A Pastor's work is never done . . . well at least not this week.
I am off to Great Falls, MT with a fellow minister to investigate it as a possible place for an RCUS church plant. If you live in Great Falls and are interested drop a response, and we will get back to you. For that matter, if you live in North or South Dakota and want an RCUS church in your city, let me know.
I will write when I get back.
Monday, June 26, 2006
A Pastor's work is never done . . . well at least not this week.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
The Christian Reformed Church is approving infant communion, or all baptized-member-communion. One wonders if this a sign of things to come for Presbyterian denominations. The PCA and the OPC are both meeting in their respective General Assemblies this week. Each will be dealing with overtures about the Federal Vision, which does not necessarily include infant communion, but I believe it to be a step in that direction. We shall see how it all plays out.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
In preparing a sermon on Matthew 16, I have become somewhat disheartened. It must have become fashionable at some time for Protestants to believe Peter himself is the rock upon which the church is built (though many try to qualify with Peter AND the other apostles). William Hendrickson takes this view as does the Reformation Study Bible in its notes on verse 18. Edmund Clowney, former President of Westminster Theological Seminary, in his book The Church, also holds to Peter as the rock. All three sadly fail to deal with historic Protestant exegesis of this passage, instead they simply dismiss it by saying that if Rome had not abused the passage in the first place, no one would question the Peter-is-the-rock interpretation. Allow me to remind everyone of the actual history of the Protestant exegesis, so the folly of such a dismissal will be apparent.
Those who hold the Rock is Christ (just for the record I hold to this position):
Not only do Reformers such as Turretin (3.18.Q17.164-5) and Bullinger (iv.81) hold that Jesus is the rock, but so do many church fathers. Augustine, one of the four doctors of the early church, held that Christ was the rock, as did Hilary of Pointers - both men predating any abuse by Rome. Jerome, another of the four doctors, also taught that the rock was Christ.
Those who hold the rock is the confession or faith:
Here we can see John Calvin make his stand, and he is not alone. Chrysostom of Constantinople in the early 5th century makes this claim. This was not against papal abuse, which was just beginning, but simply a commentary on the verse. Theophylact also holds that the rock is the confession and faith of Peter. Claudius Archbishop of Turin (early 9th century) wrote commentaries on the books of the Bible at the behest of the Holy Roman Emperor, Louis the Pious, and on Matthew 16:18 clearly shows he believes the rock is the “apostle’s doctrine” (J.A. Wylie, History of Protestantism, vol. 1 pg. 22).
Those who reject Peter as the rock, but whose alternative unclear:
Athanasius of mid-4th century fame falls here. He never seems to support the idea of Peter as the rock, but does use the verse in a discourse about Christ seeming to refer to Jesus as God as the rock upon which the church is built (NPNF, vol. 4. Pg. 447) in his discourse against the Arians. Yet, again he does not apply the phrase to Peter, but rather says nothing will prevail against Faith after quoting verse 16 and 17 in a fragment from letter 29 (NPNF, vol. 4 pg. 551). Cyprian, too, denies Peter is the rock, seeming instead to apply the rock to all bishops everywhere, which has been interpreted by some to show a belief that the faith of Peter is what stands as the rock. However, he also seems to be the first to apply Peter as the rock in other places.
In fact, according to Launoi, only 17 of the Fathers of the church (leaders before the 12th century) can be found to express the opinion that Peter is ‘the rock’, and no less than 40 deny Peter as the rock (ANF vol. 5 pg. 561). With all of this evidence easily at hand, it seems odd that the authors of the study notes in the Reformation Study Bible would be so dismissive of any other interpretation. It also seems odd that so many people would think the not-Peter-rock interpretations arose only after the text was stolen by papists. This is untrue because we know that men like Augustine and Jerome were teaching such interpretations prior to its usurpation and perversion by roman bishops. Perhaps in a future post, I will be able to discuss this issue further. For now it is simply enough to show my displeasure at the growing trend.
Monday, June 12, 2006
It has been a while since I have given a book review, so let me give a quick update on what I have been reading.
I just finished reading The House by Robert Remini. A very informative book on the history of the House of Representatives. Want to know about the most powerful Speakers of the House, how the Republicans won back control, or how the Senate gained the ability to produce revenue bills? It is all in the book. Very readable, very interesting.
