Saturday, 15 November 2008

Synergy and Prevenient Grace

This title might prove the proverbial 'red rag to a bull'. The word 'synergy' is used often in contrast to 'monergy' in discussions relating to the general Calvinist positions. Monergy means 'only one works' and for the Calvinist this is God. Synergy means 'co-working' and points to the 'less than Calvinist' notion that God requires human co-operation in the work of salvation. Let me say at the outset that as regards these things and the doctrine of 'prevenient grace' I am a five-point Wesleyan!

John Wesley taught four areas of grace; prevenient, convicting, justifying and sanctifying. It was his, and my, conviction that the whole process 'starts' with God. Prevenient grace is the grace that prepares us for the greater grace which is on its way. It is the old English use of the word 'prevent' which originally meant to 'precede'. There is, taught Wesely, incremental grace which enables the receiver to respond to God's offer of greater grace. To my way of thinking the teaching gives appropriate balance to the sovereign workings of God and human accountability.

How did we get onto this topic? Well, I am reading the chapters in Exodus which record the instructions for the building of the Tabernacle. The overall responsibility is given to Moses as the mediator of the Covenant. Moses must build the Tabernacle as Christ would later build His church.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 2 See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: 3 And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, 4 To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, 5 And in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship. 6 And I, behold, I have given with him Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan: and in the hearts of all that are wise hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded thee; Ex 31:1-6 KJVS
It was the last phrase that caught my attention, "I have put... that they may make all that I have commanded." Bezaleel and Aholiab were supernaturally endowed, not naturally talented. They were 'enabled' to do the will of God and then commanded to do it. That's as good an illustration of synergy and prevenient grace as I know. God empowered them to do his will, but their "responsibility" was to 'respond to his abilty and enabling'. As Paul wrote so many centuries later... out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Phil 2:12-13 NKJV
God holds us responsible for for working out what He has placed within... synergy. Both the desire and the dynamic are God's work, the doing is ours.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

The Residency

The gift of the priesthood was really the maintenance element of the covenant. A single sin would have brought the whole thing to an end but for God's provision of the priesthood and the tabernacle. The priesthood and its sacrifices made forgiveness and reconciliation possible and made it morally possible for God to remain in the midst of his people. In the section on the daily burnt offerings we have this astonishing promise...
This shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet you to speak with you. 43 And there I will meet with the children of Israel, and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by My glory. 44 So I will consecrate the tabernacle of meeting and the altar. I will also consecrate both Aaron and his sons to minister to Me as priests. 45 I will dwell among the children of Israel and will be their God. 46 And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them up out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them. I am the LORD their God. Ex 29:42-46 NKJV

In concludes with a wonderful statement of God's purpose in bringing the people of Israel out of Egypt. Apparently it was so that He might be able to 'dwell among them'. This is an important focus. So often we focus on the phrase 'brought them out that he might bring them in'. There is truth in the statement although it needs another step in it; 'he brought them out to bring them to himself and then bring them in..' This concluding sentence of Exodus 29 is the key truth; I am the LORD their God, who brought them up out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.

We have grown used to the idea now but the concept of a God who dwelled in the midst of his people was a revolutionary notion. When Moses had sprinkled the blood of the burnt offerings on the altar and the book and the people God revealed His intention; And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. Ex 25:8 NKJV The word 'dwell' is the root word from which we get one of the Hebrew words for 'tabernacle'; mishkan - a dwelling place, a residency. This is what the Tabernacle was created for. Its outward form was first a tent and later a temple but the inward concept was always of a dwelling place for God.

