Friday, February 27, 2009

Must read editorial

This is a must-read editorial by Charles Krauthammer. You cannot overestimate the scope of Obama’s plan to transform American culture. It may not happen in this term, or even a (gulp) second Obama term but if he gets his way, he will have put in place the foundations for a massive shift towards socialism in the near future. Once people get a taste for “free healthcare”, “free college”, etc paid for by “someone else”, it will be impossible to undo it. Clinton failed in his efforts because he was overseeing a time of relative prosperity whereas Obama has a ready made crisis and a slew of scapegoats (Bush, bankers, etc.). Clinton let his wife be his spokesperson and her shrill, smarmy manner made an easy target and rallying cry (Hillary-Care). Obama is his own spokesperson and has the media eating out of his hand, so the message that gets to the masses will be what he wants it to be and nothing else. Clinton didn’t have a coherent vision or ideology. Obama is the ultimate ideologue in a way that we haven’t seen since the Reagan administration. In many ways Obama is the mirror image of Reagan. He is an ideologue for socialism/liberalism in the same way that Reagan was for free-market capitalism. Reagan accomplished a lot in eight years because he had a clear, concise message that he stuck to. Obama does as well, and he has the advantage of inertia carrying us toward socialism and willing accomplices in the media.

When we look to the future, we should look to Europe to see where we are headed. The picture is not a pretty one. Once great nations are shells of themselves, with massive unemployment, a huge welfare state and an utter lack of ambition or national identity. Apathy and entitlement are the hallmarks of European socialism, and that is precisely where we are headed. Many European nations were world powers, but they have slid into near irrelevance on the world stage. Fortunately, America was there to fill in the power vacuum but when we fade away, who will step into the gap? China?

What worries me the most is that it may be too late to stop this.

Important video on church etiquette

We're getting out of Iraq sez Obama!

But not this year...

And not all of the troops....

In fact we are going to leave 35,000 to 50,000 troops in Iraq indefinitely...

So, in Obama-speak, getting the troops out of Iraq really means leaving up to 50,000 soldiers IN Iraq and just changing the name of their mission...

Is that the "change" people voted for? Changing the name of the mission for the 50,000 troops left in Iraq?

(Note: I think we should leave troops in Iraq, just like we still have troops in Germany and Japan)

More on the budgetary smoke and mirrors

It is pretty easy to put forth a budget and explain how you are going to pay for it when reality has no bearing on those numbers. In a masterful job of talking out of both sides of your mouth and getting away with it, President Obama is signing hundreds of billions in new pork barrel spending one day, calling for fiscal restraint and a reduction of the deficit on the next day and then proposing a massive budget with hundreds of billions in new spending on health insurance above and beyond what is already in place in an era of declining revenue. He claims that he can find savings in wasteful spending and by letting tax cuts expire on “the rich” and only impact the top 2% of taxpayers.

One word for you: Baloney!

In a piece titled “The 2% Illusion”, the Wall Street Journal lays to rest the notion that we can have an enormous increase in spending and only those rich fat cats are going to have to pay for it.

One of the most grotesque aspects of the modern Democrat Party is their faux populism. When you see filthy rich white liberals proclaiming the need for the rich to pay their fair share while riding in limos and flying first class, alarm bells should be going off. Although the Left doesn’t like facts, they are troublesome to set aside and these are the facts when it comes to the rich paying “their fair share”:

Consider the IRS data for 2006, the most recent year that such tax data are available and a good year for the economy and "the wealthiest 2%." Roughly 3.8 million filers had adjusted gross incomes above $200,000 in 2006. (That's about 7% of all returns; the data aren't broken down at the $250,000 point.) These people paid about $522 billion in income taxes, or roughly 62% of all federal individual income receipts. The richest 1% -- about 1.65 million filers making above $388,806 -- paid some $408 billion, or 39.9% of all income tax revenues, while earning about 22% of all reported U.S. income.

Even taking the neo-socialist agenda of Obama and company to its logical extreme and taking every taxable dime of the “rich” is not going to get it done…

But let's not stop at a 42% top rate; as a thought experiment, let's go all the way. A tax policy that confiscated 100% of the taxable income of everyone in America earning over $500,000 in 2006 would only have given Congress an extra $1.3 trillion in revenue. That's less than half the 2006 federal budget of $2.7 trillion and looks tiny compared to the more than $4 trillion Congress will spend in fiscal 2010. Even taking every taxable "dime" of everyone earning more than $75,000 in 2006 would have barely yielded enough to cover that $4 trillion.

Ah those facts, so troubling and inconvenient!

A 2010 Federal budget of almost four trillion dollars (that is $4,000,000,000,000) means that given the approximately 300 million people in America, the Federal government is spending (and taxing and borrowing) on your behalf around $13,000+ for every man, woman and child. With a median household income in 2007 of $50,233 nationally, and presuming an average household size of four people (two adults and two kids) that means that we have approximately 75 million households in America. Thus the Federal government in 2010 is spending the equivalent of $52,000 per household, which is more than the media household income nationally. These statistics may be a little off, I am not using a scientific metholodgy here but the point remains that the Federal government in 2010 is proposing to spend more per household than the median household makes in a year. Does anyone else see a problem with that?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The brave new world accelerates

A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto...a test tube?

We were going to the store and heard just a jarring story on NPR about "Donor-Conceived Kids Connect With Half Siblings" In a nutshell, the story was about children conceived by the use of donor

Parents who've conceived children using a donor's sperm or egg are increasingly tracking down their own children's "donor siblings," according to a study in the journal Human Reproduction. These parents and children want to learn more about their genetically linked "half brothers and half sisters," and are curious about possible similarities in appearance and personality.

"It's a new form of family," says sociologist Tabitha Freeman, of the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge in England.

"It's not, perhaps, what people traditionally understand by family — sort of mum, dad, child. And yes, they do describe each other as brothers and sisters."

Well that is the understatement of the century. Not what is traditionally understood as a family? I should say so. We are already to the point where we don't need a mother and a father, now we don't even need two parents at all and viola! we have a "family" based on shared DNA.

On the one hand, yes they are "half-siblings" in the sense that they share half of their DNA with a common donor. But siblings? People who may have never met, were born to different women in completely different families or even different countries?

What was jarring about the news article was how common place it really seems. Why not have families with no real connection other than DNA? In 2009, what place do families really have in society as a whole? We put off marriage until as late as possible, well after prime fertility years, refuse to set aside careers and pleasures until we have no choice, begrudgingly decide to have children (maybe one or two) and then realize that we waited so long that getting pregnant is really hard. So all the money we saved up is spent on costly fertility treatments that results in a couple of kids and then we ship them off to daycare and public school so that someone else can raise them.

Why wouldn't two kids born from egg donors consider themselves to be "siblings" in this environment? Plus you get to have lots and lots of "donor conceived siblings" and not have any real attachments. My poor kids only have 7 siblings, but these kids...

In Freeman's study, the average number of related donor siblings who've found each other was five. But some of those on the registry have 20, 50 or even, in one case, 120 donor siblings.

I know it seems somewhat cruel of me, we have never had any problem having kids and so who am I to say that other people should be denied children? But many of the people referred to in the article are single moms (intentionally single women who still want kids) and lesbian couples. The attitude seems to be a willful flaunting of God's design for a family of a man and woman, married for life, having and raising children. They don't want to follow God's commands but they still want to have children, so they do an end-around the natural order and God's laws. I am not a fan of fertility treatments even for married, faithful couples who want but are unable to have kids. Is God not sovereign and is childlessness in the Bible not always at God's decree? Each and every step along this path desensitizes us and further waters down the definition of "family" to the point that the word becomes essentially meaningless.

So what do you get for $787,000,000,000?

