f The Wittenberg Door: February 2014

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

Friday, February 28, 2014

Rene Descartes, Charlie Brown, and The Red Pill

Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?

Morpheus, The Matrix

Are you really reading this post? Or are you dreaming that you're reading it? How can you tell the difference?

Suddenly I woke up and I was indeed Chuang Tzu. Did Chuang Tzu dream he was a butterfly, or did the butterfly dream that he was Chuang Tzu?

Chuang Tzu (4th century B.C.)

17th century philosopher Rene Descartes grappled with this very issue: How does one distinguish dreams from reality? Doubt was not new to Descartes. Indeed, it was the very foundation of his philosophical system: Doubt everything that can be doubted to find what cannot be doubted.

With his system, Descartes found himself in the quandary of quandaries: an infinite regression of doubts. However, one thing offered a glimmer of hope—he doubted. He had to first exist in order to doubt that he exists—cogito ergo sum—I think therefore I am!

However, like a pebble in a shoe, one nagging question remained: How do we differentiate dreams from reality? Descartes brings this problem to light:

[Surely I] cannot reasonably . . . doubt . . . that I am here, seated by the fire, attired in a dressing gown, having this paper in my hands and other similar matters. And how can I deny that these hands and this body are mine, were it not perhaps that I compare myself to certain persons, devoid of sense, whose cerebella are so troubled and clouded by violent vapors of black bile, that they constantly assure us that they are kings when they are really quite poor, or that they are clothed in purple when they are really without covering . . . .

At the same time I must remember that I am . . . in the habit of sleeping, and in my dreams representing to myself the same things or sometimes even less probable things, than do those who are insane in their waking moments. How often has it happened to me that in the night I dreamt that I found myself in this particular place, that I was dressed and seated near the fire, whilst in reality I was lying undressed in bed! . . . On . . . reflection I see . . . manifestly that there are no certain indications by which we may clearly distinguish wakefulness from sleep . . .

Descartes argues, “that there are no certain indications by which we may clearly distinguish wakefulness from sleep . . .” It seems a forgone conclusion that anything that can take place in reality can also take place in a dream, thus causing the deception. But what if there is something that can take place in reality but cannot take place in a dream? Then there would be a clear distinction—a roadmap to reality.

Does Charlie Brown Know that He is a Fictional Character?

Does he know that he only “exists” in the mind of Charles Schulz, conveyed through quill and ink? No, he does not. For Charlie Brown does not actually exist; he is not capable of independent thought. He “knows” nothing.

Imagine for a moment Charlie Brown’s dog, Snoopy, atop his red-roofed dog house. If we take another person who is imagining the same thing, and open his head, do you think we will find Snoopy, atop his red-roofed dog house, inside the person’s brain? Probably not. This is because, like his master, Snoopy is not really there; he was only an image produced by the person’s mind.

Now we'll look again at dreams. The “actors” (or projections, as called in the movie Inception) inside of dreams are produced by the mind. They do not really exist. If we opened the skull of someone who is in the REM stage of sleep (where dreams are said to occur), like Snoopy, we wouldn’t find anyone there.

An independent thought may only be produced by a mind. One must exist in order to have a mind. Therefore, one must exist in order to have an independent thought. The actors in the dream do not exist; therefore, they cannot produce independent thought. Conclusion: Independent thought cannot take place inside of a dream, only in reality.


Once someone presented me with a refutation: A mathematician was trying to solve a difficult problem; he labored for quite some time, but to no avail. Then one night, while dreaming, he saw himself write down the answer to this math problem. The conclusion drawn by this person was that the “actor” solved the problem. The problem is, as we saw earlier, that the actor does not exist, so he could not solve the problem. The mathematician solved the problem. The dream was just a vehicle of his subconscious to convey the answer to his consciousness.

Dreams will continue to puzzle us. The mind and the brain are amazing and wondrous things. The subconscious aspect of our life will always present riddles that seem to have no answer. But one thing is clear: dreams can be distinguished from reality. The “actors” produced by the mind do not exist, and are not capable of independent thought. Only we, the sentient, are the true actors upon the existential stage—just ask Charlie Brown.


Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Law-Gospel Poem

The law supposing I have all,
Does ever for perfection call;
The gospel suits my total want,
And all the law can seek does grant.

The law could promise life to me,
If my obedience perfect be;
But grace does promise life upon
My Lord’s obedience alone.

The law says, Do, and life you’ll win;
But grace says, Live, for all is done;
The former cannot ease my grief,
The latter yields me full relief ….

The law brings terror to molest,
The gospel gives the weary rest;
The one does flags of death display,
The other shows the living way ….

Lo! In the law Jehovah dwells,
But Jesus is conceal’d;
Whereas the gospel’s nothing else
But Jesus Christ reveal’d.

Ralph Erskine (1685-1752)


Wednesday, February 26, 2014


In The Unlikely Disciple, Brown student and unbeliever Kevin Roose spends a semester at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. As part of his immersion into the Liberty experience the author attends a spring-break missionary trip to Daytona Beach, Florida, where he records the following conversation . . .

Claire’s [his evangelism mentor] other problem is total linguistic isolation. She, like many other Liberty students, speaks in long, flowery strings of opaque Christian speak. When a twenty-something guy named Rick tells Claire he doesn’t believe in God, Claire sighs and says, “Listen, Rick. There’s a man named Jesus Christ, and he came into my heart and changed me radically. And there’s a God who loves you, and who sent his son to die on the cross for you, to take away your sins and my sins, and God shows himself to me every day. When I don’t have hope for tomorrow, Jesus never fails. His love is never ending.”

While she’s speaking, my eyes never leave Rick. I recognize his confused expression as what mine must have been on my first ever visit to Thomas Road [Baptist Church]—the same sense that two people, both speaking English, are not exactly communicating. Rick listens to her prattle on for several minutes, and then apologizes.

“Not interested,” he says. “But thanks.”

