By the way, Spurgeon smoked cigars.
By the way, Spurgeon smoked cigars.
Q: What is your only comfort in life and death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.
Ah, the marvelous Question 1 from the Heidelberg Catechism. Pure, fresh water. The power and beauty of the Gospel itself.
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, Your God reigns. Isaiah 52:7
[Gordon-Conwell Seminary] was well-known for its adherence to the inerrancy of Scripture, but precisely in those areas where our culture focused its attack on God’s Word and doctrine, our professors often seemed to fall all over themselves demonstrating their acceptance of whatever ideology the Academy currently found infatuating–and when my two brothers and I were enrolled in Gordon-Conwell, that ideology was feminism. -Tim Bayly
Many Bible-believing churches seem to be slowly tracing the frontprints of the mainline congregations last century (with seminaries leading the charge). Many in our churches think that the prohibition on women’s ordination is an old-fashioned relic, another domino soon to fall in the relentless march of Progress. Yes, this movement has its evangelists, but most people in the pews simply do not know the Biblical case against it. They don’t understand that men and women are equal in nature and in esteem before God, but not in role.
Here is why women should not be in leadership and authority roles over men within the church:
And here are the usual objections:
Supporters of women’s ordination are right about one thing: the issue is cultural. However, the cultural problem is ours. We are a product of a worldly age, a product of a culture that sees homemaking as inferior to well-paying managerial jobs. And this is where we must renew our minds (Rom 12:2).
Friends, this is not an issue where crusty old farts need to lighten up, it is one where the proponents of women’s ordination need to submit to God’s unchanging wisdom, for He is wiser, more loving, and more merciful than we will ever be. And the emasculated men who have lamely allowed this to happen in our churches need to be men.
To close with Dabney:
The competent archeologist and historian know that it has always been the trait of Judaism to assign an honorable place to woman. Accordingly, we never find the apostle drawing a depreciated picture of woman; every allusion of his to the believing woman is full of reverent respect and honor. Among the Christian women who come into Paul’s history there is not one who is portrayed after this imagined pattern of childish ignorance and weakness… [A]ll appear in the narrative as bright examples of Christian intelligence, activity, dignity, and graciousness. It was not left for the pretentious Christianity of our century to begin the liberation of woman. As soon as Christianity conquered a household, it did its blessed work in lifting up the feebler and oppressed sex; and it is evident that Paul’s habitual conception of female Christian character in the churches in which he ministered was at least as favorable as his estimate of the male members. Thus the state of facts on which this argument rests had no place in Paul’s mind; he did not consider himself as legislating temporarily in view of the inferiority of the female Christian character of his day, for he did not think it was inferior.
Then I look at my micro-self and wonder, Why do you bother with us? Why take a second look our way?
There you have Psalm 8:4 in “The Message” Bible. This swell interpretation of Scripture claims 10,000,000 readers and has a long list of well-known endorsers, some of whom (Packer!) should know better. Perhaps you will recognize Psalm 8:4 from the ESV:
What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
Here is an interesting photo tour of Reformation Germany.
So, on one side, we have solo scriptura, which is rooted in “the individualism of the Radical Reformation, the rationalism of the Enlightenment, and the democratic populism of early America.” This view has neutered the Church and made the individual autonomous (to paraphrase Doug Wilson, “just me and my Bible” has a way of becoming “just me”). On the other side is Rome and Constantinople, who have made the Church autonomous from Scripture. The Biblical view steers between these errors, as it steers between the Scylla of legalism and the Charybdis of antinomianism.
We have a big mess of denominations and nothing close to a unified witness to the world. What do we do? Well, in addition to its repetitiveness, a weakness of “The Shape of Sola Scriptura” is that Mathison offers few concrete prescriptions. He does, however, scatter some general suggestions:
Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox see a divided Protestant church, much of it non-confessional and chaotic. They see an Evangelical movement disconnected not just from the pre-Reformation period, but from 20 years ago. They see worship lacking in reverence and content. So do many Protestants. Is it hard to see why some Evangelicals cross the Tiber and the Bosphorus?
