Tuesday, December 25, 2007
But even if unbelievers can mechanically explain the Incarnation, the proper understanding of it and the implications thereof completely elude them. Like watching a play without a background and underlying plot, many unbelievers observe the nativity with a vague sense of something missing. "What's the big deal?" they ask.
Unfortunately, this question is asked because the message of Christmas is disappearing--not only due to the obvious chaos of narcissistic materialism, but also because of the increasing silence of the Church herself. To the extent that the proper background of the Incarnation is poorly explained, grasped or believed by the American Evangelical church, to that extent she is silent and unhelpful. She becomes a mime, acting out a story without a context.
And what is that context? Sin.
Not only was the Coming of the God-man a marvelous act of a Sovereign King dwelling among infinitely lesser beings, it was more. It was the merciful and forgiving act of a maligned Judge. A Judge and Ruler who was given no grounds for mercy. A Judge, Ruler and Avenger who did,
would and will cast the final sentence against unbelieving rebellion: eternal damnation.
This is not a popular message. Unbelief would rather watch the miming of the church than hear the thundering of the Law. It would embrace the psuedo-gospel of "God-loves-everyone-hoping-to-send-them-all-to- heaven" instead of hearing that God actually intends on sending insurgents to their rightful
Yet, this other side of Christmas is crucial. And it makes sense. Human judges will dispense justice according to the rule of law. How much more will the Great All-Seeing Judge of the Universe dispense justice? And so, Adam was judged, as were all mankind, you and me included. But that is not what unbelievers want to hear during this season of joy.
However, it is exactly what they need to hear. And it is what we need to hear as well. The Incarnation is intelligible only in a Christian framework that takes sin seriously and rebellion as deserving of death. There was nothing in mankind to bring amnesty from God the judge. There was everything in mankind to repel Him. This is the reason why the coming of the Son of God is amazing: we deserved eternal damnation instead of life.
With the truth of the other side of Christmas, the Church can stop miming and start singing aloud with joy the clear message of why the Messiah became a man. And then the world will know what the "big deal" is all about.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
These toys simply represented a relaxation time in which my imagination could be utilized for things other than short story essays in my fifth-grade class. Yet, it also represented a value-system that accepted military might and lauded military prowess. It capitalized on such moral virtues as bravery, shrewdness, and perseverance. Within a pagan culture, these virtues are ends in themselves, without reference to God or His Law. Thus, they are the roots of militarism and a military state.
Within a Christian context these virtues are not ends in themselves but attributes defined by the Law of God. Within this context, these toys, specifically, the virtues they highlighted, were used for God’s glory because they reinforced God’s Word. The Bible lauds such character traits as bravery, shrewdness and perseverance—remember Christ exhorted the disciples to be as cunning as serpents. However, God does not smile upon the use of stupid bravery, sinful cunning, and prideful perseverance. So, already, one sees how a toy reflects a culture behind it and thus a gospel. For cultures are religions externalized.
Now, what can one make of the new Jesus Christ action figure? (Yes, you read that correctly!)
For starters, is one even allowed to make action figures of Christ? At least, that is the first question our Puritan forefathers would have asked. Remember those men we easily laud as great founders of America—we’d like to have their moral superiority but not their morals. And one of their morals was the Second Commandment: not to make any image of God. Christ is God. Therefore, no image of Christ is allowed.
Secondly, one could write a plethora of pages on the obvious religious-cultural implication involved in a Jesus “action-figure” (I hate even writing that word). We create gods in our own image…need I say more!?
This so-called god of modern commercialism readily fits into the Humanistic god of Americana: he is pliable to the whims of his creator. As the child manipulates the figurine into “action poses” (like dying on the cross?), he merely mimics the theology of his nurturing: a passive god who tries to appease the desires of mankind. Whether this obvious critique maps to the Christmas demigod, Santa, or to the god of the average Christian in America, it does not matter. The metaphor is powerful and ripe, ready to for any energetic pastor to pick and throw at the nearest lackadaisical Christian’s heart.
My toys imbibed on action and heroism. This toy imbibes on pure paganism: man’s sovereignty over God. Instead of imbibing this refuse, try giving your children something more uplifting, like a G.I. Joe or a Book…with Exodus 20:4 earmarked.
Providence Points e-Newsletter
Sunday, December 16, 2007
After, providentially, finding a blog through Christianity Today, I nearly dropped my computer. The posting outlined an amazing event at a church in Denver--Scum of the Earth. The pastor was in a bit of a quandary: you see, the church celebrated Christmas through a service that included poetry readings. And the woman they asked to compose a poem included the f-word—not once or twice, but multiple times. At the end of the day, after much consulting, it was decided to let her read a modified version for the Christmas Eve service—including “only four expletives” and those as quotes from another character in the poem.
Naturally, there were strong reactions from the audience.
Such verbal vomit reflects more than a desire of a pastor to “connect” with a sub-culture. It displays a basic misapprehension of what the third commandment entails. Although clearly sinful, it is a barometer of the level of rebellion found in churches today. A wandering mass of vagabonds seeking any means to stretch the limits of credulity, some in the wasteland of American Christianity (whether in the mainline churches or not) have no sense of shame.
At first blush readers may condemn my language as harsh. Please bear with me: I acknowledge that churches have a zeal for evangelism—but more often than not, it is not according to knowledge.
I have not the time to elucidate the breadth and depth of this commandment; nor explain the differences between false swearing, oath taking and cursing; nor expound how using God’s handiworks—creation—in a flippant and coarse manner demeans God Himself; nor explicate the psychology of how sinful men verbally vomit on others as a form of emotional expiation for their anger, guilt, self-righteousness and the like.
Language is neither private (God is everywhere) nor unlimited and infinitely pliable (only God is unlimited). Thus, individuals or even a group of individuals do not have the right to do anything with language. In other words, language, although conventional, still expresses cultural values—and since all cultures are rooted in religion, that language expresses one’s religion. And all religions have standards of right and wrong, which, again are reflected in language. So, when a sub-culture wishes to express its rebellion against the larger cultural mores it turns toward those things that are taboo, obscene or shocking. Shame is the first thing to go.
