Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dispelling the Myth of Beneficial Persecution

Last night, I began our mid-week Bible study's study of the Book of Acts. I began with a survey of the book and touched on who the author was (and why we know this), the date of the writing, the theme of the book, the outline and significant events that happen in Acts. Then, I touched on a personal pet peeve of mine: I talked about how persecution is a bad thing for the church. Now, that may not seem like such a revolutionary idea, but I have encountered plenty of folks who seem to think that persecution is a good thing for the Church. I have encounter this in a wide range of people, as well: from the average Christian up to the Seminary professor. I specifically remember attending a Bible study in college, where, when it came time to share prayer requests, one young lady requested that we pray that the Church be persecuted. I was shocked.

The reason I brought this up last night, as we began our study of Acts, is because I believe Acts give us examples of the success of the gospel and the growth of the Church, once persecution ceases. And, negatively, we have examples of times of persecution where we are not told that the Church grew. Let's look at a few of these passages.

First, examples of early church growth are found in Acts 2 (Pentecost sermon by Peter--3000 converted), Acts 5 ("Believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women" because of the the apostles' preaching in Solomon's Portico (5:14)), Acts 5:42-6:1 records the Apostles' tireless preaching "in the Temple, and in every house," and because of this "the number of disciples was multiplying," then in Acts 6 after the seven deacons were appointed to their tasks, we read that more disciples were added, including a great number of the priests (6:7), then, we come to the martyrdom of Stephen in Acts 7. There is no mention of church growth being caused by this persecution. As a matter of fact, the next thing that happens in chapter 8 is the church being scattered due to the persecution of Saul (8:1). However, note, that when Saul's persecution ends (through his conversion), "the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and...they were multiplied" (9:31). It is not persecution that causes the Church to grow, as if persecution is beneficial for the Church, but when the persecution ceases, then the Church grows. Of course, there are examples of the Church growing in the face of persecution, but in these cases, the Church grows in spite of the persecution, not because of it.

If you don't think the case of Saul is sufficient, then read Acts 12 and the case of Herod persecuting the Church. No where does it mention the church growing under this persecution, but, after Herod dies, "The word of Good grew and multiplied." (12:24).

Note also that the Proconsul in Paphos converts after Elymas the sorcerer, who opposed Paul and Barnabas, is blinded and no longer able to oppose them (Acts 13:4-12). The persecution of Elymas was not beneficial to the spread of the Gospel in Paphos. The silencing of the persecutor certainly was, though!

Now, all this is not to say that these persecutions recorded in Acts were somehow outside the will of God: obviously He ordained these things to come to pass for our ultimate benefit and His glory; however, I think it does trump the idea that persecution is a thing to be desired, sought after, and prayed for! What we ought to be praying for is that the Gospel can go forth freely and without resistance.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Robert Dabney the Architect?

My friend, Andrew Myers has posted an interesting piece at Virginia is for Huguenots. In it, he gives us some insights into Robert Dabney's other job title (no, not chaplain for Stonewall Jackson): Church Architect. I have always been an avid fan of church architecture, and love reading Dabney's works, so this piece really made my day. Thanks, Andrew!

Some interesting things to note: Dabney, as many Presbyterians were, was opposed to musical instruments in worship. He designed church buildings to specifically prevent instruments, such as organs, from being brought into the church. Our church buildings will reflect our theology!

Another interesting tidbit was that Dabney did not call the sanctuary the "sanctuary." He associated that term with Episcopalianism, and preferred to call the meeting room of the congregation the "auditorium." I'll have to think long and hard about what I call our meeting room from now on.

Head over to Virginia is for Huguenots to read the entire article (and while you are there, read a few others. Andrew also posts interesting stuff!).

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

King's College Post

It has come to my attention that the Christianity Today article which I referenced in the now-deleted post about King's College, Tim Keller, and Gospel Ecosystems wrongly stated that Marvin Olasky is an elder at Redeemer Presbyterian Church of New York City. In fact, he is an elder at a Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Texas, which is not affiliated with Redeemer NYC. It is an easy mistake to make on the part of the author of the Christianity Today article.

