f The Wittenberg Door: May 2015

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

Friday, May 29, 2015

Today in Church History: Synod of Dort

On May 29, 1619, the Synod of Dort was adjourned at the conclusion of its one hundred eightieth session.

Convened on November 13, 1618, in the Dutch city of Dordrecht, the international Reformed council answered the Arminian heresy through its canons, arranged according to five heads of doctrine, that affirmed the sovereignty of God in salvation. Contrary to popular modern impressions, the Canons of Dort were not a “rigid statement of monolithic Calvinism,” according to Robert Godfrey. Instead, they should be understood as “a moderate, inclusive compromise drawing all Calvinists together around the essentials of the faith and preventing the movement from fragmenting over peripheral matters.”

The Canons of Dort joined the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism as the three-fold doctrinal standard in the Dutch Reformed tradition. In analyzing the significance of the Synod, Cornelius Van Til wrote, “The followers of Dort, together with their brethren, the followers of Westminster, alone have the wherewithal with which to proclaim the gospel of the sovereign grace of God at all.”

--John Muether

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Today in History: Memorial Day

Memorial Day, the last Monday of May, is the day we honor Americans who gave their lives in military service.

The holiday was originally called Decoration Day and honored soldiers who had died during the Civil War. Immediately after the war, various towns in the North and South began to set aside days to decorate the soldiers’ graves with flowers and flags. Those earliest memorial observances occurred in Waterloo, New York; Columbus, Mississippi; Richmond, Virginia; Carbondale, Illinois; Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, and several other places.

The first widespread observance of Decoration Day came on May 30, 1868, which Maj. Gen. John A. Logan proclaimed as a day to honor the dead. General James Garfield (later the twentieth U.S. president) gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery in remembrance of fallen soldiers, saying that “for love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.” Afterward, 5,000 people helped decorate the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers.

Over the years the day became an occasion to remember the dead in all American wars, and came to be known as Memorial Day.

On the Thursday before Memorial Day, in a tradition known as “Flags-in,” the soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry place small flags before more than a quarter million gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. They then patrol twenty-four hours a day to make sure each flag remains standing throughout the weekend. On Memorial Day the president or vice president lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the cemetery.

According to the U.S. flag code, American flags should be flown at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day, then raised to the top of the pole. At 3:00 p.m. local time, all Americans are asked to pause for a moment of remembrance.

American History Parade

1539 - Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto lands in Florida.

1806 - In Kentucky, Andrew Jackson kills lawyer Charles Dickenson in a duel for allegedly insulting Jackson’s wife.

1868 - Memorial Day is widely observed for the first time.

1896 - In New York City the first recorded car accident occurs when a motor wagon collides with a bicycle.

1911 - Ray Harroun wins the first Indianapolis 500 auto race.

1922 - The Lincoln Memorial is dedicated in Washington D.C.

1958 - Unidentified soldiers killed in World War II and the Korean War are buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

The American Patriot's Almanac: Daily Readings on America


Saturday, May 23, 2015

"Stram" and The Feast Day of St. Didier

From Forgotten English . . .


Any sudden, loud and quick sound; so to stram the doors means to shut them with noise and violence. Hence, a bold and unexpected lie that greatly surprises the hearer is called a strammer, and hence also to strammer means to tell great and notorious lies.

Frederick Elworthy’s Specimens of English Dialects; Devonshire Glossary, 1879

The Feast Day of St. Didier

Let me be the first to wish each of my readers a happy feast day of St. Didier!

St. Didier was invoked to protect against liars. A story is told about a preacher who concluded his sermon one Sunday by instructing his congregation to read Mark 17 as background for his next sermon, whose topic would be insincerity. The following week, when he asked how many had read the biblical passage in question, most of the congregants’ hands immediately went up. The preacher looked both shocked and determined, “You are just the people I want to talk to,” he declared, “as there is no ‘Chapter 17’ of Mark!”


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Today in Church History: Harry Emerson Fosdick

On May 21, 1922, Harry Emerson Fosdick preached the famous sermon, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” from the pulpit of First Presbyterian Church in New York City.
Although a Baptist, Fosdick was serving as the preaching minister of the prominent Fifth Avenue church, and his sermon has been generally regarded as the “Fort Sumter” of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy in the Presbyterian Church. Though ostensibly a plea for tolerance within the northern church, the widely distributed sermon served to warn fundamentalists that they could not “drive out from the Christian churches all the consecrated souls who do not agree with their theory of inspiration.”
In an earlier (1916) letter, J. Gresham Machen had described Fosdick’s preaching as “just dreadful! Just the pitiful stuff about an undogmatic Christianity.” By 1923, Machen would emerge as modernism’s most formidable critic with the publication of Christianity and Liberalism. Fosdick, however, would recede from Presbyterian prominence. In 1925 he resigned his post under pressure, and in 1930 he became pastor of the newly built Riverside Church in New York City.
John Muether


Monday, May 18, 2015

Today in History: In God We Trust

On May 18, 1908, congress mandated that the motto “In God We Trust” be minted on certain coins. The motto evidences one of the reasons why America is different from her peers: our rights come not from the government or the crown, but from God. This is important because if our rights come from God, then the government can’t take them away. Conversely, if our rights come from the government then the government givith, the government taketh away.

