Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ponter vs. The Westminster Confession of Faith

Ponter writes:
One could say, “But such and such later Reformed confession or theologian denies this theology.” To that we would say, “So what? How does citing a man or confession a century or more later, disprove the historical truth that earlier Reformation theologians held to unlimited expiation and redemption? It doesn’t. In terms of proper historical investigation, citing sources from a century later is irrelevant. Such a strategy is just smoke and mirrors.”
(source) Leaving aside Mr. Ponter's erroneous interpretation of the works of the early reformers for a moment, this is the sort of concession that I knew would have to come from Ponter eventually. As I had pointed out in an earlier post, Ponter's hypothesis requires one to imagine that Calvin held not simply to an infralapsarian Calvinistic position, but to a full-blown Amyraldian position: one that contradicts all the major Reformed confessions and which consequently is properly placed outside the bounds of "Reformed" theology, whether or not it was held by earlier theologians.
Ponter's admission may come as a bit of a surprise to some of his supporters, such as those in the PCA, who do not realize that Ponter's agenda is aimed at placing the Reformers in conflict with the confessions.
Of course, this sort of deflection with respect pre-WCF reformers doesn't extend past the 17th century. Even a very deceitful person cannot reasonably hope to fool many people into thinking that Charles Hodge taught universal redemption, contrary to the WCF, for example.
And, as has already been pointed out, quoting loosely worded statements by Reformers from before the Arminian controversy is a recipe for confusion, just as it would be improper to try read the "New Perspective on Paul" controversy back onto Calvin and his contemporaries, it is likewise improper to try to read the Arminian/Amyraldian controversies back into the minds of the pre-controversy Reformers.
There are some quotations, and Ponter's post provides two examples, that taken out of their historical context and placed into ours sound very Arminian or Amyraldian. Ponter's argument seems to be: "no one made a fuss about these comments at that time, so when Amyraldians make such arguments today, everyone should just accept them as part of the 'Reformed' perspective." Such an argument is the result of shielding one's eyes from the value that the Arminian/Amyraldian controversy had in developing and working out clearly the Scriptural doctrine of the Atonement. The debates with Romanists for the most part focused elsewhere.
Ponter's apparent underlying strategy is to amass as many decontextualized quotations as possible from early Reformers, and then argue that despite the Scriptural resolution of the Arminian/Amyraldian controversies (in favor of TULIP, which Ponter so loathes), such positions (the positions contrary to the Reformed confessions) should still be viewed Reformed.

The real Turretin on: The Faith That Saves

Richard Smith at the Spurgeon Blog has provided another delightful post on the topic of sola fide and what is meant by that term in Reformation theology (link). This is a very important topic, and an area that differentiates Reformed theology not only from Romanism and Socinianism but also from much of modern Arminianism, which reduces faith to a work. Naturally, a centerpiece in the post is a quotation from the real Francis Turretin.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Response to Alexander Greco on Sola Scriptura

Previously, I wrote against some comments made by Mr. Bellisario (link to my post) regarding Eric Svendsen's book, "Upon this Slippery Rock." Mr. Alexander Greco has decided to respond as follows:
It seems to be the case that you would like to have your cake and eat it too.

On the one hand you proclaim "Sola Scriptura," the Bible alone is the sole rule of faith.

On the other hand you have the audacity to tell me (and numerous other christians dating back to the founding of the Church) that our beliefs are wrong, that our Liturgies are wrong. You tell us that they are wrong according to how you (and in reality it is your instructor, who ever that may be...Svendsen, etc.) interpret the Gospel. However, you quickly add the caveat that you are not infallible; but never mind that, we should take your proclamation to be infallible because even with history on our side you have the superior fallible interpretation. How the early Christians practiced their faith is of no relevance to your "Sola Scriptura."

AG's analogy, "It seems to be the case that you would like to have your cake and eat it too," is inapt. It's not applicable to the case at hand. A better analogy here would be "have your orange and eat your apples," for Mr. Greco is comparing not cake to cake but apples to oranges.

AG states, "On the one hand you proclaim "Sola Scriptura," the Bible alone is the sole rule of faith." AG has left out, however, the term "infallible." Scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith. But perhaps this omission is not critical to this particular discussion.

Continuing on, AG states, "On the other hand you have the audacity to tell me ... that [my] beliefs are wrong ... ." There is obviously more to his comment, but this seems to be the key point of his objection. In AG's mind, if one holds to Sola Scriptura, then one cannot tell other people that their beliefs are wrong. This is an incredibly enormous logical misstep. Not only does AG's supposition not follow - it is directly contradicted.

The fact that Scripture is a rule of faith provides a way by which doctrines can be measured. It provides the umpire to settle our arguments. If we disagree over whether Christ died or rose from the dead, we can turn to Scripture and see the answer there. The side who agrees with Scripture teaches the truth.

Where then could AG's non-sequitur accusation come from? I cannot say for sure - logical fallacies sometimes have a way of creeping up on people. I suspect, however, that there is a chance that it has come from AG being overexposed to papist propaganda suggesting that to believe Sola Scriptura is to accept relativism.

Usually the way we see this done is more subtly (such as by pointing out a large number of denominations and then groundlessly blaming this on the standard of Sola Scriptura) but sometimes it is done quite explicitly, even to the point of point an equals sign between Sola Scriptura and relativism.

Of course, all this is absurd: everyone should realize that if one has a standard of absolute truth and that standard is external to oneself, then one is not a relativist. Sola Scripture is a standard of absolute truth and it is external to us. Therefore, those of us who practice Sola Scriptura are plainly not relativists.

