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Monday, September 17, 2012

Revolution Replacing Reformation (in the church)

One of my neighbors was ordained years ago to the office of Elder in the Reformed denomination of which I'm a member. Thankfully, he has since time aligned himself with a non-denominational Bible church. While still in his former denomination I remember this man saying to me in my dining room how he was looking to spend the church’s money in the hiring of an extremely talented non-Christian electric guitarist who would be paid to critique the church’s corporate worship style. This “consultant” would help the church become more “cutting edge” in their worship so that they might attract the lost.
A few years before that I attended a Reformed church (same denomination) in San Diego while away on business. Before the first song the minister apologized to the congregation by saying that although they would be standing to sing "because we are Presbyterian," he assured them there was no need to stand. This amendment was not intended to accommodate the aged but rather it was intended to communicate a laid back approach to worship. The elementary school aged boy in front of me took the minister up on the offer (and then some). He sat comfortably sprawled out in his chair as he read a racing car magazine. As the pastor paced the stage with his Big Gulp in hand, he drew the analogy in his sermon that the Savior on the cross was like the pastor’s daughter who had been held down by force on a hospital bed by her father as the doctor administered a painful needle. After several other misleading word-pictures including defining justification as "a fancy word for having a new heart,” the minister ended the sermon by singing the benediction in a rock style genre while strumming a guitar. His parting words boasted “be a Christian but live like a golfer.”

Today I attended a church (same denomination) by invitation because of a baptism that was to take place. Amazingly in God’s plan I was used to persuade the parents of the biblical case for covenant baptism – all the more reason I felt a happy obligation to worship away from my home church. Out of twenty five minutes of singing, no song except for the offertory was familiar to anyone in my family. The only familiar tune was America the Beautiful. Contemporary is one thing. Sectarian and esoteric is something else. To be so far detached from not only the historic Christian church but the church of this present age so as to sing all unfamiliar tunes to the well churched ear is, I think, problematic.
In today’s worship we were told that biblical repentance always brings forth fruit, but a Christian can be one who has not yet repented. After the service was over and the Senior Minister was walking down the aisle, the atmosphere was so casual that a prominent member felt at liberty to yell to the Senior Minister that the congregation agrees to pray and look out for the baptized children even though the minister had forgotten to take a show of hands, apparently a tradition of theirs that was overlooked that Sunday. The Senior Minister was seemingly embarrassed.

Much can be said about the casual approach to worship that is pervasive in the church today and more often than not accompanied by a corrupted gospel message, which is no gospel at all. It is good to be reminded from time to time that Moses takes off his shoes when he encounters God; Isaiah is undone; Job puts his hand over his mouth and repents in dust and ashes; Peter asks the Lord to depart from him because he is a sinful man; and John falls down as a dead man. Does our adoption as sons in Christ somehow diminish the sacred and the holy? Or is it true that a God who is not perceived as transcendent, but only worshipped as our friend, is not the true and living God? If joy without reverence is not God-inspired joy, then it must be the work of the flesh.
I believe the unsaved have a better intuitive grasp of appropriate worship than professing Christians do sometimes, which is why it breaks my heart to see un-churched relatives attend such “worship” services. Casual “worship” becomes a stumbling block to the lost (and the saved) because it is not consistent with who God is and what he has done in his marvelous works of creation, providence and grace. It seems to me that evangelicals were more outraged by the inappropriateness of Michelle Obama touching the Queen in 2009 than they are with casual worship before a righteous and holy God.

Even in the Reformed church I’m afraid, Reformation is being replaced by Revolution. There seems to be a concerted effort to overthrow corporate confession of sin; assurance of pardon; historic Trinitarian creeds; OT and NT Scripture reading; Psalm singing; hymns written by theologians, sung by the one holy, catholic and apostolic church; and expository preaching. How can this be deemed an improvement?
I know there is no perfect church, and I don’t think I’m looking for one – far from it I think. I’m just looking for decency and order for my household. Thankfully, we have much more than that at my home church. By God's grace we enjoy the elements of Reformed, Trinitarian worship.

Lord willing, we’ll worship at our home church this coming Sunday.
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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"We're both part of the same hypocrisy, senator..."

