Friday, January 23, 2015

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Covenantal "Continuationism"

After reading several threads online regarding ceassationism, the "Strange Fire" conference and a lot of Piper fan's responses to it, I realized that one of the major problems with the whole discussion revolves around the Marcion-like view Baptists have of Scripture and God's redemptive plan.

For dispensational Baptists, the church is a sidebar in God's redemptive intent, thus God doesn't have to operate the same way in the church as he did in the past to Israel. This can either lead one to posit that God is doing a new thing within the church and thus the Spirit is operating even more supernaturally than in the pre-Apostolic age, or one might claim (as some of the Macarthurites do) that God doesn't work supernaturally hardly at all.  For either group, however, there's a extreme difference in God's working in the church era versus prior.

For so-called Reformed Baptists, those who recognize the covenantal structure of God's redemptive plan but don't see the unity within the covenantal structure, there exists also a substantial difference in how God operates toward his covenant people in the church era versus how he dealt with the patriarchs. Thus, Credobaptist cessationism (and/or continuation) therefore primarily rests in a substantive difference in the way God communicates to his covenant people and in the operation of his Holy Spirit.

While I believe Baptistic cessationism rightly notes that though God communicated to his people through prophets in visions and dreams until the end of the Apostolic era,  to suggest that this expresses an end of the prophetic gift altogether is perhaps misguided.

Firstly, I want to note that the terms continuationism and cessationism are problematic when speaking from a covenantal perspective.  Covenantally, the Holy Spirit has been operational in redeeming, regenerating, and preserving the elect from the beginning. The primary difference brought about by the Holy Spirit's fall at Pentecost was not one of substance but rather of intent. The Spirit empowered the believers at Pentecost for the reformation and governing of God's covenant people as the church, it also caused them to fulfill Isa 29:1-13, bringing judgment against unbelieving Israel. Thus tongues was a specifically time-limited gift, intended to warn Israel of judgment (1 Cor 14:20-22), and prophecy fore-telling nature was also time-limited as the nature of the Gospel was still being revealed to the Apostles.

Thus when we read the Romans 12 list of Spiritual gifts, we see a list of God's gracious gifting to his covenant people for the organization and governing of the church. These same gifts operated within the covenant community in the Old Testament, though not always as visibly and continually as today. We still see prophecy listed therein, and while I acknowledge that the gift itself might be time limited (*see below), I tend to view it as referring to speaking God's Word to his covenant people. Something that should be happening every time a teaching elder enters the pulpit to preach.

Thus the Reformed view of the Spirit's work within his covenant people is not one primarily of change, or even cessation, rather of continuation and strengthening. God speaks today to his people through his gifted messengers, yet that message is always of Christ and his redemptive work on our behalf.  This is part of Paul's often mentioned "mystery" the revealing of the Gospel and the unified covenant people of God.

We therefore need a different perspective on the nature of spiritual gifts and the work of the Holy Spirit within the church. While correction is certainly needed toward those 'continuationists' who cannot consistently maintain the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, and who misunderstand the nature and purpose of tongues, I do not believe it can be rightly heard from those who likewise maintain a substantive difference in God's covenant application.

Consider for a moment that the aforementioned gift-list found in Rom. 12 is current, and that each believer in the church has been gifted in some manner, as therein described, by the Spirit to accomplish the intended work of God in the church.  This means that when a pastor of a congregation speaks to God's people on a Sunday morning, he's doing so by the power and means of the Holy Spirit who has gifted him to speak God's Word to His people, perhaps prophetically (*see below).   The Sunday school teacher is empowered by God to explain the Scriptures to his students. The person gifted with helps is able to compassionately help those in need, etc.  These are supernatural gifts even though they may appear as ordinary to us.

Thus the Reformed are truly continuationists, however, Biblical continuationists who recognize God's intent in spiritual gifts.

If we view the church as a completely new body, unconnected covenantally to the former people of God, or if we view the church as tangibly different in nature than the Old Testament people of God (ie: made up of regenerate people only), then we will have a skewed understanding of the Holy Spirit and his work therein.

* Note:  I recognize that some argue for the end of the gift of prophecy per Hebrews 1, and I am willing to admit that possibility, however I tend to view prophecy as Calvin did:
"Hence prophecy at this day in the Christian Church is hardly anything else than the right understanding of the Scripture, and the peculiar faculty of explaining it, inasmuch as all the ancient prophecies and all the oracles of God have been completed in Christ and in his gospel."
Calvin's understanding of Romans 12, in fact, is an excellent argument for the supernatural nature of the gifts working in the church today. Calvin views the gifts in different categories as they apply to the governing of the church, the edification of the church and so on. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Kurt Eichenwald and 2000 year old manuscripts.

