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

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Do God’s Mercy and Justice Contradict Each Other?

Q 11.Is not God then also merciful?

A. God is indeed merciful, but He is likewise just; His justice therefore requires, that sin which is committed against the most high majesty of God, be punished with extreme, that is, with everlasting punishment of both of body and soul.

Heidelberg Catechism

God’s attributes do not contradict nor cancel out one another; rather, they act in concert with one another to accomplish God’s purposes and reflect His goodness. Let us then undertake to understand God’s justice and mercy and see how they relate to one another.

Justice

God’s wrath comes not from violent uncontrollable outbursts, like the anger of sinful man. God’s wrath is a manifestation of his holiness and righteousness. He cannot endure wickedness to continue unabated and unrequited. Justice requires that rebellion against his proper and good authority not only deserves, but demands recompense. For God not to punish sin would make Him unjust. A simple definition of justice is: actions require an equitable response proportionate to their nature. In other words, good deeds are rewarded, bad deeds are punished.

“...(God’s mercy) consists in this, that He prepares the ways and means whereby He might forgive sin without violating His justice”

Otto Theleman’s commentary on Q&A #10, An Aid to the Catechism

2 Chronicles 6:23; Ruth 2:11-12; Psalm 5:4-5; Jeremiah 32:18-19-19; Romans 1:18; 1 Corinthians 3:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-6; Hebrews 11:6

Mercy

Compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm. Simple definitions of mercy and grace are as follows:

  • Grace - Receiving that which was not earned/deserved

  • Mercy - Not receiving that which was earned/deserved

Nehemiah 9:27-31; Psalm 103:8-10, 116:5; Lamentations 3:19-24; Luke 6:36; Ephesians 2:4-5

“. . . In respect of those to whom he shows mercy, Rom. 9:15, 16. He quotes that scripture to show God’s sovereignty in dispensing his favours (Exod. 33:19): I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious. All God’s reasons of mercy are taken from within himself. All the children of men (are) plunged alike into a state of sin and misery, equally under guilt and wrath, God, in a way of sovereignty, picks out some from this fallen apostatized race, to be vessels of grace and glory. He dispenses his gifts to whom he will, without giving us any reason: according to his own good pleasure he pitches upon some to be monuments of mercy and grace...while he passes by others. The expression is very emphatic, and the repetition makes it more so: I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy. It imports a perfect absoluteness in God’s will; he will do what he will, and giveth not account of any of his matters, nor is it fit he should. As these great words, I am that I am (Exod. 3:14) do abundantly express the absolute independency of his being, so these words, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, do as fully express the absolute prerogative and sovereignty of his will. To vindicate the righteousness of God, in showing mercy to whom he will, the apostle appeals to that which God himself had spoken, wherein he claims this sovereign power and liberty. God is a competent judge, even in his own case. Whatsoever God does, or is resolved to do, is both by the one and the other proved to be just. Eleeso on han hele—I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy. When I begin, I will make an end. Therefore God’s mercy endures for ever, because the reason of it is fetched from within himself; therefore his gifts and callings are without repentance.

Henry’s commentary at Bible Gateway, under “resources”

--The Deacon

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Today in Church History: Church of Scotland, Scottish Reformation

On December 20, 1560, the first General Assembly of the Church of Scotland convened in Edinburgh.

Under the leadership of John Knox, six ministers and 36 elders gathered to deliberate on and eventually to present for the approval of the Scottish Parliament the Book of Discipline, drafted earlier in that year. Although this work would be superseded by the Second Book of Discipline by 1578, the greater significance of the 1560 gathering was its establishment of the Presbyterian pattern of annual meetings of commissioners from each presbytery. This conciliar system of church government finds its biblical precedent in the Jerusalem council of Acts 15.

The highest representative body in the Reformed system of government is presided over by a moderator, with the stated clerk serving as chief executive officer. The General Assembly oversees and supervises its committees and agencies, along with the lower assemblies of the church (which in turn submit overtures and appeals to the General Assembly). In Presbyterian polity, the General Assembly is itself limited in its powers and subject to the constitution of the church The precise authority that it holds varies among Reformed denominations. The American Presbyterian tradition has generally assumed a more decentralized character, with undelegated powers residing in the Presbyteries.

