Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Stark on Slavery: Part 2: What about Pagans and Humanists?

In For the Glory of God, Rodney Stark bursts the bubble for those who see pre-Christian religions and Enlightenment philosophies as somehow more humane than Christianity with regard to slavery.

He notes that no philosopher of Sumer, Babylon, or Assyria "ever protested against slavery" or expressed any sympathy for its victims.

Plato saw slaves as "lacking the mental capacity for virtue and culture" p. 326). At his death, Plato’s estate included five slaves.

Aristotle justified slavery since slaves were "more akin to brute beasts than to free men" (p. 327). "Upon his death, Aristotle’s personal property included fourteen slaves" (p. 327).

Opposition to slavery developed only among Jews (the Essene and the Therapeutae sects) and Christians.

What about men of the Enlightenment? Surely these noble humanists opposed slavery! Think again, Stark says (see p. 359-60). Stark notes that "a virtual Who’s Who of ‘Enlightenment figures fully accepted slavery" (p. 359). These included Thomas Hobbes, John Locke (he invested in the African slave trade), and Voltair (who supported the slave trade and believed in the inferiority of Africans). We can add to our list of humanist slavery supporters Baron Montesquieu, Compte de Mirabeau, and Edmund Burke (he saw abolitionists as "religious fanatics").

Stark concludes: "It was not philosophers or secular humanists who assembled the moral indictment of slavery, but the very people they held in such contempt: men and women having intense Christian faith, who opposed slavery because it was sin" (p. 360).

The end of slavery in the West did not come through the efforts of humanists but from Quakers in North America, the preaching of the aged John Wesley, and the efforts of evangelical churchmen like William Wilberforce and the "Clapham Sect" in Great Britain.
This why Jesus said, "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12).

Stark on Slavery: Christianity contrasted with Islam

Oddly enough some people want to blame the institution of slavery on Christianity. Anyone with this mistaken belief should read chapter four in Rodney Stark’s For the Glory of God ("God’s Justice: The Sin of Slavery").

Stark notes, on the contrary, that of all the world’s religions, "only in Christianity did the idea develop that slavery was sinful and must be abolished" (p. 291).

Further, Stark notes that when slavery was introduced in the New World by Europeans, its eventual abolition, "was initiated and achieved by Christian activists" (p. 291).

According to Stark, "the excesses of political correctness have all but erased awareness that slavery was once nearly universal to all societies that could afford it, and that only in the West did significant moral opposition ever arise and lead to abolition" (p. 291).

Stark attempts to "put the record straight" by sketching how "Christian theology was unique in eventually developing the abolitionist perspective" (p. 292).

For those enamoured with pre-Christian and pagan societies and religions, they should note the common practice of human slavery in the ancient world.

Those who see no differences in religions should compare the Christian view of slavery with that of Islam. Stark notes that slavery was not abolished in Saudi Arabia until 1962 and not in Mauritania until 1981 (p. 303)!

Stark also asks those who argue that slavery was less abusive in Islamic areas than in the New World to simply note "how few people of black ancestry one observes in Islamic nations, compared with the New World" (p. 304). Given that there were approximately the same number of African slaves who went to both destinations, Stark says that Islamic nations "ought to have very substantial black populations" (p. 303). Why don’t they? Stark says the answer is not infertility or castration "but because infanticide was routinely practiced on infants having black ancestry" in Islamic dominated areas (p. 304).

Why didn’t an abolition movement develop among the theologians of Islam? Stark notes that "the fundamental problem facing Muslim theologians vis-à-vis the morality of slavery is that Muhammed bought, sold, captured, and owned slaved" (p. 338).
Think of the light brought into the world by Christ, even to those who did not know him or acknowledge him as Lord!

Notes from Rodney Stark's "For the Glory of God"

The sub-title for Rodney Stark’s For the Glory of God (Princeton University Press, 2004) is How Monotheism led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the end of slavery.