Claire thanks Rick and walks away downtrodden, kicking up sand with each step.

Claire’s lingo, and her hearers’ subsequent befuddlement, is all-to-common. Often the words and phrases that we use are unintelligible to the unchurched, causing our message to fall on deaf ears. Since we are called to be ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), we must take great care to represent Him well; this includes our verbal representation—especially when communicating the gospel.

Biblical Example

  • Acts 7
    Acts 7 records Stephen’s defense (apology) before the Sanhedrin. Stephen is brought before the council due to a charge of blasphemy (Acts 6:11). But instead of answering the charge, Stephan rehearses Israel’s history from Abraham to Christ. The reason he argued this way was not to acquit himself, but to show them their sin, especially the sin of betraying and murdering the Righteous One (vrs. 52), and the sins of their fathers.

  • Acts 17
    In Acts 17 we find Paul in Athens being provoked by the Spirit because the city was given over to idols. Paul responded by . . .

. . . reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present.
(vrs. 17)

Some of those with whom he was reasoning (arguing) were Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. They invited him to the Areopagus (Mars Hill) to hear him further. Seizing the opportunity, Paul, beginning with creation, provides a step-by-step argument for Christ and the coming judgment.

Consider Your Audience

In Acts 7, Stephen is providing an argument to the biblically informed. While in the Areopagus address of Acts 17, Paul is providing an argument to the uninformed. The manner in which they argue differs because the audience differs.

  • The Churched
    In Acts 7 Stephen is talking to those who have been brought-up in the teaching of the Old Testament their whole lives. Therefore, it was appropriate for him to use the language of the “church.” When Stephan spoke of the promise to Abraham, or the covenant of circumcision, or of the Angel of the Lord, they understood what he meant—they spoke the same “language.”

  • The Unchurched
    When addressing the Athenians, if Paul would have started with Abraham and then moved on to covenants and sacrifices, he would have lost his audience—the message would not have gotten through. Instead, because of the audience, Paul established a point of contact (TO THE UNKNOWN GOD). Then, beginning with God’s creation of heaven and earth, he proclaimed the true God and the upcoming judgment (i.e., here’s who God is, and here’s where you stand).


The Western World today is very different from what it was in the past. Preachers of old could rely on the fact that just about everyone had some experience with the church. We cannot make that assumption today. Therefore, we must tailor—not water down—our message, and present it in a way that is understandable to our audience.

--The Catechizer


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What’s Going on Here?

From Great Commission Publications:

“What’s going on here?” That’s the question the teacher asks when she returns to find her classroom in chaos, or the parent when he sees his children misbehaving. “What’s going on here?” my also be an appropriate question to ask many congregations as they assemble week after week to worship God.

What goes on in church, like the conduct of a class in the teacher’s absence, can be a far cry from what it ought to be in the hour of worship. Some worship services are little more than forms of entertainment. Others center around majestic music and rote liturgy that may or may not foster true worship. All too often we spend the hour in whispered remarks and mental wonderings.

Concentrating on the order of service might help us spend our time in church truly worshiping God. The service begins with the call to worship in which the voice of God himself is heard summoning us to bow before him in adoration and praise. Then the invocation follows, with the minister leading the people in prayer for God’s presence and blessing while we worship. As the congregation rises to sing the doxology and the hymns, we voice our praise of the triune God.

When the Scripture is read the voice of God speaks to his people. In the pastoral prayer the minister prays on behalf of the people, expressing our praise and voicing our petitions to our Father in heaven. The sermon is an explanation of the meaning of God’s revelation in the Bible and its relations to life.

Such activities demand attentive and wholehearted participation. Absentminded singing is mock praise; to whisper or look around while Scripture is read is to despise God’s voice.

Yet we don’t want to communicate that worship is a severe, depressing experience. It is serious, because we are approaching the almighty God of the universe. But it is also a joy and a delight. And how do we cultivate a sense of joy and delight in worship? By cultivating a good memory. We must always remember as we come together what God has delivered us from—bondage and sin, death and decay; and what he has delivered us for—eternal happiness such as we can scarcely imagine on earth.

What’s going on in your church? In you?

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Monday, February 24, 2014

The Puritans, Work, and You

It seems easy to fall prey to our culture’s negative attitude towards work. We say that we’re “off to the salt mines,” or we claim to be “working for the weekends.”

The Puritans, however, held a very different view. They believed that work should be kept in high esteem. They believed this because they were theologically committed to an integrated view of life: all was spiritual; all was worship; all was service unto the Lord.

A true believing Christian . . . lives in his vocation by his faith. Not only my spiritual life but even my civil life in this world, and all the life I live, is by the faith of the Son of God; He exempts no life from the agency of his faith.

John Cotton (1584–1652)

Work was also a way for Christians to obey God by fulfilling the Cultural Mandate, which is found in Gen. 1:28. In that passage God tells us, via our first parents, to “be fruitful and multiply” and to subdue the earth. The first is a command to create cultures; the second is a command to build civilizations.

God hath made man a societal creature. We expect benefits from human society. It is but equal that human society should receive benefits from us.

Cotton Mather (1663-1728)

The Cultural Mandate was given prior to the Fall. Man was created to work with joy and with satisfaction. It was only after the Fall that weeds entered the garden, that work became toil.

I believe we modern Christians would do well to recover the Puritan view of work as service unto God, and also as service unto men. This is not only good, but good for us—for great joy is found therein.

The main end of our lives . . . is to serve God in the serving of men in the works of our callings. . . . Some man will say perchance: What, must we not labor in our callings to maintain our families? I answer: this must be done: but his is not the scope and end of our lives. The true end of our lives is to do service to God in serving of man.

William Perkins (1558-1602)

--The Catechizer

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Drop Doctrine, Save Souls?

Because of our love for the Scripture we’ve had some differences of opinion, but the problem is that while we are arguing about these topics, lost men, women, boys, and girls are dying and going to hell every single day,” said Luter on the first night of the denomination’s 2013 annual meeting.