Not much. The Wall Street Journal put together a nice chart of the spending allocations for the Porkulus Bill. The Journal is about the only national paper that you can get news from that doesn’t have reporters screaming and fainting like teen girls at a Jonas Brothers concert over Obama. This chart does not drill down to the 9000 earmarked pet projects, this is just the “big picture”. The picture it paints is hardly what a rational person would expect to find in a bill that was foisted on us as being our only hope to stave off catastrophe. Here is a sample…

Salaries for staff to modernize IT system at Farm Service Agency: $50,000,000

Adult and child day care meals and snacks: $100,000,000

Extra money for Census: $1,000,000,000

National Cemetery renovations and repairs: $50,000,000

The internet is a big winner in the Porkulus Bill (which is only right since Al Gore invented it and he should have been President anyway because he should have won Florida even though none of the counts showed him getting more actual votes than George Bush) . In a time of economic crisis, nothing is more important than people being able to get high speed internet. How can we have a functioning economy without YouTube clips and illegally downloaded music!

Salaries and expenses for program to create broadband inventory map of the country: $350,000,000 (that is an expensive map!)

Grants to provide wireless and broadband infrastructure to communities, including public computer centers and sustainable adoption of broadband service: $4,350,000,000

Broadband grants to rural communities (farmers need YouTube too!): $2,500,000,000

Absolutely vital , each and ever line item. Think how catastrophic it would be if the Farm Service Agency didn’t get updated computers. Oh the humanity! Snacks for elderly daycare, yummy! Renovations to the National Cemetery. On and on and on. No wonder they crammed this thing through before people got a good look at it. How can we live without $85,000,000 for “Indian Health Services IT development and deployment” or $50,000,000 for “Grants to fund arts projects in non-profit sector”?

The best part is the money going back to states. So on our behalf, the Federal government is going to take almost $800,000,000,000 from us in taxes and debt. Then they are going to filter that through Washington, D.C. Then they are going to send a huge chunk of it to Governor Jennifer Granholm, paragon of fiscal responsibility and sound government (who else can brag that even though the whole nation is in a recession, Michigan has been in a deeper and worse recession than any other state. We’re number 1!). Once Jenny gets done tinkering around with our money, she and the state legislature are then going to dole it out to pet projects all around the state. Meanwhile, the average Michigander still won’t be able to sell their house, find a new job or send their kids to a decent school.

Remember that when this was passed, it was designed to head of economic collapse and food riots in the streets. Some of this spending is useful, some of it may be vital. But don’t sell us a bill that is designed to head of imminent collapse and then hide a bunch of random spending in it and still tell us it is a “stimulus” bill. It is nothing but a massive expansion of the Federal government and did nothing to fix the major issues that are crippling the economy, i.e. a train wreck in the consumer and business credit markets.

This is pork barrel spending on an unprecedented level, and it was sold to America by scare-mongering in D.C. with the willing participation and encouragement of the mainstream media. All that is left now is for the American people to pay back the $800,000,000,000 bill.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

So here is a puzzle

Go into most American churches and you will see a preponderance of women. I don’t know what the ratio is, but between widows who outlive their husbands and younger women who go to church without husbands, or who are unmarried and you see a pattern of a dramatic difference in the number of men and women in a church congregation. This has been recorded and lamented in many quarters.

But go to a theology conference, at least the ones I go to, and the place is packed wall to wall with dudes. Most of the heavy duty theology books coming out are written by men. Go to a lot of the big name blogs and the commenter’s are overwhelmingly men.

So why is that? Is it that men, the rare ones who are “devout” anyway, are just more serious about their faith? Are women less interested in the heady theology and more into the relational aspects of the faith? Do men just like theology because it is kind of like a contact sport in many circles? Is it because the leadership in conservative churches is typically restricted to men?

Whatcha think?

Another cool opportunity for homeschooling

Along with what appears to be a great Christian homeschool group in the Lansing area, we are also just a couple of minutes from the site for the annual I.N.C.H. conference May 15th and 16th (Information Network for Christian Homes). We have a friend from Northern Michigan who is a vendor for homeschool stuff and she goes every year and speaks very highly of it. Now that we are ten minutes from the Lansing Center, we can finally go too. I took a vacation day and everything.

There are around 60 workshops going on (hopefully I can make it to the session “How blogging and having your kids read it later qualifies as helping to homeschool your kids”) and over one hundred vendors of all things homeschool. Should be very cool, so if you are in the Midwest and have time May 15-16th you should check it out!

On the Lord’s Supper and genuine, Biblical Christian fellowship

I am shamelessly lifting this from Alan Knox, but I love what Spurgeon said about the Lord’s Supper and how it relates to Christian fellowship. From his sermon on Acts 2, Additions to the Church

I want you to notice this, that they were breaking bread from house to house, and ate their food with gladness and singleness of heart. They did not think that religion was meant only for Sundays, and for what men now-a-days call the House of God. Their own houses were houses of God, and their own meals were so mixed and mingled with the Lord's Supper that to this day the most cautious student of the Bible cannot tell when they stopped eating their common meals, and when they began eating the Supper of the Lord. They elevated their meals into diets for worship: they so consecrated everything with prayer and praise that all around them was holiness to the Lord. I wish our houses were, in this way, dedicated to the Lord, so that we worshipped God all day long, and made our homes temples for the living God. A great dignitary not long ago informed us that there is great value in daily prayer in the parish church; he even asserted that, however few might attend, it was more acceptable than any other worship. I suppose that prayer in the parish church with nobody to join in it except the priest and the usher is far more effectual than the largest family gathering in the house at home. This was evidently this gentleman's idea, and I suppose the literature which he was best acquainted with was of such an order as, to have led him to draw that inference. Had he been acquainted with the Bible and such old fashioned books, he would have learned rather differently, and if some one should make him a present of a New Testament, it might perhaps suggest a few new thoughts to him. Does God need a house? He who made the heavens and the earth, does he dwell in temples made with hands? What crass ignorance this is! No house beneath the sky is more holy than the place where a Christian lives, and eats, and drinks, and sleeps, and praises the Lord in all that he does, and there is no worship more heavenly than that which is presented by holy families, devoted to the fear of the Lord.

That is a far cry from how we break bread with one another today. I think that the problem with the prior post on denying the table to Christians is that we are not talking about the Lord’s Supper in the same frame of reference that the Bible speaks of the Supper. We see the Lord’s Supper, the fellowship, the breaking of bread as being something that is reserved for formal, organized meetings “at church”, on schedule and in the proper format. Nothing could be further from the Bible. We have lost the sense of the Supper being an act of worship, of fellowship, of community among the redeemed. It is now a ceremony, a function, a sacrament. We are poorer as a people for it and the Supper is less meaningful because of it.

Again, this is not to discount the need for and the value of corporate gathering and worship. We have been in fellowship with other believers in a corporate setting every Sunday since we moved, often multiple times on Sundays. But we as the Body of Christ have so modified the idea of Christian fellowship and the breaking of bread and worship from how it appears in the Bible that I fear that we are doing a lot more tradition following than we are Bible following. Especially from those of us who are Reformed, who believe in the inerrancy, perspicuity and sufficiency of the Bible. We, of all people, should seek in the spirit of semper reformanda to constantly test what we believe and what we do with the words of Holy Writ and not let our theology and practice be dictated by tradition or culture or confessions, but instead be guided by the Word of God. What is tragic is that being “Reformed” seems to require greater and greater form and structure. What is ironic is that being “Reformed” is looking less and less like a reformation and more and more like what Christians were trying to reform in the first place.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Irony Alert!

From the Wall Street Journal...

Obama Praises Japanese Partnership

In brief remarks, Mr. Obama underscored the continuing importance of the alliance between the U.S. and Japan.

"It is for that reason that the prime minister is the first foreign dignitary to visit me here in the Oval Office," Mr. Obama said. "I think it's a testimony to the strong partnership between the United States and Japan. … It's one that my administration wants to strengthen."

In response, Mr. Aso -- seated to the president's right by the Oval Office fireplace, and speaking in English -- said that the U.S. and Japan "will have to work together hand in hand. And I think we are the only two nations which can offer enough to solve those very critical, vital issue[s] of the world."

U.S.-Japanese cooperation will be important to Mr. Obama as well, particularly as some in his own party push for a tougher trade policy toward China.

President Obama, have you given any thought to why is Japan such a useful ally and trading partner?

