerfully in these sessions. Afterward, my wife kiddingly asked me if I had enjoyed myself. I replied this was not a dance of joy but a dance of defiance. I was dancing despite the situation and everything that principalities and powers could throw at us as a church. Sometimes when the times get tough, the best thing to do is rejoice and praise God (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Getting Out the Vote

What should be the position of the Christian regarding politics? Should we be involved or not? Should we support a particular political party? Are we denying the faith if we do not support that party? How do we untangle this mess? I have found a distinction made by C. S. Lewis useful in dealing with this issue. Christianity lays down certain moral principles, goals on what constitutes justice, but it does not say what practical methods will best achieve those goals. There are in politics a considerable number of pragmatic questions involved in how to get the right things done. Now there may be certain practical approaches which are wrong in themselves, even if done to achieve appropriate moral goals, but even among acceptable methods there is disagreement as to what is best. Also, when it comes down to voting, there is the question of the character and competence of the person running. It does no good to elect people who claim they will do something but are unable to or change their position afterward.

I am convinced that abortion (Psalms 139:13,14; 51:5; Exodus 20:13), homosexuality (Romans 1:24-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; Matthew 19:4-6),  and pornography (Matthew 5:27,28; Exodus 20:17; 1 Thessalonians 4:4,5) are wrong Biblically.  But whether we should have laws regarding them and exactly what kind of laws can be a practical problem. When you factor in what is the best way to get these laws enacted, given constitutional and legal questions, it becomes even more complicated. But these are fairly straightforward. I am convinced Biblically that racism is wrong (Acts 17:26; James 3:9-12; Colossians 3:11). But the best way to deal with it, affirmative action, hate crimes legislation, or some other method, may be debatable. I do believe that the Bible lays down principles in the area of economics, but what should be done there on a practical level may difficult to determine. Therefore, those who agree with me on my Scriptural understanding (there are of course those who would dispute it) can end up disagreeing on specific political conclusions.

Also, we need to remember that while the law does have a function in restraining evil (Romans 13:1-7; Proverbs 14:34;  Deuteronomy  13:11), even God's Law cannot by itself produce a true change of heart (Romans 3:19,20; 7:7-18; 5:20). I am convinced there is a place for Christians to work for good laws and a better condition of our society. But we must avoid the illusion that if we just pass a few of the right laws we will end up with an upright nation that follows God. The problem runs deeper than that, and it is only by convincing individuals of Christian truths and Christian moral principles that we can hope to change the moral direction of our society. But that does not mean Christians should not do whatever they can to positively affect the political process.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Touch of Humor - Thanksgiving Question

Do we tend to measure our thankfulness to God in terms of material benefits? Should we?

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Voice from the Past - Ambrose

If any one takes heed in this, he will be mild, gentle, modest. For in guarding his mouth, and restraining his tongue, and in not speaking before examining, pondering, and weighing his words  -- as to whether this should be said, that should be answered, or whether it be a suitable time for this remark -- he certainly is practicing modesty, gentleness, patience.

Ambrose, 340-397, Duties of the Clergy, Book I, Chapter IV, Paragraph 14 (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Volume X, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, T & T Clark and Eerdmans, 1997, translated by Rev. H. De Romestin, p. 3)

How important is it to watch what we say? How can we go about this?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Carey Conundrum

The story of William Carey is used to show that predestination and evangelism are contrary  to each other. Carey was advocating missions and was told to sit down; when God was ready to save the heathen He would do it without Carey's assistance. But what are the facts of this case?

Now Carey was a Calvinist and believed in predestination. Therefore, this is, at worst, a debate between Calvinists over what Calvinism means. Further, there was an extreme view of Calvinism (called hyper-Calvinism by the standard Council-of-Dort-affirming Calvinism), which may have been involved in this disagreement. Now I would be willing to leave things here as a debate among Calvinists and simply say I support William Carey's form of Calvinism. But the truth is more complicated then that.

The scene was a pastor's conference presided over by the elder John Ryland. (There were two John Rylands involved: the younger, who was Carey's friend and supporter, and the elder, who was his father.) William Carey and his friend Thomas Chisholm had just been ordained as ministers. The elder  Ryland asked the newest members of the group to propose a subject for discussion. Chisholm suggested discussing a passage in 2 Peter, but the elder Ryland told him to look it up in John Gill. Then Carey asked if the command to preach the gospel to the heathen did not last until the end of the world, since the accompanying promise was to that extent (see Matthew 28:19,20). And the elder Ryland replied .... It is not really clear what the elder Ryland replied. The elder Ryland never remembered what he had said. Chisholm accused him of claiming that a restoration of the gift of tongues was necessary to take the gospel to the heathen. (The younger Ryland denied his father said this, but I have not seen the exact words of the denial.) The common version, "Sit down young man, when God gets ready to save the heathen He will do it without your help or mine," was from Jonathan Marshall, who knew Carey in India, at a time when Carey himself admits he did not remember exactly what was said. But the bigger question is what was meant.

