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The Radicals, not the Protestants, have won. From Michael Horton

16 Oct

Much of the hoopla surrounding the five hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation has been blather. On October 31, 2016, at a joint service in Lund, Sweden, Pope Francis and the president of the World Lutheran Federation exchanged warm feelings. Rev. Martin Junge, general secretary of the mainline Lutheran body, said in a press release for the joint service, “I’m carried by the profound conviction that by working towards reconciliation between Lutherans and Catholics, we are working towards justice, peace and reconciliation in a world torn apart by conflict and violence.” Acknowledging Luther’s positive contributions, the pope spoke of how important Christian unity is to bring healing and reconciliation to a world divided by violence. “But,” he added, according to one report, “we have no intention of correcting what took place but to tell that history differently.”

Perhaps the most evident example of missing the point is the statement last year in Berlin by Christina Aus der Au, Swiss pastor and president of an ecumenical church convention: “Reformation means courageously seeking what is new and turning away from old, familiar customs.”  Right, that’s what the Reformation was all about: average laypeople and archbishops gave their bodies to be burned and the Western church was divided, because people became tired of the same old thing and were looking for nontraditional beliefs and ways of living—just like us!

The Wall Street Journal reports a Pew study in which 53 percent of US Protestants couldn’t identify Martin Luther as the one who started the Reformation. (“Oddly, Jews, atheists, and Mormons were more familiar with Luther.”) In fact, “Fewer than 3 in 10 white evangelicals correctly identified Protestantism as the faith that believes in the doctrine of sola fide, or justification by faith alone.”1

Many today who claim the Reformation as their heritage are more likely heirs of the Radical Anabaptists. In fact, I want to test the waters with an outlandish suggestion: Our modern world can be understood at least in part as the triumph of the Radicals. At first, this seems a nonstarter; after all, the Anabaptists were the most persecuted group of the era—persecuted not only by the pope, but also by Lutheran and Reformed magistrates. Furthermore, today’s Anabaptists are pacifists who generally eschew mingling with outsiders, rather than revolutionary firebrands such as Thomas Müntzer, who led insurrections in the attempt to establish end-time communist utopias (with themselves as messianic rulers).

I’m not talking about Amish communities in rural Pennsylvania. In fact, I don’t have in mind specific offshoots, like Arminian Baptists, as such. I’m thinking more of the Radical Anabaptists, especially the early ones, who were more an eruption of late medieval revolutionary mysticism than an offshoot of the Reformation. I have in mind a utopian, revolutionary, quasi-Gnostic religion of the “inner light” that came eventually to influence all branches of Christendom. It’s the sort of piety that the Reformers referred to as “enthusiasm.” But it has seeped like a fog into all of our traditions.

Read the rest

What does the Christian church really face after Obergefell?

22 Apr

From Jake Meador:

Hope, History, and the American Church After Obergefell
It’s a truth universally recognized by anyone who has ever talked about the BenOp that a person who expresses concern about the church’s future is in want of a person to quote Tertullian at them.

Sorry, is that cheeky? Here’s the quote and we’ll get to why it grates on my hear so in a moment: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

The problem isn’t that Tertullian is always wrong. The problem is that this quote has become a sort of truism reflexively recited by American evangelicals who can only imagine that government-sanctioned opposition to the church will be a good thing for the American church. And while there will likely be some benefits to come from opposition, it’s essential that evangelicals not be overly sanguine about the American church’s short-term prospects.

The Historical Precedent for the Death of Regional Churches

The first point we need to get clear is that, historically speaking, it is simply not true that persecution always helps to strengthen and refine the church. Sometimes persecution simply destroys a church. Once upon a time there were thriving churches in northern Africa, the Middle East, China, and Japan. Then they died. (You can read about them in this fine book by Philip Jenkins.)

Those churches were all either destroyed (in the latter cases) or driven to the very edge of society (in the case of the two former groups). Indeed, what little remained of the historic churches of the Middle East has been largely eradicated by ISIS.

Thus we need to first figure out why these churches were destroyed or simply made into permanent extreme minorities. There are a number of factors in play:

In some cases, the church was closely tied to a ruling elite and when that elite was overthrown the church lost its standing and was crushed.
In other cases, the faith was actually only professed by a small minority of social elites and never penetrated into the mass population.

Finally, in still other cases, Christian identity has become conflated with a set of other characteristics or cultural values which, over time, erode the distinctly Christian characteristics of a people. So there is still a superficial Christianity, but it is badly compromised by its close ties to nationalism. Greece is a good example of this as somewhere between 88 and 98% of the population profess to be Greek Orthodox but only 27% of those people actually attend church weekly. Elsewhere in Europe the numbers are even more dire. In Denmark, 80% of the population is Lutheran but only 3% attend any kind of church service weekly. This critique also applies to cities and states in the USA that are historically Catholic, such as Chicago or Boston. The gap between those who claim to adhere to a specific faith and those who attend church weekly is enormous.
What all this means is that there are a number of conditions that have historically caused local churches to crumble and regional churches to disappear or lapse into a kind of permanent minority status. And the key thing to get clear is that this is very much a live possibility in the United States.

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You don’t need a megachurch to go to heaven

10 Mar

From Hans Fiene @ The Federalist:

If you’re a parent trying to give your child the best education possible, I would worry about teacher quality and your own involvement in your little one’s intellectual development before I’d worry about class size. I’m not saying that having 19 children per room isn’t preferable to 23. I’m just saying that the student-to-teacher ratio won’t matter a tremendous amount if your son’s teacher thinks four plus twelve equals purple or you want your kid to memorize the chronology of WWE champions instead of U.S. presidents.

So if little Bryden (because that’s what boys are named these days, in case you hadn’t already given up on humanity) has a bit of an overcrowded class, but a solid teacher and great support from you, don’t let anybody convince you that you’re selfishly endangering his education if you don’t turn your life upside down by moving to a slightly less-congested school district.
Likewise, if you’re a Christian parent trying to give your child the best spiritual formation possible, don’t let anyone convince you that you’re selfish for not making the size of a congregation your number one priority. In particular, don’t let megachurch pastor Andy Stanley convince you that you’re endangering your child’s soul if you don’t attend a large congregation.

If you’re a bit confused by Stanley’s accusation (one that, to his credit, he quickly recanted), here’s what he meant: Making friends at church is what keeps people in the faith, and the more kids your church has, the more opportunities your children will have to make friends. Therefore, if you attend a congregation that only has enough kids for a joint middle school/high school youth group, you’re reducing your kids’ friend-making potential and thus putting them at risk.

It doesn’t matter if the local megachurch’s Christology is wonky enough to keep you at a smaller parish or if the mid-sized flock you belong to is where you and your kids were both baptized and confirmed, apparently. To Stanley, it would be better for you to have a millstone hung around your neck and be thrown into the sea than that you should cause your freshman to share a bag of Doritos and a TeenzAlive! Study Bible with a seventh grader.

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Guy Waters on the New Perspective on Paul

5 Jan

Stephen Nichols: We are visiting again with our good friend Dr. Guy Waters. Dr. Waters, welcome back.
Guy Waters: Thank you, Dr. Nichols.
SN: Most of the time we look to the past in the church but church history is being written. But it’s being written today. And I suspect if the Lord were to tarry, that as the church history books are written, one of the things they will talk about of the early twenty-first century is the New Perspective on Paul. You’ve written a number of books on the New Perspective. Would you tell us, what is the New Perspective on Paul?
GW: The New Perspective on Paul is not as new as it used to be. It’s been around forty years or so, but it is an epochal movement in the study of Paul. It begins with the reevaluation of the Judaism contemporary to the New Testament writers. It argues that we need to understand that Judaism was a religion of grace. If we think of it as a religion of works we have misunderstood what it was about. Now that raises a question, of course, because if Judaism is a religion of grace, then why does the New Testament take issue with Judaism? If Judaism was a religion of merit or of works, and the gospel is a gospel of grace, then we understand the difference. But if they’re both promoting grace, then where’s the difference?
The New Perspective argues that the real difference between Judaism and first-century Christianity lay in a couple of areas. One, of course, was Christianity’s conviction that Jesus is the Messiah. But beyond that, the New Perspective argues that Christianity was advancing inclusivism, that is to say, that the people of God included not only Jews but also Gentiles. That becomes significant in the way in which the Apostle Paul’s teaching on justification comes to be reenvisioned. Justification is no longer understood to be the way in which a sinner is declared righteous on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ and received through faith alone. Justification is said to speak of God’s declaring a person, Jew or Gentile, to be a member of His covenant people, His church, because of that person’s faith. Faith is that person’s badge, his identifier, his identify marker, not works of the law, not Sabbath or circumcision or other distinctively Jewish ordinances. So justification has historically been understood in the church to answer the question of the Philippian jailer—”What must I do to be saved?” And the New Perspective says, “That’s the wrong question. Justification as Paul advances it is not really concerned to answer that question.”
SN: It seems like if you want to have the gospel you need to have the doctrine of justification, and behind that you need to have the doctrine of imputation. Is that what’s at stake here?
GW: The problem is that when they do begin to talk about the salvation of the sinner, it’s done in such a way that there’s no place for imputed righteousness and it becomes Christ’s work on the cross plus the work of the Spirit in me, my good works as a Christian. These combine so that I can be just or accepted on the day of judgment. And there’s nothing new about that. That’s precisely the position that the Protestant Reformers were protesting against at the time of the Reformation.
SN: Dr. Waters, thank you for helping us understand this crucial departure from the orthodox understanding of the gospel.
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Baptism Isn’t Faith

8 Dec

Source: Baptism Isn’t Faith

Pope Francis failed to mention Jesus before Congress and the President. Would the Apostle Paul?

25 Sep

From Matthew Tuninga:

If the Apostle Paul or the Apostle Peter were given the opportunity to address a joint session of Congress, do you think they would mention the name of Jesus? Pope Francis allegedly occupies the place of St. Peter, the bishopric of Rome. Though often introduced as the “leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics,” his primary claim is to be the vicar of Jesus Christ. And yet the pope did not find it necessary to name the name of Jesus when he addressed Congress yesterday (transcript here; Nor did he mention Jesus’ name when speaking at the White House reception on Wednesday).

I am not the sort of person to be instinctively critical of Pope Francis, and I have praised his work before. Indeed, I largely agree with what he said in his speech about the importance of hospitality to the immigrant, care for the environment, justice for the poor, the protection of life, and the nurture of families. But I cannot get my mind around the fact that he mentioned all of this without saying why any of it matters. He did not even mention the name Jesus, or Christ, let alone say anything about Jesus’ death, resurrection, or future return.

Some of my Catholic friends are concerned about this too, and rightly so. Is Francis not as committed to the “new evangelization” as we had hoped?

Pope Francis has the attention of virtually the entire United States right now. The media is covering every word, every act, every moment of his visit. And what is the media talking about? Politics. Whether the pope’s comments benefit the right or the left, whether he’s helping Republicans or Democrats. No one, it would seem, cares much about the substance of the pope’s faith regarding Jesus. And why should they? The pope hasn’t mentioned Jesus, so Jesus must not be an important part of the pope’s message to America.

An atheist friend enthusiastically wrote on Facebook yesterday, “I am an atheist, and I love this Pope!” A writer for the Huffington Post happily declares that America has a “man crush” on Pope Francis. All people are speaking well of him.

There was a time when Jesus warned his disciples that such favorable reception on the part of “all men” is not a good sign (Luke 6:26). He warned them that the world would treat those who speak Jesus’ message as it treated Jesus himself (Matthew 5:11; 24:9). Prepared for this, the disciples insisted on doing everything that they did “in the name of Jesus,” using every opportunity, even when confronted by those in authority, to proclaim the good news of his death, resurrection, and future return. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians, “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17).

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Why baptists should return to the plural elder model of church government

12 May

Not too surprising. I noticed this over the course of my life in the SBC. I believe these are by-products of the single elder model so popular among Southern Baptists in recent generations, even though the plural elder model was more common in Baptist history. Too much power and too much pressure are usually involved in the single elder model. Protestants and especially Baptists are supposed to be far removed from the episcopacy, where power is centralized. Indeed the whole notion of decentralized power both in the church and in the state was never more clearly defended than by early baptists. But after Baptists embraced the great revivals of the 18th and especially 19th centuries, the pastor as stage performer, celebrity, church CEO, sole flock shepherd, and highest church authority, emerged unfortunately.

“Southern Baptists, who have been tracking this for over 15 years, show that 4 of the 5 top reasons clergy are let go is related to the leadership style of the pastor. Too strong a style is cited twice as often as too weak a style. But one thing that is consistent no matter the style is poor people skills.”

Read the whole thing

For baptists, an infant baptism among Presbyterians is better than a kindergarten baptism among baptists.

7 May

For baptists, baptizing kindergartners is practically worse than sprinkling infants among Presbyterians, say Jason Allen (I agree).

“Within Southern Baptist life, we have been on a steady march towards infant baptism, routinely baptizing children younger and younger in age,” Allen said.

A North American Mission Board task force on baptism and evangelism in 2014 found the only consistently growing age group in Southern Baptist Convention baptisms is 5 and under. Allen said the trend should prompt careful reflection and remind Southern Baptists of some of the dangers associated with baptizing young children.

“As a convictional Baptist, it is hard for me to admit this, but when we baptize children too young to grasp the gospel and, as a result, whose hearts haven’t been affected by it, it is more troubling than a sprinkling of an infant,” Allen said.

“Why is this? Because when Presbyterians, for example, sprinkle infants, they anticipate the child will one day be converted. When we baptize young children we are testifying they have been converted.”

– See more at: http://baptistnews.com/faith/theology/item/30060-seminary-president-says-southern-baptists-drifting-toward-infant-baptism#sthash.uvfNxiqP.dpuf

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?

Is the Southern Baptist bookstore, Lifeway, really committed to the sufficiency of scripture?

7 Apr

From Tod Pruitt

Lifeway, a publishing arm of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination will no longer be promoting and selling Heaven tourism books. This is good news. If you are unfamiliar with the term, Heaven tourism refers to books like 90 Minutes in Heavenand Heaven is for Real in which the authors claim to have died and visited Heaven only to be returned to earth. The defenders of the immensely popular books claim that they help bolster their belief in Heaven. Of course this begs the question: why are the Scripture’s promises concerning the afterlife not sufficient to bolster faith?

During its June 2014 meeting in Baltimore, MD the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution affirming the sufficiency of Scripture (that God speaks to His people through the mediation of His Word) over subjective personal claims of heavenly visitations. That was an encouraging development. But of course the books on heavenly tourism are not the only problem lining the shelves of Lifeway. They continue to sell Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling and all of its various editions (I stopped counting at 10). Ironically, Jesus Calling represents a far more egregious attack on the sufficiency of Scripture than do the fanciful tales of people’s trips to Heaven.

