f The Wittenberg Door: March 2015

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

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Today in Church History: J. Gresham Machen, Presbytery of New Brunswick (PCUSA)

On March 29, 1935, the Presbytery of New Brunswick of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. suspended J. Gresham Machen from the ministry.

After the previous General Assembly ordered Machen and other members of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions to resign their positions, the New Brunswick Presbytery was swift to charge Machen with disobeying the mandate of the General Assembly and advocating rebellion in the church. Insisting that the charges were purely administrative, the Presbytery ruled out of order all of Machen's arguments regarding the doctrinal soundness of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions. Machen and other IBPFM members appealed to the 1936 General Assembly where the verdicts were sustained and the convictions upheld, setting the stage for the formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

John Muether


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Today in History: The Ark, The Dove, and a Milestone in Religious Freedom

On March 25, 1634, about two hundred English settlers climbed off of two small ships named the Ark and the Dove anchored in the Potomac River, rowed ashore to a slice of land they named St. Clement’s Island, erected a cross, and held a thanksgiving service. It was the beginning of the colony of Maryland——a good day for religious freedom.

Maryland was found by Cecilius Calvert, also known as Lord Baltimore, who received a charter from England’s King Charles for some 12 million acres at the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay. Calvert was a Roman Catholic at a time when Catholics were persecuted in England, and he founded his colony to be a haven where Catholics could worship freely. He name it Maryland in honor, he said, of Queen Henrietta Maria, King Charles’s wife, although Catholics quietly understood the land to be named in honor of Mary, mother of Jesus.

Calvert wanted Maryland to be a place where both Catholics and Protestants could worship freely, partly because he knew he would need Protestants to help settle his colony. In 1649 the colonial assembly passed a Toleration Act guaranteeing that no Christians in Maryland would be in “any waies troubled, Molested or discountenanced for or in respect of his or her religion nor in the free exercise thereof.” Such toleration led Puritans and Quakers to flee to Maryland from Virginia, where they were persecuted by Anglicans. Maryland became renowned for its religious liberties.

By modern standards, those liberties were restrictive. They applied only to Christians. There were times in the colony’s history when Catholics and Protestants fought each other and peopled were indeed persecuted for their religion.

Nonetheless, Maryland’s Toleration Act was a historic step forward for freedom. It laid down a principle no central to our way of life.

American History Parade

1634 - The colony of Maryland is founded by Catholic and Protestant settlers sent by Lord Baltimore.

1865 - Robert E. Lee orders his last attack of the Civil War against Fort Steadman, near Petersburg, Virginia.

1911 - A fire kills 146 garment workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company Factory in New York City, leading the public to call for safety reforms.

1965 - Civil rights activists led by Martin Luther King Jr. end their historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, at the steps of the state capitol.

The American Patriot's Almanac: Daily Readings on America


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

General Revelation – Part 1 – External and Internal Revelation

The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.

Psalm 19:1

We know Him by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to see clearly the invisible things of God, even his everlasting power and divinity, as the apostle Paul says (Rom. 1:20). All which things are sufficient to convince men and leave them without excuse.

Belgic Confession, Article 2 (1561)

To speak of General Revelation is to speak of God making Himself known (i.e., revealing Himself) to all people everywhere. This revelation is twofold:

  • The external revelation of God in nature

  • The internal revelation of God in man

External Revelation

God reveals Himself to us through the created world

As we look around us, the evidence of our Creator is everywhere. Consider how fine-tuned the universe is to support human life (anthropic principle); or how amazing it is that Microchiroptera bats can hunt in total darkness by emitting a stream of high-pitched sounds that bounce off their prey and then the resulting echo is received by their very sensitive antennas; or how about the bacterial flagellum with it’s out-board-motor-like propulsion system—complete with a rotor, O-rings, bushings, and drive shaft. Indeed, we live in a world filled with wonders that evidence our loving Creator.

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made…

Romans 1:20

God’s creative handiwork is clearly evident to all. Expounding on this point, Paul, speaking to the people of Lystra, said,

Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filing our hearts with food and gladness.

