Monday, July 30, 2012

Decalogue: Third Command

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. (Exodus 20:7 ESV)

Traditionally taking God’s name in vain has been understood of using God’s name in profanity, which is certainly one of the grosser examples of this sin, however, we wish to focus our attention on something a bit closer to home.

Remember what we have said in all the previous posts about the preface to the Decalogue being the grid or framework through which we are to understand it. Undoubtedly, God’s wrath is justly kindled against the reprobate who use God’s name as a cuss word. But it was not to the Hittites or Philistines that the Decalogue was given, rather to God’s covenant people. Therefore, we are lead to believe that, as far as believers are concerned, there is something else in view in this Command.

The second half of the answer to Question 99 of the Heidelberg Catechism strikes it on the head. It says, that this command requires that we, “use the holy name of God no otherwise than with fear and reverence; so that He may be rightly confessed and worshipped by us, and be glorified in all our words and works.” Interestingly, the Scripture proofs provided by the Catechism for this statement generally have to do with two things (1) reverent reference to God, and (2) not giving those outside the faith a reason to blaspheme God’s name. it would seem that these two things are intertwined. (cf. Ps.50:15; 1 Tim.2:8; Rom.2:24; 1 Tim.6:1; Col.3:16, 17)

Think for a moment of the treatment the majesty of God gets at the hand of the huckster televangelists. More respect is given to the family dog than to God by these men. God’s name and power are nothing more than a prop or gimmick for these men. Men the likes of Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, Paul Crouch and the whole host of heretics darkening the airwaves on TBN have made a mockery of God by equating God and mammon in the public mind. These fraudulent ‘ministers’ squawk and cry for more money to ‘support this ministry’ and we all know that the money goes to keep up their lavish and garish lifestyles. This nonsense is so rampant that, to borrow a phrase from Poe, it would be supererogation to demonstrate.

My ire is definitely raised by villainous heathens like Bill Maher when they blaspheme my Lord and Savior. But my ire is more definitely raised at the used car salesmen that pass for preachers on so-called Christian TV. God’s name is mocked by atheists because it is mocked by shyster televangelists when they make Christianity a get-rich-quick scheme.

Much of “Evangelicalism,” lives in perpetual violation of this Command. God’s name is taken in vain by Joel Osteen when he makes the fulfilling of your dreams God’s sole purpose for existing. God’s name is taken in vain by liberal denominations that reinterpret Scripture to suit the vile and corrupt cultural whims of our degenerate society. God’s name is taken in vain by those who wish to make man and his feeble will the deciding factor in salvation.

God’s right to demand reverence for His name is based upon His sovereignty and majesty, but in the context of the Decalogue, it is based upon His covenantal right over His people. This is especially interesting when one remembers what we said at the outset: The Decalogue was given to God’s people. Bear that fact in mind when considering this fact: God considers the profaning of His name so heinous a sin that His wrath is kindled, not only against those who take His name in vain, but also against who do not endeavor to prevent such treatment of God’s name. The Heidelberg Catechism reminds us that God commanded this sin to be punished with death! (cf. Prov.29:24; Lev.5:1; Lev.24:15, 16)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Decalogue: Second Command

The Second Command reads, “You shall not make for yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”

Before discussing the Second Word of the Decalogue, I wish to reiterate what I said in the previous post regarding the preface to the Decalogue. God’s right to command such and the rationale behind such a command is His covenantal right over us as His people. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Prefaced thus, we avoid two errors, (a) over-estimating our own obedience; and (b) under-estimating our own wickedness and depravity. Separating God’s law from His covenantal grace to sinners is a return to the Covenant of Works: obeying God’s law as if our conformity to His commands commends us to Him and merits His favor, aka, self-righteousness.

Calvin notes in Book 2, Chapter 8, of his Institutes, this command consists of two parts. The first is to put a curb on our desire to subject God to our senses (which is primarily what images do). The second part forbids the usage of any image in a religious context.

I have always thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated the wisdom shown by the Westminster Shorter Catechism, when handling the Decalogue, by asking both what is required and what is forbidden by each Command. It is rather easy to simply see the large “THOU SHALT NOT,” and failed to notice that this implied equally that something positive is required in the negative prohibition.

So, what does the Second Command require? If you’ve ever read one of the great catechisms of the Reformation, you might be surprised to see this command interpreted as requiring purity in God’s worship. If you have a background like mine, Pentecostal Arminian, this seems like a shocking way to understand the Command, especially since image-making is so explicitly denounced. However, the wisdom of Ursinus (the primary author of the Heidelberg Catechism) and the Westminster Assembly can be seen in their grasp of the implications of this command. It is not simply about idolatry since that was already forbidden by the First Command. This is a question of syncretism: mixing foreign elements into the worship of God.

Granted there are various schools of thought among Christians of the Reformation in regard to this subject (regulative vs normative principle), yet we don’t even have to get within a country mile of that debate to make some very pertinent observations about worship. Worship is pure only so far as it pleases God. If the main objective of worship is to encourage audience participation by simple appeals to their cultural sensibilities and tastes, then the jig is up. God is no longer the object of worship, man is. I find it telling that much of the music which passes for Christian worship these days is characterized by the same egocentric, backslapping, self-congratulatory narcissism evident in contemporary pop music. There simply is no comparison between the lyrics written by Augustus Toplady and Darlene Zschech.

Lest you fear that I have forgotten this Command actually does prohibit images, let me reassure you, I haven’t. Again, this command is not so much concerned with idolatry as with divine worship. God’s people, fallen sinners that we are, are very prone to introducing false elements into the worship of God. When Israel made the Golden Calf, they declared a feast “to the LORD” (Ex. 32:5). 2 Kings 17:33 records a contradiction if ever there was one: So they feared the LORD but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away. The book of Judges is Exhibit A of this pitiful attempt at worshipping God yet doing it according to the dictates of one’s own imagination. It is not the plain and simply idolatry of having “other gods before Me” which is in view in the prohibition against images.

