from The Self-Interpreting Bible, 1859 edition, by Rev. John Brown of Haddington. “An Introduction to the Right Understanding of the Oracles of God,” chapter 2, “Of Rules for Understanding the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.”
3. We must earnestly study to reduce all our Scriptural knowledge to practice. Not any number of the best rules can make an apprentice to understand his business so much as a considerable practice therein. When serious contemplation of Scripture and experimental feeling and practice of it meet together, true Scriptural knowledge must needs be greatly enlarged and sweetened. The man that doth Christ’s will, he shall know of his doctrine whether it be of God. If God’s commandments be ever with us, and be kept by us, they will render us wiser than our enemies, wiser than the ancients, or even our teachers.
Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.John 7:16-17 NIV
Your commands are always with me
and make me wiser than my enemies.
I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts.Psalm 119:98-100 NIV
Tension rises between Martin and his father. Luther takes his monastic vows, and is loyal to the Augustinian order until his excommunication from the church of Rome. Ordained after a couple of years, and faced with conducting his first Mass, he expresses inordinate fear at the thought of the presence of God as he performs what he believed would be the miracle of transubstantiation.He rises through the ranks due to exemplary dedication. He is rewarded by being appointed to take a pilgrimage to Rome. This trip proves seriously disillusioning for Luther, as he witnesses many corruptions among the clergy there. He also sees the faithful coming to Rome and being taken advantage of by the hierarchy. Other accounts corroborate Luther’s claims of the rampant corruption in Rome, so although his account is written after his excommunication, his account is not entirely to be discounted. Among Luther’s concerns was that when the laity seek to do penance, their spiritual concerns should not be met with a sort of spiritual-monetary transaction. Sin is serious, Luther believed, and the Church ought to treat it as such.
A few years later he earns his doctorate, and is invited to be a professor of theology at a new university in Wittenberg, a small town in northeast Germany, quite out of the way of the more influential centers across the German provinces. Luther becomes quite a popular figure, and some time into this new phase of Luther’s life, the scandalous abuse of indulgences reaches Wittenberg. While they were not allowed to be sold in Wittenberg by the local prince, Wittenbergers crossed the river to purchase indulgences from the charismatic indulgence preacher, Johann Tetzel, who marketed them in an excessively crass way which even Catholic authorities today admit were not based in any teaching or practice commended by the Church of the day.
Luther’s response was to post ninety-five theses to organize a formal debate among scholars on the power and efficacy of indulgences. Written in Latin, Luther posted his theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on the eve of All Saints’ Day, October 31, 1517. Luther’s theology has not at this point changed, and his theses were no revolutionary stance, although he does make some valuable statements that reflect the teaching of Scripture and are rooted in sound logic.
Craig Troxel, Pastor of Bethel Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Wheaton, Illinois, will be speaking at Mid-Cities Presbyterian Church’s 2015 DFW Reformation Conference (Nov. 13-14, 2015) on the subject of “With All Your Heart: Thinking (again) About What We Think, Love and Choose.”
Pastor Troxel has spoken on Reformed theology in Texas previously down in Pflugerville, Texas, at our sister congregation, Providence Presbyterian Church at their 2009 Calvin Conference.
The following continues a series of excerpts from “An Introduction to the Right Understanding of the Oracles of God,” by the Rev. John Brown of Haddington, as published in his Self-Intepreting Bible (1859 edition). (Punctuation and Scripture references have been modernized).
OF RULES FOR UNDERSTANDING THE SCRIPTURES OF THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS
- Let us labor, in much fervent prayer and supplication, for the powerful influence and inhabitation of the Holy Ghost (who perfectly understands the Scriptures, and indited and appointed them for our spiritual edification,) that he may effectually interpret and apply them to our heart. He is the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ; He it is who searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God:–He is the Anointing, that is Truth, and teacheth all things. He can enlighten our eyes, and make us to know things freely given us of God, and to see wondrous things out of God’s law; can make us by the Scriptures,–wiser than our teachers—wise unto salvation (Ephesians 1:17-18; 3:16-19; 1 Corinthians 2:10, 12; 1 John 2:20, 27; Psalm 119:18, 96-109; 2 Timothy 3:15-17).
