A Sidekick's Blog

Traditions 1, 2, and 0

February 24, 2014
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On Bible Interpretation: I appreciate my church having something to guide their interpretation of the bible! Even in the Apostles’ time there were tradions of interpretation, and CREEDS to guide them. Paul cites some of these “faithful sayings, worthy of acceptation” in his letters (1 Tim 1:15, 3:1, 4:9, 2 Tim 2:11, Titus 3:8). If creeds and traditions had a place even in the 1st century church, we ought not dismiss sound creeds and traditions in the 21st century church.

Green Baggins

I’ve been reading in Timothy Ward’s excellent little book Words of Life, and he has a very helpful and clear description of the three main view of Scripture and tradition that were circulating at the time of the Reformation. In this description he builds on Heiko Oberman’s very important work in his Harvest of Medieval Theology. What Oberman calls Tradition I (T1) is the view “that tradition is a tool to aid in the faithful interpretation of Scripture, expounding the primary teachings of Scripture, with Scripture remaining the only source of infallible divine revelation” (Ward, 144). Tradition II (T2) is the view “that there are two distinct sources of divine revelation, Scripture and church tradition, with the latter being haded down either orally or through customary church practices.”

Ward argues that T1 was the position of the early church, and that T2 developed only in the twelfth century…

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The Morning Watch

February 21, 2014
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Originally written for my kids when they were teens, and published elsewhere on the web and in print, I wanted to share this with a few new readers of a Sidekick’s Blog, and any who might be having secret struggles with their “daily devotions” or “quiet time.”  It’s not some sort of religious duty for goodnessakes! It should be a wonderful, intimate time with one’s heavenly Father, however short or long, that guides the whole rest of the day!

The Morning Watch

There are two sorts of bible reading. There’s bible study, and then there’s the daily devotional reading that every follower of Christ needs and should strive for. In today’s post I just want to write about the daily devotional time in God’s word that we all need, along with the other daily discipline of prayer,

I call it “the morning watch” because that’s what the Bible calls it:

“O Jehovah, in the morning shalt thou hear my voice; In the morning will I order my prayer unto thee, and will keep watch.” (Psalm 5:3)

“But unto thee, O Jehovah, have I cried; And in the morning shall my prayer come before thee.” (Psalm 88:13)

“Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; For in thee do I trust: Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; For I lift up my soul unto thee.” (Psalm 143:8)

It is at the beginning of the day, first thing, before the business of work and school that we need to listen to the Lord and set our hearts upon Him and His purpose for the day. Not at the end of the day when we’re tired or when we have already made plans for the evening or at night when we’re too sleepy to do anything but collapse into slumber.

This is a little “how-to” for daily quiet time (or devotions, as a lot of people call it). Before we jump right in, let me emphasize two things:

First, daily devotional time is not the same thing as Bible study, nor is it a substitute for Bible study. But it is absolutely vital to spiritual health and practical godly living. It should be a daily thing, eagerly anticipated.

Second, daily quiet time is not a religious duty. If merely reading the Bible every day is a duty to be kept, then one has “done his duty” merely by reading it. But the Apostle James describes it as a lifestyle rather than a religious rite:

But prove yourselves to be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and having looked and gone on his way, immediately forgets what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, will be blessed in whatever he does (James 1:22-25).

It’s not as though God will be mad at me because I skipped my quiet time today. It’s about seeing myself as God sees me, in the mirror of His word, and using that knowledge to improve what I saw in the mirror this morning. We wouldn’t think of going off to work or school without stopping in front of the mirror first – if only for a few seconds – to make sure we look okay. We still have all our teeth and no big ol’ zits have erupted on our face overnight. We’re also concerned about what others will see when they look at us. It is exactly the same way in which we are to use God’s word as our spiritual mirror. But how do we make the most of our morning quiet time? Let’s have a look at the practical side of daily devotions:

Things you need to make the most of your morning quiet time:

Your Bible – God’s own infallible Word, interpreted foremost by a desire to do whatever it says, and illuminated in your heart and mind by the Holy Spirit.

A notebook – Use this for writing down the things that God seems to tell you through His Word, and for keeping a journal of prayer requests and answers to prayer; questions to ask God, and as a way to organize your reading.

Time – Allow at least enough time to pray through your list and read a paragraph or two. As time goes on, you’ll want to devote a lot more time to the morning watch.

But how do I decide what to read? How far to read? How to determine what it means?