An image, mind you can be material or mental. A person can have a material image and a false mental image, representing God in a way not commanded in His Word. And I don’t simply mean picturing Jesus in your mind as Jim Caviezel, or picturing God as a white-bearded grandfather, though that is most definitely a violation of this command. I am referring to false ideas about God. Holding to a false belief about God, such as the Trinity-denying modalism of Oneness Pentecostalism, or the “God-is-my-bellhop” doctrines of the Word Faith perpetrators, is worship of God in a way contrary to His revealed will and is hence a violation of the Second Command.

Physical, material images are banned, as well. God cannot be represented by any image anyway, since He is spirit. Any physical representation is infinitely inferior, hence infinitely demeaning to the Divine Majesty. During the Middle Ages, it was common to refer to images of Christ and the saints as “books to the laity.” Illiteracy was rampant, so images were considered something like a book to the unlearned members of the congregation wherein there could learn of the Bible characters and emulate them. This is, of course, foolishness. As the Heidelberg Catechism puts it, “We must not pretend to be wiser than God.” If the use of images was so beneficial to the Church, God would not have forbidden it. The Church should not be satisfied to have illiterate members, and happy to leave them in that condition. Christianity should educate men. This is why the Heidelberg Catechism continues by saying, “God will have His people taught, not by dumb images, but by the lively preaching of His Word.” Faith comes by hearing the Word of God. This is why I do not see how any Christian can hold it to be anything but a violation of God’s Word to evangelize the lost with movies. An image of Christ is an image whether stationary or moving. I fail to see how an actor’s portrayal Christ makes it any less repugnant to God than a stone sculpture.

The Church in her best days has always known this. “But we have no sensible image of sensible matter, but an image that is perceived by the mind alone,—God, who alone is truly God.” Clement, Exhortation to the Heathen, ch 4 ANF vol. II., p. 186

“When I entered into the church of a village in Palestine called Anablatha, I found there a curtain hanging over the door whereon was painted an image like that of Jesus Christ or some saint – for I do not remember whose picture it was. But seeing in the church of Christ the image of a man, contrary to the authority of Holy Scripture, I tore it down and gave order to the church-warden to bury some dead body in this curtain…” Epiphanius, Letter to John of Jerusalem

“It is an impudent falsehood to deny that the thing which was thus anciently done is also done in our day. For why do men prostrate themselves before images? Why, when in the act of praying, do they turn towards them as to the ears of God? It is indeed true, as Augustine says (in Ps. 113), that no person thus prays or worships, looking at an image, without being impressed with the idea that he is heard by it, or without hoping that what he wishes will be performed by it. Why are such distinctions made between different images of the same God, that while one is passed by, or receives only common honour, another is worshipped with the highest solemnities? Why do they fatigue themselves with votive pilgrimages to images while they have many similar ones at home?” Calvin, Institutes, pg 74.

Let me return momentarily to something we stated earlier. Calvin argued that part of this command was to put a curb on our desire to subject God to our senses. Is this not what the whole Charismatic movement consists of: subjecting God to our senses? To hear men and women describe their physical feelings while undergoing these so-called “manifestations” of the Spirit, you’d think that they were describing something sexual. I have actually heard these exact comparisons made. I’m sure others have too. Nearly everything about Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement is aimed at man’s senses: “feeling the Spirit,” “sensing God’s presence,” etc. This is exactly what God wishes to prohibit in the Second Command. God relates to use through His own appointed means, namely the Word and the Sacraments. Stepping outside these confines is stepping into a violation of God’s revealed will.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Decalogue: First Command

We’ve all seen one of those lists where several items are delineated under a single heading set-up line. For instance: “You know you’re old when…” – followed by a humorous list of indicators of old age. It would seem helpful when considering each one of the commands of the Decalogue to preface them with God’s own preface: And God spoke all these words, saying: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”

By starting here, we are reminded that the Decalogue really is part of the Covenant of Grace. Every single moral norm God lists for His covenant people is prefaced by the Gospel, i.e., I am the Lord your God.” Israel had never done anything worthy of God’s affection, a fact He reminds them of one more than one occasion (Num. 16:9; Deut. 7:6; Ezek. 16). God’s grace is demonstrated in His sovereign and powerful deliverance of His people from slavery.

As we said above, let us keep in mind God’s preface to this statement. It is based upon His covenant of grace with His people. He has sovereignly chosen His people, and has therefore revealed what a life of covenant-keeping should look like. I will be greatly misunderstood if I am construed to imply the ridiculous error of Pelagius and Finney that just because God commands something, it is automatically implied that man has the innate ability to obey. A large purpose of the Decalogue is to show us how great our sins and miseries are, being in the corrupt state of Original Sin, as we are. A man who looks at God’s law and confidently assumes, “I can do that,” is either crazy or grossly mistaken about his own depravity.

Heidelberg Catechism Question 114 asks, “But can those who are converted to God perfectly keep these commandments?” To which it replies, “No: but even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience; yet so, that with a sincere resolution they begin to live, not only according to some, but all the commandments of God.” I can just picture someone jumping to the opposite assumption and saying, “Well, if we can’t obey God’s law, and He knows it, then why does He even command it in the first place?” The Heidelberg has this one covered too. The very next question is: “Why will God then have the ten commandments so strictly preached, since no man in this life can keep them?” The succinct answer to this is, “First, that all our lifetime we may learn more and more to know our sinful nature, and thus become the more earnest in seeking the remission of sin, and righteousness in Christ; likewise, that we constantly endeavor and pray to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we may become more and more conformable to the image of God, till we arrive at the perfection proposed to us, in a life to come.”

