Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Do Reformed Christians really believe in adoption?

Not the doctrine but the practical reality of how it is lived out in the Body of Christ. Ask a solidly Reformed believer about the subject and they can expound on the idea of adoption in theology. Ask us how that should impact how we view one another and you are less likely to get a quick and smooth answer because I don’t think we apply this doctrine terribly well. If there is a glaring weak spot in Reformed theological thought, it is putting the system of theology into practice. So much of the practical reality of Reformed folks is spent on stuff that isn't really all that Reformed and really is little more than church traditions. At the same time we erect barriers to fellowship with those who are brothers and sisters. Is that Scriptural? Are we not people who cry sola scriptura?

Let's look at a couple of passages:

But he replied to the man who told him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." (Mat 12:48-50)

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Rom 8:14-17)

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. (Gal 3:7)

For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. (Heb 2:10)

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Gal 4:4-7)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Eph 1:3-6)

So it is clear that our brothers and sisters, adopted into the family of God, are our fellow believers. Not only that, but as Ephesians 1 tells us, we were predestined to that relationship. God ordained and planned that relationship before the foundation of the earth, and His Son died on a cross to pay for their sins and bring them into familial relationship with God and one another. The practical reality is that most of the time we go out of our way to separate ourselves from one another, rejecting those from fellowship who fail to subscribe to every church practice or who are not "members" or who are outside of our denominations. Is there a place for gathering with like minded believers? I think so. Is that a excuse to reject all fellowship with others who have been adopted in the family of God? No.

We who are Reformed should be the least likely of all people to erect barriers to fellowship. For those who believe falsely in a “free will” arminianism, the Body of Christ is a voluntary association that you joined of your own choice, initiative and volition. Why not then choose to exclude some and be in fellowship with certain others? After all the choice is yours. But for those who believe that God sovereignly chose us, predestined us for adoption into His family before the foundation of the world to be sons and daughter, how do we justify partitioning ourselves? We did not choose the Body, Christ the head of the Body chose us. God has chosen and created and ordained His family of which we are members. Since we had nothing to do with the creation of that family, how do we exclude so many of those that God has also chosen as our brothers and sisters? Those people over there? They are your brothers and sisters. That group over there? Also your brothers and sisters. We were quickened by the same spirit, our sins were propitiated on the same cross, we were justified by faith in the same Savior.

God has called us to be brothers and sisters in His Body. We have decided that some of us are OK to be in fellowship with and others of us are not. Sure we might gather at the occasional conference or two, T4G or Gospel Coalition, where we intentionally and openly recognize that we are temporarily setting aside differences. But once the conference is over, we go our own way, back to our "churches" and behind our walls.

If the Reformed camp has a weakness (other than being a camp at all), it is in putting our theology to practice. Adoption is one of those places where we say and believe one thing, but our practice is not that reflective of it. Every one of God's regenerate elect is our brother and sister, and we should not put them outside of the camp and save fellowship with them for eternity. It is not Biblical and it is not Reformed to do so.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Arsenal of Liberty

So I have started a new blog that deals specifically with political issues, The Arsenal of Liberty. I plan on it being a repository of my thoughts on politics, on liberty and freedom, on economics, on education, on culture, etc. The link is on the right (appropriately!) in the sidebar.

So why would I add a blog when I already have two, my general purpose blog and my mormonism specific blog? There are several reasons why I have wanted to add a separate blog to deal with issues of politics, culture and economics.

First and most importantly, political matters are not Gospel matters. That is not to say that there is not an overlap in areas like the sanctity of life and marriage, and I anticipate that I will post many thoughts in both places on issues like education, marriage and abortion. But I want to make crystal clear that being a Republican is NOT a sign of regeneration. Certainly the way I view the world is through the lens of God’s sovereign providence in all matters, but for the sake of clarity I want to remove some of the less important worldly concerns on things like politics and economics and keep focused here on Gospel issues. There is far too much overlap in this country as it is between the church and the political process.

I also assume that some people who come here are mostly interested in matters of faith and are really not at all interested in the political stuff. I know that a few people come here mostly for the political commentary and are less interested in the theology stuff.

This blog originally started off being mostly political under the banner “Rantin’ On The Right”. As the years progressed I gradually grew more interested in matters of theology and recently on issues of ecclesiology specifically and my writings reflect that. But we live in dangerous and unprecedented times when the size of government is exploding and our very foundations are at risk. As an American and a conservative I think it is important to speak out on these matters.

My intent is not to blog more but to house my thoughts separately, sort of like I did with the Fo-Mo Chronicles. I invite you to check it out when I get something posted over there of substance, hopefully later today.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

PCRT Session 3

Session 3

God the Just and Justifier

Steve Lawson

Romans 3: 21-26

How can God be both just and justifier at the same time? If God failed to punish sinners, He would become unjust. A judge who knowingly lets a guilty man go free becomes a participant in the guilt, in the crime. God must punish every single sin.

How can God both punish sin and justify sinners?

Our sins were punished to the fullest extent of the law on the cross of Jesus Christ.

Calvin said of justification: The main hinge on which salvation turns. (Heavy vault doors swing on relatively small hinges.

Luther: Justification by faith is the chief on which the church stands or falls.

What does this doctrine of justification tell us about God Himself.

- Theology produces doxology

Seven attributes of God seen in the doctrine to justification (Dr. Lawson always has a series of points)

- The faithfulness of God: God promised to send a redeemer, a sin-bearer. God bore witness through the law and the prophets throughout the Old Testament. God keeps His promise, providing what He promised so long ago. (Rom 1:2)

- The righteousness of God: Rom 3: 21-22, 3:25-26; Eze 18:3 Breaking the law of God requires the death penalty.

- The holiness of God: Rom 3:23 All have fallen short of the mark, short of the glory of God. Intrinsic glory of God and the ascribed glory of God.

- The immutability of God: Rom 3:24 Being justified as a gift. We are justified in the past, the eternal declaration of God (we were justified before we were even born and committed even one sin)

- The grace of God. Even the faith in God is a gift from God. Dead sinners have no will to have faith in God. (Eph 2:8; Phi 1:29; Heb 12:2)

- The wrath of God Rom 3:25 God provided Christ as propitiation. There is not one drop of wrath in the cup of God’s judgment left for us. Now the smile of God’s pleasure is upon us (this is my beloved Son…)

- The forbearance of God. Rom 3:25. He passed over sins previously committed. His wrath and mercy was held back until the time when Christ came forth. God is patietn and long-suffering with sinners.

As those who has been justified by an act outside of ourselves, how do we justify separation from others who have likewise been justified outside of themselves in denominations, factions and sects?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

PCRT Session 2

Session 2

Justification through Faith Alone

Philip Ryken

Galatians 2: 15-16

(Wasn’t expecting the illustration from TLC’s What Not To Wear!)

How is that a person gets right with God? Not by works of the Law but rather by faith in Jesus Christ.

There is not an inherent problem with the Law, it comes from the just and holy God. The problem with the Law is that we cannot keep it.

If it is impossible for Jews to be justified by the Law, it is especially so for Gentiles.

Faith and works operate on completely different principles
- if you live by faith you trust in God to justify you
- if you live by works you trust at least in part in yourself to justify yourself.

Gal 3: 11 “The just shall live by faith”, the mantra for Luther, the basis for much of his understanding of justification.

Zech 3: 1-5 The High Priest, holiest man in Israel, standing before God in filthy rags.
The High Priest, as representative of the people before God, is supposed to wear very specific clothes, holy in wardrobe. Thus the contrast between the filthy rags and holy garments of the High Priest. The filth of the High Priest represented the sin of the people on the one representing all of the people. What does our sin, my sin, look like next to the perfect holiness of God.

A priest who looked like this should be struck down in the presence of God, and both he and the people are guilty. (This representative, this High Priest is guilty and filthy but our High Priest, our representative is clothed in shining white clothing and perfect righteousness)

(The common theme, all sins will be paid for either by an eternity in hell or on the cross of Christ)

We are told to come and be cleaned up, not clean up and then come.

PCRT Session 1

My notes from last night...

The Great Exchange

Steve Lawson

(Started off, as always at PCRT with the Westminster Brass and the singing of the great Reformation song A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. That is always good but some of the hymns written by Alliance of Confessing Evangelical leaders? Not so much, no one knew the words or music, people were mumbling the songs and the organ was so loud that it was all you could hear. Stick to the 400 or so hymns we know!)

