Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Ridiculous Things”

“Ridiculous Things”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
“I can’t believe I just heard that!”, a refrain that we used to hear more often. Lately, I find myself thinking it, but remaining silent. I thought that I would take some time and reflect on, what I call, “Ridiculous Things.”

A recent one, “In order to heal our nation, we must take down “offensive monuments.’” The assumption is that historical monuments cause people to have evil thoughts and subsequent actions. As a Christian, I understand that men are not basically good. The Fall of Adam, recorded in Genesis 3 is inherited by every human being born of a man and a woman. As a result, all men are born dead in sin. The surprising thing, surprising is used sarcastically, is that men are not more evil than we experience. It is only by God’s grace that He puts bounds around evil behavior. Monuments don’t cause men to be evil. Men do evil things because they are evil. We all sin because we are sinners.

Continuing to think about recent ridiculous things, I heard (I paraphrase) “Let’s form a special investigation group to find something illegal!” All along, I’ve been under the mistaken idea that we live in a land where one is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Yet, there is currently a so-called special prosecutor whose sole purpose is to find something illegal in the absence of any known crime. This approach is evidently only used for those who are members of the Republican Party. I find this exercise reminiscent of the statement, “We’re from the government and we’re here to help you.” I might be naïve, but I have always thought that the best thing for government to do to help law-abiding citizens is to “get out of the way.” I foolishly believe in our founding principle, that government is by the people and for the people. More often it seems that citizens are here to serve the government.

One final politically incorrect assessment of a culturally damaging philosophy, “Multi-culturalism is good.” The first time I heard a leader promoting the goodness of multi-culturalism, I thought he was right. Upon further reflection, in my view, our current application of multi-culturalism is erasing American Culture. I’m not some bigot, xenophobe, or minority hater. My heritage is important to me. I am a descendant of Italian immigrant and Polish immigrant grandparents. Yet, I remember best my paternal grandfather always emphasizing his American citizenship. My grandparents, fluent in Italian mainly spoke English. We seem to be losing our sense of what it means to be American, without any additional adjectival specificity.

There is a religious statement that I believe has been and continues to be destructive to the visible church. “Protestants need to heal the rift with Rome because Jesus wants us to be unified.” The Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century recovered vital biblical doctrine that Rome had hidden in mystery. The truth of salvation was jeopardized. Diminishing Reformed Doctrine is damaging to the health of the church and removes the hope that our sovereign God has given to His people. The so-called “rift” between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism is as deep and broad as it was in the 16th Century. The doctrine of justification by faith alone is the essence of the gospel. God must declare a sinner right with Him because sinners can do nothing to gain His favor. We depend upon the sovereign grace of God to be able to “see the Kingdom” John 3:3. This is not an issue that can be resolved. Protestant theology is diametrically opposed to Roman Catholicism at the point of justification. We either receive the Bible’s teaching that justification is an act of God’s free grace by which He imputes the perfect righteousness of Christ through faith alone or we believe Rome’s teaching that justification is an infused work combined of good deeds and God’s grace. There can be no compromise on this issue!

My purpose in writing this article is not to belittle people. It is to cause men and women to think critically about what they hear. Certainly, I would advocate viewing everything that you not only hear, but also experience in light of the word of God. To do that, you must be a student of the Bible. To be a student of the Bible you must be engaged in a local church committed to teach the Bible. Commit yourself to the study and application of God’s word!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The Reformation is Not Over!”

“The Reformation is Not Over!”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
October 31, 1517 was a day that God used to change the church! An Augustinian monk named Martin Luther nailed 95 theses on the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The Pope had sent a cleric to Germany to raise money for building St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The cleric’s name was Johann Tetzel. His message was summarized by the saying, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings the soul from Purgatory springs.”

Martin Luther was outraged by Rome’s hubris in usurping God’s authority revealed in the Bible!