This is why you shouldn't believe anything Kurt Eichenwald says about the Bible.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Betteridge's Law and Psalmody

Dr. R Scott Clark has now reposted an article from 2008 titled Could Instruments be Idols? in which is argued: 
 In other words, how are we going to use Moses’ or David’s instruments without killing Aaron’s lambs or engaging in holy war?
The same way we sing the same songs of Moses and David using the words of Moses and Daivd without it.
The same instruments we want to borrow from Moses come covered with the blood of bulls and goats and resonating with the sounds of holy war against your local Canaanite city. 
As does the words sung. How can we sing about going to war, about God smiting his enemies and the like without "engaging in holy war?"    Well, of course one could argue that as Reformed believers who recognize that that church is typified by Israel, we engage in spiritual warfare daily through prayer and the preaching of the Word.  It seems that one wishes to acknowledge type and shadow in one instance but deny it in the other.

(Of course the Huguenot actually DID take the battle psalms into battle.)
How are we going to do what the medieval church did, borrow Mosaic elements (and for the same reasons) without gradually reproducing the Mosaic worship system just as the medieval church did?
The inconsistency in this argument is staggering. Everything here argued against instruments can likewise be argued against the usage of Psalms in worship.
Maybe the Reformed in the 16th and 17th centuries knew what they were doing when they rid our worship of instruments and of uninspired songs?
You already provided examples in a recent post proving this contention to be false, to quote:

The Strasbourg Psalter of 1545 seems to have included some non-canonical songs... 
The songbook used in Heidelberg in 1563 and 1573 seems to have contained non-canonical hymns... 
The Church Order of Dort (1619) provided for the singing of a song that may have been a paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer or it may have been a non-canonical song... 

How many exceptions to a rule must exist for the rule to be baseless?  I'm reminded of Betteridge's law, an adage which states: "Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no."

Monday, September 15, 2014

Hesitant debate... A Capella

In the past, when I've strongly debated with Dr. R. Scott Clark, I eventually found myself agreeing with him. It is with this in mind that I hesitantly approach the subject he has recently been discussing on his blog and spoke of in his good book Recovering the Reformed Confession.  Since the RPW is a topic of interest within Reformed circles, and since he addresses some of the questions I've posed, I wanted to point out a couple logical problems I see with one of his arguments.

Firstly, instrumental worship remains a difficult issue, and the arguments supporting exclusive a capella worship seemingly amount to arguments from history, arguments based on worship in the New Testament, and fulfillment of type and shadow.  I recall my grandparents, who belonged to the Pelagian group Church of Christ, argued similarly (there are no instruments in the New Testament), but one has to remember that the anabaptist Campbellite cult has no real understanding of covenantal structure, much less worship and argues against Paedobaptism on the same basis.

Dr. Clark writes:
It is often asked (as I myself asked Bob Godfrey 23 years ago), “Why do you want us to sing Psalms but you won’t let us do what they say?” (i.e., play instruments). After all, Psalm 150 lists a number of instruments.

Yes, exactly. Doesn't it seem odd that we sing God's commands while simultaneously denying them? I recall holding a similar view in regards to the Sabbath not too distantly. I couldn't consistently read the ten commandments, sing about, and worship God on the Sabbath while denying it's ongoing nature in the New Covenant era. I think one needs to parse these arguments carefully.

Clark's answer is:
 The difficulty that the Reformed saw with this line of reasoning is that it proves too much. They were convinced that the period of types and shadows had been fulfilled in Christ. This is why, in the new covenant, the church did not seek to kill the Canaanites. That commission ended with the death of Christ. In the “once for all” (Heb 7:27) death of Christ the bloody sacrificial ministry of the Levitical priesthood ended. 
While this is true of specific commands, why does it apply specifically to something commanded in the very Psalms we use to worship?  Again, the issue is about the Regulative Principle of Worship, not "killing Canaanites". If the Bible commands specific actions in worship, then they are to be followed unless they're typified by Christ and fulfilled therein or expressed in some other manner in the New Covenant. Where do we find in Scripture the usage of instruments to worship YHWH fulfilled by Christ?

Clark continues:
In the “once for all” (Heb 7:27) death of Christ the bloody sacrificial ministry of the Levitical priesthood ended. Jesus’ priesthood was greater than Aaron’s and Levi’s. Those priests had to sacrifice for themselves. Jesus did not. His sacrifice was for us.
Amen, and yet, the Psalms were sung as part of the temple liturgy, so why are they still used?  Were not their usage also done away with by Christ's sacrifice? Quoting Paul here doesn't change the question, even though Paul said we are to worship with "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs", and though Clark presents a good case for all three of those terms relating to specific portions of the Psalms, the argument could be made that Paul is referring to new psalms etc.  (I don't necessarily buy it, but my point is, if Christ's sacrifice fulfilled it, why are we singing it?)

