31 May 2006

Western civilization began to worship power when it began to doubt significance. The reason Lewis, Chesterton, Williams, Tolkien, and Thomas Howard fascinate us so much is that they still live in the medieval world, a world chocked-full of the built-in, God-designed significance. That’s why they all think analogically, sacramentally, imagistically. For them everything means something beyond itself. Everything is not only a thing, but a sign full of significance. Modernity, confining itself to the scientific method as the model for knowing reality, deliberately induces in itself what Lewis calls a dog-like state of mind, full of facts and empty of significance. Point to your dog’s food, and he will sniff your finger. Show a baby a book, and he will try to eat it rather than read it. Show modern man a lion, and he will try to tame it and make money out of it in a circus, and smile superiorly at the quaint old medieval who saw it as the King of Beasts and the natural symbol in the animal kingdom of the great King of Kings. -Peter Kreeft

14 May 2006

While it is my belief that some of the theories discussed by these characters may have merit, each individual reader must explore these characters’ viewpoints and come to his or her own interpretations. -Dan Brown on his FAQ.

What is it about so many of our contemporaries that they think we gain intellectually by entertaining patently false history? “It made me think,” we are told.

If you must do engage in this, how about doing it with something less damaging? Here’s something to ponder:

“Jack of Jack’s Pipe is a 14-foot tall mutant who came from the planet Meepzorp in 1323 BC.”

Ok, please discuss, explore, and come to your own interpretation. Do it. Go on. Do it.

11 May 2006

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. -Anthony Kennedy from a 1992 ruling

Some of you may recall that piece of dime store theorizing, wittily ridiculed by Antonia Scalia as the “Sweet Mystery of Life passage.” Well, here’s an excerpt from Dan Brown’s site:

Yes. Interestingly, if you ask three people what it means to be Christian, you will get three different answers. Some feel being baptized is sufficient. Others feel you must accept the Bible as absolute historical fact. Still others require a belief that all those who do not accept Christ as their personal savior are doomed to hell. Faith is a continuum, and we each fall on that line where we may. By attempting to rigidly classify ethereal concepts like faith, we end up debating semantics to the point where we entirely miss the obvious–that is, that we are all trying to decipher life’s big mysteries, and we’re each following our own paths of enlightenment. I consider myself a student of many religions. The more I learn, the more questions I have. For me, the spiritual quest will be a life-long work in progress.

That’s classic 21st century America pseudo-intellectualism for you, the confusion of broad-mindedness with, well, confusion. Never mind all that blunt business about the narrow gate (Matt 7:13), just hack out your own path to discovering “life’s big mysteries.” There’s just one rule: Don’t tread on me, brother. I am my way, my truth, and my life.

Compare all this with two verses considered so important that they were repeated. There isn’t anything very “ethereal” about them:

Jesus in Luke 12:

I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!

Paul in Galations 1:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

18 Apr 2006

With which of the following statements do you most agree?

“Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God.”

“Away from [the church] one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation.”

For the average evangelical Christian, the first statement may lack some balance, but the second sounds downright Romish. If this describes your reaction, then your ecclesiology is closer to the author of the first, Lenny Bruce, than to the author of the second, John Calvin (Institutes, 4.1.4).

Here we have a very helpful article on the forgotten Reformation doctrine of sola ecclesia. It is a balm in an individualistic culture that increasingly despises “organized religion.” It shows the link between the kingdom of God and the church.

Gospel means “good news”… Popularly, people believe the good news is different things: Jesus dying for sin, grace, justification, adoption, reconciliation, and peace with God… But biblically, the good news is the good news of the kingdom of God/heaven. The things mentioned above are implications of the coming of the kingdom. Biblically, the response is to repent and believe the good news that the kingdom has come in Christ… Once we understand that the gospel is about the kingdom, we must ask ourselves, What is the kingdom of God? … At its most basic level, the kingdom is the reign and rule of God, administered through Jesus Christ. The good news is that this kingdom has been brought to bear through Christ. Seeing the unbreakable connection between gospel and kingdom, we also see how Christ’s roles as Savior and Lord are inseparable. To repent and believe the gospel is to acknowledge Christ as King, to submit one’s will to his, and to be ruled over by him in his dispensation of mercy, justice, and love. But how does Christ rule over his kingdom? How does he administer his kingship? He does so through the church, to which he has given the keys of the kingdom (Matt. 16:19), the gifts of office (Eph. 4:8-13), his own Shepherd’s voice in the preaching of the Word (Rom. 10:14, 17), his faithful Shepherd’s care (1 Pet. 5:1-5), and the means of grace (Acts 2:42). To be outside the church is to be at odds with Christ’s rule, his protection, provision, and tender discipline.

