Monday, February 27, 2006

God's Sovereignty

Taken from a longer post over at Random Responses, this is one of the best and most insightful quotes I have ever read on man's hostility to God's sovereignty. Horatius Bonar, noted preacher and hymn-writer, and brother of Andrew Bonar, was a man of notable godliness and influence in his native Scotland, and remains so today.

"Man's dislike at God's sovereignty arises from his suspicion of God's heart. And yet the men in our day, who deny this absolute sovereignty, are the very men who profess to rejoice in the love of God, - who speak of that love as if there were nothing else in God but love. The more I understand of the character of God, as revealed in Scripture, the more shall I see that He must be sovereign, and the more shall I rejoice from my inmost heart that He is so."

- Horatius Bonar (1808-1889)

A Ministry of Light

Despite the darkness of his personal experience, the spiritual darkness of the world, and the blindness of men, Paul does not lose heart, but shines the light of the gospel into the world by renouncing shameful things and preaching the Word plainly and effectively. A sermon preached at Fairfield Reformed Church, February 26, 2006.

Friday, February 24, 2006

South Dakota Stands for Life

On Wednesday, the State Senate of South Dakota passed a bill that would outlaw abortion in all cases except to save the life of the mother. The State House is expected to pass the bill, whereupon it will go to Republican governor Michael Rounds for signature. It is hoped that the bill will become law and go into effect July 1. Doctors who perform abortions will be subject to up to five years in prison. The only uncertainty here is whether or not Gov. Rounds has the courage of his convictions (he vetoed similar legislation two years ago). I urge all to be in fervent prayer that Gov. Rounds chooses the lives of his smallest constituents over political expediency. There will be great pressure placed on him by pro-death groups, which advocate "choice" for women, but death for children.

This will no doubt come as a disappointment to people like Anne Lamott, who likened early stage fetuses to "sea-monkeys" (i.e., brine shrimp). With the appointment of Judge Alito, perhaps we may dare to hope for the dismantling of Roe v. Wade, and an end to the thirty-year long sacrifices to Moloch. Jesus loves the little children...alive.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Anne Lamott and Redemptive Abortion

The writer Anne Lamott, supposedly a Christian and an evangelical, and who spoke at last year's RCA Women's Triennial, recently participated in a forum on abortion, the substance of which appeared in her own editorial in the L.A. Times (I originally read about this on Dr. Mohler's blog).

"I announced that I needed to speak out on behalf of the many women present in the crowd, including myself, who had had abortions, and the women whose daughters might need one in the not-too-distant future -- people who must know that teenage girls will have abortions, whether in clinics or dirty backrooms. Women whose lives had been righted and redeemed by Roe vs. Wade. My answer was met with some applause but mostly a shocked silence. More: And somehow, as I was answering, I got louder and maybe even more emphatic than I actually felt, and said it was not a morally ambiguous issue for me at all. I said that fetuses are not babies yet; that there was actually a real difference between pro-abortion people, like me, and Klaus Barbie. Then I said that a woman's right to choose was nobody else's god**** business. This got their attention. A cloud of misery fell over the room, and the stage. Finally, Jim said something unifying enough for us to proceed -- that liberals must not treat people with opposing opinions on abortion with contempt and exclusion, partly because it's tough material, and partly because it is so critical that we win these next big elections. Finally: But as a Christian and a feminist, the most important message I can carry and fight for is the sacredness of each human life, and reproductive rights for all women is a crucial part of that: It is a moral necessity that we not be forced to bring children into the world for whom we cannot be responsible and adoring and present. We must not inflict life on children who will be resented; we must not inflict unwanted children on society. During the reception, an old woman came up to me, and said, "If you hadn't spoken out, I would have spit," and then she raised her fist in the power salute. We huddled together for awhile, and ate M&Ms to give us strength. It was a kind of communion, for those of us who still believe that civil rights and equality and even common sense will somehow be sovereign, some day."

The phrase that got me was,"Women whose lives were righted and redeemed by Roe V. Wade." Redemptive abortion? Is she kidding? Her self-conception as a sacred person demands the right to murder unborn children. That is simply astounding. Is the fetus "righted and redeemed?" Is society righted by wholesale slaughter of innocents? Then there is the phrase, "a woman's right to choose was nobody else's god**** business." Oh really. It's not God's business? It's not the childs? This perfectly captures the contemporary narcissism which pervades our culture and seeps like poison into the church.