While we are arguing about these topics and debating about these topics, America is going to hell every day,” he continued. “Time is running out. We do not have time for debate. We do not have time for arguing. The world needs to know that Jesus saves … for the sake of those who are lost.

Pastor Fred Luter, president of the Southern Baptist Convention

Rev. Luter believes we ought to forgo debating doctrine so that we can devote our energies to saving the lost. But is it the case that doctrinal fidelity may be sacrificed on the alter of evangelism?

Since Rev. Luter believes there are lost souls out there, then he must believe that mankind is fallen and in need of salvation. But what of those who say that because God is a loving god he would never send anyone to hell (i.e., there are no lost souls)? What of those who say that all religions lead to God? Or that people have a Baptism of Desire that is sufficient (hence, they don’t need “to know that Jesus saves”)? Would Rev. Luter’s response be, “Let’s not argue about it and forget the whole ‘lost souls’ thing. Instead, let’s grab a beer and watch Oprah!” (Oh, that’s right: Baptist. Grab a Diet Coke?)

No, that wouldn’t be his, nor those who proclaim this view, response. They would not be willing to lay their “Baptist Road” theology aside. What they really want is for us to drop our principled objections to their theology and instead capitulate to theirs. In other words, this isn’t a plea to save the lost; it’s just plain, old-fashioned demagoguery.

Timothy Hammons, Teaching Elder at Redeemer Christian Fellowship in Roswell, New Mexico, provides more insight into this issue at his blog. Here’s an excerpt:

His comments are supposed to be the ultimate trump card in any argument. The problem is that it shows his hand. Luter doesn’t believe in God’s election, God’s sovereignty, God’s greater purpose of His glory. This shows us that Luter thinks he is the one that will be saving people. He is straight from the Charles G. Finney school of manipulation, which has done more to damage to the church than anything the government could do.

This is the same as the pastor I had a dialog with who recently made the claim:

“I will readily admit, even after graduating from Dallas, that I am a theological novice in many arenas, including John Calvin and Calvinism. I simply love Jesus, desire to be in His presence and am trying to bring as many people as I can one step closer to Him.”

There is no excuse for this kind of laziness in the pastorate. For one, the man is not being honest. He says he wants to bring them closer to Jesus, but how is he to do this if He is not willing to dive deeper in the word and grow in his Christology (a branch of theology that focuses on the person and work of Christ). What does he intend to do, give them fuzzy feelings so that they too have fuzzy feeling about Jesus? The Bible never calls us to such slop. (Calvinism is at the heart of the SBC’s arguing by the way.)

The real problem behind both pastors is that they fostering anti-intellectualism under the guise of loving Jesus. This really is part of Satan’s attack on the church. He doesn’t want us growing in our understanding but resting in our feelings.

You can read the rest of his comments here.

--The Catechizer


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Five Reasons to Join a Church

Tim Challies offers five reasons to join a church :

1. For Assurance
While a person should not feel he needs to join a church in order to be saved, he ought to join a church to be certain that he has been saved. Christians, those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, will naturally gravitate towards other Christians and will desire to be with them, to learn from them, and to serve them. A person who professes Christ but feels no desire to be among his believing brothers and sisters is not a healthy Christian. Thus, eager participation in a local church and heartfelt attempts to measure our enthusiasm for that group of believers is a God-given way for us to assure ourselves that we are truly saved.

2. To Evangelize the World
The gospel can best be spread through combined and collaborative efforts. Throughout the history of the church great men and women have attempted great things on their own and have often been successful. But more often, great things have been accomplished through the collaborate efforts of Christians working together. If we are to reach this world with the gospel message of Jesus Christ, we must share our efforts with other believers.

3. To Expose False Gospels
As we interact with other believers, we will see what true Christianity is, which ought to expose the common belief that Christians are self-righteous, selfish individuals. As we labor, fellowship, and serve alongside other Christians, and as we observe the lives of other Christ-followers, we will see what biblical Christianity looks like. The more we see of genuine Christianity, the more the counterfeits will be exposed.

4. To Edify the Church
Joining a church will help Christians counter their sinful individualism and teach them the importance of seeking to serve and edify others. The benefit of being a member of a local church is not primarily inward, but outward. Christians attend a local church so they might have opportunities to serve others and thus to serve God. Every Christian should be eager to serve within the church and to edify others through teaching, serving, and exercising the spiritual gifts.

5. To Glorify God
We can bring God glory through the way we live our lives. God is honored when we are obedient to him. He is glorified when his people come together in unity and harmony to find assurance, to evangelize the world, to expose false gospels, and to edify one another. God is glorified in and through the local church.

--The Catechizer


Friday, February 21, 2014

Thought of the Day: Those Who Have Not Heard

If you died after not having chemotherapy, you died not because of the absence of chemo, but because of the cancer. Thus men suffer God’s wrath not because they didn’t hear the gospel, but because they’re sinners rebelling against a holy God—the gospel is the solution, not the problem.

--The Catechizer

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Multisite Churches?

“Multisite” church is gaining more and more popularity. Usually how this works is people gather in a home (or just stay in their own homes) and watch the church service via the Internet. This is in lieu of actually attending the service. There are pros and cons to this approach, although in my mind it’s mostly cons (but it could be a good option for shut-ins).

Writer and pastor Kevin DeYoung adds his thoughts to the debate at The Gospel Coalition Web site. Here’s how it begins . . .

I have been back and forth on the multisite question. When I first heard of the idea years ago it sounded crazy. “Pastors preaching by a recorded video or by a live feed? That’s hardly church.” But as I studied and thought about the issue more I came to understand why some churches chose multisite. It can steward the talents of the preacher. It can save money. It allows a church to get bigger (in one sense) without getting bigger (in another sense). And it gives you another beachhead for ministry.