Besides the obvious fact that we should offend people with the Gospel (Christ preached more about sin and hell than grace) and not our speech, it is patently clear that Christians should avoid coarse, filthy speech (Col. 4:6, Eph. 4:29). “Filth” in the Greek means “foul speaking, low and obscene speech” [Thayer]—the Greek background points not to blasphemy per se (language against God) but coarse or crass words.
Followers of Christ do not need to act out their old ways to bring shock to their audience. Imagine: instead of reading a poem about sinful acts, one acted it out instead—that by voyeuristic proxy the reader of the play gestured as well as cursed?
One cannot have speech be a free-for-all without denying absolute truth. If this were so, what words would express rebellion, dissatisfaction or dishonor? One could say anything with moral impunity.
Although most of this posting is related directly to abuse of language, the third commandment involves false doctrine as well as false speech. So, even though many Christians would be offended at verbally transforming the marriage bed into a crass cursing, they should be more offended at doctrinally filthy mouths. Besides the obvious pragmatism of the situation, with its disregard for the third commandment and apparent therapeutic usage of filthy words, the last installment on the blog made a passing remark that was shocking in its simplicity and amazing in the fact that no one commented on it:
“Most non-Christians I know do not hate God; they think that God and the church hate them because they are considered vile. We want to reverse that deception…” ---Mike SaresReally!? Romans one through three clearly declares that man is self-deceived, loving sin and hating God: to love the world is to hate God (John 15:18ff.). Thus says the Lord:
The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil. –John 7:7
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. –Romans 8:7
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting;
being filled with all unrighteousness…backbiters, haters of God—Romans 1
Since this false doctrinal stance is maintained, false speech is allowed. It is that simple. The sub-culture under question is not assumed to be in rebellion against God through its language; thus, it is acceptable to use such language to communicate to them. Since they "do not hate God" then the language they use does not express hate; therefore such language is proper to use.
It is too bad the entire situation is setup as an either/or fallacy in which that church is supposedly taking a stand for people perceived as “vile”—I do not perceive them that way and my church welcomes them. The real fact is that many of them do not want our churches because we make them uncomfortable (or should!) with the Law and the Gospel.
James reminds us that our tongue is a powerful member: we must choose—through His power—between breathing sweet truth or vomiting lies. Between ingesting golden apples or digesting garbage.
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Proverbs
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
The simple reason resides in the fact that many shows manifest the cultural icons and beliefs of the populace at large--the religion of society.
This truth especially struck me with the 1970 stop motion TV special, Santa Claus is Comin' to Town. I passed by it surfing. Stopped. And I watched the regeneration sequence--the one when the Winter Warlock's heart melted. After being born-again from the reception of a toy, the Warlock asked Kris Kringle how he could continue being born-again. Or more precisely, he lamented to Kris that his heart was so bad that he did not know how to be good.
"It's easy," Kris replied. Then he (as with all musicals) broke out in spontaneous song:
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you'll be walkin' 'cross the flo-o-or
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you'll be walkin' out the door.
...If I want to change the reflection
I see in the mirror each morn
Oh, you do?!
You mean that it's just my election
To vote for a chance to be reborn.
I don't think I need to exegete this. This song is about self-regeneration. The American religion. And what is worse, it is--with many--the Evangelical American Religion.
Try telling your Christian co-worker, neighbor or friend that he did not "vote for a chance to be reborn" but that God chose him first (Rom. 9:18). That Biblical rebirth comes from above, from the Spirit who moves as He wishes. Or if you want to be subtler, ask him his opinion about the song.
This song is just one part of the larger piece of Americana. If the churches cannot differentiate themselves from the religion of this song, there is no hope for America. If the church members cannot differentiate themselves from this song, there is little hope for American churches.
But God has promised to work His will through us (Phil. 2:13). And that begins with teaching and living the truth of God's sovereign grace.
Then one day, Lord willing, there will be new songs and new TV specials that reflect Holy Spirit regeneration instead of self-regeneration.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
I think it has. I hope it will. Of course, it is hard to tell since feedback is minimal, especially on the Internet (I write a weekly e-newsletter that receives feedback on Sunday..."you wrote that??" :-)
Be that as it may (or will be), being the holiday season it is time to use old postings. (Don't I get a vacation too?)
So, if you have any postings you liked tell me and I'll post 'em. (Note: in English 'you' can be singular or plural; I use the singular). Or I'll just pick 'em.
Enjoy your vacation time, dear reader, and above all, enjoy your salvation in Christ Jesus the Lord.
Monday, December 03, 2007
Monday, November 26, 2007
In this age of American independence, it is quite common for men to assign themselves as leaders, especially in the church. Men, by force of arrogance, arrogate to themselves the office of minister. In turn, these erstwhile pastors start new congregations on the power of their personality, preaching or popularity.
But it does not stop there. Some pastors (even legitimate ones) take accolades upon themselves, asserting an air of authority in some specialized field before anyone has legitimately recognized them as experts. They readily assume supposed leadership upon the supposition that popularity implies authority (a common American error). To be a leader amongst leaders is always a temptation.
Yet, what if one were popular? What if accolades and leadership and the public limelight were offered? How should it be approached?
Again, history (within a biblical framework) yields fruitful advice. In this case, a very similar scenario arose in the early 1800s at the then famous St. Andrews college. Thomas Chalmers (a Scottish Presbyterian) was making great spiritual progress within that area. He quietly started a children's Sabbath-school, which in turned quickly grew in popularity amongst the families (Christian and non-Christian alike). This in turn, spawned more such schools and increased his popularity.
He was popular enough (through his engaging teaching and preaching ministry) that Christian societies wanted his face on their boards:
"Soon after he came to St. Andrews Dr. Chalmers was invited to become President of a Missionary Society, composed of Christians of difierent denominations."
Surely, he prayed; surely he sought advise. Yet, he did more:
"He would not accept this office till it had been offered to and declined by others whose [senior] official position entitled them to that mark of respect." [Memoirs, 198]
How many pastors today would take such an approach? Such self-effacement is rare today. Such high respect for those with more experience is refreshing.