- Being renewed in the spirit of our minds, and having in us the mind of Christ, we ought, under a deep sense of God’s presence and authority in the Scripture, earnestly, and with much self-denial, to search the Scriptures, by much serious reading and meditation thereon; chiefly that we may spiritually know the mind, behold the glory, and feel the effectual power of God therein, in order to our faith in, and obedience to them. The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: it is the man who feareth God to whom he will teach his way, and reveal the secrets of his covenant;–it is the man who hat the Spirit of Christ, the mind of Christ–who hath seen the Lord, and tasted that he is gracious—the man who hath had his eyes opened, that can discern, judge of, and understand the matter or manner of Scripture revelations (1 John 2: 20, 27; Psalm 25:12, 14; 1 Corinthians 2:14-16; John 14:21-23; Luke 24:45; Psalm 114:18). A deep sense of our ignorance, and of our absolute need of Scripture influence, must animate us to the earnest study of knowledge. He, who thinks that of himself he knows divine things to any purpose, knoweth nothing as he ought to know—only with the lowly is wisdom. God, who resisteth the proud, giveth grace to the humble: the meek will he guide in judgment; the meek will he teach his way. The mysteries of the kingdom he hides from the self-conceited, wise, and prudent; and reveals them unto babes (1 Corinthians 8:2; Proverbs 11:2; James 4:6; Psalm 25:9; Matthew 13:11; 11:25). Scarcely can anything then more effectually to blind the mind, and harden the heart, than the searching of the Scriptures in a philosophical manner, regarding merely or chiefly the rational sense of the passage. Hence multitudes of preachers, who daily study the Scriptures for the sake of their external performances, are of all men the most ignorant how Christ’s words are spirit and life. The god of this world blinds their minds; so that hearing many things, they never open their eyes; and seeing many things, they never behold one truth, or the subject thereof, in its glory (Isaiah 6:9-10; 42:18-19; 56:9; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
“Heart knowledge” of Scripture’s Self-Attesting Evidences Persuades of Its Divine Inspiration and Authority
The following continues a series of excerpts from “An Introduction to the Right Understanding of the Oracles of God,” by the Rev. John Brown of Haddington, as published in his Self-Intepreting Bible (1859 edition).
X. Though the above arguments are sufficient to silence gainsayers, and to produce a rational conviction that the Scriptures are of divine original and authority, it is only the effectual application of them to our mind, conscience, and heart, in their SELF-EVIDENCEING DIVINE LIGHT and POWER, which can produce a cordial and saving persuasion that they are indeed the word of God. But, when thus applied, this word brings along with it such light, such authority, and such sanctifying and comforting power, that there is no shutting our eyes nor hardening our hearts against it; no possibility of continuing stupid and concerned under it: but the whole faculties of our soul are necessarily affected with it, as indeed marked with divine evidence, and attended with almighty power; 1 Thes. 1:5; 2:13; John 6:63.
The following continues a series of excerpts from “An Introduction to the Right Understanding of the Oracles of God,” by the Rev. John Brown of Haddington, as published in his Self-Intepreting Bible (1859 edition).
IX. Nothing more clearly demonstrates the divine authority of the Scriptures than the exact fulfillment of the typical and verbal predictions therein exhibited, in the most circumstantial manner, hundreds or thousands of years before that fulfillment took place, or there was the smallest appearance of it. Predictions (especially as above circumstantiated) necessarily imply a looking with certainty through an infinity of possible events, and seeing and determining what shall certainly happen, and what not. Such foresight and determination can only take place in the omniscient and almighty Governor of the world, who alone can declare the end from the beginning.—To mark the all-seeing JEHOVAH, the author of Scripture, its pages are crowded with predictions, the exact fulfilment of which is recorded in the inspired and other histories written since the events took place. Almost every historical passage in our Bible is a narrative of something antecedently foretold. The New Testament is little else than a representation of the fulfilment of the types and predictions of the Old, relative to Jesus Christ and his gospel church. Nay, the histories of churches and nations, from the beginning to the end of the world, do, to a judicious observer, represent little more than the fulfilment of Scripture predictions, as to the families of Adam and Noah; the Canaanites, Amalekites, Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, Philistines, Egyptians, Ethiopians, Syrians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Saracens, Tartars including Goths, Huns, and Turks; and especially the Jews, Jesus Christ, the New Testament church, and Antichrist; as shall be hereafter manifested. This proof, drawn from the fulfilment of predictions, increases in evidence more and more as that fulfilment takes place, and is observed. The dispersion and misery of the Jewish nation, so long continued, or so often repeated; the progress and continuance of the gospel among the Gentiles; the long continued dominion of the popes, and the partial revolt from it at the Reformation; the past and present condition of the Turkish empire; the present state of Assyria, Chaldea, Arabia, Phenicia (sic), Canaan, Egypt, &c., in exact correspondence to Scripture predictions, are standing testimonies of the divine original of our Bibles, no less conclusive and striking than if we had miracles wrought every day.