Acts 14:17

Internal Revelation

God also reveals Himself to all men internally.

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

19) because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.

20) For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

Romans 1:18-20

It is not of a mere external revelation of which the apostle is speaking, but of that evidence of the being and perfections of God which every man has in the constitution of his own nature, and in virtue of which he is competent to apprehend the manifestation of God in his works.

Charles Hodge (1797–1878)

God Reveals Himself to Us Through Our Moral Reasonings

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 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 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)

God Reveals Himself to Us Through Our Religious Self

As much as man is a moral creature, he is just as much a religious creature. Man was created to have fellowship with, to worship, and to adore his Creator.

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Westminster Shorter Catechism (1640s)

Then all your people will be righteous; they will possess the land forever, the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, that I may be glorified.

Isaiah 60:21

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11:36

The Fall, however, changed the object of man’s worship:

. . . although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and fourfooted animals and creeping things.

Romans 1:21-23

Instead of accepting revelation they became philosophers. And what is a philosopher? A philosopher is a man who claims that he starts by being skeptical about everything, that he is an agnostic. “I am going to have the date,” he says, “and then I am going to work it out.” And that is exactly what such men have done; they become foolish and wicked in their reasonings, in their thoughts, in their own conjectures and speculations and surmisings. And what is the cause of it all? Paul uses the word “vain” and it means not only foolish, but it means wicked as well . . . The cause of the whole trouble was wickedness and it is still wickedness.

D. Martin Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981)

To be continued . . .

--The Catechizer

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Today in History: Pocahontas

Much legend surrounds the life of Pocahontas, but the known facts are remarkable enough. Born around the year 1595 to Powhatan, chief of a powerful tribe, she was about twelve years old when English colonists founded Jamestown, Virginia. According to Captain John Smith, it was Pocahontas who saved him when the Indians took him prisoner. Just as the executioners were about to bash in his head, Smith wrote, Pocahontas “got his head in her arms, and laid her owne upon his to save him from death.”

Some scholars have suggested that what Smith took to be an “execution” was really a ceremony of some kind. At any rate Powhatan set Smith free, and young Pocahontas became a frequent visitor to Jamestown, sometimes bringing food to the hungry settlers. Her friendly nature (her name means “playful one”) made her a favorite among the colonists.

A few years later, after Smith left for England, the settlers kidnapped the Indian maiden, intending to hold her until her father returned some prisoners and stolen supplies. During her captivity, Pocahontas converted to Christianity and was baptized as Rebecca. With her father’s consent, she married colonist John Rolfe, and the couple had a boy, Thomas. The marriage helped bring peace between the Indians and settlers.

In 1616 the Rolfes sailed to England to help promote the Jamestown colony. There the Indian “princess” was treated as a celebrity and welcomed at royal festivities. But she grew ill and died just before she was to return to Virginia. She was buried on March 21, 1617, in the town of Gravesend.

Pocahontas’s story has been told a hundred ways in books, poems, plays, and movies. She was undoubtedly a courageous young woman who tried to bring friendship between two peoples. Captain Smith may have left the best tribute when he said she was “the instrument to [preserve] this colonie from death, famine, and utter confusion.”

American History Parade

1617 - Pocahontas, who died just before she was to begin her return voyage to Virginia, is buried in Gravesend, England.

1788 - A fire destroys 856 buildings in New Orleans, ruining most of the city.

1790 - Thomas Jefferson takes office as America’s first secretary of state.

1963 -Alcatraz, the federal prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, closes.

1980 - President Jimmy Carter announces the United States will boycott the Moscow Olympics in response to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

The American Patriot's Almanac: Daily Readings on America


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Today in Church History: Ned B. Stonehouse

In 1902, within the space of three days, Paul Woolley (March 16) and Ned B. Stonehouse (March 19) were born.

