"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Sunday, December 30, 2007


For consideration:
Huckabee's pleas for church support are disturbing me. I do not mind if a politician wishes to share his religious background, but according to multiple news stories, Huckabee has been preaching sermons in churches as part of his campaign. (See here, here, and in my backyard here)

I was reminded of the story of King Uzziah, who went to perform the tasks of the temple. That is until the priests...

...withstood King Uzziah, and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have trespassed! You shall have no honor from the LORD God.” Then Uzziah became furious; and he had a censer in his hand to burn incense. And while he was angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead, before the priests in the house
of the LORD, beside the incense altar. (
2 Chron 26:18-19)

I was looking through my Westminster Confession and found this section illuminating as well:

It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto...[but]...Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments.

When I hear politicians are giving sermons, I begin to think this line has been crossed. It is compromising to the church and a temptation for manipulation by the government. It is this humble blogger's opinion that Huckabee needs to choose: pastor, or President. He is not allowed to be both.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Quote of the Week: The centrality of Christ

A full week of having no assignments has allowed me to turn my studies to my own pet interests. So this week, I began my journey through the 5 volumes of Jaroslav Pelikan's History of Doctrine starting with: "The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition, 100-600 a.d."

Within the first few hundred years, one sees the unity of the church on several issues of interpretation, especially as all sorts of heresy develop. One of the greatest points of early orthodoxy was the centrality of Christ in all areas of theology. Here is an example when Pelikan addresses the issue of Scripture:

"'Word of God' was, of course, one of the most important technical terms for Jesus Christ in his relation to the Father; and when 'the gospel' or 'Scripture' was equated with the 'word of God,' the presence of Christ in this means of grace was seen as in some way analogous to his presence in the
...Christ was the preaching of God." (pg 161)
In reaction to liberalism that questioned the accuracy of the Bible, some have placed the Bible as the foundation to the Christian faith. However, we find when looking at the early Church that their foundation was Christ and the Scriptures depended on Him, led to Him and were His words. The primary doctrine of the Early Church was the inerrancy of Christ that made the Scriptures valid, not the inerrancy of Scriptures that made Christ valid.

The close relationship of Scripture and Christ may make distinctions of which one claims primacy seem technical (if both are inerrant, why quible?). But I have come to the conviction that it is important. We read in Luke 2, Simeon declares about Christ:

“Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

Then we read Hebrews 4:12 -
"For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."
Have we allowed the "Word of God" merely to mean God's commands or instructions in a book? Or does "Word of God" mean a Person who pierces us to our soul and look for this Person in our Scriptures. Muslims believe in the Word of God as revealed writings, but we are Christians and we believe in the Word of God made flesh. This does not lessen our view of Scripture, instead the Scriptures gain more power when we realize that in reading them, we are not ruled by a book, but by the Lord Christ that book reveals and Whose words they are.

On my desk sits the image to the left. It is a picture of Christ holding the Scriptures. The Greek reads: "The Light-Giver." The picture reminds me of my favorite part of the DTS doctrinal statement:

"We believe that all the Scriptures center about the Lord Jesus Christ in His person and work in His first and second coming, and hence that no portion, even of the Old Testament, is properly read, or understood, until it leads to Him."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Of Such is the Kingdom of God

Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” (Luke 18:15-17)

Our 20+ pastor penned a sublime entry after his daughter went home. I encourage you all to go read it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming

As we near Christmas, I thought I would share another of my favorite Christmas songs. The song does a great job balancing two elements that modern hymns/praise music does not: theology and sentiment. The image of the Rose is romantic, but the truth of the promise of Christ and His Deity come through perfectly.

Click play here to hear a version of it and the lyrics are below as well

As men of old have sung;
It came, a flow'ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When halfspent was the night.

2. Isaiah 'twas foretold it,
The Rose I have in mind,
With Mary we behold it,
The virgin mother kind;
To show God's love aright,
She bore to us a Savior,
When halfspent was the night.

3. O Flower, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispel with glorious splendour
The darkness everywhere;
True man, yet very God,
From Sin and death now save us,
And share our every load.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Low cost grace! [or why I'm glad I'm Protestant]

Get it while it lasts! The Roman Catholic Church, for a limited time, is offering grace in the form of Indulgences again! It's Easy: You do a work and you get grace! Not scriptural you say? Hmm, how to explain this, how about I put as: Make yourself to differ from others and boast in your merit! Still Not scriptural? How about buying and selling in the temple? Oh, that's worse. How about paying for what you get for free...

Saturday, December 08, 2007


I am loving Peter Brown's biography of Augustine of Hippo. I am sure I am not qualified to explain who the Donatists were. But in short they were a group that stressed the law and following it by your own free will. They disliked Augustine as a bishop due in no small part to his sinful past. He was not considered by them worthy to be a Bishop. I love a couple of his retorts. First on his own condition he said of them and himself:

"O there are many things in me which they could fasten on: it would thrill them to know about them! Much still happens in My thoughts - fighting against my evil promptings, a day-long tension; the Enemy almost continuously wishing to make me fall.."