17 Mar 2006

In “Guarding the Holy Fire,” Roger Steer relates this tale of Parson William Grimshaw (1708-63):

Grimshaw’s dress was plain, even shabby at times. Often he only had one coat and one pair of shoes. He ate plain food and hated any form of waste. Picture the scene in one of his services. He is short but well built, robustly healthy and with sharp eyes. Before the prayers he casts a searching eye over every man, woman and child in church. If he sees anyone lounging forward rather than kneeling, he rebukes the offender by name. If he sees a stray dog in the church, he chases it out himself…

After the Third Collect, he may engage in extempore prayer, addressing the almighty with a fervor which suggest to his congregation that he has been walking closely with God. Then he ensures that the Psalm before the sermon is a long one, for at this point he has important business to perform.

He takes his tout riding stick from the vestry well and marches out of the church. He looks around to see if any lazy parishioners are idling their time in the churchyard, the street, or one of the four alehouses within a stone’s throw of the church. If he finds any, he rounds them up and drives them into church.

A friend of John Newton’s, passing one of the alehouses on a Sunday, saw several people jumping out of the windiows and leaping over a low wall just beyond, and thought the building must be on fire.

“What’s the cause of the commotion?” he asked.

“Parson Grimshaw’s coming!” they shouted.

John Newton himself, who sometimes visited Haworth, noted that the villagers were more afraid of Grimshaw than the Justice of the Peace, but added that “his reproof was so authoritative and yet so mild and friendly, that the stoutest sinner could not stand before him.”

14 Mar 2006

Tim Ware notes a detail of 17th century Russian court life.

[Worship] Services lasting seven hours or more were attended by the Tsar and the whole Court… The children were not excluded from these rigorous observances. ‘What surprised us most was to see the boys and little children…standing bareheaded and motionless, without betraying the smallest gesture of impatience.’


09 Mar 2006

Winter Palace

In St. Petersburg, we stayed at a hotel where, looking out a window, I could see one of Dosteovsky’s flats. Across the square lay majestic St. Isaac’s, commissioned by Alexander I. Not far away was Tchaikovsky’s apartment. Across a small park, the Bronze Horseman rears up along the Neva. A ten minute walk leads to the Winter Palace, seat of 200 years of Romanov rule and site of the final Bolshevik blow against the crumbling Provisional Government. Today it houses the famous Hermitage; locals and tourists wander about the large square below where many died in 1905. Who can understand the rhythms of Tsarist life, or the fear that reigned during the great siege of 1942, or Stalin’s terrors the decade before? Even in this recent city, born from 18th-century swamps, the past overwhelms.

Somewhere – I wish I remembered where – the late Shelby Foote noted that when it was still at Shiloh in early April, he could hear the yells of the boys in the wind whistling through the first growth on the trees. The history that he knew so intimately was alive. In some sense he communed with his forbears. How many have felt the same when peering at the crosses overlooking the windy sea at Normandy, or standing in the Gettysburg wheat field, or overlooking Rome from the Palatine Hill, or walking the grounds of Oxford, or a thousand other places including St. Petersburg?

And yet God’s glory, His weight, encompasses and far surpasses all of it combined. Who has known the mind of the Lord? (Rom 11:33-36)

25 Jan 2006

[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:

