f The Wittenberg Door: December 2009

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Separation of Church and State

In Burlington Township, New Jersey, Police, faculty, staff, and students of a local high school participated in a terrorism drill.

The mock terror attack involved two irate men armed with handguns who invaded the high school through the front door. They pretended to shoot several students in the hallway and then barricaded themselves in the media center with 10 student hostages.

In order to make the event “as real as possible,” actual events were taken into consideration in creating the scenario, a scenario where a certain religion known for spreading it’s message by the sword takes over a school.

Two Burlington Township police detectives portrayed the gunmen. Investigators described them as members of a right-wing fundamentalist group called the “New Crusaders” who don't believe in separation of church and state. The mock gunmen went to the school seeking justice because the daughter of one had been expelled for praying before class.

Last year, in a rural California school district, an elective philosophy course on Intelligent Design was canceled due to legal pressure. Like the Dover case (and scores of others), the lawsuit’s premise was that the course “violated the constitutional separation of church and state.”

But what is this “separation of church and state” thing all about?


Applying the Bill of Rights to both federal and state governments is a modern notion. Back in 1791, the year the First Amendment was ratified, 9 of the 13 state governments had official, tax-supported churches. Since the amendment was seen as only applying to the federal government, nobody believed that there was any conflict—nobody, that is, except for Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut.

The Connecticut state constitution endorsed Congregationalism. Although the Baptists were tolerated, they had serious concerns about discrimination; they were also concerned that the state government would start interfering with the operation of the church. So, in 1801, the Danbury Baptist Association took a bold step and wrote to the newly elected President of the United States—Thomas Jefferson.

Our Sentiments are uniformly on the side of Religious Liberty – That Religion is at all times and places a Matter between God and Individuals – That no man ought to suffer in Name, person or effects on account of his religious Opinions – That the legitimate Power of civil Government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbour: But Sir our constitution of government is not specific. Our antient charter, together with the Laws made coincident therewith, were adopted as the Basis of our government at the time of our revolution; and such had been our laws & usages, & such still are; that Religion is considered as the first object of Legislation; & therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights: and these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgements, as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen. It is not to be wondered at therefore; if those who seek after power & gain under the pretence of government & Religion should reproach their fellow men – should reproach their chief Magistrate, as an enemy of religion Law & good order because he will not, dares not assume the prerogative of Jehovah and make Laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.

Thomas Jefferson agreed with the Baptists that it was inappropriate for the state to interfere with maters of conscience, faith, and worship.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

If we are to use the term “separation between Church & State,” we must do so honestly, keeping the original context in mind: Thomas Jefferson was writing to Baptists who were being persecuted by an officially Congregationalist state government. Thus, he was not calling for a wall that protected the government from the church, but the church from the government—an important point to remember when discussing this topic.

Tactical Consideration

Anthony Sciubba was one of 14 students being honored with a full-page tribute in his high school yearbook. A problem arose, however, when he attributed his success to God. The school, citing concerns about separation of church and state, altered his comment to read, “he owed his success to others.”

What is a good way for Mr. Sciubba or others to respond?

My first offering employs a tactic called reductio ad absurdum (reduce to absurdity). In this tactic you assume your opponent's premises and then follow the logic of those premises to their absurd conclusion.

Let’s begin by reviewing the amendment in question:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

(First Amendment - Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression)

Our Founding Fathers were careful to guard against the establishment of a state (federal) church, hence this amendment—they stipulated that congress may not establish a state church, nor infringe upon the citizens' right to worship as they please.

So here’s what you ask the person citing "separation": “How does the teaching of, for example, Intelligent Design, or the mentioning of God in a yearbook, cause congress to come into session, vote-in a state church, pass along the new law to the president, and cause him to sign it into law?”

By using reductio ad absurdum, we hope to show the person that his understanding of the First Amendment cannot possibly mean what he claims.

As you can see, this line of reasoning doesn’t prove anything—it’s not meant to. It’s simply one means of taking away an arrow from your opponent’s quiver.

A quick note: When using reductio ad absurdum, it’s very easy to become sarcastic. We must resist this urge (a real tough one for me); we must also remember that we are called to be ambassadors’ of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), and as such we must treat our opponents with respect, thus honoring the One we represent.

The “Seperation” Trap

As we have just seen, the term “separation of church and state” is not an accurate summary of the First Amendment. Thus, the term should not be used when discussing this topic, for doing so would poison the well of your argument—you’ve killed your argument before you let it loose.