- --John Muether

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Thought of the Day: Man’s Fallen Condition

In his fallen state man is an enemy of God. He not only doesn’t seek reconciliation and entrance into God’s kingdom, but he is daily seeking to further himself from His holy Creator. The sinner’s only hope is a rescue operation—a sovereign work of God upon his heart. And this rescue operation does not depend upon the drowning man seeking out the lifeguard. Instead, our rescuer chose to save us, and to preserve us, before we ever entered the water.

--The Catechizer

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Nativity Scenes

Tis’ the season for gift giving, carol singing, and circumnavigating the ubiquitous nativity scenes. Maybe your nativity scene of choice is the plastic kind that sits as a crown Christmas jewel atop your TV; or perhaps you’re the more earthy type who prefers the living, breathing kind that leaves droppings in the church courtyard. Whatever the variety, they all share a common element: baby Jesus nestled in the manager.

But have you considered this? —Jesus is God.

Q: What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?

A: The sins forbidden in the second commandment are . . . the making of any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of creature whatsoever . . .

The Westminster Larger Catechism, question 109

Consider the following syllogism:

Making a representation of God is forbidden (Deut. 4:15–19; Acts 17:29; Rom. 1:21–25).
Jesus is God.
Therefore, making a representation of Jesus is forbidden.

Something to think about before wrapping your daughter’s doll in swaddling clothes.

--The Catechizer

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Gospel Call

When thinking of salvation, it is appropriate to step back and understand that salvation is the work of the Trinity. In eternity past, the Father marked out those who would be saved (election). At the appointed time, the Son came into the world and secured the redemption of His people. Finally, the Spirit, working through the word, applies that redemption to the elect. A key part of this process is the gospel call, which takes two forms.

The general (or external) call

We find in Scripture that the gospel call is distributed indiscriminately. This call to repentance and faith goes out to all hearers. The great Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon was once asked why he didn’t preach to the elect only. His response is reported to have been, “If I know the elect had yellow stripes down their backs, I would be running around London lifting up shirts.” The elect is known only to God. Thus those responding to the Great Commission proclaim Christ to all.

This external call includes (1.) A declaration of the plan of salvation. (2.) The promise of God to save all who accede to the terms of that plan. (3.) Command, exhortation, and invitation to all to accept of the offer mercy. (4.) An exhibition of the reasons which should constrain men to repent and believe, and thus escape from the wrath to come. All this is included in the gospel. For the gospel is a revelation of God's plan of saving sinners . . . This call is universal in the sense that it is addressed to all men indiscriminately to whom the gospel is sent. It is confined to no age, nation, or class of men. It is made to the Jew and Gentile, to Barbarians and Scythians, bond and free; to the learned and to the ignorant; to the righteous and to the wicked; to the elect and to the non-elect.

Charles Hodge (1797-1878)

For many are called, but few are chosen

Matthew 22:14

5) "The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up.

6) "Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture.

7) "Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out.

8) "Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great." As He said these things, He would call out, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

11) "Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God.

Luke 8:5-8, 11

The Effectual (or inward) call

For the elect, a special inward call from the Holy Spirit accompanies the general call. This call brings the sinner, who is dead in his sins (Gen. 2:16–17, 3:1–7; Rom. 5:12; Eph. 2:1–3; Col. 2:13), to life. By this work of the Spirit, through the word, faith is granted to the sinner—he is enabled to believe all that is promised in the gospel.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins

Ephesians 2:1

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

Romans 10:17

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God

Ephesians 2:8

--The Catechizer

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Today in Church History: George Whitefield, Revivalism


On December 16, 1714, revivalist and evangelist George Whitefield was born in Gloucester, England.

Trained initially as an actor, Whitefield was educated at Pembroke College in Oxford and ordained in 1736. At the invitation of John and Charles Wesley, Whitefield traveled to North America in 1739, where he quickly became the best-known figure in the Great Awakening. His fervent open-air preaching " filled with colloquial phrases, dramatic pauses, and vivid word pictures " met with remarkable success.

