Saturday, December 27, 2008

Bellisario vs. His Own Imagination on Christmas

Bellisario has a new post, in which he ferociously battles positions that have not been presented (link). The straw flies in every direction, but I thought I'd do a quick response (well, it started as a quick response ... it ended up a bit long) to his post:

MB: "I wanted to answer the un-identifiable one and how he uses his foolish twisting of Sacred Scripture to reject honoring Our Lord's Incarnation."

TF: Rejecting Christmas as a holy day of obligation is not a rejection of honoring the Lord's Incarnation. Bellisario either is unable to think clearly or has decided to use his imagination in place of the actual arguments I set forth. (See my previous post addressing the silliness of his calling me "un-idententifiable.")

MB: "He uses Roman's [sic] 14:6 to justify himself in doing so."

TF: I do proclaim the truth of Romans 14, but not to reject honoring anyone but the legalistic church of Rome.

MB: "Is it about Christian liberty as this guy says?"

TF: Ah, so Bellisario has now remembered what this is about - Christian liberty, not "reject[ing] honoring Our Lord's Incarnation," as he so dishonestly put it.

MB: "Let's look at this passage and see what Saint Paul is really saying."

TF: This, of course, is what Bellisario ought to have done at once. But, at least he is doing it now. Let's see how he does:

MB: "In this passage of Scripture Saint Paul is not talking about whether or not we should attend or not attend a day of worship as if Sunday or any other day is as good as another to worship God."

TF: This passage is not dealing with the issue of the weekly sabbath. Nevertheless, this passage is dealing with the celebration of other holy days, such as existed both in the pagan world of Paul's day and in the Old Testament economy of grace. For example, as I pointed out in my last post, the Old Testament called for a yearly feast of booths, which reminded Israel of their redemption from Egypt.

MB: "He is referring to the many Jews of his day who were keeping old Jewish observances such as seventh day Sabbath laws etc."

TF: MB is a bit confused here. The Sabbath was a creation ordinance, like marriage. It predates Abraham and is not distinctly Jewish. It is not the Sabbath, but the other Jewish holy days that were among the practices that Paul had in mind. He may also have had some of the pagan holy days in mind, but it seems less likely, since abandonment of those holy days would have been natural for Christian converts.

MB: "We can tell this because this passage starts off with the Jewish dietary laws, and the Church Fathers interpreted it the same way."

TF: The legalism of the Judaizers was the primary error being addressed, doubtlessly. Nevertheless, it is not only Judaizing legalism that is condemned by Paul's words - he does not limit his comments on diet and days to the Jews, but words his liberating doctrines generically. We'll get to the church fathers issue in a bit.

MB: "This passage is really referring to works of the law in reference to the Jews just as Saint Paul does throughout his writings, which are also misinterpreted by the heretics to mean all works."

TF: As noted above, yes - the legalism of the Jews is a primary target, but Paul's words are not limited to their legalism. In fact, Paul doesn't actually explicitly even mention the Jews in the chapter. The issue of how "heretics" (anybody who disagrees with Bellisario's church) supposedly misinterpret Scripture is a topic best left for another post.

MB: "To prove it lets look at Saint Chrysostom and how he interprets this passage."

TF: You know, it is interesting. When Bellisario and I were debating Sola Scriptura, Chrysostom's word was not viewed as "prov[ing]" Sola Scriptura. But now, supposedly, Chrysostom's interpretation becomes imbued with magical imperviousness to error (something that goes beyond what even Chrysostom would have wanted).

MB: "It is not even close to what this guy is trying to prove from it."

TF: I wonder how many commentaries MB has actually read. Oftentimes, Scripture is like a jewel. One commentator may comment on 5 of the facets, another may comment on 3 of those and 3 others. And a third commentator may catch 2 of the first, 1 of the second, and 2 more not noticed by the first two guys. Scripture is quite rich with meaning, which is why its careful study is so profitable. Chrysostom (or any commentator for that matter) is likely to notice those facets that are most relevant to his day and age, with less emphasis on those facets that are so blindingly obvious that no one of his day misunderstands them. Or contrariwise, if a misunderstanding is prevalent enough, it could help a commenter miss the implication of a particular text. The fact that Augustine notices one thing, and Ambrose another, does not mean that one of them is an heretic. But let us continue on ...

MB: "Chrysostom says in his homily on Romans in the 4th century the following in regards [sic] to this passage,
Ver. 6. He that regards the day, regards it unto the Lord; and he that regards not the day, to the Lord he does not regard it. And, He that eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he that eats not, to the Lord he eats not, and gives God thanks.
He still keeps to the same subject. And what he means is about this. The thing is not concerned with fundamentals. For the thing requisite is, if this person and the other are acting for God's sake, the thing requisite is (these words are repeated 3 manuscripts), if both terminate in thanksgiving. For indeed both this man and that give thanks to God. If then both do give thanks to God, the difference is no great one. But let me draw your notice to the way in which here also he aims unawares a blow at the Judaizers. For if the thing required be this, the giving of thanks, it is plain enough that he which eats it is that gives thanks, and not he which eats not. For how should he, while he still holds to the Law? As then he told the Galatians, As many of you as are justified by the Law are fallen from grace (Gal. v. 4); so here he hints it only, but does not unfold it so much. For as yet it was not time to do so. But for the present he bears with it (see p. 337): but by what follows he gives it a further opening. For where he says,

Ver. 7, 8. For none of us lives unto himself, and no man dies unto himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord, by this too he makes the same clearer. For how can he that lives unto the Law, be living unto Christ?

TF: And that is where MB stops quoting Chrysostom. Well, Chrysostom does mention the legalism of the Judaizers, and rightly so. Likewise, Chrysostom makes application of the text to the Judaizers who wanted to make folks follow the old laws. All this, of course, is perfectly harmonious with what I had said. It simply does not provide the further application to the innovation of holy days of obligation, or the particularly heinous abuse of asserting that it is a "mortal sin" not to regard such days as holy.

Indeed, Chrysostom, without using the word liberty, affirms Christian liberty, noting that what is important is thanksgiving. He doesn't apply this text to the problems of modern Romanism, but is that any surprise? He did not have a time travel machine.

MB: "To use this passage does not give anyone anyplace individually the right to set his or her own worship schedule as if he were his own Church."

TF: Ah, another of Bellisario's imagined enemy positions. The "right to set his or her own worship schedule" position was not presented by me, and isn't the position I've been advocating. Instead, what I've been advocating is the idea that Christians are free not to regard these man-made feast days (such as Christmas, or All-Saints Day, or the like) or to regard them, as they wish. Scripture says so, and it is only legalists, such as Juadiazers and papists, that deny it.

MB: "It is plainly aimed at the Jews and the works of the law."

TF: Plainly aimed at them, perhaps, and yet not limited to them. In fact, as noted above, the Jews aren't specifically mentioned in the chapter. What is truly absurd is to suppose that the Old Testament laws given by Moses with respect to days and meats are not binding but that brand new laws are binding! How bizarre! The former had the authority of God, the latter have only the authority of man. If observance of the former is not mandatory, much less so is the observance of the latter.

MB: "To use this passage to justify rejecting Church liturgical celebrations is a false interpretation. Let me continue."

TF: Really? Suppose that a church is run by Judaizers? Suppose they impose the days and dietary restrictions of the Old Testament economy? Surely then even the belligerant Bellisario would have to acknowledge that the Scripture "plainly" (his words) condemns such. Furthermore, the explanation for why the Christian need not follow the days and diets of the Old economy is that no man is to judge another in days and meats, and that we are to give thanksgiving to God whether we are working or worshiping. Only intentionally ignoring the explanation of the text could lead to a conclusion that churches which Judiaze are condemned, but churches that invent new dietary restrictions and new holy days are approved. But we will let Bellisario continue:

MB: "The Church in her authority can have a variation in Liturgical Calendars."

TF: The whole concept of "liturgical calendars" isn't found in the New Testament. Presumably MB is simply repeating what he thinks his church's position on the subject is. This is not entitled to any weight for us, since it is not founded in God's revelation.

MB: "This means that each Church, not each individual can have variations in liturgical schedule."

TF: That may be MB's church's position, and it does seem to be the practice Catholicism that different national churches and churches of different rites have variations in their calendars. On the other hand, such differences have nothing at all to do with what Chrysostom said and such differences have nothing at all to do with what the text of Scripture says.