  1. The binding order of creation. 1Timothy 2:11-14: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” Note that Paul explicitly roots his reasoning in the order of creation and Eve’s punishment (Gen 2:7, 18, 21-22, 3:16). What was true thousands of years before the 1st century AD was still true and in force. It was not a confined to Corinth. This article starts at the beginning and is a good intro to exploring this further.
  2. Headship. cf. verses like Titus 2:3-5, 1Cor 11:9, Col 3:18-19, and Ephesians 5:22-23: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church.” God created and named Adam. Woman was taken out of man to be his helper. Adam named the woman Eve. Although Eve committed the first sin, God recognized Adam’s headship by calling him to account first (Gen 3:9-11). As the head, Adam bore responsibility. In Adam’s fall we sinned all (Romans 5:15: ). As it says 1 Peter 3: “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands… For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. … Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life…” Seriously folks, how much clearer does this need to be?
  3. The “Law” confirms it. 1Corinthians 14:34: “The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” The reasoning here is rooted in previous Old Testament revelation. It was not limited to Corinthian culture.
  4. Qualifications for elders. 1Timothy 3:2 says that overseers (elders) must be the “husband of one wife.” There is no mention of the opposite case. (Many churches see the offices of elder, bishop, and pastor as the same. Others believe a pastor or bishop has pre-eminence. But in either case the argument holds– in the first, because the office is the same, in the second because of the lesser-to-greater argument. No church I know of that ordained women as pastors has not allowed them to “lower” office first.)
  5. Scriptural practice confirms it. All of the authors of Scripture are male, all Old Covenant priests — hundreds are mentioned — were male (cf. Numbers 16), all of Israel’s monarchs except the usurper Athaliah were male, all the Apostles were male, etc. Worship is a ritual with the pastor proclaiming on behalf of the Bridegroom, to the Church, the Bride. As C.S.Lewis said: “Only one wearing the masculine uniform can (provisionally, and till the Parousia) represent the Lord of the Church; for we are all, corporately and individually, feminine to Him. We men make very bad priests. This is because we are insufficiently masculine. It is no cure to call in those who are not masculine at all. A given man may make a very bad husband; you cannot mend matters by trying to reverse the roles.”
  6. The witness of the Holy Spirit to the communion of saints. We have the nearly unanimous interpretation of the church in all ages, spanning multiple cultures for thousands of years. Is it not arrogant to assume that we have suddenly discovered new facets of Scripture that bypassed the meticulous and godly titans of the past? There has never been a female bishop of Rome or any of the great ancient sees, and all esteemed theologians up until modern times were men, from Irenaeus, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Ambrose, and Augustine to Aquinas, Wycliffe, Luther, and Calvin (“Not that he takes from [women] the charge of instructing their family, but only excludes them from the office of teaching, which God has committed to men only.” -Calvin). The views of the early church fathers were bluntly sampled by the great Scottish reformer John Knox (whose name still curiously adorns the PCUSA’s publishing company).
  7. Bad fruit. What trees bore the fruit of women in the pulpit? In the 19th century, there were the Quakers and some Wesleyans. There was Charles Finney, who encouraged women to speak in mixed assemblies. His baneful influence is well chronicled elsewhere. Finney founded Oberlin College, which produced the one-time Congregationalist Antoinette Brown, who who later was ordained Unitarian. The 20th century brought doctrinally-shaky Pentecostal movements. It saw mainline churches fall like bowling pins, denying miracles, Christ’s divinity, and of course the Gospel itself. After rotting sufficiently, all of them ordained women. Today, every church that I know of with an apostate national denom ordains women and fiercely guards it. Most are now busy considering homosexual ordination. (In some still-faithful churches we may be seeing the same pattern repeat itself: Today female deacons; in 10 years, elders; in 20, pastors. Do these re-evaluators really believe that they will end up in a different spot than the mainliners?)
  8. No Explicit Commands. There is not one passage of Scripture stating that women can be called to be pastors or where a woman is called to it. (cf. Timothy, Isaiah, etc.).

And here are the usual objections:

  1. “We are more progressive now.” This ubiquitous argument reeks of arrogance and historical ignorance. As Lewis said, “the modern conception of Progress… is simply a myth, supported by no evidence whatsoever… [It is] an illegitimate transition from the Darwinian theorem in biology to the modern myth of evolutionism or developmentalism or progress in general.” We see this attitude often in our irony-addicted pop culture that looks down its nose at things it hardly understands. Our environment has modern conveniences, so we laugh at ancients who rode a horse rather than a Honda, even though most of us have contributed little to technological progress (for example, I have no idea how to build a TV, much less invent it). And then there is the matter of our moral progress– Should not the denizens of a culture that has birthed conspicuous consumption, porno chic, and 40 million+ abortions pause before dismissing the morality of the past?
  2. “Paul’s prohibitions were only for his time.” This is the most insidious argument of all, for it can be used to invalidate any part of the Scripture; even the Gospel can be segmented as cultural. But as noted above, the Bible appeals to the Law and the order of creation, which predated Corinthian culture by thousands of years. R.C. Sproul: “In Creation, God makes a covenant not simply with Jews or with Christians, but with man qua man. As long as humans exist in a covenant relationship with the Creator, the laws of Creation remain intact. They are reaffirmed in both the old covenant and the new covenant. If anything transcends a cultural custom, it is a Creation ordinance. Thus, it is a dangerous business indeed to treat the matter of subordination in marriage and in the church as a mere local custom when it is clear that the New Testament mandates for these matters rest upon apostolic appeals to Creation. Such appeals make it crystal clear that these mandates were not intended to be regarded as local customs. That the church today often treats divine rules as mere customs reflects not so much the cultural conditioning of the Bible but the cultural conditioning of the modern church.”
  3. Galations 3:28: There is neither… male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The context of this passage is about salvation, not church governance. Also, this general statement does not contradict the specific statements noted in 1Tim and 1Corinthians. Christian women and men will equally enjoy the benefits of salvation! So will children. However, just as children are not to be in authority over their parents, women are not to occupy teaching and authority roles in the church. It is a question of God-given roles.
  4. “What about Deborah?” Deborah is the only judge in Judges who has no military function. The others judges lead Israel into battle, but Deborah receives a word from the Lord that Barak is to do this (Judges 4:6-7). It’s clear that she was the exception, not the rule (she was the only female judge), arising at a time of anarchy. John Knox commented: “Deborah did rule Israel, and Huldah spoke prophecy in Judah; ergo [the argument goes], it is lawful for women to reign above realms and nations, or to teach in the presence of men. … For of [such] examples, as is before declared, we may establish no law; but we are always bound to the written law, and to the commandment expressed in the same. And the law written and pronounced by God forbids no less that any woman reign over man, than it forbids man to take plurality of wives, to marry two sisters living at once, to steal, to rob, to murder, or to lie. If any of these has been transgressed, and yet God has not imputed the same, it makes not the like fact or deed lawful unto us. For God (being free) may, for such causes as are approved by his inscrutable wisdom, dispense with the rigour of his law, and may use his creatures at his pleasure. But the same power is not permitted to man, whom he has made subject to his law, and not to the examples of fathers.” As it says in Isaiah 3:12: “My people! Infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them…”
  5. “How about Miriam, Huldah, Samson’s Mother, Hannah, etc?” To quote the 19th century Presbyterian pastor, R.L. Dabney: “First, the Old Testament, which contained, in seed, all the principles of the New Testament, allowed no regular church office to any woman. When a few women were employed as mouthpieces of God, it was in a purely extraordinary office, and in which they could offer supernatural evidence of their commission. No woman ever ministered at the altar, as either a priest or a Levite. No female elder was ever seen in a Hebrew congregation. No woman ever sat on the throne of the theocracy, except the pagan usurper and murderess, Athaliah.”
  6. “And Anna?” Anna was an old prophetess who worshipped in the temple before Christ’s ministry began. She was a devout woman, worthy of honor. but again there is no evidence that she held a ministerial role. Many think the word prophetess here is simply linked with praise. (Many traditional expositors do not deny the ability for women to teach at very special times, but it is not normative, as Scripture makes contextually clear throughout.)
  7. “And Priscilla?” Wife of Aquila, they ran a house church and together and rebuked the young Apollos. She has been called a “pastor” by feminists, but there is no evidence whatsoever of this in the brief mentions of her. It is mere speculation and wishful thinking.
  8. “How about Euodia, Phoebe, Junia, Syntyche, etc?” These are classic examples of taking brief mentions and running with them. Any speculation is overruled by more explicit Pauline commands and by the context of Scripture. (To give an idea of how short the mentions are, here are the passages in question– Romans 16:1-2: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.” Romans 16:7: “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.” Phillipians 4:2: “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”)
  9. “1Corinthians 11:5 condones women prophesying.” R.L. Dabney answers what he calls a “feeble attempt:” “…When we turn to the fourteenth chapter… we find the same apostle strictly forbidding public preaching in the churches to women, and enjoining silence. No honest reader of Scripture can infer that he meant by inference to allow the very thing which, in the same epistle and in the same part of it, he expressly prohibits. It is a criminal violence to represent him as thus contradicting himself.”
  10. “Archaeology shows evidence of women deacons, priests and bishops.” So, then why don’t the written words from the period support such a contention? Pick your patristic: All men. When we read the histories and writings, the women just are not there in a pastoral role.

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.

23 Jan 2006

Here is an interesting photo tour of Reformation Germany.

