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Commenting on Christendom, culture, history, and other oddities of life from an historic Protestant perspective.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Thought of the Day: The Gospel in a Word

Here’s the gospel in a word: imputation. It’s Christ’s righteousness (His perfect keeping of the Law) being imputed (transferred) to His people, and their sins being imputed to Him (which He bore on the cross). Men can only stand before God when clothed in Christ’s righteousness—and this was accomplished by God descending to man (in Christ), not man ascending to God (through works).

--The Catechizer

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Slavery in Ancient Israel – Part Three (Conclusion)

In Part 2 we learned that slavery was for the benefit of the poor and was voluntary. We also learned that it was the last resort for the impoverished, and that before the poor had to sell themselves into servitude, God had made many provisions for their care.

In this post we’ll look at the issue of daughters being sold as slaves by their fathers ( Ex. 21:7–11).

If a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free as the male slaves do. (vs. 7)

We must remember that the Middle East of 4,000 years ago was a tough place to live. Difficult decisions had to be made in order to ensure the survival of a household. One such decision would be to “sell” a daughter either to payback a debt and/or to ensure her survival by joining her to a wealthy family. Although “sold,” they were not slaves, which is why they were not released after seven years like the men were.

If she is displeasing in the eyes of her master who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He does not have authority to sell her to a foreign people because of his unfairness to her. (vs. 8)

These girls were purchased to be secondary wives (concubines), which was a common practice at the time (Gen. 16:3, 22:24; 30:9, 36:12; Judges 8:31). If, however, she displeased her husband, he had to allow her to be “redeemed” (Lev. 25:47-54) either by herself or by a family member. He cannot sell her to foreigners, for they would not recognize her rights under Israelite law.

If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. (vs. 9)

If the master is purchasing her to be a bride to his son, he must treat her like a daughter and accord her with the associated respect and honor.

If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights. (vs. 10)

If the husband takes another bride, he must still provide for her as he previously had, including conjugal rights.

If he will not do these three things for her, then she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money. (vs. 11)

Finally, if the husband fails to meet his responsibilities in caring for her, he must release her without gaining any compensation in return.

Conclusion

We see in the above passages laws put into place to help a family survive and to help a poor girl better her lot in life by marrying into a wealthy family. Moreover, we see that the laws are actually for the protection of the girl and disallow any type of exploitation.

--The Catechizer

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Slavery in Ancient Israel – Part Two

In Part 1 we learned how foreigners became slaves and how they were treated. In this post we'll take a look at Hebrew slaves. A few things to note regarding Hebrew slavery:

  • The slaves were treated differently (better) than foreign slaves. Reason being, the Hebrews were God's people. Like a king who favors his children over his subjects, so God favors His children over pagans.

  • It was a voluntary institution.

  • It was for the benefit of the slaves.

The Care of the Poor

Slavery was the last resort for the poor. Before the poor had to sell themselves into servitude, God made provisions for their care:

  • The people were to lend money to the poor (Deu. 15:7-8, 11).

    It's interesting to note that the reason for this law was not just to help the poor; it was also to help cultivate a generous heart in the giver and to help stave-off the love of money (Deu. 15:9).

  • Lenders were not to charge interest or sell the poor food for a profit (Lev. 25:36-37).

  • Borrowers were released from their debt every seven years (Deu. 15:1-2).

  • Farmers were to only reap their harvest for six years; the seventh they were to let the poor pick their food from it (Ex. 23:10).

  • Farmers were also not to cultivate the edges of their crop or pick-up fallen fruit so that the poor gather them and be feed (Lev. 19:9-10, 23:22; Deu. 24:19).

  • Every third year the tithe of the people was given to the poor (Deu. 14:28-29).

Hebrew Slavery Benefited the Slaves

When, despite the provisions discussed above, an Israelite found himself in dire straights, he still had recourse: voluntary slavery. This option allowed the poor to maintain not only their physical wellbeing, but also their dignity (i.e., they worked for what they received, instead of becoming a beggar). Listed below are a few other benefits to the slave:

  • The servitude was initiated by the slave and he was the one who received proceeds of the sale; he was also to be treated well and not like a slave, but as a hired worker or a temporary resident (Lev. 25:35-43).