MB: "That does not mean that each church can arbitrarily remove Christmas from their liturgical calendars."

TF: Again, MB is just talking about what he thinks his church's position is.

MB: "Sure the day may be different, such as Easter is different on the old calendar from the new most of the time for example."

TF: Again, this has to do with MB's perception of his own church's laws. The reason for the difference in the calculation of Easter between the "East" and the "West" is that the celebration of Easter, as an annual holiday, was not an Apostolic tradition, although it became a widespread custom very early on.

MB: "This passage is not really in reference to this, but could be later interpreted to be referring to the spiritually weak in faith accusing other churches of not following their liturgical calendars, as sometimes happens today between the Eastern Orthodox and the Catholic Church over Easter."

TF: Of course, it is not really in reference to that, as the explanation provided in the text proves. The explanation in the text indicates there are no Christina obligatory feast days, and no Christian obligatory fast days. For Romanism to claim that a man is committing a mortal sin by not going to Easter mass or by eating meat on a particular Friday, is to violate the Christian liberty God through Paul in Scripture gives to the believer. It is not freedom from the old diets and calendars to bondage to a new set of diets and calendars, but into liberty.

MB: "There are numerous other passages of Scripture that prove that there are appointed days of worship by the early Church. Read 1 Cor 16, Acts 20:7, Rev 1:10 for example."

TF: There is one day of appointed worship, namely the weekly day of rest. It is appointed by God, not "the early Church." Acts 20:7 refers to this weekly observance:

Acts 20:7 And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.

So does 1 Corinthians 16:2

1 Corinthians 16:2 Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.

So does Revelation 1:10

Revelation 1:10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,

The Lord's day, a creation ordinance, is the only perpetually binding day that obliges the believer to cease from work and worship His Creator and Redeemer. These verses tend to prove that, especially Revelation 1:10, which mentions "the Lord's day" as though it were one - not one of dozens throughout the year, or as though it were a church-innovated holiday.

MB: "So once again we see this passage when read in context is not an excuse for each individual to decide whether or not to worship Christ in his incarnation individually. It was written primarily for the Jews of the time."

TF: It wasn't written primarily for the Jews of the time, it was written primarily for the Romans, see the Title of the Book, or verse 7 of the first chapter of Romans, from which the title of the book was perhaps obtained. Furthermore, although it was primarily addressed to the immediate problem of Judaizers trying to impose those holidays, the explanation provided provides a shield against the modern legalism of Rome, which tries to imposes fasts and holidays on its members, in violation of this passage.

MB: "Next lets look at the age long persecution of Christmas by the Protestants to really get an idea of where this guy is coming from."

TF: Persecution of Christmas? One has to chuckle at the personification of Christmas in order to make such an inane rhetorical claim.

MB: "In England the Catholics were persecuted so harshly that certain Christmas carols were invented to communicate Catholic doctrine at Christmas time because of the hatred of the Catholics celebrating Christmas. One of these carols is the well known 12 days of Christmas. Another example is when the people of Ireland placed lit candles in their windows at Christmas so that passing priests would know that the people wanted to have Mass celebrated in their homes. Once again the likes of the English crown persecuted the Catholics in Ireland."

TF: The harshest treatment of Irish papists was probably under Cromwell's reign, but he did not take the crown, styling himself "Lord Protector of England." In any event, criticism by the papists of the "persecution" (so called) of their fellow-papists in England and Ireland is like someone with Ebola pointing out that his neighbor once came down with bad case of chickenpox. The old saw about those in glass houses being careful springs to mind.

MB: "The English Puritans had a hellbent hatred for Christmas and went to all lengths to destroy it. During the brief Calvinist reign in England, they forbade the celebration of Christmas, even going so far as to force shops to be open! This is how sick these sub-defectives were in their hatred for Our Lord's incarnation."

TF: Shops open on Christmas! How sick! How terrible! What a travesty! People working and doing business on that day, just like in the time of the apostles, before anyone began to celebrate Christmas as though it were a holy day! What a revolting, disgusting concept. I mean, assuming one does not want the purity of the Apostolic church, of course. Otherwise, it sounds quite excellent - men glorifying God by industry, working with their hands.

Notice how Bellisario misrepresents the Puritans. He claims that they hated the Lord's incarnation. He makes the same false claim about me. For Bellisario, if one rejects the legalism of Rome, one must do so not because one loves to worship God as the Apostles did, but because one hates the Incarnation. What utter and complete blindness! Notice how he calls them "sub-defectives" and yet his own reasoning is full of pronounced errors. He cannot appreciate that rejection of Christmas is not a rejection of the Lord's Incarnation.

MB: "Now the last argument is that Christmas is a new invention and that it was taken from the pagans and it has nothing to do with real Christian worship."

TF: It is an invention. It is not new. The best explanation as to the choice of the day is that it was taken from the pagans, especially since it happens to fall about the time of the winter solistice. As Benedict XVI pointed out, on 21 December 2008, "The very placement of Christmas is tied to the winter solstice, when the days in the Northern hemisphere start to become longer." (source - longer version)

MB: "This is quite absurd, since the history of the Church speaks otherwise."

TF: Church history confirms that the celebration of Christmas is an innovation unknown to the apostles. Furthermore, while the celebration of Christ's birth starts to come about in church history, it doesn't start out at the end of December. Finally, even when it gets celebrated in the end of December, it doesn't become obligatory for a while longer. Furthermore, one really has to wait a while to hear some legalist begin to proclaim that it is a mortal sin not to celebrate Christmas. In fact, the more one explores church history, the more one discovers just how much Rome has accreted new traditions on old traditions until what we have now would not be recognizable to those of 500 years ago, just as theirs would not have been recognizable to 500 years previous, and so forth. But to return to the simplicity of the Apostolic worship of God - that's something MB regards as "sub-defective" and evidence "hatred" of the Lord's incarnation.

MB: "We have Christmastide being celebrated in the early Church and scholars think that the celebration of Epiphany (originating in the East), which included the nativity and modern Christmastide themes, was celebrated as early as the second century."

TF: "Scholars" think all sorts of things. Scholars are pretty much unanimous, though, that Christmas was not instituted, known of, or approved by the apostles.

MB: "The oldest manuscript that we have in the west dates from AD 336. It shows the liturgical celebration on December 25th and is in the Philocalian calendar."

TF: One has to know a bit about the Philocalian calendar to appreciate the irony of MB's citation of it, after claiming that the celebration day has no pagan roots. The Philocalian calendar has several sections. Although in the calendar of martyrs there is a December 25th entry for the birth of Jesus is Bethelehem Judah, in the civil portion of the calendar December 25 is marked "Natalis Invicti," the Birth of the Unconquered (Sun). Naturally, the winter solstice, from which point the days begin to grow longer in Rome, coincides with the birth of the imagined sun god, whose feast had become an ingrained part of Roman life, to the point of being on the civil calendar. While many seek to dispute the idea that December 25 was selected for this reason, the Philocalian calendar is evidence that supports the idea that the date was simply taken over from the pagans in Rome.

MB: "The Apostolic Constitutions (c AD 380) mandated the celebration of Christ's birth on December 25th, and his Epiphany on January 6 to give a united day to the celebration of the Incarnation throughout the Church."

TF: The Apostolic Constitutions were horatory (instructional) not prescriptive (legislative). They give advice, not laws. They are obviously pseudographic (they claim to be written by the Apostles, but they are not), and they were rejected by the Trullan Council in 692. There certainly were churches that used them as the basis for church legislation, but they were unknown to the Western church for most of the middle ages. Again, history is not Bellisario's friend, but his enemy.

MB: "Once again every Church throughout the world is living and interpreting the Scriptures different than these modern "Protestant" heretics."

TF: The celebration of Christmas was not based on interpreting Scriptures, as though Scriptures require such a celebration. Furthermore, even once people widely began to celebrate the birth of Christ, they appear to have done so voluntarily, not under obligation or threat of mortal sin. Even if we find such a concept as early as Aquinas (and I cannot recall specifically where even he asserted that failure to communicate on Christmas is a mortal sin), we would still identify such an innovation as medieval in origin, not part of the early church teachings, and certainly not based on Scriptural interpretation.

MB: "Although the day in the early Church was not explicitly celebrated on Dec 25th, the Incarnation was a day of liturgical worship by the Church since its earliest time."

TF: This false statement is rebutted by historians, and even by MB's own previous claims that it was celebrated as early as the "second century." The earliest time, would, of course, be the time of the apostles.