22 Jan 2006

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:

  1. The Church must regain a proper understanding of sola scriptura. “Much of modern Evanglicalism is antihistorical and functions as if the Church exists within a historical vacuum… All Christians must realize the fallacy of assuming they come to Scripture as absolutely neutral observers… Evangelicals tend to come to Scripture with radically individualistic presuppositions.”
  2. Pray! Identifying [the Church] is a “significant problem….There are no twelve step programs for this kind of situation. The correction… wil require generations [centuries!] of prayer, patience, and humility. It has taken the Church over a thousand years to get herself into this current situation. We do not know how long it will take for the problem to be corrected. We can rest assured that no progress will be made unless the problem is acknowledged.”
  3. Desire Unity. Unity has become a bad word because of the weak attempts to apply it using watered down doctrinal statements and the social gospel. But I concur with Mathison: It is not a good thing that the visible church is fragmented and lacks a consistent witness (Eph 4:5, 1 Cor 12:12-13, John 17:20-21). We should desire that it be united on the truth.
  4. Return to historic consensus. Allow “the apostolic gospel that served as the hermeneutical context for scriptural interpretation during the early centuries of the Church” [the historic consensus based on the early councils] to regain its place in our interpretation today. This guards the church from faddishness and overemphasis of certain doctrines.
  5. Protestants should not bolt to Rome and Constantinople and their faulty claims to succession and infallibility. “The Roman church simply has no grounds to claim that she alone is free from the possibility of having her lampstand removed (Rev 2:5). First, there is no prediction that she alone would continue forever. Second, if there were such a prediction, it would…include the condition of continuing obedience to God. Third, there is a specific passage written to the Roman church by Paul explicitly warning her of the possibility of her disobedience and falling away.” [Rom 11:17-22]. And further: “It is only within Protestantism at this time that the early church’s concept of authority can still be found at all. Rome and Orthodoxy, at this point in history, have rejected this concept of authority in favor of an ecclesiastical autonomy. Until God intervenes, it is virtually impossible for either of these communions to move in a positive direction. Their claims of infallibility force them to ignore their own deviations from the ancient faith…”
  6. Be patient. We want quick fixes, but God has not worked that way throughout history. Sometimes it does take hundreds of years for changes to occur. Consider the Israelites in Egypt, or the period from Adam until Noah and then to Abraham. However, we can know that God will not leave his Church, and that he can work through the mess we have today. “The church at the present time is in exile, a diaspora of sorts. So what do we do now? Exactly what Daniel did. We have to live in the situation in which God has providentially placed us, trusting in His sovereignty, faithfulness and mercy. We have to pray to God to forgive us of our many sins and restore us as a unified communion of saints with a unified Biblical witness to the world.”
20 Jan 2006

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.

18 Jan 2006

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. “The Christian who rejects the authority of the Church rejects the authority of the One who sent her.” (Luke 10:16, Rom 3:2, Acts 15:6-35, Eph 3:10).

16 Jan 2006

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.

13 Jan 2006

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:

  1. For Agreement and Unity. “Without a creed explicitly adopted, it is not easy to see how the ministers and members of any particular church… can maintain unity among themselves.” Further, “Before the church…can detect heretics, and cast them out from her bosom… her governors and members must be agreed what is truth.” (Phil 2:16, Prov 23:23, Jude 3, 2 Tim 1:14, Rom 12:5, Eph 4:3, 1 Cor 1:10, Phil 2:2, Amos 3:3)
  2. To Guard Truth. “Those orthodox brethren who admit that the church is bound to raise her voice against error, and to ‘contend earnestly’ for the truth, and yet denounce creeds and confessions are, in the highest degree, inconsistent with themselves. They acknowledge the obligation and importance of a great duty; and yet reject the only means by which it can be performed.” (Jude 3, 2 Tim 1:14, Phil 1:27)
  3. To Proclaim Beliefs. “The adoption and publication of a creed is a tribute to truth and candor, which every Christian church owes to the other churches, and the world around her.”
  4. To Encourage Doctrinal Study. “…[L]et them be careful to present… that ‘good confession’ which they are commanded to ‘profess before many witnesses’ (1 Tim 6:12-13). Earlier, he says: “Look at the loose, vague, indecisive character of the preaching heard in nine-tenths of the Unitarian, and other latitudinarian pulpits… If the occupants of those pulpits had it for their distinct and main object to render their hearers indifferent…about the fundamental doctrines of the gospel, they could scarcely adopt a plan more directly calculated to attain their end, than that which they actually pursue.”
  5. Historical Experience. “It is an argument of no small weight, in favor of creeds, that the experience of all ages has found them indispensably necessary.”
  6. They Have the Right Enemies. “…[T]he most ardent and noisy opponents of creeds have been those who hold corrupt opinions… [M]en are seldom opposed to creeds, until creeds are opposed to them.”
  7. Even Opposers End Up Using Them. “Did anyone ever hear of a Unitarian congregation engaging as their pastor a preacher of Calvinism? … The Calvinist surely comes with his Bible in his hand, and professes to believe it as cordially as they… Yet we know that…it is not enough for these advocates of unbounded liberality.”

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.