Deciding what to read

I recommend taking the Bible the way it was written – a book at a time. That doesn’t mean you read an entire book of the Bible in a single sitting! It means only that you would read through one book instead of choosing randomly selected passages from any of the 66 books. If you’re new at this, start with the most straightforward of books, the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and the Epistles (letters to the churches and individuals written by the Apostles).

In most Bibles, paragraphs are indicated by a symbol that looks like a backwards P “¶”, or by having the number of the first verse in a new paragraph in bold numbers. Understand that the original writers did not write in chapters, nor indicate paragraphs where our English translators and editors have placed them in your Bible. That is just where someone thinks they belong. You can make use of them or skip them if an idea doesn’t seem complete in the parameters they set. Read until you have a sense that one or two ideas have been expressed fully, then stop.

Putting Wheels on the Cart

Now if you had to come up with a title for the passage you just read, what would it be? Think of a title for the passage. In Bible study, you’ll consider not just the passage but the entire book, its author, all that author’s other books, and the context in which the passage you’re studying fits into the whole rest of the Bible. In daily devotions, though, you’re generally just considering the passage you’ve read by itself. Though very often it will remind you of another passage that expresses or contrasts the same idea. If it does, read the other passage and consider it along with the first one. Think of a title. That sort of forces your mind to focus on the “gist” of a passage.

Now choose one verse or one sentence from the passage that best supports the title you have chosen for that passage. This might be the verse you’ll carry around in your heart for that whole day. You might even memorize it.

Now think of how this title, the supporting verse, and the full idea might apply to your day and throughout your day. How will you put the idea to work? How can you bring it from the page and “put flesh on it” so to speak, to demonstrate it and prove the truth and value of it? Write down the passage, the title, the verse, and the application in your journal next to the date.

Journaling is Super Helpful!

My journal encourages me when I have completely failed, or fallen to temptation, or am otherwise feeling low and wondering if I should even bother following Christ any further, And yes, this sort of discouragement happens to lots of perfectly normal Christians, including some of the bible’s greatest heroes and history’s greatest preachers and evangelists.  The great Charles Spurgeon battled depression all his life.  The mighty prophet Elijiah prayed for death after his victory over the prophets of Baal.  Looking through the pages of my journal – with it’s record of answered prayers, joyfully received insights, and my loving Father’s discipline – proves that God hasn’t given up on me over the years, and encourages me to trust Him instead of “trying to be a great Christian” all on my own.

So why put the date on your journal entries? Because as you look back through that journal later on in the future (and you will, next time you’re reading the same book in your devotions), you’ll remember what was going on in your life at the time God was saying that particular thing through that passage. And you’ll be absolutely amazed at how that was just exactly what you needed, right then – and how different it might be from the way the passage seems to apply in your life now. Your previous journals are a compelling record of God’s faithfulness, comfort, wisdom, and providence. By chronicling your journey and keeping track of answers to prayer and lessons gleaned from God’s word, you will accumulate a vast treasure of precious pearls to share with others. Especially your own children someday!

Below is an example of how you might want to organize your own notebook. The format works for me, but you may choose to adapt your own to serve you better.  Enjoy these wonderful intimate times at the beginning of the day that help equip you for what your Father has planned.

___/___/___ (today’s date) I’m reading the Book of _________________.
Today’s passage: Chapter(s), verses – , which I have entitled, “_________________________________________.”
Best supporting verse is __:___ because

 


The Tyranny of the Experts: A Call for a Second Reformation

February 19, 2014
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I have lamented in this blog about the new “tolerance” in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) for errors which defy the Westminster Standards. I have re-posted other such laments from otherbloggers in multiple “conservative” Presbyterian / Reformed denominations. In this blog I want to reach “behind” this creeping tolerance for sin and error and point to one of the easily preventable causes of this supposedly inevitable decline of Presbyterian / Reformed churches and denominations. The writer of some of the best commentary on the Westminster Confession, G.I. Williamson, describes it in this post as “the tyranny of the experts.” It is a culture of elitism that demands that the ordinary churchgoer and “lay leader” should simply defer to the Esteemed Clergy in matters of theology and church practice, owing to their greater education and expertise in these things. After all, they’re the professionals, the experts in such things, and we ordinary church folk need not concern ourselves with things that are “way beyond us.”

