Controversy after the conflagration

If the phrase Federal Vision means anything to you, this post is a good summary of the theological question at stake. It's coming down to this: "what does saving faith look like?"

Wilson has a great paragraph at the end putting controversy like this in perspective:

"We are (all of us) going to give an acccount of ourselves, down to every idle word, every motion at presbytery, and certainly down to every blog post. Because you have been justified by the free grace of God in Christ, this means that your misrepresentations of my position have been as forgiven as it gets. The judgment seat we will all stand before will not be that kind of judgment seat -- we will (all of us) have to walk past the altar where Christ sprinkled His blood before we get to this seat of evaluation, where Christ sorts out our tangles. But when He sorts out our tangles, as He promises He will, you will shake hands with me, brother, and we will be able to chat in true fellowship while the angels are passing out the sheet music."


Communion exhortation - 1/28/07

Accompanying text: 1 Samuel 11-12

God deals with sin at this table. Of course, Jesus Christ has dealt with sin once for all on the cross. We don’t atone for our sin by eating and drinking here, or by working up repentant feelings hard enough so as to feel worthy. That is NOT how God deals with our sin here. Instead, God offers us such fullness, such a feast, on this table, it is all that we need – union with our Creator and Savior. Since all things hold together in Jesus Christ, what could be better than union with the center? So taste and see that the Lord is good. But there is a catch. This is such a full and complete feeding, that there is not room in us for both Jesus Christ and and our sin. We only get to sit at one table: this one, or the world’s. Where will you be fed? Cming to this table in faith and in the Spirit, week after week will push out the desire for sin. Continuing in your sin will corrode your desire for this table, and you will be here less often, or with less faithfulness.

Come, let us renew the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. May we proclaim His faithful deliverance of us – that He has not and will not forsake us, even if we forsake Him.

The symbols of Christ’s victory over the serpent are before you, placarded as a banner. And He has brought you to his banqueting table. And His banner over you is love.

Caption Ideas, Anyone??


The Family

Just finished "The Family in Its Civil and Churchly Aspects," by Rev. B.M.Palmer of First Presbyterian Church in New Orleans, LA, in 1876. This was an outstanding exposition of the various elements of the family and how they relate to one another. With chapter titles like "Supremacy of the Husband," and "Authority of the Parent," it isn't likely to make Amazon's top 20, or the similar top list at the Christian Bookseller's Association.

The strength is its focus on God's design, and how He tempers a strong and influential parental authority with familial affection. God does this so that safeguards against abusive tyrrany on one hand, and against overindulgence on the other. Another strength revealed in the subtitle, is the relation between family, and church and state. We get our idea of the church's identity from the family relations we experience. The state relies wholly on the health of families for its well-being. His chapter on the symbolic mystery of marriage is an excellent expansion on Paul's analogy in Ephesians 5:22-33: as Christ loves the Church as His Bride, so the husband is to love his wife.

A minor weakness is a possible or potential over emphasis on the family, to the diminishment of respecting civil or churchly authority. At one point he implies that the church is a collection of churches (families). But we must say the church is a new family born of God, not just a collection of natural, biological families. Switching to the state, while the state tends to encroach upon the family too much these days, it isn't helpful to swing too far the other way. There is little to no mention of the family's true obligations to the state or church; only the ways in which the state and church derive secondarily from the family. While this latter aspect is true, the former ought not be overlooked in order to reclaim and honor the family. An illustration: the wife was created secondarily from the man. But the man serves her and meets her needs. The relationship is reciprocal. Similarly, the church and state don't exist solely to serve the family. Family also serves state and church in certain ways.

But this is a minor, and in many ways only potential, weakness. Overall this is a very healthy Biblical-guided corrective for modern distortions of gender roles.


Relationship AND religion

1. Jeff Meyers is ticked off at the mantra:
"Christianity is a relationship, not a religion."
It IS a religion, not just a relationship.
Find out why.

2. George Washington called this man the "spiritual father of America's founding fathers." Find out who, and read about him. (Jan 21,2007 entry)


More from the boys

"My brain is getting smaller, Mom. I think I need to do some schoolwork." - Owen, 4 yrs.


Oh, those boys!

...from our 4-year old son Owen....

"Mom, the only vegetables I like are carrots and bananas."
"If the whole world was our house, we could go for nature walks on the moon."

...what does a stubborn two year old do when faced with a toy knight that exclaims, "NONE shall pass!"? He bowls over the knight with his own knight yelling "SOME shall pass!"


1/7/07 Communion Exhortation

Accompanying sermon text: 1 Samuel 7

When we worship God rightly, He fights for us. Part of worshipping God rightly is coming to His Table in faith. Faith is central to all we do, and without it no one can please God. Faith is the victory that overcomes God’s enemies. How do we worship by faith? We avoid coming to worship just out of habit or routine. Instead we remember and believe that God has already won the victory at the cross. That He conquered sin and death by offering as our mediator a perfect sacrifice: His own life and body. Jesus is not only our mediator. He is the sacrifice. He is the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. So this bread and wine remind us - as a memorial - of that sacrifice. They are not another sacrifice. They make up a fellowship meal of peace. This Communion is not another time to confess. We have done that and God has forgiven us. Now we gather around the table with no agenda, nothing to do, other than enjoy communion with the triune God, Father Son and Spirit, and with His Body, the Church.


