Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why were the Wise Men "divinely warned in a dream"?

As I was thinking on Scripture this morning, and particularly on the narrative of Christ's birth, a question occurred to me that I had never thought of before: Why were the wise men "divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod" (Matt. 2:12 NKJV)? I suppose one reason I had never considered this question previously, was that there was an abundance of supernatural events taking place surrounding the birth of our Lord: An angel appeared to Zechariah, to Mary, to Joseph, to the shepherds, and so one more divine warning to the wise men doesn't seem out of place. But, if we consider the text of Scripture, I believe we will see that this warning is just as extraordinary as Gabriel appearing to Mary or any other angelic revelation recorded in the first few chapters of the Gospels. Let me show you why:

First, consider the wise men themselves. What do we know of them from Scripture? Chiefly, that they were "wise." That fact seems to be taken for granted, but think of what they went through in order to find the baby Jesus: they saw a star in the east, and followed it to Judea. A star! No angel appeared to them to direct their path. No vision or dream was necessary for them to know the time and general location of the birth of the King of the Jews. Wisdom, biblically defined, is the application of God's word to a particular situation. These men from the east were able to do just that: apply what they knew concerning the birth of the King of the Jews to the situation in which they found themselves.

So, I ask again, why did these "wise" men need to be divinely warned in a dream not to return to Herod? After all, Herod was an evil man, as anyone who has read the Bible knows! He slaughtered innocent children in an attempt to prevent this newborn King from ever ascending to the throne! Surely, men who were so wise as to interpret the appearance of a star as relating to the birth of the Lord would be wise enough to know not to return to Herod without being divinely warned! He was an evil man!

But, let us now consider the character of Herod. What do we learn of him from the text? Yes, he is a wicked, evil, murderous man whose true intent was to slaughter the promised King, but that is not what he tells the wise men. No, his dealings with the wise men are much more cunning. The wise men ask of him the particular location where the King is to be born, and Herod helps them with their request! He goes to the trouble of gathering the chief priests and scribes and orders them to answer the question of these men from the east. Herod relays true and useful information to the wise men, thus allowing them to go to Bethlehem and worship the King. In addition to this help, Herod tells the wise men that he too wishes to pour out lavish gifts on this King of the Jews--he too wishes to worship the King. "Please, return to me once you have found this child, so that I, too, like you, may bow before him and acknowledge him as sovereign! I too possess great wealth, and will give to this ruler gold, and frankenscence, and myrrh--and more!" Thus, Herod's dealings with the wise men were very cunning: He appeared to be like them, wanting the same things as them, but his true intentions were evil.

I believe this is the reason the wise men needed to be divinely warned not to return to Herod. There was no sign that Herod intended evil. The wise men, who truly were wise, had no evidence on which to base a suspicion of Herod. They believed Herod and would have returned to him and given him all the information he wanted and needed in order to murder Jesus, if they had not been warned of God to do otherwise. God graciously intervened and foiled the plans of Herod.

Can the lessons of the wise men be applied to us, today? Certainly! In the church today, we are blessed with many wise men: some pastors, some elders, some members. And yet, we also find in our churches those who claim to worship our Lord, but truly do not. There are those who pay lip service to Christ, but secretly destroy innocent children (which Christians are often called). What are we to do, then, if the wise men who found Jesus could be so easily deceived? Is there any hope for our own wise elders, pastors, and brothers in the Lord? Is my own wisdom enough to discern an evil man from a good one? 

Be comforted, Christian! God, who divinely warned the wise men so many centuries ago, still warns us today. The word which came to those men, still abides with us. We have a better Word, even, for we possess the Scriptures which are able to make us wise (2 Tim 3:15). Thus, it is the duty of all Christians everywhere--pastors, elders, deacons, men, women, and children--to heed the divine warning concerning those who would seek our destruction! Mark them, and do not return to them! Depart from them and go to "another country", a better country, a heavenly country! Apply God's Word to your life and be delivered from evil.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Baptism in the Directory for Public Worship

Yesterday, I read Rowland Ward's section in the book Scripture and Worship: Biblical Interpretation and the Directory for Worship (P&R Publishing, 2007) dealing with the Directory for Public Worship--the oft overlooked but very helpful other document produced by the Westminster Assembly.