God caused Luther to see that the gospel revealed the perfect righteousness of God imputed to a sinner. God does so only by faith alone, Romans 1:17 and 3:28. The Latin term is Sola Fides which means by Faith Alone. Luther reportedly said that when he understood the doctrine of Sola Fides it was as if the gates of Paradise opened and he walked through.

In addition, four more biblical doctrines were recovered from the Scriptures. They are: Sola Gratia, by Grace Alone; Solus Christus, by Christ Alone; Sola Scriptura, by Scripture Alone and Soli Deo Gloria, to God Alone be Glory. The Five Solas reflect God’s plan of redemption. They had been taught by the church until the Middle Ages. The Reformers recovered these doctrines and taught them as the “faith that was once for all delivered to the saints”, Jude 3.

The second Sola, Sola Gratia, means by grace alone. The Bible teaches that salvation is by God’s grace alone. All men are sinners, born dead in sin. We have inherited the sin nature of Adam. Genesis 6:5 and Romans 3:10-18 are two passages that teach man’s total bondage to sin. Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus makes this fact clear. Salvation is by grace through faith, Ephesians 2:8. Even the faith that Christians profess is a gift of God’s grace. Salvation from start to finish is solely by God’s grace.

The Protestant Reformers were not coming up with new or novel ideas. They were not offering an alternate perspective on salvation but were declaring and teaching the plain truth of God’s word. The Reformation was a providential blessing from God through which the church recovered the truth which the magisterial church had hidden.

Yet there was a main issue that concerned the great Reformers. It was authority. The Latin phrases Solus Christus and Sola Scriptura which mean respectively, by Christ Alone and by Scripture Alone, emphasize the rightful source of authority. The Reformers asked the Scriptures, “Who has supreme authority the church or God?” Of course, we would all say that God has supreme authority. The Bible reveals that God is absolutely sovereign. The Bible also reveals that Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth, Matthew 28:18. But the Reformers saw that the Church was usurping authority that belonged to God.

To state the issue of authority clearly, Christ is the King and Head of His Church. He exercises His Kingship and Lordship through His word, the Bible. The Bible is the ultimate authority of all life and salvation.

Of course, there are many authorities over all of us. God established the church, civil government and the family. All derive their authority from God’s word. His word, the Bible is the ultimate Authority and Christ is the Supreme King and Ruler. Men possess a granted authority. When men usurp God’s authority, it is invalid.

The four Solas described above reveal God’s means of redemption. Men are saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone as God has revealed it by Scripture alone. The fifth Sola describes God’s purpose for redemption. Soli Deo Gloria, to God alone be glory. God’s own glory is His purpose. Everything is ordained by God for His glory. Isaiah 42:8, “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” And, Romans 11:36, “for from Him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Life is not about us; it is all for God!

Now, we are faced with so-called evangelical leaders who teach that the Church must “get over” the Reformation. This smells like smoke and is from the pit of hell. The Reformation started by God through the Reformers was intended to continue until Christ returns. The Church must be always reforming herself in accordance with the word of God!

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “It’s a Matter of Interpretation”

“It’s a Matter of Interpretation”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

The Bible is the breathed-out word of God. God has revealed what He wants us to know about Him and His plan of redemption. God has told us that all men are creatures. He is the Creator. The Bible reveals His Only Son, Jesus, through whom we know God personally. This unique and precious book is a collection of 66 books. Men whom the Spirit of God carried along wrote it. It contains everything necessary for life and salvation. God has preserved what we have today.

God gave us the Bible because He is a God of revelation. He desires that we understand what He has said. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the Bible is understandable. Many are lost when it comes to interpreting the Bible. One would think that God’s book would have specific interpretations. But, Christians are faced with a myriad of interpretations. We are faced with choices. Who has the “right” interpretation? Whom should we follow? What is “right” doctrine? If we look at this issue of biblical interpretation logically, we must conclude that all interpretations cannot be right. When there are contradicting views of the Bible, one or both may be wrong. One thing for certain is they all can’t be right. There is only one right interpretation of a passage of Scripture. For difficult passages, we may never arrive at the right interpretation this side of heaven.