Note to PCA: Please, introduce some variety into your churches' names.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

ARPTalk Update

There are two new pieces posted over at ARPTalk. In the first, Rev. Chuck Wilson asks if Erskine Seminary has adopted the motto of Claremont School of Theology ("an ecumenical and inter-religious institution") due to the no-longer-exclusively-Christian faith of students entering Erskine. Rev. Wilson asks:
Is ETS now an amazing, technicolor, stereophonic, and multifaith theological experience on the wide-screen of theological education?...It is no secret that ETS has been and is matriculating Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim clerics in the DMin program. Why is this being done?
Why, in deed? The an$wer to thi$ que$tion can be found at ARPTalk.

In the second article, Rev. Wilson asks, what does Calvin have to say about 1 Corinthians 6? Rev. Wilson examines Calvin's comments on the passage, looking for some sort of justification for those who are in the ARP and who have sued the ARP to get their way with Erskine. The great theologian of Geneva gives no comfort to these usurpers, as the article points out.

Head on over to ARPTalk to read these two articles.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Presbyterian Guardian, Phil Saint, and Blogs

Many thanks are owed to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Committee of the Historian for uploading the entirety of the archives of The Presbyterian Guardian.

If you are unfamiliar with The Presbyterian Guardian, here is how the OPC web site describes it:
The Presbyterian Guardian was an important voice in the early years of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. From the start, it was characterized by its vigorous opposition to modernism and its proclamation and defense of Reformed orthodoxy. This commitment characterized all 611 issues of the journal, and it found expression in stimulating articles such as John Murray's series, "The Reformed Faith and Modern Substitutes." Established on the eve of the founding of the denomination, the Guardian reported actively on the developments in the OPC, although it remained an independent magazine.
I've browsed through a few of the early issues of the Guardian and was particularly struck by some of the cartoons contained therein, drawn by Phil Saint. Mind you, the first issues of the Guardian predate even the OPC itself. It was started while Machen, et al. were still in the mainline Presbyterian Church (the first issue of the Guardian came out in 1935, and the OPC, originally called the PCA (how's that for confusing!), was not founded until 1936). I've posted a few of these cartoons at the end of this article.

I believe there is a direct correlation between The Presbyterian Guardian, in general, and these cartoons, specifically, and the blogs of today that seek to call out the errors of those in our denominations who promote a false Gospel such as the Federal Vision or who seek to undermine the authority of the Church, such as those involved in the Erskine lawsuit. There are those in the PCA and ARP that would rather see such blogs shut down, and to that end, some have even gone as far as to make accusations against the ministers who own them claiming that they have violated the 9th commandment by slandering the good name of these false teachers. Never mind that the catechism teaches us that "wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil cause" is forbidden in the ninth commandment or that "concealing the truth," and "undue silence in a just cause" is likewise sinful. I have no doubt that these men, had they lived 75 years ago would have likewise decried Machen, Van Til, Murray, and most certainly, Phil Saint for violating the 9th commandment.

I encourage you men who strive against false teaching: You are in good company!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Modern Reformation's Piece on Non-6 Day Creation Answered

In the May/June 2010 issue of Modern Reformation magazine, there was an article titled "PCA Geologists on the Antiquity of the Earth." Answers in Genesis has posted both a summary response as well as a longer response to this piece. I encourage you to read them. I also encourage you to write to the editor of Modern Reformation Magazine expressing your opinion on their article.

How to Retain Visitors

In my experience, the average reformed/presbyterian church does not have a problem attracting visitors. Unless you meet 30 miles outside of town on a dirt road no one ever drives on (and I know those types of churches exist!), then chances are you will occasionally have a visitor in your midst on a Sunday morning. If your church does any sort of advertising or any sort of outreach, those chances increase. But even if you don't, you will get the stray visitor now and again. This post is not meant to give advice on how to attract visitors, but how to make sure that the visitor's first visit is not their last.

