f The Wittenberg Door: December 2014

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

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Does “Abba” Mean Daddy?

“God’s rad He’s my dad!” sums up an attitude that is all too common today: God’s my pal. Most wouldn’t put it that way but this belief shows itself when people come to church in shorts and flip-flops, turn worship into a rock concert, and address God flippantly. The Aramaic term abba is given as support for the later by translating it “daddy.” But is this justified? Professor Philip Graham Ryken, president of Wheaton College, explains the proper use of the term in his book, When You Pray.

To call God ‘Abba, Father’ is to speak to him with reverence as well as confidence. Abba does not mean ‘Daddy.’ To prove this point, the Oxford linguist James Barr wrote an article for the Journal of Theological Studies called ‘Abba isn’t “Daddy”.’ What Barr discovered was that abba was not merely a word used by young children. It was also the word that Jewish children used for their parents after they were fully grown. Abba was a mature, yet affectionate way for adults to speak to their fathers.

The New Testament is careful not to be too casual in the way it addresses God. The Aramaic word abba appears three times in the New Testament (Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). In each case it is followed immediately by the Greek word pater. Pater is not the Greek word for ‘Daddy.’ The Greek language has a word for ‘Daddy’ – the word pappas – but that is not the word the New Testament uses to translate abba. Instead, in order to make sure that our intimacy with God does not become an excuse for immaturity, it says, ‘abba, pater.

The best way to translate abba is “Dear Father,” or even “Dearest Father.” That phrase captures both the warm confidence and the deep reverence that we have for our Father in heaven. It expresses our intimacy with God, while preserving his dignity. When we pray, therefore, we are to say, ‘Our dear Father in heaven.’

--The Catechizer


Monday, December 29, 2014

Fighting Sexual Temptation

Martin Luther said, “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” Temptations of all types will be with us during our sojourn in this life, and sexual ones often seem the most sweet. Too many times, though, we dwell on fighting these desires instead of focusing upon the desires that we should have. In Kevin DeYoung’s fine book on the Heidelberg Catechism, The Good News We Almost Forgot, he has this to say in his discussion on the seventh commandment . . .

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matt. 5:8). This has been the most helpful verse for me in fighting lust and the temptation to sexual immorality. We need to fight desires with desires. Satan tempts us by holding out something that will be pleasurable to us. We aren’t tempted to gorge ourselves on liverwurst, because for most it doesn’t hold out the promise of great pleasure. But sex does. Pornography does. A second look does. The Bible gives us many weapons to fight temptation. We need to fight the fleeting pleasure of sexual sin with the far greater, more abiding pleasure of knowing God.

The fight for sexual purity is the fight of faith. It may sound like nothing but hard work and gritting your teeth, the very opposite of faith. But faith is at the heart of this struggle. Do we believe that a glimpse of God is better than a glimpse of skin? Do we believe that God’s steadfast love is better than life. (Psalm 63:3). We’d probably sin less if we spent less time thinking about our sins, sexual or otherwise, and more time meditating on the love and holiness of God.

--The Catechizer


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Today in Church History: Charles Hodge, Princeton Theological Seminary

On December 28, 1797, Charles Hodge was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

After graduating from the College of New Jersey and Princeton Seminary, Hodge was ordained by the Presbytery of New Brunswick in 1821, and the General Assembly appointed him to the Princeton faculty in 1822. For the next 56 years he trained over 3,000 students at Princeton, including two of his sons who would eventually join the faculty. In 1825 he founded the Princeton Review and throughout the course of his career he would use it to publish on all the major theological controversies of his day, defending Reformed orthodoxy against New Divinity, European romanticism, frontier revivalism, and Darwinian evolution.

Hodge was also an active churchman. He lent his support to the Old School wing of the Presbyterian Church, supporting the 1837 division and opposing the 1869 reunion. In 1846 he served as the moderator of the Old School General Assembly.

On June 19, 1878, Hodge died at the age of 80. Alfred Nevin described him as "one of the brightest and best ornaments of the Presbyterian Church."

- --John Muether


Friday, December 26, 2014

The Loss of Symbolism

One of the things I love about the Reformed church is the symbolism, especially the symbolism involving the pulpit. The pulpit comprises a lectern standing upon a raised platform. Being the most important piece of “furniture” in the church, it is positioned in front of the congregation, with all pews facing it. Its symbolic importance can be summarized as follows:

  • It’s central—The pulpit’s central placement is important because it is from there that God addresses His people via the preached word. Therefore, it commands the most prominent place in the church.

  • It’s raised—The pulpit is elevated because it is upon the lectern that the minister’s bible rests, symbolizing the word of God being over the people.

  • It’s solid—The lectern is made of solid wood, symbolizing the sure foundation upon which God’s word stands. Moreover, it’s large enough to obscure most of the minister’s body, thus keeping the focus on the word. For this reason, Reformed ministers stay behind the lectern, so as to stay behind the word of God.

So Goes the Pulpit, So Goes the Glory of God

Overall, the pulpit represents what the church service is to be primarily about—God’s people coming together to worship Him, and, as mentioned, God addressing His people through the preached word.

Things have changed, though. Pulpits are considered outdated, and even stifling. Like nature, the church abhors a vacuum. In the pulpit’s place sprung the Plexiglas stand, allowing the “minister” to be seen in all of his glory. But this too is seen by some as cumbersome. Why let anything stand in front of the minister, hindering his ability to work the crowd like a Vegas lounge lizard?