Whitefield's practice of itinerant preaching furthered tensions within colonial Presbyterianism. Revivalists felt justified in traveling from village to village, speaking to crowds whether inside church buildings or outside in the market square, with or without the invitation of the local pastor. Established pastors, however, considered such occasions of preaching as a rebuke to their own ministry and feared the disorder, error, and individualism that itinerants cultivated. The effect of itinerancy was to undermine the discipline and authority of the local church. Through the ministry of Whitefield and other revivalists, American Protestantism moved away from careful observance of traditional Old World forms and toward an emphasis on individual religious experience.

- --John Muether

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

So Great a Salvation

Our first parents, through the instigation of the Devil (Rev. 12:9), chose to rebel against our most holy God (Gen. 3:1-6). The result of this rebellion was the entrance of sin into the world (Rom. 5:12-14). The nakedness for which Adam and Eve were ashamed extended far beyond mere clothing—they and their progeny were now separated from God and in need of reconciliation (Rom. 5:12-21).

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”
Genesis 2:16-17

As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one.”
Romans 3:10-12

Saving Grace

Grace (Latin: Gratia; Greek: Charis; Hebrew: Chen) refers to the undeserved favor shown from one to another, particularly from a greater to a lesser.

“. . .grace is an attribute of God, one of the divine perfections. It is God’s free, sovereign, undeserved favor or love to man, in his state of sin and guilt, which manifests itself in the forgiveness of sin and deliverance from its penalty. It is connected with the mercy of God as distinguished from His justice. This is redemptive grace in the most fundamental sense of the word. It is the ultimate cause of God’s elective purpose, of the sinner’s justification, and of his spiritual renewal; and the prolific source of all spiritual and eternal blessings.”

Louis Berkhof (1873-1957)

Man can do nothing to earn (merit) God’s grace. If he could, then it would be a wage not a gift, and would be grounds for boasting before God.

8) For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
9) not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9

Mankind has rebelled against God, and, as a result, stands condemned. But God, for His own good pleasure, chooses to spare some—to show mercy. By its very nature, grace does not come about by anything man does—we don’t pray our way into it, chose our way into it, or anything else. It is completely, from first to last, an underserved gift from God. Thus the appropriate response is to fall down before a gracious God who does not give us what we deserve.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness
Romans 1:18

When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”
Acts 11:18

When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
Acts 13:48

This message of grace, therefore, is essential to the gospel message, as Puritan John Owen explains . . .

Gospel promises then are: (1) The free and gracious dispensations; and, (2) discoveries of God’s good-will and love: to, (3) sinners; (4) through Christ; (5) in a covenant of grace: (6) wherein, upon his truth and faithfulness, he engageth himself to be their God, to give his Son unto them, and for them, and his Holy Spirit to abide with them, with all things that are either required in them, or are necessary for them, to make them accepted before him, and to bring them to an enjoyment of him.

John Owen (1616-1683)

Conclusion

Because of the fall man is separated from God. And left to his devices he’ll continue in his sin and rebellion. But God, in His great mercy, chooses to grant a stay of execution to some—not only that, He chooses to adopt the condemned! This message of God not giving us what we deserve should make us fall to our knees and sing along with John Newton . . .

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

--The Catechizer

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Necessity of Creeds By Rev. Robert Grossmann

The Word of God calls upon believers to confess their faith. Jesus said, Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven (Matt. 10:32). The apostle Paul concurs: If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom. 10:9). To assure a purity of confession, the church has written various creeds over the years. Creeds are universal as summaries of the truth of the gospel.

Even those who proclaim "No Creed but Christ" have a list of propositions that defines the Christ they believe in. The problem is that they are not willing to publish this list since it might change. There should be no fear to publish the teachings of Scripture, though: the Lord got his doctrines right the first time! Nevertheless, as Christians we must agree that, if our creedal summary is in error, we will change it.

The Bible teaches that man's conscience should be bound only by the Word of God (Mark 7:9). This does not lead to anarchy, as one might suppose, because the Bible also teaches the unity of the true faith and separation from those who do not hold to the clear teaching of God's Word (2 Cor. 6:14ff.; 1 Tim. 6:3-5; 1 John 4:1-3; 2 John 10).

