I am reading Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ and came across a good quote. The authors, Beeke and Smalley are interacting with whether Calvin believed in what some call a “pre-conversion” where the sinner is prepared to trust in Christ through an awareness of his sinfulness. I will lay that point aside for now but may pick it up again some other day.
However, in that discussion the nature of repentance came up. To repent simply means to change one’s mind but too often that is over-simplified in the preaching of the gospel. Calvin preferred to define it as, “the true turning of our life to God, a turning that arises from a pure and earnest fear of him; and it consists of the mortification [a putting to death] of our flesh [the sin within us] and of the old man [the unredeemed nature], and in the vivification [the making alive] of the Spirit” (from Calvin, Institutes, 3.3.5, p. 32 of the book).
I like this definition because it captures the essence of what happens when the Spirit of God works in a sinner so as to cause them to turn from their sin and to the living God (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:9). A true repentance is not a halfway repentance. It is one where you are done bartering with God, trying to negotiate the terms of surrender. Because of the Spirit of God working in you there is the clear recognition that Jesus is Lord and that you having nothing that you bring to the table. You turn to Him and that necessitates that you turn from the countless idols from which you were pursuing.
The subject of fellowship and church attendance is something that comes around regularly in my world as a pastor. It shows itself in a multitude of ways.
The most obvious is the person who stays at home listening to church on the radio or on a CD. They claim that Jesus is with them and that they are able to worship anywhere and anytime. They know almost no one at a church but they find it easy to render judgments regarding news they hear about one church or another. They are usually perceived (often by themselves) as very biblical and knowledgeable.
Then there is the not so obvious type. The person who loves some sort of activity but finds that it is easiest to do on a Sunday. That can be fishing, softball, camping, or just bird watching. They have five weeks of vacation and choose to use it in a way that stretches out weekends to three or four days to allow maximum resting time. So come summer (at least here in Wisconsin) you may see them but once or twice. Add to this the simple realities of humanity and they get sick or sent on business at times they are lucky to be at their church much more than half the Sundays.
Then there is the person who simply finds that gathering with the church is optional. By this I mean, as Sunday approaches they see if there are other options available as well. Perhaps there is a singer at some fair that they love to hear. Or maybe Grandma is having a birthday party on Sunday. The Brewers are in a pennant race and this is a key game (yeah, right). Or someone gave them tickets to a Packers game, and you don’t just throw those away! Finally, it might be that you stayed out too late on Saturday and now you are just too tired. And since church is optional, you roll over and go to sleep after first affirming you will read the text of the sermon or listen to it later online.
There are others, but this is sufficient for my post. The bible is clear that we are part of the Body of Christ as Christians. Each of us is uniquely gifted for the good of the Church and none of us can separate from the Body with harm to us and the rest of the believers. You ask for a passage? I give you the entire New Testament, especially the epistles. Want a specific book? I give you 1 Corinthians. You want a specific verse, tough. If you think you know the bible so well that you know Jesus doesn’t care what you do when His Body gathers, then you show me your verses first (Here I am acting a bit like James in 2:14ff).
All of this is to introduce a nice little post by David Murray on why the Puritans (champions of private study and devotions) valued the corporate gathering over the private devotion. Give it a read, it is shorter than this post.
I really do. And I think the following quote from the blog he contributes to will make my point:
Before my video interview with Dr. Packer last May, the two of us sat in a room at Regent discussing one of the passions which we both share – no, not bashing chinless upper class English schoolboys but rather our appreciation of the English Puritans – in relation to recent and contemporary evangelical history.
“Satan promises the best, but pays with the worst; he promises honour, and pays with disgrace; he promises pleasure, and pays with pain; he promises profit, and pays with loss; he promises life, and pays with death. But God pays as he promises; all his payments are made in pure gold.