Thankfully, Mathison firmly engages Rome and, to a lesser extent, Eastern Orthodoxy, without resorting to the fevered hyperbole so typical of writings on the subject. He details how both churches have deeply flawed understandings of authority and tradition, noting that sola scriptura was the unanimous position of the early church for the first three centuries. It was also the prevailing view for most of the Middle Ages, and of course the view of the great Reformers. It was not until the late Middle Ages that Churchment began asserting that the Church could make infallible, extra-Biblical pronouncements.
Roman Catholics pound away at sola scriptura more than any of the other solas. A common objection is that sola scriptura cannot account for the canon of Scripture, but this, as with so many Roman and Orthododox critiques, is really a criticism of solo scriptura. There is no inspired table of contents, so how is the canon binding for the “me and my Bible” adherent? Mathison attributes the canon to “the witness of the Holy Spirit given corporately to God’s people and made manifest by a nearly unanimous acceptance of the NT canon in all Christian churches.” The fallible communion of saints made an infallible judgement (fallible means “can err,” not “must err”), just as the fallible Jews preserved the canon of the Old Testament without need of an infallible pope or council. Rome itself made no decree on the canon until the 15th century Council of Florence; the 4th and 5th century synods were local.
As an aside, Mathison concurs with Charles Hodge that Rome is part of the visible church despite its many errors, just as the Jewish church at the time of Christ “professed fundamental error… and yet retained its being as a church, in the bosom of which the elect of God still lived.” Similarly, the Galatian church. While many of the Reformers referred to Rome as an antichrist, virtually all of them taught that Roman baptism was valid. Mathison asks the church to consider the logical implications of this: Rome may be a severely diseased branch, but it’s still on the tree. This does not mean that all Roman Catholics are saved, but in the spirit of Deut 29:29 it invites discretion before broad-brushing its members.
Many Evanglicals believe that Luther and Calvin taught solo scriptura, but this is not true. Mathison points to “On the Councils and the Church,” where Luther claims the authority of the early councils and fathers. Calvin did too: “[T]hose to whom He is Father the church may also be Mother.” Mathison sums it up:
The Reformers were convinced that the Church must be reformed, not by being created from scratch, but by returning to her ancient beliefs and practices. The sentiment was not that of an antihistorical revolt but that of a desire for preservation and continuity.
The Anglican Alister McGrath concurs:
The notion of tradition as an extra-scriptural source of revelation is excluded, the classic concept of tradition as a particular way of reading and interpreting scripture is retained. Scripture, tradition, and the kerygma [early church understanding of the Gospel] are regarded as essentially coinherent, and as being transmitted, propogated and safeguarded by the community of faith. There is thus a strongly communal dimension to the magisterial reformer’s understanding of scripture, which is to be interpreted and proclaimed within an ecclesiological matrix. It must be stressed that the suggestion that the Reformation represented the triumph of individualism and the total rejection of tradition is a deliberate fiction propagated by the image-makers of the Enlightenment.
The Reformers believed in Scripture alone, but not a Scripture that is alone. The Church is the pillar and ground of truth (1 Tim 3:15), and has authority because Christ gave it to her. â€œThe Christian who rejects the authority of the Church rejects the authority of the One who sent her.â€ (Luke 10:16, Rom 3:2, Acts 15:6-35, Eph 3:10).
Ligonier’s Keith Mathison, one of the Reformation Study Bible editors, wrote an interesting book a few years ago called The Shape of Sola Scriptura. In it, he notes that Reformed theologians were quick to pounce on the reductionistic corruption of sola fide (“faith alone”) by certain dispensationalists during the Lordship Salvation controversy. However, while sola fide has been closely guarded (as is evident again in the Federal Vision discussions), “a drastic alteration of the classic Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura has occurred over the last 150 years [that] has caused hardly a stir.”