With these positives I was happy to see our church explore the option of multisite over a year ago. Call me indecisive, but I’ve now swung back in the other direction. I can’t prove multisite is wrong. In fact, it may be the best option in some situations, especially as a temporary measure. But something I read from Martyn Lloyd-Jones cemented in my mind a crucial weakness of most multisite approaches. New technologies and new methods always have trade-offs. Sometimes the pluses outweigh the negatives. And as I think about it more, multisite has one huge negative I don’t want to live with unless I absolutely have to.

You can read the entire post here.

--The Catechizer


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What about the Heathen Who Haven’t Heard?

Conversation with an unbeliever: Ever feel guilty? Of course you do. Why? Because you are guilty. Guilty of what? Of breaking God’s law.

It would be rare indeed to find someone in this country who has not heard the summary of God’s law—the Ten Commandments. But what of those in somewhere like deepest, darkest Africa who have not heard? Are they off the hook? Do they receive a cosmic “Get Out of Jail Free” card? Many Evangelicals would say yes. Many would say that surly God would not find someone guilty of breaking a law that he did not know.

But is this the case? Is one excused from the law’s requirements simply because he’s never heard them? Paul addresses this issue in Romans stating “for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law . . . show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them” (Romans 2:14-15). In his commentary on Romans, John Calvin speaks of men being “blind,” but “not so blind that we can plead ignorance without being convicted of perversity.”

The Experience of God’s Law

The actual hearing of the law does not determine the lawbreakers ultimate guilt; for all men know the law of God innately, since all men bear the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28). Thus when men reason morally, experience a crises of conscience, or suffer from guilty feelings, they are actually reflecting the stamp of the law, which each man by nature bears.

All men of sound judgment will therefore hold, that a sense of Deity is indelibly engraven on the human heart. And that this belief is naturally engendered in all, and thoroughly fixed as it were in our very bones, is strikingly attested by the contumacy of the wicked, who, though they struggle furiously, are unable to extricate themselves from the fear of God . . . for the worm of conscience, keener than burning steel, is gnawing them within.

John Calvin (1509-1564)


As we have seen, the heathen-who-hasn’t-heard in deepest, darkest Africa is just as guilty and as the heathen-who-hasn’t-heard in deepest, darkest Texas: both contend with the law of God written on their hearts, and both live in open rebellion against their holy Creator.

--The Catechizer


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

My Strength and My Song

From Great Commission Publications . . .

The Bible personalizes God. He is our God, the God of my salvation, the of his people. Philosophy defines him into abstraction; the world keeps him at arm’s length (except in an emergency). “Religion” makes him vague enough to be safe. The Bible presents an invitation to know him.

The Bible gives us grounds to stake a claim on God. Those grounds, however, originate solely with him. He initiates, we respond. He chooses; we are the choice. We are in bondage, he delivers us. He makes a people of those who were not a people, and he calls us his. Therefore we may call him ours. We are strong with his strength, wise with his wisdom. “The Lord is my strength and my song,” shouted Moses and the Israelites after God had hurled the Egyptian army into the sea, “and he has become my salvation” (Ex. 15:2). Our claim on God follows on his deliverance of us.

He is our strength. We have all the defense we need in him. The Israelites, said Calvin, “were strong in God, and had not conquered their enemies by their own bravery.” Therefore, “it is not lawful to glory save in God alone.”

He is our song. We know what it is to sing about God. But what is it for God himself to be the song? It means, among other things, that he is the object of praise—praise that comes from intimate, personal knowledge of him, through Jesus Christ. We do not chant an abstraction. What existentialist philosopher sings Sartre in the night? What song does the Aristotelian compose for the Ten Categories? Does a Platonist sing a hymn to the Big Idea? Eastern religions use chants to empty their minds; we fill our minds with the Scripture’s depictions of God in all his fullness, which then spill over into song.

He has become my salvation. That is another way of saying we are saved by God’s grace. All of our salvation is summed up in him. That was the Israelites’ experience. God himself, and God alone, brought them out of Egypt and through the sea, overthrowing their enemies in the process. Jesus likewise brought us out of bondage to sin. What greater proof could there be of God saying to us, “You are mine!” What greater reason could there be for us to say to God, “You are mine as well”?


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Jesus Actually Saves by C. H. Spurgeon

Even as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.

Matthew 20:28

Some preachers and professors affect to believe in a redemption which I must candidly confess I do not understand; it is so indistinct and indefinite — a redemption which does not redeem anybody in particular, though it is alleged to redeem everybody in general; a redemption insufficient to exempt thousands of unhappy souls from hell after they have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus; a redemption, indeed, which does not actually save anybody, because it is dependent for its efficacy upon the will of the creature; a redemption that lacks intrinsic virtue and inherent power to redeem anybody, but is entirely dependent upon an extraneous contingency to render it effectual. With such fickle theories I have no fellowship. That every soul for whom Christ shed his blood as a Substitute, he will claim as his own, and have as his right, I firmly hold. I love to hold and I delight to proclaim this precious truth. Not all the powers of earth or hell; not the obstinacy of the human will, nor the deep depravity of the human mind, can ever prevent Christ seeing of the travail of his soul and being satisfied. To the last jot and tittle of his reward shall he receive it at the Father’s hand. A redemption that does redeem, a redemption that redeems many, seems to me infinitely better than a redemption that does not actually redeem anybody, but is supposed to have some imaginary influence upon all the sons of men.

C.H. Spurgeon (1834 - 1892)


--The Catechizer

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Clearing Up Sacramental Confusion

A great point is made over at the Green Baggins site regarding the sign and the thing signified in the sacraments:

One of the main difficulties in understanding the sacraments is understanding the relationship among these three elements of the sacraments. We’ll take baptism here for an example. The sign is the water, whether sprinkled, poured, or immersed (I believe that the amount of water used is ultimately immaterial). The thing signified is the cleansing blood of Christ. One important thing that is usually missed here is that the sacrament includes the thing signified. This gets at a huge problem in the church today. The church tends to refer to the sacrament as including only the sign. Therefore, when we use the term “baptism,” we usually mean just the sign, just the rite. However, this is not the only way to understand the sacrament. WLC 163 explicitly says that the “inward and spiritual grace thereby signified” is also part of the sacrament. This shouldn’t make us nervous in the least, because the real question is where the efficacy of baptism lies.

