Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Islamic Evangelism

An interesting thing happened to me on the bus home tonight. For the second time in the past few months, a Moslem noticed the book I was reading and ascertained that I was a Christian. He then proceeded to talk about Christianity, and deftly transition into Islam. In both instances, they attempted to prove that Christianity and Islam were essentially the same, and that Christ was looking forward to Mohammed. After that, their particular arguments diverged, but the fact that the method and the introduction followed the exact same pattern makes me curious if an Islamic evangelistic campaign is underway. I have to admit, I am impressed with their ability to start and transition a conversation; even if their understanding of Christianity is below average (but then again the vast majority of Christian's understanding of Islam is similar) and their willingness to admit that the New Testament's presentation of Jesus message is incorrect according to their presuppositions (they are not trying to alienate us Christians right off the bat) leaves much to be desired. One rarely considers Islam a religion reasoned debate or discussion without force being applied.

So the moral of the story, ride public transportation reading commentaries, and you will have an opportunity to defend the Christian faith against Islam.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

You Might be a Paedobaptist

Justin alerted me to this joke, and I thought I would share it (plus it proves that I am still alive in some form or another). Enjoy!

You might be A Paedobaptist (James) if . . .

1. You've got a big bushy beard in honor of R. L. Dabney. (Well... You try to anyway...)

2. You can spell supralapsrian , suprlapsarian, suralapsrian, supralapsarian.

3. When asked to name the twelve apostles you say Matthew, John, James, Andrew, Peter, Nathaniel, Phillip, Simon, Thomas, Augustine, Luther and Calvin.

4. You used to be a Baptist. (Sadly, not James either...)

5. You started drinking ("in moderation" of course) after you left the Baptist church and became a Presbyterian. (Not James yet...)

6. You always use the word "covenant" as in our "covenant family", our "covenant children", our "covenant community", our "covenant church", etc.

7. When the spirit comes upon you in power, you don't raise your hands and shout Hallelujuah, rather you scratch your chin, turn to your neighbor and whisper "hmmm, . . . that was a good point."

8. You think fencing has something to do with the Lord's Supper instead of swords.

9. You've considered church discipline for people who watch the Premiership on Sunday afternoon.

10. When someone asks you a question about the Bible, you answer, "Well, the confession says . . . " or "the catechism says . . . "

11. Charles Spurgeon is just a little too Arminian for your blood.

12. They aren't "catholics," or even "Roman Catholics." They're "Romanists," or "Papists."

13. You secretly suspect that John Calvin was a liberal because of his compromise on the Sabbath issue.

14. You know the meaning of most or all of the following - PCA, PCUS, PCUSA, PC(USA), PC(U.S.A.), PCUSA(NS), PCUSA(OS), RPCES, RPCNA-GS, RPCNA, EPC, OPC, ARP, NAPARC, CRC, RCA, BPC, BPC-Collingswood, BPC-Columbus, CPC, TE, RE, WCF, WLC, WSC, BCO, UPC, UPCNA, UPCUSA, NPC,

15. You know, or think you know, the difference between "calvinist" and "reformed."

16. You think the phrase "chosen frozen" is a compliment.

You Might Be a Baptist if . . .

1. Your tie stops an inch above your navel.

2. You consider fried chicken to be the gospel bird. (I think this is American...?)

3. You are very sure that the so-called "wine" in the Bible was unfermented grape juice.

4. When someone asks you what you would be if you weren't a Baptist, you say "I'd be ashamed!!!"

5. You think sword drills have something to do with the Bible and not with fencing.

6. There are really only two "true" first names in the world - "brother" or "sister."

7. Yours is the oldest and most Biblical denomination of all. After all, it was founded by John the Baptist.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Pharisees in Mark

Mark does not present the Pharisees in the most flattering light. Each time the Pharisees appear in Mark, they enter into conflict with Jesus, and once Jesus warns his disciples concerning the “leaven of the Pharisees.” In the midst of the conflict, Mark makes unmistakably clear the distinction between Jesus and the Pharisees.