Also, Lifeway may want to ask Beth Moore about her understanding of the sufficiency of Scripture. A well known Southern Baptist, Mrs. Moore frequently claims to be given direct messages from God outside the Scriptures. Yet, her books and curriculum remain the most prominent of all the Lifeway products. And as withJesus Calling I believe Beth Moore’s materials do far more to undermine the sufficiency of Scripture than do the heavenly tourism books.

Lifeway promotes a host of books and studies that purport to help people hear the voice of God. Many of these books list Scripture as just one of many ways that God speaks to His people. Clearly there are Christians who do believe that God still gives direct revelation outside the mediation of his Word. This is foundational to Pentecostalism, for instance. But the SBC has more than once approved rather robust statements affirming the sufficiency of Scripture. So why is it that the arm of the SBC which produces and sells books and curriculum is producing and selling so many products that clearly contradict the SBC’s stated doctrinal positions?

A quick perusal of the Lifeway Christian Bookstore website reveals that the vast majority of their products are of a highly experiential and therapeutic variety. There are precious few studies of the biblical text and Christian doctrine. Astonishingly, Lifeway is still selling books by oneness Pentecostal (denies the Trinity) and prosperity preacher T.D. Jakes. How can this be? Why is the Southern Baptist Convention promoting books and other materials from a false teacher who regularly distorts the Word of God? I would plead with Lifeway to consider the difficult position in which this places SBC pastors. Many of these men labor to bring doctrinal health and unity to their churches. When Lifeway promotes books that sow confusion or undermine sound doctrine the SBC pastor is left in a position of opposing leadership in his own denomination.

I fear that the answer to this question has less to do with lack of discernment (which is bad enough) and more to do with money. The fact is, the majority of Christians consume bad books. They don’t desire careful expositions of the Scriptures and studies of Christian doctrine. And instead of seeking to whet the appetites of Southern Baptists for sound doctrine Lifeway seems content to sell them books which contradict historic Christian orthodoxy and the stated doctrines of the their own denomination.

Why would anyone baptize a baby?

27 Mar

From Kevin DeYoung:

It sounds like the beginning of a joke or a support group introduction, but it’s true: some of my best friends are Baptists. I speak at conferences with and to Baptists. I read books by Baptists (both the dead and the living). I love the Baptist brothers I know–near and far–who preach God’s word and minister faithfully in Christ’s church. I went to a Baptist church while in college and know that there are many folks of more credobaptist persuasion in my own church. I imagine the majority of my blog readers are Baptist. You get the picture. I have thousands of reasons to be thankful for my brothers and sisters in Christ who do not believe in baptizing infants.

And yet, I do. Gladly. Wholeheartedly. Because of what I see in Scripture.

One of the best things I get to do as a pastor is to administer the sacrament of infant baptism to the covenant children in my congregation. Before each baptism, I take a few minutes to explain why we practice infant baptism in our church. My explanation always includes some–but rarely is there time for all–of the following:

It our great privilege this morning to administer that sacrament of baptism to one of our little infants. We do not believe that there is anything magical about the water we apply to the child. The water does not wash away original sin or save the child. We do not presume that this child is regenerate (though he may be), nor do we believe that every child who gets baptized will automatically go to heaven. We baptize infants not out of superstition or tradition or because we like cute babies. We baptize infants because they are covenant children and should receive the sign of the covenant.

In Genesis 15 God made a covenant with Abraham. This covenant was sealed with the sign of circumcision in Genesis 17. God promised to bless Abraham. For Abraham this meant two things in particular, offspring and land. But at the heart of the covenant was God’s promise that he would be a God to Abraham and his children (Gen. 17:7, 8).

Circumcision was not just a physical thing, marking out ethnic Jews. Circumcision was full of spiritual meaning. The circumcision of the flesh was always meant to correspond with circumcision of the heart (Rom. 2:25-29). It pointed to humility, new birth, and a new way of life (Lev. 26:40-42; Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 4:4; 6:10; 9:25). In short, circumcision was a sign of justification. Paul says in Romans 4:11 that Abraham “received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” God’s own interpretation of circumcision is that it was much more than just a physical sign for national Israel.

Remarkably, though, this deeply spiritual sign was given to Ishmael as well as Isaac, even though only Isaac was the continuation of the promised line. The spiritual sign was not just for those who already embraced the spiritual reality. It was to be administered to Abraham and his sons. Circumcision was not a simple equation. It didn’t automatically mean the recipient of the sign was in possession of the thing signified. Circumcision, like baptism, also pointed to belonging, discipleship, covenant obligations, and allowed for future faith that would take hold of the realities symbolized. Just as there were some in Paul’s day who were circumcised but not really circumcised (Rom. 2:25-29), some children of Abraham who were not truly children of Abraham (Rom. 9:6-8), so in our day there are some who are baptized who are not truly baptized. Children should be marked as belonging to the covenant, but unless they exercise saving faith, they will not grab hold of the covenant blessings.

Children today are baptized based on this same covenant with Abraham. Paul makes clear in Galatians 3 what Peter strongly suggests in Acts 2, namely that the Abrahamic covenant has not been annulled. It is still operational. In fact, we see the basic promise of the Abrahamic covenant running throughout the whole Bible, right up to the new heaven and new earth in Revelation 21.

Because sons were part of the Abrahamic covenant in the Old Testament and were circumcised, we see no reason why children should be excluded in the New Testament sign of baptism. Admittedly, there is no text that says “Hear ye, hear ye, circumcision replaces baptism.” But we know from Colossians 2:11-12 that baptism and circumcision carried the same spiritual import. The transition from one to the other was probably organic. As the Jews practiced proselyte baptism, that sign came to be seen as marking inclusion in the covenant people. For awhile circumcision existed along baptism, but as the early church became more Gentile, many of Jewish rites were rendered unnecessary, and sometimes even detrimental to the faith. Thus, baptism eclipsed circumcision as the sign renewal, rebirth, and covenant membership.

Although not conclusive all by themselves, there are several other arguments that corroborate a paedobaptist reading of the New Testament.

One, the burden of proof rests on those who would deny children a sign they had received for thousands of years. If children were suddenly outside the covenant, and were disallowed from receiving any “sacramental” sign, surely such a massive change, and the controversy that would have ensued, would been recorded in the New Testament. Moreover, it would be strange for children to be excluded from the covenant, when everything else moves in the direction of more inclusion from the Old Covenant to the New.

Two, the existence of household baptisms is evidence that God still deals with households as a unit and welcomes whole families into the church to come under the Lordship of Christ together (Acts 16:13-15; 32-34; 1 Cor. 1:16; cf. Joshua 24:15).

Three, children are told to obey their parents in the Lord (Eph. 6:1). Children in the church are not treated as little pagans to be evangelized, but members of the covenant who owe their allegiance to Christ.

Four, within two centuries of the Apostles we have clear evidence that the church was practicing infant baptism. If this had been a change to long-standing tradition, we would have some record of the church arguing over this new practice. It wasn’t until the sixteenth century that Christians began to question the legitimacy of infant baptism.

So we come to administer the sacrament of baptism to this child today with the weight of church history to encourage us and the example of redemptive history to confirm our practice. We baptize in obedience to Christ’s command. The sacrament we are about to administer is a sign of inclusion in the covenant community as circumcision was, and the water we are about to sprinkle is a sign of cleansing from sin as the sprinkled blood of bulls and goats in the Old Testament was. We pray that this little one will take advantage of all his covenant privileges, acknowledge his Lord all the days of his life, and by faith make these promises his own.

*****

I doubt I’ve changed too many minds with this post, but maybe I’ve helped my Baptist friends understand what we mean (and don’t mean) by infant baptism. Maybe I’ve clarified a couple misunderstandings. Maybe I’ve strengthened the convictions of a few paedobaptists who weren’t sure why they believed what they said they believed. No matter where you fall on this issue, I encourage you think through the topic with an open Bible and some good resources in hand.

As a paedobaptist I recommend:

To understand how someone could come to embrace infant baptism, check out the “How I Changed My Mind” articles from:

We hand out Johnson’s 14-page letter to his daughter (who was struggling with the doctrine of infant baptism) in our new members class.

Original post

Problems with Roman Catholic claims

23 Mar

Dr. Robert Godfrey challenging some of Roman Catholicism’s fundamental claims:

Should the church be involved in politics? Well, what is meant by politics?

7 Nov

From Greg Forster:

Growing numbers of Americans want pastors to talk about politics. A generation ago, we learned the hard way that when churches take sides in partisan and ideological disputes, the result is disaster. But there is a legitimate reason public demand for political theology is rising, and there are ways to meet that need without having pastors endorse candidates.

The Pew Foundation reports that the number of Americans who want pastors to talk about politics has risen to 49%, rising six points in the last four years. A full 32% want pastors to endorse specific candidates. It’s not clear how many of them are aware that churches are (rightly) forbidden to do this as long as they are tax-exempt entities.

There are a lot of reasons for churches to be wary of getting involved in elections and public policy. It discredits the gospel; 6003555815_f4a2434100_zwhen the stewards of the gospel message advocate political programs, people naturally get the idea that the gospel message is a political program. Pastors often compromise moral standards in order to forge alliances with the least-imperfect of the very imperfect candidates available. And it prevents the church from being the “church universal,” the place where everyone meets on equal terms.

Moreover, politics is simply not an area of giftedness for religious leaders. Unscruplous politicians are very skillful at manipulating well-meaning pastors. That seems to be their area of giftedness.

We saw all these lessons in the debacle of the Religious Right movement. However, that was not just a one-time event. Throughout the last century, American churches became the dupes of cynical politicians time and again. Richard Nixon was caught on the Watergate tapes discussing how to manipulate evangelicals, saying things like “you have to give the nuts 20% of what they want.” Billy Graham, who had done a great deal for Nixon, wept when he heard those tapes.

Does that mean churches should steer clear of anything political? Actually, it depends on what you mean by “political.”

The hunger for churches to speak into politics is perennial for a good reason. Every area of life needs a moral purpose and clear ethical boundaries, and no area of life needs it more desperately than this one. Where no one is casting a profound vision for the transcendent meaning and purpose of an activity, that activity quickly descends into shallow narcissism and brutal exploitation. And because politics involves the use of coercive power, it descends into brutality more quickly than most activities.

For the last century, we’ve been caught in a vicious circle. Churches keep getting drawn into politics because people are desperate for a moral vision that can humanize politics and point it toward its proper end: justice. Then, churches take sides in elections and ideological disputes, resulting in disaster. So churches withdraw from politics, and the cycle begins anew.

I think we might break out of this cycle if we rethink what we mean by “politics.” This word comes from the Greek polis, which simply means “city” – that is, the civil community. The deepest level of politics concerns the way the public business of the civil community is structured. As the editors of the journal First Thingsonce put it, politics in the profoundest sense is “free persons deliberating the question, How ought we to order our life together?”

The “politics” that really count in America is not who wins the election. It’s whether we will remain a nation dedicated to what have been our central political commitments: religious freedom, constitutional democracy, the rule of law, recognition of the household as the central social building block, equal dignity for women, an entrepreneurial economy based on opportunity and hard work, and a special concern to extend opportunity to the poor and the marginalized. Are these commitments just? Do we even remember what they mean? Those are the real political questions of our day.

If you think these commitments are just platitudes – so obviously right that they can be taken for granted and don’t need strong champions to speak out for them – you aren’t paying attention. I don’t think we need pastors to pick candidates or debate the tax rate. I do think we need pastors to remind us that the purpose of politics is justice, and to remind us of what justice requires.

This is exactly what the pastor is supposed to be doing anyway: helping people interpret the meaning of their lives and understand what God requires of them in all areas of life. Human beings are political creatures, and a gospel that has nothing to say about politics (in the sense of the polis) is a gospel that doesn’t renew the whole human person for Christ. If pastors learned to preach about public justice effectively, there would be more public justice – and, therefore, less demand for pastors to pick candidates.

TPC_GregForster_bioGreg Forster  has participated in previous Public Squares on capitalism and religious trends.

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/missionwork/2014/11/politics-in-the-pulpit-yes-and-no/#ixzz3IOZXDEjv

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/missionwork/2014/11/politics-in-the-pulpit-yes-and-no/#ixzz3IOZICijc

What the Reformation doctrine of Sola Scripture IS NOT, a unqualified interpretive license over scripture

30 Oct

From Matthew Block (a rather Lutheran perspective):

A new survey on American Evangelical beliefs reports grim news, according to an article published yesterday by Christianity Today. The first line says it all: “Most American evangelicals hold views condemned as heretical by some of the most important councils of the early church.”

The story goes on to highlight widespread confusion among Evangelicals on core doctrines like the Personhood of the Holy Spirit and the divinity of Christ. A full 51 percent of Evangelicals apparently deny that the Holy Spirit is a Person, instead conceiving of Him as “a force.” An additional 7 percent aren’t sure what to think on the subject. At the same time, 16 percent of Evangelicals think Jesus is a created being (another 11 percent were unsure), while 22 percent further believe He is less divine than the Father (with 9 percent unsure). The survey also suggests a large portion of Evangelicals hold Pelagian thoughts when it comes to the doctrine of salvation.

These are not small problems: there’s a reason these views were condemned by the early Church. So how are theologies condemned well over 1500 years ago finding a resurgence in contemporary Evangelicalism? The Christianity Today article suggests a failure in adult Christian education as one cause. Let me suggest another: these heresies are finding a resurgence because too many Protestants misunderstand the Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura. Too many Christians mistake “Scripture alone” as if it were a license for them to read the Bible alone—to read it apart from other people. You know the idea: “All I need is me and my Bible.” But that’s not what it means. It means that Scripture is alone authoritative, not that your personal (“alone”) interpretation of Scripture is authoritative.

While Scripture itself is clear on matters of salvation, it nevertheless can be (and often is) misinterpreted by sinful people. Jesus Himself faced this danger when the devil suggested to him misinterpretations of the Word of God (Matthew 4:5-6). We fool ourselves if we think we are somehow exempt from this danger. Christ, of course, did not fall for the devil’s suggested misreading. Unsurprisingly, the Word of God made Flesh knows the written Word of God better than does Satan. But we on the other hand can and do fall into such error—be it error suggested by our own sinful minds, the errant teachings of others, or, indeed, by the devil himself.

Personal piety and a desire for truth are not guarantees that we always read Scripture aright. Consequently, we must rely upon our brothers and sisters in the faith to correct and rebuke us when we err, demonstrating our errors by Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16). And this reliance on brothers and sisters refers not merely to those Christians who happen to be alive at the same time as us. Instead, it refers to the whole Christian Church, throughout time. We rely on those who have gone before us. They too get a say in the matter. As G. K. Chesterton has wonderfully put it, this sort of tradition is a “democracy of the dead.”

Of course, doctrine is not itself a matter of democracy per se; we don’t (or at least ought not) vote for dogma in the Church. Dogma is a matter of truth, not popular opinion. But Chesterton’s words remind us that it is arrogant to ignore the teachings of our forefathers in the faith. They faced many of the same theological questions we do today, and their answers have stood the test of time.

