Hymnus Deo

Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Monday, May 29, 2006

Where are you?

From the time I began attending Reformed churches, I realized the lengths that one often has to go to in order to worship with a solid congregation of believers. I was living in New Hampshire and attending a Plymouth Brethren congregation when I really began to wrestle with the key doctrines of the Reformed faith. The congregation where I was attending was lacking in a number of areas, such as depth of teaching and reverence in worship. Through an acquaintance I learned of and visited a Presbyterian congregation some forty minutes away, and soon I was attending on a regular basis. I have been in a number of different congregations and denominations since then. Every time I’ve changed churches it has been a struggle to determine where to attend next, and every time I’ve had to make some sort of sacrifice in order to find a place to worship. My current situation is no different. I am a Presbyterian by conviction, but have chosen to attend and join an Anglican congregation, believing it to be the best choice I can make at this point in my life.

Most of the time when I’ve had to find a new church, I haven’t been entirely sure once I’ve made my choice that it was in fact the best choice. Nonetheless, I have made my choices carefully and prayerfully, always desiring the guidance and the blessing of God. One thing I have often thought of doing but never have is to move close to a congregation that is more in line with what I believe the Scriptures teach regarding the ordering of a church. While I have never done this, I have found numerous people in similar situations to mine that have chosen to do just that. Some people have gone as far as to move from one coast of the U.S. to another just to find a church that conducts itself according to what they perceive as Biblical principles.

Many people, even in Reformed circles, will criticize this, saying that the normal practice of church growth is from within the community, not from people moving into a community from the outside. This may be true in some sense. But one has to ask what “normal” is in a sinful world. As I read the Scriptures, Presbyterian church government is normal. So is paedobaptism, paedocommunion, liturgical worship, weekly communion… well, you get the point. On the negative side, I don’t consider it normal for churches to bring the music of a sentimentalistic and commerce – centered culture into its worship, all along using the excuse that it will bring more people in. Sentimentalistic and commercial music create spineless and covetous people, unworthy of the cross of Christ, and that’s exactly what we are. The leaders of the churches that do this, and in so doing compromise their calls, are the ones who drive the sheep under their care to take such steps as to move or to drive long distances every Sunday.

Along with this, I see no injunction in Scripture against moving to a place where one can worship with one’s family in a community of like-minded believers. Not everyone is called to remain in his community and be a missionary there. A father’s first concern, for instance, is for the spiritual and physical well-being of his family – and in that order, I would say. I think the same can be said of an individual and his own spiritual needs. Sometimes it’s imperative for a person who is unattached to family to move for the well-being of his own soul. Such well-being doesn’t entail perfection, mind you. There are no perfect churches. But I can’t help but think that we far too often settle for far to little. I think we should regard the spiritual lethargy of our country as a testimony to that.

I have been reading J. C. Ryle’s book Holiness with a friend. We recently covered the chapters on Lot and his wife. Ryle talks of how even though Lot was a believer, he took steps of compromise that cost him his wife’s life and his daughters’ holiness. He documents Lot’s gradual movement towards and eventually into the city of Sodom. Ryle then gives some specific considerations to believers that relate Lot’s circumstances to our own. Here are a couple that are worth heeding that apply to our discussion:

(a) Remember this in choosing a dwelling-place, or residence. It is not enough that the house is comfortable, the situation good, the air fine, the neighbourhood pleasant, the rent or price small, the living cheap. There are other things yet to be considered. You must think of your immortal soul. Will the house you think of help you towards heaven or hell? Is the Gospel preached within an easy distance? Is Christ crucified within reach of your door? Is there a real man of God near, who will watch over your soul? I charge you, if you love life, not to overlook this. Beware of Lot’s choice.