Paul tells us that the Law is a pedagogue to bring us to Christ. It is not that God purposefully places us under a moral code that He knows we can’t live up to simply so that He can damn us to Hell. He has graciously revealed something of His own moral perfections in the Decalogue. Surely we should appreciate it for that reason alone. But just as important is the service it does by making us despair of ever pleasing God in our own strength. Christ’s righteousness is the only righteousness good enough for God. In grace, God imputes this very righteousness to His elect. Hence, they are reckoned by God to be perfectly righteous, as if they had, in their own persons, perfectly obeyed every jot and tittle of God’s law. This holds true without respect to their actual deeds. I know that this sounds scary to some of you, but it is actually true. I cannot and do not obey God’s law perfectly, but that’s ok because the obedience by which I am accepted of God is the perfect passive and active obedience of Christ.

Having said all that, we can proceed to the first Command: - “You shall have no other gods before me.” What does this first Word of the Decalogue enjoin? Again, to quote the Heidelberg Catechism, “That I, as sincerely as I desire the salvation of my own soul, avoid and flee from all idolatry, sorcery, soothsaying, superstition, invocation of saints, or any other creatures; and learn rightly to know the only true God; trust in him alone, with humility and patience submit to him; expect all good things from him only; love, fear, and glorify him with my whole heart; so that I renounce and forsake all creatures, rather than commit even the least thing contrary to his will.”

The Westminster Shorter Catechism notes that the words, “before Me,” in this command are to remind us that we are always before God. Everything we say and do is exposed and open before Him. Though many people bristle at divine sovereignty, it is based upon God’s being Creator. How could God be in possession of the infinite wisdom and power required to create the universe ex nihilo, and yet while sustaining it and preserving its existence moment by moment, fail to rule it sovereignly? As the Sovereign Creator, Sustainer, Ruler and Judge of the universe, He has the right to choose a people for Himself, and by making Himself their God, enjoin worship.

We often rather simplistically picture idolatry as a man falling prostrate before an image of stone. While that most certainly is idolatry. Idolatry can be more accurately defined as having any other object of trust besides God.  Ephesians 5:5 literally equate covetousness with idolatry. And speaking of Ephesians 5, God often uses adultery as a metaphor for idolatry. The sacred covenant between God and His people is violated just as foully by idolatry as the sacred bond of matrimony is violated by adultery.  

One more thing should perhaps be said now, which while it applies to this particular command, it has an equal bearing on all Ten Words, namely, all of God’s commands as revealed in the Decalogue have a two-fold application. To God’s covenant people, the Decalogue drives them graciously to Christ. We are constantly reminded of our native enmity toward God, and our heinous violations of His revealed will. But rather than casting us into despair, we are driven to trust in Christ because He fulfilled all righteousness for His people and bore the punishment which their sin richly deserved. To the unregenerate, God’s law is an unflinching standard of inexorable justice by which they will one day give an account to God. Being weighed and found wanting, they will deservedly be damned to eternal punishment for defying God and trampling on the righteousness of Christ.

A trustworthy Savior is provided by God for the elect. We need never look elsewhere. That is what the prologue to the Decalogue tells us. God is our God. However, to the reprobate, His law still demands worship, and there will literally be hell to pay for their lives of incessant idolatry. Man’s mind, as Calvin reminds us, is a perpetual forge of idols. All idolatry is ultimately self-worship, whether realized or not. The worship of the Biblical God is the only worship imposed upon man from an outside source. In all other religions, a man chooses whom to worship. The choice may be largely dictated by his culture, but at the end of the day, it is a human choice to worship this or that deity. Only the God of the Bible enters man’s existence and imposes Himself upon us. He reveals Himself to fallen, vile, degenerate sinners, enters into covenant with them, based solely on His own pleasure, and by making Himself their God, demands to be worshipped.

Little children, keep yourselves from idols. 1 John 5:21 (KJV)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Decalogue: Three Prefatory Issues

Rather than interject unrelated questions into the body of my exposition of the Decalogue, I thought it better to treat these few issues now beforehand so as to handle them better, and to keep them from having an overbearing presence in the following articles. There are three issues related to the Decalogue that I wish to handle here separately so that they do not need to be discussed in the exposition of the actual Ten Words. The three issues are: my wording, the numbering of the Decalogue (especially as regards the 1st and 2nd Commands), and the change of the Sabbath.

Related Decalogue Issues

A. My wording.

Throughout this series of posts, even the casual reader will note that I do not use the word “Commandment.” I opt for “Command” instead. My reason is that I deem the word “commandment” to be an archaic word, virtually obsolete. It is never used by anyone in any other context outside of discussions regarding the Decalogue. “Command” is the current English equivalent. It has the advantage, also of sounding less esoteric. Conformity to God’s revealed will is not an esoteric enterprise, but something highly practical. If this bothers anyone, or seems like a silly semantic issue, feel free to substitute the word “commandment” for “command” whenever you encounter the latter in the course of these posts.

B. The Numbering of the Decalogue

Many of my readers may be aware that there is a difference in the division of the Ten Commands between how they are enumerated by the Reformed (which is the traditional numbering most of us are familiar with) and the Roman Catholic numbering, which is also followed by Luther. The difference in numbering occurs in what the Reformed take to be the 1st and 2nd Commands. Luther, and Rome, takes this to be one. 

The Reformed have always considered the command against image usage to be a separate command from the “no others gods before Me” command. The numbering of the Decalogue which Rome uses conflates the first two Commands into one and then forces an artificial division into the Tenth Command. I say artificial because Paul, in Romans 7:7, treats it as one.

The division of the Decalogue followed by Rome and by Luther has its origin in Augustine (Quaest, in Exodus 71, and Ep. 119 to Januarius). In these passages, Augustine omits the Second Command in order to make the “first table” consist of three Commands so as to make an allusion to the Trinity. Augustine contradicts himself elsewhere, however (cf. Quaest. Vet. et Novi Test., lib. 1:7). But it seems that Peter Lombard (Sentences, Book 3.37,40) picked up this numbering, divided the prohibition of “coveting” into two commands, and, as they say, the rest is history. Augustine had no intention of downplaying the prominent prohibition against images. Nevertheless, his, what shall we call it – over-zealousness, left an opening which later writers would exploit to their advantage. It may also be worth noting that the Reformed numbering follows both the Jewish and Patristic numberings (Jospehus, Ant. 3.5.5).