The only reason we are able to have such cordial relations with Japan (and Germany, and Italy) is because of the tens of thousands of American and Japanese lives that were lost, including the only use of atomic weapons on a civilian population, which liberated Japan and enabled her to become a free country. Exactly the sort of thing we are doing in Iraq. But in Iraq, the money spent is “wasted”. The lives it costs are “wasted”. The war is "illegal" even though it was authorized by Congress.

Good thing Democrat President Roosevelt didn’t have the same disregard for human freedom that today’s Democrats do. If he did, we might be dealing with the descendents of Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito. Instead of cooperation with Japan, we might be facing a hostile Imperial Navy. Instead of vacationing in a Paris, American’s might be facing the Nazi occupation forces six decades into the occupation of France. The world would be a far different and I would say a far worse place if we had not toppled Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and imperial Japan.

Freedom comes at a high price, a price that is too high for the selfish and narcissistic liberals in America today.

The beauty of being Protestant

Today is Fat Tuesday. Being half Polish and from a Roman Catholic family from an heavily ethnic Catholic area (Toledo), paczki were part of the spring tradition. The really cool thing is that we are Protestants. We get to enjoy cultural traditions like Fat Tuesday, with the accompanying paczki but we don’t feel obligated to give up something for Lent. See, being a Protestant is a win-win. Thank you Martin Luther, I will eat a paczki (or three) today in your honor!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Not so fast Young, Restless and (Not Truly) Reformed people!

DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed: Calvin Conference and Confessional Calvinists

Kevin DeYoung of University Reformed Church, the host of the Magnifying God conference, posted some very good closing thoughts from the conference. I really appreciated them and encourage you to check them out. Alas, news of this little conference reached California and so did Kevin's post. Apparently the use of the word "Reformed" in (Baptist) Colin Hansen's book, without the imprimatur of Dr. R. Scott Clark, has run the whole conference afoul of Dr. Clark and he has expressed his displeasure in a post here. I won't rehash my dealings with Dr. Clark, but you can read them here. Suffice it to say that I am a lot more in line with Kevin DeYoung's definition of Reformed than I am Dr. Clarks.

Who’s afraid of Richard Dawkins?

How I Learned Not to Fear the Anti-God Squad

Interesting editorial in the Wall Street Journal regarding the new, "in your face" atheism.

For many Christians, the vehement and popular attacks on Christianity by the new “celebrity” atheists is a terrible thing. Because of their popularity, men like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens gather huge audiences when they write books or speak publicly. These attacks have such a wide audience and it can seem like the attacks on God are shattering people’s faith. There has been a great dealing of hand-wringing and a lot of effort expended in an effort to combat the new, militant atheism.

But really is this renewed attack on faith necessarily a bad thing? It got me thinking that maybe it is a GOOD thing, because it is causing those who are culturally religious to drop out and causes a refining of the remainder. Is not this public attack on faith refining the dross from the church, pulling the burrs from the sheep? Where there is a social cost to public faith, the faith of those who believe is strengthened through adversity. God is sovereign and is not made less by those who are not His that hate Him and His followers.

Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Matt 13: 5-6

When the heat of the atheist assault falls on some, they wither away. There are many cultural Christians, people who are untransformed by the Gospel but still attend church services for whatever reason. They have a false belief because they have bought into the idea of being “in a church” is the same as “being in the church”. They leave, but that is not unexpected: They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:19). Is the church healthier with more people who are less committed or with fewer people who are more committed?

I think we should thank God for adversity, for those who slander us and challenge our faith. In a nation with churches on every corner and with God-talk coming out of the mouths of politicians, it is easy to get fat and lazy in our faith. That has happened for decades and we are weak and flabby spiritually in the church. When the church faces persecution and challenges, it strengthens and draws together those who are redeemed. We should refute the false accusations and baseless contentions of those who decry faith, but we should be thankful for the persecution and opposition that sharpens and strengthens our faith.

An important new book for Christian parents

I am reading Voddie Baucham’s new book “What he must be…if he wants to marry my daughter” and a couple of chapters in, it is dynamite! I hope to have it finished in the next couple of days, and be able to give a more thorough review but I can say with a great deal of confidence that this is a must-read for parents concerned with raising their children up properly before the Lord. Voddie has always decried that so many Christians follow the world’s pattern of sending our kids out and hoping they marry a “good one”, and then we wonder why divorce rates are so similar in the church to the world. Well duh, we may be Christians but we are raising our kids like pagans with pagan education, pagan expectations of marriage, pagan ideas of success, family and gender. Why are we surprised when they turn out to be pagans. Voddie Baucham is something of a prophetic voice for Christian families and parenting in the prevailing culture, and his is a voice that we need to heed carefully.

Marriage is too important to be left to secular notions of romance and “finding the one” and as Voddie stirringly says in his intro, we need to not just adjust our methods, we need to repent of our failures as the church in preparing our kids for Biblical marriage. More on his book coming soon but for right now: Go out and get this book!

Denying the table?

On what basis do we deny the Lord's Supper to one another?

Many of us love the story of John Calvin in Geneva, throwing himself bodily over the table containing the Lord’s Supper, blocking the heretics with his own body from eating and drinking. Someone recounted it at last weekend’s conference on John Calvin and it was met with approval. Keeping people away from the Lord’s Supper seems like a pious and proper thing to do.

But is that Biblical? In other words, do we have a Biblical mandate to deny the Supper to people by some sort of qualification process?

The subject came up last night via instant messenger with James Lee, not the best method for working something like this out so I wanted to throw it out here in blogland and raise the question. I do so with a caution that before you form a decision, you give it some thought and try to look at it from the standpoint of what the Bible says (or doesn’t say), and not what our traditions and personal feelings think. The Lord’s Supper is an emotional issue like baptism, so it needs careful examination.

Probably the clearest instruction concerning the Lord’s Supper is in 1 Corinthians 11, a chapter just chock full of useful information! The only other places we see much about the Lord’s Supper is at the Last Supper when Christ institutes the new covenant observation, and in a few vague references to the church breaking bread when gathering (i.e. Acts 2:42). So we really need to turn to 1 Cor 11: 17-34 to see what is being portrayed. Paul finishes his exhortation for men to pray and prophecy with uncovered heads and women to pray and prophecy with covered heads, and then he says something that is a rebuke to the church at Corinth:

17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.

Paul is refusing to commend the church for the way they are observing the Supper, in fact it is not even a proper observation of the Supper. There are social distinctions when the church gathers, some going hungry from lack and others eating gluttonously and others are even using the Supper as an opportunity for getting drunk! In doing this, Paul says that they are improperly observing the Supper. From the ESV Study Bible notes: “Because of their selfish elitism, when the Corinthians observe the Lord's Supper they are not rightly representing the sacrificial death of Christ (vv. 24, 26) and the true character of the Lord.”. The Supper is a humble observance, a solemn event and not a place (if there is ever a place, for social separation among the church or debauched drinking) Paul goes on to then describe the proper practice of the church coming together for the Supper:

23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

Paul here recognizes that for the believer, the Lord’s Supper is both memorial and declarative. It is not a passive act of sitting in a pew and eating what is put before you. When we partake of the Supper, we remember His cross but we also declare (“proclaim”)

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

What we are to do is examine ourselves. Those who fail to discern their own heart and improperly approach the table eat and drink judgment on themselves. I have refrained from eating and drinking for a season when I had a serious sin issue in my life for this precise reason. The key here is the self-examination one is exhorted to go through before partaking, because quite frankly it is virtually impossible for anyone else to discern the heart of someone. The same applies with baptism. We cannot ever be sure about someone’s state and it is not hard to say the right things, so outside of gross, unrepentant sin when should we deny the waters of baptism to a professing believer?

What is missing here is anything about denial of the Supper by the body to an individual. Can we rightly imply from this that some people are denied the Supper? If someone is a professing believer, what standard do we establish for them to partake or not partake of the supper? That is a two-part question.

The first are those who are under discipline who have gotten to the point of being out of fellowship. Those who are in sin and are unrepentant of it and not restored through church discipline are put out of the fellowship, becoming as gentiles and tax collectors, so they would not be in a position to take the Supper anyway. Those who are under church discipline but are still in fellowship should be exhorted to examine themselves before they ate and drank.