In Mark, the Pharisees constantly criticize Jesus and his disciples. The central criticism of Jesus is his laxity with regard to their customs and traditions. The first encounter in Mark between Jesus and the Pharisees involve his eating with those who were socially unacceptable (2:16). While the Pharisees prided themselves on their separation from all that was defiled, Jesus made it his custom to associate with the sinners- so much so that Jesus defined the social and religious outcasts as the focus of his ministry. The second encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees involved matters of food (2:24-28). The prevalence of fasting by the Pharisees has been previously noted by Mark in conjunction with the incompatibility of Jesus’ presence in contrast to the time of Jesus’ removal and the newness of Jesus’ ministry (2:18-22). While Jesus and his disciples were passing through a field of standing grain on the Sabbath, the Pharisees noticed that Jesus’ disciples plucked grain and ate because they were hungry. In response to the charge of this impropriety, Jesus responds with a Scriptural argument centering on the priority to men and their needs, and not the letter of the law. Instead of arguing about the propriety of his disciple’s actions, Jesus returns to the greater principle of God’s gift of the Sabbath on behalf of man. Jesus thus sets his interpretation of the law in contrast with that of the Pharisees; and further, he places himself as the “son of man” as the authoritative interpreter and teacher of God’s will (2:28). The next incident also centers on the Sabbath, and the freedom to do good to a man with a withered hand (3:1-6). Jesus compassion was well known through Jesus prior actions, and the Pharisees sought to use Jesus goodness as a means to bring accusation against him. Having been bested previously by Jesus with regard to the interpretation of the law, the Pharisees refuse to answer Jesus challenge on the lawful action toward the man. Jesus understands their silence as condemnation of his action, and indignantly heals the man. In response, they seek Jesus’ destruction (3:6). The next encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees is a direct and deliberate challenge to Jesus by the Pharisees (7:1-22). In this instance, what is central is not the letter of the law, but the traditions built up around the law by Jewish teachers. In dining, the Pharisees noted that Jesus followers did not practice the strict cleansing rituals followed by the rest of the Jewish people. Jesus response to this criticism is his most direct and harshest yet. Previously Jesus allowed his mission, his interpretation of the law and his compassion to stand in stark contrast with that of the Pharisees. In this instance, Jesus responds that the Pharisees were themselves lawbreakers, and not the moral rigorists they appeared (7:9-13). Once again, Jesus not only prevails in argument over the Scripture with the Pharisees, but also presents his own unique authority to interpret and to abrogate the law (7:14-22; esp. 18). The next meeting of the Pharisees and Jesus was a result of their testing Jesus and seeking a sign (8:11-12). Jesus does not see this question as an honest concern, but as an attack on himself and a sign of the perversity of the teachers and the age they represent. Jesus would later warn his disciples to be on guard against the corrupting influence of these teachers (8:15). The test of the Pharisees regarding divorce likewise ends with Jesus vindicated as the true, authoritative teacher of the law (10:2-9). Finally, the Pharisees appear once more in the litany of challenges Jesus faces upon entering Jerusalem (12:13-17). Whereas other challenges were religious, this challenge is primarily political. In his wisdom, Jesus answer avoids the dilemma intended to trap him.

Several observations suggest themselves concerning Mark and the Pharisees. First, the nature of the debate between Jesus and the Pharisees is fundamental. The distinction does not concern a more conservative verses a more liberal interpretation of the law; rather, there is a fundamental gap between the practices of Jesus and that of the Pharisees, so much so Jesus would warn his followers to be on guard against their corrupting influence. With regard to the law, it is not simply that the Pharisees were strict while Jesus was more lax; rather, Jesus charged the Pharisees misunderstanding, and this breaking, the law. Further, while the Pharisees may have prided themselves on their understanding of the law, Jesus consistently demonstrates their knowledge and the application of their knowledge are faulty. Second, there is a progression in the actions of the Pharisees. In the first encounters, the Pharisees appear passively complaining Jesus, while as the book progresses, the Pharisees become more active in seeking to test and to trap Jesus. As the reader’s recognition of Jesus Messiahship grows throughout the books, that of the Pharisees declines. In this pattern, Mark portrays the Pharisees as ones who have moved beyond misunderstanding and disbelief, in to the realm of direct oppositions to God’s appointed agent of redemption. Finally, Mark makes clear by the associates of the Pharisees his negative presentation. Already at the opening of the book, after having been bested by Jesus, rather than repent and readjust their attitude to Jesus’ teaching, the Pharisees seek to destroy Jesus in conjunction with the Herodians. The Pharisees appear from the city of Jerusalem, the place of Jesus death in order to challenge Jesus, and are later sent by the leaders of Jerusalem to trap Jesus. The Pharisees are presented as dark elements within the book, until they are identified with those responsible for putting Jesus to death. Within Mark, there is no sign of light, no remnant of faithful Pharisees; his portrayal is totally negative.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Amazing Website

Justin posted a link to the following website that is beyond amazing. The amount of material here is still hard to grasp. I cannot begin to describe the books here, and can only suggest you check it out. You will not be disappointed, I will promise you. As Justin pointed out, this site almost has to have some major copyright issues, and is bound to be shut down at some point, so get this stuff while you still can.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Simpons and Eschatology