This book is a refutation of Emil Durkheim’s social scientific theory that religion has merely to do with "rites and rituals" and not with what those religions actually believe about who God is. Stark corrects Durkheim by arguing that there are moral implications directly related to what one believe about who God is.

He draws two conclusions: "First, the effects of religiousness on individual morality are contingent on image of Gods as conscious, morally concerned beings; religiousness based on impersonal or amoral Gods will not influence moral choices. Second, participation in religious rites and rituals will have little or no independent effect on morality" (p. 374).

Contrary to the views of many secularists, Stark argues that it was the monotheism of Christianity that gave rise to science, limited the abuses of witch-hunts, and ended slavery (in the West). He concludes:

"Moreover, it was not the ‘wisdom of the East’ that gave rise to science, nor did Zen meditation turn people’s hearts against slavery. By the same token, science was not the work of Western secularists or even deists; it was entirely the work of devout believers in an active, conscious, creator God. And it was faith in the goodness of this same God and in the mission of Jesus that led other devout Christians to end slavery, first in medieval Europe and then again in the new world" (p. 376).

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Call to Counter-Cultural Christianity

A follow-up reflection on Sam Waldron’s Baptist Roots in America:

Waldron notes that although Calvinists (and Calvinistic Baptists, in particular) promoted and encouraged religious liberty in America, the rise of the American democratic spirit, in turn, led to the decline of Calvinism in American Churches (Baptists included).

In his closing call for contemporary Reformed Baptist churches to be "counter-cultural" Waldron notes the exposure of "a fundamental tension between the spirit of American democracy and the spirit of Biblical Calvinism" (see pp. 41-43).

He continues:

"Together with much that was good, sound, and even Biblical, there was mixed the little ‘leaven’ of a political philosophy fundamentally the same as that which spawned the French Revolution. Though long restrained and moderated by the vigorously Christian environment, in which it was planted, it blossomed in an increasingly general hostility to biblical Calvinism. Now its fruit is ripening in an America largely dominated by secular humanism and its radical separation of church and state."

Reformed Baptists must face the fact that "they are a counter-culture." Any insistence "on the electing grace and authoritative law of an absolutely sovereign God must seem un-American to their neighbors! In a certain sense it will be!" He adds, "Only sovereign grace can make a 20th century American a Christian."

Waldron concludes:

"Any church, therefore, determined to preach and practice the whole counsel of God in American today must be ready for war. It must be ready to be called many things by those who believe in autonomous freedom and worship at the shrine of individual liberty! Even those who should know better may be alienated by the spirit of the age. Yet the war is not un-winnable…. The secret of winning the war is not compromise with the spirit of this age. It is uncompromising obedience to God which holds the promise of his blessing."

Review: Baptist Roots in America

I recently read Samuel Waldron’s little booklet Baptist Roots in America: The Historical Background of Reformed Baptists in America (Simpson Publishing, 1991). Waldron wrote the book to provide a historical context for the rise of Reformed Baptist Churches in the last 30-40 years.

The booklet has three primary chapters and a conclusion:

I. The Rise of Particular Baptists in America.

His basic thesis is that the early Baptists (pre-1900) were Calvinistic (Reformed), coming out of the English Particular Baptists movement and the Great Awakening. Their guiding confession of faith was the Second London Baptist Confession (1689), a Baptistic revision of the Westminster Confession and the Savoy Declaration. This Confession was adopted (along with two extra articles) by Baptists in America in the influential Philadelphia Baptist Confession of 1742.

II. The Decline of Particular Baptists in America.

Next, Waldron asks, "What happened?" (p. 9). How did early Calvinistic Baptist churches become so doctrinally shallow and Arminian? Waldron traces seven major factors:

1. The American, Democratic Ethos.

"There was something in the political philosophy associated with the American Revolution which was profoundly antithetical to Calvinism. There was something in the Baptist alliance with the likes of Thomas Jefferson which did not bode well for the future" (p. 10).