Here are some simple steps that I have seen help retain visitors:

1. Pray! Pray that God will send you visitors. Pray that the visitors will feel welcomed. Pray that the Holy Spirit would work in their hearts to apply the preaching of the Word that they will hear at your church. Pray that you and the members of your congregation can effectively minister to the visitors. Pray that they will come back.

2. Get the visitors contact information. Have a guest book and make sure they visitor signs it. Alternatively, have pew cards for visitors to fill out. Do something to get their name, address, phone number and e-mail. The point here is to prepare for follow-up. You will need contact information.

3. Greet your visitors! Some churches make the visitors stand up at the beginning of the service so everyone knows who they are. I think that goes to far, and could potentially embarrass your visitors. But, you must make sure to introduce yourself, shake their hand, ask their name. Elders, this is primarily your responsibility. You must be the ice breakers. If we have visitors on a Sunday morning, and I don't get to talk to them, I feel I have failed in my duty (thankfully, when this happens, I know the other elders will have talked to the visitor). Elders should also be encouraging others in the congregation to improve on this point. For some people, it is very difficult to say hi to someone they don't know. For others it is easy. The more people that greet a visitor, the more welcome they will feel in your church.

4. Be prepared to show hospitality to your new visitors. This one requires some forethought. My wife and I try to plan each week for the scenario of visitors (the key word being "try"--we don't always succeed). We try to plan our Sunday lunch accordingly. We try to leave the house in a state which is appropriate for visitors (kids' toys put away, dishes done, etc.). This can be a difficult thing to do as you are rushing out of the house on a Sunday morning to get to church on time, but it really only requires a bit more effort than usual. I view this preparation as part of my preparing for the Lord's Day: I want to be prepared to show hospitality.

5. Follow-up! This goes back to point 2 (get the visitors' contact information). Now that you have their contact info, send them a card thanking them for visiting your church. Take them a plate of cookies during the week (as a side note, this was done to my family the first time we visited my current church. It pretty much sealed the deal for us and we've been their ever since). Give them a phone call, asking if there is any way you can be of service to them. Whatever you choose to do, make that follow-up contact.

These are only five things that can help you retain visitors, and I'm sure there are many more. Do you have something to add to this list? Leave a comment and let me know!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

He's Back!

TE Brian Carpenter (PCA) is back at the helm of his blog, and in wonderful form. Welcome back, Brian! Your "piss and vinegar" were sorely missed.

If you are unfamiliar with TE Carpenter or don't know what's going on in the PCA in regards to the Federal Vision error being rooted out (very painfully, at times), then I encourage you to head over to The Happy TR and get familiar with the topic.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Quote of the Day

"The Lord never rebuked anyone for searching the scriptures too zealously. He rebukes people for:

* Ignoring or Disobeying the Word
* Obeying the Scriptures they like and ignoring the others
* Adding to or taking away from His word
* Substituting their traditions for His commands."

TE Andrew Webb, Providence PCA, Fayetteville, NC

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Whither Warfield? Into the arms of Darwin!

[Editor's note: I see that this piece by Mathison is from March 2010. I have only just now become aware of it.]

Keith Mathison has posted a piece at Ligonier Ministries discussing the relationship between science and Scripture and advocating a return to the old Princetonian principle of Hodge, Hodge and Warfield; namely, that science and Scripture, when each is properly interpreted, will be in agreement, and therefore the Christian has nothing to fear from science for it can never properly overturn his faith. Thus far, I am in agreement. Dr Mathison writes:

They [the old Princetonians] agreed that when science and Scripture appear to contradict each other, either the scientific interpretation of God’s creation is in error or the Christian interpretation of Scripture is in error, or both are in error.
Yes, this is true; however, I would note three things, one hermeneutical, two historical:

First: the proper method of biblical interpretation is to find other passages of Scripture which speak clearly about the same topic and use those passages to interpret the passage in question. Or, as the Westminster Confession (1.9) states: "The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly."