In God We Trust is one of the pillars of what columnist and radio talk show host and columnist Dennis Prager calls The American Trinity: E Pluribus Unum (out of many one), In God We Trust, and Liberty. All three of these appear on our currency and all three of these, taken together, define our country’s values—and it is this value system that makes America exceptional, as Mr. Prager explains in this short video:

--The Catechizer


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Today in Church History: Carl McIntire

On May 17, 1906, Carl McIntire was born in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

The son of a Presbyterian minister, McIntire followed his mentor, J. Gresham Machen, to Westminster Seminary (where he graduated in 1931) and into the Orthodox Presbyterian Church at its founding in 1936. Soon, however, he would have a falling out with Machen and the "un-American" theology emanating from Westminster, represented in the likes of R. B. Kuiper, John Murray, Ned Stonehouse, and Cornelius Van Til. In 1937 he led an exodus from the OPC and formed the Bible Presbyterian Church and Faith Theological Seminary, committed to a more rigorous form of separatism.

McIntire's fiery combination of fundamentalist theology and conservative politics expanded steadily in popularity during the height of the America's cold war. His Collingswood, New Jersey, church grew to 1,200 members, his Christian Beacon newspaper claimed 100,000 subscribers, and his "Twentieth Century Reformation Hour" was broadcast on over 600 radio stations. Through these media he took on Catholics, communists, and evangelicals " especially Billy Graham. McIntire also led in the formation of the American Council of Christian Churches (1941) and the International Council of Christian Churches (1948).

Eventually, several church splits (largely stemming from his domineering personality) and legal battles with the FCC would greatly diminish his following. He retired after over 60 years in the ministry, and he died on March 20, 2002, at the age of 95.

John Muether


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Thought of the Day: Assurance

There are two aspects to the assurance of salvation: one is objective in nature and the other is subjective. Our assurance is objective in that the believer’s salvation is secured and guaranteed by God. The subjective aspect is psychological in nature, so it can be adversely affected by the on-going struggle with sin. Another way to put it is that I know that I’m saved, but sometimes I don’t feel that I am.

--The Catechizer

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Reformation Begins with the Pulpit

There is . . . a great need for a reformation of the evangelical pulpit. To reform the pulpit is to reform the church. What is needed is not simply more preaching, but God-enthralled, Christ-magnifying, Spirit-empowered preaching. If this is to occur, the church must regain a high view of the pulpit. As was prevalent during the Reformation, the preaching of the Word must be central in the worship of the church in this generation.

Dr. Steven Lawson points out at the Aquila Report that a second Reformation is desperately needed in our day, and that it will only come if the church has a) a high view of Scripture, b) a high view of God, and c) a high view of the pulpit. In his post, which is an excerpt from his book, The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther, he focuses on the need for a reformation of the Evangelical pulpit.

In an age where pulpits have been replaced by Plexiglas stands fronting mockups of Opra’s TV stage, and where Genevan robes have been ousted for tee shirts, torn jeans, and flip flops, and where exegetical, Christ-centered preaching has given sway to “live your best life now” pep talks, we do indeed have a lot of work to do. The pulpit, though, is where this work needs to start. Dr. Lawson comments on this need:

In this critical hour of church history, pastors must recapture the glory of biblical preaching, as in the days of the Reformation. Preachers must return to true exposition that is Word-driven, God-glorifying, and Christ-exalting. May the Lord of the church raise up a new generation of expositors, men armed with the sword of the Spirit, to once again preach the Word. The plea of Spurgeon, who witnessed the decline of dynamic preaching in his lifetime, must be heard and answered in this day:

We want again Luthers, Calvins, Bunyans, Whitefields, men fit to mark eras, whose names breathe terror in our foemen’s ears. We have dire need of such. Whence will they come to us? They are the gifts of Jesus Christ to the Church, and will come in due time. He has power to give us back again a golden age of preachers, and when the good old truth is once more preached by men whose lips are touched as with a live coal from off the altar, this shall be the instrument in the hand of the Spirit for bringing about a great and thorough revival of religion in the land… . I do not look for any other means of converting men beyond the simple preaching of the gospel and the opening of men’s ears to hear it. The moment the Church of God shall despise the pulpit, God will despise her. It has been through the ministry that the Lord has always been pleased to revive and bless His Churches.

