Belgic Confession 32 – Order and Discipline in the Church

21 Apr

We believe that, although it is useful and good for those who govern the church to establish a certain order to maintain the body of the church, they must at all times watch that they do not deviate from what Christ, our only Master, has commanded.1 Therefore we reject all human inventions and laws introduced into the worship of God which bind and compel the consciences in any way.2 We accept only what is proper to preserve and promote harmony and unity and to keep all in obedience to God.3 To that end, discipline and excommunication ought to be exercised in agreement with the Word of God.4
1. 1 Tim 3:15. 2. Isa 19:13; Mat 15:9; Gal 5:1. 3. 1 Cor 14:33. 4 Mat 16:19; Mat 18:15-18; Rom 16:17; 1 Cor 5; 1 Tim 1:20.
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Same-sex marriage. Is there a ‘global consensus’ emerging?

21 Apr

Interesting point from a few legal scholars concerning International laws regarding same-sex marriage:

Former Legal Advisor to the US State Department and Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh headlined a star-studded team of scholars in an amicus brief urging the Court to join the “emerging global consensus” for same-sex marriage. Their argument amounted to a more sophisticated version of “everyone is doing it, so get with the times.”

The problem is, that’s just not true. That’s why we wrote a brief on behalf of fifty-four comparative and international law scholars correcting the record.

Very Few Nations have Redefined Marriage

There is no “emerging global consensus” for same-sex marriage. In fact, same-sex marriage in any form has been adopted by only 17 of the 193 member states of the United Nations—a mere 8.8 percent. In their brief, Koh and company stretch that number to twenty by counting Wales, Scotland, and England as separate nations, and by counting Finland, which has legislation in the works, but no final law.

All of the rest—176 sovereign nations— retain the understanding of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. That is, taking the 193 member states of the United Nations as the reference point, over ten times as many countries disallow same-sex marriage as allow it. Additionally, more nations have constitutional provisions defining marriage as the union of a husband and a wife—47, as of last month—than have recognized any form of same-sex union. Many other countries have adopted legal protections of same-sex unions that stop short of changing the definition of marriage.

Moreover, rejection of same-sex marriage is not the result of mere animus and intolerance: 95 of the 176 states allowing only traditional marriage have decriminalized homosexual conduct. Eighty-eight have affirmatively extendedconstitutional and/or legislative protections to LGBT individuals, including prohibiting discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation, considering hate crimes based on sexual orientation as an aggravating circumstance, prohibiting incitement to hatred based on sexual orientation, and constitutionally prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The countries that have refused to redefine marriage are a far cry from the “anti-models” that the Koh amicus brief puts forward. Rather, they are constitutional democracies that share our values of individual freedom.

Only One National or International Court in the World has Mandated Same-Sex Marriage

Twelve national and international tribunals in eleven countries have explicitly upheld male-female marriage as consistent with human rights. These include some of the jurisdictions with the earliest and strongest LGBT protections in the world. These are hardly backwoods courts or bastions of bigotry.

In fact, the list of the twelve tribunals in two foreign organizations and nine nations that have upheld male-female marriage against claims of discrimination reads like a Who’s Who of progressive, liberty-loving democracies: theEuropean Court of Human Rights, the UN’s Human Rights Committee, and national courts in Germany, Austria, France, Spain, Finland, Italy (both theConstitutional Court and the Court of Cassation), Ireland, Chile, and Colombia. Even though these bodies and countries have strong and deep support for LGBT rights (and a few have legislatures that have gone on to legalize same-sex marriage), the courts have rejected claims that same-sex marriage should be judicially established as a fundamental or constitutional right. Amazingly, the Koh amici cite only two of these decisions.

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Superhuman plays in baseball

16 Apr

Was the doctrine of substitutionary atonement known among early Christians?

14 Apr

From Dr. Michael Kruger:

Skeptics commonly criticize core Christian beliefs by claiming that they were not really held by the earliest Christians. Instead, we are told, these beliefs were invented post facto by the institutional church.

The classic example of such an argument has to do with the divinity of Jesus. The earliest followers of Jesus didn’t really believe that Jesus was divine, this argument goes; it was only the later institutional church, under political pressure from Emperor Constantine, that insisted Jesus must have divine status. Thus, some argue, the belief that Jesus is God is not really, well, Christian.