2. Revivalism.

3. Methodism.

4. Inclusivism.

By this Waldron means an effort to downplay the doctrinal divide between Arminian ("free will") and Reformed Baptists.

5. Hyper-Calvinism.

The "Hard-shell" views of men like Daniel Parker (1781-1844) led to "passivism in the Christian life and the rejection of evangelistic effort" (p. 22), placing the doctrines of grace in a distorted light.

6. Modernism.

Liberalism began to creep in after the Civil War, and by the 20th century "it was a flood of heresy among Baptists" (p. 25).

7. The Fundamentalist movement.

Waldron notes three harmful tendencies here: (1) dangerous reduction of focus to a few "fundamentals" that downplayed doctrines of grace; (2) domination of Dispensational Premillenialism; (3) Kewick focus on "higher life," a modification of Wesleyan perfectionism rooted in "a Pelagianizing view of sin."

Some of the ill byproducts here included "Easy-believism" and the teaching of "Carnal Christian Theory" (p. 28).

III. The Rise of Reformed Baptists in America.

Waldron cites the popularity of the writings of C. H. Spurgeon and A. W. Pink; the founding of Westminster Seminary; and the Banner of Truth’s reprinting of Puritan literature as influences that have led to the contemporary reclamation of the Particular Baptist tradition in America.

IV. Concluding Observations.

Waldron closes by describing "the counter-cultural character of the Reformed Baptist movement in America" (p. 41).

He urges Baptists to beware the dangers of "anti-creedalism" which "opened the door to Arminianism and made it impossible to shut the door against Modernism" (p. 43).

He also warns against falling into "hyper-Calvinism": "The cult of five-pointism must be avoided" (p. 45).

Closing Reflection:

Waldron has given us some keen insights on understanding not just the state of Baptists in America but of evangelicalism in general. Every Virginia Baptist, in particular, should read this booklet. True to Waldron’s thesis, Calvinistic Virginia Baptists (born of the merger of Regular and Separate Baptists in the early 19th century) loosened their doctrinal convictions in the post Civil War era. One can clearly trace this if he goes back and reads the articles in the Religious Herald, the newspaper of Virginia Baptists. J. B. Jeter was the last Calvinistic editor of the Religious Herald. With the transition to R. H. Pitt a period of doctrinal decline was hastened. Pitt used the pages of the Herald, for example, to speak out against the adoption of the Baptist Faith and Message in 1925 (the SBC answer to the fundamentalist-modernist controversy). "Freedom" became more important than "purity." "Anti-creedalism" has led to liberalism.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Jefferson, Calvinism, and the Roots of American Religious Liberty

Some more thoughts churned up by the comments posted on Pagan Evangelism. In that conversation, I made the following comment: "By the way, how do we think our nation arrived at this position where there is freedom of religious expression? It came through the influence of Christians in the nation's founding." I immediately received a number of reprimands. Here are a few:
  • In fact, it has always been my understanding, from my US History studies, that the establishment clause of the 1st amendment was influenced most by the Deistic members of the Continental Congress. Men like Ethan Allen, Thomas Paine, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson, among others. Okay, it's debatable as to whether Jefferson was really a Deist, but he did coin the term "separation of church and state."
  • Sorry, but this statement is contradicted by historical fact. Deists such as Jefferson, Madison, Washington, et al., saw so much violence and intolerance engendered by the various Christian sects in Europe that they realized that a secular nation was the only form in which this country could endure.
  • While the majority of individuals in our nation are Christians, this nation wasn't founded upon Christianity, but upon the Enlightenment, which included an explicit rejection of the idea that certain religions should be given special consideration by the government.This is the nation you are living in. It is a secular one, and has been since day one. Much like your hypothetical Christian in India, you are a stranger in a strange land (you just have a rather large expat community here with you.)
  • The singular mistake you continue to make is that the founding law of this country was based on Christian principles, bound by Christian law, and answerable to the Christian God -- and this is entirely wrong. The Founders instituted freedom of religion not in the least to ensure freedom from religion, and to ensure that the bloody internecine warfare of the 16th and 17th century did not repeat itself in the New World.
  • To say Christianity was behind this is a pretty wild distortion.
  • Now, return to the question at hand. It is not "What influenced the Founders?" It's "What's responsible for religious toleration in the US?" And I'll eat my hat if the answer "Christianity is responsible for religious toleration in the US" is anything but a half-truth at best and a lie at worst.I fully grant that early America was super-religious and super-Christian. Now, if you want to show that religious toleration comes from Christianity, from the hyper-Calvinists and Anglicans and Methodists, then go ahead. I'll admit William Penn as a religious defender of toleration, but you can't exactly chalk up the radical social doctrines of Quakers to Christianity. I'll stand by my claim of religious toleration coming from highly unorthodox Christians and Christianity-denying Enlightenment figures.