There are clearly two issues in view here anyway. One is the issue of idolatry, i.e., the worship of anything else besides God. This is covered in the First Command. But separate from this is the issue of a proper perception of God. And that is what is in view in the Second Command. Both Jewish and Patristic writers correctly understood the visual as a threat to a proper perception of God. Rome, on the other hand excels in such a representation of God. Hence they love Lombard’s innovative numbering of the Decalogue. By subsuming the ban on images under the ban on idolatry, the door is left open to the use of images in the worship of God. This is exactly what was defended in 787 AD at Nicaea II. That was a perverse assembly if ever there was one. John, one of the delegates from the east, went so far as to say that it would be better to fill every city on earth with brothels than to do away with icons! Their assertion that icons are valid because of the Incarnation is idiotic, charitably put. In other words, God represented Himself under a visible form in the Incarnation, therefore it is lawful to make visible representations of Christ. On the strength of this wonder of logic they go on to assert that rejection of icons is tantamount to Docetism. This is a statement, the stupidity of which is unmatched in the annals of Church history.

This is not to say that there is nothing ‘visible’ in the Christian religion. The sacraments are, after all, visible representations. But they are not visible representations of God! They are visible signs and seals of God’s covenant with us.  Baptism signifies and seals to us the Spirit’s application of the mediatorial work of Christ signified and sealed to us in the Lord’s Supper. But neither are an image of God, for this is explicitly forbidden (Deut. 4:12, 15-18).

I might also interject that perhaps too much time has been spent on discussing which commands belong to which table. The two “tables” of the Law, if I understand anything about covenant making in Scripture, would have been two identical copies of the same exact document: one for both parties. The tablets were written on both sides however; hence it may still be a fair question which commands were on which side (which is the same as asking what was on which table). In other words, God wrote two tables, which were identical copies of all Ten Commands. One was for Him, and one was for Israel. A covenant is not exactly like a contract, but there is a point of similarity here. Both parties have a copy of the stipulations and conditions as a witness to both for or against their respective fidelity.

C. The Change of the Sabbath.  

The question of the change of the Sabbath seems better handled here as well rather than cumbering up a discussion about the Lord’s Day.

What do we say about the change of the Sabbath from the seventh day of the week to Sunday, the first day of the week? How did this occur? On what grounds is the change of day based? And on whose authority was it done?

The Puritan Thomas Shepherd has an excellent treatise on the change of the Sabbath. He notes that first and foremost, the primary cause of the change of the Sabbath is the resurrection of Christ. I doubt that are many Christians who are not aware of this fact. The Sabbath under the old administration was a commemoration of the first Creation. The Christian Sabbath commemorates the new Creation which has its origin in Christ’s resurrection. It is surely significant that the first full day of Adam’s life was the first Sabbath. Likewise, the first day of Christ’s resurrected life, as the Second Adam, was the Christian Sabbath.

I think it would be helpful at this point to cut to the chase and eliminate all the erroneous views about the change of the Sabbath by stating as directly as possible the basis of the change. The basis for the change is none other than the teaching of Christ Himself. Accept any other theory and you are forced to make it a man-made innovation to the worship of God. We know that the early Christians met on the Lord’s Day, which Paul tells us is the “first day of the week.” If this habit came from any other source than Christ’s own command, we must ask where the Apostles’ got the gall to tamper with God’s Word.

Jesus commanded the apostles to “teach all nations that which I command you.” We must either hold that Christ commanded the Apostles in regard to the Sabbath, or we must maintain that the Apostles went beyond their authority and commission by teaching that which Christ never commanded. We know that the Apostles’ doctrine and practice was only correct so far as it conformed to the teaching of Christ. Hence we see Peter in Antioch, acting in a way which did not accord with Christ’s teaching. The spat between Paul and Barnabas can hardly be said to be Christ-like. Let me hasten to say, however, that when the Apostles acted in the public function as messengers of Christ, they were extraordinarily guided by God’s Spirit so that their practice may and must be considered the pattern for all successive ages.

Along these lines, Shepherd writes, “[I]f, therefore, the primitive churches thus honoured the first day of the week above any other day for Sabbath services, then certainly they were instituted and taught thus to do by the apostles approving of them herein; and what the apostles taught the churches, that the Lord Jesus commanded to the apostles. So that the approved practice of the churches herein shows what was the doctrine of the apostles; and the doctrine of the apostles shows what was the command of Christ; so that the sanctification of this first day of the week is no human tradition, but a divine institution from Christ himself.”

I am very tempted (a poor word choice, perhaps, in a theological discussion) to launch in a full-scale defense of the change of the Sabbath, but I fear that would carry us to far afield. To quote Shepherd again, “To know when and where the Lord Christ instructed his disciples concerning this change, is needless to inquire. It is sufficient to believe this: that what the primitive churches exemplary practised, that was taught them by the apostles who planted them; and that whatsoever the apostles preached, the Lord Christ commanded, as has been shown. Yet if the change of the Sabbath be a matter appertaining to the kingdom of God, why should we doubt but that, within the space of his forty days' abode with them after his resurrection, he then taught it them? for it is expressly said, that he then taught them such things. (Acts 1:3)”

Establishing the Christian observance of Sunday as the Lord’s Day throughout the earliest ages of the Church is a cakewalk. Ignatius writes to the Magnesians (Ch. 9), “If they who were concerned in old things, arrived at a newness of hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living according to the Lord’s day, by which our life sprung from him and by his death (whom certain persons deny)…we have been made his disciples, let us live according to Christianity."

The Epistle of Barnabas says, "Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day, also, on which Jesus rose again from the dead"

Justin Martyr writes, "Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior, on the same day rose from the dead."