You can read the rest of Dr. Lawson’s prescription here.

--The Catechizer


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Today in History: Mother’s Day

Credit for starting Mother’s Day goes to a schoolteacher named Ana Jarvis. Here campaign to organize a holiday began as a way to honor the memory of her own mother, Anna Maria Reeves Jarvis. The elder Jarvis had devoted much of her life to the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church of Grafton, West Virginia, and in May 1908, at Anna Jarvis’s urging, the church held a service honoring mothers. Anna Jarvis, who lived in Philadelphia, also convinced merchant John Wanamaker to join her cause in establishing Mother’s Day, and he held an afternoon service in his store. Within just a couple of years, the custom had spread to other states.

At one of the first Mother’s Day services, Jarvis distributed white carnations, her mother’s favorite flower. Many people still follow the tradition of giving and wearing carnations on Mother’s Day—white flowers in memory of deceased mothers, and brightly colored ones for living mothers.

Jarvis and her supporters convinced ministers, politicians, and businessmen to support the goal of starting a national observance. On May 8, 1914, Congress passed a joint resolution designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. The next day, President Woodrow Wilson issued the first Mother’s Day presidential proclamation, calling for “a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”

American History Parade

1541 - Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto reaches the Mississippi River.

1846 - General Zachary Taylor wins the first major battle of the Mexican War at Palo Alto, Texas.

1884 - Harry S. Truman, the thirty-third U.S. president, is born in Lamar, Missouri.

1886 - Druggist John S. Pemberton sells the first Coca-Cola at Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia.

1914 - Congress establishes the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

1945 - Americans celebrate victory in Europe over Nazi Germany (VE Day).

The American Patriot's Almanac: Daily Readings on America


Friday, May 08, 2015

Today in Church History: John Murray

On May 8, 1975, John Murray died in Bonar Bridge, Scotland, the town where he was born on October 14, 1898.

Long-time professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary, where he taught from 1930 to 1967, Murray was also an active Orthodox Presbyterian churchman. He attended meetings of the Presbytery of New York and New England whenever possible, and he served on several General Assembly committees, including the Committee on Foreign Missions, the Committee on Local Evangelism, the Committee on Texts and Proof Texts to the Westminster Standards, and the Committee to Revise the Form of Government and Book of Discipline. In 1947, along with William Young, he presented a Minority Report of the Committee on Song in Public Worship, where he argued that the Psalter was the exclusive hymnbook for the New Testament church. His most popular book, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (1955), began as articles published in the Presbyterian Guardian, where he was a frequent contributor.

The Banner of Truth described Murray's funeral in this way:

The dignity and simplicity of the service, in true Reformation style, was just as Professor Murray would have desired. John Murray had gone forth from this small community to become one of the world's leading theologians. Having finished his course and kept the faith, it now seemed fitting that the small cemetery on the shores of the Kyles of Scotland should contain the remains of this worthy servant of Christ until the day break and the shadows flee away.

John Muether


Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Reforming Church Architecture

Call me old fashioned, but I think churches should look like churches. Not like shopping malls, coffee houses, or amusement parks. I recall when I moved to San Antonio, TX, (before I moved to the Texas hill country), coming over the hill on the 10 freeway, I saw a brick building with a high roof and a jutting steeple; a true architectural antithesis when compared to the large retail stores and auto dealers around it. I told my family, “I bet that’s our new church”; and sure enough I was right. Easily recognizable, it was set apart, distinct, a true statement of contrast. It looked like a house of worship, not a house of commerce—it looked like a place where God met His people.

David Gobel weighs in by contributing to a series at the The Gospel Coalition Web site on church architecture. Here’s an excerpt:

I suggest that we approach church architecture in terms of worship and witness. Worship is the purpose of the church. Worship, as we understand it from the teaching of Scripture, consists of the reading and preaching of the Word, public prayer, congregational singing, and the celebration of the sacraments. The building in which we worship is the physical setting for this supremely important activity, but it is not to be worshiped itself, nor should it distract us or lead us to worship any created thing. A Reformed church architecture should be, at the outset, supportive of and subordinate to Christian worship. But this does not mean that it must be unattractive or drearily utilitarian.