Substitutionary Atonement

This same sort of argument has also been applied to other doctrines, particularly the substitutionary nature of the atonement. Critical scholars, led by the classic work of Gustaf Aulén, have long argued that the earliest Christians did not believe that Christ died as a substitute for sinners. Instead, they say, these Christians believed what is known as the “Christus victor” view of the atonement—the idea that Jesus’s death on the cross (and resurrection) conquered the Devil and other forces that held people in bondage. On this view, Christ did not die in place of rebellious sinners but instead rescued victims from a fallen world.

If Aulén is correct, then when did the substitutionary view of the atonement arise? Peter Carnley embodies the typical critical approach when he says that the substitutionary view “was not known before Anselm’s time.” Thus, Carnley claims, it was not until the Middle Ages, when Anselm wroteCur Deus Homo (Why the God-Man?), that Christians began to believe Christ died in place of sinners.

No doubt these sorts of scholarly arguments can explain why alternative theories of the atonement have gained popularity in recent years, while the substitutionary view continues to be vilified as un-Christian. Rob Bell does precisely this in his book Love Wins, where he roundly rejects the substitutionary view in favor of other options.

But is it really true that the substitutionary view of the atonement was not found before the Middle Ages? Not at all. Such a claim can be readily refuted merely by examining the writings of the New Testament itself—particularly the letters of Paul. However, it is also worth noting that key elements of the substitutionary view were held by some of the earliest Christian writers. One example is the author of the Epistle to Diognetus from the early second century. The Epistle to Diognetus was written by an unknown Greek author as an apology for Christianity. Below are some excerpts from the author that affirm key aspects of substitutionary atonement,

Seriousness of Sin

The author writes:

And when we had demonstrated that we were powerless to enter the kingdom of God on our own, were were enabled by the power of God. For our unrighteous way of life came to fruition and it became perfectly clear that it could expect only punishment and death as its ultimate reward. (9.1-2)

Here is a clear affirmation of human inability to save ourselves (akin to total depravity), and a full acknowledgement that sin deserves the ultimate penalty of death.

Grace and Love of God

God demonstrated his love for sinners through his atoning death. The author writes:

But then, when the time arrived that God planned to reveal at last his goodness and power (Oh the supreme beneficence and love of God!), he did not hate us, destroy us, or hold a grudge against us. (9.2)

God’s response to our sin, though deserving of death, is not to bring judgment but to show mercy. Notice that the author is amazed by God’s mercy. The author recognizes that God’s natural response, due to his holiness, would be to destroy sinful people.

Christ Bore Our Sins on Himself

Here is where we get to the crux of substitutionary atonement:

But [God] was patient, he bore with us, and out of pity for us took our sins upon himself. He gave up his own Son as a ransom for us, the holy one for the lawless, the innocent one for the wicked, the righteous one for the unrighteous, the imperishable one for the perishable, the immortal one for the mortal. (9.2)

This is a remarkable passage. Undoubtedly, the author views the work of Christ on the cross as an exchange of the righteous for the unrighteous, that we might be saved; Christ is a substitute.

Even more the author says, “God took our sins upon himself.” Presumably the author has God the Son in view here, or is simply saying that God (in Christ) took sins upon himself. Either way, the phrase “upon himself” certainly suggests bearing sin. This is confirmed in the fact that Jesus is described as a “ransom,” a payment of some sort. His work on the cross pays some debt.

And notice the personal language: “our sins.” Jesus did not just die for a cause, or for an idea, but for individuals.

This entire combination suggests that Jesus took the sins of individuals upon himself as a payment. A payment for what? Given the author’s earlier statement that we deserve “punishment” from God for our sins, it seems reasonable to conclude that Jesus paid this penalty we deserve. He satisfies the justice of God that would otherwise fall upon us.

Christ’s Righteousness Covers Us

Incredibly, the author of the Epistle to Diognetus even seems to affirm what Reformed theologians refer to as the doctrine of imputation. This doctrine says that our justification is not only about having our sins taken away, but also having Christ’s positive righteousness cover us.

This doctrine has also come under attack in recent years. Some scholars have suggested that the Reformed view of justification, which includes a robust understanding of imputation, was largely invented by the Reformers in their overreaction to Rome.