And, of course, it is precisely because we recognize that Scripture is the touchstone and metric of doctrinal truth that we can judge whether a church preaches the gospel. If we did not have Scripture as a measuring stick, we'd be left floating in the breeze. Scripture provides an anchor and reference point.

Now, let's deal with a few other of AG's points: "and numerous other christians dating back to the founding of the Church ... ." The label "christian," here is not helpful. If a person claims to be a Christian, but refuses to heed the Word of God, what good is that sort of profession? And the "back to the founding" part of the claim is just absurd. Some of my biggest objections to Catholicism stem, as AG surely knows, from innovations that occurred in history - such as the innovation of papal infallibility, the bodily assumption of Mary, Purgatory, Idolatry, attempted communication with the dead, and Indulgences. Historically, AG doesn't have a leg to stand on.

But furthermore, Paul himself stood up to Christians in his own day - he even opposed a fellow apostle, Peter, to his face. Christians can be wrong, and Christians can and should help to correct each other's errors. Scripture says so.

AG adds that we also tell him that "our liturgies" are wrong. This should be no surprise. The liturgies of Catholicism (and other supposedly ancient religions) have evolved over time. The Roman liturgies ("Latin" rite) are especially famous for the dramatic changes we saw in the Vatican II era - but the others have developed as well. It's not surprising to see them incorporating more or less error over the years, especially in a church that refuses to reform its own teachings to the norm of Scripture.

AG declares, "You tell us that they are wrong according to how you (and in reality it is your instructor, who ever that may be...Svendsen, etc.) interpret the Gospel." This sort of comment is symmetrically reflexive and infinitely regressive. If AG's point is valid, then it is also valid to say that AG tells us that we are wrong according to how he (and in reality it is his instructor, who ever that may be ... Dave Armstrong, etc.) interprets Catholicism's standards. But AG's point is not valid.

We tell him that these things are wrong according to what Scripture says. Scripture, not our interpretation of it, is the standard. We acknowledge the fallibility of our own interpretations, and subject them to the higher authority of Scripture. It's puzzling to me why this concept is so hard for advocates of Catholicism to get.

Don't they know that the law of the land - the thing that determines whether they are committing a crime or not - is not someone's interpretation of the law, but the law itself? In practice, people do have to interpret the law. A judge may have to noodle over the issue of what the law has to say about something, but ultimately it is the law, not the judge, that is the standard. The judge doesn't make his own law: he interprets the law.

The same goes when Christians follow Scripture's commands that require them to be judges of doctrine. Such obedience doesn't require them to become laws unto themselves, but rather to interpret the law of God given in the Word of God.

But AG doesn't stop there. He continues, "However, you quickly add the caveat that you are not infallible; but never mind that, we should take your proclamation to be infallible because even with history on our side you have the superior fallible interpretation." This is just intentional ignorance. How one can add, "But never mind that," knowing that isn't what we say, is simply mind boggling.

Furthermore, of course, history is not on AG's side. As noted above, upon historical examination, numerous central distinctives of Catholicism turn out to be innovations: neither believed nor practiced by the apostles or the earliest churches. History is not the friend of a church that promotes papal infallibility and transubstantiation.

AG concludes, "How the early Christians practiced their faith is of no relevance to your 'Sola Scriptura.'" This is a bit misleading. It is, of course, true that no matter what, Scripture is the norm - not what early Christians did. We know from the book of Revelation that not all the early Christians did what was right.

On the other hand, what the early Christians did is still of interest. Although Scripture is the rule of faith (i.e. the sole infallible authority), the teachings of previous Christians, whether living or passed on, are of value and are not simply to be ignored. That doesn't mean that we automatically accept everything attributed to an early Christian, but it does mean that we read what they wrote, and try to learn from it - all the while comparing it to Scripture - as they would have wanted, as we see in many cases.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

There is One Mediator and Only One Mediator

In a recent blog post (link), Dave Armstrong (a lay advocate of Catholicism) has made the remarkable argument that "there is one mediator" in 1 Timothy 2:5 does not rule out what Dave calls "mini-mediators." Dave doesn't comment on whether "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD," rules out mini-Jehovahs or whether "One Lord, one faith, one baptism, " rules out mini-Lords, mini-faiths, and mini-baptisms.

Naturally, he also doesn't comment on whether "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble," rules out mini-Gods. I suppose that he might be excused from these oversights with respect to other uses of "one" in Scripture except that the verse in question does not say only "there is one mediator" but also "there is one God" - in fact the quotation, "There is one mediator," requires one to omit "One God, and" in the usual translation of the text:

1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

Dave also doesn't comment on the fact that the term "mediator" is only ever used of Jesus in the New Testament (see post-script below for more discussion on this). That's true whether we speak of the English word for mediator in KJV, the Latin word for mediator in the Vulgate, or the Greek word for mediator in the original. Instead of dealing with these troubling details, Dave waves his hand and claims that Scriptures teach the concept of mini-mediators. Of course, it doesn't take a genius to guess that Dave cannot find the term "mini-mediator" in Scripture either. Instead, he declares that:

1) When Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 9:22 of "by all means sav[ing] some" - that means Paul is a "mini-mediator";

2) When Paul speaks in 1 Timothy 4:16 of "sav[ing] both yourself and your hearers" - that means Timothy is going to be a "mini-mediator";

3) When Paul speaks in Philippians 2:12-13 of "work[ing] out your own salvation" - that means the Philippians are going to be "mini-mediators";

4) When Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians 4:15 of "all things [being] for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God" - that means that Paul is a "mini-mediator";

5) When Paul speaks in Ephesians 3:2 of "the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward" - that means Paul is a "mini-mediator";

6) When Paul speaks in Ephesians 4:29 of the words from the Ephesians mouths "minister[ing] grace unto the hearers" - that means the Ephesians will be "mini-mediators";

7) When Peter speaks in 1 Peter 4:8-10 of "good stewards of the manifold grace of God" - that means that the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia are going to be "mini-mediators";

8) When John speaks in Revelation 1:4-5 of "the seven spirits who are before his throne" - that means that angels are going to be "mini-mediators";

9) Whenever Paul or anyone else uses the phrase "grace to you" or the like - that means that the person using the phrase is acting as a "mini-mediator."

