f The Wittenberg Door: December 2013

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

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Why do We Go to Worship?

Feeling sorry for yourself helps no one!","Self pity turns a generous impactful person into a self-driven recluse", "The more you allow self pity to settle in your heart, it becomes poisonous to your purpose","We must process all personal pain through Christ", "Take back the Power of your worth from negative influences and give it to Christ in you!"

The above comments were posted on Facebook by a former pastor of mine (from my Pentecostal days). He offers them as a summary of his Sunday sermon. I think they reflect one of the issues faced by the church: What is the purpose of the church service?

Back in my misspent youth in the wastelands of Pentecostalism, the church service was where we were “schooled to rule, and trained to reign”; it was where we gathered to battle demons and to proclaim our victories; and it was where we named and claimed the blessings that God owed us—In other words, the service was for us and for our activities.

As we have seen with Joel Olsteen, and with the pastor cited above, facets of Pentecostalism have morphed into a self-help, live your best life now self-love-fest. Of course, your average Evangelical church isn’t this extreme, but the question of what the service is to be about still remains; and without carefully considering the answer, we might find ourselves listing towards the dazzling smile and finely quaffed hair of the local self-help guru, who is all too willing to tell us what our itching ears want to hear.

Michael Horton considers the question of why we go to church over at The Whitehorse Inn blog. Here’s an excerpt:

Far deeper than instruments and music styles, this divide is the real one. Historically at least, Reformed and Lutheran churches believed that the Triune God is the primary actor in the public service. That’s one reason it was called “divine service”: the Father, in Christ, by the Spirit, serving his people with his good gifts. We find it referred to as “the divine service” routinely in churches of the Reformation over much of their history.

Drawing on the biblical view of the public service as a covenantal event, Reformed churches have understood the Triune God as the primary actor. If the covenant of grace is based on God’s unchangeable promise, with Christ as its mediator, then the public service is where this covenant is established and extended. Here the risen Lord of the covenant assembles his people to bless, convict, absolve, instruct, guide, and send them out into the world as “a kingdom of priests to our God” (Rev 5:9). The key moments in this covenantal event are God’s speech, baptism, and Communion—in each case, God being the actor. The very media themselves indicate that we are recipients of the action.

You can read the entire article here.

--The Catechizer

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Monday, December 30, 2013

Dressing for Worship

I often wonder if people (myself included) would dress the way they dress at church were they meeting the President of the United States. Do we really realize the gravity of this event? Do we take a moment to consider that upon the announcement of the call to worship that a solemn occasion is ensuing? Indeed, this is no ordinary gathering. We, as the Living God’s people, are presenting ourselves to our King—to worship Him and to hear from Him through His preached word.

I’ve tried to impress upon my children the gravity of the event—because it’s not a casual affair, we should not dress casually. (I think of Moses taking off his shoes because the ground upon which he was standing was holy.)

For example, I wear shorts, filp flops, and a tee shirt to lounge on the beach. It’s a casual affair so casual attire is called for. If I had an audience with the President of the United States a coat and tie would be in order. Because of the gravity of the event, it would be flippant and disrespectful to wear beach cloths. How much more care should we take when gathering to worship our Savior?

A matter of conscience, though, to be sure, but, perhaps we would all do better to give a little more thought to our dress before entering the house of the Lord.

At the Wheat and Chaff blog, Pastor Matt Powell of Providence Reformed Chapel in Colorado reflects upon this topic:

But there is another spirit that one sees all too frequently in our society, and that is the spirit that says, "God doesn't care what I look like, so I can come to church dressed as slovenly as I want." "Sunday best" was an expression that had more meaning in our culture just a few years ago than it does now, for it used to be taken for granted that you should dress up in your nicest clothes to come to church. Why is that? Did people truly think that God would value them more highly for wearing a jacket and tie or a nice dress? Or perhaps people used to know something about church that has been well-nigh lost to the church today?

--The Catechizer


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Does Predestination Equal Fatalism?

Calvinism, whether it is 5 point or 4 or some derivative; it all leads to fatalism if followed through honestly.