I suppose it’s natural in our society at this stage of its moral decay to just “defer to the experts.” Home schooling, for example, is looked upon as arrogant and dangerous because we’re “just parents.” We don’t know anything about educating children. My wife and I were told that we should “leave it to the experts” and “stop being so arrogant.” But look at where these “experts” have taken our public schools! Not only do they completely fail to equip their students with the skills to learn and reason and function, but they mock our values, rewrite history, and try to erase all differences of gender and religion. They seem to be aiming towards creating a generation of easily controllable, unthinking, obedient drones to serve the ruling class. High school graduates can’t even fill out a job application or balance a checkbook. No thanks, I don’t think the “experts” are doing a very good job. Scientific “experts” argue for more government power to manage the “climate crisis” caused by mankind’s activities even as their dire predictions of melting ice caps and rising oceans prove patently false decade after decade. Recently it was described as “global warming.” But when I was a kid in school, the “experts” were sounding the alarm of global cooling! No thanks, “experts,” I’ll take my chances with common sense and err on the side of liberty. Yet this culture of deference to highly educated fools has become tyrannical as their “expert opinions” are used to justify more and more intrusions upon the rights and liberties of citizens. And it seems that in the churches, the same culture of deference threatens similar tyranny, and even damnable heresy.

In order to be taken seriously in the Reformed / Presbyterian community one must have credentials that demonstrate “expertise.” This culture of expertise has become so valuable that some even highly “respectable” seekers of credibility have resorted to outright dishonesty and fraud in their quest for ever greater credibility. Witness the “credentials” of one “Dr.” Kenneth Gary Talbot, founder and Protestant Pope of the Reformed Presbyterian Church General Assembly (RPCGA), who claims multiple doctorate degrees that would take a lifetime to earn, from schools that either don’t exist, or that don’t offer the degrees he claims to have earned there, or that never had him as a student. Founder and president of a seminary “accredited” by an agency of it’s own making, yet with a list of “notable alumni” that includes some really good and well-respected theologians. It’s all about credibility, all about status, all about being an expert. It’s about making a name and reputation for oneself, writing books and teaching others and gathering a following. Expertise = power, even in the “ultra conservative” RPCGA.

TheImpressiveClergyman

In the PCA, the heretical Federal Vision teaching and other dangerous doctrines have gained increasingly wider acceptance solely because “ruling elders” in that denomination, despite their supposed equality with “teaching elders” (pastors, clergy), have deferred to the “learned and esteemed clergy,” who historically are the ones who package and promulgate heretical doctrines. As G. I. Williamson illustrates in his article, Martin Luther was up against the very same “tyranny of the experts.” How dare this mere monk from an obscure province challenge the Esteemed Experts of his day? Bishops and Cardinals and Professors and even the Pope himself! Luther was nothing but a common little monk without the education and credentials to challenge the Highly Educated and Exalted Experts of his time. Yet the people rallied around him. Why? Not because he had Impressive Credentials, but because

the sheep know their shepherd and follow the voice of their shepherd. They will not follow a stranger because they don’t recognize the voice of a stranger (John 10:4-5).

It’s time we sheep stop paying attention to pretenders, and follow the familiar, comforting, trustworthy voice of the Shepherd who laid His life down for the sheep. Do not quickly defer to “experts,” the wolves clothed in woolen Doctorate Degrees, but whose demonic doctrines and seductive speech lead to exploitation, exposure to the enemy of our souls, and ultimately to destruction.


Semper Reformanda

February 9, 2014
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Always Reforming. Constantly challenging my faith and practice against the revealed word of God, as found in the bible.

Admittedly driven this time by a sense of expediency because I am “between churches” and the only real Reformed alternative nearby is a Reformed Baptist church, it is nevertheless always a good thing to take measure of one’s beliefs using the scriptures as a guide. What scares me a little is that there’s a part of me, in a rush to bring my heart-achy search to a conclusion, that wants to “prove” from the scriptures that I’m justified in moving over to the Baptist church. To counter that tendency I’ve determined to do nothing until I have read, absorbed, and debated these things with both Baptist and Presbyterian brothers. The trouble I’m having is in finding people from either camp who are actually willing to be challenged in that way. I have been a Presbyterian for over two decades. Both of my adult children were raised in that tradition, both baptized as infants by sprinkling. If I am to make any big changes in my theology at this point in my life, I’m darn well going to have good solid reasons for doing it.

So on my own I have been reading articles, listening to audio recordings of debate between Baptist and Presbyterian theologians, looking at questions through the eyes of both sides, and re-examining my own hermeneutics.

So far, in the admittedly short time I have been examining these things, it appears to boil down to these three things:

Different hermeneutics:

Reformed believers are guided by one of two hermeneutics. Both usually lead to similar conclusions I think, but an important distinction exists between the two. And the deeper I go in my study, the more the distinction seems to matter.