Too harsh? Perhaps. But the transition from the pulpit to more modern elements is symptomatic of a greater problem: a shift from the glory of God to the glory of man; a shift from the minister as an empty vessel placarding Christ, to the minister as a personality and centerpiece; a shift from the preached word as a Means of Grace to the advent of a new sacrament—the minister himself.

--The Catechizer


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Jacob’s Ladder

In Genesis 28 we find God speaking to Jacob in a dream. The Lord tells Jacob that his descendants will multiply, be blessed of God, and will inherit the land upon which he was laying (vrs. 13 and 14). The Lord also promised to be with Jacob wherever he goes and to bring him back to this land (vrs. 15). Prior to the Lord’s address, however, a strange vision was given to Jacob.

He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

Genesis 28:12

No explanation of the vision is provided in the text. So what does it mean?


During Jacob’s journeys through ancient Mesopotamia, it is certain that he saw many ziggurats. These temple towers, which appear not only in the Middle East but also in Central America, were a place of sacrifice to various gods. The most famous ziggurat being the Tower of Babel described in Genesis 11.

Ziggurats featured a stepped construction comprising a large base that ascended, step-by-step, to a much smaller summit. Upon the summit was the alter. The purpose behind the ziggurats was for men to ascend to heaven.

So What’s Jacob’s Ladder About?

For the interpretation of Jacob’s dream we must turn to the New Testament, to the words of the Savior.

And He said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."

John 1:51

Christ is the ladder Jacob saw in the vision. Unlike the ziggurats where men are ascending to God, God descended to man in the person of Christ. This is the difference between Christianity and the religions of men: all non-Christian religions are works-based—man trying to ascend to God via his own righteousness. This is like a drowning man trying to climb out of a pool using a ladder of water; it can’t be done. Christianity is completely opposite: man’s works play no part in bringing the sinner to God.

Here’s the gospel in a word: imputation. It’s Christ’s righteousness (His perfect keeping of the Law) being imputed (transferred) to His people, and their sins being imputed to Him (which He bore on the cross). Men can only stand before God when clothed in Christ’s righteousness—and this was accomplished by God descending to man, not man ascending to God.

It may be demaunded, what is that thing in Christ, by and for which, we are justified. I answer, the Obedience of Christ, Rom. 5. 19. And it stands in two things, his Passion in life and death, and his Fulfilling of the law joined therewith. . . . The obedience of his passion stands before God as a satisfaction for the breach of the law. . . . By the second Obedience in fulfilling the lawe, the sonne of God performed for us, all things contained therein, that we might have right to life everlasting, and that according to the tenour of the lawe, Levit. 18.5.

William Perkins (1558-1602)

For further reading: Heidelberg Catechism, questions and answers 12–18.

Merry Christmas!

--The Catechizer

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Today in History: Harry Truman’s Christmas Greeting

In 1949, President Harry Truman sent Christmas greetings to the nation by radio from his home in Independence, Missouri:

Once more I have come out to Independence to celebrate Christmas with my family. We are back among old friends and neighbors around our own fireside. . . . Since returning home, I have been reading again in our family Bible some of the passages which foretold this night. It was that grand old seer Isaiah who prophesied in the Old Testament the sublime event which found fulfillment almost 2,000 years ago. Just as Isaiah foresaw the coming of Christ, to another battler for the Lord, St. Paul, summed up the law and the prophets in a glorification of love which he exalts even above both faith and hope.

We miss the spirit of Christmas if we consider the Incarnation as an indistinct and doubtful, far-off event unrelated to our present problems. We miss the purport of Christ’s birth if we do not accept it as a living link which joins us together in spirit as children of the ever-living and true God. In love alone—the love of God and the love of man—will be found the solution of all the ills which afflict the world today. Slowly, sometimes painfully, but always with increasing purpose, emerges the great message of Christianity: only with wisdom comes joy, and with greatness comes love.

In the spirit of the Christ Child—as little children with joy in our hearts and peace in our souls—let us, as a nation, dedicate ourselves anew to the love of our fellowmen. In such a dedication we shall find the message of the Child of Bethlehem, the real meaning of Christmas.

American History Parade

1651 - By order Puritan lawmakers in Massachusetts, any colonist caught observing Christmas with feasts or other festivities is fined five shillings.

1776 - George Washington’s army crosses the Delaware River on Christmas night for a surprise attack against Hessian forces at Trenton, New Jersey, the next morning.

1830 - In South service Carolina, the Best Friend of Charleston becomes the first U.S. locomotive to begin regularly scheduled passenger service.

1868 - President Andrew Johnson grants an unconditional pardon to all Confederates involved in the Civil War.

1896 - John Philip Sousa completes his most famous march, “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

The American Patriot's Almanac: Daily Readings on America


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Today in History: Apollo 8’s Christmas Eve Broadcast

The year 1968 was one of the most discouraging in modern U.S. history. The Vietnam War dragged on. Despite major civil rights bills, many people feared the country was turning “increasingly separate and unequal.” The nation grieved over the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Riots filled city streets.

At the end of this dismal year, a Saturn 5 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral on mankind’s first attempt to reach the moon. On board were three Apollo 8 astronauts: Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders. Their mission was not to land on the moon, but to orbit it ten times. NASA told their wives that the men’s chances of making it back to earth alive were about 50-50.

