Thursday, July 12, 2007

Worthy of Note - Turretin on Discipline

"[E]xcommunication is the rod of a pious mother over a bad son, whom she does not therefore regard as not a son because she whips him, but chastises him severely that he may reform and not cease to be a son altogether."

- Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Fifteenth Topic, Question XVI, Section XL (page 613 of Volume 2, in Giger's translation as recently published)

Original Latin: Excommunicatio est flagellum piae Matris in pravum filium, quem non quia flagellat, ideo habet pro non filia, sed castigat graviter, ut emendet, ne fiat omnino non filius.

We, in this modern age of moral decay, should not be surprised to see that both church and family discipline have been corrupted similarly, such that in churches where severe discipline for the restoration of children is not (or rarely) practiced, severe discipline for the restoration of congregants is not (or rarely) practiced.

The parallel remains, though the Refomers would condemn our generations for failing to heed the Word of God as it pertains to discipline, both ecclesiastical and parental.


Is it even worth mentioning? Sippo Update

Sippo in three recent posts:

(a) connects Lutheranism and National Socialism (Do you really want a link?);
(b) thinks his question "Was the Good Samaritan saved?" has an answer other than, "The Good Samaritan was not a real person." (link for those who doubt that Sippo would actually call that answer "a dishonest excuse."); and
(c) denies that the first and great commandment (upon which hangs all the law and prophets) is meant literally (link in which Sippo attaches the adverb "crassly" to the adjective "literal": particularly ironic when you consider his view of the Eucharist), in order to avoid admitting the obvious, namely that we all always fall short of perfect obedience to the great commandment.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Simple Gospel - Four Suggestions

The Simple Gospel

Advice for Parents and Evangelists

In recent dialogue with an internet friend of mine, who goes by the handle Doveflight, I was reminded of the need to express the gospel in clear, understandable (but correct) terms to those who listen.

DoveFlight wrote:

I am finding myself stumbling all over how to explain to my children salvation faith without saying the words "make a decision." I have presented the gospel many times before my 'reformation' but now can't seem to find the right words in correlation with God's election.

My first two suggestions to parents and evangelists are these:

1. Keep it Simple: the discussion of the issue of election is not a simply issue that should necessarily come up in every presentation of the gospel. While it may come up in some gospel presentation, and especially if someone has mistaken ideas about the strength of their sin to separate them from God, nevertheless, in most cases, the glorious truth of individual election is more properly classified as meat than milk, and is something that believers should be grateful for, not something that convicted sinners should be fretting about.

2. Keep it Real: don't try to suggest that it is a choice, because it is not a free choice: God is applying the most powerful possible coercive, eternal punishment. You'd have to be incredibly stupid or insane to refuse God's "offer" once you realize the reality of your predicament. It's not so much an offer as a command: "Worship Me!" says God, "Or Die!"

DoveFlight continued:

Anyway, the best I can come up with is repent of your sins, believe Christ alone is the answer and confess Him as your Lord and Savior.

DoveFlight's solution is very Biblical, after all that's the very message Christ preached: "Repent and Believe!"

That's my third suggestion to parents and evangelists (including missionary-evangelists):

3. Keep it Biblical: preach Repentence and Faith

If you're looking for other ways to express it:

  • Acknowledge the guilt of your sins to God and trust in the Son for mercy.
  • Turn from your evil and worship the living God.
  • Confess your wrong-doings, and cast yourself upon Him.

Another Internet poster, TheoJunkie, whose site is linked over on the left, chimed in:

Terms like "turn from evil" and "repent" have gone the way of "evangelical" and "born again" in meaning (that is, they may or may not mean what you meant for them to mean (more likely not), depending on the ears they fall on).

TJ makes a great point, and this leads me to my fourth suggestion:

4. Keep it Clear: try to avoid using terms that are laden with connotation that will confuse, and stick with unambiguous words, especially if they contradict the person's preconceptions. If the person has been fed a steady diet of pluralism, make it clear that God's name is Jealous: He demands to be worshipped alone, and that he declares that all the other gods are dumb idols, the works of mens imagiantions and hands, or else demons. If the person has been fed a diet of works-righteousness, point out the requirement of perfect obedience, and the consequent impossibility of doing works of supererogation.