Basic Christian unity is confessed by Reformed Christians with all who sincerely hold to the teachings of the Apostles' Creed (see Heidelberg catechism, Questions 22 and 54). Historic confessions have generally used the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer to structure their more specific doctrinal statements.

Reformed churches, along with other churches descending from the Reformation, have followed the ancient church tradition of writing expository creeds which state Biblical teaching in a way that separates believers from unbelievers (cf. the Nicene Creed, which declares that all Christians must believe in the Trinity). Reformed confessions include the Heidelberg catechism, the Belgic Confession of Faith, the Canons of Dort, the Second Helvetic Confession and the Westminster Standards (the first three creeds constitute the confessional base of the RCUS). These expository creeds serve as the skin and bones for the church as an organization on earth. As bones, they give it a unifying structure, since all members and officers confess the truth of the doctrines they set forth; as skin, they separate those of a particular denomination from others outside the church structure.

Because Reformed churches hold that unity in truth is the basis of all other unity (2 John 10), they form close-knit denominational fellowships and establish ecumenical connections with other Reformed bodies holding similar creeds. Such fraternal relations should not be confused with the modern tendency of church unionism.

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Saturday, December 06, 2014

Female Elders/Pastors?

Recently I had an email conversation about female pastors with one of my former pastors from my Pentecostal days. (He was about to ordain a slew of them.) I asked him about it on Facebook because back when I attended his fellowship he disallowed female pastors. “Why the change?” I asked.

What follows is my response to his reasoning. Please note that although I’m only referring to pastors (teaching elders, 1 Tim. 5:17), my case equally applies to ruling elders.

Your question:Where in Scripture does it say that women can be Pastor's? My simple answer is Eph.4:7-8 -...and HE gave gifts to "MEN"- meaning all mankind..Eph.4:11-12 -and He Himself gave some to be Apostles, some Prophets, some Evangelists, and some to be Pastors and Teachers. 12-For the equiping of the saints for the work of the ministry."

. . . Our Qualifications are: That they are GIFTED by God to lead in the area they are called on, Submitted to their husband, DWC discipleship, Faithfulness of Service, Understanding the DOCTRINE OF GRACE and RIGHTEOUSNESS through Faith in Jesus Christ and Last of all EXPERIENCE.

Greetings, “Bob.” First, you’re right: He does give gifts to “men” (general), but I’m sure that you would agree that he does not give all people the same gifts. God does, however, call people to ministry (Eph. 4:7-8) and provide those called with the needed gifts to fulfill that ministry (Eph. 4:8). Of course, for this discussion, if God does not allow women to be pastors, then he’s not calling them to that office nor is he so gifting them (although they might have similar gifts, like teaching). So first we need to answer the question of whether or not God allows female pastors before we can move on to calling and gifting.

There are a few verses that speak directly to this issue. Consider Paul instructing the young pastor, Timothy, in I Tim 2:

11) A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness.

12) But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.

Paul’s letter to Timothy is meant as a guide to how a church should operate. In the above passages, Paul is telling Timothy that women should respect the governing role of the church officers. Since they are being forbidden from teaching or exercising authority over the men in the church, women may not have that governing role. (By the way, I do think women can teach in a non-authoritative role, like Priscilla did in Acts 18:26; and I also don’t think that they are restricted when it comes to public prayer or other types of edifying proclamations: I Cor. 11:15.)

Paul finishes chapter 2 by grounding the functional hierarchy of the church in creation. He then continues his instruction in chapter 3 by providing the qualifications for a pastor:

1) It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.

2) An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,


3) not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.

4) He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity

5) but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?,

6) and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.

7) And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Paul here is not using “man” or “he” in the general sense, especially since these passage follow directly after he specifically talked about women in the church (unless those are to be taken that way too). It is men who are called to “be the husband of one wife,” and it is men who God holds ultimately responsible for the managing of the household and the upbringing of the children. Likewise, God holds the pastors responsible for His household.

Consider the flow of Paul’s thought: women may not teach or have authority over men in the church, followed by the qualifications for the pastorate, which are directed solely to men.