29 Dec 2005

RC Sproul tells this story:

Several years ago I was invited to address the faculty of a prominent Midwestern college with a rich Christian and Reformed tradition… Before my lecture the dean showed me around the campus. When we entered the faculty office building, I noticed one office with these words stencilled on the door: Department of Religion. That evening as I spoke to the faculty, I [asked]… “Was that department always called the Department of Religion?” My inquiry was greeted by silence and blank stares… Finally an elder statesman of the faculty raised his hand and said, “No, it used to be called the Department of Theology. We changed it about 30 years ago.” “Why did you change it?” I asked. No one in the room had any idea, nor did they seem to care… I reminded the faculty that there is a profound difference between the study of theology and the study of religion. Historically the study of religion has been subsumed under the headings of anthropology, sociology, or even psychology… [T]he study of religion is chiefly the study of a certain kind of human behavior… The study of theology, on the other hand, is the study of God… The difference between religion and theology is ultimately the difference between God and man– hardly a small difference… The subject matter of theology propoer is God; the subject matter of religion is man.

To put it another way, religion looks at the beam, theology looks along the beam.

06 Dec 2005

[He is] a classic theological Ishmael, a wild man whose hand is against every man.”

That’s Phil Johnson aptly summarizing a certain fundamentalist who posts uneven and often absurd “exposes” of well-known Christians on his web site. To the world, a fundamentalist is usually someone who believes all of the Bible is true, including those parts about salvation through Christ alone. In other words, a Christian. In Reformed circles, though, the term fundamentalist has a different pejorative meaning, one borne of long history. While fundamentalists of this second stripe should be applauded for an insistence on the truth of unpopular doctrines, they tend to breed, in the words of this article, a philistine wearer of “X-ray heresy glasses,” the type of wooden literalist who sees in the Iliad nothing but “an incitement to sodomy and the worship of Zeus.”

C.S. Lewis is another target; witness the comments on this article as a typical example. You see, Hollywood is coming out with a Chronicles of Narnia movie. Strike one! Various ministries are promoting it with Hollywood. Strike Two! Narnia has a witch in it. Strike three, Lewis is unsound! (Pointy hat alert.) Sure, Lewis died in 1963, but his book is being made into a movie. That just shows what kind of book it is. It’s a rewrite of the Gospels, or something, but we have the real thing. We don’t need magic and a talking lion. Plus Lewis was a Catholic. Oh, he was an Anglican? Well, same thing.

Why bother looking at context or understanding the writer’s philosophy? Why bother investigating why so many Christians (Piper, Sproul, Packer, the White Horse Inn guys, etc) have admired Lewis’s writings? It’s solo Scriptura all the way for these fundamentalists. One wonders if Pilgrim’s Progress is outside the pale too.

This is not to defend the Narnia film; I know little about it. And churches should not be obtaining sermons from a movie company, as some are apparently doing. But why must this be used as ammo to slander Lewis? He’s been dead for 40+ years. He was not right all the time, and there have been reasoned critiques against an occasional writing, but on the whole he was quite sound, and often profoundly so. Who has not heard and benefitted from the Lord Liar Lunatic trilogy? Lewis was very active at Oxford defending the Christian faith against anti-supernaturalists, speaking the truth of Christianity in a hostile time. He was not a universalist or a liberal. In fact, he vigorously defended orthodoxy against such faddish heresies, at some cost in his professional life. By all accounts he was a devout believer, an excellent witness to friends, family, and the public. He remains a treasured writer for good reason.

Don’t violate your conscience. If you don’t want to see the movie or read Lewis’s books, then don’t do so. But consider understanding the subject matter a bit better before attempting to bind others.

29 Oct 2005

A story from Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History:

Listen to a tale, which is not a mere tale, but a narrative concerning John the apostle, which has been handed down and treasured up in memory. For when, after the tyrant’s death, he returned from the isle of Patmos to Ephesus, he went away upon their invitation to the neighboring territories of the Gentiles, to appoint bishops in some places, in other places to set in order whole churches, elsewhere to choose to the ministry some one of those that were pointed out by the Spirit. When he had come to one of the cities not far away (the name of which is given by some, and had consoled the brethren in other matters, he finally turned to the bishop that had been appointed, and seeing a youth of powerful physique, of pleasing appearance, and of ardent temperament, he said, ‘This one I commit to thee in all earnestness in the presence of the Church and with Christ as witness.’ And when the bishop had accepted the Charge and had promised all, he repeated the same injunction with an appeal to the same witnesses, and then departed for Ephesus. But the presbyter, taking home the youth committed to him, reared, kept, cherished, and finally baptized him. After this he relaxed his stricter care and watchfulness, with the idea that in putting upon him the seal of the Lord he had given him a perfect protection. But some youths of his own age, idle and dissolute, and accustomed to evil practices, corrupted him when he was thus prematurely freed from restraint. At first they enticed him by costly entertainments; then, when they went forth at night for robbery, they took him with them, and finally they demanded that he should unite with them in some greater crime. He gradually became accustomed to such practices, and on account of the positiveness of his character, leaving the right path, and taking the bit in his teeth like a hard-mouthed and powerful horse, he rushed the more violently down into the depths. And finally despairing of salvation in God, he no longer meditated what was insignificant, but having committed some great crime, since he was now lost once for all, he expected to suffer a like fate with the rest. Taking them, therefore, and forming a band of robbers, he became a bold bandit-chief, the most violent, most bloody, most cruel of them all. Time passed, and some necessity having arisen, they sent for John. But he, when he had set in order the other matters on account of which he had come, said, ‘Come, O bishop, restore us the deposit which both I and Christ committed to thee, the church, over which thou presidest, being witness. But the bishop was at first confounded, thinking that he was falsely charged in regard to money which he had not received, and he could neither believe the accusation respecting what he had not, nor could he disbelieve John. But when he said, ‘I demand the young man and the soul of the brother,’ the old man, groaning deeply and at the same time bursting into tears, said, ‘He is dead.’ ‘How and what kind of death?’ ‘He is dead to God,’ he said; ‘for he turned wicked and abandoned, and at last a robber. And now, instead of the church, he haunts the mountain with a band like himself.’ But the Apostle rent his clothes, and beating his head with great lamentation, he said, ‘A fine guard I left for a brother’s soul! But let a horse be brought me, and let some one show me the way.’ He rode away from the church just as he was, and coming to the place, he was taken prisoner by the robbers’ outpost. He, however, neither fled nor made entreaty, but cried out, ‘For this did I come; lead me to your captain.’ The latter, meanwhile, was waiting, armed as he was. But when he recognized John approaching, he turned in shame to flee. But John, forgetting his age, pursued him with all his might, crying out, ‘Why, my son, dost thou flee from me, thine own father, unarmed, aged? Pity me, my son; fear not; thou hast still hope of life. I will give account to Christ for thee. If need be, I will willingly endure thy death as the Lord suffered death for us. For thee will I give up my life. Stand, believe; Christ hath sent me.’ And he, when he heard, first stopped and looked down; then he threw away his arms, and then trembled and wept bitterly. And when the old man approached, he embraced him, making confession with lamentations as he was able, baptizing himself a second time with tears, and concealing only his right hand, But John, pledging himself, and assuring him on oath that he would find forgiveness with the Saviour, besought him, fell upon his knees, kissed his right hand itself as if now purified by repentance, and led him back to the church. And making intercession for him with copious prayers, and struggling together with him in continual fastings, and subduing his mind by various utterances, he did not depart, as they say, until he had restored him to the church, furnishing a great example of true repentance and a great proof of regeneration, a trophy of a visible resurrection.

25 Sep 2005

Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all. -Samuel Johnson

It is popularly thought that the prohibition on women’s ordination is based on old-fashioned ideas about female authority and “keeping women in their place.” Among its most strident supporters, female ordination arguments are usually presented in political language (“pro-woman,” “equality”). But of course, political claptrap is irrelevant. The Scriptural take (aka. God’s view) is what matters.

Some do try to support their arguments using the Bible. As with homosexual ordination, word parsing and contorted contextualizing have replaced seeking the clear sense of a verse or passage. Biblical women such as Priscilla, Phoebe, and Euodia are referred to although in none of these cases is it clearly stated that these women are teaching or in positions of authority (especially when compared to numerous instances of men holding direct and obvious authority). Every book in the Bible was written by a male. The 12 apostles are male. All of the early church bishops were male. That passages like 1 Tim 2:12 and 1 Cor 14:34 speak against female teaching and authority in the church is abundantly clear from the overwhelming testimony of the church since its 1st century beginnings. This is even admitted (derogatorily of course) by heterodox groups.

If we believe that the Holy Spirit speaks through his Word to believers throughout the ages, we should not discard the collective wisdom of our church fathers. Do supporters of female ordination consider it troubling that few promoted it until the last century? Women’s ordination is largely a 20th century novelty. The list of opponents is a who’s who of Christianity: Tertullian, Origen, Jerome, Chrystosom, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Charles Hodge, Matthew Henry, Warfield, C.S. Lewis, and on it goes. Writings against it would be more comprehensive except that this issue, like homosexuality, was never much under debate before the 20th century (there was a debate regarding deaconesses, but the historical church saw the deaconness as a different role than the male deacon). More on women in the church here, here, here, here, and here .

