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Reformation Myths, Part II

Reformation Myths, Part II

Continuing our brief look at some of the Reformation myths that have developed since the 16th century, we now come to the second.

The second myth is that the Reformers wanted each individual Christian to read the Bible on his own and interpret the Bible on his own. Some define this as the priesthood of all believers; that every man was his own priest and interpreter. But this is not what the Reformers meant by the priesthood of all believers. The Reformers did not want individual Christians taking their Bibles home and acting as if they were an authority in and of themselves, and that therefore they needed no one to guide them. On the contrary, the priesthood of the believers” for the Reformers “meant that all believers (had common access to the heavenly throne of grace) could come to the throne of grace with equal access…that we could act as priests to one another…the Reformers did not mean that instead of having one pope, every Christian would be his own pope, rather that the Bible is put in the hands of the people, so it may be studied in the context of a community. The Reformers never intended for the people to try to understand the word of God apart from the guidance and teaching ministry of the Church. After all, the Reformers were biblical people and they knew Paul’s words that the Church needs pastors and teachers to equip the saints.This is why they wrote confessions and catechisms for adults and children.

The Reformation did not mean biblical anarchism. In fact, Luther feared that some would think that since they now had a Bible they would no longer need the Church. Luther feared this lack of submission to those in positions of authority in the Church. To those who did not seek the guidance of the Church, Luther had this to say: “If we read the Bible in our own way, we will just go to hell in our own way.” Martin Luther believed as Paul did that God gave the church ministers and elders to equip her in all truth. So, this idea that the Reformers believed that it was every man for himself and that people could come to their own conclusions without the accountability of the Church is a great myth. Theology apart from the Church is anarchism and the Reformers rejected this idea.

Reformation Myths, Part I

Reformation Myths, Part I

Reformation Myths, Part I

Reformation Sunday is coming! With the popularity of new movements, the Reformed faith has become a familiar furniture in the evangelical house. Still, Reformed theology can be very divisive. Our calling as Christians is to strive towards like-mindedness with other non-Reformed people, but this does not mean that we ought to strive towards like-mindedlessness…the call to unity is a call for us to come to open discussion with other Trinitarian Christians with an open Bible and a humble spirit. aAnd to begin this conversation we need to clear away misunderstandings; to clear away the myths concerning the Reformation. It is my humble opinion that the greatest expression of Trinitarian orthodoxy in the world today is found in the Reformed faith, and so explaining precisely what this great tradition desired to do will help us ground ourselves in the Reformation’s conviction that the Scriptures is our highest authority in life.

Critics have developed many myths about the 16th century Reformation. The irony of it all is that if it had not been for the Reformation, the critics would not have the privilege and liberty to express their criticism towards the Reformation, yet, here are four of these myths. I will list the first one and add the others in the days ahead.

The first myth is that the Reformers did not care about the outward unity of the Church.

In Jesus’ high-priestly payer in John 17, He commands that we be one just as He and the Father are one. But the more astute may say, “But wait a minute: the Reformation did not unite the Church, it actually fractured it greatly.” In some sense it did, however, what one may fail to understand is that true Christian unity cannot be rooted in coruption. A corrupt and immoral Church cannot continue to bless the nations. You see, the issue here is not just unity, the issue is uniting around the right things. The Reformers understood this. They understood that unless false doctrine and corruption were dealt with you would have a weak, paralyzed Church incapable of being the salt and light of the earth. The Reformers were so concerned about not dividing the Church that when Rome charged the Reformers with the sin of schism (the sin of division), Calvin called for a Church wide council, so that both sides could be examined. He wanted another ecumenical council to debate these important issues, and perhaps they could come to an agreement and not divide. In fact, Luther—the father of the Reformation—said to Philip Melanchthon before he died that “after his death many harsh and terrible sects will arise, God help us!” The Reformers feared the idea of a divided Church. They wanted to unify the Church, but their vision never came to pass in their day nor in ours. Our hope is that the vision begun in the Reformation will continue in the decades and centuries to come. Still, the Reformation understood that unity is not based on the appointment of an arch-bishop or a pope; placing an ecclesiastical figure does not bring unity unless there is purity and true doctrine as the basis of this unity. The Reformation was intended to be a reformation of the Church, since the Reformers understood that without the Church there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

  1. Thanks to my friend, Rich Lusk, for elaborating on these  (back)
Three Classic Quotes from John Calvin

Three Classic Quotes from John Calvin

“The gospel is not a doctrine of the tongue, but of life. It cannot be grasped by reason and memory only, but it is fully understood when it possesses the whole soul and penetrates to the inner recesses of the heart.”