The power of baptism cannot lie in the sign. This is proven absolutely, 100% conclusively by Romans 4:11, which states explicitly that Abraham already had the thing signified long before he ever had the sign applied to him. Circumcision is described as a sign and seal. This refutes directly those who believe that the “seal” language implies conferral. For here in Romans 4:11 is a seal that most definitely could not confer something already possessed.

The thing signified obviously has saving power. The blood of Christ has an objectively saving power. But how does it get applied to us? The answer is in the sacramental union of sign and thing signified. Another way of describing this sacramental union is “Spirit-given faith.” This is how we avoid the problem that the Lutherans constantly have of ascribing saving power to baptism, and yet also saying “sola fide.” If it is Spirit-given faith that connects sign to thing signified, then that is faith alone that saves. Faith also connects the sign and the thing signified so that the whole sacrament is now present.

You can read the rest here.

--The Catechizer


Friday, February 14, 2014

Brian McLaren and the Judgment of Men

Here’s an interesting article from Baptist Press, SBTS Prof: McLaren 'Serpent-Sensitive,’ regarding comments made by Emerging Church guru Brian McLaren. The comments, made at the stick-your-finger-in-the-air-and-see-which-way-the-cultural-winds-are-blowing Willow Creek Community Church, pertained to hell and the second coming. Not surprisingly, McLaren doesn’t fancy these doctrines.

In the article, Southern Baptist theologian Russell D. Moore makes short-work of McLaren’s nonsense. “When McLaren questions the existence of hell and the hope of the second coming, he is not a 'new kind of Christian’ [title of McLaren’s book]. Such things are neither new nor Christian.”

Preach it, brother! (See, I can sound like a Baptist.)

Is God Just in Punishing?

Simply put, if we believe that God will ultimately enforce his will by forceful domination, and will eternally torture all who resist that domination, then torture and domination become not only permissible but in some way godly.

Brian McLaren

In the article, Professor Moore does a great job revealing McLaren’s folly by shining the light of Scripture upon those doctrines, so I won’t repeat that case here. I will, however, comment on a common claim by those on the theological left: God would be unjust and/or unloving if He punished men.

The Back-story

When God created man, he created him “good, and after His own image, that is, in righteousness and true holiness”; however, after succumbing to the temptation of the devil, our first parents rebelled against our creator. Because of this disobedience, “our nature became so corrupt, that we are all conceived and born in sin.” Furthermore, because of our corrupt nature, “we are wholly unapt to any good and prone to all evil.” This means that we are not only born with Adam’s guilt (because he represented us all before God), but we also “daily increase our guilt” through our own sins.

Although God is merciful, He is also just, and will not allow our sins (i.e., not conforming to, or acting against, His law) to go unpunished. How can mortal man escape this just judgment? How can we sinful mortals repay a debt owed stemming from crimes committed against an infinitely holy God? How can we “escape this punishment and be again received into favor?” Answer: Satisfaction must be made “either by ourselves or by another.”

But, because we “daily increase our guilt,” we ourselves cannot make such satisfaction. Furthermore, no “mere creature can sustain the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin.” It seems hopeless. The only way to bridge the chasm separating us and God is to have a mediator and redeemer “who is a true and sinless man, and yet more powerful than all creatures, that is, one who is at the same time true God.” But who is such a mediator and redeemer? “Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is freely given us for complete redemption and righteousness.”

(All quotes taken from the Heidelberg Catechism, Q and A 6 – 18.)

God as Judge

As seen above, mankind has rebelled, and continues to rebel, against his God and has earned the Creator’s wrath. God, however, has made a way of escape—faith in Jesus Christ. By rejecting that way of escape, men will stand before the Just Judge of the Universe and give an account. Their punishment will fit their crimes; since these men can never repay the dept owed, they will bare God’s wrath for eternity. This is just. It also matches their desire—they wanted nothing to do with God, and they’ll get their wish, forever.

It would be unjust for God to simply say, “Hey, no problem. I’m a loving God. Here’s your Get Out of Jail Free card.” For example, if Mr. McLaren was robbed and assaulted, and went to the police to swear out a complaint, would he be satisfied if they said, “We caught the guy, but let him go because we’re a loving police station”? Do you think Mr. McLaren would respond, “Great! I’m so glad that there was no forceful domination.” On the contrary, I bet he would rail against such an injustice.

The truth is, if you sacrifice justice for love, you have likewise sacrificed love—for love demands justice. Thankfully, this is a false dilemma—one does not have to be sacrificed for the other. God is both loving and just—and we see both God’s love and His justice in the doing and dying of Christ.


Mr. McLaren’s complaint falls on its face because it would be unjust and immoral for God not to render just judgment—of course, the criminal always complains about the judgment against him.

PS. Mr. McLaren, I recommend The American Heritage Dictionary. By looking up the definition of words such as “torture” and “punishment” you’ll take the first step in learning the difference between the two.

--The Catechizer


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Erasmus of Rotterdam

Would that the farmer might sing snatches of Scripture at his plough and that the weaver might hum phrases of Scripture to the tune of his shuttle, that the traveler might lighten with stories from Scripture the weariness of his journey.

Christian History & Biography has a fine, short article on Erasmus at their site. Here’s how it begins:

"When I get a little money I buy books," wrote Erasmus of Rotterdam, who took the name Desiderius in his adult life. "If any is left … I buy food and clothes."

This illegitimate son of a Dutch priest lived in search of knowledge, in pursuit of piety, in love with books, and oppressed by the fear of poverty. Along the way, his writings and scholarship started a theological earthquake that didn't stop until western European Christendom was split.