This comment, left on a post, Was John Calvin a Murderer, reveals a typical charge against Calvinism: Predestination = fatalism. Responding to that claim is a fine post over at The Aristophrenium. Here’s how it begins:

One of the most common accusation that is hurled by Arminians and other non-Calvinists against Reformed theology is that it promotes fatalism. It is not uncommon to hear an Arminian charge that we teach that God “hinders people from coming to repentance when they really want to” and that believers are “forced to love God.” Of course, nobody who actually knows what the doctrines of grace entail would actually make such statements. The Bible is clear enough on how people become saved: Men are by nature sinful and in rebellion against God (Genesis 6:5, 8:21, Psalm 51:5, Jeremiah 17:9), and are rendered incapable of even desiring to come to Him because of this inclination (John 6:44, 65, Romans 3:10-12, 8:5-8), which is why it is necessary for Him to change their hearts and minds (Ezekiel 36:25-27). It is only after this change of heart takes places that a person becomes willing to come to Christ.

That being said, statements such as “whosoever will may come” are totally compatible with a Reformed understanding of salvation. In fact, John Calvin himself made a statement similar to this in his commentaries. He writes:

“Therefore, forasmuch as no man is excluded from calling upon God, the gate of salvation is set open unto all men; neither is there any other thing which keepeth us back from entering in, save only our own unbelief. I speak of all unto whom God doth make himself manifest by the gospel. But like as those which call upon the name of the Lord are sure of salvation, so we must think that, without the same, we are thrice miserable and undone. And when as our salvation is placed in calling upon God, there is nothing in the mean season taken from faith, forasmuch as this invocation is grounded on faith alone.”

You can read the entire post here.

--The Catechizer


Friday, December 27, 2013

Don’t Like Abortion? Don’t Have One!

Recently, at a stop light, I was sitting behind a car with the bumper sticker, "Don't like abortion? Don't have one!" I'm sure the car's owner thought this sticker very cleaver. But cleverness is often a shallow substitute for thought. Consider these alternatives:

Don't like theft? Don't steal!

Don't like slavery? Don't own a slave!

Don't like rape? Don't commit one!

As you can see, the bumper sticker's logic can be applied to any moral issue. As with any of these, the question is not whether I like them, but rather if they're moral. Thus the question in the abortion debate is whether what is being killed is a human being. If it's not, then do with it what you will. If it is, then there is no justification for abortion. This is the question the sticker's owner should have considered before defacing his car.

--The Catechizer


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Where is God in Evil and Suffering?

There was a little girl of five who was hated by her mother and father. . . . This poor child of five was subjected to every possible torture by those cultivated parents. They beat her, thrashed her, kicked her for no reason till her body was one bruise. Then, they went to greater refinements of cruelty—shut her up all night in the cold and frost in a privy [outhouse], and because she didn’t ask to be taken up at night (as though a child of five sleeping its angelic, sound sleep could be trained to wake and ask), they smeared her face and filled her mouth with excrement, and it was her mother, her mother did this. And that mother could sleep, hearing the poor child’s groans!

Can you understand why a little creature, who can’t even understand what’s done to her, should beat her little aching heart with her tiny fist in the dark in the cold and weep her meek, unresentful tears to dear, kind God to protect her? Do you understand that, friend and brother, you pious and humble novice? Do you understand why this infamy must be and is permitted?

Dostoevsky’s horrifying tale makes the question of evil and God’s sovereignty very personal, very human. Before I was Reformed I would have simply said that it’s man’s fault, not God’s. The retort was always the same, “Couldn’t God have stopped it?” My answer that God doesn’t interfere with the free-will decisions of men seemed trite and ad-hoc even to me—and I wasn’t able to escape the conclusion that all such suffering was ultimately purposeless.

After becoming Reformed my answer changed. I understood that God was sovereign and decrees all things that come to pass. That there is a purpose in such suffering, although we might not understand what it is. In other words, God has a morally sufficient reason for the suffering that occurs in this life.

In an interview with Justin Taylor, John Piper provides a more artful and in-depth explanation to this troubling issue. After referencing the above passages from The Brothers Karamazov, Justin Taylor asks, “Where was God?”

The question where is metaphorical and hardly has an answer. “On the throne of the universe preparing a place for the little girl in heaven that will recompense her ten-thousand-fold for everything she is experiencing.” “Preparing hell for her parents so that justice will be done perfectly.” And those who look upon both the heaven recompense and the hell recompense will bow in sovereign wonder at the justice of God. Those are possible answers to where he is.

You can read more here.

--The Catechizer


Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Perfume of Love

The Puritans get a bad rap these days, often depicted as a stern, joyless, loveless lot. By and large this couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only did they take great joy in the things of God, but also in the gifts given to them in this world. One of which was love. The Puritans spilt much ink on this concern: Love God,; love your neighbor; love those in the church; love your family (with love of spouse being the subject of many a passionate letter).

Thomas Watson (c. 1620—1686), Puritan preacher and author, reminds us that we must love “cordially and fervently” in his very insightful exegesis of 1 Peter 1:22: See that you love one another with a pure heart fervently.