There a number of significant problems with Dave's methodology. For one thing, Dave more or less simply assumes in each case that the activity involved is somehow a "mini" form of what Christ does as mediator. Another problem is that in order for Dave's overall argument to work, Dave essentially has to reduce Jesus' mediatorial role to that of being a grace conduit, with God (the Father) being the source and believers (or all men - one is not really sure whether Dave applies a "prevenient grace" concept here) being the recipients. There are other problems to be sure. For example, the idea that the "seven spirits who are before [God's] throne" are consequently to be implicated in mediation is particularly far-fetched. But the two I've identified above may be viewed as the primary problems.

What is the cause of Dave's problems in this regard? Dave simply doesn't seem to understand the role of the mediator. The mediator is not simply a grace conduit. The mediator is the person who reconciles two. As Scripture says,

Galatians 3:20 Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.

The mediator stands between two parties and reconciles them together. Thus, for example, the LXX uses this same word for mediator in Job 9:33, where the text says:

Job 9:33 Neither is there any daysman betwixt us, [that] might lay his hand upon us both. (KJV)

Job 9:33 "There is no umpire between us, Who may lay his hand upon us both. (NASB)

Jesus is that one person who reconciles God and man. Jesus does that job and does it completely, leaving no room for a "mini-mediator." Part of that role, moreover, is the role of being the sole object of faith. That's how Galatians connects Jesus' role as mediator to the relation between God and man:

Galatians 3:26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.

It is by faith in the mediator that we obtain the blessing. There is no mention in Scripture of salvation by faith in any lesser or "mini" mediator - but only by faith in Christ. There is no salvation by faith in the church, in the saints, or in Mary: there is only one mediator: Jesus Christ. The same point is being made in 1 Timothy 2, in which what is well pleasing to God is that men believe on his son - the one mediator between God and man.

But an even stronger point is made in the Epistle to the Hebrews. In chapter 8, Christ is portrayed as performing the mediatorial role by serving as the high priest of the "better covenant" - by which it is meant that he is the one who offers up the sacrifice to God. After all, it is the sacrifice that reconciles us to God. Hebrews 12 makes the same connection, but more loosely.

It is, however, in Hebrews 9 that we find the clear exposition of what it means for Christ to be the mediator:

Hebrews 9:15 And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.

Christ's role as mediator is a priestly role. He is the sacrifice to satisfy divine justice and he is the priest that offers the sacrifice. He is the Lamb and the one who offers the Lamb. He offers it specifically for "they which are called," and do so that they will receive the promise of heaven. Christ mediates the new covenant. He is the one mediator of it.

Paul explicitly disclaims any such role:

1 Corinthians 1:13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?

Furthermore, though he Paul would like to take on such a role, he implicitly acknowledges that he cannot:

Romans 9:3 For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:

Similarly, Moses' attempt to be the mediator between God and Israel was rejected by God:

Exodus 32:31-33
31And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. 32Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin--; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. 33And the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.

Furthermore, the epistle to the Hebrews explains that such a role is an impossibility:

Hebrews 10:9-14
9Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. 10By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: 12But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; 13From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. 14For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.

Notice the key here: by one offering Christ has once for all sanctified and perfected us. There is no room for mini-mediators, because this mediator has done it all. It is finished. There is nothing left to mediate: God's wrath against us is appeased in Christ, and consequently we have no need of a further mediator, whether "mini-" or "co-" as some advocates of Catholicism have attempted to suggest.

This is the understanding of Christ's mediatorial role that is missing from Dave's post - that leads to his confused claims that somehow these instrumental means whereby men are saved (such as the preaching of the Gospel in items (1), (2), and (4)-(7) above) are the role of the mediator.

Instead, Dave's concept of mediation is asking God for more grace for people (in an interesting, but largely irrelevant tangent, Dave seems to be under the misapprehension that the Protestant Reformed position on the definition of "grace" is the main view out there). Of course, that is not what Jesus does as mediator of the new covenant, as we have discussed above.

The actions of believers in wishing grace of God on others, or in seeking to bring that about by preaching the gospel or by repentance, faith, and new obedience are in an entirely different category. The mediating of Christ is done: He has sat down at the right hand of God:

Hebrews 1:13 But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool?

As it is sung:

Psalm 110

A Psalm of David

1 The Lord did say unto my Lord,
Sit thou at my right hand,
Until I make thy foes a stool,
whereon thy feet may stand.

2 The Lord shall out of Zion send
the rod of thy great pow'r:
In midst of all thine enemies
be thou the governor.

3 A willing people in thy day
of pow'r shall come to thee,
In holy beauties from morn's womb;
thy youth like dew shall be.

4 The Lord himself hath made an oath,
and will repent him never,
Of th' order of Melchisedec
thou art a priest for ever.

5 The glorious and mighty Lord,
that sits at thy right hand,
Shall, in his day of wrath, strike through
kings that do him withstand.

6 He shall among the heathen judge,
he shall with bodies dead
The places fill: o'er many lands
he wound shall ev'ry head.