Wow and he did not need Dale Carnegie to tell him to be quick to agree. In a sense he is almost saying, Yep I am to sinful to be a Bishop.
But Augustine was not interested in a "pure" church. If the church was to expand it could never be "pure" in the way the Donatists wanted it to be. Augustine rather saw God drawing a people to Himself to make heirs of a property. Here is my favorite:

"The clouds roll with thunder, that the House of the Lord shall be built throughout the earth: and these frogs sit in their marsh and croak - We are the only Christians!"

Cool! If you think about the vision which is more exciting? A pure and sinless church, or a kingdom on the move? With all the problems of the church how often do we focus simply on purifying it, breaking off into our little, or big, groups and croak "We are the only Christians"? Augustine believed in a sovereign God who was on the move and would pay the frogs no mind as he went about His work of claiming a people to Himself. Praise God!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hymn of the week: What Child is This?

We all know the song put to the music of Greensleeves "What Child is this?" Perhaps we miss the weighty issue it meditates on: namely that God became a helpless baby, crying and without bladder control totally dependent on a teenage mother. How bizarre a belief we are bound to as Christians that a limitless God took on the confines of time, space and skin. This bloody mess of an infant made the matter it now lives in?

Perhaps we also forget that sweet baby we get warm fuzzies about soon will have his flesh torn by nails as we neglect to sing the second chorus:

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross he bore for me, for you
Hail, hail, the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

With the happiness of eggnog, lights, trees and presents, we don't like to meditate on metaphysical impossibilites of the incarnation or that the child in our cute manger scene will soon be a bloody mess again. And we should not be sad during Christmas. But it is necessary sometimes to know why Christmas happened, namely that God must come to pay the price only He could pay, but only we were required to pay in a bloody mess.

Verse 1:

What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

Chorus 1:

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Verse 2:

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

Chorus 2:

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross he bore for me, for you
Hail, hail, the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Verse 3:

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

Chorus 3:

Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Which Theologian are you? (post in comments!)

Take this quiz here to find out which Theologian you are most like (according to whomever randomly made up the quiz.) I was most like....Karl Barth. Sadly enough I have yet to read Barth! But his Dogmatics in Outline is on my list of reading over break. Here's the rest of my results:

The daddy of 20th Century theology. You perceive liberal theology to be a disaster and so you insist that the revelation of Christ, not human experience, should be the starting point for all theology.

Karl Barth


John Calvin

Monday, December 03, 2007

T.F. Torrance. R.I.P.

The brilliant Reformed theologian and player in the Church of Scotland, T.F. Torrance died yesterday. He was a student of the theology of Karl Barth, and a pioneer in the work of a theology of science. He wrote "The Trinitarian Faith" which I have only glanced through, but should read now that his death sparked my interest and he is officially inducted into the guild of Dead Theologians and the communion of saints. R.I.P.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


"Where does Jesus Christ stand? He stands for me. He stands there in my place, where I should stand, but cannot." -Bonhoeffer

Friday, November 23, 2007

Pope says more chanting needed.

I guess this does not bode well for Martin Luther and Issac Watts in the Catholic hymnal. Can you chant "A Mighty Fortress is Our God"? If so I would love to hear it!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thankful to live in the New Old World

Mark Steyn has a nice piece that goes well with another story I saw here. The way I would paraphrase it is that I am thankful to live in the New Old World. America is of course known as "The New World", and indeed in many ways it still is. But in another way it is the "Old World" Europe that continues to reinvent itself often by mob rule. Meanwhile here in the "New World" we are living under the rule of law with a foundation laid by what is now the world's oldest functioning constitution. Our founders took a decisive stand for the rule of law and against the mob. In so many ways America is the land of tradition and stability. Among many other things, I am thankful to live in one of the last functioning nation states.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Good and Bad Baptists

I wrote in a previous post that a Restorationist/Baptist reading of Church history is wrong. I wanted to clarify that a bit in this informational post. In re-reading that old post, I did not want to paint all Baptists with the same brush. I see two historiographies used by Baptists (and to some measure all Protestants) and only one of them can claim to be orthodox. The first is what I would call Restorationist. You may have heard of "The Trail of Blood." Consult the illustration below.
The graph attempts to claim a lineage with a collection of heretical groups (such as Montanists) who were persecuted and claims they were the true church stretching back to Christ himself. The church is seen, then, dying and resurrecting every few years with a very few number in the true church, but most lead astray by Catholics and Protestants (These Restorationists would reject the label Protestant.)