The Character of John Brown
Among the things which obviously claim our attention in the character of Mr. Brown, we must not pass over the astonishing extent of his scholastic acquirements. Though possessed of no very considerable fund of originality, his capabilities for the acquisition of almost every species of literary knowledge was such, that he outran most of all his contemporaries, though possessing every advantage of a regular education, and that from their infancy. Ordinary attainments, whether in languages or science, could by no means satisfy the ardour of his inquisitive mind. With a memory strongly retentive, a solid and discriminating judgment, and an inflexible and persevering assiduity, with the blessing of God on his labours, he acquired and secured an uncommon share with which, from a child, he had cultivated a very particular acquaintance, so that he could repeat almost every text, and state its meaning and connexion. His feet were early turned into the paths of wisdom. Apprehended by the grace of God while his mind was yet young and tender, he made choice of his law as the rule of his life, and solemnly devoted himself to his service. In prayer, public, secret, or domestic, he overstepped the rules of almost any prescribed routine; even amid the ordinary business of life, the breathings of his soul were continually breaking forth in ejaculations of gratitude and praise, particularly while composing, or committing his discourses to memory. He possessed such an habitual evenness of temper, that hopes realized or disappointed seemed neither to elate nor greatly depress his spirits. He lived always conscious of God’s presence, and as one who had learned to lay down the sinful suspicion that men by nature have of Him. On hearing a peal of thunder he remarked, “that is the low whisper of my God.” His Christian Journal, which presents a good index of the general tone of his mind, bears this inscription, “The soul that is ever attentive to God never hears a voice that speaks not to Him; the soul, whose eye is intent on Him, never sees an atom, in which she does not discern the face of her best beloved.” He was scarcely ever seen to weep, unless it were from the impressions of divine truth on his own heart, or compassion for perishing souls. Bodily pain, or the death of relatives, he suffered without a tear; but when warning sinners to flee from the wrath to come, and, in Christ’s stead, entreating and beseeching them to be reconciled to God, his heart got frequently too big for utterance.
Promoting his Biblical Imagination series of books and CDs, Michael Card (one of my favorites) discusses how a quote by his late mentor, William Lane, regarding “informed imagination” lead him to investigate what Scripture might have to say about such a concept, and concludes it is the bridge between the head and the heart. “Head” people being the argumentative doctrinal people, while “heart” people are appropriately experiential, yet tend to not do their homework. Where head and heart converge is what Michael Card believes constitutes an “informed imagination.” I’ll have to do something with that one day.
The Lamb of God (John 1:18-34)
John the Baptist points away from himself to Christ, so that all may know that Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
I. Who Are You? (1:19-21)
A. Leaders’ First Question
1. “Who are you?” (1:19)
a. Not asking for genealogy—they likely know of his father, Zechariah.
b. Jewish leaders would be remiss to not examine John the Baptist.
B. John the Baptist’s First answer (1:20)
1. Confesses Christ by denying being him.
2. There were many itinerant claimants to Messiahship.
C. Leaders’ Second Question (1:21a)
1. “Are you Elijah?”
a. Matthew’s description of John the Baptist an allusion to Elijah (Matthew 3:4)
b. Rabbis frequently expounded on Elijah’s expected return (Malachi 4:5)
D. John the Baptist’s Second Answer
1. “I am not.”
E. Leaders’ Third Question (1:21b)
1. “Are you ‘The Prophet’?” (Deuteronomy 18:15)
F. John the Baptist’s Third Answer
2. Christ himself is ‘The Prophet’ (Acts 3:22; 7:37).
II. The Voice (1:22-28)
A. Leaders’ Fourth Question (1:22)
1.“Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
B. John the Baptist’s Fourth Answer
1. “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” (1:23)
2. Prophesied in Isaiah 40:1-8; see v. 3
3. A metaphorical call to repair the roads to ease the return of repentant Jews from Babylonian Captivity—the literal near fulfillment.