An argument from history is then presented:
The Reformers knew their history, that the early church accepted these principles and worshipped without musical instruments for the first 7 centuries—8 if we count the Apostolic church.
This argument is however flawed. Firstly it suggests that the early church didn't use instruments because they believed the type fulfilled, but in reality the early church wanted to distance themselves from the pagan worship around them. They saw "the use of instruments in Jewish worship as a "childish" weakness, less glorifying to God than words of praise." 

We must be careful not to emulate the early church or the Reformers simply for the sake of being historically correct, but like the Reformers we should evaluate their practices with Scripture as our authority and reform when necessary.  We should be very careful in regards to the possibility of gnostic thinking when it comes to how we approach things.  Just because the pagans do something, doesn't make it automatically unChristian.

As for exclusive Psalmody, in the footnotes to his post, Clark acknowledges that the Reformers did in fact sing non-inspired texts (a major portion of the argument for exclusive psalmnody) when he writes:
The Strasbourg Psalter of 1545 seems to have included some non-canonical songs. The songbook used in Heidelberg in 1563 and 1573 seems to have contained non-canonical hymns. I investigating whether non-canonical songs were sung in public worship. The Apostles’ Creed was the only non-canonical song sung in the Genevan liturgy but it was sung in place of the reading of the Word or as a summary of the Word. When the conjugation responded to the Word they also prayed or sang the Word. The Church Order of Dort (1619) provided for the singing of a song that may have been a paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer or it may have been a non-canonical song. It is lost.

So as early as 1545, Reformed congregations were singing non-inspired songs including the Apostles' Creed.  The fact that it was sung instead of read doesn't change the fact. Plus, the fact that none less than the Church Order of Dort provided for a paraphrase of the Lord's Prayer should put the "Reformers did it" argument to rest, in that there was clearly a variety of opinion on the matter.

On another post, Dr. Clark replies to a comment:a
[This] seems to assume a couple of things, e.g., that 1 Tim 3:16 is a hymn. It may be. It also seems to assume a different relation between the canonical and post-canonical periods than I do. The church did things, under the direct inspiration of the Spirit, that we do not do in the post-apostolic age. In the apostolic age the NT Scriptures were in the process of formation.

So, the whole "how they worshiped in the New Testament church" argument is hereby undone.  If the New Testament church sang new inspired hymns and they were even written in Scripture (and I'll grant that Clark says "may"), then the claim that EP is a return to New Testament worship is baseless.

I'm very thankful for Dr. Clark. His work on the nature of the New Covenant and paedobaptism was instrumental in pushing me over the fence. That said, the portion of Recovering the Reformed Confession that focused on psalmnody and instrumental worship was a major speed bump in what was a fantastic treaty on confessional Christianity, it stuck out like a sore thumb.  (I also feel the same about Rosaria Champagne Butterfield's fantastic book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor's Journey Into Christian Faith. She also took a major sidetrack into the discussion.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

An Open Letter to Todd Starnes

Since you banned me from posting on your Facebook page, apparently unhappy that I dared challenge your claims. I've decided to voice my opinion here, where I control the content.

Ergun Caner's an unrepentant liar. Your standing up for him only casts doubt on your own legitimacy. The fact that you would state: "We do not know what led young Braxton to do the unthinkable", and yet then speculate on it is despicable.

Caner's son's death is a tragedy, and while we should all pray for his family and friends, it is important to note that five tweets nearly a month prior have less to do with it than his own father's web of lies.

You write: "They wrote terrible things about the 15-year-old - beyond the pale." What exactly was "beyond the pale"?  Can you quote it exactly for me, sir?   Please take into account all the other tweets the boy received and sent to and from his own friends. Include the four-letter bashing, sex talk and other assorted chatting that went on.

While the tweets in question may have been in bad taste, it's evident from his own account that it was forgiven and forgotten. Yet YOU are bringing it up now, even though you state: "We do not know what led young Braxton to do the unthinkable." You are here speculating, and that, sir, is indefensible.


There are few people as deluded and/or dishonest as the supporters of Ergun Caner. They will twist what you say, ignoring context just to score some points. They're not scoring them with the Lord Jesus, of course, as such dishonesty is evidence that they do not know him nor love him.

Seeing the claims of 'bullying' coming even from the likes of Emir Caner, who either has never been bullied, or simply is wishing to believe the lie, is astounding.  The fact that Emir himself states that "cyber-bullying may have been the cause" is beyond sinful speculation. These people have no shame.

Braxton Caner was a typical teen who had rougher exchanges, using foul language and images, with his own peers than he did with Jordan Hall.  Braxton's social profile was (and still is, you can look up his various profiles yourself) riddled with profanity, sexual innuendo and photos of he and his girlfriend in various states of romantic physical contact, even in a bathroom.