And the anonymous Didache, written perhaps as early as 80 or 90 AD, affirms, "And on the day of our Lord’s resurrection, which is the Lord’s Day meet more diligently."

The Confessions and Catechisms of the Reformation follow the same beat. The Heidelberg Catechism affirms that on the Christian Sabbath we are to, “diligently frequent the church of God, to hear his word, to use the sacraments, publicly to call upon the Lord, and contribute to the relief of the poor. Secondly, that all the days of my life I cease from my evil works, and yield myself to the Lord, to work by his Holy Spirit in me: and thus begin in this life the eternal Sabbath.”

The Westminster Shorter Catechism asserts, “From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly Sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian Sabbath.”

Monday, July 16, 2012

Decalogue (Introduction)

Before I begin this series of posts on the Decalogue, I feel compelled to take up a one issue first. Whenever mention is made of the Decalogue, also known as the Ten Commandments, someone will inevitably protest, “Christians aren’t under the law!” It seems rather humorous when people say this because I doubt that any of them means to be understood as saying that if a Christian murders, steals or commits adultery, he or she is not sinning.

I have never actually heard anyone actually explain what it is they mean when they cry that Christians are not “under the law.” Whatever they may mean by it, Scripture does not use this phrase to suggest that obedience to God’s revealed will is not required of believers. Paul reminds the children at Ephesus to obey the 5th Command. In fact, every one of the “ten words” of the Decalogue is to be found somewhere in the New Testament.

Believers are not “under the law” in the sense that they are no longer condemned because they fail to keep it perfectly. Neither should believers strive to obey the law in order to merit salvation. The Heidelberg Catechism, Question 2 tells us that we obey God out of gratitude for His great deliverance from our sin and misery. The Westminster Confession says that the law is of great use to believers by showing them how they may express gratitude for their free salvation and pointing out their sins so they might flee to Christ continually. Being “under” the law does not mean not obligated to obey it. It means not being under condemnation for breaches of it.

In case you haven’t noticed, no one, not even the most devout, sincere and pious believer, perfectly obeys the law of God, despite what Wesley’s perfectionists claim. You might then be tempted to ask why God would still make His law binding upon us when He knows that we can’t obey. The answer to that is simply that God’s law is a reflection of His nature. Just because you are incapable of fulfilling all righteousness, that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t require it and will not punish anything less than the perfect imputed righteousness of Christ.

The Decalogue is not a return to the Covenant of Works, either. The preface of the Decalogue shows that this is pure grace. God declares His relation to His people, His right over them as their God and Deliverer. It is on the basis of His undeserved favor toward His people that He gives the Decalogue. Moreover, the multitudinous sacrifices for sin prescribed throughout the Old Testament bear witness to the fact that the Law was meant to show God’s people that they must look to Him for both their righteousness and forgiveness for their inevitable violations of His will. If the Ten Commands were a reversion to the Covenant of Works, there would be no provision in it for sin.

The elect of all age have always lived under the Covenant of Grace wherein God has provided both their righteousness and atonement for their sins. This was pictured typologically in the Old Testament and set on a hilltop in the New Testament. It is the reprobate who are still obligated to God in the Covenant of Works. There is no provision for sin under the Covenant of Work. Its inexorable justice says, “Do this and live.” Perfect obedience is the only key to life under the Covenant of Works. This is why the reprobate are damned. They never have, nor ever will perfectly obey God; neither have they recourse to the imputed righteousness of Christ and His atoning death for sin. The same Gospel is both the odor of life and odor of death.

I felt compelled to preface the upcoming series on the Decalogue by the above remarks and now that I’ve written them, I feel better. However, I am sure someone will find something to complain about. So maybe I don’t feel better after all.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Church Effeminate, by Stephen C. Perks

The Church Effeminate
Stephen C. Perks
Christianity and Society, Volume X, Number 1, January 2000

Recently I was asked whether it would be correct to say that, in the history of the world, whole dynasties and indeed civilizations have foundered on the rock of homosexuality. My answer was that I would not put it this way. Of course I believe that homosexual practices are immoral, and forbidden by God’s law. However, in Rom. 1:21-32 Paul puts it this way: Men turned away from serving God to serving the creature. As a consequence God gave them over to impure passions. Homosexuality is God’s judgment on a society that has turned away from God and worships the creature rather than the Creator. Spiritual apostasy is the rock upon which cultures, including our own, founder, and homosexuality is God’s judgment on that apostasy. This is why homosexuality was a common practice among the pagan cultures of antiquity, indeed is a common practice among most pagan cultures, including now our own increasingly neo-pagan culture. In short, the idea that the toleration of homosexuality is an evil that will lead to God’s judgment is unbiblical because it puts the cart before the horse. It is the other way round. The prevalence of homosexuality in a culture is a sure sign that God has already executed or is in the process of executing his wrath upon society for its apostasy. The cause of this judgment is not the immoral practices of homosexuals (immoral though homosexual acts are); rather it is spiritual apostasy. The prevalence of homosexuality is the effect, not the cause of God’s wrath being visited upon society. And in a Christian (or perhaps I should say “post-Christian”) society this means, inevitably, that the prevalence of homosexuality in society is God’s judgment on the church for her apostasy, her unfaithfulness to God, because judgment begins with the house of God (1 Pet.4:17).

This is not a popular message with Christians. It is easy to point the finger at gross sin and immorality, but the church is much less willing to consider her own role in the social evils that blight our age. The spiritual apostasy that led to our present condition started in the church, and much of the debacle of modern society that Christians rightly lament can in some measure be traced to this apostasy of the church as the root cause. And even now the church refuses to take her responsibility for preserving society from such evil seriously and has abdicated her role as the prophetic mouthpiece of God to the nation.

