f The Wittenberg Door: March 2014

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

Monday, March 31, 2014

Do Same-Sex Couples Deserve a Chance to Get Married? – Part 2

Continued from part one . . .

Sadly, the type of logic used by Senator Portman is not the result of “progressive” thought. In fact, it is millennia old; it dates back to the Garden. After Eve conversed with the serpent, she reasoned thusly with regard to the forbidden fruit, “the tree was good for food... pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6b). This line of reasoning is often duplicated when people contemplate moral dilemmas.

Man’s Supposed Epistemic Autonomy

First, a determination is made that a thing (ideology, action, dialogue, etc.) is good and adequate to satisfy some sensual desire, “good for food.” In this case, the desire for companionship and to love and/or to be loved. Second, a determination is made with regard to whether or not a thing is pleasing to us (visually, emotionally, sensually, etc.), “pleasant to the eyes” Third, the thing is evaluated in terms of its reasonability.

Does it make sense?
Is it beneficial?
Does it benefit or harm those around me?

In other words, is it a wise thing to think, say, or do? Is it “desirable to make one wise”?

The problem which leads one to answer all of these questions incorrectly is because he’s reasoning from a false sense of autonomy. We do not have existence in and of ourselves, “It is (God) who made us, and not we ourselves” (Psalm 100:3b). Because this is true, we are not at liberty to determine for ourselves good and evil. God told Adam and Eve what they were to do and what they were not to do. Their rebellion in the face of these requirements and prohibitions is what resulted in the deplorable condition into which we are all plunged (Romans 3:23).

Like Eve, we contemplate moral questions in the supposed absence of (or better yet, in direct opposition to) prior and clear direction from God, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17, emphasis added). This not only leads to sin (thinking in this manner is itself sinful), but sin results in the perpetuation of this foolish type of thinking.

Like both Adam and Eve, we find ourselves ashamed on account of our sin (Romans 6:21). In addition to this, we run from God rather than to Him because of fear (Genesis 3:8-10). Even worse, we attempt to cover our sin by methods of our own determination (Genesis 3:7). These methods inevitably require far less of us than what God says is required, namely, death!

God’s Legitimate Epistemic Authority

With regard to the matter at hand, Senator Portman has done nothing to disprove the foregoing model. The opening paragraph of his op-ed piece reads as follows:

I have come to believe that if two people are prepared to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for each other in good times and in bad, the government shouldn’t deny them the opportunity to get married.

Later he says:

I wrestled with how to reconcile my Christian faith with my desire for Will to have the same opportunities to pursue happiness and fulfillment as his brother and sister. Ultimately, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God.

His first statement asserts that as long as two people agree to love one another they ought not be forbidden to marry. This bypasses the authority of God to impose His moral law upon us in deference to “doing what is right in (our) own eyes” (Judges 17:6, Proverbs 21:2). We have no biblical compulsion to reconcile the Christian faith with our children’s temporal happiness. What makes my children happy often flies in the face of biblical imperatives. As a father, I am required to teach my children to deny themselves fleshly pleasures and short term fulfillment in light of the Holy God who has set his standard before them as the benchmark. This benchmark is for the restraint of sin, breaking through the obstination of the self-righteous heart of fallen mankind, and serving as a beacon of sanctification for the Christian to aim at.

To be continued. . .

--The Deacon


Friday, March 28, 2014

Docetism and 1 John

For many years as a young Christian, the first few versus of 1 John 4 confused me. I thought, “What’s this business about denying Christ came in the flesh?” I knew that there were plenty out there who denied His diety, but I was unaware of any who denied His humanity. I was reminded of this the other evening during our family devotional when I had to explain these passages to my children.

1) Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because any false prophets have gone out into the world.

2) By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God;

3) and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.

4) You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.

5) They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them.

6) We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

(1 John 4:1–6)


A precursor to Gnosticism, Docetism taught that matter was evil. Consequently, those embracing this teaching could not accept that God could take on human flesh. Thus they rejected the doctrine of the Incarnation, and, in its place, taught that Christ’s body and his crucifixion were both illusory. It’s this teaching that John is warning us about in verse 3.

Text Considered

The concern here, though, is much broader than just the teachings of Docetism. Indeed, John's concern extends to all false teachers—for they are all of the spirit of antichrist. Because of these false teachers we are told to “test the spirits,” meaning that we are to test the teachings of men.

But like a father revealing a happy ending to a frightening tale, John does not leave us in fear. In verse 4 he tells us that we have already overcome them (the false teachers) because of the indwelling Spirit—God will not allow His little children to be ravished by wolves. In verse 6 we discover the means of this protection: His Word.

John tells us that “he who knows God listens to us.” “Us” here refers to John and the other men used by God to bring forth the Bible. Those of the spirit of antichrist will not heed the Scriptures—but God’s little children will. “By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”


Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.