The second historiography claims common lineage with other Protestants, and, before 1517, the pre-Council of Trent Catholic Church. These Baptists tend to be Reformed Baptists, claiming a heritage in Zwingli's Reformation in Zurich, and thus claiming to be "Reformed totally", rather than keeping infant baptism and a few other Reformed distinctives.
All this to say, a historiography that claims commonality with the Reformed movement and other orthodox Christians through the centuries should be the accepted orthodox view. To claim otherwise is dangerous as

1) It disbelieves Christ's claim to be with the church in all ages. (Matt 28:20)

2) It associates with heretical groups that may even be anti-Christian (i.e. not orthodox on the Trinity, diety of Christ and more important issues than if they dunked infants)

3) It separates from other true Christians in a claim on orthodoxy that is based on a particular doctrine of baptism, rather than on the person and work of Christ, something I think is important. Not that other doctrines are not important, but they are not the grounds for orthodoxy and common cause in the gospel.

That's just my two cents.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

White Horse Inn talks Rome

It does not make for good blogging if I am sick of controversy and even more sick of my own opinions. I really do not want to hear what I have to say on much right now. But I will say a few things and pass along this good White Horse Inn broadcast. Not surprisingly I could not relate to Robert Sungenis at all and felt no kindred spirit with him what so ever. As for Mark Noll at the end, I had sympathy for his position but do not endorse it. Certainly if he wants to say the Reformation is over because Protestants no longer believe it I can not argue with that at all. Sadly it seems to very much be the case. I did wonder if the same Augustinian Catholics that Noll seems to like so much are the same ones Sungenis would call liberals who are daring to read the Bible for themselves, consult Protestant viewpoints, and pursue ecumenical dialog. hmmm... Yeah I would probably dig them too. This is a very respectful interview by Mike Horton.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

McGrath's Dangerous Idea?

Alister McGrath's new book "Christianity's Dangerous Idea" on the Reformation has been getting some positive buzz lately (here and here). After listening to a recent interview with McGrath (mp3) McGrath repeats something I first heard him say on a documentary on Luther. McGrath summarizes the "Dangerous Idea" as this: The Reformation was about the right of every individual to interpret the Bible for themselves. Now McGrath is 1000 times smarter than me and has been a Luther scholar for longer than I have been alive, but that summary bothers me. Wouldn't that make Luther the father of Liberalism that says "it is all about what it means to you, rather than an objective meaning."

Paul Althaus, a Lutheran scholar, said: “Luther never understands the priesthood of all believers merely in the sense of the Christian's freedom to stand in a direct relationship to God without a human mediator. Rather he constantly emphasizes the Christian's evangelical authority to come before God on behalf of the brethren and also of the world. The universal priesthood expresses not religious individualism but its exact opposite, the reality of the congregation as a community.”

Has anyone read the book yet? Am I getting the wrong conclusion from McGrath? Or is he right about Luther's individualism?
[I've loved McGrath's contributions to a theology of science and spirituality, where evangelicals are lacking, which is why he is distressing me here!]

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Christian and War

Over this Veterans Day weekend, our thoughts and prayers are with those serving in the Armed Forces. Below is a message I heard in chapel that I think explores the hard decision to use violence, and how sometimes, in some circumstances, a Christian is compelled to use physical force to restrain evil people and protect the innocent (audio / video):

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Good quote

Christianity Today's blog ran a great quote from a pastor I sometimes listen to on itunes sermon podcast:

"I guarantee there isn't a homeless person in Portland who couldn't tell you the gospel verbatim. They've had to listen to it three times a day to get a sandwich. They've heard about Christ, but they haven't seen Christ. Who will sit next to them while they panhandle, who will enter their world? I've had friends doing that for 15 years. That is seeing the gospel."

-Rick McKinley serves as pastor of the Imago Dei Community in Portland, Oregon.

The quote hit me, because I have given a sandwich and a little "shout out" to God and thought I was doing a great deed. But on the challenge to do more and say less (or just do more to communicate Christ than words), sadly, the comments from readers tended to be about how many homeless people often are responsible for their situation and do not use the help they get properly. But here's a thought to play with: what if helping the poor wasn't all about "results"? Ever notice that Christ told us that we will always have the poor with us? My wife could share how about how many people played the system at the homeless shelter where she worked. The percentage of people who eventually became self-sustaining was low. So if Christ goes on to tell us to feed the hungry, what was the point?
Perhaps, we are supposed to learn the Godlike character trait of "wasting grace." Phillip Yancey wrote about how we are angered when God wastes His grace on the undeserving, not realizing that we ourselves are undeserving. So perhaps becoming more like Christ involves giving an ear and some food to people who very well may use it and "waste" it. If we have wasted God's grace so many times by repeating sin, by not actively pursuing good deeds, perhaps we should learn the joy of giving grace while getting nothing in return, which we forget IS grace.
But enough of that, I'm supposed to be doing important things like studying Greek...

