f The Wittenberg Door: February 2012

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

Friday, February 24, 2012

First Amendment Abuse

From The Wittenberg Door archives . . .

Beginning in 1998, the Utah Highway Patrol Association begin erecting monuments to fallen patrolmen along the Utah highways. The monuments are in the shape of a cross and include the fallen officer's picture and biographical information. Although the monuments, 14 in all, are privately funded, they are on public land since that is where the officers fell. The State of Utah allowed the monuments to be erected, but did provide the caveat that it "neither approves or disapproves of the memorial marker."

A group of Texas atheists sued to have the memorials taken down. In response a federal court ruled in the atheists' favor and declared the memorials unconstitutional. From CNN . . .

A three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that the 14 large crosses would be viewed by most passing motorists as "government's endorsement of Christianity."

"We hold that these memorials have the impermissible effect of conveying to the reasonable observer the message that the state prefers or otherwise endorses a certain religion," concluded the Denver, Colorado-based court . . .

At issue was whether the crosses violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, by having the government endorsing the Christian symbols, even if indirectly.

(A quick side note regarding the Utah ruling. There is something that strikes me as amusing: Mormons reject the cross as a symbol. So, a state founded by Mormons for Mormons, and remains predominately Mormon to this day, is, according to the court, now embracing the cross and endorsing Christianity. Riiiiiiiiight.)

The First Amendment

Whether ruling on school prayer, or the teaching of Intelligent Design, or the displaying of the Ten Commandments, or even these memorial crosses, the courts seem intent on using the Establishment Clause (or, more properly, the Non-Establishment Clause) to justify the disallowing of certain perceived religious, particularly Christian, expressions. But was it indeed the intent of the Founding Fathers to have a public square bereft of religion? In other words, were they trying to protect the state against the church? 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)

Original Intent

America was established as a Christian nation (i.e., founded with Christian values), but with a secular government. Part of that was to reject the European model of state churches. 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 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.

Jefferson agreed with the Baptists that it was inappropriate for the state to interfere with maters of conscience, faith, and worship. In his reply to the Baptists he penned the famous words:

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.

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. Here's my question: How do these memorials to fallen officers establish an official, state-sponsored church of the United States? Same question for offering alternatives to macro-evolution, or allowing school prayer, or a plaque displaying the Ten Commandments. They obviously don't.


Although a cross is a religious symbol, it has been co-opted for secular purposes--to be a grave marker or a memorial. The Ten Commandments are given by God and thus have a religious origin. But they are also the grounds for our justice system and so have been likewise co-opted. Macro-evolution is a theory, despite how it is taught in our schools, with many problems. Intelligent Design answers those problems; because of its explanatory power, it should at least be acknowledged when origins are being taught.

The truth is that the courts misuse the amendment to discriminate against positions they don't like. The intention of the Founding Fathers couldn't be more clear, but these judges aren't interested in that--they'd rather use the Constitution as a wax nose to refashion the country to their liking. Why let truth get in the way?

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Total Depravity – Questions and Answers

One of the most contentious topics in the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism is the pravity of man: Is man spiritually dead, as the Calvinist claim? Or is he simply morally ill or spiritually impoverished, as posited by the Arminians?

In parts four and five of my series Who is Sovereign in Salvation¸ I provide an overview of both positions while making a positive case for Total Depravity. In response, Mark of Moros Theos – The Foolishness of God, and a helment of Comba(t)ing the Doctrines of Grace, posed questions (summarized below) regarding the Calvinist position. In this post I’ll attempt to answer these questions.

Total Depravity: A Definition

In the third chapter of Genesis we read of our first parents’ sin. Because Adam represented us as our federal head, we all sinned in him (Rom. 5:12–19). The resulting corruption is passed on to us all, and its extent is total—every aspect of our being has been affected:

  • Our heart (emotions and affections)—Rom.1:24–27; 1 Tim. 6:10; 2 Tim. 3:4

  • Our mind (thoughts and understanding)—Gen. 6:5; 1 Cor. 1:21; Eph. 4:17

  • Our will (constitution and moral vitality)—John 8:34; Rom 7:14–24; Eph.2:1–3; 2 Pet. 2:19

Furthermore, Scripture teaches that Adam’s sin brought spiritual death to us all (Gen. 2:16–17, 3:1–7; John 11:24-26; Rom. 5:12; Eph. 2:1–3; Col. 2:13). As a result, men are spiritually deaf, blind, and completely corrupted (Ecc. 9:3; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 8:7–8; 1 Cor. 2:14); also, men are slaves of sin (John. 8:34; Rom. 6:20; Tit. 3:3) and children of the devil (Eph. 2:1–2; 2 Tim. 2:25–26; 1 John 3:10).