The two would meet as students at Princeton Theological Seminary, and they would join J. Gresham Machen in the founding of Westminster Theological Seminary in 1929. There they enjoyed over thirty years of fruitful service as part of the original faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary (Stonehouse in New Testament and Woolley in Church History). Both men numbered among the 34 constituting ministerial members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1936.

Each man also contributed toward the development of a greater historical consciousness within the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Stonehouse's 1954 book, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir, was for many Orthodox Presbyterians their introduction to the life of Machen and the founding of the OPC. The OPC General Assembly acknowledged Woolley's gifts to the church by appointing him as the denomination's first historian, in 1974.

John Muether


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Today in History: St. Patrick’s Day

Saint Patrick, a fifth-century missionary born in Roman Britain, became the patron saint of Ireland by spreading Christianity throughout the Emerald Isle. For centuries the Irish have set aside a day to remember him. But the version of St. Patrick’s Day that Americans know, which celebrates all things Irish with parades, parties, and “putting on the green,” was invented chiefly in our own country.

And no wonder. Some 36 million Americans claim Irish ancestry—almost nine times as many people as the population of Ireland itself.

Irish settlers, many of them indentured servants, brought the custom of remembering Saint Patrick to the American colonies. Boston held its first observance in 1737. In New York City, Irish soldiers in the British army held a parade on St. Patrick’s Day 1762. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington allowed his troops camped at Morristown, New Jersey, many of whom were Irish descent, to have a holiday on March 17, 1780.

In the nineteenth century, as millions more Irish immigrants arrived, including those fleeing the Great Potato Famine, St. Patrick’s Day observances became more widespread. Over time the day became less a remembrance of the saint himself, and more a way to remember Irish heritage, often with flair (as in Chicago, where the city dyes the Chicago River green).

From Davy Crockett to Bing Crosby, Americans with Irish roots have shaped out history and culture. By some estimates, one-third to one-half of American troops in the Revolutionary War were of Irish descent, as were 9 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. As many as 19 presidents, including Andrew Jackson, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan, have had Irish ancestors. If the United States is the world’s melting pot, the broth has a wee bit o’ the taste of Irish stew.

American History Parade

1737 - The Charitable Irish Society of Boston holds the first public celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in the American colonies.

1776 - Threatened by Patriot cannons on Dorchester Heights, the British evacuate Boston.

1898 - The USS Holland, the first practical submarine, conducts a trial run off Staten Island.

1958 - The United States launches its second satellite, Vanguard I (still in orbit as of 2012).

1959 - The USS Skate becomes the first submarine to surface at the North Pole.

The American Patriot's Almanac: Daily Readings on America


Monday, March 16, 2015

Today in Church History: Paul Woolley

In 1902, within the space of three days, Paul Woolley (March 16) and Ned B. Stonehouse (March 19) were born.

The two would meet as students at Princeton Theological Seminary, and they would join J. Gresham Machen in the founding of Westminster Theological Seminary in 1929. There they enjoyed over thirty years of fruitful service as part of the original faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary (Stonehouse in New Testament and Woolley in Church History). Both men numbered among the 34 constituting ministerial members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1936.

Each man also contributed toward the development of a greater historical consciousness within the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Stonehouse's 1954 book, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir, was for many Orthodox Presbyterians their introduction to the life of Machen and the founding of the OPC. The OPC General Assembly acknowledged Woolley's gifts to the church by appointing him as the denomination's first historian, in 1974.

--John Muether


Friday, March 13, 2015

Today in History: Harvard Gets a Name

On March 13, 1639, the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States was named for Puritan minister John Harvard, one of the school’s earliest and greatest benefactors.

Historians know little about John Harvard’s life. The son of a London butcher, he was born in 1607 near the Surrey end of the London Bridge, and as a young man he received his education at Emmanuel College, part of the University of Cambridge. By the 1630s, his father and most of his family had died of the plague. His inheritance made him a well-to-do member of England’s middle class.