On Christmas Eve millions of enthralled TV viewers watched as the astronauts transmitted a blurry but miraculous image of the lunar surface. Then they heard the voice of Bill Anders: “We are now approaching lunar sunrise and, for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you. ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light, and there was light . . .’”

The astronauts took turns reading the first ten verses of Genesis. Then Frank Borman said, “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, and Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you—all of you on the good earth.”

After a year of death and destruction, the astronaut’s brave journey and healing gesture were like a balm in Gilead. Apollo 8 held the promise that a free people would not fail after all, Americans coming together could still achieve wonders.

American History Parade

1814 - The United States and Britain sign a treaty in Ghent, Belgium, ending the War of 1812.

1906 - Inventor Reginald Fessenden broadcasts the first radio entertainment program from Brant Rock, Massachusetts: a Bible reading and violin solo of “O Holy Night.”

1923 - President Coolidge presides over the first electric lighting of the National Christmas Tree on the White House grounds.

1946 - A candlelight service at Grace Episcopal Church in New York City becomes the first religious service televised from a church.

1968 - The Apollo 8 astronauts read from the book of Genesis while orbiting the moon.

The American Patriot's Almanac: Daily Readings on America


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Who Was St. Nicholas?

Pastor Kevin DeYoung attempts to flesh-out this question at the TGC blog. In the post he discusses the historical person, the myths, and the transition to Santa. He also provides some thoughts on celebrating the holiday. Here’s an excerpt . . .

In honor of St. Nicholas the gift giver, Christians began to celebrate December 6 (his feast day) by giving presents. The tradition developed over time. For good boys and girls, St. Nicholas would come in his red Bishop’s robe and fill boots with gifts on the night of December 5. For bad boys and girls St. Nicholas was to be feared. In highly catholic parts of Europe, St. Nicholas became a deterrent to erring young children. In Germany, he was often accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht (farmhand Rupert) who threatened to eat misbehaving children. In Switzerland, St. Nicholas threatened to put wicked children in a sack and bring them back to the Black Forest. In the Netherlands, St. Nicholas’ helper would tie them in a sack and bring them back to Spain. In parts of Austria, the priest, dressed up in Christmas garb, would visit the homes of naughty children and threaten them with rod-beatings. At least nowadays, he only checks his list!

Not surprisingly, the Reformers were less than friendly towards the traditions that had been built up around the saints. Luther rejected the saints’ days, believing they were built upon legends and superstitions (and a virulent strain of moralism we might add). In Germany, Luther replaced Saint Nicholas’ Day with a different holiday, Christ Child, or Christkindl. Ironically, Kriss Kringle which derived from Luther’s Christ Child holiday, has become just another name for St. Nicholas.

The cult of St. Nicholas virtually disappeared in Protestant Europe, with the exception of one country: the Netherlands. If you love Christmas with all the trappings of Santa Claus and stockings and presents, thank the Dutch. If you despise all that, try to ignore my last name for the time being. The Puritans had done away with St. Nicholas and banned Christmas altogether. But the Dutch held on to their tradition and brought it with them to the New World. In the Netherlands Sint Nicolaas was contracted to Sinterklaas. According to Dutch tradition, Sinterklaas rides a horse and is accompanied by Zwarte Piet, or Black Pete. Many people figure black Pete was derived from black slaves, although others counter and say that he is black because he goes down the chimney and gets a face full of soot.

At any rate, it is easy to see how Sinterklaas evolved in America to Santa Claus. Santa Claus became the Santa we know in the United States only after the poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” was written in 1823. Possibly the best known verses ever written by an American, the poem has greatly influenced the tradition of Santa in the English speaking world and beyond.

You can read the rest here.

--The Catechizer


Monday, December 22, 2014

How Accurate is Your Manger Scene?

Reverend C.W. Powell of Trinity Covenant Reformed Church in Colorado Springs, CO, offers some interesting thoughts on the timing of the shepherds’ and wise men’s visits . . .

I suggest that indeed the Wise Men might very well have come to the manger shortly after the shepherds. Why? Luke says that after the dedication of Jesus at 8 days old, the family returned to their own city, which was Nazareth [Luke 1:26]. It is unlikely that a poor carpenter would have taken lodging in a house in Bethlehem when he didn't know anyone and had to stay in a stable when he first came. More likely, I think, they were on their way back home to Nazareth [their own city], when the message from God intercepted them and they fled to Egypt, returning to Nazareth after a period of time.

That Herod ordered all children under two killed might simply mean he cast a wide net. What are a few more babies if you are in the killing mood? It is what is called a safety factor. [Build the bridge to carry much more weight than you expect]. That the wise men came to a "house" might only mean that they came where Joseph and Mary were dwelling, ie the stable. The word can bear that meaning.

I won't die on this hill, but I won't be critical the next time I see a manger scene with shepherds and wise men mingling together with sheep and a light in the sky. [the light, not the sheep].

O yes, the Angels sang to the shepherds, also. I know Matthew says "saying," but Revelation 5:9 reports that the elders "sang a new song, saying..." [It is fun to wound two sacred cows in one post].

--The Catechizer


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Do God’s Mercy and Justice Contradict Each Other?

Q 11.Is not God then also merciful?

A. God is indeed merciful, but He is likewise just; His justice therefore requires, that sin which is committed against the most high majesty of God, be punished with extreme, that is, with everlasting punishment of both of body and soul.

Heidelberg Catechism

God’s attributes do not contradict nor cancel out one another; rather, they act in concert with one another to accomplish God’s purposes and reflect His goodness. Let us then undertake to understand God’s justice and mercy and see how they relate to one another.


