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

Friday, April 17, 2015

Today in Church History: Archibald Alexander, Princeton Theological Seminary

On April 17, 1772, Archibald Alexander was born near Lexington, Virginia.

Educated at Liberty Academy (now Washington and Lee University) and ordained in 1794, Alexander was president of Hampden-Sydney College and served as pastor of Third Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia for six years. In 1812, the General Assembly appointed him the first faculty member of the newly created Princeton Theological Seminary. As "Professor of Didactic and Polemic Theology," he would soon be joined by Samuel Miller and Charles Hodge, and eventually by two of his sons, James Waddel Alexander and Joseph Addison Alexander, as well. He would serve at Princeton until shortly before his death in 1851.

Born of second-generation Scotch-Irish parents and converted through frontier revivals in the Shenandoah Valley, Alexander always considered Virginia his home. Although he was an opponent of the excesses of revivalism, he insisted on the importance of the experiential dimension of the Christian life, especially in his 1841 book, Thoughts on Religious Experience.

John Muether

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Should the Church Get Out of the Marriage Business?

The State’s primary interest in marriage is that it is the best way for it, the State, to perpetuate itself. Mommies and daddies are from where the next generation of citizens will come. And the best environment for the raising of responsible citizens is a married, monogamist, heterosexual household. Married and monogamist because that brings stability to the home; heterosexual because both the mother and the father bring something in particular to the childrearing enterprise.

This unit is the best way to secure society’s future. Therefore, the State has an interest in favoring and protecting marriage between a man and a woman. It has no such interest in same-sex unions.

The above is my public policy argument against the redefinition of marriage. It’s meant to protect the institution from attacks by secular forces. But this argument does not protect marriage from forces within the church . . .

Christians are frequently tempted to excuse themselves from the kerfuffle over same-sex marriage by insisting that the church should get out of the marriage business altogether. Many suggest that we should separate the conception of marriage into the "sacred" and the "secular." These evangelicals aren't questioning the Scripture's teaching on homosexuality. Some Christians just want to bypass debate and focus on weightier matters within the church's walls—like preserving the theology of marriage from being corrupted by democratic fiat.

This argument assumes that Christians can maintain and safeguard their own definition of marriage by refusing to impose a particular viewpoint in the public square. Often with good intentions, some Christians wish to privatize marriage into a strictly ecclesial practice, treating it like we would the Lord's Supper or baptism.

So now we are in a place where arguments against both sides are needed. Andrew Walker, director of policy studies at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, provides a thoughtful response to those Christians who think it’s best for the church to get out of the marriage business. Here’s an excerpt . . .

While marriage may be ultimately Christian, it's not exclusively Christian. Arguments that conflate theological meaning with direct public application ignore this division and treat a theology of marriage as akin to a theology of baptism. How a church administers baptism, however, is an ecclesial ordinance where the church marks out its members. The same cannot be said about marriage. It is entirely permissible for the government to uphold a view of marriage that comports with theological truth, but that is not held or promoted for theological reasons.

When we speak of marriage as only a theological construct, we do a disservice to the institution's public significance. There aren't two kinds of marriage—one secular, one sacred. There's only one marriage with one purpose, regardless of how different religious traditions handle or interpret the institution. Government does not uphold a particular theological interpretation of marriage; it upholds a view of marriage that differing theological and non-theological systems rightly accommodate. That's why civilizations across human history—some of them irreligious—have acknowledged marriage.

As Christians, we understand that marriage reflects the deepest truths of the gospel. As Christians in America, we also understand that government has an interest in promoting marriage as a social policy apart from any theological backdrop.

You can read the entire article here.

--The Catechizer

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Today in Church History: Westminster Assembly of Divines

On April 14, 1648, the Westminster Assembly of Divines presented its Catechisms to Parliament: the Larger Catechism for pulpit exposition and the Shorter Catechism for the education of children.

When the 121 divines convened in 1643, they set out at first to review the Anglican -Nine Articles of Religion, which was considered essentially but not sufficiently Calvinistic. Soon the work of the Assembly expanded, and five years and 1,163 sessions later, it produced the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, the Directory for Public Worship, and the Form of Church Government.

In the words of John Murray, "The Westminster Confession and Catechisms are . . . the mature fruit of the whole movement of creed-formation throughout fifteen centuries of Christian history, and, in particular, they are the crown of the greatest age of confessional exposition, the Protestant Reformation. No other similar documents have concentrated in them, and formulated with such precision, so much of the truth embodied in the Christian revelation."