Those who live in Charlottesville might appreciate taking a stroll through Court Square and reading the historic marker there which notes Thomas Jefferson’s role in the 1777 organization of a "Calvinistical Reformed Church" led by Rev. Charles Clay and meeting in the County Courthouse. Notice also that it was a member of this Calvinistic congregation, Col. John Harvie, who introduced Jefferson’s Bill for Religious Freedom in the Virginia Legislature in 1777. Note also how Jefferson referred to the Courthouse as a "common temple" and was proud of its use each Sunday by no less than four Protestant churches in turn.

Why did religious freedom arise in America? Was it because of free-thinking Deists or was it because of committed, Scripture saturated Christians?

For more photos from Charlottesville’s Court Square, check out this photo album.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

If there is no God why be good?

Colorado Christian education activist Kevin Swanson devoted a couple of his recent "Generations" radio programs to the resurgence of atheism. In one he traces the rise of atheism (listen here) and in the second he asks some great questions about why atheism necessarily does away with morality (listen here). If there is no God, why be good?
Given some recent conversations on this blog about the Christian heritage of our nation, you might also want to listen to his interview with Doug Phillips of Vision Forum on the 400th Anniversary of Jamestown (listen here).

The Excellency of Christ

Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) is perhaps best known for his sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," but I recently read another message of his titled, "The Excellency of Christ" (read the whole message here) in which the renowned preacher of the Great Awakening reflects on the meekness and majesty of Christ as expressed in his birth:

And though his infinite condescension thus appeared in the manner of his incarnation, yet his divine dignity also appeared in it; for though he was conceived in the womb of a poor virgin, yet he was conceived there by the power of the Holy Ghost. And his divine dignity also appeared in the holiness of his conception and birth. Though he was conceived in the womb of one of the corrupt race of mankind, yet he was conceived and born without sin; as the angel said to the blessed Virgin, Luke 1:35. "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee, therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God."

His infinite condescension marvelously appeared in the manner of his birth. He was brought forth in a stable because there was no room for them in the inn. The inn was taken up by others, that were looked upon as persons of greater account. The Blessed Virgin, being poor and despised, was turned or shut out. Though she was in such necessitous circumstances, yet those that counted themselves her betters would not give place to her; and therefore, in the time of her travail, she was forced to betake herself to a stable; and when the child was born, it was wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. There Christ lay a little infant, and there he eminently appeared as a lamb.

But yet this feeble infant, born thus in a stable, and laid in a manger, was born to conquer and triumph over Satan, that roaring lion. He came to subdue the mighty powers of darkness, and make a show of them openly, and so to restore peace on earth, and to manifest God's good-will towards men, and to bring glory to God in the highest, according as the end of his birth was declared by the joyful songs of the glorious hosts of angels appearing to the shepherds at the same time that the infant lay in the manger; whereby his divine dignity was manifested.

Merry Christmas!

In the Lamb, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Leaf Raking and Christmas Photos

I've posted two new photo albums with pictures of leaf raking at JPBC last Saturday (view here) and our children's Christmas Pageant last Sunday evening (view here).