Faced with religious persecution, Harvard joined the wave of Puritans emigrating to America for a better life and chance to worship freely. In 1637 he and his wife, Ann, arrived in New England and became inhabitants of Charlestown, Massachusetts. That same year, he became a teaching elder of the First Church of Charlestown, a position that required him to explain scripture and give sermons.

But John Harvard did not last long in the New World. A little more than a year after his arrival, he died of consumption. On his deathbed he bequeathed 779 pounds (half his estate) and a collection of about four hundred books to a college that had been founded in 1636 in Newtown (now Cambridge, Massachusetts).

It was a generous gift, one that helped launch the fledgling college on its mission to educate students in a classical curriculum and Puritan theology. In 1639 the Massachusetts General Court decided to name the school Harvard College in honor of the minister. Today the name Harvard is a good reminder that many of this country’s finest universities trace their roots to churches and clergymen who realized that without educated citizens, America could not thrive.

American History Parade

1639 - Harvard College is named for one of its first benefactors, clergyman John Harvard.

1868 - The Senate begins the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson.

1928 - The St. Francis Dam gives way on a reservoir 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles, killing at least 450 people.

1930 -Clyde W. Tombaugh and fellow astronomers at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, announce the discovery of a ninth planet, later named Pluto.

The American Patriot's Almanac: Daily Readings on America


Today in Church History: Charles G. Finney

On March 13, 1836, Charles G. Finney resigned as pastor of the Second Free Presbyterian Church in New York City, and announced his intention to demit the ministry of the Presbyterian Church and to transfer his ordination to the Congregational Church.

When asked at his licensure exam in 1823 whether he subscribed to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Finney responded, "I had not examined it - This made no part of my study." During his tenure as a Presbyterian minister he rarely attended Presbytery meetings and his opposition to Presbyterian theology and polity grew. Eventually he became the favorite target of Old School opponents of the Second Great Awakening. He left the church a year before the Old School-New School division, disdainfully suggesting that "no doubt there is a jubilee in hell every year about the time of meeting of the General Assembly."

John Muether


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Does Calvinism Teach Puppet Theology?

I own the cattle on a thousand hills,
I write the music for the whippoorwills,
Control the planets with their rocks and rills,
But give you freedom to use your own will.

And if you want Me to, I’ll make you whole,
I’ll only do it tho’ if you say so.
I’ll never force you, for I love you so,
I give you freedom – Is it “yes” or “no”?”

I Give You Freedom (The Whippoorwill Song).

“God’s a gentlemen; He would never force his affections on us. No, that would be indelicate. He wants us to choose to love Him, to choose to handover the love-strings of our heart. Don’t you want your loved ones to choose to love you? God’s not a cosmic masher.”

Sound familiar? (Probably not the “masher” part unless you’re an octogenarian.) Anyone who has been a Calvinist for any length of time has been confronted with the charge that we believe in a God who is nothing but a puppet master, an evil Jim Henson; and furthermore that man is nothing more than an un-responsible automaton. . . .

And yet, that’s not at all what Calvinism teaches. At least, that’s not what we should be teaching. It’s true that Calvin, like Augustine before him, believed the will of God to be the necessity of all things. But the Church’s leading theologians have always carefully distinguished between different kinds of necessity. Calvin, for example, though he held to the highest view of God’s sovereignty vehemently rejected any notion of necessity which entailed external coercion or compulsion. In this matter he was simply following Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and the entire tradition of Christian orthodoxy.

This is why the puppet and robot analogies don’t work, and no Calvinist should own them. While we believe that God’s grace is irresistible and flows from his electing love, we must be clear that this grace renews us from within. It does not coerce us from without. God is not a puppet master pulling on our strings so that we do what he wants apart from our own willing or doing. His will precedes our will, but it does not eradicate it.

You can read the rest of Kevin DeYoung’s comments here.

--The Catechizer


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Be Encouraged: God Does Not Issue Bluebacks

During the Civil War, the economic systems of the North and South were set on differing paths—at least in their ability to gasp for air. The South was suffering grievously due to the North’s naval blockade, which disallowed the transport of the southern mainstay—cotton. Although fairing better than the South, the North was hardly swimming in a sea of revenue.