Hymn/Verse of the Week: The Hound of Heaven

G.K. Chesterton called it the greatest poem in modern English. If it could be, I think that is an understatement. In its entirety, it contains all of my attraction to the doctrines of grace. I fled the Hound of Heaven, and grace is a story of His pursuit of me, while I ran and hid from Him. Jonathan Edwards could have written it, but just read it first before you worry about who Francis Thompson is. To aid in reading I found a version that gives helps in archaic words if you move your cursor over it, God’s words are in bold (if you want the point of it, you can skip down to the line "and human love" at the last section:

The Hound of Heaven

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbéd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

I pleaded, outlaw-wise,
By many a hearted casement, curtained red,
Trellised with intertwining charities;
(For, though I knew His love Who followèd,
Yet was I sore adread
Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside.)
But, if one little casement parted wide,
The gust of His approach would clash it to:
Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.
Across the margent of the world I fled,
And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,
Smiting for shelter on their clangèd bars:
Fretted to dulcet jars
And silvern chatter the pale ports o’ the moon.

I said to Dawn: Be sudden—to Eve: Be soon;
With thy young skiey blossoms heap me over
From this tremendous Lover—
Float thy vague veil about me, lest He see!
I tempted all His servitors, but to find
My own betrayal in their constancy,
In faith to Him their fickleness to me,
Their traitorous trueness, and their loyal deceit.
To all swift things for swiftness did I sue;
Clung to the whistling mane of every wind.
But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,
The long savannahs of the blue;
Or whether, Thunder-driven,
They clanged his chariot ’thwart a heaven,
Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn o’ their feet:—
Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.
Still with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbéd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
Came on the following Feet,
And a Voice above their beat—
Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me.”

I sought no more that after which I strayed
In face of man or maid;
But still within the little children’s eyes
Seems something, something that replies,
They at least are for me, surely for me!
I turned me to them very wistfully;
But just as their young eyes grew sudden fair
With dawning answers there,
Their angel plucked them from me by the hair.

“Come then, ye other children, Nature’s—share
With me” (said I) “your delicate fellowship;
Let me greet you lip to lip,
Let me twine you with caresses,
With our Lady-Mother’s vagrant tresses,
With her in her wind-walled palace,
Underneath her azured dais,
Quaffing, as your taintless way is,
From a chalice
Lucent-weeping out of the dayspring.”
So it was done:
I in their delicate fellowship was one—
Drew the bolt of Nature’s secrecies.
I knew all the swift importings
On the wilful face of skies;
I knew how the clouds arise
Spuméd of the wild sea-snortings;
All that’s born or dies
Rose and drooped with; made them shapers
Of mine own moods, or wailful or divine;
With them joyed and was bereaven.
I was heavy with the even,
When she lit her glimmering tapers
Round the day’s dead sanctities.
I laughed in the morning’s eyes.
I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,
Heaven and I wept together,
And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine;
Against the red throb of its sunset-heart
I laid my own to beat,
And share commingling heat;
But not by that, by that, was eased my human smart.
In vain my tears were wet on Heaven’s grey cheek.
For ah! we know not what each other says,
These things and I; in sound I speak—
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.
Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth;
Let her, if she would owe me,
Drop yon blue bosom-veil of sky, and show me
The breasts o’ her tenderness:
Never did any milk of hers once bless
My thirsting mouth.
Nigh and nigh draws the chase,
With unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy;
And past those noised Feet
A voice comes yet more fleet—
Lo! naught contents thee, who content’st not Me.”

Naked I wait Thy love’s uplifted stroke!
My harness piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me,
And smitten me to my knee;
I am defenceless utterly.
I slept, methinks, and woke,
And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
I shook the pillaring hours
And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,
I stand amid the dust o’ the mounded years—
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
Yea, faileth now even dream
The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist.
Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist
I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,
Are yielding; cords of all too weak account
For earth with heavy griefs so overplussed.
Ah! is Thy love indeed
A weed, albeit an amaranthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
Ah! must—
Designer infinite!—
Ah! must Thou char the wood ere Thou can’st limn with it?
My freshness spent its wavering shower i’ the dust;
And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
Such is; what is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity;
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half-glimpséd turrets slowly wash again.
But not ere him who summoneth
I first have seen, enwound
With glooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned;
His name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man’s heart or life it be which yields
Thee harvest, must Thy harvest-fields
Be dunged with rotten death?
Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in
shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught (He said),

“And human love needs human meriting:
hast thou merited—
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which
thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
“Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.”

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The question history answers is...