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Hanging Out With Jerry

Been meaning to post this picture of me and Jerry Falwell taken by my friend Sheri on her cell phone. My family was invited to go with a couple of other JPBC families to Thomas Road BC's Christmas program "spectacular" (deserving of another post in its own right) back on December 8th. Jerry was up front after the program, so I chatted with him for a moment. It might surprise some to know that he was oblivious to the whole Albemarle Co. Pagan flyer broo-ha-ha. When I asked what he thought of the fact that the School Board was allowing pagan flyers as well as Christian ones, he responded: "That's fine with me, as long as they allow Christians to do the same. Let our ideas compete with theirs. Ours are based on the truth, and we will win out in the end."

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Half Dozen or More Responses to an Atheist

One of the recent comments (from someone posting as "C. Lewis") on the ever-popular "Pagan Evangelism" post had this to say:

By all means, do abandon the public school system to only those tolerant of the beliefs or lack thereof of others. :)
It would make school time much less stressful for everyone all around. The students would no longer need to be concerned about what the followers of some fictional deity think of their beliefs or behavior. Teachers wouldn't need to worry about what strange things a "christian" might do to appease his or her imaginary friend, "Jesus". Besides which, closed minds are infamously difficult to educate.
If my imaginary friend, We'll call him "Thor" is as real to me as your imaginary friend, "Jesus", and if my imaginary friend has been worshipped as long as yours has and by as many people, and if the government says that my belief in him is as much a religion as your belief in "Jesus" is, then my religion is just as valid as yours, and there's not a darned thing that you can do about it.
Except of course to console yourself, as "christians" always do, by talking to your imaginary friend and reading what some other people wrote about him a thousand years ago and convincing yourself that your imaginary friend is the really truly right imaginary friend to believe in.
Whether you're alone in your room or in a building full of people who share your belief, when you pray the only ones who hear you are yourselves. Who cares if a pagan wants to pray to a different deity? It only matters in the mythology of Christianity, an out dated compendium of stories, myths, legends and hear say.
If anyone is so mentally confused that they believe that mythology is factually true, they have no place in the public school system. Except perhaps in Special Ed.

Not long after reading this post, I was struck by Brooke Gladstone's NPR report last Friday on the "new atheist offensive" (listen here). See also Al Mohler’s recent blog post on "The New Atheism?"

Here’s a reply to "Lewis":

To C. Lewis (Not to be confused with C. S. Lewis whom one hopes C. Lewis might read someday),

So, there is no God. Christianity (and other forms of theism, for that matter) are just examples of mass psychological delusion. Our God is just an "imaginary" friend.

Here are a half dozen or more responses to consider:

1. An analogy.

Suppose you came to a village where the inhabitants claim that a certain virus has infiltrated the village. The reports indicate that once a person contracts this virus it completely changes his behavior and life. He begins to speak, act, and even think differently. The virus seems to spread from person to person, though some seem never to get it. You also learn that if a person who has the virus travels to another village that many people in that village will also begin to develop the same virus. In fact you learn that the spread of the virus is a global phenomenon, crossing all boundaries of race, culture, and language.

One day a person in the village, who considers himself to be very enlightened and who does not have the virus, makes an announcement in the town square. "Listen people," he smugly states, "there is no virus." He continues, "This is just a figment of your imagination. You are just fooling yourself. I know you all claim to have these symptoms, but since I myself do not have them, it is plainly obvious that no one has them. Wake up people! The virus is a myth!"

Those who have the virus look at each other puzzled and then go about their business. "If he ever gets the virus, he’ll know the truth. But for now he’s in the dark."

2. Another analogy.

John was born blind. His sighted parents, family, and friends were constantly describing to him all the things they saw. They tried to convey to him the greenness of grass, the yellow of corn, the red of a sunset. One day, John called his family and friends together and announced, "I have come to the conclusion that all of you are fools! There is no such thing as color. That much is as plain as the nose on my face. If there were such a thing as color then I could see it or you could at least explain it to me in a way I could understand."
His family listened patiently as John spoke. "Maybe one day John will be able to have a surgery that can repair his blinded eyes and he will be able to see what we see. Till then we must be patient with him, because he just does not understand."