The senior professors turned down the job and Chalmers' humility was rewarded. He greatly influenced the cause of missions through the legacy of his students, the St. Andrews Seven.
The rest is history.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
In the proclamation for a day of thanksgiving, we find sentiments of piety expressed in the following and similar language:
That all the people assemble on that day to offer fervent supplications to the God of all grace, that he would incline our hearts, for the future, to keep all his laws, and that he would cause the knowledge of Christianity to spread all over the earth" —"above all, to praise him that he hath continued to us the light of the blessed gospel, and to supplicate him, that he would cause pure religion and virtue to flourish."
It would seem that the wise and patriotic men of those times believed that the "blessed gospel," not the Koran, nor the Shaster, but the Christian system, was better adapted to the wants of men than any other system; and their conduct shows that they did not entertain views congenial to the feelings of infidels and deists of our day. Had both lived at the same time, they would have been antipodes in sentiment and action. We see no lack of proof that the framers of our Constitution, and the men who first administered it, were not anti-christian, as our objectors would have us believe. It is perfectly evident that these men were not ashamed to own their accountability to God, and their dependence on him: nor were they ashamed or afraid to recognize the Christian religion, in their national capacity. They had discernment, fidelity, piety, and patriotism enough to prompt them to make a wise choice, when they laid down the Christian religion as the foundation of this government, instead of the Jewish, Mohammedan, pagan, infidel, or deistical religion. God be praised for the noble deed.
But it appears that many of the members of Congress, for the last twelve or fifteen years, have been ashamed to acknowledge God; and infidels have united with them to prove that we have no Sabbath, and that this nation knows no religion. She may, in her riches and pride, have forgotten her religion; but she once had a religion, and that was the Christian. She ought to
have it still.
Infidels would have us believe that the Jew, the Mohammedan, and the pagan, have as much claim to legislation in favor of their religion, as Christians have a right to expect that Congress will not legislate against theirs. But these pleas are all false—a mere subterfuge to rid themselves of all accountability to the laws of God and man.
When was this succinct and potent piece written?...................1968?
No, rather.....1841 AD
[p.105, The Sabbath: A Brief History of Laws, Harmon Kingsbury]
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
It is filled with much detail, tracing the crucial years of its establishment in 1607 until, by God's all-encompassing providence, it reached critical mass, destined to be a part of America's great religious past.
Well, more precisely America's Protestant religious past. They certainly were not Roman Catholics.
In fact they were Anglicans. The Anglican church's 39 Articles (in the Book of Common Prayer) describe a theology foreign to most Christians.
The Articles affirm the bondage of the will:
X. Of Free-Will.
The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith; and calling upon God. Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.
They affirm predestination:
XVII. Of Predestination and Election.
Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour.
Lastly, the Articles teach baptism of infants:
XXVII. Of Baptism.
The Baptism of young Children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.
They honored the Christian Sabbath: morning and evening worship with catechism time as well. They even catechized.
Furthermore, these colonists used the Geneva Bible, which included Calvinistic notes.
Dear reader, this is not written to be as offensive as possible. I write this because it is true. In fact, I was reminded of this problem while studying the history of homeschooling. The leading homeschoolers remind their detractors that the schools are using outdated history books that not only lie through commission (making stuff up) but, more insidiously, the books lie through omission. Think about how much the public schools teach about the Christian origins of America? the Founders? the Constitution? Exactly. You get the point.
So, we ought not omit these important truths of the pre-Revolutionary American culture. There were theological difference, yet from Jamestown to Boston, from English Anglicans to French Huguenots, from laymen to clergy, the culture was substantially Reformed.
That is what is missing in many Christians' history lessons.
That is the other side of Jamestown.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
My interest in the theological and ideological roots of the American Constitution stem from a college paper a decade ago. I wrote a short ten-page thesis on Christianity and the formation of the Constitution...only to change my thesis half-way through my research: it was not just generic Christianity that substantially influenced America, but Calvinism.
In the last two years (with no college schedule to drive my time), I have had more opportunity to discover more non-Christian scholarly work on this subject. Now, I can write five times as much on this topic using secular sources alone.
Well, enough about me; here is a review of a relevant book I would gladly like for Christmas...it's only 98$ :-)
What is fascinating about the review is the critique: the lack of contemporaneousness of the book. It's about twenty years old (it took a while to get the essays published). Yet, from a non-post-modern viewpoint this is not a problem at all: if truth has historical manifestations amongst large aggregates of mankind (think nations), then the truth of Calvinism and Covenantalism for the continual maintenance of this American Republic is quite contemporary.
Can't get more relevant than finding the roots of our freedoms and returning to them! Of course, if mere "covenant" is recaptured without the Covenant of Grace in the hearts of Americans, then we are simply back (and are already there in many ways) to the Covenant of Works.
My prayer, especially for contemporary American Christianity is that she would return to her Calvinistic-Covenantal roots.
And that first begins with acknowledging the truths of history.
Monday, November 05, 2007
quoted some secular source stating the same fact? People might actually listen....
"He that will not honor the memory, and respect the influence of Calvin, knows but little of the origin of American liberty"
The above sentiment appears arrogant. When the public schools ardently claim that generic "Christian" Deists and unbelieving Enlightenment thinkers founded America, Christians decry this farce, pointing to historical facts that our founders were specifically conservative Christians (cp. Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution). Yet, how many conservative Christians know that it was not a generic conservative Christianity that substantially created America but rather Calvinism? Lutheran minister Eidsmoe acknowledges it (p.19). Hopefully, more people will.
In a letter dated Oct, 31, 1776, Rev. Inglis, rector of Trinity Church, New York, wrote to fellow Anglican leaders:
"I have it from good authority that the Presbyterian ministers, at a synod where most of them in the middle colonies were collected, passed a resolve to support the continental congress in all their measures. This and this only can account for the uniformity of their conduct;for I do not know one of them, nor have I been able, after strict inquiry, to hear of any, who did not, by preaching and every effort in their power, promote all the measures of the congress, however extravagant."