The second concerns those who come into the fellowship, the assembly and seek to partake. Is there a Scriptural mandate to put them through a formal process, an examination so to speak or to require membership before they break bread with the local assembly? I have already announced my denial of the whole institution of formal “church membership”. What then is the standard? A simple affirmation of oneself as being born-again, a committed follower of Christ? A requirement for “membership”? An examination of one’s spiritual state by the elders? Certainly the above verses are made in context of the assembly of the saints, the local fellowship of believers and there are provisions and commands made for church discipline and discernment. Would those apply to the Lord’s Supper?

We must be very careful here that we are not imposing manmade constrictions on something that the Bible is silent about. What is the standard? A common confession? If so, which one? Should Lutherans only break bread with other like-minded Lutherans? Baptists only with Baptists? Presbyterians only with Presbyterians? A year or two ago I would have heartily affirmed denying the table to someone who was baptized as an infant as having not been properly baptized and thereby disqualified from the Supper. I fear that we have made a Roman Catholic control mechanism into a Biblical command.

Is it not true that a perfunctory, rote ceremony of eating oyster crackers and drinking Welch’s grape juice on a quarterly basis and doing so just to fulfill a requirement is a greater profaning of the Supper among the Body than someone who is an unbeliever being given the elements? In other words, where do we do greater harm: denial of a genuine believer from the table or allowing a false believer to heap condemnation on themselves? For those who eat the bread unworthily, the elements bring judgment upon themselves. For those who don’t believe at all, it is merely bread and wine.

Despite my impulse to guard the table jealously, I don’t see a Biblical mandate to do so. I have always been a closed communion guy, but I am starting to question it. Is this wrong, am I missing something?

Grab Your Wallets!

President Obama is convening a summit to discuss reducing the Federal deficit today, which seems odd since he just crammed through an almost $800,000,000,000 pork spending bill and wants to socialize medicine, along with calls from some influential liberal senators to nationalize the banks. The measures to combat the deficit mentioned on NPR over the weekend were woefully short of what is needed, a few expiring tax cuts on capital gains, recharacterizing some hedge fund gains as income (forgetting that most accounts have lost so much that they have no capital gains!). The only ways to decrease the deficit are to increase tax revenues or decrease spending. No chance that the most liberal regime in recent decades is going to decrease spending, in fact they likely would love to increase spending. So that leaves one place, increased tax revenues and you know that means tax increases. If you think that means just taxes on “the rich”, watch out! You will be amazed how quickly you become “rich” in the Obama administration…

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Blog format

So I have been told my blog format is kind of hard to read, so I added a poll on the sidebar. Wat are your thoughts, would a simpler format be easier to read? What do you suggest, if you have any ideas? Or is it fine the way that it is?

Sound words from over four hundred years ago...

Speaki g of Calvin...

From Calvin's commentary on the Book of Romans, in the preface:

Such veneration we ought indeed to entertain for the Word of God, that we ought not to pervert it in the least degree by varying expositions; for its majesty is diminished, I know not how much, especially when not expounded with great discretion and with great sobriety. And if it be deemed a great wickedness to contaminate any thing that is dedicated to God, he surely cannot be endured, who, with impure, or even with unprepared hands, will handle that very thing, which of all things is the most sacred on earth. It is therefore an audacity, closely allied to a sacrilege, rashly to turn Scripture in any way we please, and to indulge our fancies as in sport; which has been done-by many in former times.

Magnifying God: The Legacy of John Calvin Break-Out Sessions

Calvin for the Whole Church: His Influence Among Baptists, Anglicans and Beyond

I chose, no surprise, the session on Calvin's influence throughout the church, not just in traditional "Reformed" denomination traditions. It was moderated by one of the organizers of the conference, Doug Phillips from South Church in Lansing. The focus was on how Calvin has influenced the entire church, not just the Reformed denominations. I would have liked to spend more time in discussion in the smaller setting, but it was still a good lecture.

Calvin is important not just for those who adhere to every jot and tittle he ever penned, but is an influence on all sorts of Christians. I love much of what he wrote and even where I disagree with him, I still marvel at his love for the Word, how Scripture saturated and how carefully he handled the Word of God. We could all learn to emulate Calvin in the way we handle the Bible, Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike.

Magnifying God: The Legacy of John Calvin Session 4

Calvin’s Kin: Where They’re Headed

Collin Hansen finished his talks with a look to the future. I have kind of weighed in on this before. He really looked a lot at why Reformed theology seems to flourish in secular schools more so than "Christian" schools, even schools like Calvin College that bear the name of Calvin.

Collin attributes a lot of it as hand in hand with urban ministry. In those settings, being a Calvinist is not controversial, being a Christian is controversial! Calvinism is also academically rigorous, demanding, hard but rewarding. He is a big fan of "Gospel outposts" in the big urban areas, where ideas spread outward.

I think that much of it stems from the fact that in a secular school, if you are going to be a Christian, you are going to be persecuted to an extent. You either grow stronger in your faith or leave it all together and demonstrate that you never really were committed to it in the first place. It is easy to be a cultural Christian at a Christian school because it is likely no one will challenge your faith, so you can drift along just like you can in a big, institutional church. Plus in a secular school, you are free to read the Bible and great theologians without being influenced by some of the elements in "Christian" schools that tend to be hostile in most cases to Reformed theology.

Magnifying God: The Legacy of John Calvin Session 3

Calvin’s Kin: What They’re Facing

The third session was another session by Collin Hansen and his focus was on the challenges faced by Calvinists today, some external but much internal.

The external challenges are manifested in things like the strife in the Southern Baptist Convention over Calvinism, where it is not something minor but (I believe) threatens schism in the SBC. Much of it is overblown rhetoric, like the Ergun Caner assertion that Calvinists are worse than Muslims. More on this to come, as Tom Ascol at Founders has a very compelling blog post on this very issue.

The other side of the coin is the the internal fighting among Calvinists. Calvinists are often cannibals, eating our own. Collin brought up the "Truly Reformed" idea and the whole topic made the room uncomfortable.

The elephant in the room was infant baptism, and the tension between the old school Presbyterian Calvinists and the new, Reformed baptist Calvinists who seem to be dominating the scene. There were a few questions on this, but the issue was skirted a lot.

Collin is clearly, based on what he said and wrote, more of a Together for the Gospel guy than a White Horse Inn guy. As a Baptist who is Calvinist, perhaps his view is colored by his doctrine, but it is apparent that other than a few places, the wave of the future of Calvin's kin is in T4G, in Reformed Baptists, SBC churches pastored by Southern Seminary graduates. The next wave of Reformed leaders are almost all Baptists. The White Horse Inn guys can hide away in their "Truly Reformed" gatehouse, but the movement is passing them by.

Magnifying God: The Legacy of John Calvin Session 2

All Men are Like Grass: The Life of John Calvin

The first morning session was presented by Kevin DeYoung, the host pastor at University Reformed Church. The title was taken from Isaiah 40: 6-8

A voice says, "Cry!" And I said, "What shall I cry?" All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isa 40:6-8)

The central point he made was that Calvin doesn't have a love-hate relationship, he has a love or hate relationship. People either love and revere Calvin and what he taught, or they hate what he taught and everything about him. It is true that Calvin, like all of us, had faults and some of those faults (i.e. impatience) have passed down to his "kin".

The session was mostly a historical overview of Calvin's life, which is something that is not documented that well and not studied by many Calvinists, but I think that it gives you a view of the man, who he was, where he came from and what sorts of ideas helped form his study of the Bible. Overall, Calvin was a man who can be described (as Kevin DeYoung did) "His life was consumed by the Word of God" and a man who saw his universe through the lens of God is infinitely big and we are small.

The one thing I kept thinking was that John Calvin was the last good thing to come out of France...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

17 years...

...eight kids, 13 addresses, five states, 11 jobs later...