(Acts 17:11)

Those in Berea were daily in God’s Word studying to see if what Paul and Silas were telling them was true. Likewise, the only way we can recognize false teachers is to be grounded in God’s Word—to know the truth. It is there in the Scriptures that, by faith, we’ll meet with the Living God, hear His voice, and learn the truth.

The Bible is something more than a body of revealed truths, a collection of books verbally inspired of God. It is also the living voice of God. The living God speaks through its pages. Therefore, it is not to be valued as a sacred object to be placed on a shelf and neglected, but as holy ground, where people’s hearts and minds may come into vital contact with the living, gracious and disturbing God.

James Montgomery Boice

--The Catechizer

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Considering God’s Gift of Alcohol

The Master of Cana’s marriage feast says, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then that which is inferior; but you have kept the good wine until now.” The Geneva Bible highlights the expression “well drunk.” Notice: the wine is not only drunk, but “well drunk.” This is different from drinking well. We drink well when we drink to the glory of God and when our drinking does not exceed the limits of moderation. However, the wine is to be “well drunk” too. God’s gifts are not to be used tentatively, as if we are sampling remnants or sipping the king’s drink to discover whether it contains poison. The table that the Lord has set before us must be heartily consumed! (Drinking With Calvin and Luther, 64)

A number of years ago I had the privilege of introducing the Charlton-Heston-looking Rev. Jim West at a conference on Pentecostalism shortly after he published his book, The Glorious Foundation of Christ: The Missing Clincher argument in the Tongues’ Debate. (Speaking as an ex-Pentecostal, I highly recommend this book.)

Before his “tongues” book, Rev. West published a fine treatise titled Drinking With Calvin and Luther! In the book, Rev. West, Professor of Pastoral Theology at City Seminary in Sacramento California, provides not only the theological underpinnings of alcohol’s use, but he also traces its use from the Reformation, to the founding of America, through Spurgeon’s time and beyond. (He also provides a nifty, and funny, beer review.) It’s a profitable read even if you’re a teetotaler like me.

Aimee Byrd, housewife and mother who attends Pilgrim Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Martinsburg, WV, provides some thoughts on the book. Here’s an excerpt . . .

One area that has me thinking is simply the reason why we drink. I’ve often looked at the case for alcohol being such a staple in church history more on the level of necessity. With the poor water quality, drinking alcoholic beverages was a matter of health. And, yes, I’ve always looked at it as a gift from God’s creation that should be enjoyed. But it seems like our evangelical culture would have those who would insist on enjoying their Christian liberties do it in a clandestine fashion. I partake because I appreciate a good drink and I know that a glass will help untie all the knots in my brain at night, but also because it makes me merry. And West wants to emphasize this aspect of the gift from God’s creation.

He quotes the venerable John Calvin, “It is permissible to use wine not only for necessity, but to make us merry” (53). In his commentary on Ps. 104:15, Calvin emphasizes that drinking must be moderate. But “his second consideration may surprise the ignorant, and even shock the pietist; he argued that ‘in making merry,’ those who enjoy wine ‘feel a livelier gratitude to God’” (53).

Click here for the entire review. You can also purchase Rev. West’s books here.

--The Catechizer


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Do Same-Sex Couples Deserve a Chance to Get Married? - Part 1

From the Wittenberg Door archives:

Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman recently reversed his position regarding the redefinition of marriage. The catalyst for the change was the revelation that his son is a homosexual. In an Op-Ed for The Columbus Dispatch, Senator Portman provides his rationale for the change. His reasons fall into two major categories: social and religious. In this post we’ll take a look at his reasons pertaining to the social sphere. In the next installment The Deacon will consider the religious.

The Arguments

After learning of his son’s sexual desires, Senator Portman spent the next two years thinking through his “position in a much deeper way.” After giving “a great deal” of thought to the issue, he changed his position for the following reasons:

  • It'll make his son happy

  • Marriage should be available to any two people

  • It’s politically conservative

  • It's good for families

  • It doesn’t undercut traditional marriage

  • Young people overwhelmingly support the change

A lot could be said about each of these points, but most fall under the two categories below.

Redefining Marriage will Benefit More People in Love

I have come to believe that if two people are prepared to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for each other in good times and in bad, the government shouldn’t deny them the opportunity to get married.

“Love” is the typical reason given for redefining marriage; folks who love each other ought to be allowed to marry. Senator Portman makes this the first reason in his case for the redefinition of marriage, although he offers an interesting caveat: “two people.” On what grounds does he limit the number to two? If love is the determining factor, why can’t three people who love each other marry? Or six? Or rub-a-dub-dub 12 men in a tub? And if I love my neighbor’s wife, can we book the bridal shower? How about if I set my affections upon a potted plant? “But we love each other!”