Don’t lose heart. The entire Bible does not fall into the category of “difficult”. Most biblical doctrine is clear. For example, the doctrine of salvation is one such clear doctrine. God has revealed that men are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

How then do we know what God has said? As stated above, some might believe that it’s a matter of interpretation. They’d be right. It is a matter of interpretation, right interpretation, 2Timothy 2:15.

The answer is hermeneutics, interpretation. There are two principles by which we can interpret Scripture. The first is called the biblical principle. The second is called the literal principle. The biblical principle is also called the analogy of faith. The Protestant Reformers recovered this principle of interpretation. They understood that the Bible interprets itself. This means the clear passages of Scripture shed light upon the more obscure ones. It is also understood that one place of Scripture must not be placed against another. In other words, there are no contradictions in the Bible. There may be apparent contradictions, but once studied we find that the Bible is consistent with itself, because God does not speak with a “forked” tongue.

The second principle, the literal one, is also called the historical/grammatical principle of interpretation. You may have heard the saying that, “Text without context is pretext.” The words of Scripture find their meaning within the broader context of the passage. For example, because of the difficulty in understanding Hebrews 6:4, it would not be accurate to base a theology on the possibility of losing one’s salvation! Keeping that verse within its context makes it clear that the writer is speaking of one who may profess faith, but does not possess genuine saving faith. In other words, the writer was speaking of those who are called apostates.

Further, to interpret literally means to understand that which is plainly meant. It is how we read and understand any literature. Therefore, in interpreting the Bible: grammar, meaning of words, context, time in which it was written, etc. are involved in understanding the meaning. It is important to remember that the literal interpretation of the Bible is not the same as a literalistic interpretation. For example, we know that when the prophet Isaiah wrote that the “trees of the field shall clap their hands” he didn’t mean that trees have hands. God was describing the joy of all Creation when His plan of redemption is finally consummated. Or, when Jesus said that He was the “door of the sheep”, He did not mean that He looked like a door! John 10 was declaring that Jesus is the only way for His people to have safety and security.

Finally, the Bible is the only rule of faith and practice that God has given to His people. He means for us to understand it. I encourage you to apply these principles of interpretation so that your life will be lived for His glory and your blessing.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “The Basics of Faith in Christ”

“The Basics of Faith in Christ”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

Biblical Faith has three parts. They are: knowledge, assent and trust. My focus in this article is the first, knowledge. Simply stated, having faith assumes a certain body of information about the object. The object of our faith is God who has revealed Himself fully in the Person and Work of Christ.

I am a Presbyterian by conviction. I have brothers and sisters in Christ who belong to many different Christian Denominations. When we push aside our denominational differences, we all affirm several basic truths revealed by God concerning our common faith in Jesus Christ.

Theologians and pastors of the early twentieth century called these basic truths the fundamentals of the Christian Faith. These men were given the name, Fundamentalists. They sought to list what every Christian throughout the ages affirmed to be true about God’s plan of redemption. They arrived at five basic truths. History recorded these truths as the Five Fundamentals of the Christian Faith. They are:
1. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are inerrant;
2. Jesus was born of a virgin;
3. The atonement of Christ was full, penal and substitutionary;
4. Jesus’ resurrection was a bodily resurrection;
5. The miracles recorded in Scripture were authentic.
The first is the basis of the other four. The inerrancy of Scripture means that the Bible is without error. It does not refer to translations of the Bible but to the original autographs. Now, if you have been reading and studying the Bible for any length of time, I’m sure you’re aware that we do not possess any original autographs of Scripture. But, we do have thousands of New Testament manuscripts, the blessing of the oral tradition of the Ancient Hebrew people (the Masoretic text), the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, circa 250 B.C.)