No television show tops The Simpsons when it comes to satire of contemporary events and fads. Few things are sacred and off-limits to the show’s biting sarcasm, including religious institutions and movements. While evangelicalism is a consistent present in the plot and characters populating Springfield, this past season dispensationalism made its début. Left Behind, the popular series of books purporting to represent the Biblical teaching concerning the end times by Tim LaHay and Jerry B. Jenkins formed the basis for a plot of the cartoon. In this episode, Homer calculates the time of the rapture; and seeks to warn the denizens of Springfield to prepare lest they be “left below.” His initial attempt to calculate the date and time of the rapture was incorrect, due to an arithmetic error, but after his previous incorrect prediction, his neighbors refuse to believe his corrected figure. Homer ends up being correct in his calculation, and is the only one raptured, but seeing the torments of his family on earth, he forces God to hold off the apocalypse and returns to life as normal- for a time.

The tragic humor of this episode lies in the fact that much of the material underlying the plot represents beliefs widely held within the evangelical church. Leaving aside the lack of Biblical support for the dispensational eschatology, the satirical representation of the system reveals several striking areas where this system is not only ridiculous, but unbiblical. First, Homer’s attempt to determine the date of the rapture is not just an aspect of Matt Groening’s humor, but an accurate portrayal of many popular tendencies within dispensationalism. The failed predictions of Hal Lindsay and Harold Camping concerning the timing of the rapture are two prominent examples of false teachers who gained a significant following within the dispensational camp. Ours is not the only age to ignore Jesus statement in Matthew 24:36 that “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Even though this generation is not unique in attempting to forecast the coming of Christ, the connection with the average, mainstream believer is striking. It seems in the past that this attempt was made by heretical groups, such as the Montanists, or teachers on the fringe of the church such as Joacaim of Flores and certain Anabaptists. Second, the focus of Homer’s message to the residents of Springfield focus on fleeing from the horrors of being “left below.” This seems to be a sad, but true portrayal of a primary focus in dispensational evangelism. Too much of the focus of their message is on being saved in light of the terrors of the Tribulation, and not the horrors of hell. The supposed events of the Tribulation are used as a tool to scare individuals into the kingdom- oh wait, the kingdom is a separate dispensation which is focused on Israel and not the church. In my reading of the Left Behind series, the characters realization of their sinfulness and their need of redemption found only in Christ is not the motivating factor for their conversion, but the events surrounding the rapture and the tribulation, and their failure to be saved in time to be raptured. Such a “gospel” mutes the true need and danger of men, not for deliverance from a three and a half year period of apocalyptic horror, but for deliverance from the eternal wrath of a just God.

Two concluding remarks suggest themselves. First, it is tragic that such a system is actually held by the majority of the evangelical church today. The amazing popularity of the Left Behind series is not a result of their being well written, but the perception of being Biblically accurate. The prevalence of dispensationalism is not a sign of theological rigor or Biblical integrity in the church, but serious ignorance. The fact that so many have been duped, and willingly adopt such a forced and unnatural reading of the Biblical testimony, and the comfortable association of this teaching with some of the most heretical and destructive developments (the health and wealth gospel and the Lordless salvation theory to identify two) within the pale of the visible church, raises deeper question about the spiritual state of the teachers and followers of this system. Second, the presentation of this teaching to the world as being representative of the Biblical testimony is shameful. The ridiculous impression created by dispensationalism is in stark contrast to the simplicity of the true Biblical presentation of the future. It is this that the dying world needs to hear; but the message is being muted by the idle speculations and blatant errors of Left Behold and the like. It is not only the moral failings that rightly bring the ridicule of the world upon the church, but also her doctrinal failings. The message of the cross is foolishness to the perishing, but we must not compound the necessary foolishness of the gospel with teaching that is actual foolishness.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Anointing and the Health and Wealth "Gospel"

Until I actually get around to writing a new post, I will reuse something I wrote previously in a response to a question one of my friend asked me concerning anointing. The question concerned the claim by a follower of a follower of a certain health-and-wealth preacher and his immunity from criticism because he was "anointed." The attempted support of this was found in David's refusal to speak against King Saul because he was the Lord's anointed. I attempted to briefly, but thoroughly, respond to this claim.