    It should be noted that forced slavery was punishable by death (Ex. 21:16; Deu. 24:7).

  • They were released after six years of service (Deu. 15:12).

    The slave had the option of remaining in his masters house; however, this was completely voluntary. To ensure that the slave was not being coerced, he and his master would have to go before the judge prior to the slave becoming a lifetime servant (Ex. 21:5; Deu. 15:16).

  • When released, the slave was provided with goods so that he wouldn't be poor (Deu. 15:13-14).

In Part 3 we'll conclude with what is generally considered most troubling aspect of ancient Israel’s slavery: daughters being sold as slaves by their fathers.

--The Catechizer

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Saturday, November 08, 2014

Slavery in Ancient Israel – Part One

Slavery in Old Testament (OT) times was very complex and differed greatly from the chattel slavery practiced in the United States and elsewhere. A pitfall we modern observers must avoid is that of anachronistic thinking (i.e., reading today’s sensibilities into ancient cultures). Instead, we must take time to study the Scriptures to find out the “hows and whys” of the practice.

As I’ve indicated, this is a very complex issue. For example, the term “slave” (sometimes translated “servant”) is applied to a broad range of people in the Scriptures. Here are a few examples:

  • The patriarchs, prophets, and kings of Israel are often referred to as slaves of God (Ex. 32:13; Lev 25:55; 1 Sam 3:9; Ezra 9:11)

  • The people comprising Judah and Israel are called slaves of their kings (1 Sam 17:8; 29:3; 2 Sam 19:5; Gen 27:37; 32:4)

  • The Hebrews refer to themselves as slaves when addressing Moses and the prophets (Num 32:25; 1 Sam 12:19)

  • Christians are referred to as slaves of Christ (Eph. 6:6; Col. 3:22)

For a more detailed study of the issue of slavery in the Bible, I recommend the following resources from A Christian Thinktank:

In OT times, there were two broad groups of slaves: Hebrew slaves and foreign slaves. I think it’ll be helpful to take a high-level look at each group.

Foreign Slaves

“Foreign” in this context refers to someone who is not Hebrew. There were two ways foreigners became slaves of the Hebrews:

  • Their nation was conquered—When the Hebrews were going to lay siege to a people, they would first give them the opportunity to surrender. If they did, the people would become vassals of the Hebrews (Deut. 20:10–11); although the men were sometimes used as conscripts (2 Sam 20:24, I Kings 9.15), they were not slaves in the normal sense of the term. Instead, it was more like Jews being ruled over by the Romans (i.e., the Jews were vassals of Rome).

    As an aside, Israel was not allowed to attack countries in lands that the Lord had not given them (i.e., outside of the Promised Land), unless they were first attacked (Duet. 2).

  • They were sold—The Hebrews were allowed to buy (not take) slaves from pagan nations (Lev. 25:44–45).

Foreign slaves were well treated by the Hebrews, although without some of the rights enjoyed by Hebrew slaves (more about that later). Here are a few:

  • They did not have to work on the Sabbath (Ex. 20:9).

  • They were not to be injured severely or killed (Ex. 21:21-27).

    Two notes regarding Ex. 21: In verse 21 the term “his property” is used; this indicates that a foreign slave is in view because the term would be inappropriate if applied to a Hebrew.

    Notice that the slave’s rights are on par with those of the freemen; also consider Due. 25:1–3, 2 Sam. 7:14, and Prov. 13:24 where freemen are likewise punished with beatings. This indicates a level of humane treatment that was unheard of in other slave states.

  • Runaway slaves were granted right-of-refuge and not allowed to be extradited back to their foreign owners; in addition, they were allowed to live in whatever town they wanted and were not to be oppressed, even though they were foreigners (Deut. 23:15-16).