(b) Remember this in choosing a calling, a place, or profession in life. It is not enough that the salary is high, the wages good, the work light, the advantages numerous, the prospects of getting on most favourable. Think of your soul, your immortal soul. Will it be fed or starved? Will it be prospered or drawn back? Will you have your Sundays free, and be able to have one day in the week for your spiritual business? I beseech you, by the mercies of God, to take heed what you do. Make no rash decision. Look at the place in every light, the light of God as well as the light of the world. Gold may be bought too dear. Beware of Lot’s choice.

Ryle died in 1900. It is very uncommon to find people who even think along these lines in our day, as it apparently was in his. Every man must decide for himself before God what he must do in making these sorts of decisions. But I think Ryle gives us wisdom, and we should heed it. I think it is also important for us to think carefully before we criticize those that take great steps to honor Christ in their Sunday worship as well as in their daily lives. If we all strove to holiness like this, imagine what great things could be accomplished for Christ and his kingdom in our families, our communities, and our country.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Follow-up on Covenantal Curses

There were a couple of things I wanted to follow-up from my post below on the covenant.

I was curious to know if anyone else had taken Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:34 in the same way I had. I haven’t done any extensive looking through commentaries, but I did look to see what Matthew Henry had to say about this verse, and here is what he said:

3. Those he sends are called prophets, wise men, and scribes, Old-Testament names for New-Testament officers; to show that the ministers sent to them now should not be inferior to the prophets of the Old Testament, to Solomon the wise, or Ezra the scribe. The extraordinary ministers, who in the first ages were divinely inspired, were as the prophets commissioned immediately from heaven; the ordinary settled ministers, who were then, and continue in the church still, and will do to the end of time, are as the wise men and scribes, to guide and instruct the people in the things of God. Or, we may take the apostles and evangelists for the prophets and wise men, and the pastors and teachers for the scribes, instructed to the kingdom of heaven (ch. xiii. 52); for the office of a scribe was honourable till the men dishonoured it.

I would probably push this a little farther than Henry would, and say that one thing that is indicated here is the continuity of the ministers under the New Covenant with the ministers under the Old Covenant. And it seems to me that in Mt. 13:51-52 that Henry references that Jesus is specifically aligning the disciples (which means here, I assume, the Twelve, as the apostles were called) with the scribes or, as some translations have it, the teachers of the Law (see the NIV, for instance). What the theological significance of this is, I do not entirely know. Nonetheless, I am apparently not the only one to have thought along these lines regarding this passage.

I also wanted to clarify my statements regarding Jesus’ function in this passage. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is seen fulfilling various Old Testament types such as the New Moses, the True Israel, and the shoot that comes out of the stump of Jesse, the heir of David’s throne, the true King of Israel (Is. 11). Here in Mt. 23, Jesus is (at least, in part) filling the role of prophet. Now, Jesus is more than just a prophet (cf. Mt. 21:33-45, especially vss. 37-39), but he was a prophet nonetheless. David Chilton, in Days of Vengeance, his commentary on the Book of the Revelation, gives a helpful description on the role of the prophet in relation to the Covenant:

The Covenant is the meaning of Biblical history (Biblical history is not primarily adventure stories). The Covenant is the meaning of Biblical law (the Bible is not primarily a political treatise about how to set up a Christian Republic). And the Covenant is the meaning of Biblical prophecy as well (thus, Biblical prophecy is not “prediction” in the occult sense of Nostradamus, Edgar Cayce, and Jean Dixon). To a man, the prophets were God’s legal emissaries to Israel and the nations, acting as prosecuting attorneys bringing what has become known among recent scholars as the “Covenant Lawsuit”. That Biblical prophecy is not simply “prediction” is indicated, for example, by God’s statement through Jeremiah: "At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will repent of the good with which I had promised to bless it." (Jer. 18:7-10)

The purpose of prophecy is not “prediction”, but evaluation of man’s ethical response to God’s Word of command and promise. This is why Jonah’s prophecy about Nineveh did not “come true”: Nineveh repented of its wickedness, and the calamity was averted. Like the other Biblical writings, the Book of Revelation is a prophecy, with a specific covenantal orientation and reference. When the covenantal context of the prophecy is ignored, the message St. John sought to communicate is lost, and Revelation becomes nothing more than a vehicle for advancing the alleged expositor’s eschatological theories. (pp. 10-11)

This is the role that Jesus was filling in Mt. 23. This also explains the connection he draws between himself and the prophets that came before him.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Going to see X-Men 3?