Sola scriptura says that Scripture is the only infallible source of revelation and the final authority in matters of faith and life. It it is to be interpreted in and by the Church according to the regula fidei (aka. the rule of faith, a summary of the faith taught by the Apostles and expressed in a fuller way by the Nicene Creed). The ancient creeds express the historic interpretive consensus of the Church. Evangelicals, however, have corrupted sola scriptura by making the Bible the only authority. The Church and historic creeds are given no more weight than any individual beliefs, and it is up to everyone to individually intepret Scripture. This corruption of sola scriptura has been coined “solo scriptura.”
Years ago, I interviewed a prospective job candidate and asked his qualifications. He responded with what you might call the tabula rasa argument: He didn’t have any qualifications, but that was an advantage because he was a blank slate who lacked preconceived notions. He could think outside the box! I admired his gall but didn’t recommend him for the job. I recalled that incident after reading this from the 19th century dispensationalist Lewis Sperry Chafer, which so well typifies solo scriptura:
The very fact that I did not study a prescribed course in theology made it possible for me to approach the subject with an unprejudiced mind and to be concerned only with what the Bible actually teaches.
Similar sentiments were voiced by the anti-denominationalist Alexander Campbell, father of the Disciples of Christ and Churches of Christ (some of whom now believe that only their denomination adminsters true baptism):
I have endeavored to read the scriptures as though no one had read them before me, and I am as much on my guard against reading them today, through the medium of my own views yesterday, or a week ago, as I am against being influenced by any foreign name, authority, or system whatever.
Many have pointed out the main problem with these “me and my Bible” positions: Arrogance. Each of us comes to the Bible with our own influences, assumptions, biases, and blind spots. We come as sinners. As Michael Horton says, it’s easy to distort God’s word when we cut ourselves off from the consensus of other Christians across time and place (and given the novel doctrines that arose in the 19th century in particular, this is exactly what happened). An individual Christian should study Scripture alone, but not isolated from the past and present communion of saints. As Spurgeon so aptly put it:
Of course, you are not such wiseacres as to think or say that you can expound Scripture without assistance from the works of divines and learned men who have laboured before you in the field of exposition. If you are of that opinion, pray remain so, for you are not worth the trouble of conversion, and like a little coterie who think with you, would resent the attempt as an insult to your infallibility. It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what He has revealed to others.
One of the signs of the evangelical movement’s ahistorical attitude is its downplaying or outright denial of creeds. In how many Protestant churches is the Nicene Creed still recited? Much of the church seems to cede all pre-Reformation ground to Rome and Constantinople. Who needs the communion of saints anyway?
The 19th century Princetonian, Samuel Miller, once delivered a nifty speech called The Utility and Importance of Creeds and Confessions. He lists these considerations in favor of them:
Those who say “the New Testament is my only creed” or “I just believe in the Bible” affirm nothing distinguishing them from a multitude of cults. They beg the question of interpretation. Miller illustrates the need for interpretive creeds using a classic example, the 4th century Arian heresy that denied Christ’s divinity:
Of this demand [for a creed] there never was a more striking instance than in the Council of Nicea, when the heresy of Arius was under the consideration of that far-famed assembly. When the Council entered on the examination of the subject, it was found extremely difficult to obtain from Arius any satisfactory explanation of his views. He was not only as ready, as the most orthodox divine present, to profess that he believed the Bible; but he also declared himself willing to adopt, as his own, all the language of the scriptures, in detail, concerning the person and character of the blessed Redeemer. But when the members of the Council wished to ascertain in what sense he understood this language, he discovered a disposition to evade and equivocate, and actually, for a considerable time, baffled the attempts of the most ingenious of the orthodox to specify his errors, and to bring them to light. He declared that he was perfectly willing to employ the popular language on the subject in controversy; and wished to have it believed that he differed very little from the body of the church.