I read one of Anne Lamott's novels, Blue Shoe. It was not memorable. It was messy and morally ambiguous and with a patina of liberal Christianity coating its pages. No wonder confusion abounds when such people are celebrated and feted in the churches, as "a cloud of misery falls over" the pews.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Move Over Men

More silliness from the WCC.

The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Dr. Samuel Kobia, has called for men to "move over" and allow women to assume roles of leadership in the church. He managed to combine this with his typical far-left political agenda, and even commended eco-feminism as beneficial (will that mean the worship of Gaia will be included in the next assembly?). According to the website Ekklesia, "the WCC general secretary warned that men in leadership positions would not give up their power easily. Therefore, women should continue to struggle for social transformation, he declared."

His comments were mainly aimed at churches which are experiencing explosive growth, such as in sub-Saharan Africa, where women are prevented from holding church office. This comment by Kobia is another example of how the WCC seeks to undermine biblical Christianity. Over the past five years, liberals within the RCA have sought to remove the "conscience clauses" which permit conservatives to object to (but not obstruct) the ordination of women. Their removal would effectively prevent a person from upholding a clearly taught doctrine of Scripture.

Male leadership in the church is not an issue of patriarchy, nor is it one of social justice or equal rights. It is a matter of fidelity to the Bible, and to the structure of the church established by Jesus Christ. The Bible obviously has little authority in the WCC, but let us pray it retains its place in what is left of the Reformed Church in America.

Ready, Willing, & Able

Who comes to Jesus? How do they come? What happens when they come? A sermon preached at the Fairfield Reformed Church on February 19, 2006.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Scripture and Sexual Orientation

One of the substantive arguments used by those who desire full inclusion of homosexuals into the life of the church, is that the Bible knows nothing of sexual orientation, and therefore, its condemnations do not fall upon those who are "naturally" gay. In other words, Paul's declaration of judgment upon homosexual activity in Romans 1 is really against those who act contrary to their nature, and not against a person whose "orientation" (or nature) is homosexual.

I first heard this interpretation as a seminary student in the late 1980s, and rejected it out of hand as being an obvious case of isogetical special pleading. As our denomination has pledged itself to dialogue, I gave this argument another look, and read more nuanced and sophisticated versions of what I had learned from my New Testament professor back in seminary. Nonetheless, my convictions remain what they were in 1989, in fact they have become stronger in the face of a more aggressive agenda in our midst.

There are two problems with asserting that the Bible knows nothing of sexual orientation (or sexual identity). The first is theological, and the second is exegetical.

1. As Robert W. Jenson has noted in Vol. 2 of his Systematic Theology (p.91ff.), if the Bible knows nothing of sexual identity or orientation, then it can say nothing to us about sexuality at all, and further, it can say nothing to us about anything. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete thoroughly equipped for every good work." That is, Scripture is sufficient, and is not lacking in the equipping of the saints. If the Bible knows nothing about orientation, then it is not God's Word, it is not theopneustos, and we are left with what Jenson describes as chaos in the church. Thankfully, the Bible does know about sexual identity, and it is spoken of positively in Genesis 2 and Matthew 19:4-6, as the attraction between a man and a woman. All other attractions are not orientations, but sinful deviations from man's nature resulting from the fall. Thus, there is no such thing as "homosexuality," only homosex or homo-eroticism (as Gagnon, Jenson and others have pointed out). There is according to the Holy Spirit, sexuality, and then there are sinful sexual practices which violate our nature as created by God.

2. Exegetically, pro-gay advocates impose upon the New Testament text, a peculiar definition of "orientation," one which contradicts the Bible's understanding of human nature and sexuality. In Romans 1:26, Paul uses the word phusin, which is typically translated "nature." It refers to that fixed state of being created and ordained by God. In this passage, Paul is clearly asserting that because of unbelief, God "gave them over" to homosexual behavior which is contrary to nature. There must be one God-ordained human nature, otherwise God would have no just standard against which to judge and condemn sexual sins.