If you're going to see X-Men 3, be sure and stay until the end of the credits. I can't tell you why. And no, my cousin wasn't the Key Grip. You'll just have to trust me on this one. There is a reason.

I'll comment on the film some time later.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Bono Fatigue

Are you a Bono addict? Have you come close to overdosing one too many times? Then this is the place for you:


Quote of the Day

Modern Evangelicals are fond of saying that Jesus is the answer for what ails America. I believe Modern Evangelicalism is what ails America. I can’t imagine any comparable situation in church history where you had so many millions of people who professed allegiance to Jesus Christ whose presence was so utterly irrelevant culturally to what was going on around them, and I think the key goes back to worship.

- Douglas Wilson, 2003 Ligonier Ministries National Conference

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Southern Baptist Convention

Through an email from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, I just found out that the Southern Baptist Convention's Annual Meeting will be held here in Greensboro in a few weeks. Apparently, Alliance Council member Mark Dever will be speaking at some of the events surrounding the convention, one of those events being the pre-convention Pastors’ Conference. The Pastors’ Conference features several speakers that would be well known to anyone familiar with Evangelicalism. The two speakers that I was surprised to find are going to be there are Ben Witherington and Rick Warren. I might be wrong, but I didn’t think that Witherington was even a Baptist. And is Saddleback in the SBC? I suppose these things don’t necessarily determine whether or not one is asked to be a speaker. I’d like to get in to hear some of these sessions, though I might not be able to get off of work for it. The website says that there is no registration and no fees. I wonder if one has to prove pastoral status at the door. I’m not a Baptist pastor, and I’m sure my beard would confirm that for them.

We would do well to pray for this convention, and for the SBC in general. For one, we might pray for the hastening of the day when all Baptists will be Presbyterians. Until that comes to pass, we might thank God for the revival of interest in and adherence to the Doctrines of Grace by many Baptists. Though the roster of speakers at the conference might make one question whether or not this is the case, one might remember Dever and Al Mohler, as well as the many Reformed Baptist churches not affiliated with the SBC. Most Presbyterians I’ve known were former Baptists, anyway, so I guess we know what’s happening when Reformed theology begins to take root in individuals. Some other matters that we might pray for among the Baptists are the things that are needed amongst all American Christians, such as an increase in holiness of life, reverence towards God, and true love for God and neighbor. We all need growth in these things.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Love Offering for Anne Rice

So I was doing a search on Amazon when I ran across the profile page of best-selling author Anne Rice. I found it especially interesting that the only item on her wishlist is a book edited by Scott Hahn.

What I still can't figure out is why she has a wishlist. Do you reckon she's having to save up to buy that book?

It's Called "Imbalance"

Maybe somebody can help me out here.

Banner of Truth publishes some great stuff. But how can they publish two single-volume commentaries on the book of Romans, D. Martin Lloyd-Jones' fourteen volume set on Romans, and a 392 page commentary on only the first four verses of Romans chapter eight, and not a single commentary on Ruth or Esther?

I guess it's because Ruth and Esther have absolutely nothing to do with salvation or God's sovereignty...

(Sarcasm alert.)