Today is our 17th wedding anniversary and the fact that I celebrating it above ground (and spending the day at a theology conference to boot!) is a testament to the love and patience of my wife and bestest friend. When we met 20 some odd years ago, I was a pompous, self-important know-it-all high school kid. About the only thing that has changed much is that I am older and fatter. Through it all, when many women would have packed it in and moved on, Eva has been by my side being whatever I needed. It is indeed not good for man to be alone, and I am living proof of that. Eva has always been what I needed in a wife and more than I deserved. God is gracious indeed in giving me this woman as a helpmeet.

Happy Anniversary!

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar. She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens. She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet. She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: "Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all." Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates. (Pro 31:10-31)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Magnifying God: The Legacy of John Calvin Session 1

Calvin’s Kin: Why They’re Multiplying

Tonight was the opening session of the Magnifying God: The Legacy of John Calvin conference at University Reformed Church in East Lansing (across the street from Michigan State University). Quite a few people for a midsized town holding a theology conference celebrating John Calvin on a Friday night. A mixed bag of young and old. The first session was quite good and it should be a good day of teaching tomorrow.

Collin Hansen opened up the conference with a look at why Calvin's kin (those who embrace much of his teachings) are multiplying so rapidly recently. Calvinism has always had pockets in places like Grand Rapids and northern Iowa, but it has gone mainstream in spite of what Collin called Calvin's "image problem". After a brief overview of Reformed theology so we are all on the same page, Collin listed three reasons for the upswing in interest in Calvinism:

  1. Transformation: The transforming work of God in people's lives; dramatic conversions of "first generation Reformed" people; transformative teachers leading the Reformed charge.
  2. Tradition: A return to the pastor-theologian model, Piper as an example and he emulates Jonathan Edwards; a new appreciation of ancient practices; Ligon Duncan: Young people seeking formal, historical, transcendent worship.
  3. Transcendence: The idea of the Christian life as not being about you, but rather being about God is the first step to Calvinism;
An underlying theme, as I mentioned in my book review of Collin Hansens book, is all of the dynamic and learned pastors and theologians who espouse Reformed theology, men like Piper and Mohler and Mahaney. Tomorrow Collin looks at some of the problems facing Calvinism and what the future holds. Should be good stuff, more on the conference tomorrow!

I am not too caught up in the type of building...

...but might this be taking things a bit too far?

Skate park built in town's abbey

A Wiltshire Abbey has been transformed into a skate park in an attempt to attract more young people into the church.

Malmesbury Abbey is hosting beginners skateboarding lessons amongst its aisles as well as running a youth cafe and hosting live music.

Vicar Neill Archer said it was a "big challenge" for the church to engage with young people.

The two-day event has been organised by Christian Skaters UK.

Mr Archer said: "It is particularly difficult if you are using 19th Century words to talk to 21st Century youngsters," he said.

Well Mr. Archer, there is your problem. Try using 1st century words instead of 19th century words! The question I have, once you get these kids in to skate what are you going to tell them?It is one thing if they are preaching the Gospel, but if they are pulling people in and then feeding some non-threatning, man-pleasing self-help stuff?

The one kid had sage words, he talked about how the church was forbidding and scary. Now it is a skate park. Maybe we could find some middle ground here?

My initial reaction was pretty visceral, but if you follow the link to the article there is a video. Watch that and listen to the guy at the end. Some, certainly not all, of what he said makes some sense.

What do you think?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

So Kevin DeYoung’s post DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed: What I Mean By Reformed got me thinking, what do I mean when I say I am “Reformed”? On the one hand, many Christians assume they know what that means (often erroneously) but what I have found is that in spite of the attempts of some people to be the “Reformed label police”, rather than a tiny, rigidly defined sub-sub-sub-set of Christianity, those who claim the title of “Reformed” cut a pretty wide swath across the Christian landscape. So inspired by Kevin, here is my attempt to define what I mean when I say “Reformed” (keeping in mind that these are my thoughts alone and do not represent official dogma of any church, organization or informal gathering)

First and foremost, and as James Lee pointed out this sometimes get forgotten, being Reformed is a distant second to being a Christian. Being Reformed means being a sinner, condemned justly to an eternal hell that has been saved as a gracious and sovereign act by a holy, just and loving God. Everything else that I am is subsumed by that reality. Alongside that reality is the truth that many other people are also saved, and are saved in the same way. Even though I believe that the Reformed doctrines of salvation are true, I recognize that many people saved the same way I was don’t view salvation the same way I do, but that does not make their salvation less valid or make them less brothers in Christ. Disagreeing with me is not grounds for excommunication (although maybe it should be…)

Being Reformed is more than merely a checklist of doctrines, and if you can check them all off with “yes”, you get in the club. Although the mere suggestion of this will cause weeping and gnashing of teeth among some in the Reformed movement, there are Reformed believers in all manner of denominations. There are Baptists who are Reformed, Anglicans that are Reformed, charismatics perhaps that are Reformed. There are some, but not by any means all, Presbyterians who are Reformed. Reformed describes a system of theology and Reformed also refers to a denominational tradition, but the two are not synonymous to the exclusion of all others.

Being Reformed includes the Five Points of Calvinism, but doesn’t stop there. Being Reformed is more than the Five Points and being Reformed is more than obedience to a particular confession.

Reformed means having a high view of God and His sovereignty, submitting to the reality that all things are under His sovereign control and indeed nothing happens outside of His sovereign rule. That is true when the sun is shining or during a torrential downpour, when people prosper and when bridges collapse, when a child is born and when a person dies. God is sovereign everywhere, including and especially when it comes to the salvation of sinners. It makes no sense to me whatsoever, nor is it defensible in the Bible, that God is sovereign over every aspect of His creation but would leave salvation even in part up to His children.

What this means is that salvation is all about the glory of God. The life of the redeemed, born-again believer is all about Christ, and not at all about us. Our lives are properly lives of gratitude and worship, giving all praise, honor and glory to the one who saved us.

Being Reformed also means that in opposition to the picture of a sovereign and holy God, I and all of mankind is hopelessly lost and depraved, not just lost in sins but dead in them, reveling in our sins and an enemy of God. Being Reformed means that I don’t see the Gospel as making good men better or reconciling friends with minor differences, but making dead men live again and a one-sided détente between mankind and the God we hated. We are recipients of salvation, not participants.

Reformed mans a high view of Scripture, not just as inerrant but also as perspicuous and sufficient. Scripture is our source for truth, in that outside of the Word of God we only know enough about God to condemn us, and nothing about God to save us. Every Christian, I mean every one, says they believe in the Bible but I find that not everyone bears that out in practice and in doctrine. That is not to imply that people who are Reformed are immune from this, but being Reformed should mean that we don’t try to “fill in the blanks” or try to cram our church traditions into the Word of God. It still happens but it shouldn’t.

Being Reformed involves a historical aspect as well. At the risk of sounding pompous (something that has never stopped me in the past), those who hold to Reformed theology look to the past far more than the present. Our book shelves are not filled with the latest drivel pumped out for mass consumption, but instead are lined with old books, in some ways the older the better, books penned four hundred years ago. We don’t go to the local Family Christian Store to buy books, we get them from book sellers that proudly affirm their own Reformed credentials and this marketplace has made available tons of books that would otherwise be out of print and perhaps lost.

This historicity means that we often look to the giants of the past to teach us. What did Calvin say on this verse, what was Spurgeon’s take on this doctrine, what about Edwards? Many brilliant, godly men have come before us and we sit at their feet to learn. This is to our benefit. But sometimes that means that I look to Reformed teachers of the past and assume that they are right. The measure of a doctrine is not how many Reformed teachers in the past agreed with it, but how it measures in fidelity to the Word of God. That gets lost more often than is healthy.

Being Reformed does necessitate holding to some key, non-negotiable doctrines. The inerrancy of Scripture. The vicarious substitutionary particular atonement of Christ. The depravity of man, the election by God of sinners, the sovereign working of the Spirit in regeneration, the security of believers.