You can read the entire article here.

--The Catechizer


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Brad Pitt, Proposition 8, and Same-Sex Marriage

From The Wittenberg Door archives . . .

Because no one has the right to deny another their life, even though they disagree with it, because everyone has the right to live the life they so desire if it doesn't harm another and because discrimination has no place in America, my vote will be for equality and against Proposition 8.

Statement by Brad Pitt published in the Los Angeles Times

Above, actor-turned-activist Brad Pitt provides his rational for opposing California’s Proposition 8 (voter-approved amendment resolving that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California”). But is Mr. Pitt’s position warranted? To deduce that we’ll have to take a closer look at his argument, presented below in syllogistic form (the unstated minor premises are included parenthetically):

No one has the right to deny another their life, even though they disagree with it.
(Prop 8 deprives people of their life.)
Everyone has the right to live the life they want, as long as it doesn’t harm another.
(Prop 8 deprives people of the right to live the life they want and doesn’t harm anyone.)
Discrimination and inequality have no place in America.
(Prop 8 [unjustly] discriminates against same sex couples.)
Therefore, my vote will be for equality and against Prop. 8

Valid vs. Sound Arguments

Mr. Pitt’s argument is valid, meaning the conclusion follows deductively from the premises. The question, however, is whether his argument is sound. For an argument to be sound it not only must be valid but it must also only comprise true premises. So, to find out if Mr. Pitt’s argument is sound, we must look at each of the premises. But, for the purposes of brevity, we’ll only look at the minor premises.

Prop 8 Deprives People of Their Life

On this one I’d have to ask Mr. Pitt for clarification. Since Prop. 8 is neither calling for the execution nor the incarceration of homosexuals, I don’t know what he means. Unless he believes that homosexuals will lose the will to live without government affirmation of their relationships. (Of course this wouldn’t be a deprivation of life, but a forfeiture.)

Prop 8 Deprives People of the Right to Live the Life They Want and Doesn’t Harm Anyone

Prop. 8 doesn’t deprive homosexuals of their same-sex relationships; it only deprives them of government favor. The question, however, is this: Do same-sex relationships deserve such favor? We’ll return to this question later in the post.

The second part of the proposition is whether or not same-sex marriage harms anyone. The answer is, it depends. Here’s why: If same-sex couples are afforded the same status as traditional marriage, then there seems no reason not to allow them to adopt children. This is where the harm comes in. Children deserve opposite-sex parents, because both the mother and the father contribute uniquely to the child’s life. When there’s a choice involved, society should always do what’s best for the child. Hence, the answer to the question of harm would be yes.

Prop 8 [Unjustly] Discriminates Against Same Sex Couples

I inserted the word “unjustly” because not all discrimination is bad. (Wouldn’t you discriminate against a pedophile should he ask to be your babysitter?) So the question is this: Do same-sex couples deserve the same societal favor that traditional marriages enjoy? The answer is no. Here’s why . . .

A civilization has an interest in perpetuating itself, which is from where the interest in opposite-sex marriage comes: it is the best way for it, the civilization, to perpetuate itself.

Mommies and daddies are from where the next generation of citizens 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, as mentioned earlier, 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, civilization has an interest in favoring and protecting marriage between a man and a woman. It has no such interest in same-sex unions.


As we’ve seen, Mr. Pitt’s argument withers under scrutiny and reveals itself to be unsound. Prop. 8 does not deprive homosexuals of their lives, nor does it keep them from living the life they want. However, it does help adopted children by not elevating the status of same-sex couples. And finally, Prop. 8 does not unfairly discriminate against same-sex couples, because society has no compelling interest in favoring their unions as it does in traditional marriages.

--The Catechizer


Lincoln and God’s Providence

Abraham Lincoln was born on this day 199 years ago. As we look back to this man who held America together during her most trying hour, let us remember that his stout heart was fortified by a confidence in God's providence. What Lincoln came to know during his darkest moments is what we must keep ever before our eyes: Our loving, heavenly Father is sovereign over all things (Acts 17:26, Ephesians 1:11, Daniel 4:35), and, as Lincoln reminded the nation at his second inaugural address, “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”

At Desiring God's site, John Piper provides a look at Lincoln's view of God's providence and encourages us to be like Lincoln and "not an empty nihilism, but a deeper reliance on the infinite wisdom and love of God’s inscrutable providence." Here's an excerpt:

In 1862, when Lincoln was 53 years old, his 11-year-old son Willie died. Lincoln’s wife “tried to deal with her grief by searching out New Age mediums.” Lincoln turned to Phineas Gurley, pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington. Several long talks led to what Gurley described as “a conversion to Christ.” Lincoln confided that he was “driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I have nowhere else to go.”

Similarly, the horrors of the dead and wounded soldiers assaulted him daily. There were fifty hospitals for the wounded in Washington. The rotunda of the Capitol held 2,000 cots for wounded soldiers. Typically, fifty soldiers a day died in these temporary hospitals. All of this drove Lincoln deeper into the providence of God. “We cannot but believe, that He who made the world still governs it.”

You can read the entire article here.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Ignatius of Antioch: Earliest Post-New Testament Martyr

Over at Christianity Today's Christian History Web site there is a fine article about Ignatius of Antioch. Here's an excerpt . . .

"Now I begin to be a disciple. … Let fire and cross, flocks of beasts, broken bones, dismemberment … come upon me, so long as I attain to Jesus Christ."

Ignatius was going to die. He knew it. He wanted it. The only possible problem, as he saw it, was meddling Christians.

"I fear your kindness, which may harm me," he wrote to Roman Christians hoping to free him. "You may be able to achieve what you plan. But if you pay no heed to my request, it will be very difficult for me to attain unto God." And that was truly Ignatius's goal: to imitate "our God Jesus Christ" in death. If Christians really wanted to do something, they should pray that he would remain faithful. "If you remain silent about me, I shall become a word of God. But if you allow yourselves to be swayed by the love in which you hold my flesh, I shall again be no more than a human voice."