American historian and founder of Annapolis, Bancroft, asserts:
"The fanatic for Calvinism was a fanatic for liberty; and, in the moral war fare for freedom, his creed was his most faithful counselor and his never-failing support. The Puritans... planted... the undying principles of democratic liberty. [He further claimed]:...Calvin infused enduring elements into the institutions of Geneva, and made it for the modern world, the impregnable fortress of popular liberty, the fertile seed-plot of democracy. We boast of our common schools; Calvin was the father of popular education, the inventor of the system of free schools. We are proud of the free States that fringe the Atlantic. The pilgrims of Plymouth were Calvinists; the best influence in South Carolina came from the Calvinists of France. William Penn was the disciple of the Huguenots; the ships from Holland that first brought colonists to Manhattan were filled with Calvinists. He that will not honor the memory, and respect the influence of Calvin, knows but little of the origin of American liberty." [A History of the United States, p.464; Literary and Historical Miscellanies, p.405]
Yale history professor, George Fisher, who thought the similarities between Roman Catholics and Protestants greater than their differences, wrote:
favorable to civil liberty is found in the republican character of its church organization. Laymen shared power with ministers... Men who were accustomed to rule themselves in the Church would claim the same privilege in the commonwealth ...Another source of the influence of Calvinism, in advancing the cause of civil liberty, has been derived from its theology. The sense of the exaltation of the Almighty Ruler, and of his intimate connection with the minutest incidents and obligations of human life, which is fostered by this theology, dwarfs all earthly potentates. An intense spirituality, a consciousness that this life is but an infinitesimal fraction of human existence, dissipates the feeling of personal homage for men, however high their station, and dulls the luster of all earthly grandeur. Calvinism and Romanism are the antipodes of each other." [The Reformation, p. 07]
A modern Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics summarizes thusly:
"In general it may be claimed for Calvinism that its influence has been an elevating and invigorating one. Abasing man before God, but exalting him again in the consciousness of a newborn liberty in Christ, teaching him his slavery through sin, yet restoring his freedom to him through grace, and leading him to regard all things in the light of eternity, it contributed to form a grave but very noble and elevated type of character, and reared a race not afraid to lift up the head before kings." [Hastings, 153]
Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, an Austrian Roman Catholic aristocrat intellectual and National Review contributor asserts:
"If we call the American statesmen of the late eighteenth century the Founding Fathers of the United States, then the Pilgrims and Puritans were the grandfathers and Calvin the great-grandfather...the prevailing spirit of Americans before and after the War of Independence was essentially Calvinistic in both its brighter and uglier aspects." ["The Western Dilemma: Calvin or Rousseau?" Modern Age, 1971, 5]
Historian James G. Leyburn, of Washington & Lee University, wrote a book on the Scotch-Irish and summarized it in an essay in the American Heritage Magazine:
...Scottish Presbyterianism was unique in its intensity, even in those religious days...A Hessian captain wrote in 1778, 'Call this war by whatever name you may, only call it not an American rebellion; it is nothing more or less than a Scotch Irish Presbyterian rebellion.' King George was reported to have characterized the Revolution as 'a Presbyterian war,' and Horace Walpole told Parliament that 'there is no use crying about it. Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson, and that is the end of it.'...Such testimony to enthusiasm for the American cause was not given to any other group of immigrants." ["Scotch-Irish: The Melting Pot" online]
On May 20, 1775, the Presbyterian Synod was the first religious body to send a public letter to the churches encouraging general submission to the deceived Crown and specific submission to the Continental Congress and to prepare their lives and souls for war.
Daniel Elazer, a member of presidential committees and of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, eloquently summarizes:
"A majority of the delegates to the Convention were affiliated with covenant-based churches...The Presbyterians, however, were already moving toward full-scale federalism. As Arthur Schlesinger, Sr., noted: "More than either [the Congregationalists or Anglicans] the Presbyterians in their reliance on federalist and representative institutions anticipated the political makeup of the future United States." Indeed, as the first government came into office under the U.S. Constitution in 1789, the Presbyterians held their first nationwide General Assembly. In the Presbyterian system, congregations in a local area formed a presbytery; several presbyteries in a region formed a synod; and then came the General Assembly. As a result, the system of federal democracy established by the U.S. Constitution has often been referred to as Presbyterianism writ large for civil society..." [The Covenant Tradition in Politics, pt.3, p.77]
More can be written. But this should be enough to challenge the modern stereotypes and misconceptions. If we want Reformation again, we have to go to the roots.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
This is Protestantism's birthday, and conservative Evangelical's supposed birthday as well--at least nominally...
Well, I'll let others make my point, since they are more eloquent:
“With what right may we call ourselves children of the Reformation? Much modern Protestantism would be neither owned nor even recognized by the pioneer Reformers. The Bondage of the Will fairly sets before ui what they believed about the salvation of lost mankind. In the light of it, we are forced to ask whether Protestant Christendom has not tragically sold its birthright between Luther’s day and our own. Has not Protestantism to-day become more Erasmian than Lutheran? Do we not too often try to minimize and gloss over doctrinal differences for the sake of inter-party peace? Are we innocent of the doctrinal indifferentism with which Luther charged Erasmus? Do we still believe that doctrine matters? Or do we now, with Erasmus, rate a deceptive appearance of unity as of more importance than truth? Have we not grown used to an Erasmian brand of teaching from our pulpits a message that rests on the same shallow synergistic conceptions which Luther refuted, picturing God and man approaching each other almost on equal terms, each having his own contribution to make to man’s salvation and each depending on the dutiful cooperation of the other for the attainment of that end? As if God exists for man’s convenience, rather than man for God’s glory?”
Packer and Johnston’s Introduction to Luther’s Bondage of the Will, p. 59
Friday, October 19, 2007
Holloween makes sense from a pagan perspective.
Oktober Fest I can understand as well. It’s a cultural celebration; it has morphed into an America community get-together.
Harvest Festivals of rural yesteryear hijacked into Evangelical mega-church revival meetings, I can comprehend.
But for a LUTHERAN CHURCH to celebrate Oktober Fest?!?