2 Cor 5: 16-21, esp. verse 21

Double imputation at the cross, something taken from us and laid on Christ and something was taken fro Christ and laid on we who believe. It was the worst about us, our sins, and the very best of Him, His perfect spotless righteousness. That is what you call grace.

This is how lost sinners can be right with a holy God (imputation and penal substitution)

What is imputation? It is drawn from the courtroom, with authority from the judge making a pronouncement. Or resource deposited into the account of someone else. The double imputation of justification. His righteousness has been credited to our account.

Five things to see in this verse…

The saving God. “He made Him”. Three key pronouns: He, Him, our. God he Father is the He who made Him, Christ, sin for us. It is not God and man, it is God and God alone. We could not make Him sin, we could not lay our sins on Him. Only God can do this. The only thing we bring to the exchange is the sin laid upon Jesus Christ, our sin-bearing Savior. There are three things that Spurgeon said we must know about this God: a) God is a sovereign God, only One with supreme authority b) God is a just God who must be propitiated for our sins. The God of the Bible is a ruler who, when His subjects rebel, never forgives them until He fully punishes their sin c) He is also gracious, He loves to bestow His blessings.

The sinless Substitute. “Him who knew no sin” That is our sinless substitute, distinguished from “Him”, the King of Heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ. He knew no sin. In no uncertain terms, Christ is set before us as one who is absolutely sinless and perfect. He took on human flesh but without a sin nature. All of the apostles were uniform in their assertion that He is righteous and without sin, even sinners testified to this (Judas, Pilate, the thief on the cross). Only one who knew no sin of His own could bear our sins and take the wrath of the Father.

The sin imputed. “He made Him to be sin” He was personally holy but forensically guilty. God did not just write off our sin like a toxic asset, He did not look the other way. Every sin in the world will be personally punished by God. Either in hell or in forgiveness in Christ. There is a prior imputation of sin, the sin of Adam imputed to all men. (Rom 5:12, Rom 5:18) When Adam sinned, we all sinned. But not only is Adam’s sin imputed to all men, but all of the sins of the elect and heaped them upon the sinless Savior, our substitute, Jesus Christ (Lev 16, Isa 53, 1 Pet 2:4) He died in our place, suffering under the wrath of God FOR US.

The specific extent. For whom did Christ become sin? The entire world, those who die in unbelief, those who were dead and already in hell? “So that in Him we might” On our behalf. See verse 20, then 19, then 18. All speaking of all believers. He did not die in vain. It was a purposeful death.

The spotless righteousness. The second half of the great exchange. Not only did Christ get our sins, “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” His perfect righteousness was transferred to us. “So that” this great exchange might take place. All of the people of God, the elect of God.

What is this righteousness?

It is posted to our account (Romans 3:26, Romans 8:33) by God in imputation.
It is an alien or foreign righteousness (Luther). It does not originate in us. In is external to us. Romans 1:17

It consist entirely in Christ’s doing, His sinless life and substitution death. He is the head of His people, the elect of God, as Adam was the head of all humanity. He lived for thirty plus years because He had to be born under the law and keep the law that we are constantly breaking. We are credited as if we had lived the perfect sinless life of Christ. Not just taking away sin but His righteousness given us (not putting us in neutral standing, but in righteous standing)

Received exclusively by faith alone in Christ alone. Not faith and anything else. Not baptism, not works, not the Lords Supper, not church membership. Not to the one who works, but to the one who does not work.

It is given immediately, in whole. Not in installments. Immediately and completely when the sinner repents of his sins and lays hold of Jesus Christ. (Luke 18: 10-14)

It is given exclusively in Jesus Christ alone. There is no righteousness of God to be given to any sinner except it be given in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is not one drop of saving grace outside of Jesus Christ.

It is given forever, never to be rescinded. It is irrevocable. Justification is a once and for all time declaration. (Rom 8:33).

This is the dual nature, the double imputation of the cross of Jesus Christ.

We need to know two things: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.

(Lawson, like all Baptists at these conferences, calls sinners to repent. I always like that they take the opportunity to speak to a large group and not assume the Gospel but also preach the Gospel)

What makes a healthy church?

As a continuing discussion of this topic, please see a post on Cerulean Sanctum "The Ingredients Needed For A Genuine Church". Dan sez:

Looking over the comments so far on that church planting post, a few themes emerge, one of which is the qualities of a good church. Some people have mentioned a strong emphasis on the Gospel, meeting the cultural needs of the attendees (cultural relevance), and so on. Having a nice coffee bar wins a few points too.

But at the risk of alienating a few folks who will not see their favorite emphasis mentioned in what follows, I want to share what I think makes all the difference. I wrote about this a few weeks ago, but it bears repeating.

His post boils down to this: when the body is in need of love, uplifting, mercy, who (if anyone) steps up? What you answer is says a lot about the kind of assembly you are dealing with.

I would agree...to a point. I think we need both. We need genuine Christians fellowship but we need that to be coupled to the ministry of the Word. I have zero interest in it being "culturally relevant". If the Word of God is not relevant to you, that is a problem with you and not with the fellowship.

We can have the most orthodox fellowship in the world and yet be void of spirit and love. We can also have a fellowship that does great loving one another and performing acts of mercy but has no concept of the Gospel. It is a lot to ask but I say we need both. In reading the exhortations of Paul, it is hard to see where we have the option of an "either-or" proposition, either orthodoxy or love. Orthodox theology rightly taught should lead to greater love. Love of Christ should lead to a great thrist for the truth.

Read Dan's post and let me know what you think...


My friend Joe is stepping down from his position as pastor of Vanderbilt Community Church in Northern Michigan. Leaving a pastorate can be a very jarring experience, so I would ask you to join my family and I in praying for Joe and his family.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Preconference Session 2

Steve Lawson

The expository preaching of John Calvin

Calvin was perhaps the most gifted expositor of God’s Word that the church has known for over 1000 years.

The pulpit was his principal ministry. The heart of his ministry. Of all the many things he was, he was a pastor first.

10 Hallmarks of his preaching:

Biblical in Content: The minister has nothing to say apart from the Word of God. Everything that is not in the Bible is futile and boasting.

Sequential in Flow: One verse to the next. When he was exiled and then returned to Geneva, he walked in the first Sunday and opened his Bible to the exact verse that he left off on three years earlier.


Extemporaneous in delivery

Exegetical in depth

Familiar in language: “He put the cookies on the bottom shelf”. His preaching was attainable and understandable with minimal jargon and academic language. (I find his commentaries to be very accessible)

Pastoral in tone



God centered in conclusion

As a sign of how brilliant Calvin was. He preached in French, taught academy in Latin and preached extemporaneously from Hebrew and Greek text, translating on the fly.

Preconference Session 1

Steve Lawson

The extraordinary life of John Calvin

Other than Christ Himself no other figure in history has been as misunderstood and misrepresented as Christ.

Aspects of his life…

Devoted Believer: Out of 71 volumes of writing, he speaks of himself only three brief times.

Brilliant Teacher: His secular studies helped prepare his mind for his later study of the Word. He was self-taught primarily as a theologian. No seminary for him! Started the Institutes at age 25.

Faithful Pastor: If Calvin was anything, he was a pastor. He spent half of his 54 years in ministry, preaching like crazy. Several times on Sunday and every day of the week, every other week. Book after book, chapter after chapter, verse after verse.

Prolific Author

Zealous Reformer

Visionary Educator

Vibrant Church Planter

Indomitable Worker: Frail and weak, sick, much of his life, used to be carried from his bed to the pulpit to preach.

Dr. Lawson urged the men present to focus on the depth of their ministry and let God worry about the depth. That sounds great, but how do you do that if your pay is dependent on the local church?

PCRT 2009 Opening Study

Out of the gate this morning we had Richard Phillips doing a short study on John 6: 60-65. It was pretty standard stuff, focusing on the offense and exclusivity of Christ.

He pointed out that for all the desire and prayer for more spirit-filled lives, worship, marriage and family, if we really desire that, we need more of the Word of Christ. See It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63). All pretty standard reformed conference stuff.

I did like one line he had, he said it is true that all roads lead to God. The problem is that all but one of them lead to God’s wrath and only the road of Christ ends in salvation. I thought it was a clever line.