God’s wrath comes not from violent uncontrollable outbursts, like the anger of sinful man. God’s wrath is a manifestation of his holiness and righteousness. He cannot endure wickedness to continue unabated and unrequited. Justice requires that rebellion against his proper and good authority not only deserves, but demands recompense. For God not to punish sin would make Him unjust. A simple definition of justice is: actions require an equitable response proportionate to their nature. In other words, good deeds are rewarded, bad deeds are punished.

“...(God’s mercy) consists in this, that He prepares the ways and means whereby He might forgive sin without violating His justice”

Otto Theleman’s commentary on Q&A #10, An Aid to the Catechism

2 Chronicles 6:23; Ruth 2:11-12; Psalm 5:4-5; Jeremiah 32:18-19-19; Romans 1:18; 1 Corinthians 3:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-6; Hebrews 11:6


Compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm. Simple definitions of mercy and grace are as follows:

  • Grace - Receiving that which was not earned/deserved

  • Mercy - Not receiving that which was earned/deserved

Nehemiah 9:27-31; Psalm 103:8-10, 116:5; Lamentations 3:19-24; Luke 6:36; Ephesians 2:4-5

“. . . In respect of those to whom he shows mercy, Rom. 9:15, 16. He quotes that scripture to show God’s sovereignty in dispensing his favours (Exod. 33:19): I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious. All God’s reasons of mercy are taken from within himself. All the children of men (are) plunged alike into a state of sin and misery, equally under guilt and wrath, God, in a way of sovereignty, picks out some from this fallen apostatized race, to be vessels of grace and glory. He dispenses his gifts to whom he will, without giving us any reason: according to his own good pleasure he pitches upon some to be monuments of mercy and grace...while he passes by others. The expression is very emphatic, and the repetition makes it more so: I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy. It imports a perfect absoluteness in God’s will; he will do what he will, and giveth not account of any of his matters, nor is it fit he should. As these great words, I am that I am (Exod. 3:14) do abundantly express the absolute independency of his being, so these words, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, do as fully express the absolute prerogative and sovereignty of his will. To vindicate the righteousness of God, in showing mercy to whom he will, the apostle appeals to that which God himself had spoken, wherein he claims this sovereign power and liberty. God is a competent judge, even in his own case. Whatsoever God does, or is resolved to do, is both by the one and the other proved to be just. Eleeso on han hele—I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy. When I begin, I will make an end. Therefore God’s mercy endures for ever, because the reason of it is fetched from within himself; therefore his gifts and callings are without repentance.

Henry’s commentary at Bible Gateway, under “resources”

--The Deacon


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Today in Church History: Church of Scotland, Scottish Reformation

On December 20, 1560, the first General Assembly of the Church of Scotland convened in Edinburgh.

Under the leadership of John Knox, six ministers and 36 elders gathered to deliberate on and eventually to present for the approval of the Scottish Parliament the Book of Discipline, drafted earlier in that year. Although this work would be superseded by the Second Book of Discipline by 1578, the greater significance of the 1560 gathering was its establishment of the Presbyterian pattern of annual meetings of commissioners from each presbytery. This conciliar system of church government finds its biblical precedent in the Jerusalem council of Acts 15.

The highest representative body in the Reformed system of government is presided over by a moderator, with the stated clerk serving as chief executive officer. The General Assembly oversees and supervises its committees and agencies, along with the lower assemblies of the church (which in turn submit overtures and appeals to the General Assembly). In Presbyterian polity, the General Assembly is itself limited in its powers and subject to the constitution of the church The precise authority that it holds varies among Reformed denominations. The American Presbyterian tradition has generally assumed a more decentralized character, with undelegated powers residing in the Presbyteries.

- --John Muether


Friday, December 19, 2014

Thought of the Day: Man’s Fallen Condition

In his fallen state man is an enemy of God. He not only doesn’t seek reconciliation and entrance into God’s kingdom, but he is daily seeking to further himself from His holy Creator. The sinner’s only hope is a rescue operation—a sovereign work of God upon his heart. And this rescue operation does not depend upon the drowning man seeking out the lifeguard. Instead, our rescuer chose to save us, and to preserve us, before we ever entered the water.

--The Catechizer


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Nativity Scenes

Tis’ the season for gift giving, carol singing, and circumnavigating the ubiquitous nativity scenes. Maybe your nativity scene of choice is the plastic kind that sits as a crown Christmas jewel atop your TV; or perhaps you’re the more earthy type who prefers the living, breathing kind that leaves droppings in the church courtyard. Whatever the variety, they all share a common element: baby Jesus nestled in the manager.

But have you considered this? —Jesus is God.

Q: What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?

A: The sins forbidden in the second commandment are . . . the making of any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of creature whatsoever . . .

The Westminster Larger Catechism, question 109

Consider the following syllogism:

Making a representation of God is forbidden (Deut. 4:15–19; Acts 17:29; Rom. 1:21–25).
Jesus is God.
Therefore, making a representation of Jesus is forbidden.

Something to think about before wrapping your daughter’s doll in swaddling clothes.

--The Catechizer


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Gospel Call

When thinking of salvation, it is appropriate to step back and understand that salvation is the work of the Trinity. In eternity past, the Father marked out those who would be saved (election). At the appointed time, the Son came into the world and secured the redemption of His people. Finally, the Spirit, working through the word, applies that redemption to the elect. A key part of this process is the gospel call, which takes two forms.