As early as 1861, the first year of the war, Lincoln and his cabinet were forced to make tough economic choices. One such choice was to increase duties and excise taxes. Another was to issue “greenbacks.” Greenbacks were printing-press currency backed by the federal government. Because it was not supported by gold, the greenback’s value was determined by how much the government could borrow; as a result, the value of the greenbacks fluctuated with each battle. The problem was resolved, however, by the passing of the National Banking Act of 1863. This act allowed banks to issue currency based on the purchase of government bonds, thus stabilizing the greenbacks.

As mentioned, the South was fairing much worse, lacking the industrial might and commerce of the North. In response to this dire situation, Davis’ administration imposed a 10% increase of taxes on farm produce. Of course, this did not sit well with the states’-rights southerners who opposed direct taxation by a central government. Only 1% of the Confederacy’s revenue was derived from this measure. Consequently, revenue quickly dried up.

So out came plan B: Printing press currency. The South began printing “blue-backed” paper money. Once the printing presses began to hum, the flow of currency into the market place would not be ebbed. Runaway inflation ensued. For example, if you and two others decided to have breakfast in 1864 Richmond, you would leave a $21.15 tip—that’s 15% of $141, the cost of the meal. By the time Lee surrendered, the Confederacy was experiencing inflation of 9,000 percent.

What's This All About?

You’re probably wondering why we’ve taken this short trip down history lane. Well, hanging in my hallway at home is a $5 blue-backed bill, which was issued on February 17, 1864. The full faith and trust of the Confederate States of America backed this note. I’m sure this pledge gave solace to the note’s original recipient. Today, however, the bill is worthless as currency, holding value by historians and history buffs only. This note is void, despite the intentions and promises of the Confederate government.

History reveals that regimes come and go; political philosophies fail; nations rise and fall, their destinies not being in their hands. But with God, this is not so. Actually, He determines the times and seasons of nations and men.

And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings.
(Acts 17:26)

He sovereignly decrees all that comes to pass.

In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His Will.
(Ephesians 1:11)

He accomplishes His purposes.

. . . He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand . . .
(Daniel 4:35 )

His Word stands because of who He is. Therefore, unlike that Confederate note, God’s Word will never return void. It shall always retain its value, adequacy, clarity, power, and authority. It shall always accomplish the purpose for which He set it.

So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

(Isaiah 55:11)

How we ought to rejoice upon hearing such a pledge. Our covenant-keeping God has the ability and the will to fulfill His promises and keep His Word. This holds much more meaning than the pledges of men, governments, or nations. Indeed, God’s Word stands because of who He is—And you can take that to the bank.

--The Catechizer

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Monday, March 09, 2015

Living Worthy of the Gospel

. . . let your conduct be worthy of the Gospel of Christ.

Philippians 1:27

The Gospel is not about what we have done; it's about what Christ has done. The only thing you and I contribute is sin and hatred of God. Jesus did everything righteously required by God of men. He obeyed God's law, in total —perfectly! He also suffered the infinite and righteous wrath of God against sinners, satisfying the Father's Holy indignation. To that end, He dispatches preachers to proclaim His finished work (Romans 1:13-19, 10:6-17) and graciously works faith into the hearts of men (Philippians 1:29, Ephesians 2:1, 4-9, Philippians 2:13). All of this is His work "lest any man should boast."

When saved, the “work “done by us (e.g., faith and repentance) is in response to that which the Triune God has done. In other words, our positive response to the gospel proclamation was God’s doing and not ours! We responded positively because of His work, not the other way around.

Given this amazing work by God on our behalf, we are charged in this verse to live "as becometh" (KJV) "worthy of" (NKJV)" of the Gospel; and in so doing, even then we can do no more than profess that "we are unprofitable servants" having done that which was "our duty to do" (Luke 17:5-10). This is because, like our positive response to the gospel, our good works also stem from God’s glorious grace. The difference, however, is our “good” works contributed nothing to our salvation, but they do contribute to our being conformed to the image of Christ in sanctification.