4. John the Baptist and his baptism of repentance (Luke 3:3) is the spiritual and ultimate far fulfillment.
5. John the Baptist is like a pre-battle bombardment to soften a target before an attack.
C. Leaders’ Fifth Question (1:25)
1. “The why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
D. John the Baptist’s Fifth Answer (1:26-27)
1. “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”
2. Like his confession by denial above, John the Baptist magnifies Christ by diminishing his own importance (John 3:30).
3. Christ was there, yet remained unrecognized (cf. John 1:10).
III. That He Might Be Revealed (John 1:29-34)
A. John 1:32-34 takes place after Jesus’ baptism.
B. “The next day he (John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’
1. John 1:29 is the gospel in a nutshell.
a. John the Baptist refers to Christ in terms of the Passover Lamb.
b. “The world” in John 1:29 does refer to all people in the world, but not all people without exception (see John 1:12).
C. John the Baptist’s twofold ministry
1. Negatively, he calls the Jews to his baptism of repentance.
2. Positively, he points to the Lord Jesus Christ to bear witness that he is the Son of God that they might believe.
D. If you believe in Christ, he has borne your sins; therefore, repent of your sins and reaffirm your faith in him in Christian worship.
The 10 marks of a “plain vanilla” Presbyterian church. Some are tongue-in-cheek–kinda!
- Lectio continua preaching. If you want topical preaching, then preach through the catechism in the evening.
- Is it a sanctuary or an auditorium?
- Evangelism is inherent in #1, while personal witnessing is commended and encouraged.
- Psalms and hymns sung from the Trinity Hymnal (1960, or 1990 edition) to piano accompaniment, at least.
- Resist the trend toward weekly communion, paedocommunion and intinction.
- Deaconess is not an ordained church office; pastors are men, too.
- If the Bible doesn’t say you can do it in the worship service, then you can’t!
- Congregational participation in worship: a) pray along with the elder during his public prayers, b) sing, recite the creed or Lord’s Prayer and responsively read like you mean it, c) actually hear and heed the Word preached.
- No hand raising until the benediction (but only if you know what it means).
- If you call people “Brother” and “Sister,” everyone will know you used to be a Baptist.
What other marks can you think of?
As much as I love the Reformed tradition, some of its more extreme instincts, in my humble opinion, lead it to throw out the baby of the communion of the saints with the bath water of Roman Catholic superstition. One case in point is the memory and example of the saints of the past. Not wanting to retain a Romanist veneration of the saints, we neglect the important and edifying discipline of gleaning from the history of the church the graces of the saints conveyed to us in the annals of church history. This may lead us to keep an eye on the historic church calendar, but we do not have to allow the entire worship of Christ to be distorted by this. There are ways to corporately remember the faith and works of the saints without violating the regulative principle of worship. What it takes is a little ingenuity on the part of Reformed congregations—their members under the informed supervision of their sessions.
The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 26, “Of the Communion of Saints,” presents the biblical principles that go along with the communion of believers with Christ by the Spirit through faith, and with each other in love.
All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, by the Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory (1 John 1:3; Eph. 3:16-18; John 1:16; Eph. 2:5-6; Phil. 3:10; Rom. 6:5-6; 8:17; 2 Tim. 2:12): and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces (Eph. 4:15-16; 1 Cor. 3:21-23; 12:7,12; Col. 2:19), and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man (1 Thess. 5:11,14; Rom. 1:11-12,14; 1 John 3:16-18; Gal. 6:10). [WCF 26.1, as adopted by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church]
With regard to this section of the confession, there are gifts and graces to be communicated by one believer to others. This does primarily intend to apply to all living believers who are physically present among the saints in their generation of the church militant. But just as our confession transmits to us the corporate Reformed understanding of biblical faith, piety and practice, so can church history communicate to us the benefit of the gifts and graces of great Christians of the past who are now numbered among the church triumphant in heaven, with whom we are lifted in the Spirit on a weekly basis to join them in worship of Christ.