Indeed, if love is the deciding factor then all “loving” relationships are due government preference; and if all are “preferred” then none are, nor can any be denied such preference.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch . . . The government doesn’t give a hoot about love; it’s not a living, loving, taxing Hallmark card. When I married the fetching Mrs. Catechizer I didn’t have to sign a notarized affidavit swearing to my undying love for her; there was no “On a Scale from 1 to 10” love-meter on the marriage application. Nope. I paid my $10, singed my name on the dotted line, took my vows before the magistrate, and then headed off to the Vegas strip with my shiny new bride.

It should be pointed out too that the state is not stopping those with homosexual desires from marrying. They can marry any willing, unmarried, of-age opposite-sex person they wish; same as those with heterosexual desires. The state doesn’t care about our desires, nor does it care about “love.”

Redefining Marriage is Good for Families and Therefore Good for Society

We also consider the family unit to be the fundamental building block of society. We should encourage people to make long-term commitments to each other and build families, so as to foster strong, stable communities and promote personal responsibility.

This argument assumes there’s no difference between men and women, something the Left has been peddling since the 60s. Most of us are members of one of the two sexes and have experience dealing with the opposite sex (that was a joke, by the way). So for those of us who haven’t been to graduate school there is no reason to entertain the “no difference” topic further.

So the question is, Is it good for families? No doubt that there are same-sex coupled homes raising wonderful children. And we all know opposite-sex couples who manage horrible homes. But neither of these are the issue. The question is should the State promote same-sex families. I believe the answer to be no. Reason being, children deserve opposite-sex parents, because both the mother and the father contribute uniquely to the child’s life. So when there’s a choice involved, society should always do what’s best for the child

Redefining Marriage is Not in the State’s Interest

Despite Senator Portman’s claims, redefining marriage is not in society’s interest. The State’s (government and citizenry) only interest in marriage is that it is the best way for society 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.

Stay tuned for part 2!

--The Catechizer


Monday, March 24, 2014

John Huss - Part 2 (Conclusion)

Continued from part 1:

The Roman Catholic Church Responds

The Archbishop of Prague became angry because he considered Huss to be spreading Wycliffe’s doctrines; he was also angry because of a more personal matter: Huss supported a different papal claimant than the archbishop.

The Archbishop took his complaint to the pope who ordered him to root-out the heresy. Thus, in 1410, the Archbishop excommunicated Huss for insubordination and ordered his books burned.

Papal Indulgences

Huss was very popular among the people; therefore, when news of his excommunication hit the streets, a great tumult started. Huss added fuel to the fire by striking out against the pope’s sale of indulgences.

Pope Gregory XII was under the king of Naples' protection. This made the fight against Pope Gregory a costly one. Therefore, to raise the needed money, Pope John XXIII began selling indulgences (a way to take time off of one’s sentence in purgatory). Huss, who formerly believed in indulgences, began preaching against the practice.

Severe consequences followed: The pope immediately excommunicated him; he lost the support of his king; and Prague fell under a papal edict. Huss’ only recourse was to flee the city to a castle in southern Bohemia near Tabor—and there he stayed for two years producing his major works.

The Council of Constance

In 1414, Huss was ordered to appear before the Council of Constance (Switzerland) to justify his views. Although guaranteed safe-conduct by the Holy Roman Emperor, the council ordered him imprisoned and put on trial. After suffering a sever illness and being nearly starved to death, he was tried and found guilty of not holding that the papacy was a Divinely ordained office. On July 6, 1415, Huss was burned at the stake.

Huss’ Legacy

The followers of Huss, known as the Czech Brethren and later as the Moravians, continued his work. The Moravian Church survives to this day.

Because of his teachings and his courage in the face of a horrible death, Huss is considered a forerunner to the Protestant Reformation. As a matter of fact, Martin Luther was charged by the Roman Catholic Church of reviving the errors of Huss. What an honor.

--The Catechizer

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Should We Sing of God’s Wrath?

Til on that cross as Jesus died The wrath of God was satisfied For every sin on Him was laid Here in the death of Christ I live, I live

In Christ Alone

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. Hence man stands condemned and justly subject to God’s wrath.

But God, for His own good pleasure, chooses to spare some—to show mercy. The appropriate response to this mercy, to us not getting the wrath we deserve, is for us to fall down before a gracious God and to sing His praises. But should this singing include God’s wrath?

Just like preaching the Gospel, the good news has no context without the bad. For grace to make sense, wrath must be acknowledged. But that side of the salvation coin is not something people want to talk about today, let alone sing about.

Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, discusses this issue in a piece for The Washington Post . . .

As an evangelical, I would argue that it’s necessary to sing about the wrath of God because we are singing not just from and to our minds, but to and from our consciences. There’s a reason why evangelical congregations reach a kind of crescendo when they sing out that line in the Gettys’ song. It’s not because, per the caricature, we see ourselves as a “moral majority” affirming our righteousness over and against the “sinners” on the other side of the culture war.