A couple of interesting historical tidbits stuck out at me as I read Ward's section, and then the Directory itself: First, it was part of the Directory for Public Worship's advice on administration of Baptism that the father of the child being baptized "profess his earnest desire that the child may be baptized," in front of the congregation at the time of baptism. That seems similar to the practice we have at Communion Presbyterian Church of asking the father "Why do you wish for your child to be baptized?" and allowing the father to share (or "profess") his reasons for his earnest desire.

Also, in the Scottish Presbyterian churches, baptism followed the sermon (as opposed to the private baptisms often administered in England), which we also practice at Communion Pres. I've seen baptism administered at different points in the service, but it makes sense to me that the seal be preceded by what is being sealed (the promises of the Word of God). Two small historical observations, as I prepare for next week's Adult Sunday School class at Communion Presbyterian Church!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Westminster Confession of Faith Sunday School Class: The Regulative Principle of Worship (Chapter 21)

Yesterday, we covered the first part of the Chapter 21 of the Westminster Confession of Faith in the Adult Sunday School class at Communion Presbyterian Church. It was a great time of teaching and discussion. Below are my notes (adapted from G. I. Williamson's The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes), as well as a couple of links to further reading. (As always, materials for previous classes can be accessed by clicking on the "Westminster Confession of Faith Sunday School Class" tag to the right side of this page.)

As a side note, the more I study the Confession in preparation for each week's lesson, the more I have come to appreciate its system of doctrine: a system that is consistent with Scripture, and builds each new point upon the foundations that were laid in previous chapters. How Chapter 21 is related to Chapter 1 (and Chapters 6, 19, and 20, to name a few) is but one example. I have a renewed appreciation for our Confession (and for Reformed Theology in general), having taught this class!

Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 21 Resources:

Since I don't know if we'll have time to return to the rest of the chapter next week, here is a link to the audio of Rev. David Stark's presentation on The Lord's Day Sabbath from the Reformation OC Conference. Chapter 21 of the Confession deals with Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day, so give this presentation a listen, if you'd like more on the part of the Chapter we were unable to cover (due to time).

(Adapted from G. I. Williamson’s The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes)

Cf: Larger Catechism: 103-121, 178-196; Shorter Catechism: 45-62, 88-90, 98-107

These sections (1-2) of the Confession teach:
  1. Natural Revelation is sufficient to inform men that they are obligated to worship the true God, but
  2. That it is not sufficient to tell men how to worship God, so that
  3. “The acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men” or in any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.”
  4. That God alone is the proper object of true worship, and
  5. That he can be worshiped only through the mediation of Christ

1. Natural Revelation is sufficient to inform man that they are obligated to worship the true God...
Chapter 1 of the Confession already established this fact. There we read: “Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable;[1] yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation.[2]

2. That it is not sufficient to tell men how to worship God, so that...
Sin had two effects on man’s relationship with God: 1. God’s presence was withdrawn (Genesis 3:22-24, “Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’— 23 therefore the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.”, and 2. Man’s heart was darkened

Since, in order for man’s worship to be acceptable to God, this alienation had to be reckoned with, and there is no way sinful man could reverse or annul the affects of the Fall,

3. “The acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men or in any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.”
...True worship could not exist except by divine provision. This is the same as saying that said worship was and is instituted by God, limited by God, and prescribed by God.

WCF 21.1b:
“But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.[2]
[2]DEU 12:32 What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.
MAT 15:9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
ACT 17:25 Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.
MAT 4:9-10 And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. 10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
(see also DEU 15:-19)
EXO 20:4-6 (2nd Commandment) Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

What does it mean that true worship must be instituted by God?
It means that true worship is that worship which has been authorized, commanded, or established by God.