John Muether

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Monday, April 13, 2015

Revivalism and Higher Criticism

The First Great awakening was largely Calvinistic and moored to the historic confessions of the church. The Second Great awakening was Arminian in nature and adrift in a sea of emotionalism. Why the difference? A significant event occurred between the two: the American Revolution. It’s significant to the church because not only did the people throw off the bonds of a king, but they also threw off the bonds of the church. Experience and subjectivism would rule the day, not creeds and doctrine.

In the void left by the removal of the confessions came an assault by the higher critics, something the emotionalism upon which the Second Great Awakening was based could not defend. Those charged with guarding the historic faith’s hen house were too drunk on Finney’s new wine to notice the fox, sporting a “Schleiermacher is my Homeboy” tee-shirt, running off with the Scriptures. An unfortunate legacy we’re still living with today.

Over at at Historia Ecclesiastica, A. Ian Hugh Clary provides an interesting look at the link between revivalism and higher criticism:

Andrew Holmes, Lecturer in Modern Irish History at Queen’s University Belfast, wrote an article on the causes and consequences of the Ulster Revival of 1859. Near the end of the piece he draws an illuminating link between the role of religious experience and the acceptance of higher criticism within evangelicalism. He says that when “pietistic spirituality”—that emphasizes personal conversion, holiness, and experience—is placed at the centre of theological enquiry, the bible can be characterized as a “record of the developing spiritual experience” rather than a manual of doctrine. This opens the doors for critical views of Scripture to enter in. Theological liberals separated the text and its historicity from spiritual experience and value. For evangelicals who were caught up in the ecstatic experience of revival (especially in Ulster’s case), a pietistic spirituality could be maintained while aberrant views of the bible were shuffled in. Holmes says, “It is significant that those figures most closely associated with modern biblical criticism within the Irish Presbyterian Church were also supporters of modern revivalism.”

Holmes goes on to say that theologians who espoused higher criticism in Scotland were happy to draw the link with revivalism—especially the visits of D. L. Moody—and sought further revivals and religious experience. For instance, J. E. Davey, an evangelical who embraced higher criticism, used revivalism and religious experience in his defence during his trial for heresy in 1926-1927.

This is helpful for historians as we consider the benefits and pitfalls of revival, especially in its more recent forms. It should also temper us as Christians in our labours for revival—we need to make sure that the methods we espouse do not lead us to elevate religious experience to the role of doctrinal credibility. Rather, we need to maintain fidelity to the truths of the gospel handed down to us from our forebears, including those who experienced revival yet remained faithful.

--The Catechizer

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Special Revelation – Part 3 – The Necessity of Scripture Continued

Continued from Part Two – The Necessity of Scripture . . .

What if the prophets spoke but the prophecies were not written down? How would we know what came to pass or what was to come to pass? What if God did not write down the Ten Commandments? How would we know to keep the Sabbath?

Scripture is not merely revelation, but inscripturation—It’s revelation committed to writing. It is an everlasting deposit of divine revelation. It was divine revelation when Paul preached Christ at Thessalonica. But when it was written down as Acts chapter 17, it became inscripturation.

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son…

Hebrews 1:1

Not all of divine revelation was recorded. Throughout redemptive history, God has spoken to His people. But for His own sovereign purpose, He did not have all His “speakings” inscripturated.

And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

John 21:25

The Necessity of Inscripturation

Inscripturation is necessary for the following reasons:

  • Because of the corrupting effects of sin. A written revelation is more objective and less prone to corruption. Moreover, a written revelation is less affected by the vicissitudes of history. This is especially important when prophecies must be preserved for successive generations.

  • Written prophecy is better judged in written form. When prophecy is written down, it is preserved. It may be scrutinized by future generations. Events foretold two hundred years in the future are not verifiable during the prophet’s lifetime. Only through the written record may the prophet be vindicated.

  • Written prophecy acts as an indictment and a warning. In Scripture we see God indicting His people through the prophets for idolatry, covenant breaking, and unbelief. Furthermore we see God’s wrath poured out, as was prophesied, upon nations, cities, and peoples. These events have been inscripturated for our instruction and warning. These events provide witness to God’s justice and wrath.

  • Written prophecy preserves the promises of God. Certain prophecies were not fulfilled in the generation in which they were uttered. This preserves His promises, giving hope to His people throughout redemptive history.

  • Instcripturation shows the permanence of God’s revelation. Written revelation demonstrates that the Word of God abides forever. It does not change, nor do the wants, desires, and opinions of man affect it.

  • The written Word of God may be tested. God has objectively revealed Himself and His will to us in the pages of Holy Writ.