Instead, it’s just the reverse. When Christians sing about the wrath of God, we are singing about ourselves. Our consciences point us to the truth that, left to ourselves, we are undone. We’re not smarter or more moral than anyone else. And God would be just to turn us over to the path we would want to go—a path that leads to death. It is only because Jesus lived a life for us, and underwent the curse we deserve, that we stand before God. The grace of God we sing about is amazing precisely because God is just, and won’t, like a renegade judge, simply overlook evil.

You can read the entire article here.

--The Catechizer


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Church Recognition

A little levity . . .

The Reformed don’t recognize the Roman Catholics
The Roman Catholics don’t recognize the Lutherans
The Lutherans don’t recognize the Baptists
And the Baptists don’t recognize each other in Wal-Mart’s beer aisle

--The Catechizer


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Children at the Lord’s Table?

New Horizons provides an outstanding insight into the paedocommunion debate. Here are links to the relevant articles, along with a brief summary:

Children at the Lord’s Table
James T. Dennison, academic dean of Northwest Theological Seminary

From at least the time of John Calvin, the Reformed churches have interpreted 1 Corinthians 11:29 as requiring a profession of faith prior to participation in the Lord's Supper. Taking the phrase "discerning the Lord's body" in the sense of implying profession is but a particular instance of the general Reformed rule: confession of faith is prior to the Lord's Table. In the nature of the case, profession of the covenant with the mouth comes before feeding upon the symbols of the covenant with the mouth.

The Lord’s Supper: Warnings for All
George W. Knight III, author, OPC minister, and teacher at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary

Our confessional standards understand 1 Corinthians 11:17–34 as providing warnings to all Christians. But some say that the warnings apply only to those who have sinned as the Corinthians did. Most of these desire to admit children to the Lord's Supper who are unable to do what the warnings require. This article defends the historic way of understanding the warning statements.

The Lord’s Supper and Covenant Children
Stuart R. Jones, OPC minister

A recent decision of the Christian Reformed Church (June 2006) to prepare the way for child communion within that denomination highlights the durability of that issue. The General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church received a report on this issue in 1987 in which a division of opinion was expressed. I will argue that the confessional standards of the OPC are correct in disallowing the practice of paedocommunion, because of the nature of the Lord's Supper as a covenant renewal meal.

--The Catechizer

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

John Huss - Part 1

John Huss was born circa 1371 in a small Bohemian town called Husinetz (now part of the Czech Republic). Although born a peasant, he received an excellent education at the University in Prague where he earned a reputation as a gifted scholar.

It was during his student years that he was introduced to the philosophical writings of Wycliffe. At the age of 32, Huss was ordained to the priesthood, and, two years later, he became rector of the university. The year was 1402.

Huss began preaching at Bethlehem Chapel in Prague. This unique chapel was a place where common folk could hear preaching in their own language. At the time, most people, including clergy, spoke little Latin, the only language in which the Roman Catholic Church would allow the Scriptures to be heard. It was during this time that Huss discovered the religious writings of Wycliffe—he immediately adopted them with zeal.

With the backdrop of the Great Schism, Huss began, in his sermons, to denounce various church abuses—matters of discipline and practice. Through these fiery sermons in the Bohemian language, Huss developed a widespread following.

The Teachings of Huss

Huss is credited with bringing the teachings of Wycliffe to Bohemia. Wycliffe’s influence can be seen in many of the doctrinal positions for which Huss is most known:

  • He objected to church officials expanding their powers beyond the church to include earthly government
  • He called for the church to return to the poverty and simplicity of Apostolic times
  • He denied the infallibility of an immoral pope
  • He advocated the giving of both the bread and the wine of the Lord’s Supper to all Christians in good standing (this was in response to a practice that had developed where only the bread was being administered to the laypeople)
  • He stressed the doctrine of predestination
  • He asserted that Scripture, not the church, held ultimate authority
  • He accorded the state the right to supervise the church
  • He wrote that Christ, not Peter, was the foundation of the church

Stay tuned for part 2!

--The Catechizer

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Think and Smoke Tobacco

I am both a cigar and a pipe smoker. I’m also a connoisseur of good Reformed theology. What a treat it is to have these good gifts brought together by Scottish churchman Ralph Erskine (1685-1752) in Think and Smoke Tobacco. So grab your favorite pipe and read on!

Part I
This Indian weed now wither'd quite,
'Tho' green at noon, cut down at night,
Shows thy decay;
All flesh is hay.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

The pipe so lily-like and weak,
Does thus thy mortal state bespeak.
Thou art ev'n such,
Gone with a touch.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

And when the smoke ascends on high,
Then thou behold'st the vanity
Of worldly stuff,
Gone with a puff.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

And when the pipe grows foul within,
Think on thy soul defil'd with sin;
For then the fire,
It does require.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

Then to thyself thou mayest say
That to the dust
Return thou must.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

Part II
Was this small plant for thee cut down?
So was the plant of great renown;
Which mercy sends
For nobler ends.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

Doth juice medicinal proceed
From such a naughty foreign weed?
Then what's the pow'r
Of Jesse's flow'r?
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