Carey wrote a pamphlet called  An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians To Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens. He told the younger Ryland that it responded to the elder Ryland's objections. It does not mention Calvinism. It does deal with God's command, which is the portion he claimed referred to the elder Ryland's objection. But the main part of the pamphlet deals with practical objections: where will we get the money; the heathen will eat us; and similar questions. The issue does not seem to be doctrinal but practical: how would such an endeavor be possible? And Carey's chief virtue was being willing to trust God to accomplish such things. But doctrine does not seem to be the main issue.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Christian Malpractice

Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues".

There are many people in the world who are victims of Christian theological malpractice. This consists in telling people that if they come to Christ they will have no real problems and will be happy all the time.  I am not simply talking here of the health and wealth gospel, though they are the worst offenders.  There are multitudes of other approaches which, though they do not go as far, nonetheless teach that Jesus is some kind of happiness pill which, if you take, you will not feel pain anymore. And when people find out this does not really work, they write off Christianity as a piece of false advertising.  (Many times such people have never really been saved because they have never really dealt with the basic issues of sin and forgiveness.  But even if they are saved, they can end up struggling in their walk with God.) We set them up for a fall. Is this really what the Scripture teaches?

The Bible says we should expect trouble (John 16:33; Acts 14:22; 2 Corinthians 1:4-7) and opposition (2 Timothy 3:12; John 15:18-21; 16:1-4).  The Christian life is pictured as a battle (Ephesians 6:10-13; 2 Timothy 2:3.4; 1 Timothy 6:12) and an athletic contest (Hebrews 12:1-3; 1 Corinthians  9:24-27; 2 Timothy 2:5).  Now we are able to put these things in perspective because we know what our ultimate goal will be (2 Corinthians 4:17,18; Romans 8:18; Revelation 21:4) and know God is using the trials we go through to make us into the people that God wants us to be (James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3-5; 8:28,29).  As Christians, we have reason to rejoice (John 15:11) in who God is (Philippians 4:4), in our hope of salvation (Romans 5:2; 12:12; Philippians 3:3), in the fact God hears our prayers (John 16:24), and even in our suffering for Christ's sake (Matthew 5:12; Acts 5:41).  But all this, as I said, is a matter of perspective.  To sell Jesus by the Madison Avenue method is to set both you and your converts up for failure.  You may show superficial success, but you will not be doing what God has genuinely called you to do. And you will be in danger of producing disciples like the seed that falls on rocky soil and sprouts up quickly but withers at the first sign of trouble (Mark 4:16,17).

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Things We Think We Know

Many claim to know all the details of the Second Coming of Christ. In the same way many thought they had figured out the First Coming but were clueless when it happened (John 7:25-53; Matthew 2:4-6; John 9:13-34). Even the disciples who followed Jesus seemed to be unclear on what was happening until after the resurrection (Mark 9:10; John 16:29-32; Matthew 16:21-23). Now it is clear from Scripture that Jesus is coming back (Acts 1:10,11; Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 3:3-13). It is also clear that this coming will be blatant and obvious and even the unbelievers will recognize it (Matthew 24:23-31; Revelation 6:15-17; 16:9). This eliminates the idea of a mysterious spiritual coming. But up to the time when it becomes obvious, Scripture makes it clear we will not know the day or the hour (Matthew 24:36-51; Acts 1:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3). (The passage in 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8 does not say believers will not be surprised because we know the time, but because we are always alert.) The point is that until the clear-cut fulfillment of the prophecies, we should always be prepared but will never be certain.

Now we are told of the sign of the man of sin seating himself in the temple (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12; Matthew 24:15; Revelation 11:1,2). This has been interpreted as many different things, from the destruction of the Jewish temple by Titus, to the papacy, to various individuals up to the present day. As it is given as a sign, I would see it as involved in the blatant arrival of the Second Coming, and perhaps we should wait until this occurs before reaching a definite conclusion. (There is also the question of whether the temple is the church or a physical temple in Palestine. I would prefer a physical temple, as there have been so many apostasies in the history of the Christian church it would be difficult to know which one is referred to. Another sign, depending on your theology, may be the creation of the nation of Israel (Romans 11:25-32; Matthew 24:16-21; Revelation 11:8-13). But even if we consider it relevant (and I do), apart from fanciful interpretations it does not indicate a time table. All we can say is that salvation is nearer to us then it was before 1948 (Romans 13:11). As for Matthew 24:1-14, I would take it as warning against regarding every war or disaster or persecution or instance of false teaching as a sign, because these are the beginning of birth-pangs and the end is not yet. There are difficult things here, and while I certainly would not discourage people from studying them (2 Timothy 3:16,17), perhaps this is not something we should be dogmatic about or divide over. For I suspect when it happens we will all be wrong. Including me.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Touch of Humor - The Tithe Talk

Is it wrong for a pastor to speak about giving money to the church? How should such things be handled?

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Voice from the Past - Gregory the Great

But, on the other hand, those who understand indeed aright the words of the Law, but speak them not humbly, are to be admonished, that, in divine discourses, before they put them forth to others, they should examine themselves; lest in following up the deeds of others, they leave themselves behind; and lest, while while thinking rightly of all the rest of Holy Scripture, this only thing they attend not to, what is said in it against the proud. For he is indeed a poor and unskilful physician, who would fain heal another's disease while ignorant of that from which he himself is suffering.