According to John Calvin, the chief principle governing public worship is decorum, a concept that describes how we are to behave, dress, and, I would add, build. Decorum is a general principle that encompasses propriety, gracefulness, dignity and, yes, beauty. Indeed, these are the qualities that should be sought in church architecture. The dignity, decorum, and beauty that we seek in designing places for public worship should extend also to the external witness of the church. We must not forget that, besides being a gathered body of believers, the local church is also an earthly institution. Like all civic and commercial institutions, when churches construct buildings, they are building public statements about their identity. All buildings—whether art museums, gas stations, big-box retailers, or churches—bear witness to the institutions they serve.

Churches cannot ignore their civic role. The location, site planning, quality of materials, craftsmanship, and design of a church building either contribute to or detract from the overall quality of the built environment of a community. Churches must consider, not only the architectural design of their buildings, but also their relationship to the streets, blocks, and neighboring buildings of the surrounding community. Like all of society, our culture’s built environment is in dire need of reformation. Sprawling landscapes of multilane highways, disconnected developments, and warehouse-style buildings are indicative of a self-absorbed society that is far from pursuing the true chief end of man. The automobile-oriented, big-box, entertainment-style worship centers built by many churches today seem only to perpetuate such culture. How we build our churches is a matter too long ignored. Refor med churches should build buildings fit for the supreme task of corporate worship while contributing to the beauty and welfare of the city of man.

You can read the rest here.

PS. The church pictured above is the one of which I am currently a member, Christ Presbyterian Church of New Braunfels, Texas (PCA). I believe it examples David Gobel’s insights: In contrast to the medical and retirement facilities around it, it’s clearly discernable as a church. Moreover, it exemplifies dignity, decorum, and beauty, all the while remaining consistent with the Alamoesque architecture popular in South Texas.

Click here to see some amazing—and sometimes strange—examples of church architecture.

--The Catechizer


Sunday, May 03, 2015

Today in Church History: Cornelius Van Til

On May 3, 1895, Cornelius Van Til was born in Grootegast, Groningen, the Netherlands.

After immigrating to the United States with his family in 1905, Van Til studied at Calvin College and Seminary before enrolling at Princeton Seminary, where he studied under Geerhardus Vos, C. W. Hodge, and Robert Dick Wilson. In 1927 he earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University. Following a brief pastorate in the Christian Reformed Church, Van Til became a member of the original faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary in 1929, teaching apologetics until his retirement in 1972. In 1936, he transferred his ministerial membership into the newly-formed Orthodox Presbyterian Church where he remained throughout his life, declining several invitations to return to Calvin Seminary and the CRC.

In all of his work Van Til consistently championed the apologetic approach of presuppositionalism. "The issue between believers and non-believers in Christian theism cannot be settled by a direct appeal to 'facts' or 'laws' whose nature and significance is already agreed upon by both parties to the debate," he wrote. Van Til vigorously challenged traditional approaches to apologetics, both Catholic and evangelical, because they conceded too much to non-Christian ways of thinking and denied God as the ultimate judge of reality. In works such as The New Modernism (1946), he also warned against the seductive teachings of Karl Barth and the emerging neo-orthodox movement.

John Muether


Friday, May 01, 2015

Today in History: National Day of Prayer

The first Thursday in May is the National Day of Prayer, a day that encourages Americans to pray for the United States, its people, and its leaders.

The tradition of a National Day of Prayer dates to 1775, when the Second Continental Congress set aside a day for Americans to pray to “be ever under the care and protection of a kind Providence” as they began the struggle for independence. In the following decades, Congress and the president set aside various days for prayer. In 1863, for example, Lincoln proclaimed “a day of national humiliation, fasting, and prayer” to help the country get through “the awful calamity of civil war” and for “the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country to its former happy condition of unity and peace.”

In 1952 Congress and President Truman established a National Day of Prayer as a yearly event. Truman called for a day “on which all of us, in our churches, in our homes, and in our hearts, may beseech God to grant us wisdom to know the course which we should follow, and strength and patience to pursue that course steadfastly.”

In 1988, President Reagan designated the first Thursday in May as the National Day of Prayer, urging Americans to ask God for “His blessings, His peace, and the resting of His kind and holy hands on ourselves, our Nation, our friends in the defense of Freedom, and all mankind, now and always.”

American History Parade

1749 - George Washington receives his surveyor’s license from the College of William and Mary.

1809 - Mary Kies of Connecticut becomes the first woman to receive a U.S. patent, for a technique for weaving straw with silk and thread.

1864 - The Battle of the Wilderness begins in Spotsylvania Country, Virginia.

1925 - John T. Scopes is arrested in Tennessee for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution.

1961 - Astronaut Alan Shepard becomes the first American to travel into space during a fifteen-minute suborbital flight.

1988 - The first Thursday in May is designated the National Day of Prayer.

The American Patriot's Almanac: Daily Readings on America