Using textual criticism, the original can be reconstructed. For example, nearly all of our English translations are based on the work of the textual critics. The end result is that you can be assured that when you open your Bible, if it is a translation rather than a paraphrase, and read it you are reading the truth of God. Textual Criticism increases the accuracy of the Bible!

Second, the virgin birth was challenged during the period known as the Enlightenment. The fact of Jesus’ birth was challenged because, they said, it’s naturally impossible. But, that’s exactly the point! Jesus was born outside of the natural course. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and Mary. If you look at Genesis 3:15, you’ll notice that it was the “seed” of the woman who would bruise or crush Satan’s head. The Messiah was born without sin because He was born out of the natural course. Jesus was the sinless and perfect sacrifice. Without the virgin birth, we’re all still dead in our sins! The Apostle Paul wrote, “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2Corinthians 5:21

Third, the atonement of Christ was substitutionary. He took our place. It was penal. He was punished for sin. Jesus bore the full wrath of God. It was full and complete. There is no other sacrifice for sin. The Apostle John wrote that Jesus is the propitiation for “our” sins and not for “ours” only by for the sins of the whole world, 1John 2:2 Jesus’ last words were “It is finished”, John 19:30.

Fourth, a man got out of the grave! The body that was buried was the body raised in glory. The Bible says that if Christ was not raised, our faith is in vain and we are the most to be pitied, 1Corinthians 15:12-19.

Fifth and finally, miracles are supernatural events. Only God can break into His Created world and ordain a miracle. The miracles recorded in Exodus, of Joshua, of Elijah, of Jesus and Apostles were factual occurrences.

Jude, the half-brother of Jesus said,” Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints,” Jude 3. The fact of the matter is; we don’t as Christians make up our faith. We believe in a faith that has been revealed by God and given in His word written, the Bible.

The Five Fundamentals of the Christian Faith are the basics of the Apostolic Faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “We all do what we want; that’s the problem”

“We all do what we want; that’s the problem!”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
How time flies when you’re having fun! It’s been more than three years since I wrote concerning Man’s Will and I believe that many continue to struggle with the question. Generally, Christians and non-Christians answer the “Free Will” question in the same way, “Of course men have free will!”

Yet, the wrong question is being answered. Surely, the Bible teaches that we all do what we want to do, CF: Judges 21:25; Romans 1:18-32.

The problem is with the word “want.” Our wants are our desires. So, the right question is, “What do we want or desire to do?”

Since everyone has an opinion on this matter. But, only one opinion counts, God’s opinion and we’re not seeking to vote on the question. We must go to the only reliable source, the inerrant and infallible word of God.

To eliminate the wrong question, “Do we have free will?” go to the concordance of your Bible and look for the words “free” and “will” used together in the same sentence. You will discover that those two words don’t appear together. The closest occurrence is Genesis 2:16-17. God told the first man, Adam, “You may surely (or freely) eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat…” Adam was free to obey or disobey God.

We know what happened. Adam and the woman, later named Eve, freely chose to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree. At the end of Chapter three of Genesis, we read that God “placed the cherubim (mighty angels) and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” God insured that no man would be able to eat of the tree of life and live forever, Genesis 3:22-24.

We next look at God’s destruction of the earth by the universal flood before which He surveyed all mankind and made this clear declaration. God said, “Every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually, “Genesis 6:5. Further, the prophet Jeremiah spoke for God and said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” The New Testament is consistent. Men have not changed. The Apostle Paul wrote, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” Romans 3:10

God’s view of man’s will is it is in bondage; it is not unencumbered. But we will do what we desire (or want). One of the greatest, possibly the greatest American Theologian, Jonathan Edwards wrote a book entitled, “The Freedom of the Will.” The basic premise of his book is that men do whatever they want to do. The problem is that before God regenerates a man or woman, the only desire present is sin, evil!

The reality revealed by the word of God is, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us … while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son…” Romans 5:8, 10. Man’s will is in bondage to sin! Until God changes us, we desire evil!