Now dealing with the question at hand concerning anointing.
First, examination needs to be offered of the citation of David's action in order to understand how it may apply to us. I agree with you that this citation is out of context, let's look closer at the context. First, Saul has something this preacher does not have, a unmistakable commission by God. Saul's anointing was unmistakable, this man's is not. Second, there is very good reason why David respected King Saul. Exodus 22:25 states, "You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people." So, for David to do anything other would have been to violate God's law. But, this man is clearly not a ruler, a political functionary, so the law does not apply. Third, anointing did not free Saul from confrontation with his sin. Samuel was blunt in his rebuke of Saul's act of disobedience to God and deviation from proper worship. In our day, rebuke is just as necessary to be offered to those who pervert the pure worship of God and lead men, women and children in eternal danger. False doctrine, especially when so egregiously in contradiction to God's clear Word is as much a sin that needs to be condemned by the church's and individual's prophetic office. While leaders are to be given honor, respect and extra protection from unfounded attacks (I Timothy 5:19- the necessity of two or three witnesses for an accusation against an elder)- they are not given immunity. There is no special class in the church.

Second, we need to careful on what the Bible teaches about anointing. First, it is not a prominent doctrine in the Bible. We can easy leave out those that speak of the ritual/ceremonial act applied to priests and the civil act applied to kings. It is bad hermeneutics to apply these in a decontextualized manner to NT situations. Second, the term is consistently used substantivally to refer as a title to a specific individual. One prominent example is the reference of Cyrus as God's anointed in Isaiah 45:1. The majority of the remaining of the texts are Messianic, and have no personal relevance for individual believers or church leaders. Thirdly, the term is applied as an act of cleansing or special "make-up" of the rich (cf. Dan 10:3, Amos 6:6. Matt 6:17). Clearly, none of these examples are of any relevance. Fourth, James 5:14 refers to the anointing for the sick. This is a more difficult passage that has created issues with Catholic/Protestant discussions, but it is likewise not relevant to this situation. Finally, one passage remains which has relevance, and it the only one that has relevance to this discussion. It appears on the surface to support this man's contention. I John 2:20 and 27, "But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth...As for you the anointing you have received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit- just as it has taught you, remain in him." First, the anointing seems clearly to be pointing to the Holy Spirit. Second, note the word "all" in 20. This anointing is not the special privilege of a few, but a blessing granted by God to all his children. Third, the purpose of the anointing is to know the truth, and guard against those who promoted error in the church. The exact functioning of the Spirit in this context is not clear. It is possible that the Spirit functioned more directly, but it is not clear. Further, it is not possible for God to contradict himself, and so no one can claim anointing from the Spirit while maintaining doctrine at variance with other passages inspired by the Spirit. Fourth, the context of John does not suggest this reading. John presents three test in the book to discern one's standing as a child of God, the doctrinal, the moral and the social. While the specific doctrinal concern in John's Epistles appears to be concerning Christ's true humanity (perhaps Docetism or some sort of proto-Gnosticism), it is not improper to understand other areas of vital, central doctrine as being secondarily applicable. The moral lapses of health and wealth leaders are infamous, and while it is not proper to impugn all because of the sins of a few, the trends are telling. The social effect of their understanding of anointing is deleterious to Christian fellowship, and Christian love. They have divided the church by their errors, not only in an ecumenical sense, but also within their fellowship of the have's and have not's.

How can one tell if one is ministering consistent with God's will, how can we tell the true from the false? The test of Deuteronomy 18 are clear. First, are their prophecies true? Second, is their message consistent with the rest of God's revelation. Third, and in this instance most striking to me, are they leading people to greater devotion to the Lord, or leading them astray. Too many teachers, in the health and wealth movement and all across the church today seem to want to build themselves and their ministries up, and not exalt the Lord and strengthen the body of Christ. I wonder how vigorously those who defend these teachers would defend a point of clear teaching in Scripture which is does not aide their idiosyncratic ideas, how boldly they would defend the honor of Christ and the purity of his bride the church?

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Another Amusing Quiz

Which theologian are you?

Justin seems to have a penchant for finding interesting sites on the internet (or knowing others who can find interesting sites in the internet). This quiz tells you what theologian you are based on your answers to questions. Here are the results I got:

You scored as Anselm.

Anselm is the outstanding theologian of the medieval period.He sees man's primary problem as having failed to render unto God what we owe him, so God becomes man in Christ and gives God what he is due. You should read 'Cur Deus Homo?'