"Who are we?" According to Ken Burns that is the question we seek to answer by "listening" to the stories of history. He spoke tonight at ISU. I turned to my father when he was done and said "He sure talks pretty". Been a long time since I went and listened to an artsy guy like that speak. Lots of words, sometimes I thought they were being spent a little too frivolously but rethought that after I left. He was just artsy and that is cool. He warned of viewing American past with contemporary disgust at evil White European men, but also not blindly worshiping them all. The past is inescapably complex and you must try to understand the stories. "Listen" he would say time and time again as he told another one. He also implored us to think on what it means to know that we are a nation that was founded around a set of ideas. How unique it is, that this must be what unifies us. As a warning on war he stated more then once to look to our religious teaching of the past to understand the nature of our desire to make war.
He talked largely about his most recent work The War and a bit about his older work The Civil War. 17 years later he joke he has a new work out which amounted to removing the word "Civil". I have seen some of both of them and both are excellent and unique.
The last question he took was worth the wait. It was comparing the sense of shared sacrifice from WWII to the current war. Burns said there is no unifying sacrifice on this current effort. He waited after 9/11 for the President to tell him what to give and would have given more he said. But instead we were told to "not worry our pretty little heads about it. Now go shopping." Where as in WWII we gave so much and ended up richer, financially richer, for it at the end of the war. This is a destructive difference he said. I must agree.

THE WAR American Anthem by Norah Jones PBS

Why the Ordering of Worship is Important.

A congregation member once asked Martin Luther after a service why he had not moved on from the topic of the gospel in his preaching. "Every week you talk about the gospel, why can't we move to something else?" Luther replied, "Because every week you forget it."

What does the gospel focus of Luther have to do with the ordering of worship? It should have everything to do with it. I here wish to defend the idea of having multiple elements of worship, not as an attack on those who don't, but a positive goal for communicating the gospel. Every church has an ordering of worship or a liturgy, the question is what that liturgy is and communicates.

Here are the questions that I have concluded I must ask if I am involved in ordering worship:

1) What would we weekly want to remind our worshipers (and visitors) about the faith?

2) How can we communicate the gospel, even if there was no sermon?

3) How could we engage people with different disabilities (learning or physical) in the truth of the gospel?

4) What is prescribed by Scripture?

Here are some elements that make their way into our weekly liturgies (other than the sermon) at our church that I believe answers these questions and communicates the gospel:

Confession of sin: weekly reading through a confession of sin (perhaps even like this from the BOCP) reminds all worshipers they are in need of a savior from their sins. Visitors are made aware that Christians are also sinners. (1 John 1:9)

Declaration of Forgiveness: Also weekly, a reminder from Romans 5:1 or Romans 8:1 of their forgiven status in Christ. Visitors are weekly told the answer to the problem of sin is in Christ.

Confession of Faith: Apostle's Creed, Nicene Creed, or part of the Westminster or Heidelberg Catechism is read. Weekly reminder of what we believe about God, the person of Christ and the work of Christ. Visitors are weekly told, Jesus is not a person that is the object of some strangely sensual love music, but GOD. (Romans 10:9)

Reading of Scripture: Always followed by "The Word of the Lord, Thanks be to God." A weekly affirmation of the central role and authority of Scripture in the life of the church. (1 Tim 4:13, 2 Tim 3:16)

Eucharist/Communion - Christ said "Do this in remembrance of Me." And here we have the gospel in sound, taste, sight, smell and touch. If a member is missing one or more senses, the gospel is available to the other senses. Christ is the bread to sustain us, the wine to enjoy (as I have said earlier). The gospel for those who may not hear the sermon, or see the words of Scripture (1 Cor 11:26). Christ condescends to us here.

There are other elements in the service, but these are those elements which I find are central to communicating the gospel weekly. Any thoughts? Omissions? Good gospel practices from your church?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hymn: For All the Saints (for November 1 - All Saints Day)

November 1 is All Saints Day. While we celebrate the accomplishments of the Reformers on Reformation Day, it is also good, the next day, to celebrate our oneness with all Christianity. C.S. Lewis said he did not go for praying to saints, but he did like the idea of being aware that we pray with the saints. Thus, I love this hymn. This hymn gives us our center. This hymn is about what made, and makes the saints great: Christ.

1. For all the saints,
who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith
before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus,
be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Allelu...

2. Thou wast their rock,
their fortress and their might;
Thou, Lord, their captain
in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness
drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Allelu...

3. O may Thy soldiers,
faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints
who nobly fought of old,
And win with them
the victor's crown of gold.
Alleluia, Allelu...

4. The golden evening
brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful
warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm
of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Allelu...

5. But lo! There breaks
a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant
rise in bright array;
The King of glory
passes on his way,
Alleluia, Allelu...

6. From earth's wide bounds,
from ocean's farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl
streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father,
Son, and Holy Ghost,
Alleluia, Alleluia!

(An album with a great version of this song.)

Monday, October 29, 2007

I WILL celebrate Reformation Day!

[update: I do read and appreciate the Internet Monk on various issues, but I will echo John Adams critique of Thomas Paine in regards to the monk: He knows better what he is tearing down than what he wishes to build up.