Promoters of women’s ordination need to seriously ask themselves: Do I really truly believe that God’s standards and goodness are superior to mine? Am I going to submit to the God’s wisdom or follow a novelty?

21 Sep 2005

He was a contemporary of Martin Luther. His translation takes the English language to its highest glories: “the twinkling of an eye” “O death, where is thy sting?” “In the beginning was the Word…” “Seek and ye shall find” “Greater love than this hath no man…” “Our Father, which art in heaven.” Brian Moynihan tells us that William Tyndale’s seminal English Bible accounted for 84% of the New Testament and 75% of the Old Testament in the Authorized (aka. King James) Version.

Tyndale’s great work was produced at great peril and finally at great price. He risked all on the run from the long hand of the cruel Thomas More, who saw an English scripture as a great threat to the authority of the Catholic church, believing that a sacred book should not go into the language of commoners who would misinterpret it. And so William Tyndale secretly hopped from place to place across continental Europe, publishing his translations and other works on the newly invented printing press, forgoing marriage, family, and consistent income until he was finally betrayed by a rascal in Antwerp in 1535.

His last letter from prison should be a source of thanksgiving by all who call on Christ’s name. Some gave all to bless countless people afterward:

I believe, right worshipful, that you are not ignorant of what has been determined concerning me; therefore I entreat your Lordship, and that by the Lord Jesus, that if I am to remain here during the winter, you will request the Procurer to be kind enough to send me from my goods, which he has in his possession, a warmer cap, for I suffer extremely from cold in the head, being afflicted with a perpetual catarrh [nose/throat inflammation], which is considerably increased in the cell.

A warmer coat also, for that which I have is very thin; also a piece of cloth to patch my leggings: my overcoat has been worn out; my shirts are also worn out. He has a woolen shirt of mine, if he will be kind enough to send it. I have also with him leggings of thicker cloth for the putting on above; he also has warmer caps for wearing at night. I wish also his permission to have a candle in the evening, for it is wearisome to sit alone in the dark.

But above all, I entreat and beseech your clemency to be urgent with the Procurer that he may kindly permit me to have my Hebrew Bible, Hebrew Grammar, and Hebrew Dictionary, that I may spend my time with that study. And in return, may you obtain your dearest wish, provided always it be consistent with the salvation of your soul. But if any other resolutions have been come to concerning me, before the conclusion of the winter, I shall be patient, abiding the will of God to the glory of the grace of my Lord Jesus Christ, whose spirit, I pray, may ever direct your heart. Amen.

28 May 2005

This is the 12th-century Church of the Intercession near Bogolyubovo in Russia. It stands alone in a remote field by the small Nerl river. To this eye it is one of the loveliest churches ever constructed.

Church of the Intercession on the Nerl

28 Dec 2004

In his Short History of Byzantium, John Julius Norwich notes “an aspect of daily life in Byzantium [that we] find hardest to comprehend: the involvement of all classes of society in what appear today to be impossibly abstruse doctrinal niceties.” From Byzantium’s beginning in the 4th century AD, long battles occurred between the orthodox and adherents of doctrines with strange names like monothelitism and monophysitism. These were discussions that would stress our most advanced seminarians today. They involved deep questions about Christ’s divinity, his nature and will. If Christ is real, these discussions matter. And yet, so many moderns instinctively look down on these “barbarians” from the Middle Ages, who would surely marvel in turn at our arrogance. How poorly we compare intellectually to these citizens of what is laughably referred to as the “Dark Ages.”

11 Dec 2004

Abram was called from Ur of the Chaldees in Mesopotamia. Hosea noted the Assyrian empire’s brutality, Isaiah called them the “rod of God’s anger,” and Jonah went to Nineveh to convict the Assyrians of their sin. The Babylonian empire grew upon the ruins of the Assyrian one. Jeremiah lameted its captivity of Israel and Daniel gained influence in its courts.

Today, upwards of 2 million Iraqis are Christians, most affiliated with the Catholic-aligned Chaldean church or the independent Assyrian church. It is a fascinating to read about Christian descendents of these civilizations.

08 Dec 2004

To give you an idea of how old the Great Pyramids of Giza are, they were more ancient to Cleopatra (who lived around 50 years before Christ) than Cleopatra is to us. They were ancient history when Jesus walked the earth!

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