Of course, this does not mean we should not challenge the gay lobby and work to establish biblical morality in our society. We must. But we must also get our priorities right, and I fear that the church has misdiagnosed this problem and got her priorities wrong. The church suers from the homosexual blight as much as, perhaps more than (with the exception of the media and entertainment world), any other section of society. For most of this century the church has been seeking a female god to replace the God of the Bible. We have had ministers who have thought, acted and preached like women for many years now. The clergy in our age is, on the whole, characterized by effeminacy. The increasing number of homosexuals in the ministry is, I think, both a cause and effect relationship related to this and at the same time a manifestation of God’s judgment on the church. Often, of course, judgment works through cause and effect relationships, because the whole creation is God’s work; it therefore functions according to his plan and will. The church has become thoroughly feminized by an eeminate clergy. Ministry today is directed primarily at women, and ministers have begun to think and act like women, so that Christianity has become what someone has called “lifeboat religion”—women and children first.  And the world sees this well enough.

For example, I have been told on more than one occasion by priests and ministers that when they go out visiting members of their parishes if the man of the house comes to the door the first thing he will often say is “I’ll go get the wife.” Vicars and ministers are there to pamper to women and children, or so the world thinks, and this is simply because ministry in the church is so often directed primarily to women and children, not to men.  Likewise, I have been told by clergy that now that women are increasingly present in the ranks of the clergy the nature of chapter meetings etc. has changed; now these meetings of the clergy are characterized much less by doctrinal matters and discussion revolves more around “relationship” issues (in other words the meetings have been taken over by a women’s agenda). I have observed the same kind of thing in church meetings. If one brings up doctrinal issues or even serious issues about the mission of the church there is little interest. “There isn’t time now. We’ll deal with this another time” is the usual response, though seldom are such issues dealt with later either. But there is always enough time to consider trivial matters and in particular whether all our “relationships” need more work on them. And yet in most churches where I have experienced this kind of attitude I have not detected serious relationship problems troubling the church. However, there have often been and continue to be prodigious doctrinal problems and problems related to the church’s understanding of its mission in the world troubling these churches, yet these are not even considered worthy of discussion in church leadership meetings. Church leaders will talk endlessly about “relationships” and the like but avoid doctrinal issues like the plague because these are deemed to cause division and hinder “relationships.”

Now at root I believe this is a serious problem created by the feminization of church leadership. The leadership agenda, which is a masculine agenda, has been replaced by a feminine agenda, which is a disaster for leadership. The church has abandoned the God of Scripture for the coziness of a female type of deity who does not require church leaders to expound biblical doctrine or act with conviction according to God’s word (both of which are perceived, often correctly, as causing division—Mt. 10:34.), but instead requires leaders simply to mother their congregations in a feminine way. This naturally produces eeminate clergymen and an eeminate church. But this is not merely an impersonal cause and effect relationship. God works through second causes in his creation to accomplish his will. An eeminate ministry and an eeminate church is God’s answer to the church’s determination to replace the God of Scripture with a female god; and this crusade against the God of the Bible has been, in its own way, as much a feature of evangelicalism as it has been of the outright liberalism that evangelicals claim to abominate yet so willingly imitate.

Not only is this a problem in the church now, but because it is in the church, society at large is now feminized and eeminate. We are ruled by women and men who think and act like women. But women do not make good rulers generally. In Margaret Thatcher we had a reverse situation, a women who thought more like a man should think—but the exception does not nullify the rule. I am not making a party political point here, or endorsing any policies; because even then I believe this was all part of the judgmental situation. The world is turned upside down because men have turned it upside down by their rebellion against God. Jean-Marc Berthoud made this point well in his article “Humanism: Trust in Man—Ruin of the Nations,” which I recommend in relation to this topic. We are now ruled by women and boys (Is. 3:4, 12).

But leadership is not feminine. Eeminate leaders do not rule well, either in the State or the church. It is vital that justice is tempered with mercy. But one cannot temper mercy with justice. When mercy is put before justice societies collapse into the idiotic situation we have today where criminals are set free and innocent people are condemned. For example, punishments meted out to motorists for inadvertently driving a little over the speed limit today, even where no danger is involved, are often more severe than punishments meted out to thieves. And a parent can be punished for spanking a naughty child today, even where such punishment is carried out in a loving and disciplined environment and there is no danger to the child; yet one can murder one’s unborn children with impunity. The State even pays for these abortions by providing them on the National Health Service.

This, I believe, is ultimately the result of the feminization of our culture. It is often thought that feminine rule is more compassionate, more caring. This is a myth that feminist ideology has worked into the popular perceptions of reality in our culture. On the contrary, the feminist culture is a violent culture, a culture that produces abortion on demand and at the same time the demand for the banning of fox hunting. A more perverse situation is hardly imaginable. Ultimately feminism is in practice inherently violent, inherently unstable, inherently perverse, inherently unjust, because it is all these things in principle, viz. the rejection of God’s created order, and the consequences of a religious commitment will always work themselves out in practice. Feminism is now working out practically the consequences of its religious vision of society (and it is a religion).

The churches have failed to see this. They have embraced feminism vigorously, and as a consequence have become themselves a major avenue by which feminism has been able to influence our culture. The clergy were involved in feminizing the faith and the church well before the feminist movement had become so conscious in the popular perception. And the feminization of our culture is a major reason for its anarchy and violence. For instance, the result of the feminization of society has been that men have lost their role in many respects. Feminism has defined men into nothing more than yobbos or effeminates. These are the two alternatives for men in the feminist perspective, though this might not be understood by many feminists, perhaps usually is not, because feminism is naïve and operates not on the basis of reason but on emotion; and this brings us again to the problem of female leadership and rule. Emotion does not lead or rule well. For the feminists, men are incapable rulers; women should rule. Now we have the rule of women and eeminate men. The effect of putting the feminine virtues into the place of the masculine virtues and the masculine virtues in the place of the feminine virtues has been to overturn the created order. As a result justice is despised and mercy is turned into vice. Leadership is masculine, but it needs the tempering of the feminine virtues. When feminine virtues are in leadership the masculine virtues cannot function; masculinity is made redundant. This is one of the most serious problems facing our society. Feminism has rendered masculine leadership in the church and the nation obsolete, and we are now reaping the spiritual and social consequences of this. Justice is a casualty. Mercy ceases to be mercy and becomes indulgence of the worst vices. Violence, anarchy, disorder, and a dysfunctional society are the legacy of the feminization of our society, because in this order neither the masculine nor the feminine virtues can play their proper role. The world is turned upside down. Even the “Bible believing” churches are numbed in their apostasy regarding this and many other matters in our society. We have an eeminate church, and an eeminate society, and therefore God’s answer has been an increasingly homosexual ministry and an increasingly homosexual society. This is God’s righteous judgment on our spiritual apostasy.

