Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Taking God Seriously: Vital Things We Need to Know, J. I. Packer #2

Packer2This is the second post looking at the book by J. I. Packer, Taking God Seriously: Vital Things We Need to Know.  In chapters 3-5 he urges us to “take seriously Christian unity, repentance, and the church.I am posting from my reading in New Testament theologies and devotionals on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book.

In chapter 3 Packer urges us to take "Christian Unity Seriously." The unity he is talking about is not ecclesiastical, but it is a unity built on the truth of scripture and the shared indwelling of Christ through the Spirit. It is the one faith, one hope, one baptism, one body expression of the church. The universal church is made up of many local bodies who all share the same LORD and thus the same mission. This should be expressed in shared ministry, mutual help, inter-church fellowship and an open communion table. We do not compromise the truth for unity, but we do recognize that no Christian denomination has the truth perfectly, and we listen to one another. Jesus said the mark of the church is unity expressed through love. We do need to take this more seriously.

This, then, is the Christian unity—unity, that is, of Christians—for which Jesus prayed: a common loyalty to him first and foremost, expressed in clearheaded adherence to his teaching, wholehearted appreciation of his gift of eternal life, holy love as a style of living, and a primary commitment to the missional task of spreading the gospel worldwide. 55

Christian love is unconditional in the sense of accepting, respecting, and showing goodwill to people just as they are, but it is not unconcerned or undiscerning about being beneficent as distinct from merely indulgent. True Christian love holds to Christian standards all the way. 63

Christian unity starts with the authority of Scripture and the truth about Jesus Christ, as the Bible teaches it and as the Patristic creeds and Reformation confessions, echoing Scripture, define it; that the reimagining of God and the gospel by today’s revisionists shatters that unity; and that only a reembracing of biblical doctrine as transcultural truth and of biblical behavior standards as abidingly authoritative will restore it. 67

In chapter 4, Taking Repentance Seriously, Packer decries the lack of emphasis on repentance in the modern church. We have deemphasized sin and holiness in our preaching and teaching and thus, see no urgent need for personal and corporate repentance. He urges that we get back into the internal battle with sin with regular, personal, Spirit-led self-examination and specific, daily repentance. He sees Jesus speaking through Revelation 2-3 to the modern church to turn away from its acquiescence to the standards of the pagan world and really follow and imitate Christ as we meet Him in the Gospels.

Repentance, in the broadest sense, signifies that change of mind, purpose, attitude, and behavior whereby we embrace God’s agenda of mercy toward us and turn back from the old life of fighting God by playing God to live the new life of humbly and thankfully serving him. Repentance is thus a whole-person business in which a pattern of self-centered self-service is replaced by a God-centered habit of seeking others’ welfare, and pride and willfulness give way to prayer and worship. 74

Countermeasures must take the form of thought, prayer, meditating on the Scriptures, keeping close and becoming transparent to fellow-believers, and making a point of repenting—formally, frankly, and fully, in an explicit transaction with God—the moment we realize that we have in any way gone wrong. 79

So begin your repenting with your mind, practice intellectual repentance for uncritically accepting fashionable intellectual folly, confess the mental mistakes that you picked up from the pagan world around you and forsake them; and follow me into renewed faithfulness to the true truth of God. 85

In chapter 5, Taking the Church Seriously, Packer sees the church as a gift of God's grace in which God saves individuals and binds them together into a unified whole. This is pictured as a temple (the dwelling place of God, in the people, not a building), the body of Christ (a diverse, but unified, entity that carries out the mission of Jesus) and the bride (the object of Jesus' love and care). It is one (unified), holy (consecrated to worship in word and action), catholic (has a global presence and mission), and apostolic (holds to the foundation of the apostle's teaching). It is a global entity with local outposts.

When we become Christians, we are not alone and must never think of ourselves as being alone. We are saved individually, one by one, but not for a life of solitary and still self-centered individualism. None of us is the only pebble on God’s beach! On the contrary, we have been brought into a new solidarity: that of being, first, adopted children in the Father’s family and, then, linked units in God’s new creation through union with the risen Christ by the Holy Spirit. This new creation is the reality that is called the church. 89

The local church is called to be a miniature presentation of what the universal church is called to be. It is to be an outcrop, microcosm, sample, and specimen of the larger reality. It must see itself that way and act accordingly. Each local congregation must understand itself as a subset of the one global fellowship, a small-scale embodiment of that fellowship’s life for all to see. 93

The local church is a group of believers who band together to meet on a regular basis and do all the things that, according to the New Testament, the church does—praise and pray together, maintain ministry of the Word and sacraments, practice pastoral care and pastoral discipline toward each other, give and help where there is need, and reach out with the gospel to the neighborhood and beyond. Packer, 93–94

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