Anselm 93%
John Calvin 67%
Karl Barth 67%
Jonathan Edwards 67%
Martin Luther 60%
Friedrich Schleiermacher 47%
Paul Tillich 27%
Jürgen Moltmann 27%
Charles Finney 20%
Augustine 7%

Perosnally, more than the other quiz, I think this is not very accurate. While I admit I am very Anselmic, I was surprised that Calvin was not higher, or at least closer to Anselm. Personally, I see Calvin as the model theologian, and maybe I am just being vain, but I think many of my positions and practices are patterned after him. I was surprised (sort of) to see Barth as high as Calvin, but the existentialist comes out at last. The biggest thing I disagree with was how low Augustine is represented. I can guess that this was based solely on my response to two questions which are idiomatic to his position and not central. At the very least, Augustine should have scored much higher than Tillich, Moltmann, and Finney. But, at the end of the day, it is just a silly quiz, why get bugged by it.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Missing Camden Children

I will be posting something on the trip to Camden in about a week, but a recent development calls for prayer. About three hours ago, 3 children who had been missing in Camden since Wendsday night were found dead in the trunk of a car near their house by one of the boy's father. The authorities have not released a lot of information, but this is a horrible tragedy for this family and community. The children went missing only a few blocks from where Pastor Alvira's church in Camden where we will run a Vaction Bible School in about a week and a half. One of the children who was found attended the VBS we ran two years ago. Pastor Alvira was involved in the search for the children. Please pray that he would have wisdom to comfort this family in their loss, and an opportunity to present the gospel. Also, pray that this tragedy would not hinder out ability to minister to the children in the neighborhood.

One another related note, also keep Pastor Alvira's health in prayer, as he was recently in a car accident and injured his back. While bad enough for a person in normal health, with his RSDS, this could pose a more signficant risk. Pray for his doctors, one of whom is an elder in the OPC church in nearby Bellmawr, to have wisdom in how to treat Ben; and for healing an strength for Pastor Alvira so he can effectivly perservere in his ministry.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Exegeting Stop Signs

Someone sent this out on a list, and it was too funny to pass up posting. Some good, intelligent humor is a good thing; plus, it might keep a satisfy a certain New Yorker who want me to post something :-)

Hermeneutics in everyday life

Suppose you're travelling to work and you see a stop sign. What do you do? That depends on how you exegete the stop sign.

1. A postmodernist deconstructs the sign (knocks it over with his car), ending forever the tyrrany of the north-south traffic over the east-west traffic.

2. Similarly, a Marxist sees a stop sign as an instrument of class conflict. He concludes that the bourgeoisie use the north-south road and obstruct the progress of the workers on the east-west road.

3. A serious and educated Catholic believes that he cannot understand the stop sign apart from its interpretive community and their tradition. Observing that the interpretive community doesn't take it too seriously, he doesn't feel obligated to take it too seriously either.

4. An average Catholic (or Orthodox or Coptic or Anglican or Methodist or Presbyterian or whatever) doesn't bother to read the sign but he'll stop if the car in front of him does.

5. A fundamentalist, taking the text very literally, stops at the stop sign and waits for it to tell him to go.

6. A preacher might look up "STOP" in his lexicons of English and discover that it can mean: 1) something which prevents motion, such as a plug for a drain, or a block of wood that prevents a door from closing; 2) a location where a train or bus lets off passengers. The main point of his sermon the following Sunday on this text is: when you see a stop sign, it is a place where traffic is naturally clogged, so it is a good place to let off passengers from your car.

7. An orthodox Jew does one of two things:
1) Take another route to work that doesn't have a stop sign so that he doesn't run the risk of disobeying the Law.
2) Stop at the stop sign, say "Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who hast given us thy commandment to stop," wait 3 seconds according to his watch, and then proceed. Incidently, the Talmud has the following comments on this passage: R[abbi] Meir says: He who does not stop shall not live long. R. Hillel says: Cursed is he who does not count to three before proceeding. R. Simon ben Yudah says: Why three? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, gave us the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. R. ben Isaac says: Because of the three patriarchs. R. Yehuda says: Why bless the Lord at a stop sign? Because it says: "Be still, and know that I am God." R. Hezekiel says: When Jephthah returned from defeating the Ammonites, the Holy One, blessed be He, knew that a donkey would run out of the house and overtake his daughter; but Jephthah did not stop at the stop sign, and the donkey did not have time to come out. For this reason he saw his daughter first and lost her. Thus he was judged for his transgression at the stop sign. R. Gamaliel says: R. Hillel, when he was a baby, never spoke a word, though his parents tried to teach him by speaking and showing him the words on a scroll. One day his father was driving through town and did not stop at the sign. Young Hillel called out: "Stop, father!" In this way, he began reading and speaking at the same time. Thus it is written:
"Out of the mouth of babes." R. ben Jacob says: Where did the stop sign come from? Out of the sky, for it is written: "Forever, O Lord, your word is fixed in the heavens." R. ben Nathan says: When were stop signs created? On the fourth day, for it is written: "let them serve as signs." R. Yeshuah says: ... [continues for three more pages]

8. A Pharisee does the same thing as an orthodox Jew, except that he waits 10 seconds instead of 3. He also replaces his brake lights with 1000 watt searchlights and connects his horn so that it is activated whenever he touches the brake pedal.