It’s true: I drove by such a church with a banner inviting the neighborhood to such an event. That I don’t get!
Wouldn’t they celebrate REFORMATION DAY?!?
That transformation of Western Civilization from the Medieval Ages into the era of capitalism, democracy and religious freedom?How quickly I forget: American Evangelicals have collective amnesia. Or rather many practice historical hubris: the past is irrelevant, the now is superior.
Well, I for one will shout from the roof-tops the glories of the sovereign grace of God Almighty, preaching in the shadows of our great spiritual leaders—Luther, Knox, Calvin—who gave their livelihood, sweat and tears for the propagation of Christ’s sweet mercies and awesome judgments.
In contrast, a vast host of well-meaning Christians will pass through October 31 in blissful ignorance, repeating the errors of old Israel: “my power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth”—material, political, economical, and spiritual (Deut. 8:17).
When we do not properly honor our spiritual fathers, we violate the Fifth Commandment. When we imitate their worse instead of their best, we violate the Fifth Commandment.
Reformation Day is soon arriving. It is not a holy-day as the pagans celebrate or the Roman Catholics worship. But it is a time, like Purim of old, to celebrate our deliverance from spiritual death—to recall our fathers’ sacrifices and our own commitments.
What is Reformation Day?
Dear reader, read on!
Monday, October 15, 2007
Saturday, October 06, 2007
THE BLASPHEMY CHALLENGE
“Matthew 12:31 states that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is unforgivable.
Speak into this video and verbally denounce the Spirit: secure your place in hell!”
If there was ever a time to preach Christ, this was it! Casually approaching the bench, I prayed a quick prayer to the Spirit, and innocently asked the black-clad individual behind the table why he used this verse.
He stared at me for a few seconds. “We are using this verse to show the absurdity of Christians who take the Bible literally.”
Wanting to avoid a quibble over details—to reach deeper issues—I responded, “Not all Christians have such a naïve approach to the Bible. I could point out the larger context or other Bible verses, but you do not take the Bible as your standard of reality anyway.”
I paused and plunged onward: “The bigger question is: What do you believe? Where are you coming from?”
“I’m an atheist and I’m an empiricist,” he cautiously replied.
“Interesting, so truth is only that which is verified by the senses…how do you find justice or love in a test tube?” I asked.
Thus the debate began—or rather, the one-sided critique of empiricism. Trying to “answer a fool according to his folly,” I focused on the hopelessness and philosophical suicide incipient in atheism. Near the end of the conversation, I pointed out how he shuffled between pragmatism and empiricism in finding truth-claims. The internal contradiction was becoming clear to the atheist. Before saying a word, he reached down to grab a notepad and pen.
Scribbling on the notepad, he looked up at me with mild surprise, "Oh, you were pointing out some inconsistencies in my thinking: I'm taking notes."soli deo gloria!
Thursday, July 19, 2007
with him,” she persisted. Sitting on the curb near the center of the square, she stared at me intently, trying to grasp an ethereal idea as foreign to her as living the life of an earthworm.
“OK,” she slowly replied.
“It is like our own culture: if someone were a murderer or a traitor, they would be punished. There is no talk of ‘fairness’ and the like: they get what they deserve: death. So all mankind, as Romans 1:18ff. states, already deserve death. God, their Judge, is under no obligation to save anyone.”
Knowing the importance of the Word, I proceeded to read that section of Romans, slowly and deliberately, adding short explanatory statements as needed.
“Interesting: men are without excuse. So God sends missionaries to tell the unbelievers about the possibility of salvation in Christ; He does not just let them be,” she mused out loud.
“Yes—so you see from the Christian worldview, it is not merely men not “agreeing” with God, it is rebellious terrorists rejecting the rule of Law and the Law’s Judge.”
A new look entered her eyes: thoughtfulness. “That makes sense. Let me think about that…you certainly have a different approach than simply smashing my head in with the Bible. You tried to understand my position as well.”
I allowed her into my world, my head. Now I pray the Spirit to enter her heart.
Friday, July 13, 2007
Friday, June 29, 2007
Are Five Points Enough? The Ten Points of Calvinism, Dr. Coppes
There seem to be a multitude of books and pamphlets on Calvinism. However, even though many of these treatments are useful and convincing, they do not reach the level of integration between simplicity and depth that characterizes this book.
Calvinism is not an isolated debate over how one is saved, but is part and parcel of a larger understanding—a worldview—of the Bible and God’s creation. Our understanding of the Church, worship, evangelism, the Law and all other aspects of the Christian life are integrated in the Reformed community. Put into this context, the reader is invited to explore this fresh introduction to the Reformed faith.
Recommended by Loraine Boettner and Professor George Knight (of Greenville Seminary), this book is highly praised by respected men of the Reformed world. The book contends that Calvinism, properly understood, involves all of life. Creating ten chapters (each a summary treatment of the major themes of Calvinism), the author ends each section with review questions and a list of helpful readings and advance study books. It is eminently readable, while challenging the reader to interact with the copious assortment of Bible verses and Biblical thought.
These characteristics of the book alone make it a valuable addition to those wanting to learn the Reformed faith or for those wishing to refresh their understanding.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
I am surprised and disturbed.
I am surprised because of the quick responses to this posting. It caught me off guard. Shortly after posting I wanted to tweak the post but assumed (you know what that does!) I would not have many readers. Well, lesson learned! I went ahead after the comments occurred. Just as in my book, I differentiated the radical quotes from others not associated with them. I also qualified the universal statement about the Reformed practice--Strassburg practiced weekly Communion for a little while. Perhaps if someone can document otherwise, then I could modify that statement. As it is, I studied and searched through dozens and dozens of books on this relatively obscure issue. Thus, I can say through my own study that this practice was very rare in the Reformed faith. The famous Calvin quote is analyzed in my book along with other quotes of his that point away from weekly Communion (apparently missing in the works I critique). I would strongly suggest that those quick to debate these summary posts (obviously used to goad the readers to my book :-) should read my book first.
I also clarified my "conservative" position. It does not mean tradition is right; it means the burden of proof is on those against it. One cannot study every practice & doctrine in-depth; thus, many have accepted a few good arguments from well-trained men and left it at that...for now. Frankly, I am surprised anyone who knows me would think otherwise.