"Orientation" is a very recent concept, with no scientific or sociologically accepted content. The word "orientation" is used by those arguing for full inclusion because it sounds scientific. This word is used as a substitute for "nature" (phusin), and puts forward the idea that human sexual nature is not static, but fluid. There is, however, no scientific data available establishing that a homosexual orientation even exists. Therefore, to say that Bible knows nothing of this modern understanding of sexuality is to ask the Bible to give its approbation to something unproven, and quite likely fallacious. One cannot dismiss the Bible because it has nothing to say about something which does not exist. This is an exegetical form of "bait and switch," and while clever, in the ends violates the doctrines of the perspicuity and authority of Scripture. If we follow the inclusionist exegesis, we will have a Bible which is at best an archaic wisdom-source to be used warily, and at worst, a disposable source of oppression. Jenson's warning about chaos is pertinent here. Apart from the Word, rightly interpreted, everyone will do what is right in their own eyes. Such a state is called anarchy.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Without Excuse

This image, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, is of the galaxy NGC-1309. It is so stunningly beautiful in its "fearful symmetry," that it called to mind two verses of Scripture.

Psalm 19, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork."

Romans 1:20, "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse..."

In other words, if you want proof for God's existence, look up and behold His handiwork. To say that such order, beauty, and majesty is a product of random chance, is an article of faith so absurd as to render belief in God a rational, reasonable response to what impacts our senses. But hey, that's just me....

(image HT: Tom's Astronomy Blog)

Friday, February 10, 2006

My Sojourn in Nazareth

In John 1:46, the Apostle Philip says to Nathanael, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" In Israel, it was our Savior who constituted the good, but in Nazareth, Pennsylvania a lot of good comes out of the work done by the 700 craftsmen who labor to produce 285 guitars each day at the C.F. Martin Guitar Factory, which I visited yesterday, much to my delight.

I wanted to be a guitarist since I was a toddler, and I've owned a number of instruments over the years, from a 1961 Gibson Melody Maker, a 1970's Fender Stratocaster, to a Cordoba CWES. But nothing has made happier than owning a Martin (I currently own a DM12), and getting a chance to see how they are made was too good to pass up. My wife Deb took a few "snaps" (as my British friends say) of our trip.

Attached to the factory is a welcoming center, which was built only recently, and has a gift shop, a wonderful museum, and best of all, guitars hanging from the walls which you can play as long as you like. There is a sound room where some of the more expensive models can be played, some of which cost up to $35,000. In the museum are guitars which cost up to $100,000. The most interesting are the very earliest models, which are all quite small. They are sometimes called "parlor" guitars, as they were used for home entertainment.

Here is a picture of me playing a lovely 000-16SGT. It's perfectly suited for small folk like me, as it has a 12-fret neck, slope-shouldered body, and concert-style shape. I do love the old-fashioned slotted headstock.

The real moment of joy came when I was able to play an OM-21, which felt so perfect in my hands that I became verklempt. I decided at that moment that I would begin saving for this guitar - the very one I am pointing to with such glee.

The factory tour itself was interesting in that it combined the modern and the ancient. Robots polished some of the finish, while master craftsmen were hunched over strips of abalone shell inlays, making meticulous cuts with small knives. It was a wonderful day, and if you are a music lover, guitarist, or just enjoy craftmenship, I highly recommend a sojourn in Nazareth (PA).

Monday, February 06, 2006

God Exalted and Yet Near

A communion Sunday sermon preached on February 5, 2006, at the Fairfield Reformed Church.

The Bible's portrait of God is perfectly balanced depicting His transcendence and imminence.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Pieter Saenredam (1597-1665)

Rembrandt, Vermer, Ruisdael - all famous names associated with the Golden Age of Dutch painting in the 17th century. But are you aware of Pieter Saenredam? Probably not, unless you are an art historian. And yet his paintings, mostly of near-empty churches are so deeply moving they deserve a wider audience. What separated Saenredam from his more famous colleagues was that he painted with a theological purpose. His architecturally precise drawings and paintings (which are so accurate they can be used as historical records), document the "stripping of the altars," the removal from the church of all Roman Catholic symbolism, statuary, and ecclesiastical furnishings. What is left is the pure space of white walls, gothic arches, and the dominie (pastor) preaching from the pulpit.

To the left is the interior of the Protestant church of St. Odulphus in Assendelft (1649), which hangs in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Click on it see a larger view of the painting. One can clearly see the preacher proclaiming the gospel from the pulpit.

Born in Assendelft, he trained and lived most of his life in Harlem. Note the meticulous beauty and immensity of space conveyed in his painting of St Bravo's church in Harlem.

The graven image has been removed in faithfulness to the Second Commandment. As the Heidelberg Catechism says in Lord's Day 35, "But may not images be tolerated in the churches, as books to the laity? No: for we must not pretend to be wiser than God, who will have his people taught, not by dumb images, but by the lively preaching of His word" (Q. 98).