Accordingly the orthodox went over the various titles of Christ plainly expressive of Divinity such as “God,” “the true God,” the “express image of God,” etc. (Titus 2:13; 1 John 5:20; cf. Heb. 1:3) to every one of which Arius and his followers most readily subscribed, claiming a right, however, to put their own construction on the scriptural titles in question. After employing much time and ingenuity in vain, in endeavoring to drag this artful chief from his lurking places, and to obtain from him an explanation of his views, the Council found it would be impossible to accomplish their object as long as they permitted him to entrench himself behind a mere general profession of belief in the Bible.
They therefore did what common sense, as well as the word of God, had taught the church to do in all preceding times, and what alone can enable her to detect the artful advocate of error. They expressed, in their own language, what they supposed to be the doctrine of scripture concerning the Divinity of the Saviour: in other words, they drew up a confession of faith on this subject, which they called upon Arius and his disciples to subscribe. This the heretics refused; and were thus virtually brought to the acknowledgment that they did not understand the scriptures as the rest of the Council understood them, and, of course, that the charge against them was correct.
The other night, there was a story on TV about a reporter at a Houston station who posed as an underaged teen in a chat room frequented by pedophiles. Invited to a house for a tryst, men knocked at the front door (often holding beer) and were greeted by TV cameras. Viewers learned that one suspect photographed his penis in a hot dog bun and emailed it to the “girl.” That this seemed like a good idea at the time says something about sexual temptation and human nature.
Such evil absurdity brings a 1960s Malcolm Muggeridge essay to mind. “Down With Sex” appears to be out of print, which is too bad, because it comes from one of the great observers of contemporary emptiness. Just as good satire is corrective, done to “expose the fool and lash the knave,” so is this essay.
Muggeridge opens with this quaint scene:
In Racine, Wisconsin, on a Sunday morning the late autumn sun was shining, and the little lakeside town had a sleepy, tranquil air. A wide variety of religious services was available…Thus far everything was in accordance with the standard notion of a Midwestern Sabbath… It was only when I dropped into a drugstore for a cup of cofee and a sandwich that I noticed a change which would have scandalized Babbitt… Among the paperback books and magazines displayed for sale was enough pornography to have made any under-the-counter Paris dealer in my young days green with envy. Not just the old familiar “classics” in the genre… nor merely Playboy-style near nudes… [but] really vicious stuff… It was like lifting up a stone and uncovering the squalor and filth underlying a sex-ridden society.
A feeling of infinite melancholy affected me. How sad, how infinitely sad, all this was! In the Racine drugstore, it seemed to me, I was at the end of a long road. Havelock Ellis, D.H. Lawrence, H.G. Wells and many another pointed the way… We were all to be happy as crickets in our freedom from past inhibitions and frustrations. Freedom broadening down from orgasm to orgasm; girls resolved to live their own lives by their own gas fires, and easily persuaded to undress in its dim glow… On sun-drenched beach, in mountain hut, through dewy meadow and by winding stream… And now it had all ended in this sordid display of printed matter– not in Sodom or Gomorrah, but in Racine, Wisconsin; not in Byzantine scenes of debauchery, but in a drugstore… no nymphs and satyrs, but only cheesecake, and the sad dreams of forlorn lovers, solitary playboys, whose mistresses come to them through the camera lens, that most ubiquitous of panders.
What then has happened to sex which, according to the gospel of D.H. Lawrence, was to refertilize a spent civilization… and generally restore to our mid-20th century lives the joyous fulfillment of happier and more innocent times? The simple answer is that sex has been overplayed. It has become an obsession… as it was…for poor Lawrence himself; like most prophets of this cult, a near, if not an actual, impotent.
The highbrow prophets have since given way to profiteers. Given that pornography is now a larger business than all professional sports franchises combined, and “porno chic” is now “cool,” these entrepreneurs have done a sterling job of monetizing lust and gaining converts to the ancient, morbid cult of sexual idolatry.