After all, the key is to convey what you mean - that can mean not speaking in Latin to Americans nor in baggage-laden terminology to post-modern pluralalists. With that in mind, you might be able to make the alternative expressions above even plainer by adding more words:

Admit to God (and yourself) that you have broken God's law, and deserve eternal punishment for (each of) those violations; beg God for mercy[, and learn to loathe breaking the law of God, because you know it offends Him (not because you can ever make the violations right yourself)].

I put the last part in brackets, not because it should be omitted, but to point out that sanctification is not a part of justification.

I would love to hear what other suggestions readers may have for relatively simple, real, Biblical, and clear expressions of the Gospel message.

May our Holy and Just God be praised in the Glory of His Excellency!


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sin: any failure to perfectly follow God's law

What is Sin?

Sin is any failure to perfectly follow God's law.

Sin, according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism is any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God.

The Westminster Larger Catechism slightly expands and clarifies, by stating that sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, any law of God, given as a rule to the reasonable creature.

The Westminster Confession of Faith treats the matter implicitly: "Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, does in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal."

The first twenty questions of the Heidelberg Catechism (link) do a great job of discussing sin, its effect, and its cure. In fact, any Roman Catholic who concerns Reformed Theology to be in error should be prepared to respond to those twenty questions and answers.

Why belabor this point? Because there are certain folks running around these days claiming that sin is only voluntary violation of the law of God: i.e. that only conscious, volitional infractions are sins, namely that one can only sin by choosing to sin.

Before we prove that point, it is important to point out the voluntary, intentional sins are still sins and they are particularly heinous sins. We will return to this in a moment.

The moral law of God, as summarily comprehended (i.e. summarized) in the ten commandments, does not include a "volitional" component, especially as some of its commands are positive. More especially, the most famous summary of the moral law:

Deuteronomy 6:5 And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

Leviticus 19:18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

Quoted here:

Matthew 22:35-40
35Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, 36Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 37Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Both of these are phrased positively, namely by stating what we must do, not what we are forbidden to do. Failure to do what are supposed to do can be attributed to many factors, but it should be readily apparent that one can fall short of loving God or of loving one's neighbor without voluntary act: in fact, failure to act may itself be a violation of the law of God, where loving God or one's neighbor requires action.

A second argument against a requirement that sin be positively voluntary are the references to sins of ignorance in Scripture:

Numbers 15:28 And the priest shall make an atonement for the soul that sinneth ignorantly, when he sinneth by ignorance before the LORD, to make an atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him.

Deuteronomy 19:4 And this is the case of the slayer, which shall flee thither, that he may live: Whoso killeth his neighbour ignorantly, whom he hated not in time past;

1 Timothy 1:13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.

The first verse identified above makes it clear that sins done in ignorance are still sins, are still in need of atonement, and consequently are something that can be forgiven. The second verse shows the breadth of ignorant sin, in that it encompasses the unintentional. The third verse provides confirmation that sins of ignorance are still justly to be punished, and that mercy is the way of escape from punishment for such sins.

Some may object that sins are described as willing or willful (Hebrews 10:26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, ). It should be understood, however, that willing sin is more heinous than done in ignorance, thus premeditated killing (punished by execution) is more serious than accidental killing (punished by exile to a city of refuge). Thus, some sins are more heinous than others, with willful sins being more heinous than ignorant sins.


One non-Calvinist poster named "FreeGrace" has challenged not that God prohibits sin, but has suggested that God does not require perfect obedience. On the contrary, yes, God requires perfect obedience.

Genesis 17:1 And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.

Deuteronomy 18:13 Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God.

Matthew 5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

James 2:10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.


Christian Miracle-Working Has Ceased

Christian, But Not Necessarily All Miracle-Working, Has Ceased


In a variety of contexts, the question of alleged miraculous gifts comes up. Some amazing things have been reported to me, in terms of alleged psychics and their ability to reveal secrets and predict the future; of the healing power of idols (Christian and pagan); and so forth. I recently met a self-proclaimed "Master of Raki" (Raki is apparently a Tibetan ritualistic practice that claims to be able to heal using an impersonal lifeforce), and was recently reminded (on the TeamPyro website) of similar (although less amazing) claims by the fraud Benny Hinn.