Gregory the Great, 540-604 AD, Pastoral Rule, Part III, Chapter 24 (Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers Volume XII, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, T & T Clark and Eerdmans, 1997, translator Rev. James Barmby, p. 52)

How great a problem is it to be right, but be proud about it? How do we avoid this?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Christian and Economics

What does the Bible say about economics? Should Christians be capitalists, socialists, or something else? Now this may seem like an abstract intellectual question, but it is a practical question that affects our attitude about and use of money. There are two basic principles that are involved in this issue. The Bible teaches a work ethic and business ethic. It says we should be willing to work for a living and be diligent in the work we are given to do (2 Thessalonians 3:10; Proverbs 6:6-11; Colossians 3:23,24). But those in business need to be concerned about how they treat their customers and their employees (Amos 8:4,5; Proverbs 11:1; James 5:1-6, Deuteronomy 24:14,15 ). Now these are principles; I do not think we can absolutely define what constitutes a just wage or a just price from the price of salt or some other commodity. But I also do not think we are allowed to all follow our greed and somehow this will come out right in the end (1 Timothy 6:9,10; Colossians 3:5; Matthew 6:19-24). The issue is not one of greed but of justice. The person who puts in a good day's work deserves to be paid. The person who provides a useful commodity or service deserves to be paid for it. The idea of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" sounds noble, but it cuts through the just connection between effort and reward.

But there is another principle: that we are to help the poor and helpless and those in need (Proverbs 19:17; Luke 14:12-14; Galatians 2:10). This in many ways balances out the first principle; it is mercy to the first one's justice. Now nowhere do we get the idea that if a person is in need, it is necessarily their own fault (John 9:1-4; Job 1,2; Isaiah 53:4-6). And even if they are to blame for their situation, God calls for mercy to those who do not deserve it (Matthew 5:43-48; 9:10-13; Luke 19:10). There is a careful balance here with the first principle, but there must be a balance. Now there is a place for some government provisions to help those in need (Exodus 22:25-27; Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 15:7-14) or at least guarantee they will be treated fairly (Exodus 23:6-8; Leviticus 19:15; Proverbs 14:31). But the main source of help should be from those who give (Psalms 41:1; 1 John 3:17; James 2:15,16). Further, this is to be done willingly and not under compulsion (2 Corinthians 9:5-7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-3; Acts 5:4).

It is easy to try to palm off all the economic issues on government. But it makes a difference if we live and handle money based on justice and mercy or whether we approach it based on greed. This is true whether we are wealthy business people or poor people who are looking to redistribute the wealth of others. Living based purely on self-centeredness is wrong and results in problems, whatever society does.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Confusion on Confrontation

Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues".

I have seen many cases of Christians trying to correct one another.  And it seems to miscarry as often as not. How do we correct a fellow believer? 

The fundamental issue is that our goal should be that of correction and reconciliation; we are to win our brother, not drive them away (Matthew 18:15; Galatians 6:1; Hebrews 12:12,13).  We need to start with direct personal confrontation (Matthew 18:15).  This does not mean to tell someone else or to try to get someone else to talk to them, but to go to them yourself.  There is a reason for this. The goal is to restore the person (the word in Galatians 6:1 is used of setting a broken bone or mending a fishing net) and to restore the relationship.  This may not be possible without explaining where you are coming from and perhaps instructing them in the issues.  You also need to hear their defense; even if you cannot agree with it, you need to show them you have heard it.  Also, if there is reconciliation they need to know you are reconciled and are not still angry with them behind their backs.  None of this can be done through a third party.  Now I do believe there is a place for invoking love covering a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).  But if it is serious enough that it must be dealt with, it should be dealt with properly.

Also, it may be necessary to bring in witnesses, either to attest to their lack of repentance (Matthew 18:16) or to establish the fact of their actions (1 Timothy 5:19).  Now these witnesses need to be two or three (Numbers 35:30) and to be open and public witnesses who can testify to the actual facts of the case.  In the Old Testament the witnesses were to cast the first stones (Deuteronomy 17:7) and, if false, were liable to the punishment they tried to get imposed on the accused (Deuteronomy 19:15-19).  No anonymous or second-hand witnesses should be accepted.

But everything must be done with gentleness (Galatians 6:1; Hebrews 12:12,13).  This does not mean we should ignore or minimize sin (1 Corinthians 5:1,2; 2 Thessalonians 3:6), but we must attempt to turn the sinner back to the right way.  Even if the church is required to take the final step and exercise discipline (Matthew 18:17; 1 Corinthians 5:3-8), it should be done lovingly, with the hope for restoration (2 Thessalonians 3:14,15; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11).  Confronting sin is a difficult task.  It should not be undertaken lightly, but it is also dangerous to ignore, if it is necessary.  We need to trust God to lead us in the right way to handle these situations. We also need to look to ourselves, that we are not drawn down into the errors of the people we are correcting (Galatians 6:1, Jude 22,23). But we must be careful to approach the situation in a Biblical manner if we hope to genuinely restore people.