The answer is repentance: turning to God and turning away from our rebellion against the divine order of creation. The church must start this. Judgment begins with the church (1 Pet 4:17), and repentance must also. I do not believe we will solve the homosexual problem until we recognize its cause. It is God’s judgment on the apostasy of the nation. Leading the way to that apostasy was the church.

What I have said above is not meant to downplay the seriousness of the homosexual problem, nor its immorality. But we must recognize it as a manifestation of God’s judgment, as Paul teaches so clearly in Romans chapter one. The answer lies with tackling the root cause, while not leaving undone the other things. What is said here is not meant to encourage a lessening of Christian opposition to gay rights by any means; but it is meant to encourage a wider reading of the problem, because it is in this wider reading of the problem that we detect the cause, and hopefully, the solution to the problem.

Furthermore, this issue is not an isolated one. It is all part and parcel of the re-paganization of our society, a trend that the church in large measure has not only acquiesced in but sometimes actively encouraged by her myopic perception of the faith and her practical denial of its relevance for the whole of man’s life, including his societal relationships and responsibilities. While criticism is necessary and vital in the church’s prophetic task of bringing God’s word to bear upon our society, it is not enough. The church must also throw off her own acquiescence in the practice of secular humanism and practice the covenant life of the redeemed community instead if she is to have any effect on our culture. So far, the church, by and large, has shown herself unwilling even to contemplate the practice of this covenant life, and has contented herself with mere criticism at best (though not even criticism of secular humanism or its code of immorality is to be found among many clergymen). Therefore the judgment will continue unabated until the church once again begins living out as well as speaking forth the words of life to the society around her. Only then will she begin to manifest the kingdom of God; and only when the church begins to manifest the kingdom of God again will our society begin to be delivered from God’s judgment.

The article can also be found Here

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Doctrine of the Trinity is the Very Essence of Christianity

“The doctrine of the Trinity is not so much a point among many as the very essence and compendium of Christianity itself. It not only presents a lofty and sublime subject of contemplation to the intellect, but furnishes repose and peace to the heart and conscience. To explain this mystery is not our province. All true theologians, who have trained and disciplined minds in the right school, whether in expounding positive truths or in combating erroneous views, have uniformly accepted it as their highest function simply TO CONSERVE THE MYSTERY and leave it where they found it, in its inscrutable sublimity, or, as the poet expresses it, “dark though excessive bright.” Leibnitz happily said, If we could bring it within the terms of any humanly constructed definition, it would be a mystery no longer. The zeal and erudition of the Fathers, accordingly, were mainly employed to retain and preserve the mystery.
“And when we look at the doctrine from the practical point of view, a belief of this great truth is absolutely essential to the Christian man and the Christian Church. Without it, Christianity would at once collapse. As this doctrine is believed on the one hand, or challenged on the other, Christian life is found to be affected at its roots and over all its extent. Every doctrine is run up to it; every privilege and duty hang on it. It cannot escape observation that scarcely a heresy ever appeared which did not, when carried out to its logical results, come into collision with the doctrine of the Trinity at some point. Through the whole history of opinion, the ever-recurring fact presented to us is that, however a man may begin his career of error, the general issue is that the doctrine of the Trinity, proving to an unexpected check or insurmountable obstacle in the carrying out of his opinions, has to be modified or pushed aside; and he come to be against the Trinity because he has found that it was against him.
“The attacks on the Trinity, menacing though they might be at the time, have commonly been the occasion of real benefit to the Church. The Church might have been less on the alert than was found to be imperatively necessary when asked, for instance, by the Sabellian to allow within her pale a mere modal distinction in the Trinity, as asked by the Arian to give a certain amount of liberty to such as questioned the or denied the supreme Deity of the second or third person of the Trinity. By varied discipline and experience, she has been schooled to apprehend the doctrine of the tri-personal God, or of the threefold personality in unity, as the most fundamental, vital, and practical of doctrines; that it forms the ultimate ground of every truth; that it is absolutely intertwined with the essential provisions of the gospel; and that the plan of salvation cannot be left standing entire, if this great doctrine, the keystone of the arch, is either loosened or displaced.
“The Church, accordingly, has always posted herself here as in the Thermopylae, where her last stand is to be made. She knew that, without this doctrine, the Creed would have no coherence, nor her members solid peace. The enlightened Christian neither expects nor wishes to find that which will not baffle his contemplation by its vastness, nor dazzle him by its splendor. Nay, the appeal to the ADORING WONDER of the finite mind becomes more powerful when its limited capacity fails to comprehend the theme in all its magnitude. The Christian Church, feeling that she has to believe what God has condescended to declare, and alive to the fact that there is no loyalty greater than the loyalty of the intellect, calls for the submission of the finite reason. Hence everyone feels the force of these beautiful words of Gregory Nazianzen in reference to the Trinity. In his sermon on Baptism he says: ‘I cannot think of the ONE but I am immediately surrounded with the slendour of the THREE; nor can I clearly discover the Three, but I am suddenly carried back to the One.’
“The objection to the Trinity on the ground of the unfathomable mystery, has been repeated in every successive age. And it may not be out of place to say that if there had been no mystery, an opposite objection might not improbably have emanated from the very same parties. Had there been no inscrutable doctrines beyond the sounding line of man’s reason, no profound mysteries in the revealed account of God’s Being, purposes, and works, - if such a thing were conceivable in a revelation communicated from God to man, - the objectors might have decried and depreciated it from a wholly different point of view as a stale, flat, and unprofitable message, which had nothing in it worthy of the claims which it made on men’s minds, because it had nothing beyond the discovery of the human understanding.”