Regrettably, too many churches—and this criticism applies not just to Evangelicals—operate as if the history of the Church were unimportant. Our individualistic society no doubts feeds into this “just the Bible and me” mentality. But Scripture was not given for the benefit of you or me alone. Instead, it was given for the benefit of the Church, throughout history and throughout the world. Consequently, we ought to read Scripture together as a Church. The Church as a body has centuries of experience of reading the Word, of immersing itself in the language of God. We should take it seriously, therefore, when it suggests our own individual readings of Scripture are straying from the mark.

Read more

The question is not will the Roman Catholic Church reverse itself, but given Catholic doctrine, can it?

10 Sep

Given Catholic doctrine about ecclesiastical and papal authority, it would seem that a reversal of doctrines on the sinfulness of homosexuality would mean a reversal of doctrine on the legitimacy of sacred tradition, scripture, and papal doctrinal integrity.  Could a split be looming?

From the Spectator blogs:

The magisterium of the Catholic Church is immutable on the big questions. You couldn’t reverse Paul VI’s absolute ban on artificial contraception or John Paul II’s declaration that women priests are a theological impossibility without, effectively, abolishing the office of Pope. And neither of these rulings is as blindingly obvious, from the perspective of ‘natural law’, as the sinfulness of homosexual genital acts.

But Hale doesn’t ask whether the Church is about to allow gay marriage. He asks if its attitude towards it is ‘evolving’, a slippery concept.”

Full article

Will “Debbie” Like It? The Christian radio to Christian church syndrome

20 Aug

From Warren Cole Smith (excerpt):

When I researched this marketing strategy in 2009 for my book A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church, Joe Paulo, the general manager of WRCM in Charlotte, N.C., one of the top Christian radio stations in the country, told me, “We call her ‘Debbie.’ But it’s the same idea.”

Paulo said he knows exactly who “Debbie” (or “Becky”) is: “She’s 35 years old. She has two kids. She drives a minivan and is married, but her marriage is not all she dreamed it would be. She goes to church pretty regularly, but not every Sunday. She’s mostly a stay-at-home mom, but she may work a few hours a week or may work seasonal jobs at different times of the year to bring a few extra dollars into the household. She cares about issues that affect her kids: food, education, health, family, leisure time activities.” Paulo said everything his station puts on the air must past the “Will Debbie care?” test.

There’s nothing wrong with this strategy. In fact, I give Paulo and others like him credit for their marketing savvy and for actually caring about people and wanting to attract them and meet their needs. But what’s played on Christian radio soon ends up being sung in churches.

Here’s how it works: Songs played on the radio generate sales and royalties, and those dollars fund the marketing of songs to church “worship leaders,” who discover that using radio hits in worship generate reactions of recognition and enthusiasm from their congregations and positive affirmation for them personally. Such reactions are easy to mistake for movement of the Holy Spirit—to those who lack discernment. A possibly apocryphal story about the late Christian musician Rich Mullins asserts that he once had a fan come up to him after a concert who said she “felt the Holy Ghost descend” during a particular verse of one of his songs. Mullins reportedly responded, “Perhaps, but I think that was the kick drum, which came in on the third verse.”

Megachurches, in particular, have large appetites for rousing radio hits that will “play to the back row” of large venues. These churches also set the agenda for the rest of evangelicalism for another reason: Churches that don’t use hymnals have to pay licensing fees to Christian Copyright Licensing International so they can legally perform these songs in worship. The bigger the church, the higher the fees. That money fuels the ongoing marketing of the songs that generate more royalties, which encourages more of the same.

Read the rest

 

Understanding the legal and cultural context in which religious liberty has been trumped by homosexual rights

28 Jul

Very fair and helpful summary here, as well as suggestions going forward, from a religious liberty legal scholar (John Inazu):

Religious Freedom vs. LGBT Rights? It's More Complicated

A private Christian school holds what it considers a biblical view of marriage. It welcomes all students, but insists that they adhere to certain beliefs and abstain from conduct that violates those beliefs. Few doubt the sincerity of those beliefs. The school’s leaders are seen as strange and offensive to the world, but then again, they know that they will find themselves as aliens and strangers in the world.

This description fits a number of Christian schools confronted today with rapidly changing sexual norms. But the description also would have fit Bob Jones University, a school that barred interracial dating until 2000. And in 1983, that ban cost Bob Jones its tax exemption, in a decision upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Even for a relatively small school of a few thousand students, that meant losing millions of dollars. And the government’s removal of tax-exempt status had a purpose: one Supreme Court justice described it as “elementary economics: when something becomes more expensive, less of it will be purchased.”

The comparison between Bob Jones in 1983 and Christian schools today will strike some as unwarranted. Indeed, there are historical reasons to reject it. The discriminatory practices in Bob Jones were linked to the slavery of African Americans and the Jim Crow South. The 1983 Court decision came within a generation of Brown v. Board of Education, and its legal principles extended to private secondary schools (including “segregationist academies”) that resisted racial integration.

There are also significant theological differences between Bob Jones’s race-based arguments and arguments that underlie today’s sexual conduct restrictions. Those differences are rooted in contested questions about identity, as well as longstanding Christian boundaries for sexual behavior. Gay and lesbian Christians committed to celibacy show that sexual identity and sexual conduct are not always one in the same. But these points are increasingly obscured outside of the church. We see this in the castigation of any opposition to same-sex liberties as bigoted. That kind of language has moved rapidly into mainstream culture. And it is difficult to envision how it would be undone or dialed back.

How should Christians respond to these circumstances? First, we must understand the history from which they emerge. Second, we must understand the legal, social, and political dimensions of the current landscape. Third, and finally, we must recognize that arguments that seem intuitive from within Christian communities will increasingly not make sense to the growing numbers of Americans who are outside the Christian tradition.

Read the rest

The Four Reformed Camps (from Timothy Paul Jones)

14 Jul

Helpful:

by Timothy Paul Jones

The mention of Calvinism may provoke revulsion or comfort—but it rarely produces apathy.

“Calvinism,” journalist H.L. Mencken opined in 1937, “occupies a place in my cabinet of private horrors but little removed from that of cannibalism.” Mencken included these words in his obituary for J. Gresham Machen, a Presbyterian theologian who whispered on his deathbed, “Isn’t the Reformed faith grand?” The same doctrines that elicited exultations from the lips of one man incited comparisons to sautéing your next-door neighbor in another. Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us, then, that the most recent surge of interest in Reformed theology has ignited joy in some hearts and panic in others.

Over the past several years, an overabundance of possible names for this movement has also sparked no small measure of confusion. “Young, restless, Reformed” was the nomenclature thatCollin Hansen selected for an article and book about his journey with “the new Calvinists”—a group that’s also been dubbed “neo-Reformed,” “neo-Calvinist,” and even “neo-Puritan.”

Regardless of where you stand or where you land on the issue of Reformed theology, this multiplicity of labels is probably not helpful. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few of these labels and consider, at the very least, which ones might be the least problematic.

 

The Manifold Meanings of “Calvinist”

I should probably confess from the outset that I’m a Reformed Baptist who has never willingly embraced the epithet “Calvinist.” I served nearly two decades on pastoral staffs in three different churches, and—as far as I can recall—I used the word “Calvinism” a grand total of three times in my teaching: twice when leading church history classes, and once in a sermon to describe how George Whitefield was able to work with the Wesley brothers for the sake of the gospel. A variety of Reformed and non-Reformed perspectives mingled together in all of these congregations, and church members consistently cooperated with charity on this issue. And still, I avoided the word “Calvinism” whenever possible. One reason for this deliberate omission was because I was never quite certain that what I meant by “Calvinism” was what my congregants understood when they heard the word—and this semantic confusion isn’t limited to laypeople! R.A. Muller, a preeminent scholar of the Reformation and post-Reformation eras, lists no fewer than three possible functionsfor the word “Calvinism”:

(1) Calvinism is what John Calvin himself taught—in which case Calvin himself could very well have been the only Calvinist;

(2) Calvinism is what John Calvin’s followers taught—which could be problematic since none of these followers deliberately or intentionally followed Calvin’s teachings;

(3) Calvinism is a synonym for the Reformed tradition—which raises the question of whether the Reformed tradition stands in continuity with Calvin as well as whether both terms are helpful if it’s not possible to draw any clear and meaningful distinction between them.

These ongoing definitional disparities shouldn’t surprise us, given the origins and history of the term “Calvinist.” In Calvin’s own lifetime, the willing acceptance of such a title would have been seen as ridiculous at best, offensive at worst. John Calvin was far from the sole, or even the primary, architect of Reformed theology. The epithet first emerged near the end of John Calvin’s career in Geneva—but not among Calvin’s supporters, and certainly not as a compliment. Lutheran theologians took up the term in the mid-sixteenth century for the purpose of disparaging Calvin’s perspective on the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper.

It wasn’t until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that “Calvinism” expanded to describe Reformed theology as a whole and eventually to denote five specific points about salvation—points that were first articulated as a settled set in 1619 at the synod of Dort, more than a half-century after Calvin died! Abraham Kuyper labeled this usage of “Calvinist” and “Calvinism” the “confessional use” that described an “outspoken subscriber to the doctrine of foreordination.” In time, “Calvinism” came to be applied not only to Presbyterians and other historically Reformed churches but also to Baptists who embraced the five points from Dort.

I tend to think that, if the term “Calvinism” is used at all, it ought to be reserved for theological perspectives that stand in clear continuity with Calvin’s own teachings. (Why call something “Calvinist,” after all, if it can’t be clearly traced to any claim or confession that derives from Calvin?) I would further suggest that “Calvinism” should center on Calvin’s views of church order and ordinances, since Calvin’s ecclesiology and sacramentology were far more distinct in the eyes of his contemporaries than his soteriology. What this means practically is that, if someone asks me whether I’m a Calvinist, my answer is, “That depends on what topic we’re talking about”—and it also makes me wonder if, perhaps, the term “Calvinism” has come to mean so many things that, ultimately, it ends up meaning nothing at all. At the very least, it means that “new Calvinism” is probably not the most useful descriptor of any current trend toward Reformed soteriology.

 

A Trinity of “Neo’s”: Neo-Calvinist, Neo-Puritan, Neo-Reformed

The relatively recent introduction of “neo-Calvinist” to describe the latest resurgence of interest in Reformation theology has muddied the semantic waters even more—but not because “neo-Calvinist” or “new Calvinist” carries too many different meanings (not yet, anyway). It’s because, at least since the early twentieth century, “neo-Calvinist” has described the views of Dutch Reformed theologians who emphasized the lordship of Christ over all creation and the capacity of grace to restore nature. It was neo-Calvinist Abraham Kuyper who famously declared, “There is not one square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not declare, ‘Mine!’”

To identify the current Reformation-oriented crowd as “neo-Calvinist” is to confuse a venerable movement that focuses on God’s sovereignty over creation with a current movement that focuses on God’s sovereignty in salvation. The result is a blurred definition that does disservice to persons in each group, especially since some of us do theology in ways that derive in different ways from both movements.

“Neo-Puritan,” perhaps the most misguided of all the recent monikers, would multiply the muddiness even more. Reformed theology was never the primary factor in setting the limits of Puritanism. “Puritan” has historically included not only Christians who profess Reformed soteriology but also at least a few Arminians and—depending on who you ask—perhaps even Quakers. No perspicuity is produced by affixing “neo-” to such a variegated phenomenon and then attempting to apply the new term to a recent movement that doesn’t clearly derive from the original phenomenon. “Neo-Puritan,” as Ian Clary has demonstrated, fails as a useful terminology both semantically and historically.

In the end, some variation of “Reformed” seems likely to remain the least caconymous descriptor. A good case could be made for delimiting the term “Reformed” to Presbyterian and Reformed denominations that derive directly from the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Reformed churches. At the same time, the word “Reformed” began to be affixed to movements beyond these churches throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, if not earlier. Scot McKnight has referred to the recent resurgence in Reformed soteriology as “neo-Reformed.” Personally, I would prefer simply to have “Reformed” affixed to a larger tradition—Baptist, in my case—and I respectfully disagree with McKnight’s caricature of the movement he labels “neo-Reformed.” (I don’t know a single leader among the so-called “neo-Reformed” who is, in McKnight’s words, working to “kick the non-Reformed off the village green” merely because they’re non-Reformed. There may be a few Arminians and Anabaptists lying with boot-bruised backsides along the perimeter of a proverbial evangelical green and some of these attempted ejections may have been unjust—but it wasn’t their non-Reformed theology that landed them there.) At the same time, it does seem that, if some term more specific than “Reformed” must be applied, McKnight might be on a workable track. A handful of twentieth-century theologians did employ “neo-Reformed” to denote Karl Barth’s theological method, but that nomenclature was short-lived and probably ill-directed in the first place.

 

The Unintended Disembedding at the Synod of Dort

All this semantic wrestling does, however, bring up another question—one that I think we might profitably explore further: How did Reformed soteriology reach beyond the historic Reformed churches in the first place? To put it another way, how did perspectives on salvation that were once inextricably embedded in paedobaptist contexts—in churches that mark infants as participants in the covenant by means of baptism—end up expanding to other sects, including Baptists and even charismatics?

I suggest that this expansion of Reformed soteriology was an unintended result of the five points that were formulated at the synod of Dort. The separation of Reformed soteriology from the more comprehensive confessions and catechisms of the Reformed churches at Dort allowed this soteriology to become, in some sense, transportable into other contexts. If my assessment is correct, one might say that—since the canons of Dort were responses to five previous declarations from the Arminian Remonstrants—the Arminians were the ones who shaped the circumstances that made the spread of Reformed soteriology possible!

Of course, the Reformed pastors at the synod of Dort never intended their summary of Reformed soteriology to stand alone. The five points in the canons of Dort were designed to serve as a soteriological clarification, standing as one of the Three Forms of Unity alongside the Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism. That’s why one scholar has declared, “It would be a major error–both historically and doctrinally–if the five points of Calvinism were understood as the sole or even the absolutely primary basis for identifying someone as holding Calvinistic or Reformed faith.” Seen solely from the perspective of the original expression and intent of these five points, this declaration is undoubtedly correct. What I am contending, however, is that—in the decades that followed the synod of Dort—the five points from Dort took on a life of their own, independent of their original confessional context and intent. The canons of Dort provided a summation of one aspect of Reformed theology—the soteriological aspect—that was no longer inextricably entwined with the more comprehensive Reformed confessions and catechisms. Extricated from its original context, Reformed soteriology was transported into other contexts—credobaptist churches, for example—where neither the Belgic Confession nor the Heidelberg Catechism could have been embraced in their entirety. The disembedding of Reformed soteriology in the synod of Dort’s response to the Arminian Remonstrants contributed to the long-term resilience and expansion of the Reformed doctrines of grace by making these doctrines transferable beyond their original context.