  • If the slave belonged to a priest, he could eat “the holy gift,” something that most Hebrews were not allowed to do (Lev. 22:11).

  • The women could be taken as wives with the corresponding rights and privileges, including the right to freedom should she be divorced (Deut. 21:10–14).

  • Reminding the Hebrews that they were once slaves, God commanded them to love their foreign slaves and to treat them fairly (Lev. 19:34–35; Deut. 10:19).

In the next post for this series well take a look at Hebrew slavery, so stay tuned for part two!

--The Catechizer

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Thursday, November 06, 2014

Moral Confusion—Slavery vs. Abortion

Most people’s moral reasoning has been crippled by Relativism. Because of this, it can be very difficult to get people to think deeply about any issue—and it’s almost impossible to get them to reflect seriously upon the most important moral issue of our day—abortion.

When discussing this matter, it helps get people thinking when you replace abortion with an already-settled moral issue. Here’s an example using Rudy Giuliani’s remarks during the 2008 Republican presidential debates. But, in order to make the analogy more clear, we’ll move the debate back to the year 1860, and swap Giuliani for Lincoln.

Moderator: Let me ask Mr. Lincoln, do you want to respond to this? Because it seems like across the room here, this strong, unrelenting anti-slavery position. You seem to have a nuanced position on this. Many people think you're pro-slavery. Could you define it in a couple of seconds?

Abraham Lincoln: Sure. This is a very, very difficult issue of conscience for many, many people. In my case, I hate slavery. I would encourage someone to not take that option and enslave Africans. When I was a member of the House of Representatives, I encouraged emancipations.

But ultimately, since it is an issue of conscience, I would respect a slaveholder’s or slave-trader’s right to make a different choice.

But ultimately, I think when you come down to that choice, you have to respect a slaveholder’s or slave-trader’s right to make that choice differently than my conscience.

We cannot even conceive of Abraham Lincoln being this morally confused. When it came to the issue of slavery, the greatest moral issue of his time, Lincoln understood that there was only one question that needed to be answered: Are black folks human beings?

And when this new principle [that African Americans were not covered by the phrase "all men are created equal"] -- this new proposition that no human being ever thought of three years ago, -- is brought forward, I combat it as having an evil tendency, if not an evil design; I combat it as having a tendency to dehumanize the negro -- to take away from him the right of ever striving to be a man. I combat it as being one of the thousand things constantly done in these days to prepare the public mind to make property, and nothing but property of the negro in all the States of the Union.

From Abraham Lincoln’s last debate with Stephen Douglas, 1858

What makes the analogy work is the question of humanity: for Lincoln, as mentioned, Are blacks human beings? If so, then there is no justification for their enslavement. If not, then do with them what you will—no justification needed.

For us, Are the unborn human beings? If so, then there is no justification for abortion. If not, then do with them what you will. This is the question with which we must press those in favor of abortion. All others are secondary.

--The Catechizer

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Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Today in Church History: B.B. Warfield, Princeton Theological Seminary

On November 5, 1851, Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield was born outside Lexington, Kentucky.

The son of a prosperous horse and cattle breeder, Warfield developed interests in science before studying at Princeton College and Princeton Seminary. A brief pastorate in Baltimore preceded his appointment at Western Seminary in Pittsburgh. After teaching New Testament there for nine years, he was offered a chair in theology at Princeton Seminary in 1887, succeeding A. A. Hodge.

During his 34-year tenure at Princeton, where he taught over 2700 students, Warfield was a prolific writer and long-time editor of the Presbyterian Review, the Presbyterian and Reformed Review, and the Princeton Theological Review. In those pages he took on mysticism, naturalism, Pentecostalism, perfectionism, and rationalism, as these movements threatened the Presbyterian church. He vigorously defended the verbal inspiration of Scripture against his antagonist, Charles A. Briggs of Union Seminary in New York. Calvinistic orthodoxy lay at the heart of all of his work. "Calvinism is just religion in its purity," he wrote. "We have only therefore to conceive of religion in its purity, and that is Calvinism."