9. A scholar from Jesus seminar concludes that the passage "STOP" undoubtably was never uttered by Jesus himself, but belongs entirely to stage III of the gospel tradition, when the church was first confronted by traffic in its parking lot.

10. A NT scholar notices that there is no stop sign on Mark street but there is one on Matthew and Luke streets, and concludes that the ones on Luke and Matthew streets are both copied from a sign on a completely hypothetical street called "Q". There is an excellent 300 page discussion of speculations on the origin of these stop signs and the differences between the stop signs on Matthew and Luke street in the scholar's commentary on the passage. There is an unfortunately omission in the commentary, however; the author apparently forgot to explain what the text means.

11. An OT scholar points out that there are a number of stylistic differences between the first and second half of the passage "STOP". For example, "ST" contains no enclosed areas and 5 line endings, whereas "OP" contains two enclosed areas and only one line termination. He concludes that the author for the second part is different from the author for the first part and probably lived hundreds of years later. Later scholars determine that the second half is itself actually written by two separate authors because of similar stylistic differences between the "O" and the "P".

12. Another prominent OT scholar notes in his commentary that the stop sign would fit better into the context three streets back. (Unfortunately, he neglected to explain why in his commentary.) Clearly it was moved to its present location by a later redactor. He thus exegetes the intersection as though the stop sign were not there. More Inside!!!

13. Because of the difficulties in interpretation, another OT scholar emends the text, changing "T" to "H". "SHOP" is much easier to understand in context than "STOP" because of the multiplicity of stores in the area. The textual corruption probably occured because "SHOP" is so similar to "STOP" on the sign several streets back that it is a natural mistake for a scribe to make. Thus the sign should be interpreted to announce the existence of a shopping area.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

New "Denomination"

This Tuesday, May 17, witnessed the birth of a new denomination, the Evangelical Reformed Presbyterian Church. While the growth of Christ’s kingdom should be an occasion of joy, in this instance it is one of sorrow. According to its statement, “The new denomination is being established in response to conservative Presbyterians’ increasing concern over the acceptance of the teaching of justification by faith plus works, and water baptism as an instrument of salvation, in denominations such as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).” What is implicit in this statement is made unmistakably clear in the following statement from founding member Jeffery A. Sheely:

"Because these elements hold sway in the OPC, our congregation voted unanimously to separate from that denomination last year. The present situation is very similar to what happened in the Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA) three generations ago. In 1936, conservatives left the PCUSA to form the OPC. One of the founders of the OPC, Dr. J. Gresham Machen, said that when the liberalizing elements hold sway in a denomination, and the Gospel is at stake, conservatives have no choice but to separate and begin again. That is what we are doing. History is being repeated."

While these individuals portray themselves as courageous reformers, they are in reality cowardly schismatics. Comparing the formation of their denomination with the formation of the OPC is ludicrous. Machen and the other men of conviction who founded the OPC did so only after they had exhausted every possible measure to restore the purity of the church and to maintain the unity of the church; these men have barely made an effort. Those churches that initially formed the OPC did so at the great cost, forfeiting their property and their pastor’s pension; the formation of this assembly is costing these men nothing. The very basis upon which they claim to found their denomination is patently false. Neither the OPC not the PCA accept justification by faith plus works, of baptism as an instrument of salvation. The doctrinal standards of both denominations are clear in denying these teachings, the very same standards that are ostensibly the foundation of this group. Further, to accuse the OPC of aberration on the doctrine of justification before the Committee erected to study this issue reports is massively premature. No one doubts that the conclusion reached by the Committee will be a strong reaffirmation of a traditional Reformed understanding of justification. Perhaps these men have an issue with this traditional understanding. John Robbins of the Trinity Foundation writes in his email announcing the formation of this denomination the following statement:

"The ERPC is spearheaded by former members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church who believe that the testimony of that denomination has been compromised for the past 30 years by its toleration of the teaching of two different gospels, the Biblical Gospel of justification by faith alone, and the false gospel of justification by faith and works/faithfulness/obedience."

One of Robbins’ consistent targets is Norman Shepherd, and any theology which attempts to bind justification and sanctification he labels as “Shepherdism.” To equate those equate the necessity of both faith and repentance as evidence of regeneration with Catholicism is slanderous. At the end of the day, this fatal misunderstanding of theology condemns John Calvin, the Westminster Confession, and most importantly, Scripture itself. Endless examples could be offered from both testaments on this point, but one example from Jesus will suffice, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear bad fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” What fruit is this group displaying?