There is a wide variety of claims to the ability to work miracles, ranging from snake handling in the Appalachian Mountains - to Benny Hinn's claims to cure invisible sicknesses - to Raki claims to cure visible injuries - to many claims to the ability to speak prophetically (tell the future) - to the ability to speak in languages that are not one's own by upbringing or study - to the ability to raise the dead. The alleged miracle working is not always positive, some claim to be able to injure and kill at a distance, and not a few people are mortally afraid of jinxes and evil eyes that are thought to be able to be cast by ill-wishing miracle-workers.

Miracle-working in Christianity

In Christianity, the purpose of miracle-working was primarily to testify to the inspiration of the miracle-worker. That is to say, the purpose of Paul being able to miraculously cure people was in order that those around him would have immediate, unmistakable confirmation that he was a messenger (apostle) of God, and that God was with him. The prophets, beginning at Moses, in general (and perhaps without exception) had the ability to do miracles and these miracles were confirmation that the Spirit of God had been given to them. In any event, the prophets had the gift of prophecy, which is self-confirming to the generations that follow. Thus, we no longer can witness the miracle-working of Isaiah or Jeremiah, but we can still read their prophecies and the fulfillment thereof.

But miracle-working in Christianity was not only a testimony, it was usually useful and practical. Jesus' first recorded miracle was the transformation of water into wine, not to wow those of Cana, but to provide for the lack of wine at the feast.

Moses' first miracles were an exception: they were purely demonstrative, but almost immediately the miracles were both demonstrative and purposeful. The plagues upon Egypt were miraculous and punitive. The dividing of the Red Sea provided a path, the collapse killed the pursuers.

We may be able to find other purely demonstrative miracles: the fire from heaven that consumed the offerings to the Lord, but not to Baal would be another such example.

Nevertheless, the bulk of the miracle-working gifts were practical. Perhaps the most practical were the gifts of prophecy (to reveal the word of God) and the gift of tongues (to reveal the word of God to the nations).

Those special gifts were given during the time prior to the completion of the Bible. Now the testimony in the Bible of the miracles performed is all the witness we have. We must trust God and believe His word.

Miracle-working Outside of Christianity

There are also numerous reports of miracle-working outside of Christianity. The Raki master I alluded to above reported that he saw a Tibetan woman heal a serious skin injury immediately and visibly before his eyes. Many have reported that psychics told them secrets that ordinary human intuition could not have revealed. Roman Catholic exorcists have reported that demoniacs have spoken to them in Latin, though the one possessed never studied that language.

Not all of the alleged miracle-workings outside of Christianity are real. There are many frauds, many hoaxes, and many devious tricksters. Harry Houdini notable exposed most of the alleged psychics of his own day as mere charlatans. As far as I know, none of the famous magicians of the present day claim to use supernatural ability: all purport to be (and it is reasonable to believe that they are) merely illusionists and prestidigitators.

Almost certainly the vast majority of modern Tarot readers, Palmists, Numerologists, and Astrologers fall into the hoax category: many even delude themselves in this regard. One has only to go into a large bookstore in any major city in the Western world to find a large section on the occult - not just novels that capture the public's fascination with the occult, but also practical "how to" guides for determining the future and so forth.

On the other hand, it may be that there are some real miracle-workers outside of Christianity. After all, we are told that the Egyptians had magicians who were able to perform small wonders, and we are told about more than one demoniac with revelatory power in the New Testament.

Furthermore, we know that the fallen angels have much strength: recall what Satan was able to accomplish (by God's permission) against Job, including bringing sickness and death of his family members.

Alleged Christian Miracle-working in the Post-Apostolic Era

There are numerous allegations of miracle-working, particular among Pentecostals/Charismatics but also among Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. The former group asserts that miracle-working gifts are widespread, and the latter group views miracles as isolated events, typically performed by the exceptionally righteous.

The former group's testimony is marred by numerous frauds and hoaxes. Prominent in the former group is the deceiver Benny Hinn. Others have adequately documented the fraud that he practices. He claims to heal people, but the vast majority of his claims are to heal illnesses that cannot be seen by the audience. When serious investigation is made of his claims, the result is that no or only an amount attributable to a placebo effect are the result.