Being Reformed ultimately is about God’s elect sheep hearing the voice of their Good Shepherd and following Him. That voice tells them that they are utterly lost in their sins but that in spite of our failed and blasphemous efforts to save ourselves, God sent His only begotten Son to live a perfect, sinless life of obedience and to willingly die on a cross in the place of His sheep, becoming a propitiation for them and eternally securing their salvation by His blood. All of this happened before any of us were born, but that makes it in no way less glorious or true. That God would, in eternity past, look upon me, as wretched and miserable a sinner as has ever lived and in spite of my sins, in spite of my enmity and slander of Him, would still choose to save me at the terrible cost of His own Son is what being Reformed means to me.

Meals on wheels

So my wife, in all of her spare time, has been baking me stuff for breakfast and running it to work. This morning it was cinnamon raisin biscuits with homemade glaze. I fully intend to eat all of these.

What did your wife make you for breakfast this morning?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What is $75 billion compared to $800?

The ink is barely dry on the “stimulus” package and President Obama is already coming back for more. This time it is “only” $75 billion to bail out the housing industry, although you can rest assured that number is only going to go up.

A total cost of the effort wasn't immediately clear, though it could eclipse more than $275 billion because of new commitments to the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The Obama administration's plan has three main elements: an effort to help homeowners refinance; another effort to help stabilize the housing market through a $75 billion initiative aimed at reaching up to four million at-risk homeowners; and a third element that aims to drive down mortgage rates.

Make no mistake, this is just the beginning of a litany of spending initiatives that are going to come up. Each one will be accompanied by dire warnings of impending doom if we don’t acquiesce to the insatiable appetite of the new administration for more and more spending. Just as assuredly each one will be followed, just like the “stimulus” package, with warnings to not expect instant results and prep us for the next big spending demand.

If the economy doesn’t pick up in 2009, which in my amateur opinion it will not, it is an ominous sign that the new President is a one trick pony when it comes to economic policy, and that trick is spend, spend, spend. Provided the spending doesn’t permanently cripple the economy in the short term, the U.S. economy will bounce back eventually, perhaps in 2010 and Obama will be lauded with credit by his fawning acolytes in the media but the long-term ramifications of t his runaway spending spree will weigh down the American economy for decades to come.

DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed: What I Mean By Reformed

DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed: What I Mean By Reformed:

I like much of what Kevin DeYoung says here in his definition of what it means to be Reformed, with the exception of his inclusion of his children in covenant of course! It is reflective of the humility that should come from Reformed theology instead of a superiority which many of us, me especially, sometimes exhibit toward others who may not agree. Reformed theology is Christocentric not Calvocentric and we all are well served to remember that.

His summary statement at the end was especially good...

"When I say I am Reformed I mean that God is the center of the universe and I am not. I mean that I am a worse sinner than I imagine and God is a greater Savior than I ever thought possible. I mean that Lord is my righteousness and the Lord alone is my boast. By Reformed I mean all this and most of all that my only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own but belong, in body and in soul, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever, amen."

I can certainly say amen to that!

The advantages of living in suburbia

We really prefer living out in the country, the further out the better. We like the rural lifestyle and not having to worry about the kids as much, having chickens and goats, the peace and quiet. But there are some pretty great advantages to living in the suburbs as well, and not just because I live 2 minutes from work and have four grocery stores, a Target, a Petsmart, a Kohls and innumerable other stores minutes away. One of the perks we are really excited about is the Lansing area homeschool support group, CHESS (Christian Home Educators' Support System). There are support groups in most places but this is one of the most organized we have seen. From the “About Us” section:

Christian Home Educators' Support System (CHESS) was founded in the fall of 1993 as a co-operative effort on the part of a few Lansing-area home educating families who realized that by working together and sharing the load, we could all benefit tremendously! We are currently serving over 200 families from St. Johns to Jackson, Portland to Perry, Charlotte to Howell, and everywhere in between. Once your family has become a part of CHESS, you have an immediate "connection" with other like-minded, uniquely-gifted homeschooling families in mid-Michigan.

I like that the group is intentionally and specifically a Christian homeschool group, with a basic statement of faith and ministry partnerships in the area.

I sent in my membership info this morning and the kids and I are excited about the opportunities for cooperation, fellowship, extracurricular activities including sports and fun that this groups facilitates. This is an area where I can take some of the leadership in our homeschooling, since my wife does the bulk of the daily schooling each day.

I really like that after a year in the group, every family is expected to serve in some capacity because there is a tendency in any organization, I would say especially Christian groups, for a small core of people to shoulder all of the burden. By requiring everyone to be involved in some capacity you avoid people being takers and not givers, plus you avoid people monopolizing control. So kudos for that organizational requirement! I will post updates of events and how they go as they come up.

The poor choice of words award goes to....

Alex Rodriguez, on facing the media after his admission of steroid use:

Rodriguez said Tuesday, "I'm here to take my medicine."

Hmm, you might want to have picked a different way to describe your press conference after revelations of steroid use...

I found this to be helpful

I was struggling a bit with the difference between propitiation and expiation, so I looked it up in theopedia and this is what it says...

The Greek word hilasterion is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew kapporeth which refers to the Mercy Seat of the Ark. Hilasterion can be translated as either propitiation or expiation which then imply different functions of the Mercy Seat. Propitiation literally means to make favorable and specifically includes the idea of dealing with God’s wrath against sinners. Expiation literally means to make pious and implies either the removal or cleansing of sin.

The idea of propitiation includes that of expiation as its means; but the word "expiation" has no reference to quenching God’s righteous anger. The difference is that the object of expiation is sin, not God. One propitiates a person, and one expiates a problem. Christ's death was therefore both an expiation and a propitiation. By expiating (removing the problem of) sin God was made propitious (favorable) to us.

That makes sense to me, unless some Greek scholar types say otherwise...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

More on worship

I think I ended up being more narrowly focused in my post on worship than I intended. My point when I started thinking about this was not to throw mud at the RPW, but instead to question the more broad sense of worship in the church. I have long sought a more pure worship form in Sunday gatherings (which I defined as being more “Reformed”), and I am still sympathetic to that desire, but that is not the end all of the Christian worship experience. I am concerned by an attitude in myself that if we “go to church” on Sunday, we have fulfilled our worship quota for the week when nothing could be further from the truth. This is kind of my synopsis of what I am thinking:

I would say that we expect too much from corporate worship and not enough from worship outside of Sunday morning.

What does that mean?

One, but only one, expression of a life of worship is corporate worship. That statement is not to denigrate or diminish the value of corporate worship, but to recognize that culturally and traditionally we expect to see the pinnacle of our worship to take place in a church on Sunday morning but that may not be the reality and probably shouldn’t be. We may affirm the idea of constant worship being a part of our general lives, but we still use the term “worship” in reference to corporate church gathering and focus our worship attention on the corporate expressions which I believe has led to an unhealthy delineation between worship and “the rest of the week”.

The disconnect between Sunday morning piety and the other six days where we live differently are crippling to the church. We have far more opportunity for witness and service in the time we are not in “church” than we do when we are “at church”. Again, not to discount the value of the Word preached, corporate expressions of the Lord’s Supper, Sunday school, corporate prayer etc. but even if you are a really churchy type of person, you are still only spending 4-5 hours a week “in church”. I see far more opportunity to worship in family life than I do in organized church life, and in a more meaningful way.

I definitely still see a vital place in the Body of Christ for particular and purposeful gathering, even meeting in a “church” with a planned our service and order of worship.

But that is only part of the worship life of the Body of Christ. My hope in this conversation is to get us away from the dichotomy between “worship” and “the rest of life”. Not so that we diminish the value of corporate worship but that we magnify the worship exhibited in a life dedicated to glorifying God in all that we say and do.

Good thoughts from John Frame on the Regulative Principle

Wise words from Dr. Frame that strike the proper balance, in my humble opinion…

What lies behind the element/circumstance distinction, I think, is the thought that some such distinction is needed to put teeth into the regulative principle in its broad meaning. What good is it, some may ask, for worship to be divinely mandated, unless God has given us specific lists of what to do in every type of service (“elements”) and has drawn a precise line between what we may determine (“circumstances,” or some of them) and what we may not? But one may ask equally well what good it is for human marriage to be divinely regulated, unless God gives us a complete list of what husbands and wives are to do in the marriage and to what extent they may make their own decisions. But God never rules His people by giving them exhaustive lists of things they must do, and forbidding them to do anything else. Rather, He teaches them in general terms what pleases Him, and then He allows them to work out the specifics through their own godly wisdom, in line with the broader principles of His Word. That is what it means to live according to divine prescription.