― John Calvin, Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life

“There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.”

― John Calvin

“We should ask God to increase our hope when it is small, awaken it when it is dormant, confirm it when it is wavering, strengthen it when it is weak, and raise it up when it is overthrown.”
― John Calvin
Movement vs. Community

Movement vs. Community

Bonhoeffer makes a helpful distinction in his work Life Together. He argues that movements are led by individuals who want to see their priorities above all else honored and implemented. A community, on the other hand, demands bodily participation and engagement. Everyone plays a role in its future. Communities have leaders, but these leaders do not set their agenda above everything and everyone. Communities care about the weak and helpless. Movements are filled with visionary dreamers, “the one who acts like he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash.” a Certainly there is a legitimate conversation to be had over the legitimacy of movements, but under this definition, movements are to avoided.

  1. Life Together  (back)
Jesus’ Housewarming Gifts

Jesus’ Housewarming Gifts

Life is filled with deaths and resurrections. We like the idea of resurrection, but we like it as long as we can skip through the deaths. But life in Jesus is inescapably deadly. Like Aslan in C.S. Lewis’ wonderful Narnian stories, Jesus is not safe. When God intervenes in our lives and gives us His Son, we are entering into a dangerous journey. It is a fantastic journey, but not a safe one. Sometimes we will come near death like Epaphroditus. Sometimes we feel like death has conquered us. But in these moments God provides us a meal of thanksgiving; a weekly reminder that death is not here to stay; that hope and resurrection is not far from us, nor is it an impossible thing to contemplate. The reason why we obey Jesus in doing this often is because Jesus likes to intervene in our lives often, and when He does, He likes to bring us a housewarming gift. This is His gift to us and when we enjoy it we give him thanks. Let us receive his gifts and give Him thanks.

Our Liturgy to the World

Our Liturgy to the World

It occurs in an otherwise unknown passage. It happens at the end of Philippians chapter two. Paul is writing a brief apologetic for why he is sending Epaphroditus back to the Philippians. Then, he says that Epaphroditus a is a minister to my need (Paul’s). The word “minister” comes from the Greek word leitourgos. The idea of liturgy comes from this. In the Bible, leitourgos has priestly connotations (Heb. 1:7, 8:2). Epaphroditus was a liturgical help to Paul. He was a co-labor in the Gospel. By ministering to Paul he was fulfilling an important liturgical role in the Church.

The same idea can be applied to our ministry to one another. The Philippian Church had sent their liturgical representative to bring Paul food and clothing while he was in prison. The Christian holds a liturgical office by definition. He is called to participate in this service for/to one another. The implication of such a text is that service is an extension of worship. Our reasonable worship (Rom. 12:1-2) bleeds into everyday life. Our liturgy must be lived out. A liturgy that is self-contained is a weak liturgy. Liturgy is fleshly and applicable.

  1. quite a name to write and pronounce  (back)
The Atomization and Individualization of the American Baptist Culture

The Atomization and Individualization of the American Baptist Culture

I know this is not the most friendly of titles. But there it is. The inspiration for the title came while re-reading a book edited in the 80’s by my theological mentor, James B. Jordan. The book is controversially entitled The Failure of the American Baptist Culture. a Though the title seems to put all baptists into one camp, the reality is that much of the evangelical landscape has changed in three decades. Today you will find baptist leaders declaring the glories of community life and the dangers of an isolated Christian experience. On the other hand, some modern Presbyterians have embraced this atomization in the Church. Some take this approach out of fear of sounding like post-modern clerics. So, they mistreat the corporate realities of the covenant and borrow baptistic vocabulary to do so, while claiming that they aren’t doing so.

Another way Presbyterians continue to pour gas into the individualist’s fire is by refusing to give communion to the least of these. Yes, I know that much–though not all–of the Reformation fell into this same trap and so I am the first to admit that my beloved tradition did not fully reform in every respect. Paedocommunion is not only a wonderful ecclesiastical response to the individualism that plagues the modern church, but it also affirms the covenantal promises of God to a thousand generations. It re-orients us to the unity that is inherent in the baptismal tradition of our forefathers.