And yes it does have a snarky tone, for that I apologize]

At another blog, the "internet monk," a Southern Baptist who is somewhat self-loathing of his tradition (Baptist) and his branch of Christianity (Protestantism) wrote a rather whiny post about how the Reformation wasn't all that great. I wanted to comment on a few of these whines:

(Internet monk in BOLD and me in ITALIC)

-I do not believe true Christianity was restored or rediscovered in the Reformation.

me neither. But when the questions were asked about "how am I saved?" the Catholic Church got it wrong. God saves us, not works or actions. God. The question had not been asked in quite the way Luther asked it in regards to Indulgences. Christianity T-ed at that moment in time, and so Reformed Christianity is about development from that point, not going back to some mythical time when everything was better like the 400s, the Nicene Council or the Acts church. So, fine. Have your realization that the Baptist/Restorationist reading of Church History is wrong. That doesn't make the Reformed/Lutheran/Anglican reading wrong...

-I’m convinced that it didn’t take long for Protestantism to accumulate enough problems of its own to justify another reformation or two.

Don't know what he means here as he thinks the first one wasn't all that necessary, but once it got going THEN we need to get back to somewhere...

-I now believe that "tradition" is a very good word.

Good for you. me too

-I believe we ought to grieve the division of Christianity and the continuing division of Protestantism.

Jaslov Pelikan (Lutheran theologian) called the Reformation a tragic necessity. So it will always be. Yet, the continuing division is not one sided. A mend could have happened if not for the negative reactionism of the Council of Trent.

-I can see huge omissions from the work of the reformers, such as a theology of cross-cultural missions and much more.

They didn't develop the Baptist theology of the alter call either, so did they not believe in responding to the gospel? Calvin was sending missionaries into France, who were dying by the dozen. Sorry he didn't develop missional theology but merely practiced missional obedience.

-I no longer believe Luther ever intended to slay the Catholic Church and establish the wonder of contemporary Protestantism.

sure he didn't. Are you new to the history of the Reformation? He wanted to reform the church, not kill it. Yet, we remember the corrupt Roman bureacracy did not want to reform, but continue to sell salvation and tax the poor and live like kings.

But here are some things I firmly believe about the Reformation:

There may never have been a Reformation if not for the doctrine of papal supremacy.

If the Catholic Church was less reactionary and corrupt, the church may never have split.

Catholicity is based on Christ, not on bureaucratic succession.

The Catholic Bureaucracy of the sixteenth century was not exibiting the signs of the true church: the gospel, ministry to the poor, right administration of the sacraments or the ministry of the word.

The Reformation was a tragic necessity, one where we mourn its necessity, not its theology.

So go ahead and mourn the Reformation, yet the mourning should be for the circumstances that necessitated it just as we mourn the death of Christ, not because of what it accomplished (that we celebrate) but because our sin demanded it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

2 races of humans?

A "scientist" recently speculated about the fate of humanity on that channel of scientific renown, Bravo. He speculated on a few important obviously knowable areas such as:

"Men will have symmetrical facial features, deeper voices and bigger penises...

Women will all have glossy hair, smooth hairless skin, large eyes and pert breasts, according to Curry.

Racial differences will be a thing of the past as interbreeding produces a single coffee-coloured skin tone."

Also he speculates that a lesser human species will develop (ala H.G. Well's The Time Machine).

Now, as much as some may joke about Social Sciences not being "real" sciences, like the science this expert claims to study, I think this shows how wrong that assumption is. Bypassing the obvious metaphysical problems with spliting humanity into a tier of the "beautiful" and the "ugly" there is also the problem of simple cultural ignorance.

A student of culture can easily explain the error. The scientist speculates on the basis of EXTREMELY CURRENT preferances. If you look at the time of the Renaissance, women in paintings who they considered beautiful have few of the characteristics that we find attractive today. They tend to be more meaty, and little attention is paid to "glossy hair and pert breasts." Men were desired if they were large in more areas than the doctor is concerned with (big gut = good provider) and commanded a broad intellect. This male doctor assumes natural selection through mating largely on the basis of current preferances and external traits.
Yet, if our culture continues to be as superficial as this "doctor" (I keep putting it in quotes because, what professional would go on Bravo, really?), if everyone is as shallow as him, then perhaps he's right. But, would the shallow breeders really be ruling, or being ruled? As one of my DTS profs likes to say: "everyone has an eschatology, not just Christians."
"But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty." -1 Cor 1:27

Friday, October 26, 2007

Liberty vs Liberalism and Legalism

Having attended a Reformed church for 6 months now, I can honestly say there are dozens of things I find refreshing and challenging there, especially in comparison to the evangelical alternatives in Dallas. We visited many churches and either found their theology noodle-like in trying to be hip and modern (i.e. they were liberal without knowing it) and churches that seemed like a Christian frat gone horribly wrong, with a legalistic, super accountability, call-you-out-for-not-following-our-rules mentality. The Reformed tradition has a happy balance of combating both liberalism and legalism. Though practiced by my Reformed church, a great explanation of the needed resistance to legalism came from our DTS Chancellor Chuck Swindoll (here):

"I think legalism begins when you do or refrain from doing what I want you to do or not do because it's on my list and it's something that I am uncomfortable with....The problem with legalists is that not enough people have confronted them and told them to get lost. Those are strong words, but I don't mess with legalism anymore. I'm 72 years old; what have I got to lose? Seriously, I used to kowtow to legalists, but they're dangerous. They are grace-killers. They'll drive off every new Christian you bring to church. They are enemies of the faith. Other than that, I don't have any opinion!"