Peter Leithart’s book, A House for My Name was also interesting. It is an overview of the OT and how that impacts our understanding of the NT. He had some good insights, but I think he often makes too big a deal about certain things. For example, he lays a great deal of weight on Cain going east of Eden (Gen. 4:16). Traveling east becomes a symbol for going away from God, and traveling west becomes a symbol for returning to God. Thus, he points out all of the significant westward motion, such as crossing the Jordan. But, he fails to deal with Israel’s first attempt to go into the Promise Land, which was entering in the south and going north. How does that affect his theory? I believe he overplays the Exodus motif as well even making the Philistines taking of the arc and Exodus for the arc of the covenant. It makes me wonder about some exegetical principles where we may disagree, but the book still contains some helpful insights.
Yes Green Baggins is at it again. He may be gone this week and next to General Assembly, but he left a nugget of wisdom about the Westminster and the Covenant of Works at the Westminster Brass.
I also read Einhard’s biography of Charlemagne. A good quick read. Probably played up with faults played down, but a good read nonetheless.
I am currently reading Ben Franklin's autobiography, which my wife found in the "free" box at a garage sale, and the History of the Eastern Synod of the RCUS.
Friday, June 09, 2006
Alastair has yet another thought provoking post. This time he tackles the subject of liturgy, mainly the subject of form versus free prayers. Alastair says,
The ‘heroic pose’ that Keillor speaks of is one in which the speaker presents God with his own words, deeming his own vocabulary to be sufficient. The reasoning behind such an approach is that the most authentic way of being is that of spontaneity as opposed to imitation. Prayers of spontaneity, no matter how rhetorically brilliant they are, will always fall short of truly public speech. True public speech is shared language, where the words are not the speaker’s own. Spontaneous speech always falls short, drawing attention to the speaker, who often has a desire for people’s praise.
While I can agree with Alastair that we should pray the promises of God back to him, I cannot agree that free prayers, prayers of spontaneity, in the worship fall short and only serve to draw attention to the speaker. True public speech is one where the language is shared, but does that necessitate that the words are not the speaker’s own? I do not believe this necessarily follows. Can a speaker not be the representative of people? Can a speaker’s own words not be concurred or agreed with by the people, or must they all share a book of prayer and the man must read a book of prayer to be truly public speech. Let us take this example out of the context of worship for a moment. President Reagan famously called for Ghorbachov to “tear this wall down” at the base of the Berlin Wall. Now Reagan was the representative of America, and his words spoke for me, and for thousands of others. The words were Reagan’s own, but they were still public speech because his words represented the will of America. He spoke for us. Why cannot a minister speak for his people in a similar way? I believe he can and does.
Alastair’s next point states,
In handing ourselves over to a language that has been handed over to us in tradition we confess that we do not have the words that are sufficient to approach God. Our verbal works are sinful and poor, so they are not the sacrifice of praise our tongues present to God. The words that we bring are words that have been given to us, words that are not our own. The shared language of liturgy is thus a natural extension of the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
Our own words are not good enough to approach God. I do admit that no one, no not one, is worthy enough to approach God on his own. Yet, the blood of Christ makes us able to approach the Lord in worship even with our own words. If man’s words are not worthy of approaching God, then they are never good enough to approach God. Man is then only allowed to approach God with the words of Scripture. Man made prayers that have been handed down to us through tradition are not made worthy by the passing of time. If they were not worthy when written, then they are not worthy today. Just because they are not my personal words does not make someone else’s personal words worthy. Alastair does grant later that hymns are sometimes acceptable, but if man’s words are not good enough then why are they good enough in song. The argument Alastair uses for form prayers is the argument often used by exclusive psalmody. A difference is also drawn between private prayers and public ones, but why a man’s words are not worthy in public, but in private found acceptable is not explained.
The other argument brought forth against free prayers is one of self-promotion. While I can see that this may indeed from time to time be a problem it is arguing that the personal faults of some destroy the worthiness of the entire system. Some people may try to show off in their prayers, but that does not mean that everyone shows off in prayer. Some may indeed draw attention to themselves during prayers, but others may not. The few certainly does not out weigh the many. One could just as easily argue that form prayers are bad because people mindless read, and do not understand what they are praying. Reading is not the same as praying; therefore, those who simply read, do not pray at all. Such an attack is probably true for some people. They may indeed not bother to pay attention. But does that necessarily mean the whole idea of a form prayer is corrupt? No, I do not think so. Each way has its own temptations, and it is good to be aware of them, but no way is temptation free.