MB: "Once again Saint Paul is not to be understood as to not arguing over whether we should be celebrating Christmas, but possibly what day we should celebrate Christmas."

TF: Ha ha ha. This ties into MB's claim that the passage is really directed to the Judaizers, but we can now interpret it some new way. Paul is generically addressing the kind of legalism found both in Judaism and modern Romanism - a legalism that hangs ones salvation on not eating certain things and following certain feast days. If Paul had said that the Passover doesn't have to be celebrated according to the Ancient calendar any more, but can be celebrated whenever - then perhaps there would be application to newly innovated holy days. But Paul says that believers have the freedom to regard or not regard days, giving thanks to God, and to eat or fast, giving thanks to God.

While MB is busy complaining that my explanation goes further than Chrysostom's, MB tries to take the text in an entirely different direction, to justify the liturgical disunity that exists within Romanism.

MB: "There is a big difference. To interpret Saint Paul in a manner allowing each individual to decide for himself as whether he is going to go to church on Sunday or any other Holy Day is ridiculous and one must really stretch the text and twist it to get this meaning from it."

TF: With respect to the Lord's day, such an interpretation would be erroneous, because we must not set one part of Scripture against another. But with respect to holy days, it is not only not ridiculous, it is the true sense of the passage - for individual people are in mind who may celebrate the Passover or the feast of booths, or whatnot, or may not celebrate those ancient Israelite traditions, in the New Testament administration. The passage makes sense against the Judaizers only when applied to individual believers. This teaching against legalism, however, is not convenient for Bellisario, and consequently it is dismissed as ridiculous.

MB: "He is clearly telling the Jews that it must not be a work of the law."

TF: He's not speaking to the Jews, he's speaking to the Romans. He's warning them of the errors of legalism, which errors were first presented by the Judaizers. However, in chapter 14 Paul doesn't specifically mention that group, but speaks generically. Furthermore, Paul isn't (here) specifically addressing the issue of whether such celebrations should be works of the law. It's just not there.

MB: "Meaning that we should not celebrate that day as a work of the law in and of itself."

TF: That's not at all what Paul is saying. Paul is speaking about Christian liberty either to regard or not to regard days, and to eat or avoid eating various foods. Thus, for example, later in the passage, Paul states (placing a boundary on Christian liberty):

Romans 14:13-15
13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way. 14 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.

MB: "This is clearly not the case with Christmas, nor was it Saint Paul's intention as we just read in Saint Chrysostom's homily on it."

TF: MB claims it is "clearly not the case with Christmas," but the teaching of Rome is that to fail to obey their law to go to mass on Christmas is to engage in mortal sin, which amounts to a fall from grace, and essentially a loss of salvation. That's the same basic error as the Judaizers made, except that the Judaizers had the sense to point to customs that were not of merely human origin, such as Christmas. The justification for Rome's legalism, consequently is even less than that of the Judaizers. Chrysostom picks on the Judaizers, but if he could see Rome today, his pastoral message would (we have every reason to expect) point out that they are violating the Apostle's words in Scripture.

Furthermore, if Chrysostom failing to mention something is really the standard for that "something" being error, then why does MB provide an interpretation that is not found in Chrysostom? But, of course, it is not absurd to see new applications to the commands of Scripture, which is why we are not locked in by what Chrysostom happened to mention in the portion of his homily that was recorded and passed down to us.

MB: "Isn't it funny how heretics will throw Scripture verses at the Church not even knowing what they mean?"

TF: It's quite sad to see how fanatical papists will ignore what Scripture says in order to try to justify their church. It's quite sad that they will refuse to carefully consider what Scripture means in order to determine whether their church is in error - particularly on an issue such as this, where the error of legalism is glaring. At moments it may be humorous to see just how wildly illogical the arguments are, but at the end of the day it is quite saddening to see such fanatical devotion to the pope and his doctrines over the Scripture.

MB: "Just reading the Scriptures and interpreting them as you see fit is not real Christianity."

TF: It truly is not, and yet that is what we have seen from Bellisario. He reads the Scriptures (or at least tiny parts thereof) and tries to interpret them to make them fit his church's position. Real Christianity is diligently searching the Scriptures to see what they say: letting Scripture interpret Scripture.

MB: "You have to live the Scriptures and unite yourself to Christ in His Church."

TF: Living Romans 14:6 can include not regarding holy days (or regarding them). So, the only question is, "Is a church that denies Christians their Romans 14:6 rights, a church of Christ?" If we determine whether a church is Christ's by comparing its doctrine to Scripture, we can give an answer. If we refuse to compare our church's doctrine to Scripture, we cannot know whether we are following the false teachers that Scripture warns will come.

MB: "The Scriptures are to be lived in the Church by the Church."

TF: And when a church contradicts Scripture, it shows its own fallibility. When it refuses to submit itself to Scripture, it shows its arrogance. When it tries to impose legalism, it shows itself to be preaching another gospel.

MB: "The un-identifiable one will always be on the outside looking in until he decides to repent and follow Christ."

TF: Christ is my Lord. Therefore, whether I live, I love to the Lord, and whether I die, I die to the Lord. Consequently, whether I live or die, I am the Lord's, which is the very reason he was incarnate, died, and rose, that he might by my Lord. Bellisario would know this, if he would read Romans 14 carefully, humbly asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate his reading of the Scriptures so that he could investigate whether the doctrines I speak of are of the Lord or of man, and likewise whether the doctrines of his church are of divine or human origin.

MB: "Is this legalistic that the Church provides us with a liturgical calendar to follow so that we may immerse ourselves in the life of Christ and become more Holy through Him and the Sacraments of the Church? I think not!"

TF: It is not for providing a liturgical calendar that I have been criticizing Rome for legalism: it is for insisting that Christians are obligated to follow this calendar or commit mortal sin. Having a liturgical calendar may be a very handy thing, and - while it is prone to abuse - it is not inherently legalistic. Bellisario's battling his imagination again.

MB: "And I think it is the one who is spiritually dead who makes such accusations at the Church."

TF: Since I make different accusations than those he attributes to me, I'll just let his judgment of spiritual deadness (essentially the same false judgment made by Judaizers against those who refused to celebrate the old liturgical calendars) lie.

MB: "The Church provides these things to us because we need them and because it is our spiritual hospital so to speak."

TF: The Apostles didn't need them, and didn't appoint them. Does Bellisario think that his church is wiser than the Apostles (frankly, considering how little he cares for what Scripture says, I'm afraid to imagine what his answer might be).

MB: "Do the healthy need a hospital?"

TF: The great Physician is not the church calendar, but Christ himself. The best revelation of that Physician is not the church calendar, but Scripture. Thus, Basil the Great compared Scripture to a pharmacy, from which everyone get the medicine they need.

MB: "Woe to those who think they are spiritually sin-proof for they are really spiritually dead!"

TF: So saith Bellisario, but John the Apostle says:

1 John 3:9 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

MB: "Those who oppose the authority of Christ are those who think they don't need help, those who think they they know better than Him."

TF: Legalism is not "help," but Scripture is. Let God judge the heart, but let it be clear that while Bellisario is placing faith in the teachings of his church, I am placing my trust on the God of Scripture, the God taught in Scripture, the God of liberty.

1 Peter 2:15-16
15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: 16 As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.

MB: "It is not a legalistic obligation we are following, but one of love towards Christ."

TF: It is possible for a person to observe religious holidays out of love towards Christ, or to fast from certain foods out of love for Christ, or not to observe religious holidays out of love towards Christ, or to eat food out of love for Christ. Romans 14:6 makes it clear that all four of these things are possible. What is legalism is insisting that holy days (beyond, of course, the Lord's Day) must be observed, and particularly insisting that a person who refuses loses their salvation. That is rank legalism, of essentially the same kind promoted by the Judaizers.

MB: "The Church knows that those who immerse themselves in the Holy Days will reap rewards of grace from God because those that love God want to be with Him on these most Holy days of worship."

TF: I could sarcastically comment that "reap[ing] rewards" sounds absolutely nothing like legalism, but perhaps it would be more helpful for me to note that saying "The Church knows" is not really an argument for something. The Scriptures don't teach that doctrine, and the Apostles didn't teach it either. So from whence did Bellisario's church get this knowledge? The most obvious answer is that it comes from their imagination, or simply from Bellisario's imagination - since perhaps his church never makes such a claim.