Our church adheres to the Westminster Confession, which explains Christian Liberty as such:

God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his Word, or beside it in matters of faith or worship. So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.


They who, upon pretense of Christian liberty, do practice any sin, or cherish any lust, do thereby destroy the end of Christian liberty; which is, that, being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, we might serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.
Godspeed battling on both fronts against liberalism and legalism.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Not my work: Hymn for the week

Not What My Hands Have Done

“What must I do to be saved?” The natural question of man. Horatius Bonar was a Presbyterian minister who wrote songs for children to help them understand the faith. What must I do? Bonar has a great phrase: "rest on love divine." So don't just do something, stand there (on Christ’s merits)!

Not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul;
Not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load.

Your voice alone, O Lord, can speak to me of grace;
Your power alone, O Son of God, can all my sin erase.
No other work but Yours, no other blood will do;
No strength but that which is divine can bear me safely through.

Thy work alone, O Christ, can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within.
Thy love to me, O God, not mine, O Lord, to Thee,
Can rid me of this dark unrest, And set my spirit free.

I bless the Christ of God; I rest on love divine;
And with unfaltering lip and heart I call this Savior mine.
His cross dispels each doubt; I bury in His tomb
Each thought of unbelief and fear, each lingering shade of gloom.

I praise the God of grace; I trust His truth and might;
He calls me His, I call Him mine, My God, my joy and light.
’Tis He Who saveth me, and freely pardon gives;
I love because He loveth me, I live because He lives.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

What he fought for. Killer Angels 2

Are all men brothers? I think many Christians would answer that question with a "yes". But it would not be my first thought, and I do not hear it much. There is stronger theological support to say all Christians are brothers. However it also seems true that we should at least treat all men as brothers. According to Michael Shaara in "The Killer Angels" Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was a believer in the brotherhood of all man kind. Above is a painting of him saving the day at The Battle of Gettysburg. He was protecting the Union flank. Out of ammo he knew if they did not hold the line the Rebels would get behind the union army and all would be lost, the battle and perhaps the war. So, he ordered a bayonet charge. But I get ahead of myself. Why was he there? He was a Professor and sometimes Christian Theologian who taught himself Greek. He passed on going to the mission field to study languages and learned nine! (Greek, Latin, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Arabic, Hebrew, and Syriac) But he always wanted to be a soldier. Why?
At Gettysburg he was colonel in command of the 20th Maine infantry. 120 deserters were assigned to his detail that day. His orders were to make them fight or shoot them. The deserters thought they had signed up for two years and their time was up. But they had actually signed up for three years and felt cheated.

From the Killer Angels: (Chamberlain Address the deserters)
"I've been ordered to take you men with me. I've been told that if you don't come I can shoot you. Well you know I won't do that... Well I don't want to preach to you. You know who we are and what we are doing here. But if your going to fight along side of us there is a few things I want you to know. This regiment was formed last fall back in Maine. There were a thousand of us then. There's not three hundred of us now. But what is left is choice."
He was embarrassed. He spoke very slowly, staring at the ground.
"Some of us volunteered to fight for Union. Some came in mainly because we were bored at home and this looked like it might be fun. Some came because we were ashamed not to. Many of us came... because it was the right thing to do. All of us have seen men die. Most of us never saw a black man back home. We think on that too. But freedom.... is not just a word."
He looked up into the sky over silent faces.
"This is a different kind of Army. If you look at history you'll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we're here for something new. I don't.... this hasn't happened much in the history of the world. We're an army going out to set other men free."
He bent down, scratched the black dirt unto his fingers. He was beginning to warm to it; the words were beginning to flow. "The is free ground. All the way from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow. No man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. Here's a place to build a home. It isn't the land - there's always more land. It's the idea that we all have value, you and me, we're Worth something more then the dirt. What we're all fighting for, in the end, is each other..... Didn't mean to preach. Sorry. But I thought... you should know who we are."
He turned left silence behind him. Tom came up with the horse. "My Lawrence, you sure talk pretty."

According to Shaara all but six of the men joined the fight. Those six came along under guard. Three more joined in at the battle since they were there anyway. Fascinating. His bayonet charge sent the Rebs running. A very rare thing. Don't know anything about the guy other then what I am reading in this book. But I intend to find out more.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

You might be a Calvinist if..