My real point of contention with high liturgy is found in one of Alastair’s concluding points. One of the things that the Church could really benefit from today is a downplaying of preaching within the context of the liturgy and a denial of the primacy of the preacher. I believe in a liturgy, but one that is a pulpit based liturgy of which I believe free prayers are acceptable. Traditionally the high liturgy is an altar/table based liturgy that stress other elements than the word and the word preached. I am not against form prayers, in fact, we pray the Lord’s Prayer every week and we have responsive readings every week, but I do not think that one can be biblically against a representative free prayer either, which we also have every week.
Monday, June 05, 2006
Allow me to examine one last era of history for I believe it will answer some objections that have been raised. That is the Progressive Era around the turn of the 20th century. We have seen how 3rd Parties can overcome regional odds and win national elections eventually replacing old parties. The Progressive Era shows us a second way 3rd Parties are important. During this time we see two 3rd Parties rise and fall: the Bull-Moose Party and the Progressive Party. They had some electoral success such as La Follette being elected governor and into Congress. But nationally they failed. Or did they?
The Progressive Party stood for ‘progressing’ society, and they desired to use the government, at all levels, to accomplish that purpose. They clearly stood in the Nationalistic tradition. They were for government regulations on food industries, women having the right to vote, senators being directly elected by the people, prohibition, removal of the gold standard, women’s suffrage, income tax, busting up monopolies, and child labor laws. Sound familiar? All of them are laws today with the lone exception of prohibition, but that did make it into the Constitution for a time. There are child labor laws despite the child labor amendment to the Constitution being defeated. Yet, the Progressive Party never won a national election. Teddy Roosevelt defected to the Bull Moose Party, and only succeeded in getting Woodrow Wilson elected President. They never controlled congress, or even came close. How did these third parties get everything they wanted without winning?
They got everything they wanted because the other parties stood up and took notice. They never really had a large public face or great ballot box victories. La Follette from Wisconsin and La Guardia from New York were about as good as it got, but these men turned their positions in the House into soap boxes. These men were elected to seats and that kept seats from the two big Parties, the Republican and Democrats. It did not take long for the parties to respond. Woodrow Wilson helped kill the Bull-Moose Party by taking all their ideas. The Progressive Party died the same death when the two parties came around on the positions taken by the Progressives, eliminating the need for them. The Constitution was amended twice between the Bill of Rights, 1792, and the Civil War in 1860. Two times in 50 years. Then the Civil War necessitated three amendments. Those lasted until the Progressive era of 1900. 5 amendments in over 100 years. Then in a 25 year span (1910-1935) the Constitution was amended 6 times plus one amendment that passed Congress only to be struck down by the states. The Progressives dominated this time despite having no national power at all. People voted for them, and that was enough to send the message. The two big parties responded, and the 3rd Party died, but won the day. Its ideology became enshrined in the two party system.
This is why voting for a third party is not throwing your vote away. It is a signal to the two main parties they are losing touch. If they respond, the 3rd party has served its purpose and goes away. If they do not and continue to neglect the people, more and more will join the 3rd Party until it replaces a party at the table. Look back on Ross Perot. He cost President Bush the First the election with a campaign slogan of "throw the bums out" that decried government corruption. Since then we had the Republican Revolution, which ran on balancing the budget and reforming government. This was Perot’s platform, and Perot endorsed the Contract with America during the 1994 Congressional races. I think Perot’s Pie Charts about finances, corruption, and balanced budgets got through even though Perot’s party is now in shambles.
What about the Green Party of Ralph Nader? He severely hurt Al Gore in his bid for the White House. Since then we have seen the Democrats run to the far left with Nancy Pelosi as House Minority Leader, Howard Dean as DNC chair and Al Gore himself now makes Environmental movies. The Green Party responded by not nominating Nader in 2004, which sounded a lot like a death toll for them. The Democrats responded, and their need is diminishing. The Bull Moose Party did the same thing when they endorsed a Republican candidate against Wilson because the Republicans had taken up the Bull Moose cause.
The Republican Party is currently made up of anyone who believes in tax cuts. It houses big government men, it houses social liberals, it also holds libertarian leaning men. The Libertarian Party and the Constitutional Party and any other far right 3rd Party has a real opportunity, in my opinion. They should probably not concentrate so much on Presidential races, but run local Congressional elections. The House is where the power is for 3rd Parties. They need to talk about boarders and run away spending. Those two issues alone would probably play well for this election and 2008. It would only take the election of one man to cause shock waves. Men like Tom Tancredo and Tom Coburn are being pushed aside in the Republican Party of Compassionate Conservatives, and 3rd Parties can either return them to power in the Republican base by calling it back to its small government roots, or it may well be replaced.