I see no room for "science" to "help" in our interpretation of Scripture according to the Confession. As a matter of fact, introducing the findings of science (so called) to help us interpret any passage elevates science to the level of Scripture and places it in judgment over God's Word. This is a very dangerous position to take. Applied to the age of the earth, we ought to conclude that if we are uncertain what the days of Genesis 1 are (actual days or long ages or just some sort of literary device to communicate that God created), the proper way of determining the meaning of Genesis 1 is to look to other sections of Scripture that speak to the days of Creation or the age of the earth (Exodus 20:11, for example). It is improper to ask "what does science say about the interpretation of Genesis 1?" because that introduces something from outside Scripture into the interpretation of Scripture.

Second, a historical point: geocentricism is flaunted about by anyone who wants to use science to interpret Scripture. But, the historical nuance of the Galilean affair is lost on many of those who do so (I do not accuse Dr. Mathison of such carelessness, but I have seen geocentricism pop up too many times in discussions on the age of the earth) . Briefly stated, geocentricism was not a theological position based on Scripture, but a philosophical position (Aristotelianism) forced onto the text. Can we say the same about a young age of the earth? Or does Scripture speak clearly to the antiquity of creation? To place those who hold to a young earth in the same category as those who defended geocentricism is bad history and fallacious.

Third: I can only assume that Mathison, being a well-educated Presbyterian minister, is familiar with the fact that Warfield allowed for the possibility of theistic evolution. Warfield, believing that there was no conflict between science and Scripture (he was right) and also believing that science can be used to interpret Scripture (he was wrong) concluded that it was possible for evolution to be reconciled to the creation account of Genesis 1 and 2. His method for doing so was to sacrifice the plain reading of the text in order to allow for the new science of evolution to "interpret" the text for us. Warfield wrote (Lectures on Anthrology, 1888):

I am free to say, for myself, that I do not think that there is any general statement in the Bible or any part of the account of creation, either as given in Genesis 1 and 2 or elsewhere alluded to, that need be opposed to evolution....The upshot of the whole matter is that there is no necessary antagonism of Christianity to evolution, provided that we do not hold to too extreme a form of evolution. To adopt any form that does not permit God freely to work apart from law and which does not allow miraculous intervention (in the giving of the soul, in creating Eve, etc.) will entail a great reconstruction of Christian doctrine, and a very great lowering of the detailed authority of the Bible. But if we condition the theory by allowing the constant oversight of God in the whole process, and his occasional supernatural interference for the production of new beginnings by an actual output of creative force, producing something new i.e., something not included even in posse in the preceding conditions, we may hold to the modified theory of evolution and be Christians in the ordinary orthodox sense.
I must ask: is this what Dr. Mathison wants? I sincerely hope not.

The old Princetonians were not all bad, but on the question of the relationship between science and Scripture, they failed. Once final point: Warfield was only able to come to his erroneous conclusion on evolution because Charles Hodge, who correctly rejected evolution, had compromised with the popular science of his day: geology.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Use and Value of Commentaries

Last night, I led my church's Monday night Bible study. We did what I called an "example of personal Bible study." What I was trying to convey was, when someone comes to you and says, "The Bible says X," how do we go about verifying if what that person says is true? So, we used Matthew 7:1 as an example of a text that gets ripped out of context and horribly misinterpreted and misapplied. We went over the important steps of: context, cross-reference, and concordance. The fourth 'C' that I didn't have time to cover was "commentary." This is what I meant to say about using commentaries to help you determine the interpretation of a given passage:

1. Commentaries are man-made documents. They are prone to error as much as any person.
2. Commentaries come in different flavors: Good, bad, technical, devotional, etc.
3. Find a trustworthy commentary (Matthew Henry, for example).
4. Commentaries are often used as the first tool of Bible study: this is lazy! Use a commentary last, only to see if what you have found from your own Bible study agrees with the commentator.
5. If the results of your study differ from the commentator (and remember that you should be using a trustworthy commentary!) weigh this carefully. You should not automatically defer to the commentator, but you should consider the fact it is possible that you have gotten something wrong.
6. A good commentary is a gift a godly preacher leaves to future generations. They are fallible, but they can also reveal great treasures of Scripture that we may have missed.