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, George Smeaton (pp 4-7)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

On Christian Love, A Sermon by Hugh Latimer, Part 4

Our Savior saith here in this gospel, "I command you these things"; He speaketh in the plural number, and lappeth it up in one thing, which is that we should love one another, much like St. Paul's saying in the 13th to the Romans, "Owe nothing to any man, but to love one another." Here St. Paul lappeth up all things together, signifying unto us that love is the consummation of the law; for this commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," is contained in this law of love: for he that loveth God will not break wedlock, because wedlock-breaking is a dishonoring of God and a serving of the devil. "Thou shalt not kill"; he that loveth will not kill, he will do no harm. "Thou shalt not steal"; he that loveth his neighbor as himself will not take away his goods. 

I had of late occasion to speak of picking and stealing, where I showed unto you the danger wherein they are that steal their neighbor's goods from them, but I hear nothing yet of restitution. Sirs, I tell you, except restitution is made, look for no salvation. And it is a miserable and heinous thing to consider that we are so blinded with this world that, rather than we would make restitution, we will sell unto the devil our souls which are bought with the blood of our Savior Christ. What can be done more to the dishonoring of Christ than to cast our souls away to the devil for the value of a little money?--the soul which He has bought with His painful passion and death. But I tell you those that will do so, and that will not make restitution when they have done wrong, or taken away their neighbor's goods, they are not in the livery of Christ, they are not his servants; let them go as they will in this world, yet for all that they are foul and filthy enough before God; they stink before His face; and therefore they shall be cast from His presence into everlasting fire; this shall be all their good cheer that they shall have, because they have not the livery of Christ, nor His cognizance, which is love. They remember not that Christ commanded us, saying, "This I command you, that ye love one another." This is Christ's commandment. Moses, the great prophet of God, gave many laws, but he gave not the spirit to fulfil the same laws: but Christ gave this law, and promised unto us, that when we call upon Him He will give us His Holy Ghost, who shall make us able to fulfil His laws, though not so perfectly as the law requires; but yet to the contention of God, and to the protection of our faith; for as long as we are in this world, we can do nothing as we ought to do, because our flesh leadeth us, which is ever bent against the law of God; yet our works which we do are well taken for Christ's sake, and God will reward them in heaven.

Therefore our Savior saith, "my yoke is easy, and my burden is light," because He helpeth to bear them; else indeed we should not be able to bear them. And in another place He saith, "His commandments are not heavy"; they are heavy to our flesh, but being qualified with the Spirit of God, to the faithful which believe in Christ, to them, I say, they are not heavy; for though their doings are not perfect, yet they are well taken for Christ's sake.

You must not be offended because the Scripture commends love so highly, for he that commends the daughter commends the mother; for love is the daughter, and faith is the mother: love floweth out of faith; where faith is, there is love; but yet we must consider their offices, faith is the hand wherewith we take hold on everlasting life.

Now let us enter into ourselves, and examine our own hearts, whether we are in the livery of God, or not: and when we find ourselves to be out of this livery, let us repent and amend our lives, so that we may come again to the favor of God, and spend our time in this world to His honor and glory, forgiving our neighbors all such things as they have done against us.

And now to make an end: mark here who gave this precept of love—Christ our Savior Himself. When and at what time? At His departing, when He should suffer death. Therefore these words ought the more to be regarded, seeing He Himself spake them at His last departing from us. May God of His mercy give us grace so to walk here in this world, charitably and friendly one with another, that we may attain the joy which God hath prepared for all those that love Him. Amen.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

On Christian Love, A Sermon by Hugh Latimer, Part 3

"She rejoiceth not in iniquity"; she loveth equity and godliness. And again, she is sorry to hear of falsehood, of stealing, or such like, which wickedness is now at this time commonly used. There never was such falsehood among Christian men as there is now, at this time; truly I think, and they that have experience report it so, that among the very infidels and Turks there is more fidelity and uprightness than among Christian men. For no man setteth anything by his promise, yea, and writings will not serve with some; they are so shameless that they dare deny their own handwriting; but, I pray you, are those false fellows in the livery of Christ? Have they His cognizance? No, no; they have the badge of the devil, with whom they shall be damned world without end, except they amend and leave their wickedness.
"She suffereth all things; she believeth all things." It is a great matter that should make us to be grieved with our neighbor; we should be patient when our neighbor doth wrong, we should admonish him of his folly, earnestly desiring him to leave his wickedness, showing the danger that follows, everlasting damnation. In such wise we should study to amend our neighbor, and not to hate him or do him a foul turn again, but rather charitably study to amend him: whosoever now does so, he has the livery and cognizance of Christ, he shall be known at the last day for his servant.
"Love believeth all things"; it appears daily that they who are charitable and friendly are most deceived; because they think well of every man, they believe every man, they trust their words, and therefore are most deceived in this world, among the children of the devil. These and such like things are the tokens of the right and godly love; therefore they that have this love are soon known, for this love cannot be hid in corners, she has her operation: therefore all that have her are well enough, though they have no other gifts besides her. Again, they that lack her, though they have many other gifts besides, yet is it to no other purpose, it does then no good: for when we shall come at the great day before him, not having this livery (that is love) with us, then we are lost; he will not take us for His servants, because we have not His cognizance. But if we have this livery, if we wear His cognizance here in this world; that is, if we love our neighbor, help him in his distress, are charitable, loving, and friendly unto him, then we shall be known at the last day: but if we be uncharitable toward our neighbor, hate him, seek our own advantage with His damage, then we shall be rejected of Christ and so damned world without end.

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