You can read the entire article here.

--The Catechizer


Monday, February 10, 2014

John Wycliffe – Part 2 (Conclusion)

Continued from Part 1 . . .

The Great Schism

What is known as the "Great Schism" began in 1309 when Pope Clement V moved his papacy to a city, Avignon, just outside of French territory. The papacy remained there until 1377 when Pope Gregory XI returned it to Rome. Although the papacy was back in Rome, it still had a Frenchman at the helm.

Upon Gregory's death, a Roman pope was elected. This, of course, didn't sit well with the French bishops, so, in 1378, they elected their own pope who would rule in Avignon. Europe was now divided between the two popes. How did the two pontifs respond to the crises? They excommunicated each other. The schism lasted until 1415.

In Wycliffe's mind, this comedy of errors could not illustrate his message of reform any better. The excommunications added flames to his pen and feet to his message. Wycliffe was now a "radical" for reform.

The English Bible

Wycliffe knew that the only way to achieve true reform was to put God's word into the hands of the people. This of course was forbidden by the Roman Catholic church. In 1382, upon peril of his life, Wycliffe completed his English translation of the bible. He and his followers, known as Lollards, began distributing it to the English-speaking people. This was the first European translation of scripture in more than 1,000 years.

The Archbishop of Canterbury responded by having Wycliffe and his writings condemned. Wycliffe, however, remained undaunted and continued writing until his death (of natural causes) in 1384.

Rome's Response

Rome was detemined to stamp out the Lollards and Wycliffe's memory. A law was passed which condemned Wycliffe and his followers as heretics. The sentence was burning. Across Europe, the flames were ignited and the Lollards were all but destroyed. Those who survived the wrath of Rome operated in secret until the Reformation.

Rome was not finished with Wycliffe either: 44 years after his death, the pope ordered Wycliffe's bones exhumed, burned, and his ashes scattered.

--The Catechizer

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Sunday, February 09, 2014

Justification - The Reformation v. Rome

Are there things still separating Rome from Protestants? Evangelicals will typically say “yes,” citing the obvious examples of the papacy, the worship of saints and Mary, and the mass. Although these are valid and important differences, what was really at the heart of the Reformation was the doctrine of Justification . . .

This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness

Martin Luther

In a day where most Protestants are unfamiliar with the term “Protestant,” and in a day when eminent Protestant scholars write, “Catholics and evangelicals now believe approximately the same thing,” it is essential for us to reacquaint (learn?) ourselves with this key difference, a difference where the very gospel itself hinges.

To this end I recommend an article penned by R.C. Sproul reposted at the Reformation Theology site. Here’s an excerpt:

Both Roman Catholic and Reformation theology are concerned with the justification of sinners. Both sides recognize that the great human dilemma is how unjust sinners can ever hope to survive a judgment before the court of an absolutely holy and absolutely just God. If we define forensic justification as a legal declaration by which God declares a person just and we leave it at that, we would have no dispute between Rome and Evangelicalism. Though Rome has an antipathy to the concept of forensic justification, this antipathy is directed against the Protestant view of it. In chapter 7 of the sixth session of the Council of Trent, Rome declared: "...not only are we reputed but we are truly called and are just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure...." Here Rome is jealous to distinguish between being reputed just and actually being just, yet it is still true that God calls the baptismally regenerated just. That is, for Rome justification is forensic in that justification involves God's legal declaration. A person is justified when God declares that person just. The reason or the ground of that declaration differs radically between Roman Catholic and Reformed theology. But both agree that a legal declaration by God is made. Nor is it sufficient merely to say that Rome teaches that justification means "to make just," while Protestants teach that justification means "to declare just."

For Rome God both makes just and declares just. For Protestants God both makes just and declares just -- but not in the same way. For Rome the declaration of justice follows the making inwardly just of the regenerate sinner. For the Reformation the declaration of justice follows the imputation of Christ's righteousness to the regenerated sinner (Rom.4:4-8; 2 Cor. 5:21).

You can read the entire article here.

--The Catechizer

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Saturday, February 08, 2014

The Sovereignty of God and Prayer

A day without prayer is a day that totally denies the sovereignty of God and glorifies the free will and self sufficiency of man.

Prayer has always been my weak spot. Frankly, I’d rather read, study, and write. But we are commanded to pray, and that is a sufficient-enough reason to do it. This is contrary to the nonsense I learned in my early years in Christianity: that prayer was a way to get God to do things, that it is where we battle Satan, and that it is how we fulfill our “Can you not tarry and hour” time-requirement (“Drat! Only 14 minutes has passed—Time for more mindless babbling!)

But prayer isn’t primarily about us. Now don’t get me wrong; we do have skin in the game—We have real needs, troubles, and pains that our Heavenly Father wants us to bring to Him. We are to pour out our hearts to Him; we are to make our requests known. Nevertheless, prayer isn’t an exercise of therapeutic naval-gazing. We must not lose sight of this important piece of the prayer puzzle: Prayer is primarily about God— it’s about His glory, His grace, and yes, His sovereignty.

John Reisinger fleshes-out six basic facts about prayer and God’s sovereignty in a piece fittingly called, The Sovereignty of God in Prayer:

  1. Believers in both the OT Scriptures and the NT Scriptures had no problem believing in both the absolute sovereignty of God and the necessity of prayer.
  2. Prayer can be used as a means of refusing to submit to what we know is the will of God!
  3. It is not wrong for us to pray what has been termed "selfish prayer."
  4. Prayer is ASKING, not TELLING God what to do.
  5. A belief in the sovereignty of God will not hinder real prayer, but instead it will foster it.
  6. Prayer is essential because God has ordained it as one of the means to accomplish His decrees.