In short voting for someone who is not a Republican or a Democrat is not throwing your vote away. It is a vote for an ideology. It is saying, "what is important to me is not represented by the two parties." When enough people ban together to make that statement, the parties listen. Voting for the lesser of two evils only guarantees evil. Voting against evil may allow evil to win or it may get someone to take notice.
Saturday, June 03, 2006
I have to comment on this post by John Armstrong. It involves a list of questions he ponders as a Reformed Christian, and I believe he deserves some answers, or at least some reply questions.
Q1. Why do modern conservative Reformed Christians seem to have historical amnesia when it comes to events that transpired in church history from the death of John on the Isle of Patmos, late in the first century, until the completion of the Canon several centuries later?
A. I do not believe most modern Reformed Christians ignore the first centuries of the church. Just check the back of any Trinity Hymnal, an OPC production, and you will find the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. Both of which were written in the time period he describes. More importantly what is Rev. Armstrong implying in the question? Was the Canon of Scripture not completed after the last apostle died? Was it not completed the minute the last book of the Bible was written? What is the point is saying that there is a gap between the apostles and the formation of the Bible? It would appear that Rev. Armstrong believes the church created the Bible, and that is troubling.
Q2. Why do modern conservative Reformed Christians virtually ignore the Church Fathers as well as the catholic creeds of the Christian church?
A. I fail to see how this is different than the first question, and it is just not true.
Q3. Why do modern conservative Reformed Christians ignore the fact that John Calvin was especially influenced by the Church Fathers? For that matter why do these same conservative Reformed Christians virtually ignore other Reformed writers who relied very heavily upon the classical catholic tradition such as Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley?
A. Obviously someone has an ax to grind by repeating the same thought in three questions. Would it not be faster just to come out and describe an example of how conservative Reformed Christians ignore the early church? Without examples it is really just the fallacy of ‘hasty generalization’ not to mention completely baseless.
Q4. Why do conservative Reformed Christians treat only certain confessional traditions, such as the Westminster Confession or its cousin the London Baptist Confession, as if only these confessions and catechisms were the proper confessional grounds for the Reformed faith and thus for contemporary understanding of the Bible and classical Christian thought, if they even care about classical thought? These important creedal standards of the 17th century are not the only standards for orthodoxy, for all time and all cultures, and few have ever treated them in this manner. Therefore, why do ordinary Christians hardly ever hear this from the many of the conservative Reformed spokesmen? (There are few if any conservative Reformed spokeswomen, which is another question for another time.)
A. Let us just leave aside the disturbing comment about women for today. Coming from a denomination that uses neither the Westminster nor the London Baptist Confession, I would argue that to make this question fit, Rev. Armstrong needs to replace the word “Reformed” with “Presbyterian”. There are many conservative Reformed denominations that use the Three Forms for example. More importantly note how Rev. Armstrong thinks that orthodoxy changes over time. He makes sure to include the idea that the WCF is not a standard “for all time”. If you do not think the WCF is orthodox, fine. Come out and defend your point. But arguing that it was orthodox, and now is not because of the advancement of contemporary thought is Hegelian, denying the truth can be known, and dangerous to say the least.
Q5. Why do conservative Reformed Christians demand a kind of purity from other modern Reformed writers that allows so many of them to never actually engage the culture and do the hard work of the Kingdom in the 21st century? Why do they attack all expressions of emerging culture and church life when in fact their tradition emerged in a specific time in history too?
A. While this is again purposefully vague, one gets the idea that this might be about opposition to the Emergent Church. However, the implication of his words seems to say that ‘purity’ presumably of doctrine forbids engaging the culture. From that opinion, I dissent.
Q6. Why do conservative Reformed Christians identify so strongly, and often so stridently, with other non-Reformed Christians in certain area of gospel controversy, especially in advocating very narrow definitions of the gospel in an attempt to impress lay people and inadequately taught pastors that they alone are standing for the truth in this dark day? This has been done over the last ten years with the issuance of various joint statements and widely promoted conferences, as if these faithful spokesmen alone have the courage to defend the gospel and the correct understanding of what actually constitutes the gospel.