Grace and more grace. Our life in Christ begins and ends with His work and His mercy. How then can we not strive to live thankfully and faithfully? How then can we not live “worthy of the Gospel of Christ”?

--The Deacon

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Sunday, March 08, 2015

Today in Church History: Gilbert Tennent

On March 8, 1740, Gilbert Tennent preached his fiery sermon, “The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry,” in Nottingham, Pa.

This leader of New Side Presbyterians decried opponents of revival in scathing terms. He argued that the antirevivalists proved they were unregenerate by their opposition to the Awakening. They were “wicked men,” “being greedy of filthy lucre,” were “guided by the devil,” and “their discourse was cold and sapless.” Tennent went on to add that if one did not receive spiritual nourishment from one’s church, one could “lawfully go, and that most frequently, where he gets the most good to his precious soul.”

New Side and Old Side Presbyterians would divide in 1741 over controversies related to confessional subscription, itinerancy, and theological education. In 1758 a more irenic Gilbert Tennent would be elected moderator of the reunited church, and he would eventually express regret over the rhetoric of his famous sermon.

John Muether


Saturday, March 07, 2015

Fathers, Instruct Your Children!

Being raised in an unbelieving home, I had no idea how to instruct my children in the faith. When my first child was born, I was attending a Pentecostal church. I was taught how to demand God do certain things for my daughter, and I was taught how to chase away those pesky demons, but I was never taught the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. So what was I to do except to book another trip to the next Benny Hinn crusade?

After six years of demon chasing, loud suits, and big hair, God providentially brought me out of Pentecostalism and into the Reformation. On my first Lord’s Day in the Reformed church I was awarded a Heidelberg Catechism. I devoured it! What a treasure I had found; not only for my own growth—learning to worship the right God rightly—but also for my children’s. Now I had a tool to instruct my children, a tool that has been tried and tested for 400 years.

What is a Catechism?

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 I use in my home is the Heidelberg Catechism. Completed by Zacharius Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus in 1563, the Heidelberg Catechism offers 192 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.

If you are raising children, or if you're just a Christian who wants to better understand his faith, I recommend a good catechism—it’s a tried and true method of learning the faith that has stood the test of time.

--The Catechizer


Thursday, March 05, 2015

Why Systematic Theology?

“[Systematic theology] is like the box top of a jigsaw puzzle, and every believer is a theologian in the sense of putting the pieces together. If we fail to recognize there is a box top (i.e., a unified whole) to Scripture, we will have only a pile of pieces.”

Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way

In the words of LeCrae Moore, "I was a drug baby...," meaning, my grandmothers drug me to church. I was raised in an environment that was purportedly Christian. It’s still murky to me as to how much of that was based in cultural norms rather than Biblical imperatives. As I got older my allegiance to the latter became more pronounced--it all seemed a proper exercise of my free will. Looking back, though, now that I’m older, wiser, and more Biblically informed, I understand that this was a sovereign work of God's Spirit.

Over time my hunger for good teaching grew, and so did my discontentment with my spiritual diet. I was dissatisfied with my ability to weave all of my theological beliefs into a cohesive whole. Unlike many who come to the Doctrines of Grace through the study of the Scriptures, it was this "study" itself which I pursued. "How do I study the Bible so I that can be convinced of the verity of the concepts taught therein?"; "How do I know what the concepts are?"; "How do I walk someone through my belief system from point A to point B to point C, etc."; "How does what I believe about God relate to what I believe about man?” And, “How does that relate to what I believe about atonement, forgiveness, sin, the Law, the Old Testament?,” and so on.

Without knowing the term, I was in pursuit of "systematic theology.” A number of years ago I was introduced to the Heidelberg Catechism and was struck by the way each question naturally flowed into the next. "What comfort do we have...?” “What knowledge is necessary to avail oneself of this comfort?” “From where do you know these things?” “What is required of us?” Is this possible?..." I knew shortly after discovering this treasure that I had found what I was looking for.