Evangelicalism Divided: A Review

Iain Murray chronicles events from 1950 to the present related to the split within the English-speaking evangelical camp over how to respond to those lacking evident evangelical faith or belief desiring to be considered by the evangelicals as legitimate members of the visible church. To put it more simply: can we consider as a Christian someone who denies the deity of Christ? What if they deny justification by faith alone? What if they believe the Roman bishop (pope) is supreme? By what criteria do we consider one a Christian and give membership to the visible Church of Jesus Christ?

Murray examines such figures as Billy Graham, JI Packer, and D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, as well as movements like Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT), noting the compromises or stands against compromise of each. Liberal and Roman Catholic churches sought to participate in Billy Graham's crusades so as to direct the flood of converts their way. The crusade people unwittingly went along. Ecumenical movements in Anglicanism in England convinced Packer that one could cooperate with liberals or Anglo-Catholics in the visible church without compromising the truth. Lloyd-Jones saw such cooperation leading to compromise. A similar dynamic pertains to ECT in the last couple decades.

So much for summary. Now analysis. Murray adeptly touches upon the dangers of cooperation with the less-than-orthodox in the church. Politically, you can't say the whole truth when you're trying to get along with them, if the project is to last and be effective. If you are both in the church, and committed to that unity first, and if one believes in the virgin birth, and the other does not, then you'll just have to agree to disagree on that, and not make a pronouncement as a church. To do the latter would effectively make one party a second-class citizen and not promote unity. Murray chronicles well the silencing or changing of the evangelical voice as it sought influence via cooperation with various groups.

I have one quibble with Murray. He occasionally argues that a strong view of what baptism does is a culprit leading to liberalism. If baptism is all that defines one as a Christian, the argument goes, then we have no rationale to keep out liberal but nominal Anglicans, etc. But this doesn't follow. After baptism, we have discipline to remove from the church those who do not live up to or continue in what they profess. I actually believe that baptism DOES define one as a Christian, nominally, but in a positive and important way. Baptism marks you with Christ's name and automatically includes you as a member of the visible church, by virtue of a profession of faith if you're an adult, or because your parents are believers if you're an infant (Gen 17:12; Acts 2:39). But if they later deny the faith, this doesn't make baptism the problem. The problem is that no one has the guts to remove them from the church.

The only open question from the book is, when does it become necessary to leave a theologically sliding denomination? Sometimes when Murray writes he gives the impression that one must do so, and that not doing is a test of true faith. Other times he is more generous, saying that one cannot impute motives or judge the heart regarding those who are compromising. They usually do so unwittingly at first. At what point do we say they have slidden so far that they are not in the faith, even if they claim they still are?

It seems evangelicals have often become more afraid of appearing dogmatic than of leaving the truth. We have reacted against the former and fallen into the latter. Murray quotes Richard Baxter in this regard: "Many an error is taken up by going too far from other men's faults" (pg 299). This is an important principle and application to bear in mind these days.

Another strength is his insistence on a basic opposition between Christian and non-Christian. Keeping the difference clearly in view is important to evangelicalism. Blurring the line means you're losing track of the basic message (evangel, Gospel) the believing of which defines one as a Christian.

A weakness is the pessimistic and downright dismal tone toward the end: "In the words of Horatious Bonar, 'Fellowship between faith and unbelief must, sooner or later, be fatal to the former.' The reason is not that error is more powerful than truth: it is rather that, without the Holy Spirit, spiritual weakness is a certainty" (pg 305). While I understand the distinction he makes, I disagree that the Spirit cannot be present where there is temporary mingling of belief with unbelief. Murray and Bonar may be referring to institutional and permanent fellowship - the context is not clear. If that is the case, I agree with them. But I believe there must be individual relationships with unbelievers if evangelism is to take place. This quote can far too easily be taken as an excuse to hole up in our Christian ghettos and never engage the world of unbelief. The Spirit works as we set our lamp on the lampstand for all to see. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. Do not despair or be overwhelmed by the onslaught of liberalism.

For though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.


A deeper right than being right

Great quote by a former colleague, though I didn't know him personally:

"God's call is not for us to have the right opinion about various issues, but to actually minister by the Spirit's power in those areas."

David Landegent, RCA pastor in Holland, MI
Sunday School Guide, Oct 8, 2006, pg 26


Traditions Old and New

Christmas is over, the New Year has come and gone, and January is in full swing. It's a time for reflection on the past and readying ourselves for the future. One of the things I'm constantly re-evaluating is our family holiday traditions. Since this is our first Christmas away from all our family and friends, I thought another look at what we do as a family to celebrate was in order.

Four years ago I started making cute little indestructable felt-covered magnets to use as Jesse Tree devotions for Advent. Each day a magnet is added to the fridge to tell the story of Christ's geneology and all of creation waiting for His birth. Prior to this season, I had 12 of the 25 magnets completed. Since we needed to take our "show on the road" so to speak, I had to hustle to finish the set (which I managed to do, on December 24!). Our children have enjoyed playing with theses felt pieces and doing a simple chant to remember all their names/meanings.