7 The brook that runneth in the way
with drink shall him supply;
And, for this cause, in triumph he
shall lift his head on high.

No, Jesus is not simply the central distribution point of "grace" (the view of grace in Catholicism, of course, being different from that in Biblical theology) as Dave seems to think ("Jesus is ultimately the mediator of grace. It all comes through Him. But He also clearly uses human beings to distribute the grace, as these passages establish beyond any doubt.") but Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life:

John 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

What's being described there is not Jesus' role as example (though he is an example) or his role as preacher (though he is a preacher) but instead Jesus' role the one who obtains a heavenly place for his people.

John 14:1-4
1Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. 4And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.

The persevering reader who has made it this far may be interested in reading more about the implications of Jesus' having prepared mansions for us, which I've discussed in a previous article (link).

Perhaps someone will ask - do not we ourselves intercede to God for our fellow believers and for the lost? In doing so, are we not in some sense mediators? I cannot think of a better response than that given by Charles Hodge (link to selection from Hodge). The short answer is - no, we are not. We simply intercede in the sense of praying for the person. We are not mediators - we do not reconcile God to man.

In summary, recall that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." 2 Corinthians 5:19-20 We are not mini-mediators, but spokesmen: declaring the good news so that men who were spiritually dead may live. 1 Peter 4:6


P.S. One kind reader has noted that some people believe that the term for mediator in English, Latin, and Greek is used in Galatians 3:19-20 and refers in that place to Moses. While I would disagree that the term used there refers to Moses, it is mostly a moot point, since (if it refers to Moses) it would relate to Moses' role as law-giver. Furthermore, if it were the case that the mediator in verses 19-20 were Moses, the context ("herefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ" vs. 24) would lead us to recognize that Moses foreshadowed Christ (cf. Acts 3:22 For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you.) the one mediator of the New Covenant. Nevertheless, since verse 19 refers to "angels" (plural), it seems better to refer the term "mediator" in verse 19 either directly to the promised Messaiah or to the Messiah as portrayed by the Old Testament priesthood.

Times of Unpredictability

It's time for people to remember something:

Isaiah 41:20-24
20That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the LORD hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it. 21Produce your cause, saith the LORD; bring forth your strong [reasons], saith the King of Jacob. 22Let them bring [them] forth, and shew us what shall happen: let them shew the former things, what they [be], that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come. 23Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye [are] gods: yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold [it] together. 24Behold, ye [are] of nothing, and your work of nought: an abomination [is he that] chooseth you.

God is in control of the world economy. Not Wall St., not Main St., not Pennsylvania Ave., not Downing St., and not the Kremlin. They are all unable to predict, much less control, the future. There is a God who controls all things to the good of the elect:

Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Praise be to our God!


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Charles Hodge on Intercession of Saints

Charles Hodge
Intercession of Saints
(extracted from his Systematic Theology)

There is but one Mediator between God and man, and but one High Priest through whom we draw near to God. And as intercession is a priestly function, it follows that Christ is our only intercessor. But as there is a sense in which all believers are kings and priests unto God, which is consistent with Christ's being our only king and priest; so there is a sense in which one believer may intercede for another, which is not inconsistent with Christ's being our only intercessor. By intercession in the case of believers is only meant that one child of God may pray for another or for all men. To intercede is in this sense merely to pray for. But in the case of Christ it expresses an official act, which none who does not fill his office can perform. As under the old economy one Israelite could pray for his brethren, but only the High Priest could enter within the veil and officially interpose in behalf of the people; so now, although we may pray, one for another, Christ only can appear as a priest before God in our behalf and plead his merits as the ground on which his prayers for his people should be answered.

Protestants object to the intercession of saints as taught and practised in the Church of Rome.

1. Because it supposes a class of beings who do not exist; that is, of canonized departed spirits. It is only those who, with the angels, have been officially declared by the Church, on account of their merits, to be now in heaven, who are regarded as intercessors.

This, however, is an unauthorized assumption on the part of the Church. It has no prerogative to enable it thus to decide, and to enroll whom it will among glorified spirits. Often those thus dignified have been real enemies of God, and persecutors of his people.

2. It leads to practical idolatry. Idolatry is the ascription of divine attributes to a creature. In the popular mind the saints, and especially the Virgin Mary, are regarded as omnipresent; able at all times and in all places, to hear the prayers addressed to them, and to relieve the wants of their worshippers.

3. It is derogatory to Christ. As He is the only and sufficient mediator between God and man, and as He is ever willing to hear and answer the prayers of his people, it supposes some deficiency in Him, if we need other mediators to approach God in our behalf.

4. It moreover is contrary to Scripture, inasmuch as the saints are assumed to prevail with God on account of their personal merits. Such merit no human being has before God. No man has any merit to plead for his own salvation, much less for the salvation of others.

5. The practice is superstitious and degrading. Superstition is belief without evidence. The practice of the invocation of saints is founded on a belief which has no support from Scripture. It is calling upon imaginary helpers. It degrades men by turning them from the Creator to the creature, by leading them to put their trust
in an arm of flesh, instead of in the power of Christ. It, therefore, turns away the hearts and confidence of the people from Him to those who can neither hear nor save.

*** End of Hodge's Comments ***


The real Turretin on: The Instrumental Use of Faith

Richard Smith at the Spurgeon Blog has an interesting post on the Instrumental Use of Faith, including a nice, but short, quotation from the real Turretin (link). Sometimes I think that it is a proper understanding of Justification by Faith that separates nominal Sola-Fideans (such as modern Arminians) from true Sola-Fideans (i.e. the Reformed).