…Never, it is safe to say, in the history of the world has a country been as sex-ridden as America is today… The orgasm has replaced the Cross as the focus of longing and the image of fulfillment; the old pagan admonition, Do What Thou Wilt, has superseded the Pauline teaching that, since spirit and flesh lust contrary to one another, Ye Cannot Do What Things That Ye Would Do. In the beginning was the Flesh, and the Flesh became Word. Sex is the mysticism of materialism. We are to die in the spirit to be reborn in the flesh, rather than the other way around. Instead of the cult of the Virgin Mary we have the cult of the sex symbol… displayed in glossy photographs, on cinema and television screens… Eyes which launched not a thousand ships, but a vast sea of seminal fluid; mistresses not of kings and great ones, but of the Common Man, who clasps them to him and enjoys their wanton favors in his secret dreams.
For what is me-so-free eroticism but the escape to the isolated fantasyland of Me writ large?
Nothing is more calculated to induce acceptance of the social and economic status quo than erotic obsessions… Marx said that religion was the opiate of the people. Sex is better… It challenges nothing, questions nothing. Unfolding the month’s playmate in Playboy magazine, any tendency to think and question things is automatically extinguished. Vietnam seems far, far away, and Alabama a song, not a place.
Driving to take a look at Johnny Cash’s former home, lakeside in Hendersonville (a sign outside it says “Sold”), I came across a little village called Trinity Music City USA. Wondering what it was, I drove in and entered the gift shop. It turns out that it used to be Twitty City(!), but was bought in the 90s by… drum roll please… TBN. Yes, Paul and Jan Crouch. The gift shop was sort of a Kirklands, TBN style, loaded with the sort of accessories you’d expect to see on the TBN set. Amid the gilding and Joyce Meyer titles, I was amused to note several New Geneva Study Bibles. One can only imagine the reaction of its authors (not to mention the original Geneva Bible commenters) to this store. Such are the accidents so typical of TBN’s latitudinarian approach (and that of the evangelical movement for that matter). The New Geneva Study Bible is out of print, which may mean that they’ve been sitting on the shelves for a while.
Saturday night brought a visit to the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman. An Opry show is a series of five live, half-hour segments, each usually hosted by a country star who last had a hit in 1979. Acts play two songs each. There are good and bad; bluegrass bands interspersed with New Country types who still insist on rhyming “night” with “morning light” (one act actually did a remake of “Rub It In,” a song that really should have stayed forgotten). The host sandwiches the acts with a song at the beginning and end of the segment, and commercials are read live. The Opry is a dream for those with short attention spans. It’s a mighty fun couple of hours.
On this night, the Whites did their fantastic version of the Carter Family classic “Keep on the Sunny Side,” Del McCoury added his yodelling bluegrass, and the entertaining “Riders in the Sky” contributed their tumbleweed standards (“Cool…clear…water”). However, it was left to the last act, a man named Doyle Dykes, to steal the show. As the oldsters in the audience were checking their watches, ready to escape into the winter night, Dykes played a virtuoso guitar piece with simultaneous rhythm and medley. It was pleasant-enough noodling in the Chet Atkins-meets-Phil Keaggy vein, but then he brought out his daughter Haley to do their version of “Amazing Grace.” This seemed like a “nice” way to end the night… and then the young woman began belting. And the world stopped, the heavens opened, and there was nothing to do but sit there with your mouth open and drink it in. It reverberated off the wooden pews and filled every empty pocket of air. It said, “Be still and know that I am God.” After she finished, the audience sat stunned, then finally burst into a standing ovation. “When we’ve been there 10,000 years…” What a joyous thing. What a powerful display of God’s truth. The Potter so often molds the clay when least expected.
According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, when we pray “Thy will be done” we pray that God would graciously “make us able and willing to know, obey, and submit to His will in all things.” Here is a Johnny Cash poem called “Sunset,” from 1996:
I’ll tell you how the sun set.
As shadows marched in lines.
And God sent west his rainbows.
A color at a time.
The hills put on their blankets.
The hawk and crow were done.
And as I said softly in twilight.
See you tomorrow, sun.
I sat out in the darkness.
And felt the dew drops fall.
I watched the moon rise in its place.
I heard the night birds call.
God’s world, in perfect order.
In line, one after one.
May I be in accordance.