The promise, like the pipe, inlays,
And by the mouth of faith conveys
What virtue flows
From Sharon's rose.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

In vain th' unlighted pipe you blow;
Your pains in inward means are so,
'Till heav'nly fire
Thy heart inspire.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

The smoke, like burning incense tow'rs
So should a praying heart of yours,
With ardent cries,
Surmount the skies.
Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

Ralph Erskine (1685-1752)

--The Catechizer

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Friday, March 14, 2014

No Plan B

Recording artist Odd Thomas wrote and performed a spoken word poetry piece concerning discipleship, titled “No Plan B.” In the piece, Thomas compares the “fast-food mentality” of American Culture at large with the way the American Church approaches the Great Commission and discipleship. He describes the sinful way in which many evangelicals go about their lives’ personal pursuits, disregarding actual evangelism, expecting others (clergy, missionaries, theologians, etc.) to “pick up the slack.”

Thomas also decries the prevalence of pantheistic, pluralistic, post-modernistic worldviews in the church. He challenges the listener to survey their local congregation on definitions of terms which should be Theology 101 for believers: the Gospel (Heidelberg Catechism question and answer #1), faith (Heidelberg Catechism question and answer #21), the chief end of man (Westminster Larger Catechism question and answer #1), and the greatness of God (Belgic Confession of Faith, Article #1). He contends that the probable answers will be a mix of allusions to hope, heavily tainted with humanism, drenched with doses of mysticism and large quantities of moralism.

Finally he asserts that the church’s failure to fervently evangelize is law-breaking. He states that true repentance from this sin exists in confession of rebellion and selfishness; and, in reconsidering redemption…Plan A. He describes this plan in terms of a pre-creation covenant amongst the three persons of the Trinity, to save fallen men and women. In this covenant, the Father planned redemption for specific individuals, the Son purposed to purchase those whom the Father chose, and the Spirit would then execute the application of the plan in the hearts, minds, and lives of these people.

Click here to see and hear the performance of the poem.

--The Deacon


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

He Descended Into Hell ...

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.

The Apostles’ Creed is one of the earliest statements of Christian orthodoxy, believed to be written sometime in the second century. Later, sometime before 700 AD, the words “descended into Hell” were added. Although it is not known who made the addition or why, there are a few theories as to the meaning.

Against Gnosticism

“He descended into Hell” is preceded by “was crucified, dead, and buried.” The addition could be to further the distinction between Gnosticism and orthodoxy: Christ was a physical being Who actually died in the manner of men. He did not swoon, evaporate, or lie in a coma, but physically ceased living with His spirit returning to the Father.

Bearing the Pains of Hell

John Calvin believed that this statement refers to Christ suffering the pains of Hell upon the cross. Here’s how he put it in the Institutes. . .

The point is that the Creed sets forth what Christ suffered in the sight of men, and then appositely speaks of that invisible and incomprehensible judgment which he underwent in the sight of God in order that we might know not only that Christ’s body was given as the price of our redemption, but that he paid a greater and more excellent price in suffering in his soul the terrible torments of a condemned and forsaken man.

(You can read Calvin’s entire comments on this portion of the creed here.)

Although I believe that Calvin was correct (and when I confess this creed, this is what I have in mind), that Christ suffered the pains of Hell on the cross, I’m still troubled by the use of the term “descended.” If that’s what the author of the text had in mind, why use that term? It doesn’t seem to fit.

Prison Break

Some have tied “He descended into Hell” to I Pet. 3:19:

in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison

I’ve heard two interpretations of this:

  • Christ went not to Hell, but to Abraham’s Bosom, which was supposedly a temporary holding place.

  • Christ went to Hell and offered salvation to those there.

I think there are many problems with both interpretations (especially the second), but I’m going to pass on that in this post. Instead, I just want to focus on the passage at hand: Does it teach that he actually “descended” somewhere? I don’t think so.

In the versus leading up to this passage (particularly 18-20), Peter is encouraging us to stand strong in faith while enduring persecution for righteousness sake. Noah is an example of such courage under fire. Christ, via Noah’s preaching, is proclaiming the gospel to those living in Noah’s time—those who are now in Hell (i.e., “prison”). This is why Peter says “ . . . He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison”; the sequence is 1) Christ preached [they didn’t listen] 2) now they’re in prison.

It seems to me, therefore, that the context disallows the other two interpretations.


Whatever the reason “He descended into Hell” was added, what I have in mind when confessing The Creed is that Christ suffered the pains of Hell for me. Not only is this theologically supported, it also reminds me that my salvation came at a great price. May our dear savior’s name be praised forever. Amen.

--The Catechizer

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Monday, March 10, 2014

The Problem of the Virtuous Pagan

We have as our lawgiver the true God, who teaches us to practice righteousness, to be pious, and to do good.


What about non-Christians who display virtue? Do their “good works” earn any merit before God? To answer this question we must first discover what God considers a "good" work.