The power of procrastination

So I waited too long and couldn’t register for the PCRT conference online. I figured being a Reformed, RPW type conference I would get dinged $20 for being late and out of order, and probably another $10 for being a Baptist. But lo and behold, I actually got a $30 discount. See, it pays to be late!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

If this doesn’t scare you

There are a couple of planks in the Obama administration’s effort to “not waste a good crisis” and radically expand the scope and power of the Federal government. Part of that is increased spending and taxation, bringing more and more of the economic production of the country under the direct control of the central government. Another major part, and one that is less onerous to the average citizen, is a dramatic increase in the regulatory powers of the Federal government over the private sector. Set aside the idea that the Feds in an oversight function over the private sector is like a blind and deaf lifeguard who can’t swim. Set aside also the fact that the big collapses we have seen have included some already heavily regulated industries and a couple of companies that are creations of and were protected by the same government that wants MORE control (i.e. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). Just read the following synopsis of former tax cheat and current Secretary of the Treasury Geithner’s plan for “fixing” the private sector.

The Treasury has been rolling out its proposals piecemeal. It announced Wednesday a central plank of the U.S. effort: a call to give powers to the Treasury and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to seize any company whose collapse could put the broader economy at risk.

Read that again:

The Treasury has been rolling out its proposals piecemeal. It announced Wednesday a central plank of the U.S. effort: a call to give powers to the Treasury and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to seize any company whose collapse could put the broader economy at risk.

So if you are too successful and get really big, the government can seize you. Of course, the details are a bit sketchy…

It isn't clear which companies would be brought under this umbrella. Administration officials believe they could include banks' parent companies, insurance conglomerates and certain hedge funds, among others. They said it would depend on a company's size, leverage, reliance on short-term funding and role in the financial system.

So the plan is pretty vague in terms of what this all looks like. I can tell you what it looks like, it looks like another step toward socialism. Given this vague plan, what is to stop the gubmint from seizing companies on whatever pretense they like?

"Because we have learned from the current crisis that destabilizing dangers can come from financial institutions besides banks, our plan will give the government the tools to limit the risk-taking at firms that could set off cascading damage," Mr. Geithner told the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday, the same day the Treasury laid out how such a process might work.

Government officials believe the new authority might give policy makers a powerful club to demand strategic or management changes at companies.

We already have limits on risk. It is called the market. If you take a bad risk, you fail and someone else wins. That is capitalism. Business is predicated on taking calculated risks, and there has always been a trade-off for risk and return. Nothing good comes from this intervention, where the government can decide that company A is too big for its britches, steps in and seizes it. Never mind that the biggest skewing of the risk-reward system is the Federal government stepping in to prop up failed companies, thus rewarding and subsidizing failure. Let’s give them more power (and more of our money) to tinker around with the financial system and the private sector!

The proposal would allow the FDIC to sell the company's assets and renegotiate or reject existing contracts. This could give the government leverage to ban bonuses at struggling firms, but it could also raise questions among counterparties as to whether existing contracts might survive government seizure.

The FDIC would also be able to replace directors and senior executives and "none of these actions would be subject to the approval of the institution's creditors or other stakeholders," the Treasury said.

That throws a monkey wrench into the whole system. Businesses operate by being able to raise capital. They raise capital by borrowing from banks and by issuing debt (which is basically what a bond is). They also raise capital by issuing stock to shareholders who become the owners of the company. They do business by entering into contracts with suppliers, customers and employees. When you add into the equation that the government can arbitrarily grab a business and toss all of the contracts out of the window, that means that doing business with bigger businesses becomes extremely risky. If you are an executive, you will shy away from working at a company where your employment contract and bonus structure can be negated by an act of the government. If you are a supplier, you will negotiate higher prices to offset the risk that the government will come in and redo your contracts. If you are a customer and contract for goods or services with a business, you have to build in the uncertainty that your business arrangements can be done away with at the stroke of a pen, leaving you with no legal recourse. In essence, this makes private companies wards of the state because the relationship between debt holders (people who hold corporate bonds) and stakeholders (people who own the company through stock, the shareholders) is radically changed. No longer will they have the final say on the way companies are run, now that power lies in the hands of bureaucrats

I actually think that President Obama and Secretary Geithner are fully aware of this. For all of his flowery talk of how he believes in the private sector, I don’t believe it for a second because his policies don’t match his rhetoric. His walk doesn’t match his teleprompter talk. As it becomes harder and harder for the bigger companies to do business, eventually the case can be made to nationalize them. One of the hallmarks of communism is the state holding the means of production. In a post-industrial society, it is less important to hold factories and farms, and far more important to control information and capital. That is the path we are on, as finances, the auto industry, socialized health care, control of our children virtually from the moment of birth with the “Zero to Five” plan, universal preschool and universal college, all adds up to the Federal government holding all of the strings of the economy. Think about the real means of production today and then look at the moves proposed by the administration. It becomes really easy to see that the dreams of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Mao and Castro are seeing their fruition. Not in Cuba or China or Venezuela, but right here in America. As America goes, so the world goes. The Marxist radicals have always known this and they have their greatest opening in 100 years right now, right here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Something a little lighter!

This is pretty funny!

(HT: Josh Gelatt)

A tale of two halves

It is pretty common for us to emphasize certain areas of Scripture over others. I know I do and if you think you don’t do that, may I suggest you are kidding yourself.

I have to ask if there is any place that gets this treatment more starkly than 1 Corinthians 11? In the second half of 1 Corinthians, we have Paul speaking of the Lord’s Supper and those words are repeated in churches all over the world. Those words are known by most of the world’s Christians, at least to the point of recognizing them even if they couldn’t tell you where to find them in the Bible. I don’t know that any respectable Biblical scholar would suggest that Paul’s teachings on the Lord’s Supper are anything but universal.

But in the first half, we have a command and teaching that is treated completely differently. When faced with Paul’s admonition that women should cover their heads when praying and prophesying, and that to not do so is shameful, people stumble over themselves trying to explain it away. It is cultural, it is speaking of hair (when it clearly is not), it is only for Corinth, wedding rings replace head covers, etc.

Two doctrines in the same chapter. Two radically different approaches as if Paul shifted gears completely from one sentence to the next.

Well, you may say, that is because headcovering is not spoken of anywhere else in the Bible and the Lord’s Supper is. That is true. However, the idea of submission, of headship, of the creation order appears repeatedly throughout the Bible. This is not a new concept, it is a prevailing theme and it is manifested in the way men and women interact, but also in the wearing of a covering on the head of women. There is nothing in the text, or the surrounding text, that would imply this was a Corinthian problem. Even if you go back to 1 Cor 7:1 where Paul says: Now concerning the matters about which you wrote:, implying that he is answering specific questions posed to him by the church in Corinth, his answer is not specifically directed at Corinth but contains universal themes and truths. Paul does not say “because of Corinthian culture” or “because you have some gender confusion issues” or “your women are rebelling” or “because of those male prostitutes”. Nothing that indicates that these teachings are anything but universal.

On the other hand, Paul does reference specific issues found in Corinth when speaking of the Lord’s Supper (see specifically 1 Cor 11: 17-22). Yet we never hear anyone suggesting that the passages regarding the Lord’s Supper are cultural, or just for that time and place, or anything other than universal. As I have noted before, the Lord’s Supper is unquestioned as a command for the church despite its lack of specific directions on exactly how it should look. Many people are awfully dogmatic about specifics of the Supper in spite of the general silence on those same specifics in the Word, but when it comes to a clear statement like: “ but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head” (1 Cor 11: 5) and “But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head.” (1 Cor 11:6) , we see dismissals out of hand.

It is commonly noted among adherents of head covering that we don’t treat the doctrine of headcovering the same as we treat doctrines elsewhere in the Bible, but we also don’t treat headcovering in the same way we treat other doctrines in the same chapter! (I know the chapters don’t exist in the original language)

I am not suggesting we dismiss Paul’s writings on the Lord’s Supper as cultural. What I am suggesting is that we treat 1 Cor 11: 2-16 in the same manner we treat 1 Cor 11: 17-34. I am calling for consistency in how we “rightly handle” the Word of God.

NPR piece on quiverfull now available

The report on large families, esp. quiverfull families, is on NPR this morning, you can read it or listen to it here (it is about five minutes long): In Quiverfull Movement, Birth Control Is Shunned. From the intro...