In one sense, this takes place all the time in one Reformed church or another as pastors illustrate the teachings of Scripture with examples of the works and experiences of saints of the past. By so appropriating their examples in the exposition and application of the Scriptures to us, I submit that we are benefiting from the gifts and graces of these historic saints, and so are experiencing the communion of saints even with them, if only in a sense. If the teaching ministries of Calvin, Luther, Spurgeon, Warfield, Machen, etc., continue to build up and instruct the church, why not the lives and works of those who published nothing, as their lives are recorded in church history?
One of the Scripture proofs in the section of the confession above is Romans 1:11-12,14. In this passage, the apostle Paul expresses his desire to commune with the saints at Rome.
For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
If Paul desired to impart a spiritual gift to the Romans in person, for his strengthening with the Romans in their mutual faith in the Person and Work of Christ, he certainly did impart such not only to them, but also to all Christians who would follow to this present day, twenty centuries later in his writing the most comprehensive exposition of the gospel of Christ in his letter to the Romans.
Paul’s grace was the grace of apostleship. Other ministers of the gospel have spiritual gifts to impart which are outworkings of this Pauline gospel. In the case of Nicholas, the grace of generosity to the poor among his parishoners has been communicated to us today through sixteen centuries of church tradition. If we may demythologize the traditions of St. Nicholas’ “wonder-working” intercessions, among other fanciful traditions, what we find remains is the kernel of a godly example of generosity on a par with that first lived by Christ in his state of humiliation. As Paul wrote, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9, ESV). Saint Nicholas was rich, and he used his wealth to relieve the poverty of those in his ministerial care. Truly, Saint Nicholas excelled in the grace of giving, taught in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. His example can help us learn how to live out the teaching of this passage.
It seems to me that due to the Reformed tradition’s utter rejection of corporate recognition of such great saints from church history, depriving ourselves and our congregations of their gifts and graces, are we not also neglecting a sense of communion with those professing Christians, whether Protestant or Catholic, who do recognize these days? We may be appropriately divided from Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians over essentials like justification by faith alone, or other Protestants over important doctrines like the sovereignty of God in the gospel, ecclesiology and the sacraments, but we can at the very least affirm the validity of, rather than despise, their edifying themselves with the gifts and graces of the saints of the past. We could furthermore, I propose, go a step further by not only affirming them in their commemoration, but perhaps exemplify a “more perfect way” of doing so in the context of Reformed theology, piety and practice.
Many Reformed churches are happy to commemorate Reformation Day on a yearly basis. We promote our commonly held Protestant distinctives, displaying our unity with Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist and Baptist Protestants. We also take it a step further and do it in a Reformed way. If we can do it with the memory of the works of Saint Martin Luther, why can we not do it with others like Saint Nicholas? Today is Saint Nicholas Day. December 6 is the anniversary of his death. It is on this day that Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches commemorate his life and ministry in their various ways. Yet the Reformed ignore it, although many of them have borrowed from the Anglicans at Christmas and found a way to bring into greater conformity to the Refomred confessions the Anglican Service of Lessons and Carols.
I say we should find a way to bring into greater conformity to our confessions the commemoration of the life and ministry of Saint Nicholas (read all about him here) and so reform in a more winsome and attractive way, the commercialized specter of Santa Claus, rather than merely turning up our noses to it and saying “Bah! Humbug.” Saint Nicholas is the world’s favorite saint. Sure, they’ve refashioned him in their own image, but we shouldn’t just leave him to them. Let us keep alive the true Saint Nicholas, who currently enriches our Christmas seasons with his emphasis on sacrificial generosity to the poor, and perhaps, through such edifying efforts build bridges over which some of the elect may find their way into the communion of saints through faith in Christ by the power of the Spirit and love for one another, and we can learn from Saint Nicholas how to better minister to the needy among us, as well as in the world, without feeling like we’re capitulating to some liberal “social gospel” or postmodern version of progressive “social justice.” Let us reform Saint Nicholas day and perhaps in his providence the Lord will use us to reform the way Christian charity is done in a more perfect way.
Happy Saint Nicholas Day!
As the father of a young lady who is growing in her understanding of Reformed theology, I have had to wrestle with the relative merits of “patriarchalism” versus “complementarianism.” What are the definitions of these fifty cent words, you ask? How glad I am that you asked!