The Holy Scripture makes the love of the brethren the surest note of a man who shall go to heaven, 1 John 3:14. Christ and His Apostles beat much upon this string of love—as if this made the sweetest music and harmony in true religion. The consideration of this has put me upon this subject.

All the graces have their beauty—but there are some that more adorn and set off a Christian in the eye of the world, such as humility and love. These two graces, like precious diamonds, cast a sparkling luster upon religion. I have designed to speak of the last of these at this time, "See that you love one another with a pure heart fervently." Love is a grace always needful, therefore never out of season, though too much out of use. My text, like the River of Eden, parts itself into four heads:

  1. The command, "See that you love."

  2. The extent of this love, "One another."

  3. The manner of this love, "With a pure heart."

  4. The degree of this love, "Fervently."

Love purely; that is—opposed to hypocrisy. Love must be with the heart. It must not be a 'mere complement', which is like a painted fire. Pretended love is worse than hatred.

Love fervently; that is—opposed to neutrality. Love must flame forth. It must not be as the smoking flax—but as a burning lamp. The Hebrew word for love imports an ardent and zealous affection; no water must quench it.

You can read the rest here.

--The Catechizer


John Calvin: Father of the Reformed faith

"I labored at the task [writing The Institutes] especially for our Frenchmen, for I saw that many were hungering and thirsting after Christ and yet that only a few had any real knowledge of him."

With his brother and sister and two friends, John Calvin fled Catholic France and headed to the free city of Strasbourg. It was the summer of 1536; Calvin had recently converted to the "evangelical" faith and had just published The Institutes of the Christian Religion, which articulated his Protestant views. He was a wanted man.

Click here to read this interesting sketch of John Calvin’s life.

--The Catechizer

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Presbyterian Totally Reformed Covenantal Westminsterian Sabbatarian Regulative Credo-Communionist A Millennial Presuppositional Church of . . .

A little levity . . .

Since 1975 several more splits have happened with the most recent occurring this past weekend, when a dispute arose amongst the members of Second Street First Ninth Westminster Covenant Reformed Presbyterian Church over the issue of the observance of the Lord's Day. The issue in question was whether or not it was acceptable for someone to check their email on the Sabbath. Those who objected have now split off and have formed "The Presbyterian Totally Reformed Covenantal Westminsterian Sabbatarian Regulative Credo-Communionist A Millennial Presuppositional Church of Centerville . . .

Read the the whole post here.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Why Lust?

Clay Jones, D.Min. Associate Professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, makes a great point about lust at his blog. Here’s how it starts:

The trouble with lust isn’t that we lust. As I’ve said before, we were born to lust. You see, God created humans as beings with strong desires. God could have created humans with weak desires but then we wouldn’t care much for even honorable things like friendship, or sex (it’s not wrong to desire sex, after all), or marriage, or children, or God. But since God gave us strong desires, the key is to focus our desires after what is right: God and His Kingdom.

You are either going to lust after God and His Kingdom or you are going to lust after people, possessions, positions, and pleasures. But, no matter what, you are going to lust.

Many people giving advice on controlling lust miss this point and without it, you will never have victory. The last thing a Christian should do is spend much of his or her life focusing on not lusting. After all, everyone knows that the way to stop thinking about pink elephants is to start thinking about purple ones, and the way to stop thinking about worldly lusts is to start thinking about heavenly ones. We must learn to long for God! Learn to enjoy what He’s giving us for eternity.

You can read the entire post here.

--The Catechizer


Sunday, December 15, 2013

What is Liberal Theology and Why Should I Care?

Many Evangelicals embrace liberal theology without even knowing it. Without a strong understanding of Sola Scriptura, and to a lesser degree a commitment to the historic creeds, confessions, and catechisms, we leave ourselves open to having the “faith once and for all delivered to the saints” reinterpreted for us by the culture. It’s also important to identify the fox before he arrives with designs on your theological chickens. Pastor Kevin DeYoung offers some help:

Gary Dorrien, an Episcopal Priest, a professor at Union Theological Seminary, and the foremost expert on American liberal theology, explains:

“Before the modern period, all Christian theologies were constructed within a house of authority. All premodern Christian theologies made claims to authority-based orthodoxy. Even the mystical and mythopoetic theologies produced by premodern Christianity took for granted the view of scripture as an infallible revelation and the view of theology as an explication of propositional revelation.” (The Making of American Liberal Theology: Imagining Progressive Religion, xv).