There is not space to respond fully to such claims here. But the author of the Epistle to Diognetusarticulates a view that sounds close to the Reformed understanding of imputation:

For what else could hide our sins but the righteousness of that one? How could we who were lawless and impious be made upright except by the son of God alone? Oh the sweet exchange! . . . That the lawless deeds of many should be hidden by the one who was upright, and the righteousness of one should make upright the many who were lawless! (9.3-5)

This is a significant passage because it doesn’t dwell merely on our sins being taken away, but deals substantively and primarily with the righteousness of Christ. And what does that righteousness do? It hides our sins. It “makes upright” the lawless. And this happens in a “sweet exchange.” If we are looking for an ancient writer who describes the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, this author comes awfully close.

The Epistle to Diognetus shows that the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness are not wholesale inventions of later Christians, but were present, at least in seed form, early in the history of Christianity. Did some Christian groups hold other views of such matters? Sure. But the continuity between the teachings of this epistle and the writings of Paul himself (see especially Romans 5) make it evident that the substitutionary atonement/imputation view goes back very early indeed.

Michael J. Kruger is professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the author of Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books (Crossway, 2012). He blogs regularly at Canon Fodder.

What does Jesus really think of homosexuality?

13 Apr

From Kevin DeYoung:

Crossway has done a great job putting together a number of resources related to the new book on homosexuality.

Here is a general page giving basic information, including endorsements and other links.

Crossway has also put out a free 36-page sampler which includes the Table of Contents, the Introduction, and Chapter One. A free study guide is also available for download.

Recently, I gave an hour long message covering a few of the themes in the book. Following the message I sat on a panel with Justin Taylor, Jackie Hill-Perry, and Josh Moody to continue the conversation. Both of these videos are embedded below.

 Further:On a recent episode of “The Good Wife” a wedding planner, who refuses to take on a gay couple as a client, is asked two questions.  “Did Jesus ever condemn homosexuality?”  She replied “No.”  She was then asked if Jesus condemned divorce.  She responded that he had.  The point of the attorney was that her religious discrimination was ‘selective’ because she was willing to do a wedding for a divorced heterosexual couple but not a homosexual couple marrying for the first time.

Sigh… Where to begin?

First, the wedding planner claimed to be a Christian, not a follower of a religion based exclusively on the spoken words of Jesus as he walked the earth.  I’ve never heard of such a religion, in fact.  Second, I don’t think we would like such a religion, since it would have a hard time condemning incest, rape or bestiality, also subjects that Jesus did not address explicitly in his earthly ministry as contained in the four gospels.

But Christianity does not teach that all theology and all morality is contained only in the words of Jesus found in the four gospels.  Seriously, the claim that Jesus had no opinion on the subject of homosexuality is simply laughable (as bible scholars left and right know).

Here are just some of the reasons, first from Robert Gagnon (leading expert on the Bible and sexuality):

Q: Speaking of Jesus, some argue that because Jesus said nothing about the matter that it was not an important issue for him. What do you think?

There is no historical basis for arguing that Jesus might have been neutral or even favorable toward same-sex intercourse.

All the evidence we have points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that Jesus would have strongly opposed same-sex intercourse had such behavior been a serious problem among first-century Jews. It simply was not a problem in Israel.

First, Jesus’ alleged silence has to be set against the backdrop of unequivocal and strong opposition to same-sex intercourse in the Hebrew Bible and throughout early Judaism. It is not historically likely that Jesus overturned any prohibition of the Mosaic law, let alone on a strongly held moral matter such as this. And Jesus was not shy about disagreeing with prevailing viewpoints. Had he wanted his disciples to take a different viewpoint he would have had to say so.

Second, the notion of Jesus’ “silence” has to be qualified. According to Mark, Jesus spoke out against porneia, “sexual immorality” (Mark 7:21-23) and accepted the Decalogue commandment against adultery (Mark 10:19). In Jesus’ day, and for many centuries before and thereafter, porneia was universally understood in Judaism to include same-sex intercourse. Moreover, the Decalogue commandment against adultery was treated as a broad rubric prohibiting all forms of sexual practice that deviated from the creation model in Genesis 1-2, including homoerotic intercourse.