Saenredam teaches us that there is beauty and grace in simplicity, and his spiritual temper is the opposite of the Baroque or Rococo. It is a spirit that has marked the Reformed churches since their inception, and which we surrender at our peril. For Saenredam and our Calvinist forebears understood that safest path to tread is to glorify God, and adorn His churches with the Word.

Interior of the Buurkerk in Utrecht, 1644.

Friday, February 03, 2006

What Does 'Self-Righteous' Mean?

In Garry Wills obsequious review of Jimmy Carter's latest book on faith (New York Review of Books, Feb. 9th), the reviewer used the word "self-righteous" no fewer than five times to describe fundamentalists or conservative Christians (he makes no distinctions). It seems that "self-righteous" has become a weapon-word used by religious liberals to vilify conservatives. The problem is, they never get around to defining what self-righteous actually means. One suspects they mean to say that a fundamentalist/evangelical/conservative (take your pick) is so sure of himself that he comes across as arrogant or "holier than thou." In other words, we have the truth, you are a heretic, and need to be silenced, sent home, excommunicated (which is the best we can do these days, since burning at the stake is verboten). This caricature of a conservative serves as a useful straw man, but is it accurate?

I have met only a few self-righteous people. Some have been evangelicals, but most, however, have been liberals engaged in calling me a Nazi, a hypocrite, or some other lovely epithet, for having the audacity to defend a biblical or orthodox position.

This compound word "self-righteous" annoys me, though. Anyone with any knowledge or devotion to Christ would know that we are not righteous, but miserable sinners saved by grace alone. Adding the prefix "self" to this makes it even more offensive. It gives the appearance of having earned some merit badge of holiness, which offends against the Holy Spirit, without whose presence our sanctification would be nil. So the word "self-righteous" is itself a description of heresy - a sin.

It is not self-righteous to defend the gospel truth. It is not self-righteous to uphold evangelical or conservative principles. It is instead offensive, in this age of relativism and pluralism to say, "Here I stand. God help me, I can do no other." So when Garry Wills repetitiously describes conservative evangelicals as "self-righteous," he is really criticizing them for having convictions - convictions he opposes and finds odious.

Some of the finest Christians I know have rock solid convictions, but are not self-righteous. They are in fact the humblest people I know. Men like Maurice Roberts, Geoff Thomas, Sinclair Ferguson, and countless others who have mentored me in the faith. They knew the depths of their sinfulness, and wept over their sins with real tears, and yet they stood (and stand) like granite sentinels against heresy and downgrade.

"Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you" (I Timothy 3:16).

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

False Assurance

One of the blogs I regularly read is from the Christian musician Steve Camp. I've never heard his music, but he is thoroughly Reformed in his theology, and fills his posts with quotes from the Puritans, Spurgeon, and more recent Calvinist worthies. He also looks like a real nice fellow. In a recent post he includes A.W. Pink's list of seven marks of a true Christian. It is a helpful and penetrating description which should leave you feeling unsettled, and desirous of deep, confessional prayer. Here is Pink's list. By his photo you can tell he was a serious guy.

First by the Word of God having come in divine power to the soul so that my self-complacency is shattered and my self-righteousness is renounced.

Second, by the Holy Spirit convicting me of my woeful, guilty and lost condition.

Third, by having had revealed to me the suitability and sufficiency of Christ to meet my desperate case and by divinely given faith causing me to lay hold of and rest upon Him as my only hope.

Fourth, by the marks of the new nature within me - a love for God; an appetite for spiritual things; a longing for holiness; a seeking after conformity to Christ.

Fifth, by the resistance the new nature makes to the old, causing me to hate sin and loathe myself for it.

Sixth, by avoiding everything which is condemned by God's Word and by sincerely repenting of and humbly confessing every transgression. Failure at this point will surely bring a dark cloud over our assurance causing the Spirit to withhold His witness.

Seventh, by giving all diligence to cultivate the Christian graces, and using all diligence to this end. Scripture encourages healthy self-scrutiny.

The danger of false assurance, which is the belief that you are a true Christian when in fact you are not, is so deadly and so prevalent that it ought to be more regularly addressed in the church. It is not meant to frighten God's people, or promote an unhealthy self-absorption, but serves as a self-diagnosis of one's spiritual condition. As Peter wrote, "Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble" (2 Peter 1:10).