Allow me to preface these definitions with yet another term—egalitarianism–and the environment in which these three terms have become points around which various parties rally. With the advent of feminism in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, efforts to free women from all forms of tyranny, real or perceived, in society, the home and the church have sparked a two-pronged response. Feminism promotes the ideal of egalitarianism, which asserts the absolute equality of men and women in every way, so that the institution of marriage is often disparaged, women are encouraged to work outside the home and pressured to refrain from the honorable vocation of domestic engineering (that is, being a housewife), and to answer an unbiblical call to pastoral ministry in the Christian church. This movement became part and parcel of the ideals of liberal Protestant theology and practice throughout the twentieth century. Toward the end of that century, however, the movement began making inroads into otherwise conservative Evangelical churches.
Throughout the history of the development of Christian theology, orthodoxy was commonly believed among the whole church, and remained generally agreed upon and largely unwritten, since there was little to no disagreement about the orthodox interpretation of Scripture. This is why we see in church history how that it is the aggressive assertion of heresy which forces the orthodox to go back to the drawing board and more carefully work out and put into writing the correct understanding of the Bible. In theology as well as commerce, competition forces one to work harder to increase the quality of their philosophical principles, goods and services.
How, in this environment, are Christian families to insulate their children from the erroneous claims of modern feminist egalitarianism? In the next post, we’ll deal with conservative Evangelical responses to egalitarianism which have resulted in the spectrum with which we must deal today.
On this week’s episode of the Christ the Center podcast (#263, “Insider Movements“), Dr. David Garner is interviewed about his recent article in Themelios, “High Stakes: Insider Movement Hermeneutics and the Gospel,” analyzing the hermeneutics underlying the Insider Movement, a sociological and anthropological approach to contextualizing evangelism without calling on people whose identities are tied to other world religions like Judaism, Islam and Hinduism to disassociate themselves from those religious, cultural and family ties, but to work inside them and transform their approach to those religions in light of the teachings of Jesus. While it is noble to attempt to find a way to minimize the risk of loss or danger a Jew, Muslim or Hindu (for example) may face upon becoming a Christian, it is unfaithful to the Jesus they claim to follow if they would settle for living to distort their new-found faith with the teachings and practices of the religion with which they have previously been associated. Living to syncretize Christianity with non-Christian world religions is not a faith worth living for or dying for.
This movement is clearly in contradiction with the teachings of Jesus to those who would follow him. Jesus carried his cross and died on it for those who believe, and he calls on believers to take up their cross, follow him, and be willing to live publicly for him and, if need be, accept rejection by leaders of other religions, communities and families, even if such rejection includes dying for him.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:34-39 ESV).
I know it’s easy for me to say, and to criticize those who would find a way around it, but I too have a cross of self-denial to carry if I am to follow Jesus. I must kill my own sin (a struggle which involves suffering and risk of social rejection on my part), and publicly acknowledge Jesus as my Lord and Savior and associate myself formally with his people, the Church (Hebrews 10:25), serving him with my time, talent and treasure–loving, forgiving and giving to my brothers until it hurts. Should the time come that the culture or community in which I live demands that I deny my Lord Jesus Christ, I am called upon to defy such a demand and willingly suffer the consequences in reliance upon the grace and goodness of God, knowing that if such is happening to me, it is no more than what he sacrificed for me.
One of the interesting things about this movement which Dr. Garner points out in the article and the interview is that the intellectual source of such innovation in world missions comes from the same root as the church growth movement–Donald McGavran (d. 1990) and his School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary (formerly the famous School of World Mission).
Donald Anderson McGavran (December 15, 1897–1990) was a missiologist who was the founding Dean (1965) and Professor of Mission, Church Growth, and South Asian Studies at the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. A child of missionaries in India and later amissionary himself (1923–1961), McGavran spent most of his life trying to identify and overcome barriers to effective evangelism or Christian conversion.
McGavran identified differences of caste and economic social position as major barriers to the spread of Christianity. His work substantially changed the methods by which missionaries identify and prioritize groups of persons for missionary work and stimulated the Church Growth Movement. McGavran developed his church growth principles after rejecting the popular view that mission was ‘philanthropy, education, medicine, famine relief, evangelism, and world friendship’ and become convinced that good deeds – while necessary – ‘must never replace the essential task of mission, discipling the peoples of the earth’. [HT: Wikipedia]
While McGavran’s efforts in his time were more theologically conservative and a reaction against liberal missionary trends, a student of his named C. Peter Wagner built on McGavran’s principles and create the church growth movement which has brought us such phenomena as seeker-sensitive worship and the modern megachurch. Incidentally, he is also the one who coined the phrase New Apostolic Reformation for the worldwide sweep of Charismatic and Word of Faith theology with a special emphasis on the restoration of the apostolic office, which movement in America has recently frightened the political Left because so many who would fall under this umbrella have modified the theonomist views of R. J. Rushdoony (for more on that, see this) and declared that they would “take dominion” over every sphere of influence in America.