The process that I’ve traced here also explains why there are so many Reformed Baptists but few, if any, Lutheran Baptists. The canons of Dort opened the door for a separation of Reformed soteriology from Reformed churches. Lutheran soteriology, however, remained embedded in the confessions, catechisms, and ecclesiological structures of Lutheran churches.

How then should we refer to the recent resurgence of interest in Reformed soteriology?

Before providing a tentative answer to this question, it may be worth pointing out that no one within this growing movement appears to be clamoring for a newer or narrower name. What I’ve witnessed among the so-called “young, restless, Reformed” is widespread contentment with historical designations and denominations. The discontent with existing epithets seems to spring from those that are critical of the Reformed resurgence, not from those within the movement.

That said, it seems to me that the most accurate descriptor would be “Dortianism” or, if some prefix must be affixed to denote the distinct contours of the current movement, “neo-Dortianism” (see chart below for this taxonomy). Unfortunately, I don’t expect “Dortianism” to blossom into anyone’s preferred terminology anytime soon.* The events at Dort are too obscure and the term itself sounds too distasteful to end up emblazoned on anyone’s book cover. (Do you really think thatYoung, Restless, Dortian would have attracted anywhere near the number of readers that Young, Restless, Reformed did?) And so, of the options that are intelligible beyond a handful of theologians and church historians, “neo-Reformed”—though not without its difficulties—probably remains the least problematic nomenclature in an ever-multiplying pool of possibilities. And perhaps part of what the less-than-ideal “neo-” prefix could connote is the spread of Reformed soteriology not only within but also beyond the historic Presbyterian and Reformed churches.

This movement is best seen, though, as one minuscule current in a much broader stream that may be traced back into church history through an early seventeenth-century gathering of pastors in the Dutch city of Dort. Seeing the Reformed resurgence in this way turns our attention away from the latest parachurch conferences and star preachers and toward a far more vast and variegated history filled with events none of us could have planned and progenitors we would never have chosen. Recalling this crazy history in which the Remonstrants shaped the Reformed and “Calvinism” somehow leaped from caconym to compliment keeps us from slipping into smug self-satisfaction with passing illusions of success. It calls us to remember that we are nothing more than a few grains of sand in a majestic divine plan that’s far greater than any of us but that somehow by grace includes us. It calls us to bow in worship as we remember anew that we serve a God who is inscribing on everyone who rests in him—not only the Reformed but also the partly Reformed, the non-Reformed, the anti-Reformed, and a multi-hued multitude that’s never heard of the Reformation—the only name that ultimately matters: his own name and the name of his crucified Son (Revelation 22:4). “For what do you have that you didn’t receive as a gift? And if everything you have was given to you, why brag as if it wasn’t a gift?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).

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Timothy Paul Jones is the coauthor of PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace. He blogs at http://www.timothypauljones.com. Suggestions and corrections from Gregg Allison, Nathan Finn, Steve Weaver, Ian Clary, and Derek Rishmawy were helpful in the development of this article.

* “Neo-Dorts” would, however, be a great name for an emo group, and—if I ever play guitar in another metal band—I am definitely thinking about calling my band “Dortrecht.” I also think there might be a market for a t-shirt that reads, “I am such a Dort.”

Denominational News and Views for your Thursday

14 May

THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH

Robert George expresses for Catholics what Russell Moore has expressed for Evangelicals.  The days of being cool and Catholic are over.

A call for Catholics’ bolder, more outspoken stance for the Gospel rang clear this morning at the 10th annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, an event drawing together Catholic clergy, lay leaders, non-profit organizations, and individuals to pray for the nation.

Delivering an invigorating clarion call for unashamed and unwavering public witness for the religious liberty, marriage, and the sanctity of life was special guest and Institute on Religion and Democracy emeritus board member, Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American ideals and Intuitions at Princeton University.

“The question each of us must face is this: Am I ashamed of the Gospel?,” declared George to a ballroom largely filled with Catholics and some faithful Protestants.

According to George, “We American Catholics who have had it so good, having become comfortable” forget Jesus’ timeless truth that, “If you want to be my disciple, take up my cross and follow me.”  George continued, “But there will be no ignoring that truth now, my friends.”

——

“They tell us we are on the wrong side of history,” said George. “History is not our judge. God is our Judge.”

Read it all

 

THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION

Southern Baptists, without the baptisms:

For several years, membership in Southern Baptist churches has been in decline. The American denomination hit its peak in 2005 with 16.6 million members, and since then, communities have seen a steady drop, hitting 15.8 million members in 2012. That’s nearly one million members lost in roughly a decade—a period during which the overall U.S. population grew by more than 18 million.

But arguably, the more significant decline is happening within church communities: They’re not performing as many baptisms anymore. The top baptismal year was 1999; since then, the ritual has become more and more infrequent, dropping by about 25 percent.

Baptisms Reported by Southern Baptist Churches            (in thousands)

Annual Profile of Churches, Lifeway Christian Resources

 

THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN AMERICA

Are the events, drifts, in the PCA just grounds for leaving for a more conservative denomination?  Jared Nelson says NO:

Recently, PCA pastor Andy Webb posted “5 Reasons it might be time to leave the PCA” over at his blog “Building Old School Churches.” [http://biblebased.wordpress.com/2014/05/12/5-reasons-it-might-be-time-to-leave-the-pca/] and it has been republished at Aquila Report at: http://theaquilareport.com/5-reasons-it-might-be-time-to-leave-the-presbyterian-church-in-america/

The issues Webb wrestles with are many I have wrestled with in my admittedly shorter time in the PCA. And as I have wrestled, I have written. Thus, I have a respect for Andy Webb and his perspective and this does not intend to be a debate, but merely a counterpoint – another perspective on the issues that he raises here and why I come to different conclusions.

This article is partly working through these issues for myself, but also to any friends I have that are PCA and looking over fences to “greener pastures.” Below, I offer a brief interaction with each point, as well as some positive points about the PCA. Before you jump, let me attempt to dissuade you from jumping ship.

I do so as one who is a Confessional Pastor in the PCA. I took no exceptions to the Confession, meaning: I am an exegetical 6 ordinary day Creationist, I believe in an historical Adam who probably didn’t have a belly button, and my favorite self-identifier is the same as Derek Thomas’ self-appellation: a plain vanilla Calvinist. I believe in applying the Regulative Principle, and in the ordinary means of grace. I am amillenial and neither a Theonomist/Reconstructionist nor a full throated Two Kingdoms (or R2K or whatever) guy. If you want to know what I believe about doctrine open up the Confession. There it is.

So I am one that would be a possible sympathizer with Webb’s document, and his trajectory. However, at this time: I am not. Not because I am never against leaving, but because the reasons cited do not rise to the level of leaving and writing the proverbial “Ichabod” above the PCA’s door post. [1 Samuel 4:21]

I will interact with Webb’s points in reverse order:

Read his point by point interaction here

The Future of Protestantism (video of the entire panel)

30 Apr

May a church demand on 1st amendment grounds that the state recognize any of its marital blessings? The curious case of the UCC in NC

29 Apr

A United Church of Christ church in North Carolina has sued the state over its constitutional amendment recognizing only heterosexual marriages and forbidding same-sex marriages.  What is odd, a real first (1st amendment, rather than 14th amendment claim), here is that the church claims that the law violates its free exercise of religion by refusing to recognize the same-sex marriages it performs and by forbidding those ceremonies from occurring.  Here’s a quick summary of what’s going on:

The suit asks the federal courts in the Western District of North Carolina to strike down the ban [on SSM], which was passed by state voters. It argues that the ban limits clergy choices and violates the principle of “free exercise of religion” by requiring clergy to minister to one segment of the public.

A dozen non-UCC clergy and same-sex couples joined the suit.

“By preventing our same-sex congregants from forming their own families, the North Carolina ban on same-sex marriage burdens my ability and the ability of my congregation to form a faith community of our choosing consistent with the principles of our faith,” said the Rev. Nancy Petty, pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, who joined the lawsuit.

As part of the state ban, it is a Class 1 misdemeanor for a minister to perform a marriage ceremony for a couple that hasn’t obtained a civil marriage license. In addition, the law allows anyone to sue the minister who performs a marriage ceremony without a license.

I believe that the North Carolina law on traditional marriage goes too far. It’s one thing to legally only recognize heterosexual unions. Most states do that.  But the law goes further than that and forbids clergy from ceremonially blessing same-sex unions in their churches. The first amendment, I think, does protect that right of churches to perform any marital blessing it wants, even if the state refuses to recognize them legally.  Such a religious blessing has no legal weight (since clergy can’t hand out marriage licenses), but what churches choose to ceremonially recognize is their own business (separation of church and state is a biblical principle) and such laws violate the principle of sphere sovereignty when the state meddles in their affairs.  That part of the law should be rescinded on first amendment grounds.

However, if the United Church of Christ is demanding that the state of NC recognize all marriages that it endorses [which it seems to be doing as well], then that too violates the principle of separation of church and state and sphere sovereignty in my judgment, despite any free exercise claims proffered.  Marriage is an institution ordained by God in creation given to all men. It is not an institution given only to the people of God administered only in the church. Therefore, churches have no business insisting that all or any of their martial blessings be recognized by the state.  For the United Church of Christ to be consistent, it must also agree that the state of Utah must recognize the polygamist marriages performed in fundamentalist Mormon churches.  If the religious freedom of the UCC is being violated, then so is that of the FLDS in Utah.  But there are limits to religious freedom, and one of those is that idea that the state must legally endorse any relationship (or their severances) adjudicated in the church.  Church laws and church governments and church courts are not civil laws and civil governments and civil courts.  To require the state to “obey” church rulings is to require the state to enforce ecclesiastical law.  Does the left really want that?  No, marriage is a civil institution with divine origins, which means that the civil community (not spiritual community) properly regulates it, and they should do so in conformity to God’s enduring moral law laid down and known through general or natural revelation and/or common grace available to all men created in His Image.

Update: The NC constitution defines marriage traditionally, but it does not contain the penalty against clergy conducting a wedding for unions that fall outside of that definition.  That part comes from a, rather old (17th century), NC statute still on the books.  Final point: if the law can tell ministers what kind of wedding ceremonies they may not conduct, it can tell them what kind they must.  That’s a message to the SSM opponents.  But if the church can tell the state what kinds of weddings it must recognizing, then it can tell the state what kind of weddings it must not.  No, churches must not make civil law and civil government must not make church law.

Quakerism and religious freedom in America

17 Apr

From Thomas Kidd:

As I noted in a recent post for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Founding Fathers were quite familiar with the concept of religious exemptions from laws. In the eighteenth century, among the groups most often calling for such exemptions were the Quakers. The Quakers were pacifists who would not serve in the colonial militias, and they also would not take oaths in court, or ones to serve in political office. The Quaker exemption on oaths even made it into the language of the Constitution’s presidential oath of office, in which he says “I swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States.” Quakers would only “affirm” their intentions, refusing to swear because of the seeming prohibition against swearing by Christ in Matthew 5.

William Penn

Quaker convictions about religious liberty, like Baptists’, emerged from the experience of persecution. I have recently been working on a chapter on the Middle Colonies for a book on early American history that I am writing for Yale University Press. One of the books I am consulting is John Smolenski’s Friends and Strangers: The Making of a Creole Culture in Colonial Pennsylvania (2010). While Smolenski’s excellent book is primarily written for scholarly experts, it includes fascinating details about the Quakers’ early theological and social struggles, both in England and in Pennsylvania.

William Penn converted to Quakerism in 1667, when he was twenty-three years old, and soon began publishing on behalf of his new faith, and criticizing the English government for its suppression of those who stood outside the established Anglican Church. Penn then became the target of that oppressive church-state power, and he landed in Newgate Prison for almost a year in the late 1660s. His participation in an outdoor worship meeting in London in 1670 earned him a second detention, and a trial for disturbing the peace.

Penn and his Quaker co-defendant argued that public worship did not entail disturbing the peace, and surprisingly, the jury agreed. The judge in the case, expecting a verdict against the Quakers, angrily ordered that the jury members be detained overnight, with no food, drink, or even a “Chamber-Pot, though desired.” Eventually the Quakers and the jury were vindicated and released, which in itself was an important milestone in the independence of juries under Anglo-American law.

Quakers published a popular account of the trial, in which Penn argued that the charges against him violated the rights of Englishmen as established in the fundamental law of Magna Carta. [This piqued my interest, as my family and I have seen copies of Magna Carta at both the British Library and, over Spring Break, at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, an exhibit well worth your time.] Punishing people for worshiping God according to their consciences was “destructive of the Great Charter,” Penn insisted.

When Penn founded Pennsylvania, it joined Roger Williams’ Rhode Island as the second American colony that offered liberty of conscience to all with no established, tax-supported church. As much as I (as a Baptist myself) admire the contributions of Baptists in fighting for America’s tradition of religious liberty, the work of many kinds of dissenters helped to build that tradition. It is fascinating to see how the Quakers’ convictions, and Penn’s claim on the 13th century precedent of Magna Carta, helped to establish the principle that the government should not punish people for living out their religious convictions. By the time of the Revolution, the Founders had also come to believe that in the case when a legislature passes a law (or, befitting modern circumstances, a bureaucratic agency issues a mandate) that violates the consciences of such dissenters, the government has a special obligation to offer accommodations or exemptions, so as not to coerce anyone into acting against deeply-held beliefs.

Source

Documentary on the Protestant Reformation with Dr. Peter Lillback

4 Apr

Now available for free online here: The Protestant Revolt

Are altar calls a good idea?

18 Mar

Good program on whether altar calls (a practice unheard of prior to the 19th century) are biblical or helpful as part of corporate worship. I imagine the arguments and information from these two baptist professors will surprise many.  Worth a listen from Moody Radio’s Up For Debate Program.

 

Presbyterian Proverbs

24 Feb

From the PresbyterianBlues blog.  Very insightful, based on years of experience:

An advantage of being in the same church for a long time is that you have an opportunity to see things play out.  You can observe parenting and then watch the “parented” children grow up.  You can see folks go from young parents to empty nesters.  You can see all sorts of people just passing through. In short, you’re around long enough for time to tell its story.  And if it told proverbs about Presbyterian church life, they might sound like this.