The regulative principle itself warns us not to add to the Word of God. We need to remind ourselves that one way we are tempted to add to the Word is to try to make it more precise and specific than it is. That was one error of which Jesus accused the Pharisees. We might wish that God had given us more specific guidance as to what pleases Him in public worship and in the rest of life. But we must be content with what He has actually revealed to us, turning neither to the right nor to the left. (emphasis added)

Based on that definition, I am definitely on board with the RPW!

Reformed theology conferences in a new light

My boy James asked me last night how my thinking on Reformed theology conferences had changed as my views on ecclesiology have shifted, given that we are going to a conference this weekend. I love me some Reformed theology conferences, I try to go to a couple a year at least, more if there are local ones like the one this weekend. If Together for the Gospel were held every year, I would go every year even though I am not a pastor.

My view used to be that these conferences were great because I could go, learn more about Reformed theology and bring it back to the church. It was very practical, almost like a boot camp or a training seminar. It was more about being better equipped to take Reformed theology to the people.

I guess now these conferences for me serve more as a time of refreshing and fellowship, spending time with other brothers in Christ, having lunch together, sitting under solid teaching together, buying books at the ubiquitous book tables that I won’t read for a year together, personal growth in my study of the Word. It is far less practical in application for me and more refreshing for me personally. It is less about bringing this information back to the church and more about spending time in fellowship with the church.

I see this shift as a part of the evolution in thinking I am going through, as I try to shift my thinking away from the local, organization church body being the focus and more on living a life of worship and glorifying God in everything I do, not just when I am gathered with other believers. That is a difficult shift for me, I like the structure and clearly delineated roles in traditional church organizations, but I think that much of the frustration I feel stems from a misunderstanding of the church and worship.

More on that later today.

Book Review: Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists

Young, Restless, Reformed is only the second book I have finished from my Together for the Gospel book haul (the first being David Wells’ very important work The Courage to be Protestant). I really grabbed it off the shelf because of the conference I am going to this weekend. I figured I should read Collin Hansen’s book before I went to the conference. Despite being a pretty small book, it was surprisingly good. If you are looking for deep theological themes, exposition of Scripture, defending major doctrines of the faith try Pierced For Our Transgressions instead. This book is a great one for reading on the beach or on a Saturday afternoon while the kids are being quiet. If you have somewhere quiet to read uninterrupted, you should be able to knock it out in just a couple of hours.

The basis for the book is the increasing number of younger Christians who find themselves drawn in various ways to Reformed theology, whether by exposure to it at conferences featuring John Piper or at seminaries like Southern Seminary where Calvinism flourishes. There is definitely a new, younger flavor to the Reformed ranks and that is a healthy trend in a stream of theology that has often seemed stodgy and stale. Collin Hansen, editor-at-large for Christianity Today, set off on a whirlwind adventure to find out what was causing this sudden “youthification” of Reformed theology.

The style of the book is mainly interview driven. Collin interviews someone and then draws conclusions based on that interview. But he does weave it together well so it is not just a string of unrelated interviews. By the end of the book, I think you have a greater appreciation of how it all ties together and you also start to see the mutual respect and admiration many of these men have for one another. Again, his focus is on the people who make up modern Calvinism, not on the doctrinal foundations of it. He gives a very brief overview of Calvinism, but I am assuming that the vast majority of his readers are probably already more or less Reformed and like me just skimmed that section.

Some key themes in the book…

The face of Calvinism is changing. It is no longer the old school, stern faced Presbyterianism but is younger and more vibrant. The challenge of course is to rein that youthful exuberance and enthusiasm in. The Reformed camp is growing younger and changing dramatically in some important areas. Look at who Collin interviews: Ligon Duncan, C.J. Mahaney, Mark Dever, Albert Mohler, John Piper, Mark Driscoll. Of the big names he interviews, only one (Ligon Duncan) comes from a traditional, Reformed denominational background. The same holds true at the Together for the Gospel conference. Collin rightly highlights the difference between the old school, Michael Horton, White Horse Inn flavor of Calvinism and the Together for the Gospel flavor. The eight speakers at T4G were: Mohler, Mahaney, Dever, Duncan, Sproul, Piper, MacArthur and Anyabwile. Of those, six of the eight are credobaptists. That is troubling to the older school Reformed, and is probably why few of them appear at or endorse the Together for the Gospel conference. That is something I am going to hopefully ask him about at the conference this week, the clear change from Calvinism being relegated to enclaves in Presbyterianism to being more mainstream and having a far more distinctive Baptist flavor.

Collin does a very good job trying to balance the “big guns” and the more rank-and-file. Reformed theology is dominated by the big names, by the famous theologians past and present. After speaking to a Piper or Mahaney, he also speaks to seminary students, church planters, less well known pastors like Steve Lawson. It would be easy to just interview the obvious leaders of the Reformed movement and use that as the basis for a book.

But where Reformed theology is really taking hold is not in merely the books of Sproul and Piper, but in local assemblies, in seminaries, in homes in front of laptops on blogs. Reformed theology is flourishing and will continue to flourish precisely because of the symbiotic relationship. While we are able to appreciate and even revere the great men of the faith like Sproul and Spurgeon and Edwards, where the rubber meets the road is in local assemblies in far away place, small churches in Des Moines, IA and Indian River, MI where Reformed theology is not a given and is looked at with some suspicion. As Collin pointed out, the Reformed movement is a building block movement with each successive generation building on the ones that came before, as exhibited at Together for the Gospel with thousands of younger men sitting at the feet of two generations of Reformed leaders. Today we read not just Calvin and Edwards, we read more recently deceased men like Spurgeon, Machen and Lloyd-Jones. Someday I fully expect my kids generation to look back fondly at Piper and Sproul, long after they are gone.

I would have liked for Collin to look more at some of the danger signs of Reformed theology. I worry that Calvinism is becoming a “fad” among some younger Christians. All the cool kids are Calvinists! I worry about them grabbing hold of Reformed theology for lots of reasons other than being convinced by Scripture. Piper’s books are great, but I am sure he would be the first to say that if you want to learn about Reformed theology, don’t read his stuff or listen to his sermons, read the Word and then, and only then, read his books. I am concerned about anyone who comes at Reformed theology without first having struggled mightily with it, because if you haven’t struggled with it, you don’t really understand it. The first time someone tried to explain election and predestination to me, I though they were nuts (Doug Alexander, I am talking about you!). It was only when the sheer weight of it in the Scriptures finally broke me down that I yielded to it.

Overall, the book is a pretty easy read. It reads like a series of magazine articles, so it is not deep and heavy stuff. I think it would be very useful for the people that are probably least likely to read it, those in the old guard of the Reformed tradition who look down imperiously at those young whippersnappers that are intruding on their traditions. But it is also useful for younger Christians as well, because one thing that rings out clearly in this book is that where we are today came at a price for many men who faced termination, being ostracized and ridiculed but held firmly to the Word and what it teaches about God’s sovereign grace.

A great quote from the book: "Christians must seek not a return to the Reformation or the First Great Awakening but a return to Jesus Christ, the founder and perfecter of our faith." p. 62

Monday, February 16, 2009

This is why context is everything....

(HT: James Lee)

A call for a new Reformation in the church: Worship, regulative or normative?

Now we come to the “how” of worship. We have identified at a very surface level the “who” we worship and the “why” we worship Him. So what does that look like, what are the practical ramifications of this identification? There are two primary schools of thought here, the regulative and the normative principle. The basic definitions are as follows (I know these are rough definitions)

The Regulative Principle of Worship: Only what is expressly commanded in worship is to be permitted and practiced.

The Normative Principle of Worship: Only what is specifically prohibited should be rejected from worship.

Many people in the Reformed school tend toward the regulative principle. So that is naturally where I would come down. Fie on those electric guitars and power point! But in the sage words of ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso: Not so fast my friend!