The general (or external) call

We find in Scripture that the gospel call is distributed indiscriminately. This call to repentance and faith goes out to all hearers. The great Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon was once asked why he didn’t preach to the elect only. His response is reported to have been, “If I know the elect had yellow stripes down their backs, I would be running around London lifting up shirts.” The elect is known only to God. Thus those responding to the Great Commission proclaim Christ to all.

This external call includes (1.) A declaration of the plan of salvation. (2.) The promise of God to save all who accede to the terms of that plan. (3.) Command, exhortation, and invitation to all to accept of the offer mercy. (4.) An exhibition of the reasons which should constrain men to repent and believe, and thus escape from the wrath to come. All this is included in the gospel. For the gospel is a revelation of God's plan of saving sinners . . . This call is universal in the sense that it is addressed to all men indiscriminately to whom the gospel is sent. It is confined to no age, nation, or class of men. It is made to the Jew and Gentile, to Barbarians and Scythians, bond and free; to the learned and to the ignorant; to the righteous and to the wicked; to the elect and to the non-elect.

Charles Hodge (1797-1878)

For many are called, but few are chosen

Matthew 22:14

5) "The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up.

6) "Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture.

7) "Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out.

8) "Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great." As He said these things, He would call out, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

11) "Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God.

Luke 8:5-8, 11

The Effectual (or inward) call

For the elect, a special inward call from the Holy Spirit accompanies the general call. This call brings the sinner, who is dead in his sins (Gen. 2:16–17, 3:1–7; Rom. 5:12; Eph. 2:1–3; Col. 2:13), to life. By this work of the Spirit, through the word, faith is granted to the sinner—he is enabled to believe all that is promised in the gospel.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins

Ephesians 2:1

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

Romans 10:17

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God

Ephesians 2:8

--The Catechizer


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Today in Church History: George Whitefield, Revivalism

On December 16, 1714, revivalist and evangelist George Whitefield was born in Gloucester, England.

Trained initially as an actor, Whitefield was educated at Pembroke College in Oxford and ordained in 1736. At the invitation of John and Charles Wesley, Whitefield traveled to North America in 1739, where he quickly became the best-known figure in the Great Awakening. His fervent open-air preaching " filled with colloquial phrases, dramatic pauses, and vivid word pictures " met with remarkable success.

Whitefield's practice of itinerant preaching furthered tensions within colonial Presbyterianism. Revivalists felt justified in traveling from village to village, speaking to crowds whether inside church buildings or outside in the market square, with or without the invitation of the local pastor. Established pastors, however, considered such occasions of preaching as a rebuke to their own ministry and feared the disorder, error, and individualism that itinerants cultivated. The effect of itinerancy was to undermine the discipline and authority of the local church. Through the ministry of Whitefield and other revivalists, American Protestantism moved away from careful observance of traditional Old World forms and toward an emphasis on individual religious experience.

- --John Muether


Saturday, December 13, 2014

So Great a Salvation

Our first parents, through the instigation of the Devil (Rev. 12:9), chose to rebel against our most holy God (Gen. 3:1-6). The result of this rebellion was the entrance of sin into the world (Rom. 5:12-14). The nakedness for which Adam and Eve were ashamed extended far beyond mere clothing—they and their progeny were now separated from God and in need of reconciliation (Rom. 5:12-21).

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”
Genesis 2:16-17

As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one.”
Romans 3:10-12

Saving Grace

Grace (Latin: Gratia; Greek: Charis; Hebrew: Chen) refers to the undeserved favor shown from one to another, particularly from a greater to a lesser.

“. . .grace is an attribute of God, one of the divine perfections. It is God’s free, sovereign, undeserved favor or love to man, in his state of sin and guilt, which manifests itself in the forgiveness of sin and deliverance from its penalty. It is connected with the mercy of God as distinguished from His justice. This is redemptive grace in the most fundamental sense of the word. It is the ultimate cause of God’s elective purpose, of the sinner’s justification, and of his spiritual renewal; and the prolific source of all spiritual and eternal blessings.”

Louis Berkhof (1873-1957)

Man can do nothing to earn (merit) God’s grace. If he could, then it would be a wage not a gift, and would be grounds for boasting before God.

8) For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
9) not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9

Mankind has rebelled against God, and, as a result, stands condemned. But God, for His own good pleasure, chooses to spare some—to show mercy. By its very nature, grace does not come about by anything man does—we don’t pray our way into it, chose our way into it, or anything else. It is completely, from first to last, an underserved gift from God. Thus the appropriate response is to fall down before a gracious God who does not give us what we deserve.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness
Romans 1:18

When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”
Acts 11:18

When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
Acts 13:48

This message of grace, therefore, is essential to the gospel message, as Puritan John Owen explains . . .

Gospel promises then are: (1) The free and gracious dispensations; and, (2) discoveries of God’s good-will and love: to, (3) sinners; (4) through Christ; (5) in a covenant of grace: (6) wherein, upon his truth and faithfulness, he engageth himself to be their God, to give his Son unto them, and for them, and his Holy Spirit to abide with them, with all things that are either required in them, or are necessary for them, to make them accepted before him, and to bring them to an enjoyment of him.

John Owen (1616-1683)


Because of the fall man is separated from God. And left to his devices he’ll continue in his sin and rebellion. But God, in His great mercy, chooses to grant a stay of execution to some—not only that, He chooses to adopt the condemned! This message of God not giving us what we deserve should make us fall to our knees and sing along with John Newton . . .