The last of the great Princeton Theologians died on February 16, 1921. Warfield's passing was a great blow to the seminary and church, as a younger colleague, J. Gresham Machen, described in letters to his mother:

Princeton will seem to be a very insipid place without him. He was really a great man. There is no one living in the Church capable of occupying one quarter of his place. To me, he was an incalculable help and support in a hundred different ways.

Dr. Warfield's funeral took place yesterday afternoon at the First Church of Princeton . . . It seemed that the old Princeton " a great institution " died when Dr. Warfield was carried out.

-John Muether

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Monday, November 03, 2014

New Roman Catholic Bible—Same Old Problem

From the Wittenberg Door archives...

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have been hard at work on a new translation of the Bible. From what I’ve read much of the changes are innocuous, like changing the word “booty” to “spoils of war” and “cereal” to “grain.” One alteration, however, is quite consequential:

One change may set off alarms with traditionalists, in a passage many Christians believe foreshadows the coming of Christ and his birth to a virgin. The 1970 version of Isaiah 7:14 says "the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel."

The 2011 text refers to "the young woman" instead. It elaborates that the original Hebrew word, almah, may, or may not, signify a virgin.

Here are the verses impacted by the change as translated in the NASB:

"Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14

21) "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."

22) Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23) "BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL," which translated means, "GOD WITH US."

Matt 1:21 – 23

According to Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon, almah can refer to “damsel, maid, virgin.” The Greek word is partheos, which Strong’s Greek Lexicon renders, “a maiden; by implication, an unmarried daughter:--virgin.” As you can see, the Greek word used by Matthew clearly means virgin.

Of course, common sense also dictates that that the prophecy is about a virgin. If you’re a prophet in search of a job and the star accomplishment on your resume is that you predicted a young women would have a child, then you had better get used to food stamps. And can you imagine Matthew arguing for Jesus’ messiahship down at the local pub, “Guys, I’m tell’n ya, it’s really him! His mother was a young women. A YOUNG WOMEN! What else could it mean?”

Not only is Rome pulling the Scriptural rug out from beneath the doctrine of the virgin conception, they’re also challenging the Bible’s authority.

God doesn’t err
The Bible is God’s book
Therefore, the Bible doesn’t err

For Rome to be right, then Matthew must be wrong, for clearly the book of Matthew affirms that the prophecy is about a virgin. But of course, this is just a new chapter in an old story—Rome versus the Bible. And as always, God’s Word is subordinated to her councils, magisterium, traditions, and pontiffs.

--The Catechizer

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Friday, October 31, 2014

The Reformation

If you ask most kids what they celebrate on the last day of October, they would say Halloween. Would the response be different from a Sunday school calls? As the poet said, “The world is too much with us!” This is the season for thinking about the Protestant Reformation. With Halloween so spiritually questionable today, shouldn’t we be more concerned about our spiritual heritage?

When Martin Luther nailed his 95 these to the door of Wittenberg church on October 31, 1517, that was the beginning of the greatest spiritual awakening since the days of the apostles. Not only Luther, but Hus of Bohemia, Wyclif of England, Calvin of Geneva, and Knox of Scotland were used of God to kindle the fires of reform.

The basic doctrine of the Reformers was that the Bible is our only infallible rule of faith and practice. Not the pope, not human tradition, not church councils, but the Word of God must be our final court of appeal in matters of belief and conduct. This soul-liberating truth needs fresh emphasis in every generation.

Another doctrine rediscovered in the Reformation was justification by faith in Jesus Christ alone. Our salvation can depend on nothing except the perfect righteousness of Christ. The means of laying hold of the perfect righteousness is faith. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith,” Paul says, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). Without this truth there is no gospel, no good news for sinners.

Another truth stemming from the Protestant Reformation is the universal priesthood of believers. We depend on no priest or minister for our access to Almighty God. Jesus is the “high priest whom we confess.” Only through him do we have the right of direct access into the presence of a holy God.