Among some conservative Christians, a movement is giving new meaning to the biblical mandate to "be fruitful and multiply."

The movement, called Quiverfull, is based on Psalm 127, which says, "Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them."

Those in the Quiverfull movement shun birth control, believing that God will give them the right number of children. It turns out, that's a lot of kids.

It is a pretty fair article, without the usual “opposing view” people screaming about how we are eating up all the food and destroying the environment. You can tell that it is a completely foreign world to the correspondent Barbara Bradley Haggerty, as it is to many people.

This is something I am assuming was taken somewhat out of context…

That's also the hope of Nancy Campbell, a leader of the Quiverfull movement and author of Be Fruitful and Multiply.

"The womb is such a powerful weapon; it's a weapon against the enemy," Campbell says.

I don’t know that the way it is portrayed is all that accurate and I hope it wasn't chosen for shock value. We didn’t have a bunch of kids because we thought they were useful tools in the culture wars. We had them because God blessed us with them and we embraced that blessing. I also don’t know that the way it is written really is representative of what Ms. Campbell is trying to say. I get what she is saying when she says stuff like: "We look across the Islamic world and we see that they are outnumbering us in their family size, and they are in many places and many countries taking over those nations, without a jihad, just by multiplication," Campbell says.. It is not all about that, but if God’s people won’t have children and won’t raise their children up to follow Christ and won’t evangelize, well pretty soon we won’t have many Christians left over, will we?

What is really instructive is to read the comments that follow at the end of the article. Here are some samples…

I hate to see christians pigeon holed like this... not all are crazy, right wing conspirators that want to topple whole religions and societies in the name of christ.

I really wish the tax laws in this country were overhauled so that people who choose to have more than 2 children actually had to bear the full, complete cost of each additional child. No Federal or State handouts, no exceptions or exemptions, no nothing!...Then if they want to go on a population jihad fueled by irrational, archaic religious beliefs fine, but the entire cost comes out of their personal pockets, not mine or anyone else's!

This story about the Quiverfull movement is frightening to me on so many levels! It seems that their idea is to multiply to such great numbers that they will be able to take over the country (perhaps the world!) in order to deny those of us with a different perspective our right to live as we see fit. One of the very things that make this country great, and I might add something that enables THEM to do as they wish. There is room for everyone at god's table. Although with such irresponsible breeding, and giving no thought to the fact that this world does have finite resources, there may be no food for anyone to eat there.

Certainly it is rational to view stay at home moms with more than 2.1 children as being terrifying! Eeek, she has five kids, run! That is just the first few comments I read, I can imagine that the tenor of the conversation will continue to reflect this sort of narcissism. I am tempted to reply back but I figure that is just a waste of time. NPR is aimed at a particular audience and it is apparent from the comments already posted that no one is interested in having an intelligent conversation. It was just a few years ago that women had twice as many kids as they have today, but these people make it sound like some crazy movement that sprang up out of nowhere.
npr quiverfull national public radio quiver full quiverful

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Good post on homeschooling

There is a great post from Gloria at In All Things Give Thanks on the trials and joys of homeschool, A day in our life....

I especially liked what Gloria said here:

I know that there are probably better teachers out there that my kids could learn from, but I am their mom and I feel God has called me to teach them. It's not always easy for me. I am not a natural born teacher. The Lord is growing me in the process of schooling my children.


It is not just a matter of who is the best teacher, even though I often think that the parents are the best teachers. It is a matter of being called to teach our kids and to grow ourselves as we do. Give her post a read, I hope you find it as honest and encouraging as I did!

NPR on big families

Tomorrow morning on National Public Radio's Morning Edition, they are running a piece on large families and the quiverfull movement. I had someone from NPR email me a few weeks ago to ask if we were part of the quiverfull movement. Technically we are not, although I am sympathetic toward much of the agenda (obviously!). I am not sure what sort of reception the movement is going to get from NPR, especially since the advertisement for it this afternoon spoke about seeing kids as ammunition in the culture war. I will listen to it in the morning and put the link up when it appears online.

Haven't we heard this story before?

On a regular basis, we get someone showing up in the secular media who has a problem with the way churches manage themselves. The latest entry into this category comes from a blog post in the pages of USA Today.

Titled Do women have a prayer? the author, Mary Zeiss Stange, bemoans what she sees as the injustice of women not being able to serve as elders. Ms. Stange is apparently an expert on matters of theology, given her description as a "professor of Women's Studies and Religion at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y". Apparently for Ms. Stange, being an elder/pastor has little to do with Biblical qualifications and more to do with what is "fair". Women serve more, attend more, pray more so forget what God has decreed, they should get to be the leaders!

I have said on numerous occasions that the burden of ministry that falls on women because of a faithless, cowardly generation of men who are unwilling to serve is a shame, a travesty and a mockery of God. Having said that does not mean pitching the Word of God aside for some misguided modern notion of egalitarianism. We should disciple young men to be leaders in the home and leaders in the church, to delve into Word and prayer, to be men for crying out loud, not replace the order that God established. If you wonder what "equality" means to Ms. Stange, you need only read this portion of her screed...

The better news is that among the so-called mainline Protestant denominations, women have made considerable progress in attaining positions of religious authority. The United Methodist Church, the nation's second-largest Protestant Church with 8 million members, has ordained women since the 1950s.

But — in a pattern familiar among churches that do ordain women — few of these women hold senior positions in large congregations. In January, the church announced an initiative, the Lead Women Pastor Project, to study barriers to female advancement in the church.

The idea that this "progress" is "better news" is debatable. Of course, missing from her faint praise of "mainline" denominations is a recognition that these same denominations are destroying themselves through theological suicide. The common factor? Bowing to cultural pressure to ordain women to leadership positions in an express rejection of Scriptural command.

Ms. Stange closes with this...

It is a truth so familiar as to have become cliché: Women are the driving force behind organized religion. They fill the pews, they bring their children into the fold. The Pew data help make sense of these facts. But the same data highlight the cruel irony that in far too many religious contexts in this country, women remain second-class citizens.

What makes women second class citizens? Not being able to serve as elders in churches? Really, does that qualify women as "second class" citizens? I rather think that from a complementarian view, women serve a vital role in the church. They are indeed instructors of children, they are in constant prayer, they serve in a myriad of ways in the church. A woman who feels she is unable to be fulfilled in the roles she is called to and that only by overturning Scripture can she truly serve God does not have an issue of submission to her husband, she has an issue with God.

Rather than being the progressive, forward thinking and mature viewpoint, Ms. Stange comes across like a petulant child. So what we have here is a woman, looking at the world and deciding that the culture is right and that God is wrong. Women can be doctors, engineers and CEOs, so why not elders/pastors? I guess because Christianity is a faith based on Christ and He is revealed in His Word, and that is our bedrock and foundation. That Word has a lot to say about gender roles and not much of what it says match with what Ms. Stange believes.

Haven't we seen before the results of a human being granted all that he or she could ever desire, with one exception and what happens when in spite of what God has commanded, mankind goes after forbidden fruit? For feminists who care nothing for the church except for their outrage at a perceived slight and for Christian women who have bought into their dogma, the desire for a twisted sense of equality overrides every other concern. It is a worldview where equality must equal uniformity. If there is anything one person can do that another cannot, that is inherently unjust and must be destroyed.

Space and a headache prevent me from fully expounding on all of the issues that surround complementarianism, women elders, submission, the creation order, the idea of being a "helpmeet", etc. Really though, we have heard all of this before. Think back to the Word (irrelevant as it apparently is in this discussion) and a seminal event in Genesis 3...

Genesis 3:6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

We could change that to…

So when the woman saw that the pulpit was good for self-esteem, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the pulpit was to be desired to make one equal to men in every respect (because after all, there are more women in the church than men), she took her rightful place behind it and preached, and her husband who sat in the pews looked adoringly up at her and ate up every word.

The lie is the same in both events, the serpent whispering “Did God actually say…” Let's hope that God's people will actually learn their lesson this time and stick to what God has decreed.

(I first saw this on Dr. Mohler's blog and he also addressed it on the radio)


For most of his brief administration, President Obama and his henchmen have spared no effort in demonizing Wall Street, bankers, captains of industry, pretty much any business that makes a profit. The rationale for flogging Wall Street? According to the Wall Street Journal, a lot of it has to do with opinion polls.