You can read the details of each fact here.

--The Catechizer


Friday, February 07, 2014

John Wycliffe – Part 1

John Wycliffe was one of the firebrands of Church history. Known as the “morning star of the Reformation," John Wycliff preceded Luther, Calvin, and Knox by almost two hundred years.

The Youthful Wycliffe

Except for the year of his birth, 1320, not much is known of the young Englishman until he received his doctorate from Oxford in 1372. After receiving his degree, Wycliffe was thrust into prominence by being granted a professorship and becoming a leading scholar at the university.

The Salad Days End

Any quiet scholastic days he might have had were short lived. A debate erupted regarding who had God given the right to rule over men, and how is that right to be exercised. Wycliffe dove headfirst into the debate by arguing that the civil government had the divine right to correct the abuses of sinful church leaders. According to Wycliffe, the civil magistrate even had the right to seize the corrupt churchmen's property.

Wycliffe, though, was just getting started. His message of reform included the following:

  • Wealth had corrupted the church; he called for a return to the poverty and simplicity of Apostolic times

  • The pope was the antichrist and should not have the temporal (i.e., political) power to rule over men

    With regard to the aforementioned Wycliffe wrote, “Christ is truth, the pope is the principle of falsehood. Christ lived in poverty, the pope labors for worldly magnificence. Christ refused temporal dominion, the pope seeks it.”

  • Transubstantiation (i.e., the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ) was a false doctrine

  • The Bible, not the church, is the only rule for faith

As a consequence of his calls for reform, Wycliffe was expelled from his teaching post. Then, in 1377, Pope Gregory XI condemned Wycliffe’s doctrines and writings and called for his arrest. Wycliffe, however, remained unmolested due to the protection of influential friends.

To be continued . . .

--The Catechizer

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Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Finding God’s Will

When speaking of God’s will, Scripture uses the word “will” and the idea of the “will of God” in two ways: sometimes, to mean God’s counsel—and at other times to refer to the revealed will of God, or His commands, such as in 1 Thes. 4:3, “. . .it is God’s will that you should be holy.”

Though the Bible speaks of God’s will in these two ways, evangelical Christians use the idea in a third way. The problem is that the third way—that of “finding God’s will” by mystically discovering what God wants us to do—does not appear in Holy Scripture.

What people mean when they speak of “finding God’s will” is that there is a plan God has for our lives which we will live if only, at every fork in the road, we make the right choice. But how are we to choose since the Bible never tells us specifically what job to take, whom to marry, etc.? It is at this point that an expectation of immediate guidance, given directly to the soul by the Lord comes into play.

Yet in Scripture, Christian ethics, the living of a holy life, the doing the right thing never require us to know information that God has about the future. Rather, the Bible has a very different doctrine of guidance and decision making.

In addition to prayer, seeking godly counsel, and evaluating our circumstances from a Biblical perspective, the Bible points us first to the sufficiency of the Scriptures which “thoroughly furnish the man of God for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). When the Bible is properly understood, a Christian man or woman has all the principles of conduct needed to make wise and godly decision. The Bible is sufficient and therefore rules over whatever impressions we may otherwise gather from our circumstances.

Insofar as the choices we make are not contrary to God’s Word, we are at liberty to choose many different things according to our likes, preferences, or pleasures. God has left us free to exercise genuine freedom. He commands only that we choose wisely and well, according to His Word, though we are reminded that even when we do not, we do not escape the divine will or frustrate His plan. The blessings that follow may come in the form of trials or the form of prosperity. That is God's business, not ours.

Indeed this is faith. To live with advance knowledge is not faith. To trust the Lord to keep His Word to us—no matter what our circumstances may be—to rest content to live by His Word come wind, come weather, that is faith!

The above is an excerpt from a sermon titled, The Holy Spirit’s Guidance, preached by Dr. Robert S. Rayburn, pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, Washington.

--The Catechizer


Saturday, February 01, 2014

What is a Christian?

What is a Christian? What do people mean to communicate when they profess to be Christians? How are sinners reconciled to an holy God; and why is it necessary? Wayne Mack illuminates six popular responses and juxtaposes the historical orthodox approach at Monergism. Here’s how he kicks it off:

What is a Christian? No other question is so surrounded with confusion or answered so variously. Ask ten different people this question and you will get five or six different answers. Here are six opinions which are commonly held about the essence of Christianity.

  1. “Well, I certainly am a Christian; I’m doing the best I can. I try to live by the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule and the Sermon on the Mount.”

  2. “Most assuredly, I’m a Christian. If I’m not, I don’t know who is. My mother and father are very religious. I have an uncle who is a minister.”

  3. “Indeed I am. I have always gone to church and Sunday School. I have been baptized and confirmed. I joined the church when I was fourteen.”

  4. “I know I’m a Christian because when the evangelist gave the invitation I went to the front and made a decision for Christ. My counselor showed me that if I accepted Jesus as my personal Saviour, I would never be lost again. I didn’t want to be lost—hell is a terrible place—so I accepted Jesus, and I know now that no matter what happens, God will never reject me. I know it because I went to the altar and professed faith in Jesus Christ.”

  5. “I don't don’t know if I am, and I don’t see how anyone can really know for sure in this life. I guess I’ll just have to wait until I die to find out.”

  6. “Sure, I’m a Christian. Isn’t everybody? Isn’t God the Father of all men? We may be going by different roads, but all of these roads lead to the same place. It doesn’t really matter what you believe, just so you are sincere—everyone who is sincere in his own religion is a Christian.”

These and many other answers have all been given to the question, “What is a Christian?” Who is right? Are any of these answers right? Can we know what it means to be a Christian, or must we be forever uncertain? Well, if we look to the human mind, to human opinion for the answer we will flounder in a sea of uncertainty. One man has as much right to his opinion as another. But, if we look to and are willing to submit to God’s Word, our confusion may be dispersed.

You can read the answer to each question here.

--The Deacon