MB: "It is love that the real law is based on, not legalistic transactions as you have in Protestantism."

TF: The law is one of love: for God and our neighbor. That is the teaching of the Reformed churches. Bellisario's confused comment regarding "legalistic transactions" appears to be the result of Bellisario not understanding forensic imputation, and confusing "juridical" with "legalistic." Nevertheless, an explanation of those problems in Bellisario would exceed the scope of this already-long post.

MB: "This is what is condemned in Scripture."

TF: Actually, what is condemned in the first part of Romans 14 is insisting that other people observe holy days or eschew certain foods. It doesn't address legal concepts of the covenants of grace and works, at least not in a direct manner.

MB: "We don't have to look very far as the "Reformed" church looks at Christ and salvation as getting your ticket punched at the train station."

TF: No, that's not the Reformed soteriology. Bellisario seems to be even less familiar with Reformed soteriology than he is with history, for him to be making a claim like that. But, correcting Bellisario's errors in that regard will have to wait for another day.

MB: "Talk about legalistic nonsense."

TF: This sentence is the result of Bellisario confusing "legalistic" with something else. What exactly he has in mind, it is hard to say.

MB: "I will close with this beautiful Arabic Christmas Carol from You Tube! It is truly amazing! Christ is born! Glorify Him!"

TF: The refrain from the eastern liturgy is already addressed in my previous post (link). And, of course, the beauty of the Arabic Christmas Carol is neither a particularly salient or important issue.

In conclusion, I encourage the reader to carefully read and consider Romans 14 (link). Consider what it says, and recognize whether it permits a church to require observance of particular diets or religious holy days.


Herman Witsius on the Atonement

Herman Witsius (1636-1708) produced a classic work which is entitled "The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man." In that work, which covers a broad range of subjects, there is a chapter devoted to the Reformed doctrine of Limited Atonement. This chapter is Chapter 9 of Book 2 in Volume 1. It is pages 255-71 of the den Dulke Christian Foundation's reprinting of 1990 (distributed by P&R Publishing), an edition that has a nice introduction by Tom Ascol.

In chapter 9 of Book 2, Witsius provides primarily a positive case for particular redemption, addressing the Remonstrant error of Universal atonement in very general ways, while setting forth the positive arguments with great clarity.

Witsius does not waffle on the issue of Christ's atonement. At section VI, he states " ... Christ, according to the will of God the Father, and his own purpose, did neither engage nor satisfy, and consequently in no manner die, but only for all those whom the Father gave him, and who are actually saved. This is that truth which is controverted, and which we are now to confirm, in a concise but solid manner, from the sacred writings." He goes on to provide just such a confirmation, and I would commend his explanation to those readers interested in a positive Reformed presentation on the issue.

Witsius does use a few words that are not widely used today in his presentation. For example, he speaks of the impetration of Christ, which is the act of obtaining by prayer or petition. One of the helpful points of explanation that Witsius provides is a demonstration that salvation is impetrated by Christ, and not only impetrated but also applied.

Witsius quotes Remigius of Lyons (9th century) as stating, "The blood of Christ is a great price; such a price can, in no respect, be in vain and ineffectual but rather is filled with the super-abundant advantage arising from those blessings for which it is paid." Unfortunately, Witsius himself provides only a quotation to a secondary source (Forbes. Instruct. Hist. lib. 8. c. 16), and I have not been able to track this quotation back to an original source from Remigius at this time.

As noted above, Witsius provides mostly a positive case. At section XXXVI, Witsius politely declines to reproduce all the excellent answers to Remonstrant objections, and instead points the reader to the worthy Dutch theologian, Gomarus. In particular, he points to a dissertation inserted into Gomarus' commentary on Galations. Sadly for us, Gomarus' works are (for the most part) not readily available in any language, and mostly have not been translated into English (as far as I know).

Nevertheless, the reference to and reliance on Gomarus can help to solidify a taxonomy of Witsius as siding with the strict Calvinists against the Remonstrant errors, even on the doctrine of the atonement, for those trying to provide taxonomies of the Calvinists. I realize that the Amyraldian (or quasi-Amyraldian) folks with whom I have been dealing on this doctrine have read at least portions of what Witsius wrote, but I would like to encourage them to read it again, focusing on Witsius' excellent explanations for why he believes as he does.


UPDATE: Thanks to a friend, I believe I may have located the Latin original to which Witsius was referring: "Unde penset unusquisque fidelis, cum sanguis ille tanquam Agni incontaminati et immaculati Christi ab Apostolo pretium magnum dicatur esse, utrum possit tale pretium in aliqua parte esse inane et vacuum, an potius illarum mercium pro quibus datum est lucro et cumulo refertum." Remigius of Lyons, De Tribus Epistolis Liber, Chapter XVI, PL 121:1015B-C

Friday, December 26, 2008

Giordano Bruno

Those outside of Rome may be as surprised to learn about Giordano Bruno, a sort of patron saint of modern, independent Rome. Read all about it (link).


Bad Exegesis Illustrated

I stumbled across an example of truly terrible exegesis today (link). It's not exegesis of Scripture, but exegesis of another written document, the PCA's Book of Church Order. The author of the post argues that this restriction, "58-2. The ignorant and scandalous are not to be admitted to the Lord’s Supper," should bar all from the Lord's table, because all men are ignorant or scandalous on some level. This is a bizarre reading of the text.

What the PCA BCO is saying is that those unable to "discern the Lord's body" (1 Corinthians 11:29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.) and those who are living in open, unrepentant sin (Matthew 18:17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.) should not be admitted to the Lord's table.

Now, this bad exegesis is not because the author cannot read, but because he disagrees with what is written. He generally understands that these two restrictions are meant and not that "Nobody's Welcome" as he proclaims.

I am guessing that the author is not opposed to the latter restriction, but only to the former. In fact, I don't have to guess, his railing continues:
Realistically, this is simply meant to ban two groups of people that Jesus hates from the Table: retarded people and babies. Yeah, those [expletive omitted] babies and retarded people! God surely doesn’t care about them, right? Right.

The author's objection is misplaced. 1 Corinthians 11:29 doesn't teach that Jesus hates children and the simple-minded, but rather that the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is a serious matter, not to be undertaken without proper self-examination. Barring children and the simple-minded from the communion table is not out of hatred for them, but love for them - and concern that they do not eat unworthily.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Response to Nick on Christmas Observance

In response to my previous post (link), Nick has provided some comments:
There are many "home based" non-denominational churches that apply your logic and in effect take away any common day of worship for Christians. The "Lord's Day" on Sunday is no more binding than say Saturday or Tuesday worship. On top of that, any form of weekly worship is technically not binding, so someone could argue for one day a month.

This logic played a big role in the secular world for stripping Sunday of an religious significance as well as Major Holidays.

Places like Acts 15:28-29 show the Church has the power to dictate practices Christians are bound to (even if those acts are not intrinsically sinful). So based on Scripture, the Church can bind the Christian conscience.
I answer:
a) It's not "my logic," it's a question of what Paul says. If Paul (in inspired Scripture) says that we don't have to observe holy days, then we do not.

b) Even if people start from that Scriptural principle, and try to undermine the Lord's Day, that doesn't make the Scriptural principle invalid. People have been misusing Scripture for thousands of years, but Scripture remains true.

c) Part of the problem for those who try to apply this text (not this logic) to try to avoid keeping the Lord's Day holy, is that in doing so they must place Scripture against Scripture. Not so, of course, for arguing that we have Christian liberty not to celebrate the birth of Christ.

d) It is rather absurd to argue that it is an exegesis of Paul's epistle to the Romans that has "played a big role in the secular world for stripping Sunday of an religious significance as well as Major Holidays." Actually, the stripping of Sunday of religious significance in the "secular world" has been mostly accomplished through arguments for the total separation of church and state. It has also been accomplished through an abandonment of Scripture in favor of hedonism. If there has been abuse of Paul's epistle to the Romans, it is a contributing factor only at the lowest level. Mostly, the Lord's Day has been appropriated by men because they are unwilling to acknowledge the creation ordinance of one day of rest in seven, wishing to have all seven days for themselves.

e) Towards the end of the comment, we have something close to an argument (much closer than we saw in Bellisario's post (critiqued here)):
Places like Acts 15:28-29 show the Church has the power to dictate practices Christians are bound to (even if those acts are not intrinsically sinful). So based on Scripture, the Church can bind the Christian conscience.
Let's examine what those verses actually say:

Acts 15:28-29
28 For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; 29 That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.

i) These verses certainly don't say that the church has the power to dictate practices Christians are bound to. I think Nick has recognized that they do not, which is why he said they "show" rather than "say."

ii) These verses do not provide an example of Christ's being bound to engage in any practice. In fact, these verses provide a prohibition. What is interesting, though, is that these verses say that this is the outer limit of the burden to be placed on Christians: "it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things."

iii) The things with which Christians are burdened in Acts 15:28-29 are "necessary things." Although Nick thinks that these things are not intrinsically sinful, that's not quite what the verse says. Paul elsewhere provides other instructions that help to inform these commands:

1 Thessalonians 5:22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.

1 Corinthians 10:23-31
23 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. 24 Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth. 25 Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: 26 For the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof. 27 If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. 28 But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof: 29 Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience? 30 For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks? 31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

In view of those passages, we can understand the prohibition provided. While eating certain foods is not sinful, appearing to participate in paganism is sinful because it leads the pagans astray.

iv) Those giving the command in Acts 15 are not simply the church, but the apostles. To assume that because the apostles did something, therefore the church can do something is to make an unwarranted assumption. The unique authority of the apostles was testified by sign gifts, such as the ability to raise the dead. The church (if we are to equate the apostles and the church) no longer raises people from the dead, no longer cures people by having a shadow pass over them, and so forth. Those extraordinary gifts have ceased, and the apostles have gone to be with the Lord.

v) Furthermore, the command in Acts 15 has the authority not only of the church, but more importantly, of the Holy Spirit. It is explicitly stated that it "seemed good to the Holy Ghost." This command was provided during the time of inscripturation, while all the things necessary to salvation were still in the process of being written down. These apostles had the prophetic gift. In this case, they were appealing not to their own authority as church leaders, but to the Holy Ghost's authority. Even the so-called Roman Catholic Church has acknowledged that public revelation has ceased. When Trent spoke, it did not claim to have new revelation from the Holy Ghost.

vi) Perhaps, most importantly, the command in Acts 15 is properly viewed as a release! As hard as it may seem to modern observers, Christians did not immediately recognize that the ceremonial law of the Old Testament had been fulfilled in Christ. Recall that even after Acts 15 and even after Simon Peter had received a vision from God and seen the conversion of Cornelius, he didn't fully appreciate that the dietary laws of the Old Testament had generally been done away in Christ.

Acts 15:28-29, which merely prevents us from appearing to join in with pagan worship, is actually a release: it is actually a proclamation of liberty, with only a small reservation of "necessary" restrictions.

vii) Furthermore, even if all of the above were wrong, the restrictions identified in Acts 15 do not relate to the observation of holy days. Even supposing the church can bind the conscience, the church cannot contradict Holy Scripture, and Holy Scripture gives Christians freedom with respect to the observation of holy days, either to observe them to God, or to omit observation of them to God.

So, in view of these things, we can reasonably reject Nick's conclusion that Acts 15 provides warrant for "the Church" to bind the consciences of people in respect to holy days.


The Real Turretin on: Sacraments and the True Church

Kyle Borg at Synod of Saints has an interesting post on the importance of the sacraments. It particularly caught my eye because (though he omits Turretin's icon from his synod of saints) he leads with a quotation from the real Turretin on the sacraments and the true church. (link)



Bellisario and Rome vs. Paul the Apostle on Christian Liberty

In a previous post (link), I quoted the words of Holy Scripture penned by Paul the Apostle:

Romans 14:6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.

and I noted that I will be exercising my Christian liberty and not specially regarding December 25, 2008, even while Rome imposes on the consciences of its members, contrary to Scripture.

One of my readers brought to my attention a response that Mr. Matthew Bellisario provided against Paul's grant of Christian liberty (link to Bellisario's post).

Bellisario titles his post: "Why Protestantism is Theologically Dead! Christ is born! Glorify Him!" It's a strange title for a very strange post. Not only does his post not go on to establish any sort of theological deadness, his post makes lots of assertions without any supporting arguments.

As for "Christ is born! Glorify Him!" -- the declaration is true, and it is not only proper to glorify him, but mandatory. Nevertheless, Jesus nowhere asks us to glorify him by commemorating his birth. Jesus was more focused on us expressing our love for him, not through invented holy days, but through obedience to his commandments:

John 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.

Bellisario begins and ends his post with the same refrain. The reason is apparent to anyone familiar with "Byzantine Catholicism" (as in "Eastern Rite," not an insult). The refrain is the eastern equivalent to the "Joy to the world! The Lord is come!" found in the Roman liturgy. There's nothing particularly wrong with either refrain, and there is nothing particularly relevant either. The main reason to cite such a refrain in a post such as Bellisario's is as a rallying point to the liturgy of his church: an appeal to the emotions against reason and Scripture.

Bellisario continues his post: "I ran across a sad writing by A "reformed" Protestant today and once again I had to shake my head in disbelief." Sadly, Bellisario does not recognize the irony of his own profession of disbelief. It is, after all, the words of Scripture that Bellisario does not believe. Bellisario does not believe that to the Lord I will not be regarding the day, but that is what Scripture says.

Bellisario continues: "This un-identifiable person chose to use Sacred Scripture to skip out on worshiping our Lord and His incarnation." I don't give out my name or address, but it's not hard to identify me by my pen name, which is how most people identify me on the Internet. More importantly, however, note Bellisario's characterization of the matter: "use Sacred Scripture to skip out on worshiping our Lord and His incarnation." The idea of "skip[ping] out" implies a duty that doesn't exist. One wonders whether Bellisario would think it right to say that he "uses Sacred Scripture to skip out on going on pilgrimage to Mecca." Hopefully, he'd see how foolish a statement like that is. God does not command us to go on pilgrimage to Mecca or Rome, or to celebrate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord does not ask us to remember his birth with a commemorative holiday or a special liturgy.

Bellisario again: "Without the wonderful incarnation of our Lord all of us would have no Easter, and therefore none of us would have an advocate with the Father to enter into eternal life." The incarnation is wonderful, and without it we would not have the cross, the resurrection, or the resurrection. We (Reformed Christians) commemorate the Resurrection every week, by meeting on the first day of the week, rather than the last day of the week, following the apostolic example.

Bellisario again: "This is another example of why Protestantism is Theologically Dead!" It's a triumphant assertion (I didn't add the exclamation point), but it hasn't been supported by any rationale.

Bellisario again: "This person chooses to act as a pagan, and yet uses Sacred Scripture to act as one." This is about as close as Bellisario comes to trying to back up his assertion. The argument is totally implicit: apparently in Bellisario's mind, not regarding the supposed day of Christ's birth is "act[ing] as a pagan." Yet Paul (in Scripture) unequivocally grants us the liberty to do just what I'm doing. Apparently if I don't take a sharpie and black out part of what Paul wrote, I'm "theologically dead" in Bellisario's eyes, and acting like a pagan.

Ironically, celebrating at the winter solstice is what looks a lot more like what the pagans did. Not celebrating is not acting like a pagan ... but Bellisario is blind to this sort of irony, as he muddles on:

Bellisario: "Here is what this person says on his blog. The hair stands up on my arms when I read it, because something like this can only be from the Devil." I've seen some remarkable appeals to authority from papists, but this appeal to arm-hair as a diviner of demonic origination is a new one. Bellisario's hairy arms may well have tingled, but my post was strictly a legitimate, apostolically approved, expression of the liberty that I have in Christ.

I had written:
As an exercise of my Christian liberty, I will not be celebrating Christ's birthday on December 25, 2008. I will not be attending a "mass" or any substitute thereof. I do not plan to set aside any business concerns that would interfere with such religious exercises.

Instead, by engaging in worldly employments and recreations, I will not treat that day as holy. This is my Christian liberty, as Paul explained:

Romans 14:6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.

Having quoted my words (and those of Scripture that I myself quoted), Bellisario continues: "He then goes on to accuse the Catholic Church as being legalistic in telling people that Christmas is a Holy day of obligation!" Except for the fact that he erroneously refers to his church as "the Catholic Church" (a popular, but inaccurate title for it), his claim is correct. I do so accuse Rome of violating Romans 14:6 by trying to make Christmas an obligatory holy day. But does Bellisario have any answer beyond bodily functions?