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Covenantal Curses

I was reading The Covenantal Gospel by Cornelis van der Waal this afternoon – or at least attempting to read. I was struggling to keep my eyes open as my body was telling me it was Sunday. So I suppose you might say I was dozing with a book in my hand - when I was snapped from my Sabbath slumbers by the following passage, taken from the section on the covenant with Levi and the priests (3.10). Van der Waal has been speaking of how the Levites were a zealous people for the covenant, which God praised them for, and then he says the following:

The opposite is mentioned in Mal. 2:8, where the priests are rebuked: “You have corrupted the covenant of Levi,” therefore “I will curse your blessings” (vs. 2). The structure of the covenant of peace appears to be the same as that of all other covenants in that its violation is threatened with a curse. This is nothing new. What happened to Shiloh in the time of Eli (Jer. 7:12, 14)? And recall how the prophets fulminated against the priesthood and threatened the destruction of the temple (Jer. 6:13; 7; 8:10; 23:11; Zeph.3:4)!

The categorical promise of the covenant with Levi (Jer. 33:17-26) does not preclude judgment. No one would believe that the enemy would enter the gates of Jerusalem, it says in Lam. 4:12, 13. “This was for the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests, who shed in the midst of her the blood of the righteous” (compare Neh. 9:17).

In the framework of the covenant with Levi we can see the action of the priesthood against Jesus Christ correctly, as well as Christ’s threats against city and temple. It is because the LORD maintained His covenant with Levi, that Jer. 7 would be realized once more (Matt. 21:13 – Jer. 7:11; Matt. 24:2 – Jer 7:14, 15; 1 Kings 9:6-9; Micah 3:11, 12).

The covenant with Levi, too, had its conditions and threats. (pp. 39-40, emphasis in the original)

There is a lot of good stuff in here to consider. But what struck me was the statement about the prophets having threatened the destruction of the temple. I am what is usually called a partial preterist in my view of eschatology, meaning that while I believe in a future return of Christ, I hold much of Biblical prophecy to have been fulfilled in the destruction of the Jerusalem in 70 A.D. I had recognized this as part of Jesus’s prophecy in Matt. 24. But due to my ignorance of the Old Testament, I didn’t realize how this was part of the covenant curses as given by Yahweh and that the threat of the destruction of the temple was so clearly stated. The contrast of Jerusalem with the removal of the presence of Yahweh from Shiloh (Jer 7:12-14; cf. 1 Sam. 4) is amazing as well, signaling the continuity of the covenants, including the curses. It is interesting to note that the judgment brought through Shiloh involved the death of the high priest as well. I’ll leave it to the real scholars to expound on that particular point.

What else should be noted in this are Jesus’s comments about tearing down the temple. Jesus said he would tear down the temple and raise it up in three days (John 2:19), the one statement mentioned specifically by Scripture as brought out against him in his so-called trial (Matt. 26:60-61; Mark 14:58). Scripture says he was speaking of his body. It is amazing that his disciples actually made the connection to this after his resurrection, considering how dense they seemed when it came to so many of the other metaphors Jesus used. And yet this is in contrast to the average Joe unrepentant Jew who didn’t get it. When one considers Jesus’s statement along with his actions in cleansing the temple (I am assuming that he did it twice, once at the beginning of his ministry – John 2 – and once at the end of his ministry – Matt. 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Lk. 19:45-46) one wonders at how this doesn’t seem to be connected by anybody that he encounters with the curses of the covenant, especially considering how clearly stated it is in the OT. One might simply mark this up to ignorance. But one would think the teachers of the Law would know the prophecy. Then again, Jesus’s point in Matthew 23 was that those who knew the Law didn’t really know the Law, wasn’t it? Or, at least, they didn’t live it. Jesus’s list of woes in Matt. 23 was in fact a declaration of the arrival of the covenantal curses upon Israel through her leaders(cf. Deut. 27-28). Jesus concluded this declaration by referencing the prophets, drawing a connection they shouldn’t have missed. He then practically invites them to kill him and his disciples, prophesying of what they will do to them (Matt. 23:32-36). One might also suggest that Jesus is here telling of his establishing of his own leaders in the New Israel, replacing the Old Israel and her leaders and inviting the faithful into the New Israel (vss. 34, 1-12). But that’s just some speculation off the top of my head – don’t take it as orthodox truth.