According to the Scriptures, for any work to be considered good (morally right before God), the person committing the act must be doing so with the right goal in mind, with the right motive, and according to the right standard.

The right goal

The act must be done to God’s glory.

Q. What is the chief end of man?

A. The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.

Westminster Shorter Catechism (1642-1647)

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

1 Cor. 10:31

And it must be done in service to the Lord.

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men

Col. 3:23

The Right Motive

The act must be done in true faith.

Q. What is true faith?

A. True faith is not only a sure knowledge whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word, but also a hearty trust, which the Holy Ghost works in me by the Gospel, that not only to others, but to me also, forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ's merits.

Heidelberg Catechism (1563)

But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.

Rom. 14:23

And it must be done in love.

If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

1 Cor. 13:2-3

The Right Standard

It must be according the right standard—God’s law.

What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law

Rom. 7:7


My best work on my best day is defiled by sin. It's only because I stand in the shadow of the cross that I am able to bring anything before the Lord. It’s only because I'm clothed in a righteousness not my own.

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction

Rom. 3:21-22

Q. But why cannot our good works be the whole or part of our righteousness before God?

A. Because the righteousness which can stand before the judgment seat of God, must be perfect throughout and entirely conformable to the divine law, but even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.

Heidelberg Catechism (1563)

This is the answer to the Problem of the Virtuous Pagan: Neither his works nor mine are acceptable apart from Christ. For it is only in Christ that those works can be considered good—being done towards the right goal, for the right reasons, and according to the right standard.

--The Catechizer


Sunday, March 09, 2014

Skepticism, Agnosticism, and Atheism: A Brief History of Unbelief

The Modern Reformation Web site offers a fascinating history of Atheism. Here’s how the article begins . . .

The last two years have been good for atheism. A rash of books making the case for unbelief, including Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion (2006) and Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007), have sold millions of copies. Strident atheist Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass, one of his atheistic tomes designed to rescue children from belief in God, was made into a movie. Even pop star Elton John got into the act, calling for a ban on religion. Leaders of the so-called New Atheism are aggressive and proselytizing. They don't just condemn belief in God; they also condemn respect for belief in God.

But how new is the New Atheism? It is said best in Ecclesiastes 1:9: "There is nothing new under the sun." To be sure, explicit and public atheism is a somewhat new phenomenon. But atheism, agnosticism, and good old-fashioned doubt have strong and lengthy histories worth learning. Because atheism is parasitic on theism and even more on Christianity, to learn the history of atheism is to learn the history of the church.

You can read the entire article here.

--The Catechizer

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Friday, March 07, 2014

Come, Eat and Drink Judgment Upon Yourself!

Over at Christianity Today’s Web site (subscription required), popular pastor Jack Hayford of The Church on the Way fame offers a few ideas on how to make unbelievers feel more comfortable in church . . .

We invite all the people to gather around the Lord's Table and partake in small groups. We believe it is the Lord's Table we are invited to, the Lord is doing the inviting, and no one is excluded. To us that means unbelievers are invited, as well . . . we want people to know that they are welcome. For example, I might say, "If you are visiting with us today, you are not only welcome to participate, you are urged to. If you were at my house and it came dinnertime, I wouldn't leave you sitting in the other room while I went to the dining room . . .

It sounds as if pastor Hayford desires to be a good host. I’m sure that if I were invited to his dinner table he wouldn’t want to make me feel uncomfortable by telling me that there’s arsenic in the food and that I might get sick and/or die if I partake. No, that would be rude.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as thoughtful as pastor Hayford. Here’s two noted examples of inhospitality:

John Calvin

A man in Calvin’s congregation refused to repent of his sins and was consequently denied the Table of the Lord. Not feeling “welcomed,” the man complained to the Genevean Council. Ruling in the man’s favor, the council ordered Calvin to grant him the supper.

As the man, and his sword-bearing friends, began to approach the table on the following Lord’s Day, Calvin threw his arms over the table and proclaimed, “These hands you may crush, these arms you may lop off, my life you may take, my blood is yours, you may shed it; but you shall never force me to give holy things to the profaned, and dishonor the table of my God.”

How rude!

Apostle Paul

The Apostle Paul was definitely not very welcoming when it came to granting access to the Lord’s Table to those in sin. In the later portion of 1 Corinthians 11, Paul explains the significance of the occasion (vs. 23-26). He also explains the consequence of partaking in an unworthy manner, or not exercising proper discernment—the possibility of sickness and death ( vs. 27, 29, 30). For this reason, Paul tells us to examine ourselves (vs. 28). “But if we judge ourselves rightly, we would not be judged” (vs. 31).

Furthermore, Paul tells us that if we exercise proper discernment that we (believers) will not be “condemned along with the world” (unbelievers, vs. 32). Paul also points out that this simply isn’t another meal: “If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment . . .” Paul is certainly excluding unbelievers here. Ms. Manners would be scandalized!

Good Host/Bad Host?