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Chevelle Concert

This past Thursday, I saw Chevelle live for the first time. To say that the concert was awesome would be an understatement. I went into the show hoping they would put on a good show, but apprehensive of a three-piece band’s ability to play well and work the crowd. While Joe (Bassist) seemed to move only from the back to his mic when he needed to sing, Pete managed to sing, skillfully play guitar, and move around the stage constantly. Aside from the band’s not coming out after the show, the only disappointment of the night was their not playing a single song from their first album. The format for the playlist was rather interesting, first playing songs from their latest CD, and then songs from Wonder What’s Next.

What makes a concert such a unique experience? In my experience, it is not solely about the music. It is good to hear a band outside of the sterility of a studio and see how well they really play their instruments and sing (OK, this doesn’t work for pop). A concert also gives on insight into the musician’s personality. Watching Pete’s facial expressions and the look in his eyes while he sang made the effort to be front and center well worth it. However, one of the best things about a concert is the setting aside inhibitions for a couple hours. As much fun as a concert is, I tend to like a nice calm, quiet environment. Ordinarily I would fiercely defend my personal space, and would never be caught singing at the top of my lungs for over an hour. For the short three hours of a concert, the ordinary laws are suspended; it is that suspension which makes a concert such an enjoyable recreation.

Sunday, April 17, 2005


I recently finished reading Nietzsche's The Gay Science and he made an interesting statement I have been thinking about for a while. In the debate between Creationists and Evolutionists, one common statement comes up that humanity is "an accident of nature." However, this is not consistent with their philosophy. Accident is defined in distinction from purpose; if there is no purpose there is no accident.

Two observations: First, this does not necessarily grant humanity meaning, it is rather nihilistic. Man may not be an accident of nature, but he is not really anything else. Second, Christian apologetics must be ready to respond to this reasoning. While there is greater emotional punch in the term "accident," the same emotional appeal can be made by with this logic. If men and women are uncomfortable being an accident, how much more if they are nothing?

Saturday, April 09, 2005

What Denomination are You?

Here is an interesting link I found on my buddy Justin's blog Copying other people's ideas is great!

I was not surprised by the top category being Reformed. However, some of the others surprised me a lot more. I thought Reformed Baptist would have ranked higher than UCC, but oh well. Here are the result for me:

1: Presbyterian/Reformed (100%)
2: Congregational/United Church of Christ (83%)
3: Baptist (Reformed/Particular/Calvinistic) (75%)
4: Anglican/Episcopal/Church of England (71%)
5: Lutheran (68%)
6: Eastern Orthodox (67%)
7: Roman Catholic (51%)
8: Church of Christ/Campbellite (42%)
9: Methodist/Wesleyan/Nazarene (39%)
10: Baptist (non-Calvinistic)/Plymouth Brethren/Fundamentalist (29%)
11: Seventh-Day Adventist (28%)
12: Pentecostal/Charismatic/Assemblies of God (18%)
13: Anabaptist (Mennonite/Quaker etc.) (9%)

One comment on this survey, it is very general, and could have gotten a lot more specific to more clearly distinguish some of the theological nicieties involved in all these different views. On a few it was hard to chose which one I agreed with, not because I was not sure, but I did not like the phrasing of any of the choices. Just one note if anyone is interested in taking this test, be sure to chose both your doctrinal conviction, and also your ranking, the results are very different if you do not rank your priority. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Rearranging Jeremiah

I just finished reading John Bright's commentary on Jeremiah in the Anchor Bible series. The introduction was amazing, but the commentary itself was rather lackluster. However, one extremely helpful thing he did was rearrange the Biographical sections of the book into chronological order. After having read though the book once in normal order, and read it thought in Bright's order- the superiority of the latter is apparent. Which causes me to ask the question, why cannot a similar thing be done to the Biblical text?

Leaving aside the textual issues in relating the MT to the LXX (well outside my knowledge), the LXX itself rearranges the text. After the prophecies of Jeremiah in 1-25, the LXX places the oracles against the nations (albeit in a different order than the MT). Contextually, this seems to be the better place to put the oracles than the MT's placement. While there does appear to be some thematic and linguistic ties that link the organize the sayings of the book of prophecies, there does not appear to be a similar reason for the seeming haphazard arrangement in the MT.
What would be the detriments to rearranging the text? Obviously, the transition would be difficult while it was being made. Chapters and verses would have to be redone, and older works which referenced the old system would have to be updated. Along the way, some will reject any change made to the Bible (especially if the KJV would have to be changed). Theologically, I am not aware of any who would argue that the arrangement is inspired and therefore unalterable. So this should pose no problems.