Dorrien goes on to say that later “Reformed and Lutheran orthodoxy heightened the Reformation principle that Scripture is the sole and infallibly sufficient rule of faith, teaching that scripture is also strictly inerrant in all that it asserts” (xv). He further argues that Roman Catholicism, Eastern Christianity, and the Anglican tradition were all based on external authority in their own ways as well.

But liberal theology, which Dorrien believes to be “the most creative and influential tradition of theological reflection since the Reformation,” charted a different course. Liberalism is both a tradition, coming out of the late-18th century Protestant attempt to reconfigure traditional Christian teaching in the light of modern knowledge and values, and a diverse, but recognizable approach to theology. . . .

Click here to continue reading.

--The Catechizer


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Everybody has to Deal with Predestination

Predestination is often just thought of as a Calvinistic doctrine, but as is pointed out over at the Eternity Matters blog, every Christian who takes the Scriptures seriously has to explain it:

The purpose of this post isn’t to debate Arminian vs. Reformed vs. Middle Knowledge (or whatever hybrid / other version of orthodox Christianity you adhere to). It is merely to point out that some of the rancor against Reformed theology* in the debate seems misplaced.

The Bible uses the word predestined many times (e.g., Ephesians 1:5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will), so the only question is what the word really means, in context. But regardless of your definition, unless you subscribe to the false theology of Open Theism then it seems that you would agree that these two events happened in this order:

  1. God knew who would repent and trust in Jesus and thus spend eternity in Heaven, and who would not and therefore spend eternity in Hell.

  2. God created everyone.

My point is simply that the other views aren’t as far from Reformed theology as their adherents like to think they are (“That old meanie Calvinist God who knew which people would go to Hell but created them anyway is nothing like our loving Arminian/Middle Knowledge God who knew which people would go to Hell and created them anyway!!!”).

Click here to read the entire post.

--The Catechizer


Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Puritans and Their Weird Names

I have four children. And as most parents can attest, deciding on names is a . . ., er, an adventure. My son’s name is the same as my middle and his middle is the same as my first (my middle name, and his first, also happen to be my mother’s madden name). My oldest daughter’s name is a combination of Michelle, my wife’s middle name, and Israel (don’t ask; we were young). My middle daughter’s name comes from an Italian lady with whom I used to carpool; and my youngest is named after a character in a late 90s chick flick (I have no excuse).

Unlike my choices, the Puritans looked to names with theological import (mostly). But sometimes this goal went awry. The always fun yet informative site History of Nothing provides many examples of the good, the bad, and the, well, weird. Here are a few:

12 of the Worst Puritan Names

  • Humiliation (Humiliation Hynde had two sons in the 1620s, he called them both Humiliation Hynde)

  • Fly-debate

  • No-merit (NoMerit Vynall was born in Warbleton, a haven of beautiful names)

  • Helpless

  • Reformation

  • Abstinence

  • More-triale

  • Handmaid

  • Obedience

  • Forsaken

  • Sorry-for-sin (Sorry-for-sin Coupard lived in Warbleton)

  • Lament (Lament Foxe was born in 1594)

20 Names that seriously deserve a category all of their own

  • Dancell-Dallphebo-Mark-Anthony-Gallery-Cesar (son of Dancell-Dallphebo-Mark-Anthony-Gallery-Cesar, born 1676. They were probably taking the piss of Puritans a bit)

  • Praise-God (Praise-God Barebone. Ah, the Barebones. This one was a leather-worker, member of a particularly odd Puritan group and an MP. The Barebones parliament was named after him.)

  • If-Christ-had- not-died-for- thee-thou-hadst- been-damned (Praise-God’s son, he changed his name to Nicolas)

  • Fear-God (Also a Barebone)

  • Job-raked-out-of-the-ashes

  • Has-descendents

  • Wrestling

  • Fight-the-good-fight-of-faith

  • Fly-fornication

  • Jesus-Christ-came- into-the-world- to-save (Brother of “Damned Barebone”. I can only imagine this name shortened to “Save”, which must have been odd at family gatherings)

  • Thanks

  • What-God-will

  • Continent (Continent Walker was born in 1594 in Sussex)

  • Remember

  • Fear-not (whose surname was “Helly”, born 1589)

  • Experience

  • Anger (Anger Bull died in 1680)

  • Abuse-not

  • Die-Well (a brother of farewell Sykes, who died in 1865. He was survived by their rather pessimistic parents)

  • Joy-in-sorrow (a name with a many stories of difficult births)

You can read the rest of the names, and a bit of Puritan history, here.

--The Catechizer