Calvin on the Psalms

I found an interesting jewel from Calvin on the Psalms at Adiophora(link) I'd love to follow my usual path here, and quote something similar from John Wesley, but of course Wesley was one of the main promoters of "Protestant" abandonment of Psalmody. Still, even Wesley wrote:
WE have now before us one of the choicest parts of the Old Testament, wherein there is so much of Christ and his gospel, as well as of God and his law, that it has been called the summary of both Testaments. The history of Israel; which we were long upon, instructed us in the knowledge of God. The book of Job gave us profitable disputations, concerning God and his providence. But this book brings us into the sanctuary, draws us off from converse with men, with the philosophers or disputers of this world, and directs us into communion with God. It is called, the Psalms, in Hebrew Tehillim, which properly signifies Psalms of praise, because many of them are such; but Psalms is a more general word, meaning all poetical compositions, fitted to be sung. St. Peter styles it, The book of Psalms. It is a collection of Psalms, of all the Psalms that were divinely inspired, composed at several times, on several occasions, and here put together, without any dependence on each other. Thus they were preserved from being scattered and lost, and kept in readiness for the service of the church. One of these is expressly said to be the prayer of Moses. That some of them were penned by Asaph, is intimated, 2 Chron. xxix, 30, where they are said to praise the Lord, in the words of David and Asaph, who is there called a seer or prophet. And some of the Psalms seem to have been penned long after, at the time of the captivity in Babylon. But the far greater part were wrote by David, who was raised up for establishing the ordinance of singing Psalms in the church of God, as Moses and Aaron were for settling the ordinance of sacrifice. Theirs indeed is superseded, but this will remain, 'till it be swallowed up in the songs of eternity. There is little in the book of Psalms of the ceremonial law. But the moral law is all along magnified, and made honourable. And Christ the foundation, corner and top-stone of all religion, is here clearly spoken of; both his sufferings, with the glory that should follow, and the, kingdom he would set up in the world.
- John Wesley, "Introduction to the Psalms," from his Commentary on the Whole Bible.

H.T. to R. Scott Clark at the Heidelblog for bringing the Calvin selection to my attention.


Turretin Reviewed

Curate at Kata Rogeron has provided a positive review of Turretin's Institutes (link). It is a very brief review, but as a fan of Turretin, I certainly appreciated it.

Contest For Atheists

Are you an atheist? Would you like to make $100? Ray Comfort is holding a writing contest, in which all you have to do to enter is provide an essay on "Why I don't believe in God." (link to contest) Details at Mr. Comfort's blog - this blog is not affiliated in any formal way with that blog.


Visualizing the Bible's Interconnectedness

Jason at Christian Theist has interesting post that illustrates graphically the interconnectedness of the Bible. It is really something remarkable to see. (link)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Respect Old People

It is not just common courtesy, it is part of every human's obligation under the fifth commandment.

Leviticus 19:32 Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD.

The phrase "hoary head" is essentially the concept of a head covered by frost - i.e. a head with white or gray hair. The concept of "rise up before" means to stand when they enter the room, which was a sign of respect in those times - and continues to be a sign of respect in many places even to the present day. Likewise, to honor the face of the old man means to be respectful and to show that respect.

The "Western" societies all too often forget about this command. Increasingly, the old are disrespected and even disdained. This is contrary to the law of God. As Christians, we are called to show respect for the elderly and to honor them. This is a general relation between the young and old, which (like the distinction between the sexes) has a heightened emphasis within the family unit. One's elderly father or mother is especially to be honored, just as a woman is to show a particular respect to her own husband. The same goes for children and adults. Children are to be deferential to adults, but they show a particular degree of deference to their own parents.

Finally, let me provide a reminder to any of my readers who happen to be old:

Proverbs 16:31 The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.

May I encourage you so to be found!


John Murray - Birthday and Head Coverings

John Murray was born 110 years ago today. In honor of his birthday, I'd like to present the following excerpt from a letter he wrote on the subject of head coverings. The full letter is available at Pastor Sherman Isbell's web site (link), to whom I am indebted for bringing this letter to my attention.

*** Excerpt from Letter ***

If the Presbytery becomes convinced that a head covering for women belongs to the decorum governing the conduct of women in the worship of God, then I think Presbytery should declare accordingly. I would not suppose it necessary expressly to legislate. I think it would be enough to make a resolution for the instruction and guidance of ministers, sessions, and people. A higher judicatory has both right and duty to offer to those under its jurisdiction, guidance respecting divine obligation. This has been recognised in Reformed Churches throughout the world.

Your main question turns, of course, on the interpretation of I Corinthians 11:2-16. Permit me to offer some of my reflections in order.

1. Since Paul appeals to the order of creation (vss. 3b, vss. 7ff.), it is totally indefensible to suppose that what is in view and enjoined had only local or temporary relevance. The ordinance of creation is universally and perpetually applicable, as also are the implications for conduct arising therefrom.

2. I am convinced that a head covering is definitely in view forbidden for the man (vss. 4, & 7) and enjoined for the woman (vss. 5, 6, 15). In the case of the woman the covering is not simply her long hair. This supposition would make nonsense of verse 6. For the thought there is, that if she does not have a covering she might as well be shorn or shaven, a supposition without any force whatever if the hair covering is deemed sufficient. In this connection it is not proper to interpret verse 15b as meaning that the hair was given the woman to take the place of the head covering in view of verses 5, 6. The Greek of verse 15 is surely the Greek of equivalence as used quite often in the New Testament, and so the Greek can be rendered: "the hair is given to her for a covering." This is within the scope of the particular agrument of verses 14, 15 and does not interfere with the demand for the additional covering contemplated in verses 5, 6, 13. Verses 14 and 15 adduce a consideration from the order of nature in support of that which is enjoined earlier in the passage but is not itself tantamount to it. In other words, the long hair is an indication from "nature" of the differentiation between men and women, and so the head covering required (vss. 5, 6, 13) is in line with what "nature" teaches.