I am also disturbed. To think that I misquoted someone has kept my mind running all morning! I purposefully asked ministers with years of experience and godliness to read the manuscript. I even sought out those with differing views (with little to no response).
Perhaps the unintended connection between the author and the other radical quotes caused concern; perhaps the starkness of the quote was shocking; perhaps it was assumed that I had other questionable reasons for the quote. Upon further reflection, it could be that someone would take the third quote as a rationalization for weak sermons. That is not the case.
The context of the quote is the explanation of some benefits of weekly Communion (again, reflected in my paper: "The following quotes, although cautious, also challenge the church to take seriously the benefits and rationales for weekly Communion.") So, some benefits are used to argue for weekly Communion. This is clarified as well in the original post.
Since it was the author himself who pointed this out, I would humbly petition him to check the clarification and lend his opinion. At the end of the day, it is his original intent that I seek.
Monday, June 11, 2007
Why bother talking about the frequency of Communion at all? Here are a few reasons:
"Without the word, the sacrament is merely an empty sign. Without the sacrament, the word is not properly sealed and does not have its full, intended effect. [emphasis added]…neither the preaching of the word nor the observance of the sacrament is superfluous or optional in regular Christian worship (cf. Acts 2:42). Biblical worship includes both."
"Or is Communion more like a meal, a frequent event that is special because of its necessity?…What will we say when our Lord asks us why we deliberately neglected a primary means of grace in most Lord’s Day worship services?…Is it truly good stewardship to hide the Communion cup more Sundays than we use it?"
Other writers do not make such bold claims, but offer their ideas, suggesting some benefits (that are not used to excuse weak sermons):
"On the other hand, even if I fall short and preach do’s and don’ts rather than the gospel, the Lord’s Supper helps to remind the congregation of the gospel basics…"
"...it [weekly Supper] might even contribute toward revival and reformation in lives, families, and in congregations."
Some have used weekly Communion to degrade Communion preparation (LCQ 171ff.)
"Since we have weekly communion, we don't need to warn people about approaching the table in an unworthy manner. It would be awkward and repetitive."
Do you, dear reader, agree with these assertions? If so, why? If not, why? The issue is more involved than simply quoting verses or making theological assertions. That's what I found out when I studied the issue: hard work. My opinion shifted through this in-depth study. And at the end of it all I created a book, Words of Life: The Bible & Weekly Communion.
I urge people to read it. Many who have formulated opinions on the matter (especially those in favor of weekly practice) have taken little time to read up on the issue. In fact, being a conservative Presbyterian my starting position is the historical practice of the church. Thus, the burden of proof is on those against such practices. Weekly Communion has not been universally practiced in the Reformed faith. Period. Those acting on it should do so in dialogue with history not out of some private research that can easily miss illuminating arguments and perspectives.
This is only installment one.
Read on, dear reader.
 Ibid, 270. These statements were given in a short section on the relation of the Word and Sacrament. At best this is unclear language.
 Grover E. Gunn, III, “Weekly Communion,” The Counsel of Chalcedon, December 1986, 20.
 Larry Wilson, “On Weekly Communion—Some Pastoral Reflections”, Ordained Servant 14, no. 1, (March 2005): 17, 20 , he continues: "I shouldn’t gloss over this, as if weekly communion somehow excuses failure to preach Christ."
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Here is some interesting news from the latest issue (June 1, 2007):
Life-Isn't-Fair Mentality Kills: Those with this sinful attitude are "55 percent more likely to have a heart attack in the next decade."
Gas Price Gouging...By the Government: The typical gas company earns 13 cents/gallons...the government takes 18.4 cents...
Polls May Be Useful: 13% of American Muslims believe that in some circumstances suicide bombing of civilians to defend Islam is justified; 5% expressed a favorable opinion of al Qaida; 27% had "no opinion" of them (Pew Research Center).
In other news:
In Case of Emergency: The Government will survive. You might not. (Presidential Directive, NSPD-51/HSPD-20).
Dry Terror Run: Terrorist test America's ability to respond to threats.
Sadly, after (and before) 911, the American governments (local, state or national) have made very little (zero?) effort to teach (or at least recommend) ways to protect ourselves. Thus, we must (like in days of old) teach ourselves and one another how to survive a broken car, a blizzard or a terrorist attack. That means foodstuff reserves, batteries, flashlights....and even the use of a gun. All of which should be standard in any major event.
But that is for another post.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Friday, May 04, 2007
It used to be different.
Election day sermons thundered from the American pulpit, declaring the duty of the people to their rulers and the duty of the rulers to their people. And each were to submit to God.
And if the leaders were blatantly out of hand, the pulpit would call them on the carpet--just like Jeremiah or John the Baptist. This is sometimes dubbed the churches "prophetic office."
I recently watched about the only show worth watching on "public tv" (channel 12, 5.03.07). The Independence Institute was explaining the new bill that passed in Colorado, gaining more funds from the property tax (mill levy). It was touted as the "Children's Amendment", to help give more money to the schools without a tax increase.
But in Colorado we have been blessed with a little thing called the TABOR Amendment. It limits taxes and demands that any tax increase or tax policy change be brought to the people for a vote. And Colorado's Attorney General's office believes the legislative branch is walking on ice with this bill.
Any prima facia reading of TABOR (as the interview with the Deputy Attorney General pointed out) would come to the same conclusion. DeGrow, the other one interviewed, witnessed a Senator screaming (his words) that this was the "children's amendment" and should be passed.
But the bill itself has no guarantee or explicit language that the monies will go to the schools. And the legislature will not include such. In fact, it frees up money on the state end (1.5 billion in a decade). Money for any use. And, of course, it is a tax-increase without the voter's approval. Two strikes thus far.
And what should a minister say to this?
Governors, Senators and Representative: watch your mouth.
Violations of the Ninth Commandment are no little thing. It is bad enough that most politicians have a reputation of lying; exaggeration of claims and using emotive language ("children's amendment") to hide truth is just as bad as blatant lying.