Cain and Abel.
God did not respect Cain’s offering. Why not? Abel’s worship was accepted by God. Why?Genesis 4:1-7, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, “I have acquired a man from the LORD.” 2 Then she bore again, this time his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3 And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. 4 Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, 5 but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.
6 So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”

Israelites and The Golden Calf.
Exodus 32:1-10, “1 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”
2 And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf.
Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”
5 So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD.” 6 Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.
7 And the LORD said to Moses, “Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. 8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!’” 9 And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! 10 Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.”

Jeroboam and the High Places
1 Kings 12:25-29, “Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the mountains of Ephraim, and dwelt there. Also he went out from there and built Penuel. 26 And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom may return to the house of David: 27 If these people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn back to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and go back to Rehoboam king of Judah.”
28 Therefore the king asked advice, made two calves of gold, and said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!” 29 And he set up one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. 30 Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan.

NOTE: The worship of false gods was not instituted in Israel until King Ahab (see below). Jeroboam's sin was not worshiping a false god, but worshiping the true God in a way He had not commanded (See Dickson, Truth's Victory Over Error on this point).

1 Kings 16:30-33, “Now Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him. 31 And it came to pass, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took as wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians; and he went and served Baal and worshiped him. 32 Then he set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. 33 And Ahab made a wooden image. Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.

Israel and Baal worship.
Jeremiah 19:5, “They have also built the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or speak, nor did it come into My mind.

Jeremiah 32:35, “And they built the high places of Baal which are in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I did not command them, nor did it come into My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.’

Nadab and Abihu
Leviticus 10:1-2, “Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. 2 So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD.

Jesus and the Pharisees
Mark 7:1-13, “1 Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem. 2 Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. 3 For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches.
5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?”
6 He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. 7 And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ [Isaiah 29:13]
8 For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.”
9 He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban”—’ (that is, a gift to God), 12 then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, 13 making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

Therefore, we conclude that worship that is instituted (that is, commanded or established) by God is true worship. That which is not instituted by God is for that reason false worship.

True worship is limited by God’s revealed will.
It is limited because God has commanded only certain things in His worship. Sections 3-5 of this chapter lists those things for us, such as:
a) Prayer
b) Reading and Preaching of the Word
c) Singing of Psalms
d) Administration of the Sacraments

as well as “occasional” parts of worship:

e) Oaths, vows, and solemn fastings.

God has told us to observe these things in worship. He has also revealed His abhorrence of anything and everything that men may presume to invent or devise without such divine scriptural warrant. Thus we cannot say that true worship is instituted (or prescribed) without also saying it is limited.

This principle is simple to state, but not simple to practice. Due to the sinfulness of the human heart we all too often think along the lines of the Israelites of old who said “We will walk according to our own plans, and we will every one obey the dictates of his evil heart.” (Jeremiah 18:12).

A rival principle has a wide following, first in the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches, but more and more it is also found among those who claim the Reformed faith. The rival view is that true worship need not consist of only what God has commanded, but that it may also consist of that which he has not commanded, provided it be not expressly forbidden in the Word. See Illustration.

View A we have already explained.

Note that View B considers the things which God has commanded to be only a part (often it is only a small part) of legitimate worship. For example, in Roman worship there is a great mass of ceremonies, symbols, and activities which are allowed, and they can be changed or added to on the basis of this spurious principle.

Christ says in Matthew 15:9, “And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.

It is false worship because it has no sanction behind it other than the will of man.

Paul writes in Colossians 2:23, “These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.

To worship in the way we please, without proof  that it is God’s will, is to worship our own will rather than God. And it must be stressed that once this principle is abandoned (which it is and has been, even by those who claim to adhere to this Confession), there is no other stable safeguard of the purity of true worship!

God will not be worshiped except as He wills. Therefore, true worship is both instituted (prescribed) and limited. There are only two categories: what God has commanded and is legitimate, and what God has not commanded and excluded.

Roman Catholicism (too easy!)

What about Protestant examples? Do the following things contradict the principles established above? Why or Why not?
  • Candlelight services
  • Child Dedications
  • Grape Juice in the Lord’s Supper
  • Children’s Church
  • American Flag in Sanctuary or singing “God Bless America” during the worship service