Obama would use government to undermine what he considers the injustice (if not evil) of wealth disparity. Republicans believe in principle the same things, just more subtly and probably to a lesser degree. For instance, Republicans have no problem helping all people become educated through government schools funded by taxes. So why shouldn’t the government keep us healthy in the same way, through government "tax" dollars? It wasn’t Obama who ushered in the seeds of Socialism. Our progressive tax tables (originally aimed to fund the Civil War and later exasperated by the Great Depression and WWII); the new deal under FDR; and government education all preceded Obama’s birth. These are all means of “spreading the wealth” that are intrinsic to both parties. America has been on this road for a long, long time. One must either be a hypocrite or unthinking to accuse any particular party or candidate while giving a pass to others who do the same. (I'm not engaging in name calling here. I'm merely pointing out that those who accuse Obama and not the GOP are either ignorant of their own leanings or else unjust in their dealings.)
Moreover, Obama-socialism comports rather nicely with the recent bailouts of the Great Recession, supported by both parties. The bailouts were a difficult matter but only if predicated upon the question of defending our nation (the national security question). It could have been argued, I suppose, that an economic collapse would have put national security at risk, hence the need for a bailout. I don’t find that premise particularly persuasive, but that was the only possible rationale I could think of three to four years ago to justify the "loan" from a constitutional posture.
Reformed folk (whether R2K or stridently theonomic) have always grasped that the Bible doesn’t provide a blue print for economic theory, though it does speak in principle to questions pertaining to the three spheres of government - family, church and civil. Fathers and mothers are to discipline children and individuals are entrusted with feeding the poor. The church serves the Supper, and shows acts of mercy (along with individuals). The government wields the sword. Once we conflate those sorts of boundaries chaos sets in. That’s what we now have. People are to "render unto Caesar" taxes, but nowhere does God grant government the liberty to extort money at the end of a gun in the manner that both Republicans and Democrats have become so accustom. This is why I find the entire outrage over ObamaCare to be a mock horror. Sure ObamaCare is wrong; that’s obvious. But on what ground do we object to the theft of ObamaCare and not the laws and taxes regarding child education? How is nationalized health care any more insidious than national education? How is the “no child left behind act” constitutional and not a form of spreading the wealth? Faith based initiatives? Come now, Christian.
It is striking to me that both parties want to help their preferred classes of people who will indeed decide any election - the rich and the middle class. But God’s word would have us be concerned only for the financial betterment of the lowest income strata, who when at no fault of their own need financial aid. Even with Scripture's emphasis on  helping the (non-slothful) poor, the true privilege and obligation to extend financial charity always falls upon individuals and the church, not government. Yet Republicans, contrary to Scripture, foster the government-aid mentality, again – just to a lesser degree than Democrats. So again, both parties are of the same hypocrisy {no differently than Michael Corleone and Senator Patrick Geary (pictured above) were}; some are just more consistent than others.

Lastly, it is also my opinion that too many would find their hope in government, which is what true Communism would have, and it’s what Obama and Pelosi would have. But once again, I find Christians just as misguided here as they follow the GOP. Create a crisis and the people will run to government, or if I’m to believe the left – their guns and bibles. Christians, in their partisanship, too often do not think for themselves I'm afraid. They would sooner let Rush, Sean and Bill do their political thinking for them. Those men are far from conservative by my standards and certainly not intellectually honest, let alone biblically harnessed in their outlook and reasoning. They’re of the same hypocrisy as the community organizer from Chicago, just not as consistent as he. They are more selective in what socialistic, unbiblical laws suit them, but nonetheless they too want bigger government than what the framers intended and not substantially fewer programs than their opponents desire. Just look at RomneyCare. That he wants to contain it to his own state of Massachusetts is a distinction without a principled difference. (In this regard Romney reminds me of ficticious character Guiseppe Zaluchi who with his own irrelevant qualification wanted to keep drug trafficking "respectable" by restricting it in Detroit to a certain class of people that he thought were "animals anyway, so let them lose their souls.")

Every time you lick a stamp, ask yourself why the government is involved with delivering parcels. I remember a loyal Republican woman (also a Christian) who when presented this question replied in all sincerity, "Then who would deliver the mail?" (Remember Pork in Gone With the Wind? "Whose gonna milk that cow, Miss Scarlet? We's houseworkers.") Sadly, it never occurred to this dear saint that there could be private sector competition over serving the mail just like there is in picking up garbage from the curb.

Sure, Obama is the socialistic real-deal, which is why the thought of him for four more years terrifies so many, but how does Romney really differ?

In sum: I think what Obama stands for is deplorable. No equivocation there I trust. Now then, putting Romney's faith aside, I find his socialistic tendencies as misguided as his economic policies, and in principle he is no different than Obama. We can rightly consider ObamaCare a natural progression from what Romney, following the GOP, embraces. The two candidates might be at slightly different points along the trajectory, which only means that Obama is just slightly ahead of the curve, that's all.