Mr. Obama and his aides regularly and publicly criticized financial firms for buying private planes and redecorating offices and hosting lavish parties. The talk was fueled in part by the results of surveys by New York pollster Joel Benensen, commissioned by the Democratic Party, which Mr. Axelrod regularly reviews. The polls consistently showed that the public blames big financial firms for the current mess, and is hesitant to offer aid.

As outrage directed at Wall Street starts to spill over to the politicians who loaned them hundreds of billions in tax dollars, and as they start to realize that a lot of what they plan to push through is going to require private sector cooperation, now the administration is “reaching out” to Wall Street. The problem is the same as with a dog you constantly kick, eventually it starts to flinch. In other words, the private sector is even more leery of the government than before. The administration is planning on enticing private investors (who want to make a profit of course) into buying devalued loan assets, with the expectation that they will increase in value and then the investor can sell them. The investor makes a profit, the government hopefully has limited exposure and banks can start to shed a ton of loans that are dragging them down. Sounds great, but if I am an investor with money to spend, do I really want to make a Faustian deal with the Federal Government as my partner? These same people who are trying to retroactively tax legal bonuses for AIG are sure to look at big profits from Secretary Geithner’s plan (accompanied by big risks) and say that these investors made a profit using tax dollars. Who wants to risk their profits on the forbearance of Congress? There are far less risky investment options out there. As the Journal pointed out, who wants to risk being the next person being deposed in front of Barney Frank and friends, eager to score political points for excoriating evil capitalists, investors who *GASP* dared to make a profit.

Much of this stems from the people that the President is surrounding himself with. Instead of filling up the ranks of the administration with business people, Obama has been picking academics and bureaucrats. Say what you will about the malfeasance of some on Wall Street, the worst run business is unarguably worlds more efficient than the Federal government and most of these academics are in academia instead of the business world because they don’t have what it takes to run a business and their economic theories prove disastrous in the real world (more on that in an upcoming post). These are not exactly the people you want to have making all of our nation’s economic policies. So we find ourselves in a time of crisis with a bunch of politicians, economists with theories that are laughable anywhere other than conferences and universities and opinion pollsters running the “recovery”.

Our problem is not that we have invested too little power in government, it is that we have invested too much. This was evident in the Bush administration where “compassionate conservatism” meant talk like a conservative but spend like a liberal. Now we have Obama, who talks like a liberal and spends like a socialist. Things are not getting better folks.

Speaking of conferences

There is another one coming up in August, the 27th-29th. Sponsored by Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Calvin for the 21st Century. Pretty good line-up of speakers...

As a sponsor of CALVIN 500, an international event honoring Calvin in Geneva this July (see here), Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary will also be hosting a follow-up conference August 27-29 on the theme, "Calvin for the 21st Century." The conference will be held at the Prince Center in Grand Rapids, which offers first-class accommodations. The conference will feature nationally and internationally acclaimed speakers such as Jerry Bilkes, Ligon Duncan, Michael Haykin, Nelson Kloosterman, David Murray, Joseph Pipa, Neil Pronk, Donald Sinnema, Derek Thomas, and Cornel Venema. They will be addressing a variety of ways in which Calvin can assist us in understanding the Word of God, the love of God, the work of the Holy Spirit, redemption, reforming the church, ethics, the benefits of salvation, and reprobation.

Joel Beeke is also speaking. Should be a good one, and the price is right at $65 if you register by June 26th. I wonder if I can talk my wife into another conference this year?

As a special treat for book hounds, they are having a deal on books at the conference as well...

Our non-profit conference bookstore - Reformation Heritage Books - will sell many substantive titles at low prices. All RHB and Soli Deo Gloria titles will sell for 50% off the retail price! Don't forget to budget for books! Not only are you be able to purchase books at the conference center, you are welcome to visit RHB at their store located just minutes away.

Any takers?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Busy weekend coming up

This weekend is the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology in Grand Rapids. My friends Rick and Josh are coming down with some other northern Michigan types (if you aren't coming, I can arrange a ride for you. Joe? Joe?) I may even be able to get James to come along. Should be great stuff, great teaching, great fellowship, fun meals out at BW-3 (which reminds me to bring some instant cream of wheat for those unable to handle B-Dubs) I hope to be able to do some blogging from the conference as we study the doctrine of justification. The pre-conference is focused on John Calvin, as befits the year long celebration of his 500th birthday. Looking forward to it and this year I live close enough to drive back and forth so I can see the wife and family in the evening!

The march of death continues unabated...

...walking in lockstep with the campaign to permanently remove the rights of parents to make decision for their children.

Judge orders FDA to let 17-year-olds use Plan B

NEW YORK – The Food and Drug Administration let politics cloud its judgment when it denied teenage girls over-the-counter access to the Plan B morning-after pill, a federal judge said Monday as he ordered the FDA to let 17-year-olds obtain the medication.

In a thorough denunciation of the Bush administration, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman blasted the FDA's handling of the issue, saying it had "repeatedly and unreasonably" delayed issuing a decision on the medication.

How does the "Plan B" pill NOT encourage promiscuity and endanger women? Not only is the "morning after pill" itself dangerous, but the knowledge that you can be as immoral as you like with a "back-up" just in case can only lead to more sexually risky behavior. There is no "Plan B" if you contract HIV. If that is not bad enough, we see another encroachment on parental rights. You can't vote in this country at age 17, rightfully so, but you can take an after-the-fact contraception. Over the counter. They can't buy cigarettes over the counter but they can buy a dangerous abortifacient. All brought to you by a judicial decree from yet another judge legislating from the bench.

This is what our future looks like, the government nanny state intruding on families at an ever earlier age. That is the stated object of the Obama administration with it's "Zero to Five" plan, universal preschool, etc. Parents don't know what to do with their own kids so the government will step in. Sexual issues are used as wedge issues, telling kids that their parents are trying to keep them from something that they have a Constitutional right to do and once they do engage in sexual activity, and inevitably get themselves in trouble, their sympathetic and cool Uncle Sam will come to the rescue with abortions during school hours with no parental notification or permission, and over the counter after the fact abortifacients. Who wants to listen to mean old parents when your cool Uncle Sam will not only let you do whatever you want, he encourages your basest desires?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The righteousness of the wrath of God

I took an hour yesterday afternoon with my wife and watched the live feed from the Ligonier Conference. It was the final session and of course R.C. Sproul was speaking. He spoke on the holiness of God, which was the theme of the entire conference with a particular emphasis on His holiness in wrath and judgment.

This is the description of his talk...

There have always been those who have argued that a truly holy God could not or would not consign anyone to eternal punishment. Such, they say, is inconsistent with God’s love. In this lecture, Dr. Sproul will explain why the holiness of God is not inconsistent with eternal punishment of sin, but in fact requires it.

There is something about a senior saint, close to eternity, that is really sobering because you see what is foremost in their minds. Sproul continues to look frail, but when he gets behind a pulpit and expounds on God's Word he seems to come alive. Not because he gets some sort of perverse delight in speaking about God's wrath but because, I believe, he recognizes how absent it is in the church today. "God loves you and wants the best for you" is kind of the mantra. But it look at only part of who God is. All of this talk of God's love, absent from equal time on God's wrath, justice and holiness makes a presumption upon grace. Only a truly wrathful God can be a loving God, for a God who has no holiness, wrath and justice is not a God at all.

Dr. Sproul used the text from 1 Chronicles 13: 6-14 as his base, and he did so because it is such a troubling text for modern believers. Give us John 3: 16 and YEAH GOD! We love us some God when He is being merciful. When we read 1 Chr 13:6-14 or Leviticus 10: 1-7, it can be easy in our minds to divide the God in the Old Testament with the God of the New. Like one flippant person commented once, the God of the New Testament is the God of the Old after anger management therapy. But it is the same God. He is not less just, or less holy or less wrathful but His mercy stems from the fact that His justice has been fulfilled in the cross. As Dr. Sproul pointed out, 1 Chronicles 13 is not showing a capricious and mean God who struck a man down for an innocent reaction. It shows a God who struck a man down for pride, pride is thinking that the Ark would be less defiled by a sinner touching it than by it being in the dirt.

It was sobering stuff, but we need to sobered on a regular basis.