Christmas Day has another interesting tradition in our home. We don't do the stockings/Santa bit, instead opting for a manger that is filled with gifts on Christmas morning. This reminds us of the precious gift Jesus' incarnation is. This year Steve hid the manger (out in the garage) so the kids could be like the shepherds searching for the Christ-child. If you ever do anything like this, learn from us and DON'T use real hay in the manger in the house. Little kids track it everywhere and really make you feel like you live in a barn!

This was our first year celebrating Epiphany. It started with a discussion Steve and I had about the 12 days of Christmas, and whether they start on Dec. 25 or 26. (the answer to that varies!) We had a shortened celebration this year marked by the wise men from our Nativity set journeying across our home, each day getting closer to the manger. Tonight, being Twelfthnight (yes, Shakespeare's play is named for this), was our grand feast and celebration! The wise men finally arrived, we feasted on spicy foods and spice cake (spices come from the East, like the magi) which was shaped & decorated like a crown. We talked about the eternal King coming and being a light to all the world. During the week we smelled various spices, read stories, and drew pictures of the wise men and their gifts. (Owen's picture was most puzzling: it included the bright star, several asteroids crashing into the moon, a comet, and a SPACE CACTUS)


Commune Often

"We all know the cliché, the family that prays together stays together. Related to this, we have to remember that the family that eats together stays together. One of the reasons why the modern household is in trouble is the infrequency of their common meals. And one of the reasons why the church of Jesus Christ is so fragmented in our nation today is the same reason. The family that eats together stays together."

Douglas Wilson


New link

Check out the website I just added to the sidebar. Great stuff on Reformed theology, especially how we are saved. Lots of puritan material.



Sara's New Year Resolutions

You have to understand, dear reader, that my DH is a very list-oriented and orderly person, while I take a more "shotgun" scatter approach to things. So you won't find any neat lists of my New Year Resolutions in this post. Hey, I haven't even made any resolutions yet! I keep coming up with more ideas and haven't settled on any yet. Maybe tomorrow's idea will be better than today's...

But I have decided to finish up whatever projects I started in 2006: baby ribbed cardigan (needs zipper sewn in), Bayerische socks (I'm 1.5" into the first sock!), and that king-sized hand-quilted patchwork quilt (started in 1999).

Finishing old projects also includes doing the projects I bought supplies for and haven't started yet! I won't bore you with that list - it's way too long!! Suffice it to say I have enough sock yarn to knit a pair each month of 2007... perhaps that's a worthy goal?

Japheth's blessing: life with Shem

In Genesis 9 where Ham mocks his father Noah's nakedness, Ham is thenceforward subjected to Shem. The latter is the ancestor of Abraham. Using the traditional interpretation of Shem, Ham and Japheth, the former equates roughly to most other eastern people (Egyptians, Assyrian/Babylonians, Canaanites), and Japheth equates to the Gentiles spread further abroad, mostly to the northwest (toward Europe).

What I noticed this time around is that Noah's blessing of Japheth is that he dwell in Shem's tents. This brought to mind Amos 9:12, which James quotes in Acts 15:15-17. The tents of David will be set back up and expanded, so the Gentiles (Japheth) can live in them, too. But God's enemies (Ham) will be subdued under Shem's (Jesus') feet (Psalm 110:1).

The restored life will be one of brothers living together in harmony, and in one house. But notice that it is Shem's house. This relates to Romans 9-11, where Paul affirms that the Jewish nation (Shem) is the natural branch on the tree, the root of which is Abraham. Other branches are grafted in, just as one can live as a long-time guest in another's house. The host and owner of the house, the natural branches, ought not boast (Romans 11:18) about the privileged position he may have (Romans 1:16). He is to provide hospitality humbly and not lord it over the guest Gentile, for he has some a store of wealth to share with his guest (Romans 3:1-2). It may be his house, but it was built by Another (Hebrews 3:3-4) and given to him by grace through faith.

The guest must learn to receive without trying to earn the gift. He is in full fellowship with the host. This does not mean he is less loved by the Builder than is the host. The Gentile, the guest, is not second-class, any more than Eve was, just because she was "created for" Adam (Genesis 2:18). God simply delights in providing His creatures with relationships that involve differences, gratitude, and reciprocal expressions of humility and love.

It seems we learn more about grace with the world set up this way, rather than with everyone equal and the same.


Steve's New Year Resolutions

I know, I know, these are out of vogue, but I don't care. I'm idealistic enough to think it might be a tool to improve my sanctification, so I keep it up, and think I am in good company, given this.

Number one is specific to the blog: I plan on doing less quoting and more writing myself. Got some feedback on that, and admit I've been taking the lazy route there lately.

Number two: an hour of treadmill time per week.

Number three: cut back the carbonated beverages. I have an accountability partner for this one - it's serious!

I also intend to read through the Bible this year using this plan - going chronologically using the New King James Version.

Tomorrow we are driving back home from visiting family over the holidays. Then I'll be off a dial-up connection, so communications will be more regular.