Paul makes the same case in the first chapter of Titus, where he again directs it to only men (husband of one wife, etc.). After completing his teaching about pastors, he starts chapter 2 by giving instructions to “older men” (vs. 2) and “older women” (vs. 3), followed by instructions to young men and bondservants. He finishes the chapter by saying that “. . . the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” (vs. 11). I mention this because he has switched to the general use of “men.” Before this passage, he was directly addressing specific groups.

Well, that’s it in a nutshell. I might be totally wrong about this, but it seems to me that the case against women being pastors is pretty strong (especially when you add to the mix the example of Scripture—from the Aaronic priesthood, to the apostles, to a young pastor like Timothy). Something to chew on, at least.

--The Catechizer

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Friday, December 05, 2014

Was Time Created?

Dr. Peter May has a fine article at bethinking.org titled, Has Science Disproved God? In it he fortifies the Cosmological argument with scientific discovery.

I do have one disagreement, though. In his article, Dr. May suggests that time is a created thing:

We cannot speak about time before time existed. God, if he created the universe, must live outside of space and time.

Time as the Movement of a Clock

For scientists such as Einstein or Hawking, time must be physical because their worldview rules-out the existence of abstract entities. Therefore, they ascribe a beginning to time and describe it as, basically, the movement of the hands of the clock.

Christians too typically fall into this line of reasoning when they speak of God being “outside of time.” Time is seen as a creation of God that will someday be done away with. Until then, He will content Himself with being a sort of jack-in-the-box, jumping in and out of this box called “time.”

Eternal Now?

Another Christian explanation of God and time, sometimes called “eternal now,” was held by many of our Church Fathers, including Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, and Methodius.

This view puts God in a window overlooking a parade—the ever-present spectator, God is perched high-above observing all events at once. Consequently, the creation of the earth, the crucifixion of Christ, and the consummation of the age are all happening at one time. As if all events were thrown into a cosmic Cuisinart.

Sequence

There is certainly a created aspect of time. But is it exclusively so? I don’t believe it is. There seems to be an uncreated element that is a necessary consequence of God’s existence. Consider this: Time is usually defined as duration—that which passes between events. It seems to me that there is something else to consider: sequence, which includes the events themselves. Here’s what I mean:

There are two types of sequence: logical and temporal. An example of a logical sequence would be counting, 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. “2” logically follows “1.”

A temporal sequence would be a simple recounting of events. For example, if I numbered four Popsicle sticks and then randomly laid them out, they might turnout like this: 4, 2, 1, 3. That’s a temporal sequence.

Sequence and Temporality

Before God created the material universe there was a before. Before denotes a temporal sequence and is a hallmark of time. Therefore, since there was a before preceding the creation of the material universe, then time could not been part of that creation.

Here’s something else to consider: before that creation, God created a certain number of angles; and before He created them, He set a fixed number in His mind. This involves counting—logical sequences. Since God is not material, and since He is counting and creating, then neither logical nor temporal sequences are material; and since they necessarily precede His creative work, they themselves cannot be created; hence time cannot be material nor created.

The Challenge

Every Christian I’ve discussed this with has simply assumed that time is created and have offered no arguments for time’s creation and no valid refutations to my argument regarding sequences and time markers.

For those espousing the “time is a created thing” position, please tell us why we should accept your position? Why should we believe that before God engaged in His creative handiwork that He didn’t think (was He comatose?), plan (e.g., when would the consummation of the age be), add (e.g., establish the number of angels He’d create), love (inner-Trinitarian), etc.? Why should we believe something that is obviously self-refuting: that before before there was no before? Why would we believe that right now, to God, He is talking to Moses, bringing the plagues upon Egypt, being crucified in the person of Christ, bringing about the consummation of the age, ect?

What those of us who are skeptical of this position are looking for is a rational argument for time being created and not applying to God. (I'd also appreciate a refutation of the argument I've offered.)

It is a difficult issue, and highly speculative and mysterious, and we must take care not to create new mysteries. Those of us with these questions could be completely wrong about this, but to know that we are, we're going to need a valid argument (not an assumption) that time is a created thing.

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