3. There is good reason for believing that the apostle is thinking of conduct in the public assemblies of the Church of God and of worship exercises therein in verse 17, this is clearly the case, and verse 18 is confirmatory. But there is a distinct similarity between the terms of verse 17 and of verse 2. Verse 2 begins, "Now I praise you" and verse 17, "Now in this . . . I praise you not". The virtually identical expressions, the one positive and the other negative, would suggest, if not require, that both have in view the behaviour of the saints in their assemblies, that is, that in respect of denotation the same people are in view in the same identity as worshippers. If a radical difference, that between private and public, were contemplated, it would be difficult to maintain the appropriateness of the contrast between "I praise you" and "I praise you not".

4. Beyond question it is in reference to praying and prophesying that the injuctions pertain, the absence of head covering for men and the presence for women. It might seem, therefore, that the passage has nothing to do with a head covering for women in the assemblies of the Church if they are not engaged in praying or prophesying, that is, in leading in prayer or exercising the gift of prophesying. And the implication would be that only when they performed these functions were they required to use head covering. The further implication would be that they would be at liberty to perform these functions provided they wore head gear. This view could easily be adopted if it were not so that Paul forbids such exercises on the part of women and does so in the same epistle, (I Cor. 14:33b-36): "As in all the Churches, for it is not permitted to them to speak" (vss. 33b-34a). It is impossible to think that Paul would, by implication, lend approval in chapter 11, to what he so expressly prohibits in chapter 14. Hence we shall have to conclude that he does not contemplate praying or prophesying on the part of women in the Church in chapter 11. The question arises: how can this be, and how can we interpret 11:5, 6, 13? It is possible to interpret the verses in chapter 11 in a way that is compatible with chapter 14:33b-36. It is as follows: —

a. In chapter 11 the decorum prescribed in 14:33b-36 is distinctly in view and Paul is showing its propriety. Praying and prophesying are functions that imply authority, the authority that belongs to the man as distinguished from the woman according to the ordinance of creation. The man in exercising this authority in praying and prophesying must not wear a head covering. Why not? The head covering is the sign of subjection, the opposite of the authority that belongs to him, exemplified in praying and prophesying, hence 11:4, 7. In a word, head covering in praying and prophesying would be a contradiction.

b. But precisely here enters the relevance of verses 5, 6, 13 as they pertain to women. If women are to pray and prophesy in the assemblies, they perform functions that imply authority and would require therefore, to remove the head covering. To do so with the head covering would involve the contradiction referred to already. But it is the impropriety of removing the head covering that is enforced in 11:5, 6 & 13. In other words, the apostle is pressing home the impropriety of the exercise of these functions — praying and prophesying — on the part of women by showing the impropriety of what it would involve, namely, the removal of the head covering. And so the rhetorical question of verse 13: "Is it proper for a woman to pray to God unveiled?"

c. This interpretation removes all discrepancy between 11:5, 6, 13 and 14:33b-36 and it seems to me feasible, and consonant with the whole drift of 11:2-16.

5. The foregoing implies that the head covering for women was understood to belong to the decorum of public worship.

6. The above line of thought would derive confirmation from I Cor. 11:10. Admittedly the reference to the angels is not immediately perspicuous. But a reasonable interpretation is that the presence of the angels with the people of God and therefore their presence in the congregations of the saints. What is being pleaded is the offence given to the holy angels when the impropriety concerned mars the sancity of God's worship. But, in any case, the obligation asserted is apparent. It is that the woman ought to have upon her head the sign of the authority to which she is subject, in other words, the sign of her subjection. But this subjection pertains throughout and not simply when in the exercise of praying and prophesying according to the supposition that such is permitted. I submit, therefore, that the verse concerned (vs. 10) enunciates a requirement that is general within the scope of the subject with which Paul is dealing, namely, the decorum of worship in the assembly of the saints.

On these grounds my judgment is that presupposed in the Apostle's words is the accepted practice of head covering for women in the assemblies of the Church, that apparently this part of decorum was recognised, and that the main point of verses 5, 6, 10, 13 was the impropriety of any interruption of the practice if women were to pray or prophesy, for, in that event, it would be necessary to remove the covering in order to signify the authority that praying and prophesying entailed, an authority not possessed by women, a non-possession signified, in turn, by the use of the covering.

*** End of Excerpt ***


Atheist on Trial

I don't think many atheists stop by this blog, but if any do ... perhaps they would receive benefit from the video I found today at The Real Issue by Rob Lundberg (link). There are a few minor quibbles I'd have with the explanation of the allegory, but it makes the point that needs to be made.


Monday, October 13, 2008

God's Decree = God's Endorsement?