In the book’s introduction Jordan wrote:

The failure of most of the Reformers to advocate paedocommunion, the development of the rite of confirmation, the rise of scholasticism, and later on the development of individualistic revivalism and anti-liturgism, all evince the strong nominalistic drift in all Christian thought in recent centuries.

What churches need to ask then is, “What practices force us to look beyond ourselves?,” or positively framed, “What ecclesiastical practices can help us restore this covenantal call issued by our Hebrew forefathers?”

The answer seems simple to me. But there are still several road-blocks to overcome in this process. Presbyterians have for far too long embraced the presupposition of our baptist brothers. Moving away from these presuppositions is the first step to avoiding the pitfalls of the individualized baptist culture. At the same time, I hasten to add that baptist theology today, especially in more reformational contexts, have become ripe for the type of language and practices I am advocating. While it is true they will never practice paedocommunion or paedobaptism, they are already using familiar corporate language that rings joyfully in any Calvinists’ ears.

The bottom line is we need to re-think these nominalist tendencies that may find a home in both circles. We need to see them and cut them out immediately. The individual cannot exist apart from a community. As Bonhoeffer observed in his classic Life Together, 

We have one another only through Christ, but through Christ we do have one another, wholly, and for all eternity.

In this one-anothering, we find that isolationism is detrimental to the Christian experience. A wholistic Christian faith does not atomize, but incorporates. And in this incorporation, community finds its ultimate agenda fulfilled, the glorification of the kingdom culture.

  1. Free download here  (back)
How Thanksgiving and Happiness are Linked

How Thanksgiving and Happiness are Linked

The results are in! Gratitude wins the day by a landslide. In fact, as a result of this monumental victory, psychology departments are developing entirely new areas of study on the little known fact of gratitude. According to Robert Emmons, author of Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, “Gratitude is literally one of the few things that can measurably change people’s lives.” a There are measurable benefits. Did you hear that?

Linked to this discovery is the helpful suggestion made by Michael Hyatt that keeping a gratitude journal can be immensely beneficial as we build an arsenal of gratitude pages. Ending the day by listing the reasons for thanksgiving, however small, can actually serve as a rich spiritual exercise.

Of course, we are aware that psychological journals are behind the times. Gratitude has always been a Christian virtue. St. Paul had already broken the news. Later, in the 20th century, Bonhoeffer alluded to this in his remarkable little book Life Together. There, he takes us back to the glories of gratitude in community life. For Bonhoeffer, if you don’t know where to start in the gratitude journey, start with thanking God for your community. He writes:

If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.

The Christian faith is a food religion. The heart of it is found in the death/resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. He became for the world the bread of life. This bread then becomes the food for hungry souls to feed. In the Christian tradition, it is articulated most clearly in the table of the Lord. The table is a table of joy and gratitude; so much gratitude that it is usually referred to as the Eucharistisc Table. The word eucharistia means “thanksgiving.” Emmons says that “when we feel grateful, we are moved to share the goodness we have received with others.” b It is this sharing of food that forms this table of thanksgiving.

Gratitude builds us in love and compels us share in the shalom of God with others. To whom much is given much is required. To those of us who partake of God’s goodness often and daily, we are called then to compel others with our own lives and words to share in this community of gratitude formed by the God who gave us His own life.

  1. Thanks! page 2  (back)
  2. Ibid. 4  (back)
Trinitarian Basics

Trinitarian Basics

It matters what you believe. Sometimes we need to get back to basics to get a good grasp of Christian thinking. After all, thinking Christianly is a real challenge to the modern evangelical population. So, where do we start? What should a new Christian learn about? I propose a simple overview of Trinitarian theology. My own pastoral labors have been immensely helped by seeing the world and my parish through Trinitarian eyes. A result of this interest, is my little booklet The Trinitarian Father soon to be published by Covenant Media. Also, my podcast Trinity Talk.

Here is a simple definition from James Jordan to get the ball rolling:

God’s Oneness is not the same as His Threeness, but God is every bit as much One as He is Three, and every bit as much Three as He is One. Consistent Christians, therefore, are not Tri-theists (three gods), nor are they pure Mono-theists (one God); rather, they are Trinitarian.