Bellisario states: "This is comical since this is anything but legalism if one really understands what is happening at Mass and what our Lord has done, and continues to do for us." This, of course, doesn't answer the issue of legalism. It wouldn't answer it if the issue were what transpires during the Mass, or what Christ has done or continues to do, because it doesn't explain, it just asserts. The issue, however, in this instance is not the idolatry of the Mass, the perfection of Christ's once-for-all sacrifice, or the unique mediatorial role of Christ. Those are all important issues, but they are not the issues presented here. What is presented here is the alleged creation of an instance of a judgment of "mortal sin" for failing to observe a holiday that Scripture specifically grants Christians the liberty not to observe.

Let's get more specific. The "Catechism of the Catholic Church," explains:
1861 Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God's forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ's kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back. However, although we can judge that an act is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.

Notice that the alleged result of the commission of a "mortal sin" is, to paraphrase, a loss of salvation. It is remediable, but if it is not remedied, it can land a previously "ok" person in hell. Thus, we may loosely say that the holy days of obligation are imposed on the conscience of members of Catholicism as a condition of salvation. That's legalism: the creation of conditions for salvation.

Bellisario, perhaps because his arms were still bothering him, or because he is so busying wagging his head in disbelief, does not seem to be aware of the issues of legalism associated with holy days of obligation, and does not have an answer beyond assertion.

Bellisario continued: "There are many who twist the Sacred Scriptures to their destruction and he is another one." In this particular instance, Bellisario's condemnation is ironic. The accusation of twisting Scripture to one's destruction comes from Scripture, but in this instance Scripture condemns Bellisario.

Maybe it was a bit unfair, but I quoted only the most relevant portion of what Paul said. Perhaps I should have given Bellisario warning to avoid doing exactly what he did. Paul wrote, in context:
Romans 14:3-13
3 Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. 4 Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. 5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. 6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. 7 For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. 8 For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's. 9 For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. 10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. 12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. 13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.
(emphases added)

Notice how Paul specifically orders Christians not to judge their brethren in regard to these things. Yet, Mr. Bellisario seeks to judge and throws out accusations of Christian liberty being of demonic origin and my own statements being twisting of Scripture. Furthermore, he judges me and those who would join me in exercising our God-given liberty as "skip[ping] out" on worship. Mr. Bellisario truly seems to be one step short of explicitly saying, "Paul was wrong - Christians must celebrate Christmas." I have assumed here that Bellisario considers what he calls "Protestants" to be "separated brethren" as they are identified in post-Vatican-II Catholicism. Given his hostile tone, one could draw a different conclusion, but I'll pass on such speculation at this time.

Bellisario continued: "I have actually witnessed "Protestants" using Sacred Scripture to excuse abortion! Yes folks thats [sic] right. This person who will not identify himself then closes by trying to persuade others from not going to honor our Lord on Christmas as well!" The first sentence (and possibly the second, though it is not clear whether it supposed to provide emphasis to the first or third sentence) is not relevant to this post at all. Intentional abortion of unborn children is murder - and there is no escaping that conclusion. It may be that "Protestants" have misused Scripture to try to justify it ... but the abuse of Scripture is nothing unique to "Protestants," as we have seen from Bellisario's own abuse of 2 Peter 3:16. Moving on to the third sentence, Bellisario's reference to the fact that I don't say what my name is doesn't really have anything to do with the post. I don't rely on my name or credentials, but on Scripture. It is Scripture (not me) who gives liberty, while Rome and Bellisario attempt to impose bondage.

The final part of Bellisario's sentence, and the only really salient part of the section, demonstrates that Bellisario has missed Paul's point. It is not necessary to observe holy days to honor the Lord on December 25. We can, and should, honor the Lord both when we choose to observe such days, and when we choose not to observe such days. Neither is inherently dishonoring to God, which is why Paul says what he says.

Bellisario continues: "Who else but Satan would want to draw people away from the infant of Christ?" Christ was an infant, but he is not an infant any longer. One might suppose that Satan would take delight in the worship of Rome, in which Jesus is treated like a perpetual infant, while his mother is exalted to the practical level of a goddess. If I could have nickel for every blog that has used the expression "Mary Christmas" in the last week or so ... and while some of those may have been honest misspellings, quite a few were not. Satan may delight in the idolatry of the Mass, and in the false hope that Rome gives those who attend to the observance of man-made holy days. But that is not the point.

The point is that Bellisario's argument is not with me at all, but with Paul. If Bellisario is right, what could Paul's comment about people acceptably not regarding days mean? One can just see a Judaizer now, spouting this same nonsense (slightly modified), saying "Who else but Satan would want to draw people away from God's redemption of Israel by not dwelling in a booth one week a year (Lev. 22:42-43)?" And at least the Judaizer would be pointing to a feast of indisputable divine origin! Bellisario is lauding an ancient human tradition, whose practice in the 1st and 2nd centuries is unrecorded (that I know of - and poorly recorded if it is recorded at all). But both Bellisario and the Judaizer are wrong, because it is not Satanic to fail to observe the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus - just as it is not Satanic to fail to dwell in a booth one week out of the year in the New Testament era.

Bellisario continued: "Who hated the incarnation of Our Lord and Savior enough to insult Him by not going to honor His incarnation?" A better question is: who hates the Lord Jesus so much that he refuses to listen to the Words of Scripture and the commands of Jesus' apostle? Bellisario's challenge to the doctrines of Paul is problematic, not my exercise of Christian liberty. Christ has not asked us to honor his incarnation with a holy day, and Christ is not insulted when we work on December 25 (assuming, for the moment, that it does not fall on the Lord's Day, which is the case this year).

Bellisario's entire argument (if we may even call it an argument) rests on his unstated premise that there is something more holy about regarding the day than about not regarding the day. In this, his argument is not with me, but with the Apostle Paul.

Bellisario continued: "It is unbelievable, and once again proves what you get with Scripture Alone and every Tom Dick and Harry constructing their own man-made religion from it." On the contrary, Bellisario's argument against Scripture is exactly the sort of thing one would expect from a person who refuses to let Scripture judge their church. His position is one of Sola Ecclesia. He is blind to the fact that it is "Christmas," which is innovated, and he is unable to engage the text of Scripture that gives Christians liberty not to observe such holy days. Hopefully this post will help him see that both the dogmas and discipline of his church need to be evaluated by Scripture, to see whether they are the true gospel or another gospel.

Bellisario wrote: "I think I will go twice this Christmas to Mass and the Divine Liturgy to honor my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on this Holy Day of His birth." If the Mass were not full of idolatry (which is a separate subject), this would not necessarily be objectionable. There is nothing problematic about spending the entire day going to service of worship after service of worship. There is nothing inherently wrong with celebrating Christ's nativity on December 25.

Bellisario wrote: "As for the pagans who wish to reject Our Lord's birth because of their hatred for the real Gospel, let them be anathema, since they have already committed spiritual suicide." The real Gospel is that taught in Scripture. The real Gospel is the gospel preached by Paul. The real Gospel does not call us to celebrate Christ's birth with an annual feast day, or with mandatory services of worship. The real Gospel does not teach the category of mortal sin (as distinct from venial sins) and does not teach that man's salvation depends on obedience to the law (or to man-made regulations). Paul, a preacher of the true gospel, wrote:

Colossians 2:16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:

To the message Paul gave (in two epistles, no less), we (the Reformed) are obedient.

On the other hand, we also reject Bellisario's misrepresentation of our position. We do not reject the Lord's birth. We affirm the reality of the miracle of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. We affirm the marvel of the incarnation. Bellisario seems to be confusing the obligation to celebrate the birth with the birth itself. Or perhaps he is just ranting, who knows.

All that remains of the post by Bellisario is a link and a repetition of the refrain from the eastern liturgy. Bellisario never backs up his harsh claims against Reformed Christianity, fails to interact with Paul's explanation of why we Christians have this liberty that Rome (and Bellisario) seeks to deny, and manages to misrepresent the Reformed position, while dragging in irrelevant material.

Hopefully, this response will serve to illuminate both the weakness of the Roman position and the weakness of the tactics used to defend the indefensible.

Let us Glorify the Born, Humbled, Executed, Risen, and Exalted Savior!


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Bavinck on Limited Atonement

Volume 3 of Herman Bavinck's "Reformed Dogmatics" addresses the issue of Limited Atonement. Bavinck deals with the matter at #404-08 (pp. 455-75 in the Baker Academic 2008 printing). Bavinck approaches the matter in a way that I found very helpful in light of certain Amyraldian commentators of late, in that he discusses many of the historical aspects of the issues relating to the extent of the atonement.