The benefits would be a more coherent text, which should outweigh all objections. If the goal of a translation is to make the Biblical text comprehensible by the average layperson, we should be as open to any change that, respectful of the text, meets that end. I think Jeremiah's Biographical section as arranged now is a hindrance rather than a help to understanding. Why not seek a simple fix to that problem?

Friday, February 25, 2005

A quick thought

The Bible condemns drunkenness.
Wine is the source of drunkenness.
Therefore wine is forbidden.

The Bible condemns gluttony.
Food is the source of gluttony.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

College Fellowship Groups and the Church

For many who are close to my age, a significant aspect of their Christian discipleship comes from groups such as InterVarsity Christian Fellowship or Campus Crusade for Christ. The obvious good that these and similar organizations offer, the encouragement and fellowship of Christians gathered for singing, Bible study and prayer are irreproachable. Much good has been done for Christ's church because of these groups.
However, some of the attitudes of IV participants (I will focus on IV, since I am most familiar with it, and it seems to be the most prominent fellowship group) towards the church leaves much to be desired- particularly their practical low evaluation of the central ministry of the church. The reason the church must have priority over any other parachruch organization is the simple fact that it is the church. Christ has commissioned the church and its officers to authoritatively proclaim the Word and make disciples. The church has been granted the solemn privilidge under Christ to discipline those who are unfaithful in doctrine or in life. The church has been privalidged with the task or proclaiming the gospel to the nations. It is the church, and only the church that can carry on these and similar tasks with direct Divine commission. This does not mean that other organizations cannot participate in a secondary role; but it does mean that any parachruch organizations must make explicit and unmistakable clear the centrality of the church.
There are also practical reasons why the church as an organizations has more to offer. First, generally a church will have a broader age-range- allowing one to see a perspective bigger than that of a mass of late adolescents. What a wonderful demonstration of the grace of God as the youngest and the oldest gather for worship and fellowship. Second, with age comes wisdom. The church offers not just age diversity, but also of life-experience and the insight which that offers. The younger one is (and I say this as one who is young) the less practical experience one has had or the more myopic one's concerns tend to be. Third, a good church will be pastored and ruled by well-qualified, knowledgeable men- those with greater qualifications and education that typically possessed by the IV staff worker. The Presbyterian tradition is particularly helpful, not only in the rule by a gifted pastor, but also a plurality of gifted elders- not just locally, but regionally and nationally. Fourth, one of the marks of a good church is the discipline it is authorized to exercise when faced with false or dangerous teaching. With the plethora of false doctrines floating around today, from dispensationalism to openness theology- the ability to mark and excise false teachers is vital. Opennism in particular has found inroads into some chapters of IV, and dispensationalism is all to rampant in the American evangelical stream.
What practically should be done in IV and other groups to demonstrate that is the servant of the church and not a usurper. First, not only in institutional statements, but also constantly in practice, the preeminence of the church must be maintained. The necessity of corporate, formal worship must be stressed- and even required. No college fellowship group must ever allow itself to become a replacement for the church. Further, more than an external compliance must be necessary. No one should be given laxity to say "I go to church on Sunday, but IV is my real Christian fellowship. Second, IV must seek to practically offer support to the church. Never should any IV activity interfere with a church's corporate worship services- either morning or evening. Participants should be encouraged to become active and involved within the church- and not simply Sunday attendees, but active members.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

OPC Tsunami Relief Fund

>Since this sort of dovetails off a previous discussion, thought I would post the message from the OPC website.

After considerable research, the General Assembly Committee on Diaconal Ministries has decided to set up a Tsunami Relief Fund as a vehicle for willing donors to help provide relief to believers in the areas affected by the devastating tsunami which occurred on December 26, 2004. Your gifts will be given through existing Reformed ministries and churches in the areas of disaster. It is our sincere desire that diaconal aid given in the name of Christ be accompanied by a clear gospel witness. Since there are Reformed ministries in the area of the disaster, we intend to distribute the Lord's gifts through such ministries. Gifts should be sent to the address below. Checks should be made out to "Committee on Diaconal Ministries" with the notation on the memo line: "for tsunami relief."

Committee on Diaconal Ministries
The Rev. Leonard J. Coppes, secretary-treasurer
9161 Vine St.
Thornton, CO 80229-7636

Thank you for your help.

“And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily” (Acts 16:5).