Instead, use the constitutionally faithful term “Non-Establishment Clause.” Not only is the term accurate—and we should always strive for accuracy and honesty—but it also lays the foundation for using the tactic above.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Members of Christ – Part 5 (Conclusion)

Rev. Leach continues from part four . . .

We now come to the fifth component of the Scriptural case for church membership. It’s the evidence throughout Scripture of ecclesiastical development. We read in Genesis that God appeared to Abraham. But that wasn’t the end of the story, was it? It’s just the beginning! God’s appearing to us isn’t the be-all and end-all of revelation. It’s not the end of the revelation of God’s will for us by any means! God appeared to Abraham, and that meant the beginning of the church.

Many in our western culture try to customize and individualize Christianity into a kind of “me and God” relationship. Many want to walk in Abraham’s sandals: “Just God and me, me and God.” But dear friends, look in the mirror, and look at the calendar! We are not Abraham. By faith it’s our privilege to be His children, but we are not Abraham. Covenant revelation from God hasn’t stood still in the years since He appeared to Abraham.

The Terms for Meeting God

For 4000 years, as the generations have come and gone, Abraham’s God has refined and specified for us the terms under which it’s our privilege to meet with Him. The numbers of the redeemed become greater—as the stars of the sky!—but the terms become more specific as promises made become promises fulfilled. We read in Hebrews 11:21 that Jacob worshiped God, leaning on his staff. Moses in his day built a tabernacle after the pattern revealed on the mountain. Solomon, a temple. Christ a church built of living stones upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles. Philippi featured an apostolic church organized under bishops and deacons according to its introductory verse.

The pastoral letters of Paul to Timothy and Titus leave little to the imagination as to how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God. And when we come to the end of the apostolic revelation of God to His church, what do we find? A bunch of saved individuals worshipping God, leaning on their staffs and doing whatever else they will? No indeed! We see congregations of the exalted Lord Jesus Christ established in cities, wrestling with Nicolaitans. Wrestling with lukewarmness. Wrestling with persecution. Wrestling with the false prophetess Jezebel. Wrestling, and wrestling, and wrestling! Contending for the faith! And overcoming, by the power and might of the Holy Spirit of Jesus the Christ who walks among the lampstands. Isn’t it clear, dear friends, that God’s heart is set not only on the redemption of lost sinners, not only on the midwifery of newborn Christians into the kingdom of heaven, but on the bringing of the saints to maturity and the development of spiritually muscular churchmen who love that elect lady destined for radiance, the church, for whom Christ laid down His life?

No Fringe Members

A final component of the Scriptural argument for church membership as we understand it in these last days is simply this: the relative absence of people on the fringe of the New Testament church. The characters we meet on the pages of the New Testament tend to fall into one of three categories. Either they’re decidedly on the outside, causing trouble for the flock of God, or on the inside as members being a blessing and encouragement to the flock of God, or on the inside causing trouble for the flock of God! My point is that people don’t stay on the fringes for long. The gospel of Christ crucified either drives them in as an irresistible grace, or it drives them away as an intolerable offense.

I’ve tried to persuade you of several things from the Scripture. The combined testimony of the writing apostles is that of a well-defined church of interdependent members, brothers and sisters within the body of Christ knowing who is in the church and who is not. Elders know for whom they’re accountable. It’s a church of baptized believers with a common public confession of Christ our exalted Head and living our new life together in the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. Others are outside and know they’re outside, and the church knows they’re outside even as we pray and work to bring them in by the preaching of the Gospel.


Well, you may say, so what? Here’s the “so-what.” If you’re a church member, of this or another church, value that membership! Exercise it! Understand what it means. You’re not just a member of another earthbound organization like the VFW or the scouts or the bird and garden club. You’re a vital, irreplaceable member of Christ’s body on earth. That’s what you are, if you’re a member of the church.

And if you’re not a member, I hope I’ve given you some food for thought and introspection. I hope you’ll ask yourself, “Why am I not a member? Why haven’t I ever gotten around to taking this step of living faith and commitment? What’s the sticking point? Am I not convinced from Scripture of the will of God on the matter? Do I think I can succeed in the long run as an interloper, imagining I can enjoy, as a third party, the love of Christ He’s promised exclusively to His bride the church?”