First is the regulative principle of worship Biblical? I mean it certainly sounds Biblical and lots of Reformed types get really agitated about it. What Christian wouldn’t agree in principle that we should worship as dictated by the Bible? But there are a lot of steps to take before you can say: this is the way we are to worship in the New Covenant church based exclusively on the Scriptural dictates.

Second, is it really regulated by Scripture or by tradition? The reason I ask that is not to be difficult or smarmy (well, maybe a little smarmy) But when you dig deeper into it, a lot of what people think of as being regulative in the Scriptures really isn’t. Case in point:

Terry Johnson wrote a piece about idolatry in worship for Tabletalk titled Pluralistic Worship and I think he inadvertently demonstrates the exact sort of behavior that he is decrying.

Has the time come when the sanctuaries of evangelical Protestantism must be cleansed of everything that reflects the world of entertainment? Our Reformed forefathers took axes to the altars, and they whitewashed the walls of medieval churches. If our analysis of worship that entertains is correct, similar iconoclastic fury must be shown, and soon, in our houses of worship lest they become houses of mirth: theater seats pulled out; stages broken up; dancers and actors banished; musicians' and choirs' roles redefined as that of simply supporting and enhancing congregational singing; pulpit, table, and font restored to their proper places; pastors moved back behind pulpits; and simple services of the Word read, preached, sung, prayed, and seen (in the sacraments) reestablished. What was once indifferent can be considered indifferent no more, not if Reformed Protestantism is to continue to practice purity in its worship and avoid idolatry. "Little children," says the apostle John, "keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21).

Irony alert! Perhaps the idols are not just contemporary music and stools in place of pulpits. In decrying these ruffians with their modern music, he is affirming a return to a system and structure that is all tradition and no Scripture. Where is the pulpit in the Bible? You would think that Paul wore robes, led a liturgical service and preached a 45 minute sermon from behind a wooden pulpit. In other words, he is casting aside one sort of manmade worship service in favor of another manmade worship service and don’t you dare stray out from behind that pulpit!

There is a great deal to be said about this question of how we worship God. In fairness I get what Mr. Johnson is saying, worship should not be about entertaining the people sitting in the pews. Our object of worship, our focus of worship is Christ alone. But we need to approach this very, very carefully before pronouncing anathemas on those who worship in a way that doesn’t jive with our church traditions.

First we should be very cautious in how we apply the Scriptures here. Nadab and Abihu were not engaged in New Testament worship, but were engaged in Old Covenant, pre-cross worship that was very specifically laid out. We are reading through Exodus as a family, and the care and attention to detail given for the construction of the tabernacle is similar to the very specific, very clear directions in the rest of the Pentateuch regarding the temple worship system. The Old Testament is very specific in the how, where, when of worshipping God.

But we no longer worship in a temple, we no longer have a sacrificial system. Therein lies the problem. We no longer worship in the same manner as the Israelites did, so we can only apply limited guidelines of Old Covenant worship to the New Covenant church. There are not clear lines of equivalency between forms and styles in the Old and New. The biggest problem is that the New Testament itself is very vague on worship, talking quite a bit about the meaning of worship and some of the basics (fellowship, singing, praying, breaking bread) but very little in terms of specifics (what music to use, how the service should be ordered, where the worship should be held).

There is always a danger that the motivation behind church practices is not to be more faithful but instead is to separate ourselves from “those people”. This happens in all denominations and church traditions. You see it in Baptist churches where they gripe about churches that don’t do “altar calls” as being opposed to evangelism. Charismatics who question the authenticity of your salvation if you don’t exhibit “sign gifts”. Presbyterian churches where rigid adherence to the proper confessions, liturgies and worship traditions sets you apart. All designed to show that by the way we worship, we are the ones truly following Christ and therefore you aren’t. Denomination after denomination after denomination has made their claim to be the one that is truly exhibiting Biblical worship. The problem is that Biblical worship is not so easily defined.

The New Testament is awfully vague about the specific of worship, of how it should look. We read descriptions that tells us a few things about what occurred in the church: prayer, teaching, singing of psalms, spiritual songs and hymns, fellowship, the breaking of bread, service and discipline. But that gives us a lot of latitude in how and where we worship.

There is a potential danger, a very serious one, in the regulative principle of worship because it makes laws and commands where none exist. The New Testament does not proscribe an order of worship, or even that we worship in a particular kind of place. We tread on thin ice when we try to apply Old Testament temple worship commands to a New Testament church fellowship. There is a place for and a need for the holding of truths, but we should not let that be an excuse to enact barriers to worship for the sake of enacting barriers. I am not advocating a free for all in worshiping the One whom the angels surround and cry “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty” Some expressions of worship are inappropriate not because they fail to follow the proper liturgy but because they fail to express worship of the Sovereign Lord of the universe, and instead become man-pleasing, self-exalting idolatrous mockeries.

I don’t much care for contemporary Christian music. I don’t much like the use of PowerPoint during sermons. I really don’t like “special music” and I really, really don’t like it when people applaud during worship. But are any of these things specifically proscribed for worship? Not that I see. Should we just sing Psalms? I ask the question that I always ask, is there command or example in the New Testament. Lets look at two examples where Paul uses basically the same language to describe the same event.

addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, (Eph 5:19)

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col 3: 16)

Some would say that this is just referring to the different types of psalms, but I think that is a stretch. Wouldn’t it be simpler to just say singing psalms, I would think that would be comprehensive enough. I fear that exclusive psalmody, while not something I have studied as closely as I should, is an example of applying a manmade rule to the Word. It is my understanding that Calvin, in his commentary on Col 3:16 also rejects the exclusive psalmody argument that these are three ways of saying "Psalms".

A gathering of believers in a home is not less a valid or a more valid expression of Christian fellowship than a gathering in a church with a liturgical, Psalter hymnal only, no piano service. We can follow every rule, real and imagined and still not be in spiritual worship of Christ. The pendulum can easily swing too far in either direction, either overly exuberant, truth devoid emergent style worship of an amorphous Jesus or a rigid, spirit-less liturgy. There is nothing wrong with liturgy or with exuberance as long as our worship is tempered and balanced. A key clue appears in John 4 and the woman at the well.

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4: 23-24)

That is a very important passage. The woman at the well has questioned Jesus about where worship should take place. The importance of worship, not to stretch this verse too far from it’s context, is in worshipping the Father through the Son in the Spirit not merely based on religious forms (worship here and not there).

John Frame examines this entire concept in a helpful essay,
A fresh look at the Regulative Principle, and asserts that there are two types of regulative principle, one being the more broadly based one found in Scripture and another that far more restrictive, which Dr. Frame finds both unhelpful and unsupportable in Scripture.
The discussion above, in my view, is a fairly complete statement of the regulative principle, both as it is found in the Bible and in the explicit statements of the Reformed confessional standards. But to those who have studied the traditional discussions of the regulative principle, it will seem rather sketchy. In those discussions, Reformed thinkers have labored over concepts like elements, parts, substance, essence, accident, forms, expressions, and circumstances (further subdivided into circumstances with and without religious significance, and those necessary and unnecessary to the orderly conduct of worship). In my opinion, these concepts are not helpful, and using them to add further restrictions to the broad regulative principle is not scriptural. In this part of my essay, I will describe those additional restrictions and explain why I object to them.

Dr. Frame' essay is very sober stuff, well worth the reading.
Ultimately the Scriptures give us pretty broad guidelines for fellowship and worship. Is it too much to say that what counts is the object of our worship, the purpose of our worship, the truths of the Gospel far more than the mode of worship, the order of service, the location we worship in? Shouldn’t the measure of our worship be how pleasing it is to God, and is that measured by adherence to forms and strictures that are often manmade at the expense of Biblical worship balanced in Spirit and Truth.

If you meet in a home, worship to the glory of God. If you meet in a school, worship to the glory of God. If you worship in a little country church, worship to the glory of God. If you meet in a shiny new church that seats 2000, worship to the glory of God. If you are worshipping for any reason other than bringing glory to God, it doesn’t matter where or how you worship because it becomes idolatry.