Third, that Jesus lifted up the male-female model for sexual relationships in Genesis 1-2 as the basis for defining God’s will for sexuality is apparent from his back-to-back citation in Mark 10:6-7 of Genesis 1:27 (“God made them male and female”) and Genesis 2:24 (“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”).

These are the same two texts that Paul cites or alludes to in his denunciation of same-sex intercourse in Romans 1:24-27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9. For Jesus, marriage was ordained by the Creator to be an indissoluble (re-)union of a man and woman–two complementary sexual others–into one flesh. Authorization of homoerotic unions requires a different creation account.

Fourth, it is time to deconstruct the myth of a sexually tolerant Jesus. Three sets of Jesus sayings make clear that, far from loosening the law’s stance on sex, Jesus intensified the ethical demand in this area: (a) Jesus´ stance on divorce and remarriage (Mark 10:1-12; also Matthew 5:32 and the parallel in Luke 16:18; and Paul’s citation of Jesus´ position in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11); (b) Jesus´ remark about adultery of the heart (Matthew 5:27-28); and (c) Jesus´ statement about removing body parts as preferable to being thrown into hell (Matthew 5:29-30 and Mark 9:43-48) which, based on the context in Matthew as well as rabbinic parallels, primarily has to do with sexual immorality.

Simply put, sex mattered to Jesus. Jesus did not broaden the range of acceptable sexual expression; he narrowed it. And he thought that unrepentant, repetitive deviation from this norm could get a person thrown into hell.

Where then do we get the impression that Jesus was soft on sex? People think of his encounters with the adulterous woman in John 7:53-8:11, the sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50, and the Samaritan woman who had many husbands in John 4.

What the first story suggests is that Jesus did modify the law at one point: Sexual immorality should not incur a death penalty from the state. Why? Not because sex for him did not matter but rather because stoning was a terminal act that did not give opportunity for repentance and reform. Moreover, all three stories confirm what we know about Jesus elsewhere: that he aggressively sought the lost, ate with them, fraternized with them. But the same Jesus who could protect an adulterous woman from stoning also took a very strong stance against divorce-and-remarriage.

We see a parallel in Jesus’ stance toward tax collectors, who had a justly deserved reputation for exploiting their own people for personal gain. We do not conclude from Jesus’ well-known outreach to tax collectors that Jesus was soft on economic exploitation. To the contrary: All scholars agree that Jesus intensified God’s ethical demand with respect to treatment of the poor and generosity with material possessions. Why then do we conclude from Jesus’ outreach to sexual sinners that sexual sin was not so important to Jesus?

Belgic Confession 30 & 31: Church Government and Church Officers

13 Apr


We believe that this true church must be governed according to the Spiritual order which our Lord has taught us in His Word.1 There should be ministers or pastors to preach the Word of God and to administer the sacraments;2 there should also be elders3 and deacons4 who, together with the pastors, form the council of the church.5 By these means they preserve the true religion; they see to it that the true doctrine takes its course, that evil men are disciplined in a spiritual way and are restrained, and also that the poor and all the afflicted are helped and comforted according to their need.6 By these means everything will be done well and in good order when faithful men are chosen7 in agreement with the rule that the apostle Paul gave to Timothy.8

1. Acts 20:28; Eph 4:112; 1 Tim 3:15; Heb 13:20-21. 2. Luke 1:2; Luke 10:16; John 20:23; Rom 10:14; 1 Cor 4:1; 2 Cor 5:1920; 2 Tim 4:2. 3. Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5. 4. 1 Tim 3:8-10. 5. Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 4:14. 6. Acts 6:1-4;Titus 1:7-9. 7. 1 Cor 4:2. 8. 1 Tim 3.


We believe that ministers of God’s Word, elders, and deacons ought to be chosen to their offices by lawful election of the church, with prayer and in good order, as stipulated by the Word of God.1 Therefore everyone shall take care not to intrude by improper means. He shall wait for the time that he is called by God so that he may have sure testimony and thus be certain that his call comes from the Lord.2 Ministers of the Word, in whatever place they are, have equal power and authority, for they are all servants of Jesus Christ,3 the only universal Bishop and the only Head of the church.4 In order that this holy ordinance of God may not be violated or rejected, we declare that everyone must hold the ministers of the Word and the elders of the church in special esteem because of their work,5 and as much as possible be at peace with them without grumbling or arguing.