"Obama" isn't just a candidate; it is an ideology that has been taught in public schools for years. It's in the culture and air we breathe. Everyone gets a trophy. All opinions are to be respected and, therefore, considered equally valid. There is no absolute truth, just better opinions possibly.  Romney is a disciple of that same secular philosophy. The difference between the two is Romney is not as good a student as the President. That is how Romney differs from Obama. He's not as far along as his opponent, but given time and the right providential circumstances he might just get there.

"Should five percent appear too small
Be thankful I don't take it all
'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah I'm the taxman" George Harrison
(Written in response to the "supertax" with backing vocals' reference to Labour and Conservative Parties - Mr. Wilson and Mr. Heath - suggested by John Lennon to Harrison; though Wilson [Labour] was the real culprit I suppose.)
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Sunday, September 09, 2012

Wet Dedications In Presbyterian Churches


“Timmy is joining the church this Sunday.” How often have we heard such a sentiment? A better question is “Why do we hear such a sentiment?” I am fully persuaded that the reason we hear such things is because evangelicalism is overtaking the church – even the Reformed church. In the minds of most Timmy is not joining the church upon baptism let alone birth but upon his confirmation of faith.

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s “Directory for the Public Worship of God” [DPWG] most clearly and decisively opposes evangelicalism in Chapter 4, Section B, Paragraph 2 where it instructs that “…Although our young children do not yet understand these things, they are nevertheless to be baptized. For the promise of the covenant is made to believers and to their seed, as God declared unto Abraham: ‘And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee.’ In the new dispensation no less than in the old, the seed of the faithful, born within the church, have, by virtue of their birth, interest in the covenant and right to the seal of it and to the outward privileges of the church… So the children of the covenant are by baptism distinguished from the world and solemnly received into the visible church.”

Before we proceed it should be noted that the official position of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church is that the “covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.” (Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), Q&A 31) The denomination also affirms that all within the visible church are not necessarily elect; therefore, there exists within the visible church those with whom God has not established His covenant of grace yet are to receive the outward administration of it. Assuming the denomination does not contradict itself in its doctrine, we may safely conclude that when the standards teach that children of professing believers are to be baptized – because the covenant is made with them – it is treating such children as elect in Christ. Accordingly, such children are to be “distinguished from the world and solemnly received into the visible church.” But what is it to be “distinguished form the world and solemnly received into the visible church”? According to the [Westminster] standards of the denomination, to be received into the visible church includes entering “into an open and professed engagement to be wholly and only the Lord’s,” which compliments how the denomination’s catechism instructs its members to regard “strangers from the covenant of promise” who are not to receive baptism until “they profess their faith in Christ…” Infants born of professing believers are not only to be treated among those with whom God has established his covenant; they are also to be regarded as already disciples in Christ, which is why they are to be baptized, as opposed to targets for evangelistic conversion. New Testament baptism, among other things, is a call to discipleship and fidelity, not conversion. It is a call to improve upon one's baptism in exercising the seed of faith by believing all Scripture teaches, and primarily in full reliance upon the grace of God trusting and resting solely in him as he is offered in the gospel.

The DPWG goes on to state in paragraph 4 of the same section “that, although our children are conceived and born in sin and therefore are subject to condemnation, they are holy in Christ, and as members of his church ought to be baptized…” [Emphasis mine] Parenthetically we can note that the official position of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church is that baptism does not make someone a member of the church but rather it is to be administered to those who are already "members of his church." The DPWG, possibly borrowing from 1 Corinthians 7:14, regards covenant children as “holy in Christ” and, therefore, among those who ought to be baptized. Moreover, paragraph 4, borrowing from Ephesians 6:4, instructs professing parents of children “to endeavor by all the means of God’s appointment to bring [children] up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Just prior to the Apostle Paul’s instruction to parents he instructs the children in Ephesus to obey their parents “in the Lord.” These children without qualification are included in the number of all hearers in Ephesus who by the apostle are called “saints”, “faithful in Christ Jesus”, “blessed”, “chosen”, “accepted in the beloved”, “sealed with the Holy Spirit of Promise”, “quickened”, “saved”, “his workmanship created in Christ Jesus”, “fellowcitizens with the saints”, “of the household of God”, “partakers of his promise in Christ”, “forgiven”, “beloved children” and “children of light”. Does the average evangelical Protestant regard his children as the Apostle Paul would have us? Or do evangelicals, Reformed or not, regard their covenant offspring as those who must “join the church” after making a credible profession of faith? Does the Reformed Christian who embraces limited atonement tell his children that Jesus died for them? The Apostle Paul tells his hearers, even at Corinth where professions of faith were less credible, that Jesus died for their sins. (1Corinthians 15:3) Covenant children were not only regarded as being among the elect for whom Christ died; they, as part of the church, were regarded as already partaking of the purchased redemption, having been "sanctified in Christ Jesus, [and] called to be saints." (1Corinthians 1:2) The baptized were treated according to what the sign of baptism signified, namely union with Christ.