May today be a new day in your thinking. May your hunger and thirst after righteousness lead you home to the household of faith and to your portion with us. Take some time, dear friend, and pray, and act, and confessing faith in Christ alone, may He add you today “to the number of those who are being saved.” To you be that grace, and to Him the glory.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Members of Christ – Part 4

Rev. Leach continues from part three:

A third component to this developing New Testament portrait of membership in the body of Christ is the evidence of “additions to” and “subtractions from” the church. The additions are easy!

Read the book of Acts, and you’ll see how Luke telescopes from specific instances of the grace and power of God in the church, out to the many broad summaries, often with numbers to give us a good clear picture of the magnitude of what was going on. Acts 2:41, describing the effect of the preaching of the gospel on the Jewish crowd: “So then, those who received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about 3000 souls.” Six verses later: “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Chapter 4, verse 4: “But many of those who had heard the message believed, and the number of the men [let alone the women!] came to be about 5000.” Neither were women left out of the count. Acts 5:14: “And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number.” A number, apparently, someone was keeping track of! Again, examples abound of “additions to a number” representing demographics that included men, women, Jewish priests, Hebrew widows, Hellenistic widows, Gentiles, jailers, centurions, fabric dealers, people with names and faces and public professions of faith and baptisms and needs that the church does its best to meet in the name of Jesus Christ her Lord.


As for the subtractions, they occur through death, as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira. Or through humanly administered discipline and censure, such as not only Diotrephes faced in III John, but also a man well known to the Corinthian church, one of her own number who “had his father’s wife” and was ripe for removal. You see in Acts one Simon of Samaria who seemed to benefit from censure and in II Corinthians a man restored to full fellowship after the exercise of church discipline. Additions are additions to an already existing number. Subtractions are subtractions from that number. It’s a process impossible to calculate or even to conceive of until we understand that one either is, or is not, a member of the body of Christ, the church.

The NT Evidence for Church Rosters, Rolls, and Lists

This evidence is strengthened by the fourth component of the Scriptural argument for membership in the body: the New Testament evidence of church rosters, or rolls, or lists. On the face of it, this sounds, perhaps, boringly unspiritual and administrative. It sounds so “Presbyterian” that anyone would keep lists of members! But consider again the matter of additions and subtractions and numbers we’ve already considered. Consider the frequency of converts mentioned by name, names still remembered and recorded in the Acts, sometimes many years after their deaths.

Consider, too, the implications for elders under the solemn charge to shepherd the flock of God among them. Shepherd whom exactly? Do elders give an account to God of every soul who visits the church from time to time? How often do visitors need to visit before the elders become accountable for their souls? And what about Christ Himself? Did He die for an indeterminate number of people, or for a determinate number? The good Shepherd says in John 10:14, “I know My own, and My own know Me.” He calls us each by name. It’s a number, and they are names, known to Christ and known, in time, to His body the church.

Consider the illumination Acts 1:15 sheds on the matter of church rolls. Here are the early disciples, giving themselves to prayer in those few days between the ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit with power. It seems needful to deal with the loose end of Judas Iscariot and his defection and death. As Luke tells the story, he writes, “And in these days Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about 120 names was there together.) . . . .” Where we’d expect to find psuche (“souls”), for instance, or adelphoi(“brothers”), or something else, we instead find the word onomaton. It’s a gathering of names. In I Timothy 5, the apostle Paul not only takes for granted that the church in Ephesus keeps church rolls but mentions one specific roll, telling Timothy who should and should not be on the “list” of believing widows qualified for church assistance. The cumulative weight of New Testament evidence for a defined church membership is overwhelming—and it’s not all found in one place, which is significant.

Stay tuned for part five!


Monday, December 07, 2009

Members of Christ – Part 3

Rev. Leach continues from part two . . .

There are at least six components to the Biblical argument for membership in Christ’s body the church. The first of these comes directly from this morning’s passage (I Corinthians 12:1-31). It’s the analogy of the members of a body. You’re in a bad way when your toe is amputated. But your toe is worse off than you are! The members of the church are integrated, connected to the Head of the church and in a derivative sense at least to one another. This is the point of verses 26 and 27:

And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.