If church leaders would preach this to their people, maybe, just maybe, they might vote differently next time. But we will never know until the churches themselves are infused with Gospel power and love for God's Law.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
In the midst of blame-throwing, soul-searching & question-begging on the national scene, such a statement appears unbelievable. But please bear with me.
Guilt is an inescapable condition of sinful man. Thus, in the Old Testament economy the main thrust of the ceremonial law was sin and redemption. The temple, the priesthood and the animal sacrifices portrayed these realities. To assuage a guilty conscience satisfaction had to be rendered. Justification before the tribunal had to be accomplished.
During the Day of Atonement, besides the offerings, a goat was sent free. The sins of the people were placed symbolically upon the creature and it was sent into the wilderness. It was the scapegoat.
Through the centuries peoples and nations have lived with guilt. Before the absolute perfection of God’s moral Law, all men are guilty. They have transgressed the Law in thought, word and deed (Rom. 1:20ff.). Accordingly, they have all sought freedom from such a guilty conscience.
They have sought self-atonement and self-justification. This attempted jail-break from the prison of culpability has taken many forms, but can be narrowed down into two types: masochism and sadism.
Masochism is not merely that narrowly defined sexual sin wherein the person demands self-punishment as a license to sin, it is also broadly conceived as self-punishment to satisfy a guilty conscience. (Rushdooney lists five variations of this in his book, Politics of Guilt and Pity (1978, p.2ff.)).
Sadism is sometimes described as inverted masochism. This approach tries to level the moral playing field by attacking an innocent party. It, too, is a form of self-justification, but through punishing others it justifies its own sin. For instance, “Some parents will both indulge flagrantly and then punish savagely their children as they alternate between a mood of longing for the triumph of self-indulgence and a resentment that anyone can escape the punishment when they cannot” (p.6).
The need for atonement, purity and justification is strong in the minds of sinners. The Christian church must understand this fact in its analysis of itself and the society around it. Man’s basic problem is sin and the accompanying guilt that consumes him. Thus, Christians out of all the world philosophies have the explanation for today’s troubled world.
The 9mm butchering of 32 students & faculty at Virginia Tech was not an unexplainable happenstance, as one popular conservative talk-show opined. Nor was this macabre act a result of a mind that was “ill,” “irrational,” or “confused,” as many other commentators claimed.
The student was only acting out his atonement; his 9mm Gospel.
It is a gospel that would destroy everyone so as to save itself.
It is a gospel of frustration, trying to appease a guilty conscience
through a bloody atonement accomplished in a rain of gunfire.
It is a gospel hemmed in by the man-made strictures of godless men. It believed the lie that truth is relative, that social restrictions and responsibilities are merely the product of man’s ever-changing mind. It bought the lie that this world is a product of chance and whim.
Thus, he concluded that might makes right. Why should the ones with the biggest guns make the rules? Why should the majority be right? Why should other people be free from the sins gnawing at his soul?
In an ever-increasing de-Christianization of America through outright denials of God & the downplay of sin and grace, the fruit of generations of gospel-hatred are maturing. This is not simply a “blame society” observation, but a realization that sin is leavening society to a critical point. The seams are fraying; the buttons are bursting.
And this young man is but one manifestation of rebellion against God. Most likely brought up in a semi-pagan home and feed nihilism and evolutionary thought, he simply acted out the logic of such a system.
He could not live with his guilt and he would not seek justification in Christ alone. So, he sought self-atonement through the bloody sacrifices of others.
Then he realized his sadism was insufficient. To prove his self-autonomy, his control over himself, he murdered himself.
Thus, his 9mm gospel brought him peace in this world. The controlling voices of family, friends and state are shut out forever. But the controlling justice of God is not.
Proverbs 8:36 sets before the world the antithesis between the 9mm gospel & God’s Gospel, Wisdom & foolishness, Life & death:
“But he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; All those who hate me love death.”
To the newscasters, students and professionals, this horrible event is a terrifying peek into the soul of man. It is a peek into their own black rebellious souls. Every man is guilty before God’s tribunal. And many will seek a scapegoat to avoid that tribunal.
Yet, if they renounce their own self-justification and claim Christ’s atonement, their consciences will be assuaged and freedom will ensue. No man is more docile than a guilty man. And no man is more empowered than one with a clear conscience.
If they do not learn the lesson of this wake-up call, the 9mm gospel will spread its bloody hands far and wide across this country. Guilty men will see the failed attempts of less bloody forms of atonement and heed the siren call of redemption through the barrel of a gun.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
In the next posting, I will begin my comments anew.
Saturday, March 31, 2007
The Lord’s Supper: Eternal Word in Broken Bread, Robert Letham
This goal of this book is to bring back the sacramental mystery of the Lord’s Supper. Lamenting the modern Reformed misunderstanding of this ordinance of the Lord, the author concisely and consistently argues for the biblical basis and implication of this doctrine for the life of the Church today. There are four chapters covering the biblical data, the historical misconceptions, the Reformed understanding and the practical outworking of the Supper.
Surprisingly, there are some weak elements in a book that is exceptionally well on all other matters. His writing style is fluid and engaging; his explanation of the various competing views is accurate; he even points out that the Lord’s Supper does not solely rest on the Passover (p. 4). Accordingly, he rejects Paedocommunion. And his defense of John Calvin’s and the Confession’s view of the Supper is excellent. The Lord’s Supper is not a personal recollection of Christ’s suffering, but a real participation of sweet fellowship with Christ: true believers “inwardly, by faith, really and indeed,…spiritually, receive, and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death” (WCF 29.7) (p. 45).
The weakness is not insurmountable: even when presenting his inclination for using a loaf and wine, as well as frequent communion, the author is charitable. His amiableness comes clearly to the fore while he succinctly describes his opinions (he clearly sees the frequency of the Supper as an issue of liberty). The arguments are not forceful or even airtight. Overall, these are tertiary matters without lasting impact in the broader concern of the book.This introductory book is helpful in many ways, especially its emphasis upon the spirituality of the Supper and its significance in the Church’s vision of God: “The church’s worship is therefore communion with the risen Christ, in company with the angels and the church in heaven.”