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

--The Catechizer


Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Necessity of Creeds By Rev. Robert Grossmann

The Word of God calls upon believers to confess their faith. Jesus said, Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven (Matt. 10:32). The apostle Paul concurs: If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom. 10:9). To assure a purity of confession, the church has written various creeds over the years. Creeds are universal as summaries of the truth of the gospel.

Even those who proclaim "No Creed but Christ" have a list of propositions that defines the Christ they believe in. The problem is that they are not willing to publish this list since it might change. There should be no fear to publish the teachings of Scripture, though: the Lord got his doctrines right the first time! Nevertheless, as Christians we must agree that, if our creedal summary is in error, we will change it.

The Bible teaches that man's conscience should be bound only by the Word of God (Mark 7:9). This does not lead to anarchy, as one might suppose, because the Bible also teaches the unity of the true faith and separation from those who do not hold to the clear teaching of God's Word (2 Cor. 6:14ff.; 1 Tim. 6:3-5; 1 John 4:1-3; 2 John 10).

Basic Christian unity is confessed by Reformed Christians with all who sincerely hold to the teachings of the Apostles' Creed (see Heidelberg catechism, Questions 22 and 54). Historic confessions have generally used the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer to structure their more specific doctrinal statements.

Reformed churches, along with other churches descending from the Reformation, have followed the ancient church tradition of writing expository creeds which state Biblical teaching in a way that separates believers from unbelievers (cf. the Nicene Creed, which declares that all Christians must believe in the Trinity). Reformed confessions include the Heidelberg catechism, the Belgic Confession of Faith, the Canons of Dort, the Second Helvetic Confession and the Westminster Standards (the first three creeds constitute the confessional base of the RCUS). These expository creeds serve as the skin and bones for the church as an organization on earth. As bones, they give it a unifying structure, since all members and officers confess the truth of the doctrines they set forth; as skin, they separate those of a particular denomination from others outside the church structure.

Because Reformed churches hold that unity in truth is the basis of all other unity (2 John 10), they form close-knit denominational fellowships and establish ecumenical connections with other Reformed bodies holding similar creeds. Such fraternal relations should not be confused with the modern tendency of church unionism.


Saturday, December 06, 2014

Female Elders/Pastors?

Recently I had an email conversation about female pastors with one of my former pastors from my Pentecostal days. (He was about to ordain a slew of them.) I asked him about it on Facebook because back when I attended his fellowship he disallowed female pastors. “Why the change?” I asked.

What follows is my response to his reasoning. Please note that although I’m only referring to pastors (teaching elders, 1 Tim. 5:17), my case equally applies to ruling elders.

Your question:Where in Scripture does it say that women can be Pastor's? My simple answer is Eph.4:7-8 -...and HE gave gifts to "MEN"- meaning all mankind..Eph.4:11-12 -and He Himself gave some to be Apostles, some Prophets, some Evangelists, and some to be Pastors and Teachers. 12-For the equiping of the saints for the work of the ministry."

. . . Our Qualifications are: That they are GIFTED by God to lead in the area they are called on, Submitted to their husband, DWC discipleship, Faithfulness of Service, Understanding the DOCTRINE OF GRACE and RIGHTEOUSNESS through Faith in Jesus Christ and Last of all EXPERIENCE.

Greetings, “Bob.” First, you’re right: He does give gifts to “men” (general), but I’m sure that you would agree that he does not give all people the same gifts. God does, however, call people to ministry (Eph. 4:7-8) and provide those called with the needed gifts to fulfill that ministry (Eph. 4:8). Of course, for this discussion, if God does not allow women to be pastors, then he’s not calling them to that office nor is he so gifting them (although they might have similar gifts, like teaching). So first we need to answer the question of whether or not God allows female pastors before we can move on to calling and gifting.

There are a few verses that speak directly to this issue. Consider Paul instructing the young pastor, Timothy, in I Tim 2:

11) A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness.

12) But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.

Paul’s letter to Timothy is meant as a guide to how a church should operate. In the above passages, Paul is telling Timothy that women should respect the governing role of the church officers. Since they are being forbidden from teaching or exercising authority over the men in the church, women may not have that governing role. (By the way, I do think women can teach in a non-authoritative role, like Priscilla did in Acts 18:26; and I also don’t think that they are restricted when it comes to public prayer or other types of edifying proclamations: I Cor. 11:15.)

Paul finishes chapter 2 by grounding the functional hierarchy of the church in creation. He then continues his instruction in chapter 3 by providing the qualifications for a pastor:

1) It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.

2) An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,

3) not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.

4) He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity

5) but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?,

6) and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.

7) And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Paul here is not using “man” or “he” in the general sense, especially since these passage follow directly after he specifically talked about women in the church (unless those are to be taken that way too). It is men who are called to “be the husband of one wife,” and it is men who God holds ultimately responsible for the managing of the household and the upbringing of the children. Likewise, God holds the pastors responsible for His household.

Consider the flow of Paul’s thought: women may not teach or have authority over men in the church, followed by the qualifications for the pastorate, which are directed solely to men.

Paul makes the same case in the first chapter of Titus, where he again directs it to only men (husband of one wife, etc.). After completing his teaching about pastors, he starts chapter 2 by giving instructions to “older men” (vs. 2) and “older women” (vs. 3), followed by instructions to young men and bondservants. He finishes the chapter by saying that “. . . the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” (vs. 11). I mention this because he has switched to the general use of “men.” Before this passage, he was directly addressing specific groups.