Developing a Biblical Ecclesiology Seminar

The Assembling of the Church: Resources

Alan Knox and company put on a seminar in North Carolina (on a weekend of March Madness no less, good thinking Alan!) on "Developing a Biblical Ecclesiology" I would encourage you to give it a listen, and follow along on the powerpoint as you do.

Dividing lines

April wrote a post and mentioned feeling kind of guilty about looking around at other churches, and it got me thinking about something that I have considered before. In American Christianity, with it’s carefully delineated lines of “where do you go to church?”, it can be seen as a sign of faithlessness and abandonment for someone who worships regularly in one place to worship and fellowship with believers in another body. In an extreme example, I know of one person who was accused of forsaking the assembling together because he was in fellowship with other people for a few weeks instead of the church where he was a “member”. Not that he was hanging around with heretics or pagans, he was with other believers but not the right other believers.

Are we abandoning the church by fellowshipping outside of the church we have been attending? I would argue no. In fact, as I commented at April‘s blog, I think that the real abandonment of the church is the false divisions we have created even among like minded people. How often do similar Baptist churches fellowship together? How about Presbyterian churches? I am not talking about once or twice a year, but on a regular basis. We sequester ourselves based on denominations, “membership” and loyalty to one local body to the exclusion of other believers. I pastored a church for over a year and in that same time Josh Gelatt pastored a church twenty minutes away. I never even knew he was there, much less had fellowship with him. Despite his youth spent in Arkansas, Josh is not some heretic to be shunned. He is a Baptist, about my age, Reformed in theology. I remember crabbing to my wife about how few other Reformed believers were in our area, and here is Josh twenty minutes away pastoring another Baptist church. Of course, they are a GARB Baptist church and we were SBC, so we had no contact. Josh was probably the most like-minded Christian in the area, was very close to us but I never sought him out. Believe me when I say, I could have used that fellowship.

Why do we fear to fellowship together outside the confines of our own local church? Certainly not because there is a Biblical reason. Pastors get together at conferences all time. The conference I am going to next weekend will have pastors and laity from all sorts of church backgrounds. Together for the Gospel is designed specifically to bring together pastors of different denominational backgrounds under the banner of key truths that we do share. But among local bodies, try getting churches to do stuff together. It is hard to do with very similar churches, Baptists with Baptists and Presbyterians with Presbyterians. Try getting a Baptist and a Presbyterian church together and see how that goes (no one invites Lutherans to stuff, they are no fun).

Where we have truly forsaken the assembling of the saints is in letting our doctrinal differences inseparably divide us. I think there is a place for doctrine. I would not fellowship on a regular basis with those who, in my doctrinal framework, apply baptism in error. But why should we completely exclude those with whom we have doctrinal differences? There are so many believers that live right by us that we rarely get to know because they don’t worship in the same circles and that is shameful. Rather than focusing ever inward on those who believe exactly as we do, we should seek out opportunities to fellowship with the body at large. Not to convert them to our way of thinking or to poach believers from their church to ours (the fear of exactly that might be behind some of this), but to be in fellowship. Instead we bunch ourselves together, raise walls and lock the doors. I am as guilty of this as anyone. I wouldn’t even consider regular fellowship in a paedobaptist church but I also don’t spend much time in our new home with people who are not like minded. I am going to make a concerted effort to get to know other believers in the area. Maybe on Sunday nights, since we don’t have church services currently in the evening. That might be a great opportunity to get out of our comfort zone and meet other believers. Not to shop for a "new church" but just to spend time with other believers.

I think it is terrible that we are content to wait until eternity to worship with and be in fellowship with so many other Christians.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Leadership, not talkership

I realy liked a quote from Peggy Noonan in her latest editorial, Neither a Hedgehog Nor a Fox . In describing the pseudo-cerebral and generally ethereal manner of the current administration in the face of an economic crisis, she said:

Leadership is needed here. Not talkership, leadership.

Quite true. We need a leader, someone who can lead this nation out of the mire and back into prosperity. President Obama seems content to spend and talk, hoping that something will stick.

A shameful day for America

By a vote of 328-93, the House of Representative passed a piece of legislation specifically designed for retribution, to retroactively tax at an effectively 100% rate the bonuses of anyone who makes over $250,000 and got a bonus after 12/31/08 from a compnay that received $5 billion or more in bailout money. The net result of this legislation is to “punish” those scoundrels at AIG who received their contractually agreed upon bonuses (bonuses that were stupid but perfectly legal). Those same bonuses that were expressly allowed by the same Congress that now is trying to tax that money back into the government coffers.

This quote is precious:

"Stop the thievery at Americans' expense," said House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., on the House floor before the vote.

This from a man who is one of the leaders of that gang of thieves we call the United States Congress, a group of men and women who have been handing out billions in bailout money like Halloween candy and driving our country trillions deeper in debt. Stop the thievery at Americans’ expense? They have been stealing from the American people and wasting that money for decades and now they want to declare themselves the defenders of common sense, fiscal discipline and balanced budgets? Please. Even the liberal ends of the media are starting to point out how hypocritical this whole thing is, one big case of the fox in the henhouse running for political cover and using employees at AIG as fall guys to deflect the blame.

Meanwhile we have employees of AIG getting death threats, media harassing them outside their homes, being told to hide their briefcases with the AIG logo on them. People are literally afraid that someone will find out where they work and the mob will be on them. That is how many Americans in 2009 deal with this crisis, not by pulling together but by finding someone else to blame and threaten. It is cowardly and un-American. You want to blame someone? Go to www.senate.gov and www.house.gov and talk to your elected representatives. A couple hundred million in retention bonuses is mismanagement. A couple trillion of your tax dollars thrown away is gross incompetence bordering on treason.

This whole affair is shameful. It is the very worst blending of populism gone awry, class warfare, jealously, uninformed decision making, knee jerk reaction and most of all blame deflection. The Congress of the United States is hanging employees of AIG in effigy for taking bonuses that they were permitted to receive because the bailout legislation passed by this same Congress gave them that permission!

The reason we live in a republic and not a democracy is precisely to avoid this sort of mob rule. The Founders knew that people who are self-ruled must have their base instincts and self-interest kept in check. Evan Newmark, who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite commentators, said it well when he described this punitive tax like this:

This bill is much, much worse than that. It is mob rule. It is an abdication of the duty of Congress to legislate thoughtfully and with due process. And it is an act of cowardice in which what is right or wrong means nothing and what is expedient means everything.

Ruh roh!

There are a couple of very interesting articles on Church Matters, the 9 Marks Blog (Mark Dever’s ministry) that caught my eye. Normally the blog posts are pretty innocuous but when the titles of the posts read: “"The Sin of Infant Baptism", written by a sinning Baptist”and “The unintentional yet damaging institutional sin of infant baptism.”, you know that is going to cause a stink. When I go off about baptism, it can be dismissed as the rantings of a loony. When Mark Dever, of Together for the Gospel and 9 Marks Ministry does, ruh roh!

From the first post by Mark Dever

Nevertheless, as I understand the words of Christ in Matt. 28:18-20 Christians are commanded to baptize and to be baptized, and the practice of infant baptism inhibits the obedience of what I take to be a quite straightforward command. I understand explanations that have been given about the practice of infant baptism (Orthodox/Roman, Lutheran and Reformed) but am sincerely persuaded that none of them line up with God's own Word. This does not cause me to doubt the sincerity of my reformed paedobaptist brethren, nor even their judgment in general. It is simply that on this point they've got it wrong, and their error, involving as it does a requiring of something Scripture does not require (infant baptism), and the consequence of a denying of an action Scripture does require (believers baptism) is sinful (though unintentionally so).

I have made it no secret that I consider paedobaotism to be a serious error and I agree with Mark that Scripture does not command or imply the baptism of infants. But is it a sin, even an unintentional one? Those who baptize infants, by and large, are sincerely doing what they believe the Bible teaches. But being sincere and believing in what you are doing is never the measure for truth, otherwise an awful lot of errant teaching would be considered orthodox. Infant baptism is applying a command to something the Bible does not command, and so does that qualify as a sin? I think it does (ducking my head).

The second blog post by Mike Gilbart-Smith links infant baptism with a lack of church discipline, using the example of the Church of England.

The problems are multiple:

1) baptism is seen as having nothing to do with church membership. And when there is no church membership, church discipline becomes impossible.