The latter group's testimony is fraught with superstition, old wive's tales, exaggerations, and even lies. Claims that the relics of the saints have wrought numerous miracles are alleged, but confirmation of these miracles is impossible. Where investigation of the supposed wonder-working effects of the relics has been investigated, it has usually been positively established that the effects are mythical or fraudulent. Francis Turretin himself records the investigation that was made of two celebrated relics that had been held at Geneva: the brain of St. Peter and the arm of St. Anthony. Upon inspection, the former was discovered not only to be powerless, but to be a pumice stone: the latter, the leg of a stag.

These days both churches zealously conceal their relics, and it is unlikely that all will be exposed to the same investigation. Anyone reading the account of the Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic churches would be amazed at the vast multitude of miracle-workers that have filled their ranks. It seems that every generation until the last hundred years had some miracle-worker or other, and yet now that we can travel to the far reaches of the globe to check, the "saints" have ceased to work miracles.

Possibly some Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox person, however, can correct me - pointing out some place where miracle-workers are still at work. I understand, for example, that it is generally alleged that the monks on Mt. Athos are supposed to be particularly holy, and even that some there have prophetic gifts, though I have not seen a shred of copy of their supposed prophecies.

Application of the Principles Above

Not every miracle-worker is what they say they are. Some are frauds and hustlers. There have, however, been genuine miracle-workers. As should be deduced from the principles above, those who today claim to be miracles-workers may generally be categorized as follows:
  • Frauds (e.g. Benny Hinn)
  • Self-Deceived (e.g. Many followers of the frauds, and perhaps even some of the frauds themselves.)
  • Miscategorized (e.g. Illusionists are not miracle-workers, nor do they claim to be.)
  • Myths (e.g. The legendary acts of the "saints" of the Eastern and Roman churches.)
  • Demoniacs (e.g. Legion)
  • Witches/Wizards/Warlocks (e.g. the Endorian Witch)
It is possible that a person may be a Christian and fall into very grievous sin. Accordingly, I would not encourage anyone to automatically judge another simply because that person has a tarot deck or has been attending a Pentecostal church full of the gibberish jabbering of exuberant attendees, just as we should not automatically judge another simply because their denomination openly violates the second commandment in its most heinous way, by making and worshipping idols of what men imagine to be God Incarnate.


The gifts of working miracles disappeared when Scripture was complete, because there was no longer any need of miracle-working for its primary purpose (although the secondary purpose continues to be of great need).

God also continues to maintain the world by His miraculous Providence, which may include many marvellous and unexplainable answers to prayer. Furthermore, God acts in this world miraculously transforming God-haters to God-lovers.

Miracles themselves have not ceased, but the time of the prophets and apostles is past, and their gifts are not with us today. The only physical miracles wrought by men today are either fraud, mistake, or evil. Beware, dear Christian.

Recall that it was because of occult practices that many of the nations of Canaan were punished by God, at the sword of Joshua, with genocide.

Deuteronomy 18:9-12
9When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. 10There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, 11Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. 12For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee.

For some readers this passage may strike home more than one way. In both the Eastern and Roman churches righteous men and women who devoted their lives to service of the Lord are doubly dishonored both by superstitious ascription of wonder-working to them, and by necromantic attempts to communicate with them whose ears have long decomposed, whose souls are in glory with the Lord.

Communication with the dead is tied to the occult: both are pagan, and both particularly anger God. Don't do it - don't try to practice magic, don't claim to have gifts you don't, don't imagine that God has made you a wonder-worker, don't accuse righteous man of participating in such schemes, and don't attempt to communicate with the dead. If you happen to be around someone who can do legitimate supernatural things, beware: such an one is not of God.

Referring back to the Raki master I mentioned above, this man attempted to suggest that the impersonal force was the Holy Ghost is the impersonal force he channels to perform his healings, and that Jesus was a very high level Raki master of some sort. Such blaspheme is shocking to this author, but as Christian culture declines, we must be prepared to hear such claims. When we do, do not be impressed by their magic, do not join in their rituals, and do not make the mistake that many fathers of the Roman and Eastern churches did of trying to Christianize them. Instead eschew evil, and cling to Christ. Pray with me that the light of God's truth will shine both about the darkness of the occult and the darkness of the hoaxes unauthorizedly perpetrated in His Holy name.

May God have Mercy Abundantly,

He is a Compassionate God, let us praise Him!