A. I have to admit that I am lost on this one. Rev. Armstrong obviously has specifics in mind but refuses to name them. This puts him squarely in the tradition of Gilbert Tennent. But since I have no idea what he really means, and I do not attend many, if any, conferences I will just take a pass.
Q7. Why do conservative Reformed Christians generally treat Roman Catholics (and Orthodox Christians if they bother to respond to them at all) as non-Christians, especially in their public pronouncements? Do these same Reformed Christians, at least on the Presbyterian side of the aisle, ever admit that their own traditions have always accepted Catholic/Orthodox baptism as valid Christian baptism? I also wonder if these conservatives, who stand should-to-shoulder with other non-Reformed fundamentalists in a type of reductionism that results from their narrow gospel definitions (as noted as in question six above), really ever make these facts plain to their non-Reformed (Baptist and dispensational) allies, who I suppose would be aghast if they understood this?
A. This I believe is a valid question. One that was discussed recently by many ministers in my denomination. But, I do not think that accepting the validity of Baptism means that we are accepting the validity of the Roman/Popish/Eastern church. Baptism in the end is the work, not of the minister, but of the Holy Spirit. It does not depend on the holiness of the man, but on the promises of God. And just to show I do not ignore history, Augustine made this argument against the Donatists many centuries ago, and it is the basis of the Reformed position. As for making it clear to Baptist allies that we accept the baptisms of Romanists, I hope we do. Because if there is one thing we need to have discussions with Baptists about it is baptism.
Q8. Why do conservative Reformed Christians rail so harshly, and react so emotionally, against liturgy in worship (a huge list could be constructed to make this point) on the one hand, while on the other they hate pop-cultural, happy-clappy, contemporary evangelical worship services with a passion? Do they realize that what they have created, in many cases, is a modern lecture hall with hymns and a collection? Do they realize that this is much more like a Plymouth Brethren gathering than a truly Reformed service, with all its variations and rich use of older liturgical tradition?
A. We rail against both because driving into a ditch on either side of the road is a bad idea. For clarification, liturgy itself is not bad, but I suspect that Rev. Armstrong mean a high altar-based liturgy. Conservative Reformed Christians usually argue for a Pulpit based liturgy. John Nevin, a proponent of altar based liturgy said it best, “They are two different theological systems.” Nevin was not confused by the railing. The altar based system and the pulpit based system are not the same liturgical tradition. If Rev. Armstrong does not mean to argue for Nevin’s system, then I suppose his attack is so narrow that I do not know much of the lecture hall environment he describes.
Q9. Why do conservative Reformed Christians often promote a high ecclesiology (in theory) while in practice they act much more like Southern Baptists who add presbyteries and general assemblies on to a modern form of culture religion? In practice these sorts of Reformed groups govern themselves, and do theology, less and less like historically Reformed bodies. Think populism and democractic idealism, not historic Reformed confessionalism, and you get my point.
A. I think the best answer there is sin. We tend toward populism rather than confessionalism naturally, and it is a constant battle. It is good to be reminded of our need for grace even in our ecclesiology.
Q10. Why do conservative Reformed Christians promote certain aspects of Puritanism, often without really understanding Puritanism in the way a real scholar like J. I. Packer does, while at the same time they despise the real Puritan approach to the Holy Spirit and to a practical experiential religion centered in the heart? And why do these same people hate almost every type of ascetical or mystical theology while whole segments of the Reformed movement have loved these parts of the Christian tradition deeply? (This is precisely why some conservative Reformed spokesmen despise Jonathan Edwards, which I discovered first-hand, to my profound surprise, about ten years ago.)
A. I am not a Puritan expert since I am not really in the Puritan tradition in the RCUS. I would be interested, however, in which parts of the Reformed traditions loved asceticism and mysticism. I am not sure why I am required to enjoy Jonathon Edwards either. He has his good points, and he has some bad points.
Rev. Armstrong challenges men to come out and abandon their narrow confessionalism. He adds his wishes that churches would live in the 21st century rather than the 17th. Yet, here is where I would challenge Rev. Armstrong. I wish he would have an open debate about Theological and Historical Development. Why is it that orthodoxy of the 17th century is now the unorthodoxy of the 21st? I believe the historical development theories of Hegel, Schaff, and Nevin are philosophically, theologically, and historically absurd. As a matrix for viewing history, the bible, and the church it fails completely. Yet it is historical development is the underpinning of the Federal Vision, Reformed Catholicism, and Rev. Armstrong’s entire post. However, I, like Rev. Armstrong, will not hold my breath.