  1. One who speaketh in his first Sunday School class will evaporate like the morning dew.   It’s uncanny – visitors who enter by sharing their brilliance in their first Sunday School class won’t be around for long.  And, really, you don’t want them around for very long.
  2. Better an early grave than the sneer of an alpha church lady.  Thinking of confronting her? Just find something else to do.
  3.  Like an idol under a hammer is family legalism under actual parenting.  No kind of schooling or parental style is guaranteed to produce the child of your imagination.  A man is arrogant indeed if he is not humbled by parenting. A man is a moralist indeed if he rigidly insists upon all his preconceived family dogmas.
  4.  The fatted calf buys no loyalty.  You can go all out for a visitor or new member, but your sacrifice will be forgotten if his whim leads him elsewhere.
  5.  Sin happens.  Your church is not immune from the sin virus.  There will be ugly things to deal with.
  6.  Your gut speaketh truly but it matters not.  Yeah, you might have good hunches about people and situations but that doesn’t make you lord of them; usually all you can do is watch things play out. At least you have a front row seat.
  7.  Does a kangaroo stop hopping?  If your new members have been church hoppers, your church is a temporary landing spot. Use pencil when you write their names on the roll.
  8.  The heart knoweth not why it leaves a church.  Or at least it isn’t telling. Either they don’t really know or they don’t feel like telling, because departing members say some pretty weak things.
    brueprov

    “Proverbs”

  9.  More welcome is a leper than a former elder.  Members who depart (when circumstances don’t demand it) draw devil horns on their former pastor and session.  Don’t say “see you later,” just say “goodbye.”
  10.  Better a morsel of faithfulness than a feast of victories.  Because you don’t really know what a victory is. Not yet.

Read the others

The pitfalls and patterns of a low ecclesiology among evangelicals

19 Feb

From Christianity Today:

It now takes real discipline to recall how bright that moment felt 10 years ago.

In 2003, the book Blue Like Jazz, by little-known author Donald Miller, appeared in the sky like a blazing comet. Hundreds of thousands of evangelicals shared a moment: Finally, someone’s saying what I’ve been thinking, giving voice to my frustrations and longings about faith, God, and the church. No wonder Paste magazine named Blue Like Jazz one of the “20 Best Books of the Decade.”

Shortly after reading Jazz, I attended a pastors’ conference, where a breakout session with Brian McLaren had to be moved to the largest room available, and still people leaned against the walls, sat on the floor, and sardined outside the door, hoping to catch a few words from the voice behind A New Kind of Christian and More Ready Than You Realize. McLaren was quickly crowned “One of the 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America” by Time.

And from where I live outside Chicago, vans were regularly packing in people to drive to Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, to hear the young phenom Rob Bell, whose Nooma videos had gone viral. Before long, Bell was named one of “The 50 Most Influential Christians in America.”

You could feel hope lifting, see the horizon lighting with a rosy dawn for the evangelical movement. And it was being led by a triumvirate of fresh artists: Brian, Rob, and Don.

That was so 2003.

Now, a single decade later, a pattern emerges.

Read the rest

What is the federal vision and just where are its conflicts with Reformed theology?

21 Dec

Clear careful lectures (video available) from Dr. Guy Waters:

http://www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?seriesOnly=true&currSection=sermonstopic&SourceID=woodruffroad&keyworddesc=Analyzing+The+Federal+Vision&keyword=Analyzing+The+Federal+Vision

 

This is my body and blood; eat, drink, do this in remembrance of me. What did Jesus mean?

10 Dec

Matthew 26

26And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it; and he gave to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. 27And he took a cup, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; 28for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins. 29But I say unto you, I shall not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. 30And when they had sung a hymn, they went out unto the mount of Olives.

Commentary from Bishop J.C. Ryle (Expository Thoughts on Matthew):

These verses describe the appointment of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Our Lord knew well the things that were before Him, and graciously chose the last quiet evening that he could have before his crucifixion, as an occasion for bestowing a parting gift on his church. How precious must this ordinance have afterwards appeared to His disciples, when they remembered the events of that night. How mournful is the thought, that no ordinance has led to such fierce controversy, and been so grievously misunderstood, as the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. It ought to have united the church, but our sins have made it a cause of division. The thing which should have been for our welfare, has been too often made an occasion of falling.

The first thing that demands our notice in these verses, is the right meaning of our Lord’s words, “this is my body, this is my blood.”

It is needless to say, that this question has divided the visible church of Christ. It has caused volumes of controversial theology to be written. But we must not shrink from having decided opinions upon it, because theologians have disputed and differed. Unsoundness on this point has given rise to many deplorable superstitions.

The plain meaning of our Lord’s words appears to be this–“This bread represents my body. This wine represents my blood.” He did not mean that the bread He gave to His disciples was really and literally His body. He did not mean that the wine He gave to His disciples was really and literally His blood. Let us lay firm hold on this interpretation. It may be supported by several grave reasons.

The conduct of the disciples at the Lord’s Supper forbids us to believe that the bread they received was Christ’s body, and the wine they received was Christ’s blood. They were all Jews, taught from their infancy to believe that it was sinful to eat flesh with the blood. (Deut. 12:23-25.) Yet there is nothing in the narrative to show that they were startled by our Lord’s words. They evidently perceived no change in the bread and wine.

Our own senses at the present day forbid us to believe that there is any change in the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper. Our own taste tells us that they are really and literally what they appear to be. Things above our reason the Bible requires us to believe. But we are never bid to believe that which contradicts our senses.

The true doctrine about our Lord’s human nature forbids us to believe that the bread in the Lord’s Supper can be His body, or the wine His blood. The natural body of Christ cannot be at one time in more places than one. If our Lord’s body could sit at table, and at the same time be eaten by the disciples, it is perfectly clear that it was not a human body like our own. But this we must never allow for one moment. It is the glory of Christianity that our Redeemer is perfect man as well as perfect God.

Finally, the genius of the language in which our Lord spoke at the Lord’s Supper, makes it entirely unnecessary to interpret His words literally. The Bible is full of expressions of a similar kind, to which no one thinks of giving any but a figurative meaning. Our Lord speaks of Himself as the “door” and the “vine,” and we know that he is using emblems and figures, when He so speaks. There is therefore no inconsistency in supposing that He used figurative language when He appointed the Lord’s Supper; and we have the more right to say so, when we remember the grave objections which stand in the way of a literal view of His words.

Let us lay up these things in our minds, and not forget them. In a day of abounding heresy, it is good to be well armed. Ignorant and confused views of the meaning of Scripture language, are one great cause of religious error.

The second thing which demands our notice in these verses, is the purpose and object for which the Lord’s Supper was appointed.

This is a subject again on which great darkness prevails. The ordinance of the Lord’s Supper has been regarded as something mysterious and past understanding. Immense harm has been done to Christianity by the vague and high-flown language in which many writers have indulged in treating of the sacrament. There is certainly nothing to warrant such language in the account of its original institution. The more simple our views of its purpose, the more Scriptural they are likely to be.

The Lord’s Supper is not a sacrifice. There is no oblation in it–no offering up of anything but our prayers, praises, and thanksgivings. From the day that Jesus died there needed no more offering for sin. By one offering He perfected forever those who are sanctified. (Heb. 10:14.) Priests, altars, and sacrifices, all ceased to be necessary, when the Lamb of God offered up Himself. Their office came to an end. Their work was done.

The Lord’s Supper has no power to automatically confer benefit on those who come to it, if they do not come to it with faith. The mere formal act of eating the bread and drinking the wine is utterly unprofitable, unless it is done with a right heart. It is eminently an ordinance for the living soul, not for the dead–for the converted, not for the unconverted.

The Lord’s Supper was ordained for a continual remembrance of the sacrifice of Christ’s death, until He comes again. The benefits it confers, are spiritual, not physical. Its effects must be looked for in our inward man. It was intended to remind us, by the visible, tangible emblems of bread and wine, that the offering of Christ’s body and blood for us on the cross, is the only atonement for sin, and the life of a believer’s soul. It was meant to help our poor weak faith to closer fellowship with our crucified Savior, and to assist us in spiritually feeding on Christ’s body and blood. It is an ordinance for redeemed sinners, and not for unfallen angels. By receiving it we publicly declare our sense of guilt, and need of a Savior–our trust in Jesus, and our love to Him–our desire to live upon Him, and our hope to live with Him. Using it in this spirit, we shall find our repentance deepened, our faith increased, our hope brightened, and our love enlarged–our besetting sins weakened, and our graces strengthened. It will draw us nearer to Christ.

Let us bear these things in mind. They need to be remembered in these latter days. There is nothing in our religion which we are so ready to pervert and misunderstand as those parts which approach our senses. Whatever we can touch with our hand, and see with our eyes, we are apt to exalt into an idol, or to expect good from it as a mere charm. Let us especially beware of this tendency in the matter of the Lord’s Supper. Above all, “let us take heed,” in the words of the Homily, “lest of the memory it be made a sacrifice.”

The last thing which deserves a brief notice in this passage, is the character of the first communicants. It is a point full of comfort and instruction.

The little company to which the bread and wine were first administered by our Lord, was composed of the apostles, whom He had chosen to accompany Him during His earthly ministry. They were poor and unlearned men, who loved Christ, but were weak alike in faith and knowledge. They knew but little of the full meaning of their Master’s sayings and doings. They knew but little of the frailty of their own hearts. They thought they were ready to die with Jesus, and yet that very night they all forsook Him and fled. All this our Lord knew perfectly well. The state of their hearts was not hidden from Him. And yet He did not keep back from them the Lord’s Supper.

There is something very instructive in this circumstance–It shows us plainly that we must not make great knowledge, and great strength of grace, an indispensable qualification for communicants. A man may know but little, and be no better than a child in spiritual strength, but he is not on that account to be excluded from the Lord’s table. Does he really feel his sins? Does he really love Christ? Does he really desire to serve Him? If this be so, we ought to encourage and receive him. Doubtless we must do all we can to exclude unworthy communicants. No graceless person ought to come to the Lord’s Supper. But we must take heed that we do not reject those whom Christ has not rejected. There is no wisdom in being more strict than our Lord and His apostles.

Let us leave the passage with serious self-inquiry as to our own conduct with respect to the Lord’s Supper. Do we turn away from it, when it is administered? If so, how can we justify our conduct? It will not do to say it is not a necessary ordinance. To say so is to pour contempt on Christ Himself, and declare that we do not obey Him. It will not do to say that we feel unworthy to come to the Lord’s table. To say so is to declare that we are unfit to die, and unprepared to meet God. These are solemn considerations. All non-communicants should ponder them well.

Are we in the habit of coming to the Lord’s table? If so, in what frame of mind do we come? Do we draw near intelligently, humbly, and with faith? Do we understand what we are doing? Do we really feel our sinfulness and need of Christ? Do we really desire to live a Christian life, as well as profess the Christian faith? Happy is that soul who can give a satisfactory answer to these questions. Let him go forward, and persevere.

 

Mormonism and Evangelicalism -a tale of two destinies (and two recent books)

3 Dec

From Caleb Nelson (from World Mag online):

Professors J.B. Haws and Calvin Miller have good news and bad news. The former, a devout Mormon who teaches at Brigham Young University, has just released a fascinating study of his co-religionists. The Mormon Image in the American Mind: Fifty Years of Public Perception (Oxford University Press, 2013) begins with faithful Mormon George Romney and his abortive campaign for the 1968 Republican presidential nomination. At that time surveys found that 17 percent of the American electorate would not vote for a Mormon. By the time of his son Mitt’s twin campaigns in 2008 and 2012, that number had nearly doubled, though at the same time some pundits declared that the Mormon Church was the real winner in the 2012 election. Obviously, then, the story Haws tells is neither straightforward nor simple, as his 110 pages of endnotes attest. But, at least, as he tells it, one thing stands out: The Mormon church has been continuously growing in numbers, wealth, and social respectability. Mormon influence in American life is increasing.

The late Calvin Miller, who was a prominent evangelical author and seminary professor, tells the opposite story in The Vanishing Evangelical: Saving the Church from Its Own Success by Restoring What Really Matters (2013). Posthumously released by Baker Books, the work contains Miller’s farewell speech to the American church. Though it lacks the scholarly heft of Haws’ work, it also drops any pretense of academic neutrality. Miller loves evangelicalism, and he believes that it is dying. Indeed, I am still not sure what the first half of the subtitle has to do with the book; as Miller sees it, the church needs to be saved from its failure. He recounts decline, especially how the rate of church formation has not kept up with the rate of population growth. Then he savagely attacks the idea that the pendulum is bound to swing the other way: Every major civilization has declined and fallen—and the pendulum has never swung the other way to resuscitate any of them.

Haws’ narrative features many efforts by the institutional Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to increase its name recognition with billboards, TV spots, and carefully considered press releases. Yet in its efforts to go mainstream, the Mormon hierarchy remains aware that total assimilation means destruction of its institution. As Haws concludes, to remain viable, any religious movement must be relatable enough to get a fair hearing, but different enough to maintain a separate identity that exists in some tension with the ambient culture. Therefore, the LDS church must refuse to present itself as “some idiosyncratic brand of Protestantism.”

Miller, in his own way, offers the same lesson. The problem with evangelicalism today is its total assimilation; by refusing to exist in tension, it is ceasing to exist at all. But Miller offers hope for “individual survival,” adding, “I say individual because I hold not the slightest hope for the triumph of the entire faith.” The glory days are over. But individually, if we each focus on our own heart and our walk with Christ, and find one other person to disciple and encourage in the faith, then our Christianity will not be in vain. Christianity began one person at a time, and that is how it will continue. Believe it or not, says Miller, only the basics can save us now. Read your Bible, pray, worship, and believe.

The infinite but material god of Mormonism lacks spiritual power; he cannot save. But the Triune God is spirit, and His Kingdom will conquer. Though Haws and Miller don’t say so, Mormons are momentarily exuberant—but Christians are eternally triumphant.

Is Christian Zionism biblical?

18 Nov

Messianic Jewish Apologist Dr. Michael Brown vs Reformed Anglican theologian Dr. Stephen Sizer

From Up For Debate from Moody Radio:  Link to the audio

How Christian is Christian Zionism

Air Date November 9, 2013


Summary

Is Christian Zionism really Christian? Many evangelicals believe it is. But, a growing number assert that it’s not—and say the movement confuses biblical prophecy with Israeli nationalism. This Saturday on Up For Debate, Julie Roys discusses the issue with pro-Zionist, Dr. Michael Brown, and anti-Zionist, Dr. Stephen Sizer. Listen and join the discussion this Saturday at 8 a.m. CST on Up For Debate!


Featured

Michael Brown

Dr. Michael Brown

Since coming to faith in 1971 as a 16 year-old, heroin-shooting Jewish rock drummer, Dr. Michael Brown has devoted his life to fostering awakening in the Church, sparking moral and cultural revolution in the society, raising up gospel laborers for the nations, and reaching out to his own Jewish people. He is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio broadcast, the president of FIRE School of Ministry, and a professor of Bible and Hebrew studies at several leading seminaries. He has preached in more than 25 nations and is the author of 22 books and numerous scholarly and popular articles. Dr. Brown has debated Jewish rabbis, agnostic professors, and gay activists on radio, TV, and college campuses, and he is widely considered to be the world’s foremost Messianic Jewish apologist.