2) infant baptism itself tends to separate baptism from church membership and discipline. One doesn't want to publicly disicpline a 2 year old for poking his sister in the eye and showing no signs of repentance. All paedobaptists I know rightly recognise that such matters are better dealt with within the family.

The problem there of course is that a) there is no command for formal church membership in the Bible and b) credobaptist churches have many of the same problems when it comes to discipline that paedobaptist churches endure. I am not sure that poking your sister in the eye as a baby would be grounds for church discipline in any church setting anyway. You kind of have to read both posts in their entirety to get a flavor for the full argument.

I am certain that this is going to reignite the firestorm over baptism on the blogosphere. The comments on the posts themselves are already getting snippy. Baptism is kind of the elephant in the Reformed room, and whenever it comes up people get wound up. I may have to wear a disguise next weekend at the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology in Grand Rapids so as not to be attacked by angry mobs of Presbyterians and Dutch Reformed types.

So what say you: whichever side of the baptism debate you come down on, is the giving of the sign of baptism to an infant or the denying of that sign to an infant on the level of a sinful act?

More gatherings not bigger gatherings

Very interesting editorial in the Houses of Worship column in the Journal by conservative commentators Fred Barnes, “When the Pastor Says It's 'A Time to Sow'”. It explores the idea of church replication and planting, and it is especially interesting because it concerns schismatic former Episcopalian church that have become independent of the Episcopal Church and are now part of the greater Anglican communion. They are now on something of a campaign to plant new churches, and when you think of Anglicans, really is aggressively planting conservative churches the first thing that comes to mind?

I especially like this part concerning the new church, Christ the King, that they were part of planting in Alexandria, Virginia:

But we don't just meet one day a week. One of the problems for a new church is that most of the parishioners don't know one another. They're not yet a community. Barbara and I knew fewer than a dozen of the original members of Christ the King. So David Glade, the 35-year-old pastor, organized everyone into dinner groups that gather monthly. Indeed, they had better gather: When our group skipped a month, Mr. Glade wanted to know why.

I would say that the problem of people not knowing each other is hardly limited to new churches. My concern would be maintaining that sense of community and fellowship as the church grows. I hope that even as they grow, they continue to seek out ways to be in fellowship and community with one another. That is not just something for “church plants” and once you get to a certain size you can stop. As new people come and stuff happens in people’s lives, the need for fellowship and community building doesn’t diminish, it grows. I do like the model that says as the church gets too big, rather than build a multi-million dollar new building, add services and hire more staff, you send people out to start a new fellowship.

As I mentioned earlier, leaving the Episcopal Church has freed these newly independent Anglican churches to do stuff like church planting that they were unable to do in the past. Doctrinal drift and outright heresy are killing the Episcopal church, but the attitude about the local church probably has a lot to do with it as well:

As an Episcopal Church rector, Mr. Yates began thinking about planting churches 20 years ago. But the bishop of Virginia "wouldn't allow us to discuss it," he says, fearing that new Episcopal churches would lure people from older ones. In 2001, he was allowed to plant a church, but only a county away in a distant exurb.

Think about that statement. They were afraid to plant churches because it might draw people away from the old church. What next, non-compete agreements for pastors? We have those in financial services, I can just see a written agreement to not accept a call or plant a church within 50 miles of the current one. Scratch that, I would be willing to bet a donut that such agreements already exist.

This movement is encouraging, with Timothy Keller as one of the leaders (mentioned in the article), seeking to not build bigger and bigger churches but with a purposeful desire to plant more churches. There are a number of other groups that are big church planting advocates, planting new and theologically orthodox churches all over the place. Rather than killing off the little churches in favor of bigger ones, why shouldn’t the body of Christ seek to gather in more places? Which can have more impact, one big church with a dozen paid staff in one corner of a county or dozens of small groups throughout the county in small buildings, schools, homes, whatever?

A billion dollars an hour!

Here is another sobering way to look at the new Administration has been spending our money from Elaine Chao:

The Obama administration's zeal to not "waste a good crisis," as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it, has been stunning even for Washington insiders to behold. In the first 50 days of Barack Obama's presidency, Congress approved $1.2 trillion dollars in new spending, or $24 billion a day. That's $1 billion every hour. The national debt now is $11 trillion and climbing.

A billion dollars in new spending per hour.


Yet people say that Obama is not a socialist. That is what he has done in less than two months and we still have 46 months more to go. Maybe we should encourgae him to spend more time on Leno and working on his NCAA brackets, he can cause less mischief that way.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

God is good when we are happy and especially when we are sad

Spiritual Truths in Spiritual Words

I would encourage you to read April’s post from last night. Read it and ponder and glory in the sovereign Lord we serve, who is worthy precisely because He is sovereign in good times and especially in the bad.

God’s sovereignty is not an abstract concept, a debate point to be won, a theological club to beat people with. I have far too often viewed it that way, and when I do it is not to glorify God but to exalt myself. God’s sovereignty is not merely a chapter in a systematic theology book. It is a reality in our lives, and nowhere is that more true than when we suffer. How we respond to that suffering says a lot about how we view God.

God’s sovereignty is lived out in the joys and sorrows of His people every day, but always and in every way to bring glory to Himself. Our greatest joy in Him comes when we surrender our lives to His sovereign goodness and grace. We are strongest when He holds us up, when we are least reliant on ourselves.

Fanning the populist flames

Hopefully anyone who is paying any attention at all can see right through the hypocrisy spewing forth from Washington over AIG. The single most fiscally irresponsible bunch of people in America (aka the United States Congress) being outraged over a couple hundred million in bonuses? Ridiculous. The overheated rhetoric is mostly from Democrats but more than a few Republicans (apparently intent on destroying the Grand Old Party once and for all) have joined the fray. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, only half in jest, suggested ritualistic suicide for AIG executives. That is responsible rhetoric and leadership from a United States Senator!

Now amidst the revelations of AIG bonuses, it turns out that Senator Christopher Dodd, champion of the people (never you mind that he got a sweet deal from now defunct Countrywide mortgage. No bias here!) suddenly remembers that he DID stick language in the bailout bill that exempted these very bonuses, a provision that in that fine Washington tradition he forget about and only “remembered” when he got called on it. These are the people safeguarding our financial system. A tax cheat as Treasury Secretary. A Senate banking Committee chairman writing loopholes in bailout deals and getting “favorable” mortgages from mortgage companies he is regulating. The House Ways and Means committee chairman who oversees tax policy neglecting to pay taxes on his vacation home. What is that old saying about the fox in the hen house?

The liberals might just find that in whipping up the flames of populist fury they may have started out with a controlled burn and ended up with a wildfire. The problem with wildfires of course is that you can’t control them and often what gets burned is not what you intended. Populist fury can be a useful tool for politicians, but it can get out of hand in a hurry. Just ask the French aristocracy.

Evan Newmark of the Wall Street Journal made this astute comment:

But the Washington populists ought to tread carefully. It’s one thing to stir up the mob, it’s another to control it. Eventually, the public will tire of the old outrages and look for new ones. And suddenly some of the things down in Washington will start to look pretty outrageous, too.

As I mentioned before, at some point when people start to settle down from this media induced panic about the financial crisis and start to look around, they might just realize that they were sold a bill of goods and saddled with a ton of debt during this whole debacle. The last few months may have been some of the most damaging to our long-term economic stability we have seen in a long time. When that time comes and the Congress runs out of fall guys to demagogue, all eyes will turn to Capitol Hill and maybe Americans will remember the freedoms this country was founded on and that have slowly been eroded by our public “servants” over the last century. When that day comes, there may be a lot of lifelong politicians who find themselves needing real jobs. That may be a false hope because I am not sure how many people actually know what freedoms this country was founded on in the first place. Decades of “education reform” have led to an ignorant population that thinks America was founded on repression and racism, not on freedom and liberty. An ignorant population is the bane of a free society.

God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. ... What country before ever existed a century and half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure. Thomas Jefferson, Nov 13, 1787

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Good and bad news

Unlike a lot of the prophets of ecological catastrophe, I don’t view a healthy birth rate as a bad thing. So the report I read today was pretty good news. There were 4.3 million births in the United States in 2007, a record…

More babies were born in the U.S. in 2007 than any year in the nation's history, topping the peak during the baby boom 50 years earlier, federal researchers reported Wednesday.