  • God commits His words to writing for the greater assurance of His people. Each of the preceding points shows how inscripturation works towards our assurance and sanctification.

Conclusion

In summary, Scripture is necessary because it . . .

  • Expounds upon general revelation

  • Provides the way of salvation

  • Is the chosen communication method of the King

  • Is more than just revelation, providing us the inscripturated words of God

  • Presents a recorded record of God’s promises and dealings with His people

  • Is objective and self-authenticating (we will talk more of this in a later post)

  • Reveals God and His will to us

  • Is sufficient for doctrine and life

--The Catechizer

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Friday, April 10, 2015

Special Revelation – Part 2 – The Necessity of Scripture

This post, and the one to follow on this topic, was adapted from a study I did several years ago; the study was partially based upon notes I had taken during a Dr. Greg Bahnson lecture on this topic.

The necessity of Scripture is demonstrated by the following:

  • Scripture expounds upon general revelation

  • Scripture provides the way of salvation

  • Scripture is the way the king communications to his people

  • Scripture is more than revelation

Scripture Expounds Upon General Revelation

The term “general revelation” refers to God making Himself known (i.e., revealing Himself) to all people everywhere. God reveals Himself to us, both internally and externally, through the created order. This revelation is sufficient to establish basic knowledge of God, our sin, and our impending judgment.

On these topics—and a host of others—Scripture provides us the details that were previously unrevealed.

Scripture obviously provides further information pertaining to the nature of God. The Trinity and the duel-nature of Christ jump to mind. But Scripture also reveals to us things about God’s nature that might or might not have been deduced, such as . . .

  • God is self-existent and -sufficient:

    In the beginning God…
    Genesis 1:1
    And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”


    Exodus 3:14

  • God is eternal:

    …from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.
    Psalms 90:2
    …Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.

    Revelation 1:8

Whether or not we would have drawn these conclusions on our won is unclear. But there are some things that are perfectly clear: Man in his unregenerate state knows the one, true God, suppresses this knowledge in unrighteousness, and is under God’s just judgment. Scripture crystallizes this:

...although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and fourfooted animals and creeping things.

Romans 1:21-23

Scripture provides the way of salvation

General revelation leaves us in judgment, for only law is revealed. The Mediator is not revealed to us in the trees, animals, or human kind. The answer to the Heidelberg Catechism’s question number 19 tells us that special revelation was used to reveal Christ to us throughout redemptive history:

From the Holy Gospel, which God Himself first revealed in Paradise, afterwards proclaimed by the holy patriarchs and prophets, and foreshadowed by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law, and finally fulfilled by His well-beloved Son.

The catechism proceeds to tell us about true faith and the necessity of believing the gospel. But why does the catechism make such pronouncements? How do we know it’s correct? The answer is in small print at the bottom of its pages—God has provided the way of salvation through scripture.

Scripture is the way the king communicates to His people

Can you imagine a king that has never entered his kingdom? Never spoke to his people? Never gave any laws or commands? Never set kingdom policy? Any such man would be a king in name only.

God is an ever-present king. Indeed, He is THE King. He has chosen a people for Himself—a covenant people. The covenant was not ratified, however, like covenants are between men and kingdoms. There was no bargaining; there was no dialog; there were no debates; there were only pronouncements—only declarations. The King has spoken.

  • He has chosen His people:

    Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!

    Psalm 33:12

  • He has given His law to His people – Exodus 20


  • He has chosen to dwell among His people:

    …I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

    2 Corinthians 6:16

Through His Word and by His Spirit, our great King continues to speak to us.

Stay tuned for Part 3.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Special Revelation - Part 1

We confess that this Word of God was not sent nor delivered by the will of man, but that men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit, as the apostle Peter says; and that afterwards God, from a special care which He has for us and our salvation, commanded His servants, the prophets and apostles, to commit His revealed word to writing; and He Himself wrote with His own finger the two tables of the law. Therefore we call such writings holy and divine Scriptures.

The Belgic Confession, Article 3

In the Seventeenth Century, a running dogfight ensued among Protestants over the place and authority of Scripture in the life and teaching of the church. A group called the Antinomians instigated the fight. The Antinomians, or Sectaries as they were called in England, were very much like our present-day Pentecostals. They held that Scripture was subordinate to the direct revelation of the Spirit, which each believer was supposed to receive. This supposed direct revelation was most important in preaching, as one Antinomian made clear: “I had rather hear such a one that speaks from the mere motion of the spirit, without any study at all, than any of your learned scholars, although he may be fuller of Scripture.”