I firmly believe that this fundamental teaching from God’s word is essential in knowing the majesty of God’s grace which He extends to those whom He chooses.

So, what are we to make of the right question? What does the unregenerate or natural man desire? Even in a purely physical sense, we are limited. No one can honestly claim that he can do whatever he wants. All of us have certain restrictions placed upon us. Next time, may God forbid, that you’re pulled over for driving above the speed limit, try telling the officer that you are free to do whatever you want, because the speed limit doesn’t apply to you. You may insist that you are free to do whatever you want while the police officer continues to write you a ticket. This is even more significant in our spiritual life.

The fact is unless God’s sovereign will overwhelms your human will, you will remain dead in your sins. But, God is rich in mercy; He has chosen some to be His own possession and He gives them the desire for Him. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation…” 2Corinthians 5:17 New creations have new desires, supremely the desire for Him. So then, “Do you desire Him?”

Pastor’s Viewpoints, “Saved by God From God!”

“Saved by God from God!”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
The Apostles Peter and John stood before the religious rulers of Israel in Jerusalem. They were called before these leaders because many people were being saved by God’s grace through the preaching of the word in concert with the Holy Spirit. The Jewish leaders wanted to know by what power or name the Apostles were speaking.

With great courage and boldness, Peter and John told the leaders that they were preaching by the name of Jesus who was crucified by the insistence of these leaders. The Apostles continued speaking and made this declaration. “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:11-12

Notice the word “must” used by Luke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is commanded by God! There is no other name but the name of Jesus as He is offered in the gospel. Receiving the gospel is commanded. The gospel is not optional. The gospel is central not because of some idea of sentimentalism but because it is God’s command issued to all men to escape God’s wrath.

We know that the Bible teaches that salvation is to be saved by God from God. That is, we are delivered from the wrath of God by the sovereign act of God. In saving men and women God does not simply excuse sin. Sin had to be paid for. The only means of payment was the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

The weight of the Apostles’ declaration is beyond what men can bear. The weight is the full wrath of God. Those who disobey God’s command to believe in the gospel will indeed experience the horror of God’s wrath for their sin.

Another aspect of the command to believe in the gospel is that God is not wringing His hands in heaven hoping that men will believe in His gospel. No! Those for whom Jesus died will obey His command. The payment for sin was actually and really made on Calvary. Jesus’ payment for sin was not dependent upon men accepting it. Jesus died for specific people. He died for those whom God chose before the world began, Ephesians 1:4.

So central is the gospel of God that Jesus began His public ministry with these words, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:15

The Apostle Paul in writing to believers declared that the gospel is the power of God for salvation, Romans 1:16. He also told the believers in Corinth that those who were being saved stood in the gospel, 1Corinthians 15:1.

Obeying God’s command to believe in the gospel is not only a guarantee of heaven. Salvation is deliverance. When God breaks into a man’s life, He frees him from the bondage of sin. Those in Christ are set free to love God! Salvation begins when God declares a sinner right with Him. It continues throughout life and is consummated in glory. All of what God has done for us is in and through the gospel.

Jesus’ command was very specific. It centered on God’s rule and the gospel. Christians believe in the gospel. Why? The answer is simple and clear. “The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” Romans 1:16b. The gospel is the only means God has given for men and women to know Christ and have eternal life.

The good news, the gospel is: Christ died for the sins of His people, He was buried and He was raised from the dead all in accordance with the Scriptures, 1Corinthians 15:3-4. This is good news because we all deserve to go to hell. But, God who is “rich in mercy”, Ephesians 2:4, chose some for heaven. God’s power is revealed in the gospel. It causes men and women to rely upon the perfect righteousness of Christ. The Christian’s reliance upon Christ is by the power of the Holy Spirit. The gospel is good news because God applies it to those whom He has chosen. The gospel is God’s power to save! Have you obeyed God’s command?