On my last setting sun.
In Tell the Truth, Will Metzger identifies classes of unbelievers. While I am generally suspicious of cookie-cutter evangelistic “methods,” these are better than most:
- The ignorant and indifferent. This is the largest class of unbelievers. They need to be surprised and challenged to seeing their folly in throwing away their souls… [T]hey are like people living in houses without fire insurance. Appropriate passages… would be the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) and the woman at the well (John 4)… Such people must be confronted and warned.
- The self-righteous. The non-religious who despise the idea of sin and the nominally religious whose hearts are like stone… Such people must be charged with their self-righteousness (Matthew 5:20, Luke 18:9), shown the difference between external righteousness and sins of the heart (Matthew 23:25), and helped to understand that their righteousness is only relative (Luke 18:9-14). We must hold a mirror up to these people to give them a glimpse of their pride.
- False Christians. These people may think they are Christians, but they are not. They need to be shown the nature of regeneration and the evidences of saving faith in 1John (Also John 6:60-66, Luke 14:25-33).
- Deliberate Atheists. The vaunted intellectual problems they express are often moral problems of the heart (John 3:14-20). If they do have real questions, however, these must be dealt with honestly and thoroughly. Jesus invites the skeptic, as he did Thomas, to examine more closely…
- Seekers. [T]hose who have awakened to their need for spiritual solutions. They possess some conviction of sin and guilt. We point them to Christ and His promises… passages of Scripture like Isaiah 53, Psalm 51, and John 3.
[O]ur longing for “authenticity” also bears a suspicious resemblance to the latest plot twist in the story of consumer culture: the tendency to rapidly replace the squeaky-clean franchise with the “authentic” franchise. The leather seats in our sport-utility vehicle caress our stonewashed jeans as we put some blues-tinged pop on the radio and drive to the local Joe’s Crab Shack. It’s a ramshackle dive that you might think would fall down any minute, if you hadn’t seen it being built just eight months ago by a speedy professional crew that travels around the country building Joe’s Crab Shacks… Just down the road is the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, a homey, weathered place where a welcoming fire emanates from gas nozzles. On the walls at Cracker Barrel hang nearly 1,000 pieces of Americana, lovingly collected and restored to a suitably worn appearance. Each one has a bar code… I do not have time to tell about the freshness of the salsa picante at the unassuming burrito joint wholly owned by McDonald’s, or the rustic pleasures of the Italian grill where concertina music floats through the air, and good, simple wine is poured from oaken casks. Nor do I have the budget. But all of these experiences, as much as they improve on the chain restaurants of a few decades ago, only reinforce consumer culture’s latest trend: the good life, the “authentic” life, is available for purchase, and all the hard work has already been done.
The Christianity Today article from which this was taken reminded me of this Doug Wilson comment:
Wealth generates the false analogy that I can choose my religion the same way I choose my restaurants. My faith becomes simply another item for me to consume… Can you imagine a hardscrabble church in the Appalacians going emergent? Or a persecuted house church in China? Read David Brooks’ Bobos in Paradise, and take his insights about rich hippies trying to look like authentic peasants in that calculated, burlap book bag kind of way, and apply that insight to rich Christians in an age of expensive authenticity and fine cuisine. Try to imagine the emergent church without lots of money.
Lord, make me to know my end and the measure of my days, that I may know how frail I am. Another year of my pilgrimage has passed. I am a year nearer to my death, nearer to judgement, nearer to eternal life with Christ, my Lord. – from a “New Years Eve” Lutheran prayer.
It is always sobering to remember the 100% mortality rate, and “pilgrimage” is a reminder that this world is an inn that we should not mistake for home (Lewis). We will soon meet the merciful and righteous God. Jonathan Edwards resolved to “think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.” For Paul, the thought of death was desirable (Philippians 1:21-23). And so it should be for all believers. The thought of our approaching death should induce joy and humble reverence, and a resolve to keep running the race (e.g. Heb 10:26-31). And for unbelievers, now is not too late… but tomorrow may be.