The Puritans, of course, held a much different view. They championed the concept that Scripture was sufficient for doctrine and life.

There is not a condition into which a child of God can fall but there is a direction and rule in the Word, in some measure suitable thereunto.

Thomas Gouge (1605 - 1681)

The Puritan’s position was firmly rooted in the Reformation. Martin Luther said, “We have never yet desired anything else…than the liberty to have the Word of God, or the Holy Scriptures, to teach and to practice it.” The Reformation sought to return Holy Writ to God’s people by loosing it from the shackles placed on it by the Church of Rome.

This idea was highly esteemed among the Puritans. William Tyndale told a priest at Gloucestershire that “if God spare my life, ere many years pass, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scriptures than thou dost.” Indeed, God’s people are to be a people of the Book. John Ball’s Catechism answers the question, “Doth the knowledge of the Scriptures belong unto all men?” with, “Yes, all men are not only allowed, but exhorted and commanded, to read, hear, and understand the Scripture.” John Cotton exhorted his congregation to “FEED upon the WORD” and to “Let not a day ordinarily pass you wherein you will not read some portion of it, with a due meditation and supplication over it.” Richard Baxter implored his readers to “love, reverence, read, study, obey, and stick close to the Scripture.”

Scripture, in the Puritan view, was to be our sole authority. Cotton Mather referred to Scripture as “The rule according to which conscience is to proceed…” John Lightfoot echoed this sentiment: “This is the glory and sure friend of a church, to be built upon the Holy Scriptures…The foundation of the true church of God is Scripture.” Theological claims, therefore, are to be tried in but one court, “…by that which transcends all human antiquity, customs, counsels, and traditions (though all those may contribute some help), the Word of God.” Thus human opinions must bow to God’s Holy Word, as John Owen makes clear: “Pin not your faith upon men’s opinions…the Bible is the touchstone.”

To the Puritans it was clear: Scripture is to be our sole authority for doctrine and life, and as such, it is necessary and sufficient. It is upon this footing that we shall take our steps.

  • The first step will be to understand why Scripture is necessary.

  • Next we shall learn about the sufficiency of Scripture.

  • And finally, we shall consider Scripture’s place as our sole authority for doctrine and life.

--The Catechizer

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Sunday, April 05, 2015

General Revelation – Part 3 - The Inadequacy of General Revelation (Conclusion)

In the last post on this topic we discussed the effects of the Fall upon man’s religious self. We also considered the difference between how regenerate and unregenerate man responds to General Revelation. And finally we saw the result of unregenerate man’s response—judgment.

In this post we’ll take a look at the way in which General Revelation falls short in bringing us a full knowledge of God.

The “Generalness” of General Revelation

As the name indicates, General Revelation is general. It is limited, and that intentionally so. Although limited, it has never failed, always accomplishing it’s purpose: revealing to us God’s eternal power and deity, and revealing to us our own guilt and pending judgment. Its purpose is further established by what it does not do—it does not take the place of, nor minimize the need for, Special Revelation (more about this in future posts).

General Revelation is insufficient to reveal to us the particulars of God’s will.

In the garden, prior to the Fall, God revealed the particulars of His will to Adam verbally. God told Adam to . . .

  • “Be fruitful and multiply…” (Genesis 1:28)

  • Subdue the earth and take dominion over the animals (Genesis 1:28)

  • Do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17)

Sin affects the way we perceive, interpret, and act upon General Revelation

Believers and unbelievers share the same laws of thought (the Fall was ethical, not metaphysical). However, the use of the laws of thought are different: the sinner uses the laws of thought in a way that is contrary to the glory of God; believers, on the other hand, use the standards of logic to glorify God, submit to Him, and serve Him. Consequently, logic does not provide a neutral, common ground for the arbitration of the truth. Thus, because of the Fall, our thinking about God’s creation is distorted without His gracious intervention.

General Revelation does not reveal to us the particulars of God’s nature

Do not misunderstand: The sinner “knows” God—the one, true, and living God—and rejects Him (Romans 1:18-22). But creation does not reveal to us the ontological Trinity, the dual nature of Christ, the virgin birth, ect.

General Revelation does not reveal Christ to us

God’s “invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made” (Romans 1:20). Indeed, God’s love, grace, and mercy are displayed in His providential care for humanity, providing “us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filing our hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17); and in providing His law to us innately (Romans 2:14-15), thus enabling man to establish civilizations.