So there you have it. You can follow Calvin’s and Paul’s example and guard the Table of the Lord, or you can follow pastor Hayford’s example and open the gates wide. A word of caution, though: If you decide to follow pastor Hayford’s example, I’d recommend that your church purchase extra insurance.

To gain a proper understanding of the Lord’s Supper, including who should and should not partake, I recommend reading questions and answers 75 through 82 of the Heidelberg Catechism.

--The Catechizer

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Thursday, March 06, 2014

Baptism Resources

New Horizons magazine offeres two fine articles regarding baptism.

Baptism in Our Confessional Standards

In this article Rev. Alan D. Strange, professor at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, takes us through a guided tour of baptism in the Westminster Standards. Addressed are topics such as the . . .

  • Nature of baptism

  • Efficacy of baptism

  • “Improvement” of our baptism

You can read the entire article here.

A Better Case for "Infant Baptism"

In 2006, Rev. William Shishko, pastor of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Franklin Square, N.Y., debated Reformed Baptist and apologist Dr. James White: "Resolved: The subjects of Christian baptism are only those who have personally repented and believed in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord."

Rev. Shishko explains the reason for the article this way: “The purpose of this article is to reflect on this debate. We can learn from projects like this, and become better able to respond biblically to those who differ with us.”

You can read the article here.

--The Catechizer

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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

God’s Aseity, Self-sufficiency, and Love—A Contradiction?

Two of God’s incommunicable attributes (belonging to God alone) are His aseity (self-existence, John 5:26) and His self-sufficiency (Psm. 50:12-13). His name “El Shaddai” (God all-sufficient, Gen. 17:1, 2) signifies these attributes. Being the great “I Am” (Ex. 3:14), God’s existence is not dependent on anything or anyone, nor does He need anything or anyone.

We also find in Scripture that God is love (1 John 4:8), meaning that He is characterized by love. This poses an interesting question when the previous two perfections are considered. Here’s what I mean: Love requires an object. It’s not possible to love something or someone unless there is something or someone to love. Let’s put this in a simple syllogism (a deductive argument where the conclusion is inferred from the supporting propositions):

God is love. Love needs an object. Therefore, God needs an object for His love.

The argument is valid (it's structured properly) and sound (the premises—supporting propositions—are true). Therefore, by force of logic, the conclusion is inescapable: God needs something. So how does this square with His aseity and self-sufficiency?

The Trinity

The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Spirit, and vise versa, and this from all eternity. This cannot be said of anything else, for all else is created by God (Gen. 1:1). Hence, the doctrine of the Trinity is the only explanation that avoids contradiction.

So next time you speak with a Jehovah’s Witness, Oneness Pentecostal, or anyone else of the non-Trinitarian stripe, give this line of reasoning a whirl.

--The Catechizer

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Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Divvying Up the Writers of the 66

John Mark Reynolds takes up an interesting task over at First Things: Identify the Biblical writer’s denominational affiliation. Here’s how he kicks it off:

Ecumenical dialogue is important. One problem in discussions between Christians has been the failure to recognize that each group quotes different Biblical authors. We all know that Paul is a Protestant, for example, but few recognize that Paul himself can be divided between early Paul (hyper-Calvinist) and late Paul (Presbyterian).

Theologians, of course, have long known that Obadiah was a papist, but the rest of us have been clueless. For example, the shift of Jeremiah from Calvinism to Catholicism over the course of his life explains a great deal about the text.

Many problems related to our ignorance of denominational affiliation would be solved if the Biblical players came with a program. I have provided you one with a one sentence reason for the designation . . .

Here are a few of my favorites:

Joshua: Catholic
Why? Likes crusades and building shrines.

Court Chronicler: Anglican
Why? Only Christian group interested in sustained sucking up to monarchs.

Ezra: Southern Baptist
Why? Has a great church building program.

Esther: Pentecostal
Why? Good looking women leaders.

Mordecai: Pentecostal
Why? Guy willing to work with good looking women leaders.

Job: Calvinist
Why? Stuff happens, don’t complain.

Solomon (Proverbs): Evangelical
Why? Advice fits on church sign.

Paul: (Late Period, see II Timothy) Presbyterian
Why? Very mellow and more concerned about heritage than present.

James: Catholic.
Why? Luther hated him

You can read the entire list here.

--The Catechizer


Monday, March 03, 2014

Ethnicity vs. Homosexuality

From The Wittenberg Door archives . . .

HOUSTON — A judge in Texas paved the way for a court battle over the state’s ban on same-sex marriage when she ruled this week that two men married in another state can get divorced in Dallas.

New York Times

Even more interesting than the claim that the greatest state in the Union is denying folks their “Constitutional right” to marry (and, it seems, to divorce) is the following:

“The bottom line is, just as in the ’50s, when the Supreme Court of the United States had enough guts to say no more on segregation, this present Supreme Court ought to do the same thing on this issue,” said Jonathan D. F. Nelson, a Fort Worth lawyer.