We need one another, which is the burden of most of the rest of the chapter. A nonmember of the body doesn’t share in the life of the body, though it be placed alongside the body ever so closely for ever so long. If I were to go for days without changing my socks, I can guarantee you it won’t be long before they begin to take on some of my characteristics! But they won’t be me, won’t participate in the circulation of life coursing through my veins. In a very rough analogy, it’s not uncommon for friends who visit the church for months or years to take on some of the (hopefully sweeter, more fragrant!) characteristics of the body. But without the commitment, without the public profession of faith, without the baptism that sets us apart as belonging to Christ and to one another, we fall short of our calling, and short of the blessing. This probably doesn’t need much more elaboration.

The Requirement of Public Confession

A second part of the Scriptural argument for membership in the body of Christ is the requirement of public confession of Jesus Christ as Lord. In Matthew 10:32 and parallels we find our Lord Jesus Christ speaking about discipleship and saying . . .

Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I also will confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever shall deny Me before men, I also will deny him before My Father who is in heaven.

And John 12:42-43 describes the shame of failing to confess Christ publicly. Many rulers of Judaism believed in Jesus. Did you know that? It’s true! Even the rulers. Many rulers of Judaism believed in Jesus . . .

. . . but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.

Confessing Jesus openly before men seems to have the open approval of God, doesn’t it? It’s not uncommon for this to take some dramatic forms, as for instance when confessing Christ costs one his family, or work, or wealth, or life. Don’t believe for a moment that because we live in 21-century America this doesn’t happen anymore. It happens every day. And it always has. In Acts 19:18 we have a record of the changes wrought by Christ in the lives of those who confess Him publicly. The magicians of Ephesus, now converted through the preaching of the Gospel from the cult and culture of Artemis, pile up their books of the black arts and make a bonfire of them right under the nose of Artemis, a bonfire costing to the tune of 50,000 drachmas, or about 150 years’ wages for a working man. The equivalent of the life earnings of three men, up in smoke. That’s what the public profession of faith is Christ is worth to these men delivered at last from the power of darkness.

And of course Romans 10:6-13 leaves no room for doubt about the public nature of the Christian profession. With the heart the Christian believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. The first letter of John tells us not only that Christians confess Him publicly, but what we believe about Him. Examples abound. Members of Christ, those who share in His life, confess Him publicly.

Stay tuned for part four!


Sunday, December 06, 2009

Members of Christ – Part 2

Rev. Leach continues from part one . . .

But the Corinthian Christians, prone as they were to sinful individualism in a wide assortment of symptoms, had still another lesson to learn about union with Christ, and this 12th chapter of Paul’s first letter to them drives that lesson home.

The lesson is this: Christ died and was raised again from the dead not for an unspecified gaggle of isolated individuals who simply believe in their heart the right doctrine. He died and was raised again for a determinate church, a body—ONE body—that has, in point of fact, many interrelated and interdependent members. These members are diverse indeed, but they’re members. He doesn’t here call us people, or individuals, or men, or women, or children. He calls us members of a body, and the body is Christ.

A Corporate Faith

Now, why is this significant? Many are the western Christians who need to be reminded of the corporateness of our faith. Membership in Christ’s church is devalued today, maybe as never before. “And who needs it?” they’ll say. “I’ve got a dozen Bibles in ten different versions in my nightstand at home. I’ve got shelves full of good, evangelical commentaries. I’ve got internet access and software to learn the Hebrew and Greek. I’ve got five church services from which to choose on TV. Radio too! And if I ever find myself in a real bind and need some personal counsel, or if I just get desperate for the shaking of a real human hand or the exchange of a real human smile, I can always drive down to Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church for the occasional fix. Why should I have to take vows of membership and get my name on someone’s roster? Why not just camp on the fringes and get by as a lifelong adherent?”

The motives behind this thinking I’d be presumptuous to label. I’m sure it varies with every long-term adherent who never gets around to taking the step of membership. There is, certainly, at least a superficial logic to it: so many benefits for so little investment. It’s just easier to be an adherent than to be a member. It fits well with the advertised American virtue of rugged individualism. It keeps us out of the shadow of accountability to others and the good order and discipline of the church. It keeps the excitement of the courtship alive without facing the commitment of the marriage.

This isn’t at all to disparage the unattached or secret believer. He may not be pursuing membership simply because of a lack of knowledge, not yet knowing it to be the revealed will of God. And whether or not this sermon will reach the hearts of those with less noble motives—the deliberate maverick—at least we can address today the matter of lack of knowledge. The apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ is clear on the matter.

What is the Church?