If you have a desire to improve your understanding of the Bible, then learning how to systematize Scripture’s teachings is a great place to start. The historical, orthodox creeds of the Church can help you do just that, as well as resources available from Logos Bible Software. Here are a few titles now available for download:

--The Deacon

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Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Good Works vs. Virtuous Acts

Paul declares in Romans 14:23 that “whatever is not from faith is sin.” Here’s the dilemma: An unbeliever sees a child drowning in the river. In response, he dives in and saves her. Was this a good act?

Consider Paul’s teaching regarding obedience to the civil government in the previous chapter:

1) Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.

2) Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.

3) For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.

4) For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.

5) Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.

Romans 13:1-5

Paul is teaching that “every soul” (not just believers) must subject himself to “governing authorities.” We find here, and in other portions of Scripture, that obeying legitimate authority is a moral good—even for the unbeliever. But what are we to make of this in light of Paul’s comments in the next chapter regarding faithless acts?

Behind the Act

When considering this dilemma, I find helpful a distinction that many Christian ethicists make—distinguishing a “good” act from a “virtuous” act. The unbeliever saving the drowning child is a “good” act, but not a “virtuous” act. For an act to be virtuous, the person committing the act must be doing so with the right goal in mind, with the right motive, and according to the right standard.

The right goal

The act must be done to God’s glory.

Q. What is the chief end of man?

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

Westminster Shorter Catechism (1642-1647)

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

1 Cor. 10:31

And it must be done in service to the Lord.

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

Col. 3:23

The Right Motive

The act must be done in true faith.

Q. What is true faith?

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

Heidelberg Catechism (1563)

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

Rom. 14:23

And it must be done in love.

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

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

1 Cor. 13:2-3

The Right Standard

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

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

Rom. 7:7


Saving the life of the drowning child is a “good” act. This does not mean, however, that the person committing the act is good—the quality of “goodness” applies to the act not the person. If, however, the act is committed with the right goal in mind, with the right motive, and according to the right standard, then it would be appropriate to call it “virtuous,” i.e., both the act and what’s behind the act are good.

--The Catechizer


Monday, March 02, 2015

What Makes Heaven Heaven?

When I was a Pentecostal, my understanding of heaven was shaped by those who had claimed to have visited, such as Roberts Liardon in his book I Saw Heaven. His book reads like a child’s visit to Disneyland, with magical creatures (". . . it seemed as if they were talking among themselves"), water fights with Jesus in the River of Life ("He dunked me! I got back up and splashed Him, and we had a water fight"), and our own personal mansions filled with gadgets too advanced for earth ("I sat down on a black velvet couch - it was alive - and comfort just reached up and cuddled me").

According to Liardon, heaven is a place where the Trinity has an office ("Sometimes when the Trinity are inside having conferences in the back . . ."), where there's a warehouse of unclaimed miracles ("On one side of the building were arms, fingers, and other exterior parts of the body"), and where there’s a Pentecostal-style worship service where-in Jesus is but a spectator ("Jesus and I were met by two angels who escorted us down to the second row, were two seats were reserved for us"). Indeed, like the rest of Pentecostalism, heaven is man-centered, and Christ is but an appendage.

Christ: The Glory of Heaven

To the contrary of Mr. Liardon’s “vision,” heaven isn’t a place dedicated to our pleasures and comfort, where Christ is a mere means to an end. Instead, it’s all about Christ and His glory--He is the center of all things, and worshiping and serving Him is our chief end (Rev. 5:9–14). This will be our privilege for all eternity.

Heaven is heaven because Christ is there, and He is there in the same glory that caused the apostle John to fall to the ground as dead (Rev. 1:17). Not a buddy to play with, but a king with a “name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9–11).