The idea expressed by the Stockyard pettifogger is apparently shared by the court: ethnicity and homosexuality are on the same moral plain. But are the gentlepersons of the law correct?

Ethnicity Equal to Homosexuality?

Captain Kangaroo’s ethnicity was white (caucasion). He was born that way and could do nothing to change it. His ethnicity was intrinsic to him. Consequently he had no choice in the matter. Those with homosexual desires, on the other hand, have a choice as to whether or not to act upon those desires. The latter is morally relevant, while the former is not. Thus ethnicity and homosexuality are not on the same moral plain (one involves choice and the other does not—one is intrinsic and the other a behavior). And since the state should only treat equals equally, it is in fact immoral to judicially conflate the two.

State Interest

The State’s only 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—I bet even Mr. Green Jeans understood this.

--The Catechizer


Sunday, March 02, 2014

The Problem of Evil is Everyone's Problem

The “problem of evil” is often used by atheists as a refutation of theism. But as Brett Kunkle of Stand to Reason points out, the problem of evil is everybody’s problem . . .

Note: I’m posting his entire article because I couldn’t figure out how to link to it.

The Japan tsunami inevitably raises profound questions about God and evil. But in this discussion, it is important to realize every worldview, not just Christianity, must explain evil. Christians are often on the defense with regards to this objection, yet the tables can be turned on the atheist, with his naturalistic worldview in tow. Given naturalism, what is evil and how does the atheist make sense of it?

Famous British philosopher and atheist Bertrand Russell once commented, "No one can believe in a good God if they've sat at the bedside of a dying child." Now, I agree that sitting at the bedside of a dying child is a heart-wrenching situation not to be treated simplistically or in a cavalier manner. Providing pat answers and quoting Romans 8:28 over and over will not suffice. But what of Russell's response? What can the atheist say to the dying child? Or to the Japanese parents whose child disappeared in the flood waters?

  • "In the grand scheme of the universe your suffering is utterly meaningless--life and all that comes with it has no transcendent meaning or value."

  • "Your suffering is completely pointless since there is no purpose to any of this anyway."

  • "Fortunately, you will soon die and return to dust."

  • "Take heart, you will soon pop out of existence forever and your suffering will be over."

  • "Stuff like tsunamis just happen."

  • "Bummer."

Or let's try the actual words of Russell:

  • "Brief and powerless is Man's life; on him and all his race the slow, sure dooms falls pitiless and dark."

  • "Blind to good and evil...omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way."

  • "...no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave..."

  • "...all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system..."

  • "Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins..."

Hmmm...not too comforting in the face of real tragedy & sorrow. Not only does atheism lack the intellectual resources to account for evil, it also lacks the emotional/psychological resources to bring hope and redemption to a world corrupted by both moral and natural evil. Russell's own words certainly clarify the absurdity of life without God.

Make no mistake, the problem of evil is not just a problem for Christianity--it is a problem for all worldviews because evil is fundamental to our human experience. If any worldview is to be considered plausible it must provide us with the intellectual and existential resources to deal with this issue.

--The Catechizer


Saturday, March 01, 2014

Five Things Science Can’t Explain

In our day and age Philosophical Naturalism is the worldview de jure; with it comes the belief that men in lab coats can answer all questions. But is this the case? Darren Hewer of the Why Faith blog answers this question in an article titled, Five Things Science Can’t Explain. Here they are . . .

  1. Existential Truth: Science cannot prove that you aren’t merely a brain in a jar being manipulated to think this is all actually happening. (Think of something like in “The Matrix”.) It also cannot prove that the world wasn’t created 5 minutes ago with the appearance of age (and with fake memories in your head, and half-digested food in your stomach, etc). However it’s still rational to believe that our memories are true and that the world is real.

  2. Moral Truth: Science cannot prove that rape is evil. While it is possible to demonstrate, for example, that there are negative physical or psychological effects of rape, there is no scientific test that can prove it is evil. Science can describe how the natural world is, but moral truth carries an “oughtness” (how things should be) about it that goes beyond what merely is.

  3. Logical Truth: Consider the statement “Science is the only way to really know truth.” How could you prove that statement by science? It is actually self-refuting because there is no scientific test you could use to prove that it is true! Science cannot prove logic to be true because it assumes and requires logic in order for it to work.

  4. Historical Truth: Science cannot prove that Barack Obama won the 2009 United States presidential election. There is no scientific test we could perform to prove it. We could have an investigation if we wanted to confirm that he did actually win, but the method for proving historical truths is different from testing scientific truths since historical truths are by nature non-repeatable.

  5. Experiential Truth: Science cannot prove that your spouse loves you. When asked why so-and-so loves you, you may cite precedent (times when their behavior demonstrates their love for you) but this is a particular type of historical truth. There is no scientific test that can confirm a lifetime of experience of knowing a person.

You can read the entire article here.

--The Catechizer