John's gospel has this picture in mind when it speaks of the incarnation; And the Word became flesh, and did tabernacle among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of an only begotten of a father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 Youngs Literal. The Old Testament shadow had made this much plain that God would only indwell a sanctuary; a holy place. In the person of Jesus of Nazareth we find the reality of which Exodus was only a shadow; God was resident on earth in the person of Jesus.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Preparations for the Revival Conference at Greenock

scotland_115x200.jpgGreg Gordon, Gareth Evans and Eli Brayley stayed in Reading overnight. They are 'touring' the UK and en route to the European Revival Conference to be held at Greenock later this month; Revival Conference. Greenock 25th-28th November Plans are now well advanced and over 1000 people have registered their intention to attend. In many hearts expectations are high that God will use the time spent together significantly. I am scheduled to take a 'break-out' session and may be involved in the question and answer session. You can see some of the sessions streamed on the internet. Unlike the American Conference these times should suit UK and European folks better.

The speakers will be from various backgrounds and will all attend without fee or traveling expenses. I mention this because I think it is a good indication of the stirring of God's Spirit in this willingness of busy men to set aside this time at their own cost to share their heart's burden for revival.

I have been thinking much about the Conference in these days and spending time in 'orientation' before the Lord. The question that I return to again and again is 'just what are we asking for and what are we expecting?' The word 'revival' is used in so many different ways that it is easy to talk 'past one another' and fail to communicate altogether. There is a scattering of 'definitions of revival' around the Sermonindex forums, all with their unique focus.

For myself the Conference is coinciding with a time when I am 'fizzing' with the wonder of the New Covenant. 'Fizzing?' well, in Psalm 45 the Psalmist declares:
My heart is overflowing with a good theme; I recite my composition concerning the King; My tongue is the pen of a ready writer. Psa 45:1 NKJV
The Psalmist is describing conscious revelation. Surely this is the way we must always preach/prophesy. The bubbling heart must speak concerning what it sees of the king but the speaker is aware that his 'tongue' is in the hand of the Author. This will be my prayer above all others at this time; that each speaker will 'overflow' with their theme and be conscious of a heavenly guidance in their utterances. Please do pray for us all.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

The Covenant

I have just returned from a weekend in France where I shared in a small day-conference. My topic was the Covenant. I love this topic. Not 'covenant' in the way that the Reformed theologian understands it but just the way in which God has revealed the nature of his covenant with men and women. Isaac Watts said that you could join all the names of Christ together and they would still come short of expressing his glory. This is true of salvation too. It is expressed in terms of eating and drinking, baptisms, priesthood, justification, sonship, freedom from slavery and many another; one of those 'others' is Covenant. It seems to me that it has not received its due attention as a metaphor of salvation.

Covenant points towards relationship and of a relationship that has a specific beginning. There can be no 'covenant' without a beginning, but beginnings have no guarantee of permanency unless there is a 'covenant'. In that the whole story of the Bible is about relationships, the way that they are created, broken and restored, it is a wonderful topic for consideration.

The earliest hints at covenant are in the account of Eve's beginnings. When Adam views his gift from God he declares
And Adam said: “This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” Gen 2:23 NKJV
The sense of this can be seen may following the idea through other parts of the scripture. Laban describes his relationship with Jacob in similar language:
And Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh.” And he stayed with him for a month. Gen 29:14 NKJV
It is Laban's way of saying we belong to each other; we are family. It brings into existence what the lawyers would call a 'legal entity'. The closest links are those of family and Laban is declaring that he and Jacob 'belong to each other'.

We see it used again at the time that the whole 'united kingdom' of Israel acknowledged David as king;Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and spoke, saying,
“Indeed we are your bone and your flesh. 2 Also, in time past, when Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel out and brought them in; and the LORD said to you, “You shall shepherd My people Israel, and be ruler over Israel.’ ” 2Sam 5:1-2 NKJV
David and the people were united in solemn covenant, inseparably. Consider then what Christ had in mind when at the Last Supper...
In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 1Cor 11:25 NKJV
He was laying the foundation for a completely different kind of 'relationship', one unlike the covenant that Moses had facilitated... we would do well to consider 'the New Covenant' lest we should miss any of its blessings or obligations.