(Rom. 3:10–12)

Because of this corrupted state, man is dead in his sins and in complete and utter rebellion against God. His only hope is a sovereign act of God’s Mercy: he must be made a new creation (Gal. 6:15; Eph. 2:10; 1 Cor. 5:17–18), to have his nature renewed (Due. 30:6; Ezk. 36:26–2; 1 Pet. 1:3)—to be brought to life by the Spirit (John 5:21; Eph. 2:1, 5; Col. 2:13) and granted repentance (Acts. 11:18, 16:14; Phil. 1:29; 2 Tim. 2:25–26).

How do you know when you've/someone else has been made alive?

When someone is granted repentance, he goes from being a rebel to being a servant, from being a slave to sin to being a slave to God (Rom. 6:21–22). Furthermore, now that he has new disposition towards God, his life is characterized by thankfulness and service unto the Lord (Rom. 6:1-14; Eph. 2:10; Phil. 2:13).

What's the difference between “dead in sin" (Eph 2:1) and "dead to sin" (Rom 6,2)?

The first refers to our spiritual condition, as described in the Total Depravity definition above. The second refers to the believer being released from sin’s bondage (i.e., sin is no longer our master).

Why does such an equation of "spiritual death" = "physical death" have to be made? Why does the spiritual dead man have to be compared to a physical dead corpse?

Calvinists are quick to point out that "world" does not always mean "world", and that "all" does not always mean "all". But "dead" must always mean "dead"? Why?

What else could it mean? Consider Col. 2:13:

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions

If “death” doesn’t mean death, then “alive” doesn’t mean alive. All throughout Scripture we find life and death contrasted. But if “life” doesn’t mean life and “death” doesn’t mean death, then the scarlet thread of redemption that runs through Scripture becomes unintelligible, and passages such as these become meaningless.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Notable Quote: John Calvin

John Calvin (1509 – 1564) on contending vigorously against the devil . . .

The fact that the devil is everywhere called God’s adversary and ours ought to fire us to an unceasing struggle against him. For if we have God’s glory at heart, as we should have, we ought with all our strength to contend against him who is trying to extinguish it.


Thursday, February 09, 2012

Today in Church History: General Assembly (5th: 1939), Orthodox Presbyterian Church: Name

Meeting in Philadelphia on February 9, 1939, the fifth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America changed the name of the denomination to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

Threatened by a lawsuit by the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., the young church determined that it lacked the financial resources necessary to sustain the legal challenge to its name. Commissioners to that Assembly chose the new name after a vigorous, twelve-hour debate. Other names considered were the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian and Reformed Church of America, the North American Presbyterian Church, the American Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church of Christ, the Protestant Presbyterian Church of America, the Seceding Presbyterian Church (of America), the Free Presbyterian Church of America, the American Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and the True Presbyterian Church of the World.

Historian Mark Noll interpreted the debate in this way: "In the end sentiment was divided nearly equally between the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, with only lesser support for names retaining the word 'America.' By one vote 'Orthodox' prevailed over 'Evangelical,' and so it has remained to this day. Most significantly, the new name indicated a new perspective. No longer would the denomination aspire to be the Presbyterian Church of America."

- John Muether

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Notable Quote: Augustine

Augustine (354 – 430) on keeping the Lord’s commands . . .

When you aim at the perfect standard of holiness, you should, at your best moments, and in your highest attainments, fall so far below it; seeing indeed the way before you, but feeling yourself without ability to walk in it? Then let a sense of your helplessness for the work of the Lord lead you to the throne of grace, to pray, and watch, and wait, for the strengthening and refreshing influences of the Spirit of grace. Here let your faith realize at one and the same view your utter insufficiency, and His complete All-sufficiency....We might as soon create a world, as create in our hearts one pulse of spiritual life. And yet our inability does not cancel our obligation. What then remains for us, but to return the mandate to heaven, accompanied with an earnest prayer, that the Lord would write upon our hearts those statutes, to which He requires obedience in His word?, "You have commanded us to keep Your statutes diligently." We acknowledge, Lord, our obligation; but we feel our impotency. Lord, help us: we look unto You. "Oh that our ways were directed to keep Your statutes!" "Give what You command—and then command what You will.