The downside is that with alarming speed we see that more and more kids are being born out of wedlock.

The birth rate rose slightly for women of all ages, and births to unwed mothers reached an all-time high of about 40%, continuing a trend begun years ago. More than three-quarters of these women were 20 or older.

There is a disconnect that is growing between marriage, family, spouses, children. The old fashioned notion of a married couple (of two different genders) having children and raising them together seems so 1950’s. Now we have an almost limitless variety of iterations of what constitutes a family. As men and women wait longer and longer to get married, and then even longer after marriage to start their families they are having a harder time getting pregnant, and it seems as if a lot of women are skipping a couple of steps and going right to having children intentionally out of wedlock. The desire for children has changed from something that is shared with a husband and becomes something done strictly for self-gratification, so why wait around for some guy to marry you? Unfortunately it is the children involved who pay the price for never even having the chance to have a family comprised of a mother and father, both at home and sharing in the raising of their children.

Assembly Line Worship

When we hear words like “assembly lines”, “economies of scale”, “specialization”, “division of labor”, “mass production”, we normally associate those with industrial production. But here in the America, it struck me recently that a lot of the way we approach church is heavily influenced by our free-market capitalism, rugged individualism and approach to mass production. Stay with me here…

In a typical American evangelical church meeting on Sunday morning, we start promptly at 11. One person, often the pastor, prays on behalf of the entire congregation of 25 to 2,500 people. Then one person leads us in singing or we sit and other people sing at us in the choir. Then one person, again the pastor, stands up and gives us a few announcements, calls up the ushers for the offering, one person prays for the offering, and then one person stands up and preaches for 30-45 minutes. He then finishes by praying for us while we bow our heads and listen. We head home, confident that we have worshipped.

How did we get here? Is that Biblical worship? Is that how the disciples worshipped?

We have compartmentalized, segregated, divided, specialized worship. In fine American tradition, we have taken the assembly line idea and put it in place in the church. One person leading prayer, one person teaching, one person praying is efficient. Having lots of people teach doesn’t work, some people aren’t great at it, so we will hire someone professionally, with the right credentials, to teach and preach for us. It is his specialization, like a worker in an assembly line who attaches widget A to part B. That guy over there is a good singer, so we will hire him to lead the singing for us. That woman is good with kids, so she is in charge of nursery. That guy is young, has cool hair with lots of product and gets along with kids. He is our “youth minister”. We pick the very best person, based on some dubious qualifications at times, and put them in charge of aspects of our “worship”. Meanwhile the bulk of us will sit back in our pews and drop money in the plate to express our approval, like buying tickets to a theatrical performance.

We have Wednesday evening prayer meetings where we pray together. Sunday school where we (hopefully) focus on the teaching of the Bible. We have a separate service for the Lord’s Supper, or at least we segregate the Lord’s Supper from the rest of “worship” and make it into an infrequent, special event. Instead of an integrated worship where fellowship, prayer, teaching and breaking bread blends together, we have made them into separate events carefully orchestrated to be done in a timely fashion. This isn't an issue of orderly worship, if you have ever rushed from Sunday school to the sanctuary you know how chaotic that can be! What it has become is a subcontracting of worship out to others.

Is this happening because we are results oriented people? We want a particular outcome from “worship”? I think it is. Worship is commoditized, with the more units of worship produced, in as efficient manner as possible, the better. Some churches have grown so large that they have three services and that is a mark of a “successful” ministry. Why don’t they break into smaller groups to fellowship in? Because it is way more efficient to have 1000 people in three services under one pastor in one building than it is to have 1000 people meeting in 40 groups of 25. This is why we have churches like St. Andrews Chapel building multi-million dollar palatial edifices, so more and more people can pack into a building and receive their units of worship in as efficient a manner as possible.

Sure, small gatherings have a myriad of issues. What to do with the kids, who is going to teach, how do you pay the bills, what if one family leaves? The trade-off? You get to know the people you worship with, you can pray for them without a list of “prayer requests” because you are intimately familiar with their problems and their dreams. Everyone serves and shares the burdens because no one can be too specialized. I just think that small groups achieve the intent and goal of fellowship far better than packing auditoriums with people. Big groups have their place. There will be hundreds of people at the theology conference I am going to next weekend in Grand Rapids, but as much as I enjoy the teaching what I really enjoy is spending time at lunch and dinner with friends and fellow believers. I can listen to the teaching later on my iPod, but I can’t replicate the closeness of fellowship among a small group of Christians.

Is genuine fellowship possible in a big church? I imagine so with a lot of work. Can you have a small church with virtually no fellowship? Absolutely, I have been there. But all in all, I think we would be much healthier as a body if we focused on fellowship whatever the format or setting, and less on producing the maximum number of worship units in the most efficient manner possible.

Your government at work

So the geniuses in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike, decided in a magnanimous way to spend your money by giving an enormous sum of bailout money to troubled insurance giant AIG. In the modern American pattern of subsidizing failure, instead of letting the bankruptcy laws work for failed companies as intended, the government stepped in to bail them out. As an added bonus, we agreed as “the people” to this bailout with virtually no strings attached as far as I can see.

So what did AIG do? Shrug, say “Thanks for taxpayers money!” and went on doing business as usual. Why wouldn’t they? People like current Treasury Secretary and former tax cheat Timothy Geithner, Senator Christopher Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank helped forge this whole mess, and now we have put them in charge of getting us out of it. Brilliant! As part of this crazy setup, AIG saw fit to pay huge retention bonuses to employees in the complex financial products division, the very same division that is causing many of their huge losses that we are bailing them out for. Some of those bonuses were to the tune of $1,000,000. Million dollar bonuses seem crazy for a company that is in that much trouble. On the other hand, why wouldn’t’ we expect financial mismanagement from a firm that is 80% owned by Americans because of financial mismanagement in the first place?

These people at AIG were given “retention bonuses”, i.e. money to keep them from leaving. One would think that people who failed that badly would be encouraged to leave, not paid to stay. Allegedly this is because of the complexity of the transaction they worked with, which may or may not be true, but this much is true. Incompetent or not, AIG was contractually obligated to pay these bonuses and if they didn’t, the lawsuits would have been flying which ultimately would have cost them more than $165 million because they would have lost every one of them. Not to defend or excuse mismanagement and incompetence, but that is just the reality of the situation. Our political leaders are outraged, OUTRAGED!, that our money that they gave to a poorly managed firm was poorly managed. Outraged I tell ya! Believe you me, they are gonna do SOMETHING about it. Just you wait and see. The whole thing is such a circus of people trying to cover their own backsides and deflect blame. AIG is turning into a political hot potato and no one wants to be the one holding it at the end.

What I really wonder is this: how much is it going to cost in time and money wasted for the U.S. government to pass some crackpot and possibly un-Constitutional bill to get this money back? You have to implement this new retributive tax on one narrow class of workers in a clear case of using the political system to enact some sort of weird pseudo-populist vengeance and then you have the cost of the IRS collecting these taxes plus the inevitable legal challenges to these taxes. I would be willing to bet that it will probably cost, in the long run, as much or even more than the $165 million that was paid out to “recover” it. So we aren’t “recovering” this money, we are taking it away out of spite. It is like spitting on the last cookie so no one else can eat it.

We shouldn’t be mad at AIG and the people getting these bonuses to the tune of $167,000,000. We should save our torches and pitchforks for the knuckleheads that decided to bailout a private company that made bad bets to the tune of $173,000,000,000 in the first place. In other words, instead of Barney Frank holding hearings about AIG, someone should be holding hearings about HIM and his cohorts for giving away billions of dollars of your money with only minimal thought as to how that money should have been spent. Politicians are running for cover like roaches when the lights come on, but we shouldn’t let them off the hook. This bonus issue gives them the opportunity to bemoan the injustice of it all and promise swift and terrible justice will be meted out on those scoundrels at AIG for mismanaging money that was given to them by your Congress because they were already mismanaging money. Don’t buy it. AIG is just a private company that should have been left to sink or swim in the marketplace, just like bad banks, automakers and others should be forced to work within the framework of our economic system. Instead we have subsidized incompetence and yet we are surprised when these companies continue to be incompetent.

“When you reward failure, all you get it more failure.” Newt Gingrich