Well, that’s it in a nutshell. I might be totally wrong about this, but it seems to me that the case against women being pastors is pretty strong (especially when you add to the mix the example of Scripture—from the Aaronic priesthood, to the apostles, to a young pastor like Timothy). Something to chew on, at least.

--The Catechizer


Friday, December 05, 2014

Was Time Created?

Dr. Peter May has a fine article at bethinking.org titled, Has Science Disproved God? In it he fortifies the Cosmological argument with scientific discovery.

I do have one disagreement, though. In his article, Dr. May suggests that time is a created thing:

We cannot speak about time before time existed. God, if he created the universe, must live outside of space and time.

Time as the Movement of a Clock

For scientists such as Einstein or Hawking, time must be physical because their worldview rules-out the existence of abstract entities. Therefore, they ascribe a beginning to time and describe it as, basically, the movement of the hands of the clock.

Christians too typically fall into this line of reasoning when they speak of God being “outside of time.” Time is seen as a creation of God that will someday be done away with. Until then, He will content Himself with being a sort of jack-in-the-box, jumping in and out of this box called “time.”

Eternal Now?

Another Christian explanation of God and time, sometimes called “eternal now,” was held by many of our Church Fathers, including Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, and Methodius.

This view puts God in a window overlooking a parade—the ever-present spectator, God is perched high-above observing all events at once. Consequently, the creation of the earth, the crucifixion of Christ, and the consummation of the age are all happening at one time. As if all events were thrown into a cosmic Cuisinart.


There is certainly a created aspect of time. But is it exclusively so? I don’t believe it is. There seems to be an uncreated element that is a necessary consequence of God’s existence. Consider this: Time is usually defined as duration—that which passes between events. It seems to me that there is something else to consider: sequence, which includes the events themselves. Here’s what I mean:

There are two types of sequence: logical and temporal. An example of a logical sequence would be counting, 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. “2” logically follows “1.”

A temporal sequence would be a simple recounting of events. For example, if I numbered four Popsicle sticks and then randomly laid them out, they might turnout like this: 4, 2, 1, 3. That’s a temporal sequence.

Sequence and Temporality

Before God created the material universe there was a before. Before denotes a temporal sequence and is a hallmark of time. Therefore, since there was a before preceding the creation of the material universe, then time could not been part of that creation.

Here’s something else to consider: before that creation, God created a certain number of angles; and before He created them, He set a fixed number in His mind. This involves counting—logical sequences. Since God is not material, and since He is counting and creating, then neither logical nor temporal sequences are material; and since they necessarily precede His creative work, they themselves cannot be created; hence time cannot be material nor created.

The Challenge

Every Christian I’ve discussed this with has simply assumed that time is created and have offered no arguments for time’s creation and no valid refutations to my argument regarding sequences and time markers.

For those espousing the “time is a created thing” position, please tell us why we should accept your position? Why should we believe that before God engaged in His creative handiwork that He didn’t think (was He comatose?), plan (e.g., when would the consummation of the age be), add (e.g., establish the number of angels He’d create), love (inner-Trinitarian), etc.? Why should we believe something that is obviously self-refuting: that before before there was no before? Why would we believe that right now, to God, He is talking to Moses, bringing the plagues upon Egypt, being crucified in the person of Christ, bringing about the consummation of the age, ect?

What those of us who are skeptical of this position are looking for is a rational argument for time being created and not applying to God. (I'd also appreciate a refutation of the argument I've offered.)

It is a difficult issue, and highly speculative and mysterious, and we must take care not to create new mysteries. Those of us with these questions could be completely wrong about this, but to know that we are, we're going to need a valid argument (not an assumption) that time is a created thing.

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Thursday, December 04, 2014

Today in Church History: Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., Southern Presbyterian Church

On December 4, 1861, commissioners from the Southern presbyteries that had renounced the jurisdiction of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. met at First Presbyterian Church of Augusta, Georgia, and constituted the first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America.

The split was prompted by the Civil War and by the action of the previous General Assembly in May, 1861 (with only 16 southern commissioners in attendance). After eight days of debate, the Assembly passed the Gardiner Springs resolutions, which declared the obligation of the church to uphold the Union and pledged loyalty to the U.S. Constitution, in all its provisions, requirements, and principles. Southern Presbyterians considered these resolutions to be a violation of the spirituality of the church and an engagement in partisan politics.

After the war, the two branches of Northern and Southern Presbyterianism continued to coexist until their merger in 1983. That reunion was preceded by a division within the Southern Presbyterians. On December 4, 1973, 112 years to the day after the formation of the PCCSA, the first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) convened at Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

--John Muether


Tuesday, December 02, 2014

The Terrorist Threat from Non-Islamic Religions

From The Wittenberg Door archives . . .

WASHINGTON — A Baptist organization committed to religious freedom for all has urged Rep. Peter King and his committee to broaden the scope of the planned hearing on the “radicalization” of American Muslims scheduled for Thursday.

Rep. King, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has singled out the Muslim faith, says J. Brent Walker, who is the executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

Walker said the implied suggestion that Terrorist threats to the American people result from one religious group is an insult to the millions of peaceful Muslim American citizens. . . .

. . . Walker said “the hearing will send a further message that Muslims present a greater threat of Terrorism than other religions,” and “it would imply that the potential for Terrorism from outside of Islam is not significant enough to merit a hearing.