Just for fun, I've collected some lines similar to the "You might be a Redneck if" but about: "You might be a Calvinist if":

...you changed your testimony from "I have decided to follow Jesus" to "I never wanted to follow Jesus until"

...in the grocery store, you nonchalantly refer to "Lucky Charms" as "providential trinkets."

... You celebrate Reformation Day instead of Halloween.

...you can quote the Westminster Shorter or the Heidelberg at will (and know what each of those are).
...Your teacher tells you that the early reformers were the "biggest close-minded bigots in the history of religion," and you must stifle the urge to yell, "Yeah, those guys were awesome!"

...Your church would never dare take a "free will" offering

...you find yourself peppering everyday conversation with extensive references to church history only to be greeted with quizzical looks from your friends and crickets chirping in the background..
... in eleventh grade, when you read The Scarlet Letter, everyone thought you were crazy for defending the Puritans in the story

... your favorite flower is the TULIP

...you have ever answered the question "How are you doing today" with "better than I deserve."
...You don't like to be asked "When did you choose to start walking with the Lord?" but rather be asked "When did God drag from the clutches of death?"

...you get and laugh at the comic cover at the bottom...
...You can sing "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus", but only with major qualifications, so that it's more like "I have decided to follow Jesus (because the Spirit has changed and shaped my will so that I actually want to do so/because God has ordained that I do so)", and that just makes it awkward to the point that it's not worth singing.

And for my Presbyterian friends: You might be a Presbyterian if:

...Church Growth Strategy is Infant Baptism...

".. you hear more than 3 verses read in service during Lord's Day worship

... If a song repeats the same line more than 2 or 3 times you begin to tune out.

...You believe buying books should be the third sacrament.

...When anyone makes a suggestion, your first impulse is to form a committee

...You refer to the Episcopal "Church of the Incarnation" as "Church of the Incantation"

...you have ever had a fight over whether your Baptist friend can claim to be "Reformed"

...Instead of "foolish Pollock" jokes, you tell the same jokes about Methodists.
... your "elders" are like 35 ...
... you're sick of explaining "No, we're not THOSE Presbyterians,"...
...you feel awkward in ecumenical settings when people raise their hands during the singing
...when people ask you who writes the best worship music, you are more likely to reply with the names of Watts, Newton or Cowper than Redman, Tomlin or Stewart

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Prone to Wander: Hymn for the week

Last weekend, my church had a sanctuary dedication service celebrating the improvements to the sanctuary and the new organ being completed (yes organ, not amp system). The choir accompanied by the organ and with my wife in robes sang my favorite hymn: Come Thou Fount. Written by Robert Robinson, the song contains lyrics I get all emotional over: "Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God." How thankful I am that Christ did not leave everything up to me to figure out. Yet still "prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love." Yet we are sealed with the Holy Spirit as to save us for "Thy courts above."

1. Come Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I'm fixed upon it,
Mount of God's unchanging love.

2. Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I'm come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.

3. O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let that grace now like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Killer Angels

Been slowly reading one of the books I was told to read in College. "The Killer Angels" Well done very well known historical novel. Was assigned reading for my class "The History of U.S. Warfare" or something like that. It is about the battle of Gettysburg. Easy read I am just always slow going with books. Who has interested me in this book is Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. A professor of rhetoric at Bowdoin College, sometimes professor of Natural and Revealed Religion. He was successor to the chair of Professor Stowe, husband of Harriet Beecher. Told the College, who would not release him to go to war, that he needed sabbatical to study in Europe but used it to join the union army as a colonel of the 20th Maine Infantry. If I may I just wanted to share where the name of the book came from. This is Chamberlain day dreaming about his family on his way to Gettysburg...

From the Killer Angels:
Once long ago visitors in the dead of winter: a preacher preaching hell-fire. Scared the fool out of me. And I resented it and Pa said I was right.
When he thought of the old man he could see him suddenly in a field in the spring, trying to move a gray boulder. He always knew instinctively the ones you could move, even though the greater part was buried in the earth, and he expected you to move the rock and not discuss it. A hard and silent man, an honest man, a noble man. Little humor but sometimes the door opened and you saw the warmth within a long way off, a certain sadness, a slow, remote, unfathomable quality as if the man wanted to be closer to the world but did not know how. Once Chamberlain had a speech memorized from Shakespeare and gave it proudly, the old man listening but not looking, and Chamberlain remembered it still: "What a piece of work is man... in action how like an angel!" And the old man, grinning, had scratched his head and then said stiffly, "Well, boy, if he's an angel, he's sure a murderin' angel." And Chamberlain had gone on to school to make an oration on the subject: Man, the Killer Angel. And when the old man heard about it he was very proud, and Chamberlain felt very good remembering it.