Stephen Sizer

Dr. Stephen Sizer

Stephen is the vicar of Christ Church, the community church of Virginia Water in Surrey, England. Originally from Lowestoft in Suffolk (the most easterly point in England), he became a Christian at university. As vicar of Christ Church of Virginia Water, he now leads a staff team of ten and church family of about 500 drawn from 25 or more different nationalities and church backgrounds. Stephen is Vice Chair of Biblica Europe Ministries Trust. Biblica has completed more than 100 languages, and is the translation sponsor and ministry publisher of the New International Version (NIV), the most widely read and trusted contemporary English translation.

For more information about Stephen, please visit his website.

Sola Scriptura: James White (Protestant) vs Peter Williams (Catholic)

30 Oct

Don’t have the time to read a book on protestant/catholic differences on religious authority (scripture alone vs church/tradition/scripture)?  Don’t have time to listen/watch a 2-3 hour debate on the subject?  Here’s a short informal yet pretty useful debate on the subject between Dr. James White and Peter Williams on the Unbelievable Podcast.

May women serve as teaching elders (i.e., pastors, bishops, presbyters, etc.)?

22 Oct

I recently found an article by one of my favorite thinkers and writers, Nicholas Wolterstorff, defending female teaching elders as biblical.  Wolterstorff is a rather theologically conservative reformed protestant, and there are others on the theological right when it comes to biblical reliability and authority who hold his view on this issue.  From what I can tell, their best argument (at least in terms of explicit allowance for female teaching elders) comes from 1 Corinthians 11 starting at verse one:

Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife[a] is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife[b] who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.[c] 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. 13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, 15 but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.

Looking only at verse 5, it appears that in some assemblies of Christians, women were offering public prayers and prophesying.  Shouldn’t that mean that Paul does not forbid women from holding the office of teaching elder?  Praying as undershepherds over the flock during Sunday corporate worship?  Preaching the Word of God to the gathered assembly of God?

The problem with jumping to this conclusion is manifold, especially in light of passages addressed to church order like these:

1 Timothy 2:11-15

11 A woman[a] should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;[b] she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women[c] will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

And 1 Corinthians 14:33-35

33 For God is not a God of xconfusion but of peace.

As in yall the churches of the saints, 34 zthe women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but ashould be in submission, as bthe Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.

And of course you have Paul basing these exhortations establishing spiritual male-headshp on the “nature” of creation (permanent and enduring), not merely cultural practice (temporary and flexible).

So what are we then to make of the earlier passage in 1 Corinthians, with Christian women praying and prophesying in public gatherings of Christians?

As far as I can tell, four main arguments are proffered against interpreting these to allow female eldership in the church:

First, Prophesying is not preaching;  From New Testament scholar and exegete Dr.Thomas Schreiner:

It is imperative to see that prophecy is not the same gift as teaching, for the gifts are distinguished in the New Testament (1 Cor. 12:28). Women served as prophets in the OT but never as priests. Similarly, they served as prophets in the New Testament but never as elders. Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 makes it clear that as women prophesied they were to adorn themselves in such a way that they were submissive to male headship and leadership (1 Cor. 11:3). This fits with what we have seen in 1 Tim. 2:11-15. Women are not the recognized leaders of the congregation, and therefore they must not function as teachers and leaders of the congregation. The fundamental issue in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is not the adornment of women. Scholars are not sure, in any case, whether the adornment described represents a veil or wearing one’s hair up on one’s head. Such adornment was required in Paul’s day because it signified that women were submissive to male leadership. Today how a woman wears her hair or whether she wears a veil does not signify whether or not she is submissive to male leaders. Thus, we should apply the principle (though not the specific cultural practice) to today’s world: women should be submissive to male leadership, which manifests itself in not serving as pastors and teachers of men.

Second, a private local assembly (prayer meeting) is not public corporate worship (church).  From Lutheran commentator R. C. H. Lenski:

It is quite essential to note that no modifier is attached to the participles [praying and prophesying] to denote a place where these activities are exercised. So we on our part should not introduce one, either the same one for both the man and the woman, for instance, “worshiping or prophesying in church,” or different ones, for the man “in church” and for the woman “at home.” By omitting reference to a place Paul says this: “Wherever and whenever it is proper and right for a man or for a woman to pray or to prophesy, the difference of sex should be marked as I indicate.” Whether men are present or absent when a woman prays or prophesies makes no difference; also vice versa. Each remains what he is or what she is apart from the other.

An issue has been made of the point that Paul speaks of a woman as prophesying as though it were a matter of course that she should prophesy just as she also prays, and just as the man, too, prays and prophesies. Paul is said to contradict himself when he forbids the women to prophesy in 14:34-36. The matter becomes clear when we observe that from 11:17 onward until the end of chapter 14 Paul deals with the gatherings of the congregation for public worship and with regulations pertaining to public assemblies. The transition is decidedly marked: ‘that ye come together,’ i.e., for public worship, v. 17; ‘when ye come together in the church’ (ekklesia, no article), v. 18; and again: ‘when ye assemble together,’ i.e., for public worship, v. 20. In these public assemblies Paul forbids the women, not only to prophesy, but to speak at all, 14:34-36, and assigns the reason for this prohibition just as he does in 1 Tim. 2:11, etc.

It is evident, then, that women, too, were granted the gift of prophecy even as some still have this gift, namely the ability to present and properly to apply the Word of God by teaching others. And they are to exercise this valuable gift in the ample opportunities that offer themselves. So Paul writes “praying and prophesying” with reference to the woman just as he does with reference to the man. The public assemblies of the congregation are, however, not among these opportunities — note en tais ekklesiais, “in the assemblies,” 14:34. At other places and at other times women are free to exercise their gift of prophecy. In the present connection [11:2-16] Paul has no occasion whatever to specify regarding this point … The teaching ability of Christian women today has a wide range of opportunity without in the least intruding itself into the public congregational assemblies.

Third, adding to the location, there is also the fact that prophesying was a miraculous gift (extraordinary; not the intended norm but a supernatural interjection) and/or real possibility or likelihood that men were not (or were not intended to be given Paul’s forbiddance elsehwere) present at these private assemblies, if that is what they were.  Consider these commentators:

Commenting on 14:33b [Charles] Hodge writes:

 

If connected with v. 34, this passage is parallel to 11:16, where the custom of the churches in reference to the deportment of women in public is appealed to as authoritative. The sense is thus pertinent and good. ‘As is the case in all other Christian churches, let your women keep silence in the public assemblies.’ The fact that in no Christian church was public speaking permitted to women was itself a strong proof that it was unchristian, i.e. contrary to the spirit of Christianity. Paul, however, adds to the prohibition the weight of apostolic authority, and not of that only but also the authority of reason and of Scripture. It is not permitted to them to speak. The speaking intended is public speaking, and especially in the church. In the Old Testament it had been predicted that ‘your sons and your daughters shall prophesy;’ a prediction which the apostle Peter quotes as verified on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:17; and in Acts 21:9 mention is made of four daughters of Philip who prophesied. The apostle himself seems to take for granted, in 11:5, that women might received and exercise the gift of prophecy. It is therefore only the public exercise of the gift that is prohibited. The rational ground for this prohibition is that it is contrary to the relation of subordination in which the woman stands to the man that she appear as a public teacher. Both the Jews and Greeks adopted the same rule; and therefore the custom, which the Corinthians seemed disposed to introduce, was contrary to established usage. (9)

 

 

In his commentary Meyer writes:

 

 

Prayer and prophetic utterances in meetings on the part of the women are assumed here [11:5] as allowed. In 14:34, on the contrary, silence is imposed upon them. Compare also 1 Timothy 2:12, where they are forbidden to teach. This seeming contradiction between the passages disappears, however, if we take into account that in chapter 14 it is the public assembly of the congregation, the whole ekklesia, that is spoken of (verses 4, 5, 12, 16, 19, 23, 26 ff., 33). There is no sign of such being the case in the passage before us. What the apostle therefore has in his eye here, where he does not forbid the praying and prophesying of the women, and at the same time cannot mean family worship simply (see on verse 4), must be smaller meetings for devotion in the congregation, more limited circles assembled for worship, such as fall under the category of a church in the house (16:19, Romans 16:5, Colossians 4:15, Philemon 2). Since the subject here discussed, as we may infer from its peculiar character, must have been brought under the notice of the apostle for his decision by the Corinthians themselves in their letter, his readers would understand both what kind of meetings were meant as those in which women might pray and speak as prophetesses, and also that the instruction now given was not abrogated again by the “let women be silent in the church assembly.” The latter would, however, be the case, and the teaching of this passage would be aimless and groundless, if Paul were here only postponing for a little the prohibition in 14:34, in order, first of all, provisionally to censure and correct a mere external abuse in connection with a thing which was yet to be treated as wholly unallowable (against my own former view). It is perfectly arbitrary to say, with Grotius, that in 14:34 we must understand as an exception to the rule, “unless she has a special commandment from God.” (10)

 

 

J.J. Lias seems to favor Calvin’s first explanation, but mentions also the second:

 

 

Some difficulty has been raised about the words, “or prophesieth.” It has been thought that the woman was here permitted to prophesy, i.e., in smaller assemblies, and that the prohibitions in ch. 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:12 referred to the more general gatherings of the Church. The subject is one of some difficulty (see Acts 2:18, 21:9), but it is perhaps best, with De Wette and Calvin (who says, “Apostolum hic unum improbando alterum non probare”) to suppose that the Apostle blames only the praying in public with uncovered head, and reserves his blame of the prophesying for ch. 14:34. As for the prophetic gifts of the daughters of Philip the evangelist, Acts 21:9, they were probably reserved for assemblies of their own sex. (11)

 

 

Early in the twentieth century the view that the “prophesying” in question was limited to house meetings was favored by Benjamin Warfield:

Precisely what is meant in I Corinthians 11:5, nobody quite knows. What is said there is that every woman praying or prophesying unveiled dishonors her head. It seems fair to infer that if she prays or prophesies veiled she does not dishonor her head. And it seems fair still further to infer that she may properly pray or prophesy if only she does it veiled. We are piling up a chain of inferences. And they have not carried us very far. We cannot infer that it would be proper for her to pray or prophesy in church if only she were veiled. There is nothing said about church in the passage or in the context. The word “church” does not occur until the 16th verse, and then not as ruling the reference of the passage, but only as supplying support for the injunction of the passage. There is no reason whatever for believing that “praying and prophesying” in church is meant. Neither was an exercise confined to the church. If, as in 1 Corinthians 14:14, the “praying” spoken of was an ecstatic exercise — as its place by “prophesying” may suggest — then there would be the divine inspiration superceding all ordinary laws to be reckoned with. And there has already been occasion to observe that prayer in public is forbidden to women in 1 Timothy 2:8, 9 — unless mere attendance at prayer is meant, in which case this passage is a close parallel of 1 Timothy 2:9.

The previous few excerpt were taken from here

Finally, the office of elder is not in view in 1 Corinthians 11; so nothing definitive can be said from this passage about that subject.  But elsewhere, where ministerial offices are in view, spiritual headship seems to be reinforced (1 Cor. 33-35).  Indeed, DA Carson dismisses much of the previous interpretative work (he argues that 1 Cor. 11 does refer to women prophesying with the tacit approval of Paul in congregational worship, that is church, and that men were present), but 1 Cor. 14 prohibits them from weighing or judging those prophecies, which is exclusively left to men holding the office of elder.  See his article on this here

 

Evangelical Divisions (plus what’s the difference in an evangelical and fundamentalist?)

18 Oct

From a helpful review of current and developing divisions in evangelical theology by Dr. Gerald McDermott.  Here’s the excerpt explaining the differences in evangelical theology and fundamentalism:

Evangelical theology is often regarded, both by the media and much of the academy, as fundamentalism put into writing. But they are really two quite different ways of thinking, which can be identified in eight ways. This doesn’t mean that all the members of First Baptist will be fundamentalists, or that everyone at the local Evangelical Free church thinks like an evangelical rather than a fundamentalist. These are what sociologists call ideal types, which means that each is a clear set of beliefs that contrasts strongly with its opposite but that the differences are seen more clearly by looking at large groups over time rather than at one person or congregation at a given time. But these differences have emerged in theology and practice, in the following ways.

1. Interpretation of Scripture.

Fundamentalists tend to read Scripture more literalistically, while evangelical theologians look more carefully at genre and literary and historical context. Another way of saying this is that fundamentalists tend to assume that the meaning of Scripture is obvious from a single reading, while evangelicals want to talk about layers of meaning and might appeal to the medieval four-fold sense of scripture. For example, more fundamentalists will understand the first three chapters of Genesis to contain, among other things, scientific statements about beginnings, while evangelicals will focus more on the theological character of those stories–that the author/editor was more interested in showing that the earth has a Creator, for example, than precisely how the earth was created.

2. Culture. Fundamentalists question the value of human culture that is not created by Christians or related to the Bible, whereas evangelicals see God’s “common grace” working in and through all human culture. For evangelicals, Mozart may not have been an orthodox Christian and quite possibly was a moral failure as a human being, but his music is a priceless gift of God. Culture is tainted by sin, as are all other human productions, but it nevertheless can reflect God’s glory.

3. Social action. There was a time when fundamentalists considered efforts to help the poor to be a sign of liberal theology, because proponents of the social gospel during the modernist controversy of the 1920s were theological liberals. Until recently many fundamentalists limited their view of Christian social action to struggles for religious freedom and against abortion. Evangelicals have been more vocal in their declarations that the gospel also calls us to fight racism, sexism and poverty-and even more recently, depradation of the environment.

4. Separatism. For many decades in the last century fundamentalists preached that Christians should separate themselves from liberal Christians (which sometimes meant evangelicals) and even from conservatives who fellowshipped with liberals. This is why some fundamentalists refused to support Billy Graham–Graham asked for help from mainline Protestant and Catholic churches, and sent his converts back to these churches for further nurture. Evangelical theology puts more emphasis on engagement with culture while aiming to transform it, and working with other Christians toward common religious and social goals.

5. Dialogue with liberals. Fundamentalists have tended in the past to believe that liberal Christians (those who doubted Jesus’ bodily resurrection, the essential sinfulness of humanity, and the importance of blood atonement) were Christian in name only, that there was nothing to learn from them, and there was no use trying to talk to them once they refused to accept the fundamentalist version of the gospel. The evangelical approach has been to talk with those of more liberal persuasions in an effort to persuade and perhaps even learn. John Stott and Clark Pinnock both engaged in book-length dialogues with liberal theologians.

6. The ethos of Christian faith. Although most fundamentalists preach salvation by grace, they also tend to focus so much on rules and restrictions (do’s and don’ts) that their church members could get the impression that the heart of Christianity is a set of laws governing outward behavior. There is a similar danger in evangelical churches, but evangelical theology focuses more on the person and work of Christ, and personal engagement with that person and work, as the heart of the Christian faith.