The Baptist organization’s plea was for the committee to not only focus on Islamic radicals, but radicals of other faiths too. We can surmise from the Baptists’ concern that other religions pose as least as much threat as the Islamic radicals.

But who can blame them when you think of the Tibetan Monks who tried to detonate a car bomb in Time Square? Or, in Jacksonville FL, the pipe bomb attack upon a mosque carried out by Amish militants. Even in places where safety should be expected, like the most populated military installation in the world, Fort Hood. There, the bloody hand of a radicalized Hindu sect attacked, killing 13 and wounding 32. And how can we forget the most heinous attack by extremists on American soil: 9/11. It took just 19 members of a Christian Evangelical extremist group to murder 3,000 people; killing in the name of their god as they yelled, “Praise Jesus!”

Or was it Islamisist who committed these atrocities?

The number of terrorist attacks since 9/11 worldwide committed by radicals in the name of their god tells the tale:

  • Islam – 16,961 (now 24,518)

  • Budism – 0

  • Hinduism – 0

  • Christianity – 0

  • Judaism – 0

So, according to the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, the threat from radicalized Islam is no greater than that of any other religion. I’m glad that truth matters to them.

--The Catechizer


Monday, December 01, 2014

How the Church Failed Brad Pitt

From the Wittenberg Door archives...

"She [his college girlfriend] helped me more than anyone else as far as setting off in my own direction," he explains. "It was my first year in college and I was pushing back against the religion thing. In my eyes it was a mechanism of guilt, this engrained system, used to keep the flock in servitude." Brad was raised a conservative Southern Baptist. "Guilt is the thing I find most evil about it. It's the thing I rail against the most. She helped me in defining what I believed.

"Religion works," he goes on. "I know there's comfort there, a crash pad. It's something to explain the world and tell you there is something bigger than you, and it is going to be alright in the end. It works because it's comforting. I grew up believing in it, and it worked for me in whatever my little personal high school crisis was, but it didn't last for me. I didn't understand this idea of a God who says, 'You have to acknowledge me. You have to say that I'm the best, and then I'll give you eternal happiness. If you won't, then you don't get it!' It seemed to be about ego. I can't see God operating from ego, so it made no sense to me.

Brad Pitt in a Parade.com interview

Based on the reasons Brad Pitt gives for abandoning his Baptist roots, I think that we can surmize the following:

  • He doesn’t understand man’s plight

  • He doesn’t understand God's nature

Man’s Plight

Mr. Pitt finds guilt the most evil thing about Christianity. We can infer from his comments that he thinks his feelings of guilt are a result of his Baptist upbringing; that without that upbringing he would live a guilt-free life. But is that the case? Do those outside of the Christian community live a conscience-free existence? The answer is, unless you’re a sociopath, no (Rom. 2:14 – 15).

What Mr. Pitt should have learned in church is that people of all types of rearing experience the crises of conscience known as guilt, and the reason for this is simple: we feel guilty because we are guilty.

Scripture teaches that Adam’s sin brought spiritual death to us all (Gen. 2:16–17, 3:1–7; Rom. 5:12; Eph. 2:1–3; Col. 2:13). As a result, men are spiritually deaf, blind, and completely corrupted (Ecc. 9:3; Jer. 17:9; Rom. 8:7–8; 1 Cor. 2:14); also, men are slaves of sin (John. 8:34; Rom. 6:20; Tit. 3:3) and children of the devil (Eph. 2:1–2; 2 Tim. 2:25–26; 1 John 3:10). So how does natural man respond to the revelations God has given him such as a guilty conscience? He suppresses the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). This is all something Mr. Pitt should have learned in church.

God’s Nature

Mr. Pitt is offended by the idea that God would require honor. I suppose his view is that any being who would have himself honored is undue that honor. An odd claim coming from a man who accepted the honor of his peers through both Golden Globe (he won one) and Academy Award nominations. I don’t’ recall him repudiating these accolades. Apparently, he is due honor, but God isn’t.

Here’s why God deserves honor:

There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.

God has all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of Himself; and is alone in and unto Himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which He has made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting His own glory in, by, unto, and upon them. He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things; and has most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever Himself pleases. In His sight all things are open and manifest, His knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to Him contingent, or uncertain. He is most holy in all His counsels, in all His works, and in all His commands. To Him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience He is pleased to require of them.

Westminster Confession of Faith (1646)

Again, something he should have learned in church.


The reasons Mr. Pitt gives for abandoning his childhood faith show that he doesn’t understand Christianity. As mentioned, all of this should have been learned in church, but his church failed him. Not only that, his parents failed him too. But Mr. Pitt is not alone. We see a trend of children departing the faith as soon as they enter the college parking lot. So what are we as the church and as parents to do?


To catechize a child is to instruct her in the faith using questions and answers. It’s a method that traces its history back to Scripture (Mat. 16:13, 22:42). The catechism that I use in my home is the Heidelberg Catechism. Completed by Zacharius Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus in 1563, the Heidelberg Catechism offers 129 questions and answers and is divided into three parts: man’s guilt, God’s grace, and our gratitude. Here’s a sample:

Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?

A. That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me, that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready henceforth to live unto Him.

The best way to inoculate your child (or yourself, for that matter) against error is by knowing the truth. Catechization is a tried and true method of learning the faith that has stood the test of time. Perhaps this could have made the difference in Brad Pitt’s life.

--The Catechizer

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