Beowulf2k8 (b2k8) has provided a further comment illustrating his lack of understanding of Calvinism. Since I doubt he is the only person with this misunderstanding, I think it may be helpful to highlight the error he is making and explain why, biblically, he is wrong. b2k8 wrote:
In the sense that Calvinism teaches that God's Sovereinty [sic] means micromanagement and that God controls all of everything minutely, God is the author of Hinduism (according to Calvinism, of course, not me) and hence Hinduism is as as much "the faith" as Calvinism (according to Calvinism, since God decreed it equally with Calvinism, according to Calvinism), and therefore the Hindu woman is a martyr (to Calvinism, not to Christianity).
(source is an unpublished comment submitted on this earlier blog post)
It's a little difficult to construct a meaningful argument from b2k8's comment, but generally it seems to have the following structure:

1) Calvinism teaches that God micromanages all things minutely;
2) Minute micromanagement makes God the author of those things he minutely micromanages;
3) Therefore, God is the author of all things;
4) If God is the author of a religion, it is the faith;
5) Therefore, Hinduism is "the faith";
6) If someone dies for "the faith," then they are martyr; and
7) So, the Hindu woman in the article who was killed is a martyr under Calvinism.

As a preliminary matter, (7) does not follow from (6) because of a factual error, namely that the Hindu woman in the article was killed mistakenly, her tormentors and murders being under the misconception that she was a different religion than was actually her own.

The remainder of the errors are more interesting, as they are more fundamental leaps in reasoning and definition.

Error 1:

The first error is equivocation. It is the error by which b2k8 provides (4). We might agree that if God is the author of a religion, that is the faith. In agreeing with such a claim, though, we would need a definition of "author" that implies that the religion intended by God to be "the faith" and that it is the way that he has intended to be worshiped by his followers.

But these things cannot be said of Hinduism. Even assuming the remainder of b2k8's misconceptions of Calvinism (that God is the author of all things, since God minutely micromanages), God has not appointed Hinduism as the religion of His followers - instead it is a religion of the enemies of God. It is not intended by God to be "the faith," but is instead a counterfeit faith - a religion of devils.

Thus, at a minimum, we can see that b2k8 has equivocated (implicitly, of course, since he never provides a formal argument). Even if God is the author of Hinduism in some sense, that sense is not the sense required to make Hinduism "the faith."

Sometimes God sends lying spirits as a judgment. Recall, for example:

1 Kings 22:22 And the LORD said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so.

And sometimes as a judgment, God ordains that people will be deluded and believe a lie:

2 Thessalonians 2:11 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:

Nevertheless, those lying spirits are not equivalent to the holy spirit, and the lies that ungodly believe are not equivalent to the truth.

Error 2:

A second error is definitional. B2k8 seemingly believes that minute micromanagement = authorship, but B2k8 provides no basis for this arbitrary definition. This is not the traditional definition of "author" that we use when, for example, we deny that God is the author of sin (yes, b2k8, it is the Calvinist position that God is not the author of sin). In the traditional sense, "author" comes from the Latin term auctor. In modern English the equivalent would be "actor." The person by who power the thing is carried out.

The person who carries out sin is never God. Sometimes it is sinful men, other times it is fallen angels. It is always a moral agent, but it is never God. God cannot break the moral law: that is the exclusive arena of men and demons.

But instead, b2k8 implicitly defines authorship as minute micromanagement. This is bizarre, to say the least. We consider ourselves the author of a document, for example, even when we do not minutely micromanage a computer - but simply type in the words and click the "print" button. Likewise, we do not need even to know what goes on inside a gun in order to be the morally responsible agent for a shooting.

This brings us to ...

Error 3:

Innovated standard of morality. For some reason, b2k8, along with many others, have invented a theory of morality in which, if God minutely micromanages things, he is morally responsible for what happens - and the actual person doing the sinful (or righteous - though that rarely comes up) act is not responsible under this theory.

But where did this theory come from? Who invented it? It seems to have been created out of thin air. There's nothing in the Bible to suggest such a rule of morality, and there's no particularly logical reason for arriving at such a rule.

And finally, we arrive at ...

Error 4:

Minute micromanagement is simply the logical conclusion of God being:

a) Interested in the smallest details of human life;
b) Omniscient; and
b) Omnipotent.

If all of (a), (b), and (c) are true, then minute micromanagement of some kind (whether Calvinistic, Molinistic, or otherwise) must follow. This, of course, offends the autonomous heart of rebellious man, but that really cannot be helped. God is the ruler over all the Earth, and because of (a), (b), and (c), everything that happens a particular way happens that way, because that is the way God wants it to happen in His providence.

There is a final error that b2k8 makes, that is only implicit in his criticism above ...

Error 5

Confusing the moral law of God and the Providence of God. God in his Providence ordains that certain bad acts will happen. God ordained that Jesus would be crucified, which was a sinful act on the part of those that did it to him. It was not sinless for Christ's murderers, just because God had ordained that it would happen, and just because God wanted it to happen. In fact, one can hardly imagine a more horrible crime than to slay the incarnate Son of God.

God wanted this great sin to happen, He ordained that it would happen, and He was glad that it happened, although he still counted it as sin against those who did it. The same is true of the many lesser sins that occur in God's providence. They happen for a reason that glorifies God ultimately, and yet they still sins for the people that do them. The fact that God has a good purpose in them does not excuse the people who commit the sins.

One hopes that this explanation will help b2k8, and others like him, to see that they have misunderstood and misrepresented Calvinism - perhaps simply because they have not fully understood its single source of authority: Scripture.


Deposit of the Funds Safe

Protestants may question whether the Vatican has safely maintained the Deposit of the Faith, but the Vatican Bank claims that those who have deposited funds are safe (link). I'm probably the last person to realize that the Vatican really was a player in the banking and finance industry in Europe, which is odd since I have watched the God-Father trilogy.


Norma Normans vs. Norma Normata

Scripture is, as they say, the Noma Normans non Normata (the "un-normed norm normer" or more loosely, "The norm of norms that is not normed"). When Scripture is described in this way, the concept is essentially equivalent to Sola Scriptura, as it declares that Scripture the standard according to which all other standards are measured, and which has no higher standard against which it is measured.