This remarkable God insists in relating to his people through His Son, by the power of His Spirit. He is Personal and Transcendent. His acts are known in all the earth; His glory among all nations. This God is Triune.

Recommended Books for new Christians on the Trinity:

Trinity and Reality: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Ralph Smith

Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves

The Forgotten Trinity by James White

The One and the Many by R.J. Rushdoony

 

 

Protecting your Family from Pornography

Protecting your Family from Pornography

I grew up in one of the most sexualized societies in the world. Brazil is known for its Carnival. And Carnival is synonymous with nudity. My evangelical family would usually take a three-day vacation with the Church to a camp near by. The majority of TV stations would air live Carnival coverage 24 hours a day. I am glad that as a little boy I was “sheltered” from such images on my screen.

But as I grew I quickly realized that escaping from those images are not as simple. A three-day vacation is only three days. Unless you were willing to do away with your television and other means of communication, you would be confronted with some level of nudity. This is not an option for the 21st century Christian. So what must a Christian do?

This is where blogger, Tim Challies, offers a tentative helpful plan of action for defending your family from pornography. But before he does this, he begins with a few acknowledgements.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

There are several things I should acknowledge.

Acknowledgement #1. I cannot completely protect my children. It is very nearly inevitable that at some point they will encounter dangerous or pornographic material online. This may be as a result of an unintentional click, it may be curiosity or deliberate desire, or it may be someone showing them something they do not want to see. Though I want to prevent them from ever seeing this material, realistically I also need to teach them how to act when they do.

Acknowledgement #2. Neither Aileen nor I struggle with a desire to look at pornography or to participate in dangerous or perverse online activities, so while many people wisely put measures in place to guard themselves from such sin, this is not an urgent concern for us. However, I will still attempt to address it as I go.

Acknowledgement #3. Aileen and I do not believe that, at least for now, our children have the right to privacy on their devices. We believe it is well within our rights as parents to inspect our children’s devices, to monitor the way they use them, and to take their devices away if they misuse them.

THE LAY OF THE LAND

Like so many families, we have accumulated an embarrassing number of Internet-enabled devices, some by purchase and some as gifts. None of them are the latest and greatest models, but none of them is quite obsolete either. As we build a solution to monitor and protect the family, we need it to account for a PC with Windows and both an iMac and MacBooks running OSX. Some of these are personal devices (e.g. my laptop) while some are shared by all the family members (e.g. the iMac and the PC). We also need a solution to account for smartphones, tablets and iPod Touches.

ACTION

Here are the initial actions I have taken.

Software
My plan is to rely, as much as possible, on Covenant Eyes. I will use it first, and if I find it disappointing, look elsewhere. I have installed it on all of our computers. I created an account for each of us with myself as the one who will receive weekly accountability reports. I set both the accountability and the filtering to the Teen (T) setting for each of the children. Aileen and I will have accountability but no filtering. As part of this plan, I had to make sure each computer was set to go to sleep quickly following use (since this will force the next person to log in to their own account).

Computers
I have created an account for each of us on the PC and for any of us who uses one of the Macs. Each account has a password known only to the account holder and to Aileen and me.

Tablets
I have an iPad I use primarily for preaching and speaking; it has a password known only to Aileen and me. We also have an old, first generation iPad (left over from my contractor days) which has only very old games and apps. We disabled the browser and the ability to install new software without a password.

iPods & Cell Phones
The children’s iPods Touches (which they bought with paper route money) have a password known to that child and to mom and dad. Mom and dad maintain the “system” password which controls the security settings. We disabled the browser, the YouTube app, and the ability to install new software without a password.

I considered disabling the camera, but have not yet done that. I also considered using the Covenant Eyes web browser which would then apply filtering and accountability, but I see no reason (at least for now) that the kids need to browse the Web through their devices.

TV
We do not have cable TV, so do not need to account for that.

COST

Covenant Eyes is not free software, so there is some cost involved. This plan, as it stands, costs $22.99 per month which seems reasonable enough. a

Obviously these may not be the perfect strategy, but it is a strategy nevertheless, and most parents don’t have any. Pornography is a violent cancer that brings about a slow and terrifying death to the addict and to those around them. Pornography is an enemy and to attack it you need a plan. Behold, a plan!

  1. Tim is in Canada, but in the U.S., Covenant Eyes is cheaper  (back)