We who are heirs of the Reformation have so much to thank God for. And yet we dare not think the battle fought by the Reformers has been won. In every generation, even the Protestant churches, that battle needs to be joined and, by the grace of God, won again. For the sake of the faith once delivered to the saints, we must be willing today to say with Luther, “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me!”

Great Commission Publications

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What to do About Halloween?

All Saints’ Day (or All Hallows) is a church tradition dating back to the 7th century. At base it was an occasion set aside to remember the faithful who had come before. The observance of All Hollows Day, November 1, continued after the Reformation not only in Roman Catholicism, but also in the Lutheran and Anglican churches, as well as in some other segments of Protestantism.

The morphing of this holiday into our modern Halloween is a long and winding road that includes elements derived from Christian tradition, paganism, Roman Catholicism, and culture. But superstition is the string that ties them all together. Take costumes as an example. It was believed that certain malevolent spirits were allowed to wander the earth on All Hollow’s Eve seeking their revenge on the living. So costumes would be worn to keep the angry specters from recognizing their intended haunts. (Another weapon to have on hand is the Jack-o’-Lantern, which apparently terrifies these ghosts.)

To Participate? Or Not to Participate?

But all of this is but a back-drop to a larger question: Should I participate in Halloween or not?

There are thoughtful Christians on both sides. Those against it point to the pagan elements and the strong association with the kingdom of darkness. While other Christians see this as a way to celebrate Christ’s victory over death and the defeat of Satan; they also believe that all this attention paid to spirits and death provides ample opportunity for evangelism (as does meeting the neighbors through tick-or-treating). Valid points are made by both camps.

I think most Christians fall somewhere in the middle, and I’d include myself among them. That means I do participate, but I do so cautiously. Therefore, I stay away from the occult elements, the glorification of death, and the making light of demonic forces. Now that doesn’t mean that I shy away from a good fright. I do enjoy the old scary movies on TCM and I love a good haunted house. (As I see it, Halloween affords us the opportunity to experience the emotion of fear safely.)

Conclusion

I believe this to be a matter of conscience, although many on the “abstain” side would take issue. I admit that I don’t have a strong conviction on this and could be wrong. But one thing I’m certain of: whether we participate or not, this day, as do all others, belongs to Christ—there is no “Devils holiday.” Satan’s works have been destroyed (1 Jon. 3:8) and his kingdom conquered (Heb. 2:14 – 15). We stand triumphantly in Christ’s victory over him (1 Pet. 5:8 – 9, Matt. 16:18), and over death itself (1 Cor. 15–57). So whether we’re extorting candy from the neighbors, avoiding cow pies at a Harvest Festival, or sitting at home in the dark hiding from the doorbell, we should always remember that the message of Christ’s triumph is appropriate for all seasons.

--The Catechizer

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Today in Church History: Martin Luther, Protestant Reformation


On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation when he nailed his 95 Theses on the Wittenberg church door.

Contrary to modern impressions, the Augustinian monk's action was not a defiant and revolutionary gesture, but rather a dispassionate invitation for his fellow academics to debate the power of indulgences, and especially their abuse under the salesmanship of John Tetzel. The theses begin and end in this way:

  • 1) When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said, "Repent," He called for the entire life of believers to be one of penitence.

  • 2) The word cannot be properly understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, i.e. confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.

  • 94) Christians should be exhorted to be zealous to follow Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hells;

  • 95) And let them thus be more confident in entering heaven through many tribulations than through a false assurance of peace.

In the years that followed, Luther's struggles to reform the church prompted him eventually to strike at the heart of the Roman Catholic doctrine of salvation, as he embraced the doctrines of sola Scriptura (the Word of God cannot be subordinated to human tradition), sola fide (justification is by faith alone and not dependent on works-righteousness), and sola gratia (salvation is a gift of God's grace and not earned by human merit). Though his rediscovery of the gospel took shape over the course of years, it was foreshadowed in the posting of his 95 Theses. Thus it is fitting for all Protestants, including Orthodox Presbyterians, to commemorate October 31 as "Reformation Day."

John Muether

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