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
This was good for me and bad for them.
It was good for me because having these questions answered left more time for my brain to launch a counter-attack. It was bad for them because it left time for my brain to launch a counter-attack.
The primary thrust of their presentation was the claim that Islam means the "middle-way"--it is a system of moderation, neither communal or individualistic, communistic or capitalistic, realist or nominalist--they were right down the middle. And because of this (excessive?) moderation, they wished to meet the Christian audience upon a common ground of brotherhood, peace and love. Polemics were bypassed. Debate was eschewed in favor of a vanilla agreement upon these "universally human ideals".
Now, dear reader, you and I have both seen plenty of comedy shows and action thrillers wherein the hero verbally aces the protagonist. He sets up the question (which the audience sees as the obvious logical trap that it is), places the carrot and lures in the intended victim.
The victim is hopelessly caught.
Game. Set. Match.
It always looks easy on TV. I never could pull it off in real life. Or could I..?
I innocently queried the speaker: "In what way is 'brotherhood' a common concept between Muslims & Christians?"
"Well," sagely responded my victi...er the speaker. "we both agree that we are all human."
"Yes," I sagely responded, "but having differing concepts of God, we have differing concepts of man."
"True," the speaker cautiously responded, "but we both have prophets that we follow--in fact we accept Christ as a prophet."
"True," I boldly responded, "but our prophet is not merely a man, but God Himself. Thus, our brotherhood as believers is neither rooted in our common humanity, biology or mere men. It is rooted in the God-Man, Christ Jesus, He who unites those who believe in Him."
Another man jumped in to save the drowning speaker, "We both have 'brotherhood.' So, that is what we have in common."
"Communist believe in the 'brotherhood' of man as well," I calmly replied, "They use the word, but fill it with different content. Just because groups use the same word it does not follow that the same concept is employed."
Wearily, softly and feebly, the speaker finished the friendly debate: "You are correct. Our concepts of brotherhood are different..."
"....but we agree on other things."
"Oh, we can talk about love if you wish..." I smiled, patiently hanging the carrot high.
Friday, February 23, 2007
This truth is highlighted in that cliche: "unintended consequences".
And this cliche was amply illustrated in one of my favorite news programs (and I really mean news!), John Stossel's 20/20. In this night's topic, "I Am Worry", he went through the many areas of life that American's live in fear because of exaggerated facts or mis-leading facts. And a number of laws and lawsuits included the nefarious unintended consequences. Safety lids on prescription bottles statistically encouraged open lids for the elderly (who did not want to try that ordeal again!) or sloppy supervision over the medications from parents who thought the bottle to be Johnny-proof. Helmet-wearing laws in Australia produced a noticeable decline in bicycle riding. Which in turn may mean less exercise.
Of course, even without Stossel's report we can see these problems in everyday life. For instance, "sin" taxes do not discourage smoking, rather they drain the smokers income. Or the use of prison time instead of death for murderers. This drains the economy, encamps the same criminals in the same spaces with (now) obvious consequences of rape, expansion of criminal skills and basic isolation from any good influences. The list of socialistic ills could easily be added.
However, if these laws and ideas took the Bible more seriously, then some of these consequences would be more manageable. After all, would not the Creator of the universe and all the consequences that attend it know best? Thus, as our founding fathers attempted to build into our Constitutional system, the government has a limited role. Just as in the Bible.
If we are to avoid the unintended consequences of an ever-increasing regulated economy, amoral politicians and confusion over what laws should be enacted locally or federally, we need the Word of God. The Bible delimits the choice of law because the Creator wrote the laws and the consequences that attend them. He knows what is best.
The unbeliever lives in a chaotic world in which he attempts to impose order. This is why many laws are in flux: the socio-economic leaders have decided the previous leaders impositions were not working. As new variables arise new implications arise. Debates over nature versus nurture or even medical usage and imposition ebb and flow as more information arises. Yet without a consistent framework in which to interpret said facts the answer will never be forthcoming. Man knows least.
If unintended consequences teach us anything, it should teach us that we know very little of the relationships and results of our sciences, economies and policies. It should humble us. It should turn us to the All-Wise Creator who already has the answers for us: His Bible.
Monday, February 19, 2007
Well, at least for an ex-engineer. This is the world's largest technology museum: generators, automobiles, ships, bridges, airplanes, clocks, musical instruments, cryptography & computers....just to name a few!
The aerospace section was my favorite:
The time-piece room was spectacular--who would have imagined that clocks could be so colorful!
Only a tech-geek could find 50-year computer technology worthy of a blog notice!
I took a video of my wife using some of the electronic demonstrations...even for a non-techy like her, she thought they were amazing. I had an opportunity to recall all my college training, explaining to her Maxwell's equations and demonstrating the functions of XOR and NOR gates.
The fluid dynamics and construction section included many miniatures, showing how the old bridges were constructed. The detail was incredible.
I thank the Lord of Love for blessing my wife and me with such a vacation!
I hope you enjoyed the pix!
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Here is the castle viewed from the palace grounds in the city.
This is what we had to climb to enter the castle!
The castle was amazing, even more so in some ways than neaushwanstein if only because this was actually used.
Here is the view from the top:
Proof I was truly in Austria!
Pictures from within the amazing castle:
Here are a few gnarly trees:
This is the inside waiting room for the royalty; note the studded ceiling!
It was virtually a small city:
Saturday, February 17, 2007
Friday, February 16, 2007
Now, before you get all excited, I do not have inside pix--they are forbidden.
Here are more awe-inspiring pix!
We walked up the mountain path--about 20 minutes at a good speed. But with such a view who wouldn't want to walk!
This is the back end.
The front gate:
It's immensity was staggering! This is on the way up. The right side is what most people see; the left side is the gate.
We also visited the smaller castle down the hill/mountain were prince/king Ludwig grew up, Hohenschwangau.
This castle was beautiful as well, although smaller. As an American, I think any castle is amazing!
It was about a ten minute uphill climb to the top. This is why rich people owned horses...
The view was breath-taking!