A number of Federal Visionists have been complaining that they are being judged, not according to the Scriptures, but according to the Confession of Faith. They seem to have the feeling that this stifles important doctrinal innovation. For example, one author (who I assume is a Federal Visionist, though I would be happy to be mistaken in this regard) responds to this comment:
It’s an inherently non-confessional stance that implicitly denies that our Standards contain the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture, and leads to an anything-goes biblicist approach. They plea for the freedom to do “cutting-edge” theology, which is really a euphemism for non-Reformed theology, while remaining in a confessional denomination.
with the following:
So, according to this Einstein, to be Confessional means to deny what the Confession says about Scripture being the ultimate authority, over and above confessions, creeds, councils, etc.?

No one is arguing for “anything goes” in any Reformed or Presbyterian circle I’m aware of — only, whatever God says, goes.

The rest of his characteristic analysis of the situation is seemingly mindless, and the fact that so-called “cutting edge” theology — in other words, always looking to reform ourselves and our theological praxis according to God’s Word, no matter what — is considered “non-Reformed” is laughable at best.

The PCA is filled with idolaters. Aaron yells to the crowd of sheep, while he points to the Westminster Confession of Faith, “This is your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”

There’s a special place in Hell for this kind of lunacy.
The problem (or at least one problem) is that the author doesn't understand the role of the Confession. It is also a norm, but it is a Norma Normata - a norm that is normed. It is a helpful touchstone of what it means to be "Reformed," and it is a subordinate doctrinal standard of the PCA (and other Reformed churches in the Scottish tradition).

Schaff described things this way:
All creeds are more or less imperfect and fallible. The Bible alone is the rule of faith (regula credendi), the norma normans, and claims divine and therefore absolute authority; the creed is a rule of public teaching (regula docendi), the norma normata, and has only ecclesiastical and therefore relative authority, which depends on the measure of its agreement with the Bible. Confessions may be improved (as the Apostles' Creed is a gradual growth from the baptismal formula), or may be superseded by better ones with the increasing knowledge of the truth.
The Westminster Confession is an example as well of such change, as the version held by the PCA differs in certain regards from the version originally proposed by the Westminster divines.

Certainly we must be willing to norm our subordinate standards by the Word of God, but at the same time, when doing so, we need to be cognizant of the significance of such action. The Westminster Confession is not the ultimate standard for any Reformed Christian, but for many Reformed Christians it is a standard - a norma normata.


Who is to Blame for Svendsen's Book?

In response to this post (link) promoting a freely-downloadable mp3 related to Eric Svendsen's book, "Upon this Slippery Rock: Countering Roman Catholic Claims to Authority," Mr. Bellisario provided the following commentary, which I intersperse with my comments:

MB: "Wow. If Sola Scriptura is so simple and easy to get, then why do all of these simple-simons need Svendsen's book to explain it all?"

I answer: As you can see from the title of the book, the reason is the false claims of the advocates of Catholicism. Furthermore, of course, while Sola Scriptura is simple and easy to get ("the Bible is the only infallible rule of faith that we have") sometimes the devious and even Jesuitical objections to it are not simple and easy to get, and can be confusing for some people.

MB: "It's not Sola Scriptura, its Sola Svendsen."

I answer: This is just silly. Mr. Bellisario should know better than to make this kind of claim. Reformation Christianity does not deny the value of teachers, it just doesn't elevate them to the level of God's own Word: Scripture. Svendsen never makes himself out to be an infallible rule of faith - a fact that should be as simple and easy to get as Sola Scriptura itself.

MB: "Scripture isn't plain enough for all of you to understand. You need Svendsen to rescue your faith! Wow this is too good to be true."

I answer: This criticism seems to be founded on the same false premise as the one above, in which Sola Scriptura leaves no place for teachers. It's also based on a further straw man, which is the idea that the position of Sola Scriptura means that ALL doctrines of Scripture are alike plain. Of course, the truth is different from the straw men. There is a role for teachers in the church, and one of their roles is to help explain doctrines - including the less clear doctrines. Furthermore, of course, even though Sola Scriptura is a very simple concept, the issues become complicated by heretical objections from a variety of sources, principally those who bow the knee to the Roman Pontiff (one knee only, of course, as explained in Steve's post here)

MB: "I just love the advertisement for his book. All we need now is Billy Maze to sell it on lat night TV. Call now and you'll receive Svendsen's set of chopping knives for cutting out Rome's heresy!"

I answer: This scoffing does tend to serve as a thing that speaks for itself as to the attitude of the critic. No further comment, therefore, is needed.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Death of a Non-Martyr

There is some very deplorable and evil violence taking place in India. Non-Christians are attacking and killing people and institutions that they believe are Christian. Some time ago I had mentioned that simply being a nun didn't make one a Christian, and that consequently I would not automatically consider a nun who was apparently killed simply because she was wearing a habit to be a martyr without further investigation. I think some people who read what I wrote had trouble wrapping their heads around the concept.

Perhaps this further sad story of the wicked actions of evil men will help those who had trouble with the nun non-martyrdom issue to see the bigger picture (link) (warning - somewhat graphic description of the persecution). In this case, the woman degraded and killed was actually a Hindu woman who simply happened to work at a Roman Catholic institution.

There is a sense in which she was killed for the faith (since she was killed by Hindus trying to oppose Christianity), but she certainly wasn't killed for her faith.

For reference, my earlier post in which the nun issue was raised in the comment box can be found here (link) and an earlier post I wrote providing evidence of the lack of faith of one of the most famous Roman Catholics in India is here (link).