7. Fissiparousness. Many evangelical groups have fractured and then broken again over what seems to later generations to have been minor issues. But the tendency seems worse among fundamentalists, for whom differences of doctrine, often on rather minor issues, are considered important enough to warrant starting a new congregation or even denomination. Because evangelical theology makes more of the distinction between essentials and non-essentials, evangelicals are more willing to remain in mainline Protestant churches and in evangelical churches whose members disagree on non-essentials. Nevertheless, evangelicals are more fissiparous than classical Protestants who cling more closely to their confessional traditions. Fundamentalists, in contrast, are not team players by temperament and think of themselves as individuals in a vast invisible church.

8. Support for Israel. Fundamentalists tend to see the modern state of Israel as a direct fulfillment of biblical prophecies, and say God’s blessing of America is contingent on its support for Israel. Evangelicals generally see the creation of Israel in 1948 as at least an indirect fulfillment of prophecy, lacking the complete fulfillment because there has not been the spiritual renewal which the prophets predicted. Evangelicals run the gamut in support for and opposition to Israeli policies. But while many other Christians see Israel as just another nation-state, and the new evangelical left has joined mainline critics questioning the legitimacy of modern Israel, most fundamentalists and evangelicals still think today’s Israel has continuing theological significance.

Open revelation? How convenient, politically. A BYU prof sees a problem in the practice of Mormonism

16 Oct
This article points up the conspicuous political nature of Mormonism’s doctrine of “open revelation” as it has evolved. Incidentally, I consider this doctrine (open or continuous revelation) to be something of an Achilles’ heel of Mormon theology. Mormon Political Scientist (BYU) acknowledges as much when he notices that new prophetic revelation seems not only convenient (my criticism) but also politically progressive, both of which seem to undermine the credibility of the doctrine. Interesting article.
There is “a prevalent attitude towards continuing revelation among many who consider themselves “thoughtful” Latter-day Saints. We forever have our thumb on the channel-change button of ultimate moral-religious truth just in case we might have to change our minds, just as we did in 1890 on plural marriage and 1978 on ordination of black members. (In 1978 I somehow did not experience any existential tumult or reversal—just a huge sigh of relief, and no little gladness. But here’s the disturbing thing: I was fully committed to sticking with the Church even before the blessed revelation. Is that wrong?)

Our openness to prophetic authority has the effect of rendering present authoritative statements provisional. We bracket everything that we hear in General Conference, because, well, we’re so committed to prophetic revelation that, hey, it could change tomorrow. “Eternal Truth,” for those devoutly committed to the distinctive LDS principle of continuing revelation, means, apparently, at most “we’ll go with this until April conference. Peter had to learn the hard way to be open-minded about cheeseburgers and shellfish, so let us not cling to any prejudice about details such as traditional norms (or any norms, I suppose) governing sexuality.

But notice that for many of these “thoughtful” Latter-day Saints, our openness to continuing revelation always seems to be open in one direction; our remote control scans only to the left. What we are supposed to be open to always fits a progressive moral-political agenda of ever more individual freedom and equality.”

Read it all from First Things

Christ and Culture (and politics) from a Two-Kingdom Reformed Perspective

26 Sep

Dr. R. Scott Clark from Westminster Seminary California provides simply a very helpful, informative, presentation of the Two-Kingdom perspective (not just theoretical and exegetical, but deals with practical issues facing Christians and Christian churches as they find themselves in a “neo-pagan” society here in America).  This episode of Heidelcast is certainly worth a listen:

Heidelcast-new-rev

Did Protestant Liberalism lose its institutions but win the culture?

10 Sep

An interview with Berkley Historian David Hollinger from Al Mohler’s Thinking in Public:

 

A college professor explains why she is no longer a Mormon

22 Aug

Professor Lynn Wilder, a former Mormon and professor for many years at Brigham Young University, explains in a tell-all book the inner-workings of Mormon cultural and religious life.  She also find all that she was missing in the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ as he is offered to her in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.  Here’s her book.

Here’s a short testimony from her pen:

In order to become full time professorial faculty at Brigham Young University, one must be interviewed and receive the approval of a General Authority. My interview took place in May of 1999. As I sat in the exquisitely carved wood environment in the old church office building, I was closely watched by starched security men who followed me even to the restroom and stood outside to await my return. I was mildly amused. During the interview, the General Authority said something curious. He said, “I’ve been interviewing faculty for BYU for many years and I’ve never come upon someone like you.” “How’s that?” I asked. He replied, “You’ve never lived in Utah, you’ve never attended BYU, and you’re a pure convert.”

“Wow,” I thought, “among my professional colleagues, there will be few if any converts to the LDS Church, few who came from outside of Utah, and few scholars schooled somewhere other than BYU?” I deduced that since I was different, Heavenly Father must have a unique work for me to do there. Back then I thought it was about me and my works. The LDS instruction that the glory of God is intelligence (D&C 93:36) can cultivate some vast egos; it did mine. Mormons quote from 1 Nephi 19:23 in the Book of Mormon, “liken all scripture unto us.” The implication is it’s all about me—my journey to exaltation and godhood, my performance, my appearance, my callings, my works, my intelligence—my worthiness. What a burden to bear. That’s the Mormon mindset: “focus on yourself – good works get you to the Celestial Kingdom” and I now know it’s a pile of, well, non-truth.

To be honest, I’m grateful for the 8 plus years that I was at BYU. My colleagues and students were intelligent, hard working, sincere, religious and they gave me exemplary support for professional development. However, I like to say I went into the heart of Mormonism to learn the heart of Mormonism. Given my experience with marginalized students (homeless, juvenile delinquents, special education students, English language learners, dropouts, ethnically diverse students, etc.), I was assigned to teach multiculturalism.

It was my BYU students who taught me about the inanity called “the curse of Cain” with its racist implications. For students who were convinced it was scriptural (see LDS scriptures: Abraham Chapter 1 and Moses Chapter 7 in the Pearl of Great Price and references to “cursing” and “a skin of blackness” in 1, 2, and 3 Nephi, Jacob, Alma, and Mormon in the Book of Mormon), an open-minded discussion about race could seem pointless. I considered teaching this course as a challenge to change hearts, and I did see BYU students occasionally burst into tears as they realized the full import of their negative beliefs and actions on real people. I have made a habit of sending students into a cultural environment different than their own for sufficient time for them to get attached to individuals from another culture and to rethink personal biases. However, when students thought racist ideas were defensible by LDS scripture and statements of past Prophets, making headway with them seemed nearly impossible. In fairness, I will say that current LDS General Authorities have spoken against racism, many BYU students did not express racist ideas, and some of my current students, who are not LDS, do. Nevertheless, numerous racist scriptures still exist in official LDS sources as noted. For me the existence of racist ideas in LDS scripture is a conundrum of mammoth proportions.

Thus, seemingly on cue, our college was placed on probation by our accrediting agency for not meeting standards for diversity. The college diversity committee of which I was a member created occasions for both faculty and students to have crucial conversations about and to implement culturally responsive behavior. Colleagues and I wrote a grant, subsequently funded by the federal government, to provide scholarships that brought ethnically diverse, bilingual, and/or individuals with disabilities into a dual certification program to become teachers. As director of that program and mentor for diverse students, I was wholly engaged in and loved the work of helping diverse students acclimate to BYU and the sometimes greater challenge of BYU acclimating to them. But, doubts about the truth of Mormonism were surfacing.

Typically several times a year in my role as faculty, I present research at professional national/international conferences. If it hadn’t been for a Native American gentleman who stood up at such a convention and heckled me while I, representing BYU, was presenting collaborative research on a multicultural topic, I would not have known that Blacks had not been allowed to attend BYU in the 1960’s. I’d like to personally thank him. Later when I returned to BYU and inquired about it, I was handed the book The Church and the Negro. It contained some shocking truth about the racist words and policies of leaders in the Mormon Church in fairly recent history regarding Blacks, and it stirred up still more doubts.

Read the rest

Why are more and more young evangelicals “getting high?”

19 Jul

From the Christian Pundit:

A friend of mine attended a Christian college where almost all of the students, including her, grew up in non-denominational, evangelical Protestant churches. A few years after graduation, she is the only person in her graduating class who is not Roman Catholic,  high Anglican or Lutheran. The town I live in has several “evangelical” Protestant colleges: on Ash Wednesday you can tell who studies at them by the ash crosses on their foreheads.

Young Christians are going over to Catholicism and high Anglicanism/Lutheranism in droves, despite growing up in low Protestant churches that told them about Jesus. It’s a trend that is growing, and it looks like it might go that way for a while: people who grew up in stereotypical, casual evangelicalism are running back past their parents’ church to something that looks like it was dug out of Europe a couple hundred years ago at least. It’s encouraged by certain emergent leaders and by other “Christian” authors whose writings promote “high” theology under a Protestant publisher’s cover.

Ten or fifteen years ago, it was American evangelical congregations that seemed cutting edge. They had the bands, the coolest youth pastor, professional babysitting for every women’s Bible study, and a church library full of Christian novels. But now, to kids who grew up in that context, it seems a bit dated or disconnected—the same kind of feeling that a 90′s movie gives them. Not that it’s not a church; it’s just feels to them the way that 50′s worship felt to their parents. So they leave. If they don’t walk away from Christianity completely, they head to Rome or something similar.

In a way, it’s hard to understand. Why would you trade your jeans, fair-trade coffee, a Bible and some Getty songs for formal “church clothes”, fasting, a Bible and a priest? It makes no sense to want to kneel on a stone floor instead of sit in a comfy chair. And if you’re hearing about Jesus anyway, why does it really matter?

In another way, it’s very obvious why these kids are leaving and going where they are. In her recent article, “Change Wisely, Dude”, Andrea Palpant Dilley explains her own shift from Presbyterianism to apostacy to generic evangelicalism to high church: “In my 20s, liturgy seemed rote, but now in my 30s, it reminds me that I’m part of an institution much larger and older than myself. As the poet Czeslaw Milosz said, ‘The sacred exists and is stronger than all our rebellions.’ Both my doubt and my faith, and even my ongoing frustrations with the church itself, are part of a tradition that started before I was born and will continue after I die. I rest in the assurance that I have something to lean against, something to resist and, more importantly, something that resists me.”

The kids who leave evangelical Protestantism are looking for something the world can’t give them. The world can give them hotter jeans, better coffee, bands, speakers, and book clubs than a congregation can. What it can’t give them is theology; membership in a group that transcends time, place and race; a historic rootedness; something greater than themselves; ordained men who will be spiritual leaders and not merely listeners and buddies and story-tellers. What the kids leaving generic evangelicalism seem to want is something the world can never give them–a holy Father who demands reverence, a Saviour who requires careful worship, and a Spirit who must be obeyed. They are looking for true, deep, intellectually robust spirituality in their parents’ churches and not finding it.

But not all kids who grew up in American evangelicalism are jumping off into high church rite and sacrament: congregations that carefully teach robust, historic Protestant theology to their children are notably not losing them to the Vatican, or even Lambeth. Protestant churches that recognize their own ecclesiastical and theological heritage, training their children to value and continue it in a 21st century setting, usually retain their youth. These kids have the tools they need to think biblically through the deep and difficult issues of the day and articulate their position without having a crisis of faith. They know the headlines, church history, theology and their Bibles, and so are equipped to engage culture in a winsome, accessible way. They have a relationship with God that is not based on their feelings or commitments but on the enduring promises of the Word and so they can ride out the trends of the American church, knowing that they will pass regardless of mass defections to Rome. That’s not to say that the Book of Common Prayer is unbiblical–far from it! It is to say that children raised in spiritually substantive and faithful homes usually find things like holy water, pilgrimages, popes and ash on their faces an affront to the means for spiritual growth that God has appointed in His Word.

“He cannot have God as his Father who does not have the church for his Mother,” said Cyprian, nearly two millennia ago. Perhaps if Protestant churches began acting more like dutiful mothers instead of fun babysitters, there would be fewer youth leaving their ecclesiastical homes as soon as they are out of the house.

A Southern Baptist Pastor laments and explains the decline of the SBC

18 Jul

From Jared Moore:

The church largely today expects to be entertained, and instead of pastors and Sunday school teachers standing up and trusting the word of God, imploring hearers to listen because of the authority of the book itself, we have watered it down, and have chosen instead to add entertainment to the text in order to feel good about ourselves. Our mentality seems to be that if our children want to come to church on Sunday Morning or Wednesday evening, the reason they want to come is really irrelevant to us; as long as they want to be there.

Read it all here (good read; tough love)

Who are the most consistent traditional conservatives? Protestants or Catholics?

1 Jul

For some Roman Catholic social theorists, modern secular liberalism all started with the Protestant Reformation.  Detaching church from its institutional check on the state, sanctifying and then secularizing ordinary life, dissolving earthly authority, all ended in the destruction of any moral foundation for society and so here we are.  But church historian Daryl Hart offers quite a different take.  Paleo-conservatism, the kind you find in Edmund Burke, Wilhelm Ropke, over at the Front Porch Republic, and other social and political theorists committed to localism fits historic protestantism like a glove.  He first restates the argument that some make about Protestantism:

Protestantism ruined the West by introducing notions like private opinions, state churches, unfettered markets, and culturally accommodated Christianity.

Given this emerging conservative consensus on Protestantism, it may be time (and where better to do it than on the Front Porch with Jason pouring Daiquiris?) to raise a few questions before the cement dries. Do traditional conservatives really want to make religious orthodoxy a test for membership? Do Christian conservatives really want to identify their faith with a particular geographical landmass (as if Jesus only died for the West, a thought that surely would have surprised the Jewish-Christian apostles)? Do intellectual conservatives really want the magisterium to decide who makes it into the conservative canon (as if folks like Roger Scruton, Michael Oakeshott, or Leon Kass need to be inspected by the local bishop before receiving two conservative thumbs up)?

One place to start the conversation is to consider the origins of Protestantism itself in a European setting that was hardly as unified as the romantic notions of Christendom allege (the English and French were not wild about papal supremacy, not to mention the nastiness that attended the Investiture Controversy). Someone could plausibly argue that Protestantism arose in response not simply to the brazen sinfulness of various Renaissance popes, but also as a correction to the Vatican’s grasp on political (as in temporal) power. Can someone say, conciliarism? Aside from the question of whether or not Christ had Unam Sanctam in view when he said his kingdom was not of this world, Francis Oakley’s current trilogy on medieval political theology shows that aspirations for papal supremacy (and infallibility) drew more upon ancient (and pagan) notions of sacral kingship than they did on Christian reflection:

. . . while the Gregorian reformers and their successors had certainly intended to deprive of any sacred aura the kingship of the German emperors, they were not themselves totally unresponsive to the allure of sacral kingship itself. That ancient complex of notions cast a very long shadow across their own ambitions for supremacy in Christian society. Had it not done so, it would be hard to explain how the popes of the High Middle Ages permitted themselves to emerge as full-fledged sacred monarchs in their own right . . . . [O]ver the course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the bishops of Rome moved authoritatively to the forefront as the true (or most convincing) successors to the erstwhile Roman emperors.