Syncretism in the name of saving one’s life is no way to spread Christianity. A new generation around the world must hear the age-old truism: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” [paraphrasing Tertullian, Apology chapter 50].
The following episode of the Reformed Forum’s new podcast, East of Eden, was tailor-made for the readers of this blog! East of Eden is a podcast devoted to discussing all things Jonathan Edwards. Not the recent politician with good hair and a bad reputation, but the eighteenth century preacher of the First Great Awakening who became known as the theologian of revival. In this week’s episode, the co-hosts interview a guest to be named below as they discuss Edwards’ sermon on “The Importance and Advantage of a Thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth.” One comment made by Nick Batzig sums up nicely both the sermon and the theme of this blog: “You can have truth in the mind without godliness in the heart, but you can’t have godliness in the heart without truth in the mind.”
Later, I will update this post with a transcript of the context of the preceding quote. In the meantime, listen to the entire episode, “Christian Knowledge,” to be challenged to inform your godliness with a thorough understanding of the truth which accords with godliness (Titus 1:1).
I’m one of those especially unfortunate fellows who grew up with a love-hate relationship with sports. I played several sports on several little league teams as a child, and played plenty of sports in the streets of my neighborhood. My lack of skill then is probably the chief reason I do not follow sports today, although I do tend to catch the Super Bowl, mostly for the commercials. My new membership in a Reformed church and their biblical and confessional (we view these two adjectives as synonymous) emphasis on delighting in the Lord on the Lord’s Day may have implications for the Super Bowl in the future. All I can say is, thanks be to God for digital video recording.
In light of my lack of interest in sports, I am fond of informing folks that “my sports are politics and religion,” which probably tells people I can relate even less to them, when they may already see me as a socially challenged individual who doesn’t follow sports. It is for this reason that you may not be surprised by my interest in the following lecture series that was held at Christ Reformed Church (URCNA) in Washington, D.C., called “Christianity & Politics,” which is yet another venue for the Westminster Seminary California faculty and alumni, among others, to focus our attention on their attempt at recovering the Reformed notion of the Two Kingdoms approach to the relationship between “Christ and Culture.” A timely offering in this year of presidential politics.
Here’s their introduction to the series, speaker bios and links to the lectures:
Why We Confuse Church & State
Separation of church and state?
Whatever you may think of the contemporary application of our first amendment freedom of religion, Christianity and politics are ever confused in our national consciousness. Preachers seek influence in the political sphere; politicians manipulate and calculate the faithful in their constituencies.
What are the faithful to do? How should we understand our callings as citizens, both on earth below and in heaven above?
Christianity & Politics presents a range of speakers approaching this topic from a range of perspectives while discussing topics as diverse as the mission of the church, the place of evangelicals in American political culture, natural law, and the spirituality of the church.…
Lectures [were] sponsored by Christ Reformed Church, and [took] place in our place of worship, historic Grace Reformed Church, home of President Theodore Roosevelt….
MICHAEL HORTON is the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, Host of the White Horse Inn radio program and Editor-in-Chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is a minister in the United Reformed Church.
MICHAEL GERSON is an opinion writer for the Washington Post and former head speech writer and senior policy advisor to President George W. Bush.
DARRYL HART is Assistant Professor of History at Hillsdale College, author of numerous books, and blogs on religion and public life at oldlife.org.
TERRY EASTLAND is the Publisher of The Weekly Standard and an elder at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland.
BRIAN LEE is the pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Washington, DC (United Reformed Church). He is a Guest Faculty at Reformed Theological Seminary and formerly worked on Capitol Hill, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Department of Defense.
DAVID VAN DRUNEN is the Robert B. Strimple Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at Westminster Seminary California. He is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and holds a Law Degree from Northwestern University School of Law.
DAVID COFFIN is the Senior Pastor at New Hope Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, Virginia.
Michael Gerson, Darryl Hart, Terry Eastland