Conclusion

We were created to worship Him (Psalm 45:11), to have communion with Him (Genesis 3:8-9), to dwell with Him (Psalm 23:6; Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q&A #1). But as we discussed in earlier posts, we know that we are guilty and separated from God. We know that we are lawbreakers. We know that He is holy and we are not—a great chasm exists that we cannot cross, and General Revelation provides no bridge.

General Revelation has, however, accomplished, and is accomplishing, its work: God’s power and deity is declared, and man’s judgment is made known. Through all the earth, through all time, no one escapes this knowledge. God has actively disclosed this information to mankind, and mankind remains unthankful, rebellious, and guilty (Romans 1:17). God’s judgment is sure. Man is lost.

But the story does not end there! There remains a glorious truth that has yet to be uncovered: a bridge across a chasm that we could previously not traverse.

In the next post on the topic of revelation we’ll discuss Special Revelation.

--The Catechizer

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Saturday, April 04, 2015

Today in History: “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”


On the evening of April 4, 1968, thirty-nine-hear-old Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was struck down by an assassin’s bullet while standing on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee.

King had been receiving death threats for more than a decade, but he never shied away from making public appearances. The night before his death, he’d spoke at a Memphis church. “We’ve got some difficult days ahead, but it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop,” he said. “And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life, Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain, and I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land."

The following evening, Dr. King was leaning over a balcony railing at the Lorraine Motel, where he was staying, when a shot sounded, and he fell dead. James Earl Ray, a drifter and escaped convict, was convicted of the assassination.

As reports of King’s murder were broadcast, riots broke out in hundreds of cities and towns. In some places looting and burning continued for days until the National Guard restored order.

Those were times when America felt like a runaway-train ride. But even as millions mourned the loss of an extraordinary leader, they redoubled their efforts to make their country a place which King would be proud.

A memorial plaque at the site of the assassination quotes Genesis 37:19–20. It reads: “They said one to another, Behold, here cometh the dreamer. Let us slay him and we shall see what becomes of his dreams.” The inscription challenges each of us to “see what will become of his dreams.”

American History Parade

1841 - President William Henry Harrison dies of pneumonia one month after his inauguration.

1850 - The city of Los Angeles is incorporated.

1887 - Susanna M. Slater of Argonia, Kansas, becomes the first women elected mayor of an American town.

1949 - The United States and eleven other Western nations sign a treaty creating the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

1968 - The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., age 39, is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.

The American Patriot's Almanac: Daily Readings on America

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Wednesday, April 01, 2015

General Revelation – Part 2 – The Antithesis

In Part 1 we learned that God has revealed Himself through creation and through man’s moral reasonings and moral self. We also discovered that because of the Fall the object of man’s worship has changed.

The Effects of the Fall

The effects of the fall upon man’s religious-self are evident. We are by nature idolaters (Exodus 32). What is the result of our idolatry? False gods. These false gods are always the antithesis (opposite) of the True God—as are their resulting religions. Consider the following about non-Christian religions:

  • Works based

  • Exalts man

  • Presents a god that is strikingly similar to man

  • Presents a god who can be completely conceptualized

  • Is contradictory

  • Cannot be established (consider Anslem’s dictum: the contrary to the truth can never be demonstrated)

Response: The Antithesis

  • How does regenerate man respond? By giving praise to the Creator.

  • How does unregenerate man respond? By ignoring and distorting General Revelation.

...although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and fourfooted animals and creeping things.

Romans 1:21-23

Result: Judgment

…And being thus become wicked, perverse, and corrupt in all his ways, he has lost all his excellent gifts which he had received from God, and retained only small remains thereof, which, however, are sufficient to leave man without excuse…

(The Belgic Confession, Article 14)

But although we lack the natural ability to mount up unto the pure and clear knowledge of God, all excuse is cut off because the fault of dullness is within us. And, indeed, we are not allowed thus to pretend ignorance without our conscience itself always convicting us of both baseness and ingratitude.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

As the Belgic Confession and Calvin remind us, God has clearly revealed Himself in creation, both internally and externally. Thus man has no excuse. This fact is further established in Romans 1:18-20. Sinful man, however, continues to curse God using the breath graciously provided by the Creator—“…although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful…” (Romans 1:21) As a result, God in His supreme justice “gave them up to vile passions.” (Romans 1:26) In so doing, God sovereignly allows those under judgment to peruse their wickedness.

For the elect’s sake, however, God restrains man’s wickedness (2 Ths. 2:7)—man is not as bad as he could be. God’s restraint is analogous to a man grabbing, from behind, the shirt of another man who is trying to run off a cliff.

To be continued . . .

--The Catechizer

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