The fact that the some in the SBC have swept all that (and the fact that it was nearly a month prior) under the rug in order to villanize Hall, and Calvinists in general, is just more evidence of the utterly sinful mindset of these people.

What makes more sense, that Braxton Caner was so distraught over a few tweets followed by an apology that he took his own life nearly a month after the fact, or due the ongoing strife in his life because of the revelations that his father's entire testimony was fabricated?  Where was his father during this difficult time but many states away, and clearly not monitoring his own son's social profiles (or maybe his behavior is typical for the sons of seminary presidents.) Perhaps Braxton was facing yet another move and broken relationships because of his father's lifestyle... the fact is we don't know.  But we can be quite sure that a few tweets by Jordan Hall, followed by an apology, hardly amounts to "cyberbullying".

Regardless, Ergun Caner remains an unrepentant liar, who even lied to the US Marine Corps, and who continues to lie to gain positions of authority in Christian communities and schools around the country.  Instead of reflecting on his decades of lies in the light of his son's death, instead of falling before the Almighty God in repentance, he and his cronies attempt to lay the blame at anyone other than where it belongs.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Missing Aspect - Baptism as a Negative Sign

So, what I think is missing from most discussions and debates between paedobaptists and credobaptists, is a thorough explanation of the structure of covenants throughout redemptive history, specifically focused on the nature of the covenant of grace as expressed to Abraham.

All Biblical covenants have signs pointing to aspects/conditions of the covenant and seals, marks of agreement or inclusion in the covenant. Covenants are sealed with initiation rites, bloody ceremonies expressing conditions and penalties of the covenant. The signs have both positive and negative implications. 

With Abraham and God, God takes on himself the first sign, walking between the pieces of the slain animals. In this God is saying negatively: ‘If I fail to keep my promises to you, may I be cut in two like these animals.’ and positively: 'I will provide a sacrifice for you.' Abraham takes on the sign of circumcision, and in this he is saying (and likewise all his offspring), positively "As the foreskin is separated, so shall God separate me from my sin." and negatively, "As the foreskin is separated from my body, so shall I be from God's people if I fail to trust in him."

 Baptism thus carries a similar symbolism, it is not merely the sign of our burial in Christ, but God's solemn promise to 'remove sin from our body as water washes away dirt.' It is in effect, analog to circumcision without the blood, and points to the once-for-all blood shed on the cross. But circumcision also has a negative implication, it is a sign not only of salvation, but of wrath.

For Noah and his family, the flood was actually salvation from sin, but for the unbelieving world, it was God's wrath. Baptism thus also serves this negative sign, it promises wrath to those who partake of the covenant sign, and fail to fulfill the covenant conditions. (As Calvin 1, Turretin 2, Hodge 3, etc explain.)

It is with this understanding that the warning passages in Hebrews take on true significance. These are not hypotheticals, they're not pointing to a true 'loss of salvation', both of which ignore the covenantal foundation of the book. Rather, the warning passages promise a cutting off of people from the covenant people of God for one thing, a failure to believe.

This also makes sense of the difficult passages in 1 Peter and explains why the flood is tied to baptism. This coventantal continuity and acceptance of the overarching themes and structures established by God himself throughout redemptive history is what caused me to become a paedobaptist. I could not, with good conscience, continue to hold that the New Covenant was such a departure from God's established method of covenant establishment, without express warrant by the Apostles.

In fact, I believe the opposite is seen in their writings. Rather than the suggestion that only those who have the mental and physical ability to mouth certain words should be given the means of grace, we see that God's promise is truly to "you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls". This covenantal language expresses the very same structure as that provided to Abraham. The promise is to your and your children (faithful Jews), and to people beyond your race (faithful Gentiles).

 Thus Baptism is a sign of God's promise, that depends on a condition, that condition is faith, if one fails to believe (either the adult convert or the infant community member), the flood of God's wrath is promised.

(1) Ursinus: In their conditions or promises. The law promises eternal life and all good things upon the condition of our own and perfect righteousness, and of obedience in us: the gospel promises the same blessings upon the condition that we exercise faith in Christ, by which we embrace the obedience which another, even Christ, has performed in our behalf; or the gospel teaches that we are justified freely by faith in Christ.             

(2) Francis Turretin: Faith is the sole condition of the covenant because under this condition alone pardon of sins and salvation as well as eternal life are promised… 

(3) Charles Hodge: The condition of the covenant of grace, so far as adults are concerned, is faith in Christ…. It is in this last sense only that faith is the condition of the covenant of grace. There is no merit in believing. It is only the act of receiving a proffered favour.