The Presbyterian hermeneutic is described in the Westminster Confession of Faith this way:

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture… (WCF 1:6, emphasis mine).

The Reformed Baptist hermeneutic sounds similar but it is different because it does not include deduction or “good consequence:”

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture (London Baptist Confession 1:6, emphasis mine).

So what’s the difference? Both often lead to the same conclusion, as they do in the doctrine of the Trinity, for example. I have a silly, simplistic way of illustrating it: If one passage explicitly states that “all normal dogs have four legs,” and another explicitly states that “Spot is a normal dog,” then it is necessarily true that Spot has four legs even though that fact is not explicitly stated. The fact is contained in the book even though not explicitly. A Presbyterian might deduce that since there are other properties of normal dogs, such as two ears, a wet nose, and a wagging tail, then Spot must also have those qualities as well, even if the book doesn’t contain those things in its description of normal dogs. A Reformed Baptist could not reach that far, since two ears, a wet nose, and a wagging tail are not contained in the book’s description. While I realize that my silly simplistic illustration likely falls short of adequately describing the difference, I’m a simple Boy Wonder and receptive to correction if I really have misstated the difference. That’s just how I understand it for now.

It is that difference, I think, that accounts at least in part for the differences in Covenant Theology between Baptists and Presbyterians, and in the way that the two apply the Regulative Principle of Worship to the two sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Different Covenantal Views:

Presbyterians view the Old and New Testaments as containing different administrations of the same covenant which most refer to as the Covenant of Grace. They do this to preserve the continuity of Scripture to include both Testaments. But, to a Reformed Baptist, it isn’t necessary to preserve the continuity of the Testaments by describing the two as being “different administrations of one covenant.” The writer of Hebrews describes the Old Covenant as “type and shadow” of the New. The New fulfills the Old. But to a Baptist, the two are separate covenants altogether and while one prefigures the other, they apply to different groups of people and different points along the continuum of unfolding eschatology and progressive revelation. The Old covenant was limited, under it’s different administrations, to one family, one race, one nation; whereas the New removes all such distinctions. The Old was temporal rather than eternal as the New covenant is. The Old was physical, geographical, and political. The New is spiritual, universal, and “not of this world.” Yet under the Old, prefiguring the New, all who were eternally saved were saved just as they are in the New: By faith in One who was to come, the Seed promised to Abraham in the Old covenant, the Second Adam, the Mediator of – as the writer of Hebrews describes it – “a better covenant based on better promises (Hebrews 8:6).” I’m told by a Reformed Baptist theologian that my summary of the Baptist covenantal view in my previous blog post is accurate, so please refer to it for a more complete picture of why Baptists separate the two differently than Presbyterians do.

Different Applications of the Regulative Principle of Worship:

Both Reformed Baptists and Presbyterians subscribe to this principle, based on Sola Scriptura and described in the Westminster Confession of Faith in these terms:

…the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by Himself, and is so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshiped according to … any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture (WCF 21:1).

This principle has been reduced by many people to simply, “When it comes to the worship of God, whatever is not commanded is forbidden.” This is quite unlike the Lutheran and Anglican principle which is, to reduce it to it’s simplest form, “whatever is not forbidden is permitted in the worship of God.” This leads them to all sorts of human inventions that “help the people worship,” from drama and dance to more superstitious stuff like making the sign of the cross and assigning mystical properties to the elements in the Lord’s Supper and observing a liturgical calender. Superstition, by the way, I take to mean trying to please, appease, delight, or “reach” God by any means other than revealed in His written word.

Because the Old Testament is to be interpreted through the lens of the New Testament, and because of the difference in the two views of covenant theology, the Reformed Baptist does not see baptism as a New covenant “replacement” of Old covenant circumcision. And as there is no explicit command in the New Testament to baptize any but confessed believers, Baptists reject what Presbyterians call “covenant baptism” (or “infant baptism”). To a Presbyterian, the command to baptize the infant children of believers is necessarily deduced by the examples of Old covenant circumcision and “household baptisms” in the New Testament.

These three differences combine to form the theological basis for both credobaptism (believer’s baptism) and paedobaptism (infant baptism). They also represent what my search has “boiled down to.” To most people I know, none of this matters. One just goes to “whatever church makes them happy” as long as it adheres to “the essentials.” That can’t be enough for me. In fact it hasn’t been enough for me ever. Not because I’m “too nitpicky,” but because love demands the pursuit of the truest possible knowledge of God.