Dwight L. Moody once told the story of a girl whose mother became very ill. Neighbors took the girl in while her mother struggled with the affliction. After a time, however, the mother died. The neighbors didn’t know how to break the news to the girl, so they kept it from her. After the funeral was over, they returned the girl to her home. From room-to-room the girl ran looking for her mother until she finally asked, “Where is my momma?” After learning that her mother was gone, the little girl asked to go back to the neighbors’ home, for her own home had no further attraction without her mother. Moody concluded, “No, it is not the jasper walls and the pearly gates that are going to make heaven attractive. It is the being with God.”

--The Catechizer

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Sunday, March 01, 2015

Limited vs. Unlimited Atonement

Part of my flight from Pentecostalism was the realization that, although a Christian for six years, I was completely ignorant of the Bible’s teaching. I could proof-text with the best of them, but ask me to exegete a portion of Scripture and I would look at you with a quizzical, “no habla ingles” look on my face. So off I went to a Calvary Chapel fellowship where I heard that they taught the Bible verse by verse.

It was at this fellowship that I first discovered Calvinism, despite the pastor’s efforts to stomp it out. The founder of this non-denomination denomination, Chuck Smith, penned a booklet on Calvinism and Arminianism. In it he claimed that they were “a river flowing between two banks,” neither Arminian nor Calvinist. The booklet basically espoused a four-point view. The “point” of contention for them, of course, was Limited Atonement. But once it fell, so did the other four, leaving them with an unstated Arminianism.

John Hendryx of Monergism.com understands the “L” debate all too well and has shed some light on this subject in an article titled, Did Christ Die for all Men or Only His elect? Here’s an excerpt:

It is not quite apparent to me why the text of John 3:16 should be an argument against limited atonement. The passage does not say Jesus died for everyone, but only that the Father gave his Son for ALL THOSE WHO WOULD BELIEVE. It says, "WHOEVER BELIEVES in HIM shall not perish but have eternal life." Right? Don't we all believe this? That is why the consistent biblical Calvinists, when presenting the gospel to unbelievers, simply teach that Christ died for "all who would believe", which is actually closer to the meaning of this text than the erroneous position that He died for all in a general kind of way, and yet for no individual in particular. Instead, we believe that the benefits of the atonement will apply only to who will be believers, so he did not die for any person who would remain steadfast in their unbelief. So I would argue that John 3:16 actually supports the definite atonement position better than the indefinite position. They are reading into the text that Christ's death only potentially will save someone if they believe without the help and grace of the cross to do so. So in actuality, Christ died for no one in particular this scheme. His affection was only cast forth in a general impersonal kind of way rather then actually coming for His people who He set his affection on from eternity.

In fact, this teaching comes full circle and devastates all of the other doctrines of grace. Although claiming to believe in Total Depravity, the teaching of the so-called four-point Calvinists is really that man still has the moral ability to turn to God on his own without regenerating grace (a grace purchased on the cross) effectively destroying total depravity, even though the Bible plainly teaches that no one seeks God unless first born again (1 John 5:1; John 6:37, 39, 44, 63-65; Rom 3:11. 1 Cor 2:14, John 1:13; John 3). That is to say, natural fallen man has the ability and desire (in some cases) to believe in Christ without regenerating grace. It is teaching a "conditional" election since it depends completely on God's foreknowledge of whether or not we will have faith, even though the Bible plainly teaches that election is not conditioned on something God sees in us and that faith is a divine gift (Eph 2:5-8). So in effect WE end up choosing God with our autonomous free will in this scheme, not the other way around. Those who deny limited atonement are also surreptitiously semi-pelagian in all the other doctrines of grace as well. Salvation becomes the work of man, rather than a monergistic divine work of grace. Some may argue that God's grace works together with man, but the problem with this is that it still leaves the final decision for salvation in the hands of man. Faith, apart from Christ's work on the cross, precedes saving grace in this view, contrary to everything the Bible teaches (ROM 9:16; John 1:13). God's grace would take us part of the way to salvation leaving man's will to make the final decision. So, according to those who claim that the atonement is unlimited (indefinite) there is no divine election in the final analysis, but only humans electing God even though we all know that it is God that chooses us (John 15:16).

You can read the entire article here.

--The Catechizer

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