What is the church? The apostle Paul in his first letter to Timothy, the 3rd chapter and 15th verse, concisely calls it “the household of God . . . the pillar and support of the truth.” It satisfies our need for shelter, security, and mutual love. As pillar and support of the truth, it also satisfies our minds, providing us through its preaching and teaching of Biblical doctrine a complete arsenal of weaponry by which we can meet the enemy of our souls in the field and defeat him. Exactly how this is fleshed out in the doing of it is described in the Acts and letters and Revelation of the New Testament. Time would fail us to describe the life of the church through an exposition of every relevant passage. Instead let’s agree, if we can, that the New Testament gives us the portrait of a church that is at one and the same time a living, Spirit-animated organism supported by a divinely-directed organization. Both aspects of the church—organism and organization—appear in I Corinthians 12 as well as other places. The church has life; it also has officers. It has unspeakable privileges; it also has duties. It has apostles, prophets, and teachers; it also has those who aren’t apostles, prophets, or teachers.

Membership in the church has a bearing on both its organic and organizational aspects. That is, we participate as members both in the life and in the structure of the body of Christ. And we do this in a way non-members do not. I think you’ll see this more as we go on.

Stay tuned for part three!


Saturday, December 05, 2009

Members of Christ – Part 1

By Rev. Jonathan B. Leach

Rev. Leach is a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, although he currently is in the process of transferring his credentials to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Rev. Leach serves as an Army chaplain and makes his home on a small spread in Seguin, TX.

In this sermon, preached June 25, 2006, at Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, TX, Rev. Leach provides the Biblical justification for church membership and explains the glorious union between Christ and Christians. The text of this sermon is posted with Rev. Leach's permission.

I Corinthians 12:1-31

There is, perhaps, no passage of Scripture that gives us a more vivid, compelling description of the mystical union existing between Christ and Christians than the one before us this morning.

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a part [that is in Greek, a bodily member] of it.”

I Corinthians 12:27

Now, certainly there are plenty of passages that present this doctrine of union with Christ as clearly, but each from a slightly different vantage point. It is, after all, not an obscure or marginal doctrine. Think of the many New Testament passages that drive home the Christian’s being crucified with Christ, dying with Christ, being baptized into Christ and into the Triune name, being raised up with Christ from the dead, being seated with Christ—even today!—in the heavenly places.

In every aspect of our lives, every minute of every day, without exception, the Christian is named by, and sealed with, and caught up in the eternal life and power that belong to Jesus Christ the Righteous, Jesus Christ our blessed Lord. To the extent we hold something back—to the extent we try to divorce thought or motive or practice or feeling or relationship from submission to Christ—to that extent we sin. We fall short of Biblical Christianity and the full range of blessings that attend union with Christ by faith. To that extent we grieve the Holy Spirit, whose will is that we are one with Christ and, together, one in Him.

Christianity: Life and Doctrine

Viewed from one vantage point—the subjective one, we’ll call it—Christianity is life with Christ, life in Christ. From another equally valid vantage point—the objective one, we might say—Christianity is a body of doctrine, propositional truth revealed from heaven. It’s something to study, something to embrace with the mind and believe. It’s systematic truth about God and man and the world and the relationships in which we live. If we think of Christianity in this objective way, we can place the doctrine of the believer’s union with Christ at the apex of a great theological pyramid—the very top, the high point.

The center tier of the pyramid is the work of Christ at the cross, where He secured our redemption by that substitutionary atonement which is the very heart of the gospel. And the whole structure rests on the foundation of the sovereign election of God to save a people—a determinate number of people—for His own glory.

All of which is to give us the big picture of union with Christ and where it fits into Christian doctrine. It’s not the starting place of Christian doctrine, and it’s certainly nothing we can understand apart from the cross. It is, rather, the very summit of Biblical religion. Every good thing Christ earned by His obedience to God’s law belongs, in its fullness, to the Christian. Everything you the Christian earned by your disobedience belongs no longer to you in the slightest degree—not in the slightest degree!—but to Christ, who took it all and paid for it all. So when God the Omniscient, God the Omnipotent Judge of all the earth scrutinizes your life and mine, our deeds and the motives behind them . . . He sees only the finished redemptive work of His own dear Son. And He smiles, and He says, “Well done!”

Considering these things, you’ll agree the implications for our living happily ever after are staggering. You can see for miles from atop doctrine like that!

Stay tuned for part two!