Despite my desire to avoid it, I suspect that this blog post likely betrays a little bias towards the Baptist position. In fact it is the Baptist position which seems more consistent (Presbyterians baptize babies yet keep them from the Supper until they can articulate their faith in an adult manner), closer to the Reformation cry of Sola Scriptura (because it insists upon not exceeding what is written no matter how flawlessly logical and reasonable it may seem to do so), and by painting a picture of the covenants in a way that preserves the continuity of Scripture without the confusing of merger of Old and New sacraments, signs, shadows, and types. Perhaps I haven’t been a very good Presbyterian all these years, but it isn’t because I haven’t made every effort to understand, apprehend, and articulate my faith without becoming bewildered and confused by that hermeneutic and getting lost in the details. As I said, I’m a simple sidekick, and tend to ruin in favor of those things which “are so clearly propounded and opened in Scripture that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain unto an sufficient understanding of them (WCF 1:7).”

God help me.


Covenant Theology from a Baptist Point of View

February 4, 2014
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In my continuing search for a Reformed church to join myself to, I have found a “Founders” church. It’s a Southern Baptist church listed among those who are dedicated to preserving the doctrines of grace, recovered from obscurity and buried in Roman Catholic superstitions. Now largely “lost” again in these days of Christian science-fiction, book and seminar sales, mega-churches, and prosperity teaching.

Being a good Presbyterian boy I naturally have to question some of the things Baptists do differently from Presbyterians, with particular focus on the theological reasons for those differences. The trite little “pat answers” I’ve gotten, even from Baptist pastors I have interviewed, have focused not on the theological reasons for denying paedobaptism, for example, but on Baptist tradition, on a weak transliteration of the Greek word baptizo, and on a little pamphlet with such vague sweeping statements that it can be interpreted a zillion-and-four different ways.

Until I found this little link, doing some Googling and Binging and Yahooing. I offer it as a resource for other “questioning Presbyterians” like me who require sound biblical grounds to support any theological position. It is not downloadable, nor can it be copied without permission (which I haven’t got yet), so here is the link:

http://www.reformedbaptist.net/renihan-presentation

I have summarized what I believe to be the author’s position below. At face value I must admit that if his conclusions are correct, it eliminates two big issues for us Presbyterians:

I. Firstly the whole “Federal Vision” teaching which has crept into the PCA is completely incompatible with this view of covenant theology, and,

II. It addresses a few inconsistencies with Presbyterian practice which have sat smoldering on the back burner of my conscience just nagging at me.

A. Why do we baptize infants but not allow them at the Lord’s Table
until they can articulate their faith in an adult manner?
(FV answers that objection by turning the Reformation on it’s head!)

B. If we’re interpreting New Testament sacramental practice “backwards”
(letting the Old type-and-shadow define application of the New substance),
then let’s baptize babies and worship on Saturday instead of Sunday.

As an officer in my PCA church I was required to take some theological training. I was taught that “the Reformed view” (read: the Presbyterian view) of covenant theology describes the Old and New Testaments as different administrations of the same covenant – the Covenant of Grace. Correct me in comments below, please, if I summarize the article wrong. But I’m reading this article to say that:

I The Old and New Testaments are two separate covenants, the Old type-and-shadow prefiguring and preparing the way for the New, the substance. The Old Covenant had separate administrations, each with it’s own covenantal conditions:

A. Adam
B. Abraham
C. Moses
D. David

II. The New Covenant applies to the family of faith, rather than to physical descendants, and has one administration, one Mediator, the Man Christ Jesus. It is the substance depicted in the Old covenant, and applies spiritually and eternally.

III. Many of those under the Old Covenant participated in the New as well, knowing that the Old was type and shadow of substance to come (Hebrews 11:10-16). They received justification, sanctification, and will inherit the New Heavens and New Earth by the same means we all do under the New Covenant – by faith alone, in Christ alone, through grace alone. But the Old Covenant was not all-inclusive. It was restricted to one family, or one nation, one race, one earthly kingdom. Under the New Covenant there are no distinctions of race, gender, nationality, or language.

IV. Applying the Regulative Principle of Worship according to this view of separate covenants forbids infant baptism because the participants of the New Covenant are not physical descendants of a covenant people, but spiritual descendants of Abraham by faith in Christ. And since faith requires an object, and the object of our faith requires confession, infants are therefore ordinarily not members of the New Covenant.

Food for thought, good meaty stuff to chew on a for a few days before I start the next barrage of questions for my Reformed Baptist brethren. Comment is invited and encouraged!