Indeed, children must “improve” upon their baptism – as do adults. The Confession draws no significant difference between the two. Question 167 of the WLC asks “How is our Baptism to be improved by us?” Answer: “The needful but much neglected duty of improving our Baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long... by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it... by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism... by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized... and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.” Both child and adult is to improve upon his baptism.

Note well that the WLC does not exhort those who have been baptized unto conversion. Such baptistic theology is contrary to Scripture. Rather, the Confession instructs that the baptized continue in faithfulness. The doctrine of the Bible, which the Orthodox Presbyterian Church follows in its standards, instructs all within the visible church to grow in the assurance of pardon and in brotherly love, as those who have already been baptized into one body by one Spirit. Even when we find severe warnings in Scripture pertaining to falling away from the faith, we find on the heels of such warnings encouragement in the Lord:
“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."

“Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation.”

“But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” 

It is often said that baptists engage in "dry baptism" in their practice of infant dedication. What I find more true is that Reformed paedobaptists engage in wet-dedication in the sacrament of baptism. For the most part, both deny the covenant status of their offspring. Neither treats his offspring as already alive and engrafted into the risen Christ. Note the wording of the Book of Church Order for the Presbyterian Church In America on the status of children:
“The children of believers are, through the covenant and by right of birth, non-communing members of the church. Hence they are entitled to Baptism, and to the pastoral oversight, instruction and government of the church, with a view to their embracing Christ and thus possessing personally all benefits of the covenant.”
Like her sister denomination, the PCA also recognizes that children are members of the church and, therefore, are to be baptized. In such cases membership precedes baptism. Yet one can find this on a renowned congregation's website within that (my) denomination: 
“A new Christian, or a child of the Covenant, unites with a Presbyterian church by making a profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Those who become members of the church in this way appear before the session and answer satisfactorily five fundamental questions prescribed by the Book of Church Order. If they give evidence of sincerity and earnestness in their faith in Christ, the session votes to admit them to the ordinances of the church and to church membership. They ordinarily then appear before the congregation to repeat their public profession of faith in Christ, usually by answering again the five questions from the Book of Church Order. At that time they also receive Christian baptism, if they have not already been baptized in infancy.”
So, not birth or baptism but a profession of faith makes one a member of the church - contrary to the biblical, Reformed teachings of the denomination.

Not only are professing Christians to regard their children as disciples of Christ - they need not always qualify their biblical terminology with systematic language - another topic for another time. For now we might note that "There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other." With that in mind, how often will a Christian say that he is saved by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost? For that matter how often do we hear Christians acknowledge that they are truly eating (munching!) Christ's body and drinking his blood in the sacrament of communion? We hear all too often what the sacraments are not; yet the accent in Scripture falls upon what these sacraments actually confirm, namely interest in Christ. Accordingly, it is not hard to understand that as long as Christians regard their children as outside of Christ, the church will have a hard time reclaiming the sacramental language of Scripture. I say this as one who has no interest in jettisoning systematic theology and as one who has argued strenuously against Romanism and Federal Vision.


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Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Romney, Another Jefferson?

I've heard in the past week people trying to equate the Romney-scenario to that of President Thomas Jefferson, also a non-Christian. A few comments might be in order (and more are in the coms-box two posts ago). Jefferson was not a cult leader. And although he showed himself in the end to be apostate - Thomas Jefferson did not mistake Satan's voice for Christ's. That is the material point.

Mitt Romney not only rejects Christ's testimony of himself; he confuses Satan's testimony for it. When the presidential candidate reads the writings of false prophet Joseph Smith, Romney believes he is hearing the word of the Lord.

The point stands. These are indeed unchartered waters, completely
unprecedented in the history of the United States. (see two posts below) Free Website Counter