1. Acts 1:2324; Acts 6:2. 3. 2. Acts 13:2; 1 Cor 12:28; 1 Tim 4:14; 1 Tim 5:22; Heb 5:4. 3. 2 Cor 5:20; 1 Pet 5:1-4. 4. Mat 23:8-10; Eph 1:22, Eph 5:23. 5. 1 Thes 5:1213; 1 Tim 5:17; Heb 13:17.

Caveat: Reformed churches disagree on whether there are two officers (elder and deacon) or three (elder, pastor, deacon).  I affirm my own denomination’s view (twofold office).  It seems the Belgic Confession presents a threefold system.

How the imperialism of creedal secular liberalism is destroying democratic pluralism

10 Apr

Anthony Dearduff reviews John Inazu’s book:

Liberty’s Refuge: The Forgotten Freedom of Assembly

"First amendment area Muir Woods" by Brandt Luke Zorn

To many in the law, the First Amendment “right of the people peaceably to assemble” may seem little more than the aspirational vestige of a bygone era. It may have fortified early generations who had reason to fear forced dispersion of dissident political assemblies, but has little practical application in our more enlightened and progressive age. Nowadays, as law students (and Wall Street occupiers) quickly learn, the heavy lifting is done by “the freedom of expressive association” and “forum analysis”—concepts that, if less tightly moored to the First Amendment’s text, are nevertheless firmly anchored in contemporary jurisprudence.

In Liberty’s Refuge: The Forgotten Freedom of Assembly, Washington University (St. Louis) law professor John Inazu skillfully argues that we have lost something critical in this shift from assembly to expressive association; namely, the benefits of a meaningful pluralism. The reorientation toward our present-day associational hermeneutic, Inazu contends, has elevated a particular conception of stability and social cohesion at the expense of group autonomy. The result has been “the loss of meaningful protections for the dissenting, political, and expressive group” (4). Nowhere is this clearer than when group autonomy comes into conflict with antidiscrimination or equality-promoting statutes. In the 2010 case of Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, for example, “the Supreme Court relied on a muddied area of free speech doctrine to deny the right of a religious student group to limit its membership to those of its choosing, the right to retain control over its own message—the right to exist” (5).

More specifically, a five Justice majority held that California’s Hastings College of the Law could deny official recognition to a Christian Legal Society group on the grounds that the group’s required “statement of faith” regarding sexual morality was incompatible with the school’s requirement that club leadership positions be open to all students regardless of sexual orientation. Applying its First Amendment “forum analysis” rubric, the majority determined that Hastings’ requirement was a “reasonable, viewpoint-neutral condition on access to the student-organization forum.” Concurring, Justice Kennedy emphasized that Hastings could reasonably consider a belief-affirming or outside conduct requirement to be “divisive for student relations” and inconsistent with an atmosphere of free and open discussion. “The era of loyalty oaths,” he proclaimed, “is behind us.”

Even granting that cases like Martinez may reflect a streak of liberal paternalism, one might nevertheless invert Inazu’s proposal and ask why we should protect group autonomy at the expense of stability, equality, and inclusiveness. He responds with a powerful observation from Yale law professor Stephen Carter: “Democracy advances through dissent, difference, and dialogue. The idea that the state should not only create a set of meanings, but try to alter the structure of institutions that do not match it, is ultimately destructive of democracy because it destroys the differences that create the dialectic” (5).  Furthermore, Inazu notes, the expressive association analysis is “underwritten by a political theory of consensus liberalism, which purports to be ‘procedural’ or ‘neutral’ but whose espoused tolerance extends only to groups that endorse the fundamental assumptions of liberal democratic theory” (11). Thus, the associational hermeneutic does not merely sacrifice group autonomy for the sake of stability and social cohesion generally, but rather for the realization of a very particular conception of those goods as envisioned by Rawlsian academic elites. If followed to its natural conclusion, Inazu notes, such a view marginalizes not only all-Christian student groups, but also “all-female sororities, all-female health clubs, and all-gay social clubs. In other words, it leaves us without a meaningful pluralism” (11).

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