Bavinck quite correctly notes that "Intensively the work of Christ is of infinite value but also extensively it encompasses the whole world." Standing alone, such a statement could easily be misinterpreted - and the incautious reader is advised to be careful to finish reading the entire selection before reaching hasty conclusions about Bavinck's position. Bavinck goes on to explain what is intended by the terms employed, as well as what is not intended, rejecting Origen's super-universalism and seemingly adopting Augustine's particularism.

Bavinck quotes Augustine as stating "everyone who has been redeemed by the blood of Christ is a human; yet not everyone who is a human has been actually redeemed by the blood of Christ." "Not one person perishes of those for whom Christ died." The footnotes identify Epistle 102 of Augustine as the source, although I have not confirmed that this is the case with reference to the originals.

The work is clearly an academic work, and some of its most valuable contributions are the footnotes, which in some cases point one to source material, and in other cases index important related works, such as Bellarmine's Controversies, Turretin's Institutes, and van Mastricht's Theology.

Bavinck appears to err somewhat on the issue of Creation at the beginning of section 407 (p. 470), where he ascribes the creation of the world distinctly to the Father, rather than the Son. Nevertheless, generally Bavinck's discussion seems reasonable, and was enjoyable. For example, although Bavinck acknowledges Augustine's positive contributions to our understanding of theology, Bavinck is not afraid to identify an error in Augustine's thought (his view that the number of elect men corresponds numerically with the number of fallen angels).

I would commend the twenty pages or so of necessary reading to those interested in further study of the atonement. I'd particularly commend this section to those Amyraldians (or quasi-Amyraldians) that have been trying to make arguments from historical theology, as well as trying to formulate a system of their own.


To the Lord, I will not be Celebrating Christ's Birth

As an exercise of my Christian liberty, I will not be celebrating Christ's birthday on December 25, 2008. I will not be attending a "mass" or any substitute thereof. I do not plan to set aside any business concerns that would interfere with such religious exercises.

Instead, by engaging in worldly employments and recreations, I will not treat that day as holy. This is my Christian liberty, as Paul explained:

Romans 14:6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.

Rome has tried to bind the consciences of its members by employing, for example:

Canon 1246
1. Sunday is the day on which the paschal mystery is celebrated in light of the apostolic tradition and is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church. Also to be observed are the day of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Epiphany, the Ascension and the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Holy Mary Mother of God and her Immaculate Conception and Assumption, Saint Joseph, the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul, and finally, All Saints.

Canon 1247
On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass; they are also to abstain from those labors and business concerns which impede the worship to be rendered to God, the joy which is proper to the Lord's Day, or the proper relaxation of mind and body.
(emphases added)

As explained at the link (link), "Since a 'grave cause' is needed to excuse one from this obligation it would be a serious or mortal sin to willfully skip Mass on Sunday or a Holy Day of Obligation, as the Church has always taught." Thus, Catholicism legalistically seeks to bind the consciences of its members to observe holy days that Scripture does not require.

In fact, Scripture gives Christians the freedom that I will (Lord Willing) be exercising to use the day for God's glory through an absence of regard for the day. I would like to encourage my readers to consider doing the same.

Don't get me wrong, if you choose to celebrate Christ's birth tomorrow, there is nothing inherently or intrinsically wrong with that. It is also your liberty to do so, and I won't tell you that it is a serious sin to do so. That's the other side of the Romans 14:6 coin.

Whether you choose to celebrate Christ's birth or not, may December 25, 2008, find you being edified and grown up in the knowledge of the Incarnate Word.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Response to Mike Burgess on Mary and the Rosary

Mr. Mike Burgess has provided some thoughtful responses to my previous post on following Mary to Jesus (link).

I'll respond to his comments line-by-line, leaving off only the last two sentences in which he states his opinion regarding the wisdom of my posting my previous post. I apologize that the reader will note occasional changes between my addressing Mr. Burgess in the third person and in the second person.

You're stretching a wee bit. Obviously, it's anachronistic to believe the Rosary existed in the New Testament era, so asking if she prayed it (or the Hail Mary or the Gloria Patri or the Apostle's Creed) is what's absurd.
It's not a stretch, of course. It's simply a fact that Mary didn't pray the Rosary. Burgess is quite correct to note that the Rosary is a later innovation, something unknown to the era of the apostles, much like the "Hail Mary" etc.

That she was personally preserved from sin by her prevenient salvation comports with her words in the Magnificat you cited. Of course she had (and needed to have) a Saviour, the one and only Lord. He saved her by keeping her from sinning. He preserved her graciously. Hers is a gracious sinlessness, showing the fulness of the gratuitous theosis given to us by the Lord, who calls us and prepares our works for us to walk in, and is at work in us both to will and to do, according to His good pleasure.
This explanation is one that we widely see used by papists to attempt to explain away the fact that Mary refers to God as her savior, and it is pure eisegesis.

There is nothing in the text to suggest that God was Mary's savior from sin in anything other than the usual way of Christ dying for her sins. There's nothing anywhere else in Scripture that would lead us to think that something other than salvation from sin in the ordinary sense is meant. In short, the only reason to explain this text in that way is by imposing on the text from outside. It is a classic, grievous, and heinous example of reading into the text, rather than reading from the text.

Like the Rosary, this interpretation of the verse is not an apostolic teachings handed down from the fathers, but a theological innovation. When was it exactly invented? We'll leave that for Mr. Greco to opine, but suffice to note that even Thomas Aquinas (fairly late into medieval theology - died 1274) denied (against, for example, Chrysostom) that Mary had actual sin, but admitted that she had to be cleansed of original sin.

Aquinas himself puts on a more elaborate case for his position than Mr. Burgess has, and even attempts to provide some Scriptural justification for his view. On the other hand, when one examines the justification of the view, one realizes that is primarily founded on a particular allegorical explanation of Canticles (Song of Solomon) 4:7, "Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee." When one examines the proof critically, one discovers that, naturally, there is not much strength to the assertion that the passage refers to Mary, and even less that "no spot in thee" refers to Mary being free from all actual sin.

Furthermore, the position that Mary was free from all actual sin is directly contrary to Scripture, which states:

Romans 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

Your speculation about Mary praying a complete version of the Lord's prayer is no more problematic than our Lord praying and reciting the Psalms in the liturgy of the intertestamental synagogue and Temple. The Lord was quoting Psalm 22 on His cross. Do you suppose He believed the Father had abandoned Him? Or that He was included in the salvation? He did not even need gratuitous prevenience, since He possessed sinlessness by nature.
As a preliminary matter, it is good that Burgess has pointed out that my comment about Mary praying a complete version of the Lord's prayer is just speculation. I don't know whether she did or not. The Bible does not tell us.
Assuming she did pray the Lord's Prayer (note that this is an assumption), it is more problematic than Jesus praying or Jesus singing the psalms ("reciting the Psalms in the liturgy of the intertestamental synagogue and Temple" being a bit of an awkward anachronism). Jesus praying is not a problem at all. Jesus did not pray the Lord's prayer, instead, he provided the prayer as a model to his disciples for them to use. Jesus is not recorded as having prayed that his own sins would be forgiven, and such a prayer would have been problematic, as it would have implied he had sins.
Jesus singing Psalms is not problematic, because when one sings the Psalms, one is not necessarily adopting the words of the Psalmist. For example, when we sing in Psalm 137,

By Babel's stream we sat and wept,
  when Zion we thought on,
in midst thereof we hanged our harps,
  the willow trees upon

we do not claim personally to have been to Babylon, to have cried into the Euphrates or to have owned or hung harps. In contrast, however, when we pray we do adopt (or we ought to) the words we are speaking, because we are praying to "let [our] requests be made known unto God." (Philippians 4:6)

Providing a full explanation of the significance of Christ's use of "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me," on the cross would go beyond the scope of this post. Suffice to say that we do believe that Christ was not merely saying words that had no personal relevance to him.

Speaking of the complete version of the Lord's prayer, why do you add words to it by appending the doxological ending "for thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever and ever"? (This is part of the prayer in all of the Presbyterian versions, so far as I know.) So often, we're chided for supposedly adding traditions of men and so forth that your ironic example here begs to be pointed out.
The reason for including it is the testimony of Matthew 6:13:

Matthew 6:13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

The modern critical texts would ask us to drop (with the Vulgate) the portion "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen." Perhaps some time it would be interesting to explore the textual testimonies in favor of, and against, inclusion of this text. Nevertheless, it is the presence of this expression in the so-called Textus Receptus that lead to its presentation in Tyndale's Bible and the later English translations (including, of course, the KJV) that relied on the traditional Greek text.