Then later:

Long, then, before James of Viterbo came to explore during the great standoff between Boniface VIII and Philip IV of France, the full ramifications of understanding the church or Christian commonwealth as a kingdom with the pope as its early king and in matter temporal no less than spiritual, the thirteenth-century popes had begun to close in on something approximating that mode of thinking. Despite the ideological ground yielded earlier on to the Gregorian onslaught, we have seen that a stubborn aura of sacrality continued in subsequent centuries to cling to the temporal monarchs of Europe. By the end of the thirteenth century, however, it had come to be dimmed by the astonishing degree to which the papacy itself, once the great enemy of sacral kingship, had come to conform itself to the lineaments of that archaic phenomenon and to appropriate it for itself so many of the appurtenances attaching to it. (Francis Oakley, The Mortgage of the Past, 171, 184)

Where the contested nature of monarchy (spiritual and temporal) becomes particularly dicey for American conservatives is that we are folks (I thought) who prize limited power and are suspicious of centralized and consolidated authority. Whether I need to be as provocative as to suggest that Protestantism was the outworking in the religious sphere of the doctrine of subsidiarity – that is, let local churches (at least outside Italy) oversee their own affairs rather than being regulated by a foreign pontiff – American conservatives (especially FroPos) do esteem localism, diversity, and freedom in ways that do not exactly accord with older papal claims about universality and singularity. In fact, the tension between the Vatican and the U.S. Roman Catholic church throughout the nineteenth-century that resulted in Americanism being condemned as a heresy by Leo XIII demonstrates that reconciling the politics of a federated republic and the Vatican’s form of government and oversight of Christendom was not so easily accomplished. To be sure, Roman Catholicism received a make-over at Vatican II thanks to the reflections of John Courtney Murray. But I hear that Murray’s reconciliation of the American founders and neo-Thomism is increasingly debatable in certain Roman Catholic sectors.

None of this is to suggest that Protestantism is the consistent outworking of conservatism, or that Protestants and Roman Catholics can’t live together under the intellectual conservative tent (or hang out at the Porch). It is, though, a caution about assumptions that conservatives increasingly make about the faith that binds them and the West together. Is it quite so faithful or so binding?

Protestantism ruined the West by introducing notions like private opinions, state churches, unfettered markets, and culturally accommodated Christianity.

Given this emerging conservative consensus on Protestantism, it may be time (and where better to do it than on the Front Porch with Jason pouring Daiquiris?) to raise a few questions before the cement dries. Do traditional conservatives really want to make religious orthodoxy a test for membership? Do Christian conservatives really want to identify their faith with a particular geographical landmass (as if Jesus only died for the West, a thought that surely would have surprised the Jewish-Christian apostles)? Do intellectual conservatives really want the magisterium to decide who makes it into the conservative canon (as if folks like Roger Scruton, Michael Oakeshott, or Leon Kass need to be inspected by the local bishop before receiving two conservative thumbs up)?

One place to start the conversation is to consider the origins of Protestantism itself in a European setting that was hardly as unified as the romantic notions of Christendom allege (the English and French were not wild about papal supremacy, not to mention the nastiness that attended the Investiture Controversy). Someone could plausibly argue that Protestantism arose in response not simply to the brazen sinfulness of various Renaissance popes, but also as a correction to the Vatican’s grasp on political (as in temporal) power. Can someone say, conciliarism? Aside from the question of whether or not Christ had Unam Sanctam in view when he said his kingdom was not of this world, Francis Oakley’s current trilogy on medieval political theology shows that aspirations for papal supremacy (and infallibility) drew more upon ancient (and pagan) notions of sacral kingship than they did on Christian reflection:

. . . while the Gregorian reformers and their successors had certainly intended to deprive of any sacred aura the kingship of the German emperors, they were not themselves totally unresponsive to the allure of sacral kingship itself. That ancient complex of notions cast a very long shadow across their own ambitions for supremacy in Christian society. Had it not done so, it would be hard to explain how the popes of the High Middle Ages permitted themselves to emerge as full-fledged sacred monarchs in their own right . . . . [O]ver the course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the bishops of Rome moved authoritatively to the forefront as the true (or most convincing) successors to the erstwhile Roman emperors.

Then later:

Long, then, before James of Viterbo came to explore during the great standoff between Boniface VIII and Philip IV of France, the full ramifications of understanding the church or Christian commonwealth as a kingdom with the pope as its early king and in matter temporal no less than spiritual, the thirteenth-century popes had begun to close in on something approximating that mode of thinking. Despite the ideological ground yielded earlier on to the Gregorian onslaught, we have seen that a stubborn aura of sacrality continued in subsequent centuries to cling to the temporal monarchs of Europe. By the end of the thirteenth century, however, it had come to be dimmed by the astonishing degree to which the papacy itself, once the great enemy of sacral kingship, had come to conform itself to the lineaments of that archaic phenomenon and to appropriate it for itself so many of the appurtenances attaching to it. (Francis Oakley, The Mortgage of the Past, 171, 184)

Where the contested nature of monarchy (spiritual and temporal) becomes particularly dicey for American conservatives is that we are folks (I thought) who prize limited power and are suspicious of centralized and consolidated authority. Whether I need to be as provocative as to suggest that Protestantism was the outworking in the religious sphere of the doctrine of subsidiarity – that is, let local churches (at least outside Italy) oversee their own affairs rather than being regulated by a foreign pontiff – American conservatives (especially FroPos) do esteem localism, diversity, and freedom in ways that do not exactly accord with older papal claims about universality and singularity. In fact, the tension between the Vatican and the U.S. Roman Catholic church throughout the nineteenth-century that resulted in Americanism being condemned as a heresy by Leo XIII demonstrates that reconciling the politics of a federated republic and the Vatican’s form of government and oversight of Christendom was not so easily accomplished. To be sure, Roman Catholicism received a make-over at Vatican II thanks to the reflections of John Courtney Murray. But I hear that Murray’s reconciliation of the American founders and neo-Thomism is increasingly debatable in certain Roman Catholic sectors.

None of this is to suggest that Protestantism is the consistent outworking of conservatism, or that Protestants and Roman Catholics can’t live together under the intellectual conservative tent (or hang out at the Porch). It is, though, a caution about assumptions that conservatives increasingly make about the faith that binds them and the West together. Is it quite so faithful or so binding?

– See more at: http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/2013/06/do-protestants-belong/?utm_source=buffer&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Buffer&utm_content=buffer3aecf#sthash.q7SiZC2o.dpuf

Protestantism ruined the West by introducing notions like private opinions, state churches, unfettered markets, and culturally accommodated Christianity.

Given this emerging conservative consensus on Protestantism, it may be time (and where better to do it than on the Front Porch with Jason pouring Daiquiris?) to raise a few questions before the cement dries. Do traditional conservatives really want to make religious orthodoxy a test for membership? Do Christian conservatives really want to identify their faith with a particular geographical landmass (as if Jesus only died for the West, a thought that surely would have surprised the Jewish-Christian apostles)? Do intellectual conservatives really want the magisterium to decide who makes it into the conservative canon (as if folks like Roger Scruton, Michael Oakeshott, or Leon Kass need to be inspected by the local bishop before receiving two conservative thumbs up)?

One place to start the conversation is to consider the origins of Protestantism itself in a European setting that was hardly as unified as the romantic notions of Christendom allege (the English and French were not wild about papal supremacy, not to mention the nastiness that attended the Investiture Controversy). Someone could plausibly argue that Protestantism arose in response not simply to the brazen sinfulness of various Renaissance popes, but also as a correction to the Vatican’s grasp on political (as in temporal) power. Can someone say, conciliarism? Aside from the question of whether or not Christ had Unam Sanctam in view when he said his kingdom was not of this world, Francis Oakley’s current trilogy on medieval political theology shows that aspirations for papal supremacy (and infallibility) drew more upon ancient (and pagan) notions of sacral kingship than they did on Christian reflection:

. . . while the Gregorian reformers and their successors had certainly intended to deprive of any sacred aura the kingship of the German emperors, they were not themselves totally unresponsive to the allure of sacral kingship itself. That ancient complex of notions cast a very long shadow across their own ambitions for supremacy in Christian society. Had it not done so, it would be hard to explain how the popes of the High Middle Ages permitted themselves to emerge as full-fledged sacred monarchs in their own right . . . . [O]ver the course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the bishops of Rome moved authoritatively to the forefront as the true (or most convincing) successors to the erstwhile Roman emperors.

Then later:

Long, then, before James of Viterbo came to explore during the great standoff between Boniface VIII and Philip IV of France, the full ramifications of understanding the church or Christian commonwealth as a kingdom with the pope as its early king and in matter temporal no less than spiritual, the thirteenth-century popes had begun to close in on something approximating that mode of thinking. Despite the ideological ground yielded earlier on to the Gregorian onslaught, we have seen that a stubborn aura of sacrality continued in subsequent centuries to cling to the temporal monarchs of Europe. By the end of the thirteenth century, however, it had come to be dimmed by the astonishing degree to which the papacy itself, once the great enemy of sacral kingship, had come to conform itself to the lineaments of that archaic phenomenon and to appropriate it for itself so many of the appurtenances attaching to it. (Francis Oakley, The Mortgage of the Past, 171, 184)

Where the contested nature of monarchy (spiritual and temporal) becomes particularly dicey for American conservatives is that we are folks (I thought) who prize limited power and are suspicious of centralized and consolidated authority. Whether I need to be as provocative as to suggest that Protestantism was the outworking in the religious sphere of the doctrine of subsidiarity – that is, let local churches (at least outside Italy) oversee their own affairs rather than being regulated by a foreign pontiff – American conservatives (especially FroPos) do esteem localism, diversity, and freedom in ways that do not exactly accord with older papal claims about universality and singularity. In fact, the tension between the Vatican and the U.S. Roman Catholic church throughout the nineteenth-century that resulted in Americanism being condemned as a heresy by Leo XIII demonstrates that reconciling the politics of a federated republic and the Vatican’s form of government and oversight of Christendom was not so easily accomplished. To be sure, Roman Catholicism received a make-over at Vatican II thanks to the reflections of John Courtney Murray. But I hear that Murray’s reconciliation of the American founders and neo-Thomism is increasingly debatable in certain Roman Catholic sectors.

None of this is to suggest that Protestantism is the consistent outworking of conservatism, or that Protestants and Roman Catholics can’t live together under the intellectual conservative tent (or hang out at the Porch). It is, though, a caution about assumptions that conservatives increasingly make about the faith that binds them and the West together. Is it quite so faithful or so binding?

– See more at: http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/2013/06/do-protestants-belong/?utm_source=buffer&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Buffer&utm_content=buffer3aecf#sthash.q7SiZC2o.dpuf

Protestantism ruined the West by introducing notions like private opinions, state churches, unfettered markets, and culturally accommodated Christianity.

Given this emerging conservative consensus on Protestantism, it may be time (and where better to do it than on the Front Porch with Jason pouring Daiquiris?) to raise a few questions before the cement dries. Do traditional conservatives really want to make religious orthodoxy a test for membership? Do Christian conservatives really want to identify their faith with a particular geographical landmass (as if Jesus only died for the West, a thought that surely would have surprised the Jewish-Christian apostles)? Do intellectual conservatives really want the magisterium to decide who makes it into the conservative canon (as if folks like Roger Scruton, Michael Oakeshott, or Leon Kass need to be inspected by the local bishop before receiving two conservative thumbs up)?

One place to start the conversation is to consider the origins of Protestantism itself in a European setting that was hardly as unified as the romantic notions of Christendom allege (the English and French were not wild about papal supremacy, not to mention the nastiness that attended the Investiture Controversy). Someone could plausibly argue that Protestantism arose in response not simply to the brazen sinfulness of various Renaissance popes, but also as a correction to the Vatican’s grasp on political (as in temporal) power. Can someone say, conciliarism? Aside from the question of whether or not Christ had Unam Sanctam in view when he said his kingdom was not of this world, Francis Oakley’s current trilogy on medieval political theology shows that aspirations for papal supremacy (and infallibility) drew more upon ancient (and pagan) notions of sacral kingship than they did on Christian reflection:

. . . while the Gregorian reformers and their successors had certainly intended to deprive of any sacred aura the kingship of the German emperors, they were not themselves totally unresponsive to the allure of sacral kingship itself. That ancient complex of notions cast a very long shadow across their own ambitions for supremacy in Christian society. Had it not done so, it would be hard to explain how the popes of the High Middle Ages permitted themselves to emerge as full-fledged sacred monarchs in their own right . . . . [O]ver the course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the bishops of Rome moved authoritatively to the forefront as the true (or most convincing) successors to the erstwhile Roman emperors.

Then later:

Long, then, before James of Viterbo came to explore during the great standoff between Boniface VIII and Philip IV of France, the full ramifications of understanding the church or Christian commonwealth as a kingdom with the pope as its early king and in matter temporal no less than spiritual, the thirteenth-century popes had begun to close in on something approximating that mode of thinking. Despite the ideological ground yielded earlier on to the Gregorian onslaught, we have seen that a stubborn aura of sacrality continued in subsequent centuries to cling to the temporal monarchs of Europe. By the end of the thirteenth century, however, it had come to be dimmed by the astonishing degree to which the papacy itself, once the great enemy of sacral kingship, had come to conform itself to the lineaments of that archaic phenomenon and to appropriate it for itself so many of the appurtenances attaching to it. (Francis Oakley, The Mortgage of the Past, 171, 184)

Where the contested nature of monarchy (spiritual and temporal) becomes particularly dicey for American conservatives is that we are folks (I thought) who prize limited power and are suspicious of centralized and consolidated authority. Whether I need to be as provocative as to suggest that Protestantism was the outworking in the religious sphere of the doctrine of subsidiarity – that is, let local churches (at least outside Italy) oversee their own affairs rather than being regulated by a foreign pontiff – American conservatives (especially FroPos) do esteem localism, diversity, and freedom in ways that do not exactly accord with older papal claims about universality and singularity. In fact, the tension between the Vatican and the U.S. Roman Catholic church throughout the nineteenth-century that resulted in Americanism being condemned as a heresy by Leo XIII demonstrates that reconciling the politics of a federated republic and the Vatican’s form of government and oversight of Christendom was not so easily accomplished. To be sure, Roman Catholicism received a make-over at Vatican II thanks to the reflections of John Courtney Murray. But I hear that Murray’s reconciliation of the American founders and neo-Thomism is increasingly debatable in certain Roman Catholic sectors.

None of this is to suggest that Protestantism is the consistent outworking of conservatism, or that Protestants and Roman Catholics can’t live together under the intellectual conservative tent (or hang out at the Porch). It is, though, a caution about assumptions that conservatives increasingly make about the faith that binds them and the West together. Is it quite so faithful or so binding?

– See more at: http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/2013/06/do-protestants-belong/?utm_source=buffer&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Buffer&utm_content=buffer3aecf#sthash.q7SiZC2o.dpuf

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