At any rate, we should imitate our Lady, as she said at Cana: "Do whatever He tells you." We should imitate St. Paul, as he said in 1 Corinthians and elsewhere. We should follow them to Jesus. We come to faith by hearing; by living as they and other saints did, we shall come to Him. This is what Scripture tells us to do.
I interrupt this paragraph of Burgess to agree in the main, and to add what is most important: we come to Christ not by works but by faith. It is not by living well that we come to Christ, but by coming in faith to Christ, we will live well.

Mary's words to the servants at the wedding are not directed to us, but they do illustrate the attitude that we should have, namely that we should do whatever Jesus tells us to do. And where is the only place where we can reliably find the commands of our Lord? In the pages of Holy Scripture.

Burgess continued:
Participating in the liturgical life of the Church, and in so doing receiving sacramental grace in both the sacraments and the use of sacramentals such as the Rosary, is an essential part of imitating or following the example of Mary and Jesus.
Again, I interrupt Burgess' paragraph, but this time to disagree. Worshiping Jesus as Mary did is one thing, but following the liturgical novelties of Rome (such as the "sacramentals" including the Rosary, the various Scapulars, etc.) is quite another. Saying the Rosary cannot be essential to following the example of Mary, at least because she (quite obviously) didn't say it. "Participating in the liturgical life of the Church," is too vague to be helpful. We do not participate in the worship life of the Church in the way that Jesus did, as its head, as its sacrifice, as its high priest.

On the other hand, the single example of Mary participating in worship after Christ's ascension is the mention in passing in Acts 1:14 that she was praying (as were Jesus' brethren) together with the other believers immediately before Pentecost. Yes, we should not forsake the gathering of the believers. On the other hand, while we do see the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper in Scripture, we do not see a rigid or complex liturgy beyond the simple liturgical forms found in, for example, post-exilic Jewish worship.

Burgess continued:
He, ultimately, showed us that even the Lord participated in the liturgy of the Church, and so we should, too.
Again, an interruption. Same comment above about the vagueness of "liturgy of the Church." Christ during his earthly ministry didn't engage in the Traditional (or Tridentine) Latin Mass (TLM) or the new liturgy of the Vatican II era. We worship God somewhat differently from the way in which Jesus gives honor to His father, since we are not members of the Trinity. Getting into the nuances of this distinction would go beyond the scope of this post, but it is sufficient to note that our worship of God is more like that of Mary and other believers than like that of the God-man for God the Father.

Christ instituted the sacraments of the new economy of the covenant of grace, particularly baptism (which supplants circumcision) and the Lord's Supper, which replaces the Passover.

Burgess continued:
I'm sure I don't need to remind you of official teaching on sacramentals, their attachment to sacraments, the necessity of the sacraments for the life of the Church, the necessity of the communion of saints in liturgy (service) to the Lord, and so forth.
No, you don't need to remind me of your church's teachings on that point. I suppose I don't need to remind you that "communion of saints" has taken on a highly modified meaning in modern Catholicism from that which it had in ancient times. The Scriptures (from which the creed was obtained) speak of:

1 Corinthians 10:16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?

This is the communion that we, the saints, have. It is the Lord's Supper that we have in mind when we speak of the "Communion of Saints," not attempted communication with departed fellow believers, contrary to what some today seem to imagine.


Does Mary's Non-Rosary Usage Miss the Issues?

In a previous post (link), I had mentioned the fact that Mary never prayed the Rosary. It is a point that I made to help folks recognize that the Rosary is a non-apostolic innovation.

I got a most peculiar comment on this post from Mr. Greco. The salient part of his comment was:
Turretinfan stated: One thing seems fairly certain: Mary never prayed the Rosary.

Me: Now why would you say something like this? This comment truly betrays your ignorance of the issues. For starters, the Rosary was not around until the time of St. Dominic (late 1100s early 1200s). So no, Mary would not have been praying the Rosary.

Secondly, the Rosary is a meditation on the Gospel...and I do think that Mary meditated on her son's life and the wondrous things God had done for her.
I answer:

1) Mr. Greco thinks that my making a true and accurate statement about Mary "betrays ... ignorance of the issues." There is just no answer to such silliness. I can appreciate that Mr. Greco may wish that I were ignorant of the issues, but when I make accurate statements that he only reinforces (note that he agrees that the Rosary was not around until much later), he should have the wisdom not to accuse his theological opponent of ignorance.

2) Assuming that Mr. Greco's dating for the Rosary is correct (and it is always dangerous trying to pin dates on innovations in church history), this only reinforces one of the points that my original post was making, namely that the Rosary is foreign to the Bible. It was unknown to Mary - it was unknown to the Apostles - and (per Greco) it was unknown to a thousand years of the universal church.

3) Mr. Greco's own comments, furthermore, seem to miss the point of the post. The post noted that although Mary didn't pray the "Hail Mary," (how silly would that be?!) she may well have prayed the "Our Father," which would have included her acknowledgment of her own sinfulness. Mary, the greatly blessed mother of Jesus, was a sinner who needed a savior, and she quite properly called God her Savior.

4) Casting the Rosary as, "the Rosary is a meditation on the Gospel...and I do think that Mary meditated on her son's life and the wondrous things God had done for her," (ellipsis in original) misses the issues and objections to the Rosary.

a) We do not object to people meditating on the Gospel, in fact we encourage them to do so;

b) We agree that Mary meditated on her son's life and the wondrous things God had done for her and for His people;

c) But the Rosary is not in the form of meditation, but prayer;

d) And the prayers of the Rosary are objectionable both as to the fact that at least one prayer (the "Hail Mary") is not directed to God, and because the method of successive repetition is a heathen practice specifically condemned by Jesus (Matthew 6:7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.)

Hopefully, in the next post, I will be addressing the much more detailed and thoughtful comments of Mr. Mike Burgess.


Homosexuality and Ethiopia

It is reported that religious leaders in Ethiopia are pushing for a constitutional ban on homosexuality (link). While it is great that a nation would condemn sin, governmental action is not enough. The church needs to be active in preaching the true Gospel of repentance and faith in Christ. While the government does have a role in restraining sin, the primary responsibility for transforming the heart of the nation, so that sins like homosexuality will continue to be detestable, is on the ministers of God.

May God give Ethiopia greater reformation of its Christianity,


Monday, December 22, 2008

Follow Mary to Christ

Certain of those who engage in Marian devotion, insist that Mary leads them to Christ. Allow me to suggest that Mary's example is better followed than anything else, if one wishes to be led by Mary to Christ. One thing seems fairly certain: Mary never prayed the Rosary. On the other hand, do you suppose she prayed the Lord's prayer?

If so, she admitted her lack of sinlessness. As the church father Tertullian explained:
Having considered God's generosity, we pray next for His indulgence. For, of what benefit is food if, in reality, we are bent on it like a bull on his victim? Our Lord knew that He alone was without sin. Therefore, He taught us to say in prayer: 'Forgive us our trespasses.' A prayer for pardon is an acknowledgment of sin, since one who asks for pardon confesses his guilt. Thus, too, repentance is shown to be acceptable to God, because God wills this rather than the death of the sinner.
Tertullian, On Prayer, Chapter 7

And Tertullian is right: no one was without sin, save God alone. Mary never prayed the Rosary (the very idea of her praying to herself is absurd), but we have no reason to suppose that she did not pray the Lord's prayer, or prayed it incompletely. Indeed, Mary acknowledged that she needed a saviour:

Luke 1:46-47
46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, 47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

So, by all means, do follow the greatly blessed mother of our Lord, to the Lord. Repent of your sins and place all your trust for eternal life in him alone, and you will be saved.


30 Seconds on God's Knowledge of the Future

Team Pyro has a post that takes 30 seconds to read but concisely states one of the arguments against the Arminian world-view (link).

I've expanded on this same theme in a previous post, entitled, "The Diary" (link).


30 Seconds to Think About the Moon

It is Monday still in much of the world, and by coincidence, Ray Comfort has a very brief but interesting blog post on the moon, which I think is 30 seconds of reading well spent (link).