3. Have you ever considered the teleological argument for the existence of God?

4. Have you ever considered the ontological argument for the existence of God?

5. Have you ever considered the cosomological argument for the existence of God? Of course, none of these rational arguments for theism is ultimately satisfying for a Christian, who must move on to belief in God as Trinity.

6. Have you ever considered Pascal’s Wager? This is not my favorite argument but it’s worth considering.

It goes like this: If I say the God of the Bible is true and you say there is no such thing, we have two possibilities. Either you are right and I am wrong, or you are wrong and I am right.

Possibility one: If you are right, and I am wrong, then you and I come to the end of our lives, we die, and pass into the oblivion of non-existence. At the least, I can claim that my life has been more rich and fulfilling by following a Biblical lifestyle of loving God and loving my neighbor as myself.

Possibility two: If you are wrong, and I am right, then you and I come to the end of our lives, we die, and we pass into the presence of the God of the Bible. At the end of the ages, we receive our resurrection bodies and stand before a righteous and holy God. Our lives on earth are evaluated by one standard: Did we come to believe in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation from God’s wrath for our sin? (see Matthew 10:32-33). You pass into hell where you will experience eternal conscious suffering for your sin under the just wrath of God, and I pass into heaven where my eternal vocation will be enjoying God and giving him glory, because of the saving work of Christ.

Do you want to bet your eternity that you are right and I am wrong?
7. Have you every considered the fundamental difference between a religion based on mythology (the "Thor" you mentioned) and one based in a historical person (like Jesus of Nazareth)?
8. Have you ever pondered why followers of Jesus had such a major impact on world history over such a short period of time? Were the apostles and martyrs of the early church merely delusional? As one wag said, "Who in the first century would have guessed that two thousand years late people would name their dogs Nero and Caesar and their children Peter and Paul?"

9. Consider also Psalm 14:1: "The fool has said in his heart, there is no God" (cf. also Psalm 53:1).

Might your situation of spiritual blindness be like that described by Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4?:
"But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them."
10. Have you ever wondered why Christians meet your insults with prayer for your conversion and salvation?


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Ten Ways in Which a Christian Woman Treats Her Husband

This was our second handout in the "Foundations for Christian Family" Class at JPBC last Sunday:

1. She follows his lead and responds to his initiative. When he offers leadership in the family, she does not resist or belittle his efforts but intelligently follows. This does not mean that she blindly follows him into sin.

2. She offers him respect and admiration. She knows that most men have a deep need to be looked up to by their families and especially by their wives. She finds qualities in him that are praiseworthy and focuses on those.

3. Her words build him up. She does not put him down with her words. She does not nag him.

4. She puts his needs above her own.

5. She honors and respects him as a man.

6. She is willing to forgive him when he makes mistakes. She does not keep a record of his past wrongs and periodically remind him of them.

7. She prefers him above all other men.

8. She does not resent her role in the family.

9. She compliments him and expresses gratitude for the things he does.

10. She does not let the sun go down on her anger.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Ten Ways in Which a Christian Man Treats His Wife

Last Sunday, we had our second "Foundations for Christian Family" class in the Sunday School hour (9:30-10:30 am) at JPBC. We talked about the roles of men and women in marriage and family. Here are ten ways a Christian man is to treat his wife:
1. He takes responsibility for the family. If things do not go well in any area, he does not blame her but first examines himself and accepts full responsibility. He knows that the buck stops with him.

2. He takes the initiative. He does not sit back and wait for his wife to take charge. For example, if a problem arises, he readily admits when he has made a mistake and asks for forgiveness.
3. He speaks kindly. He does not raise his voice. He does not ignore her questions. He does not put down her ideas. He listens to her and values her counsel.

4. He puts her needs above his own and those of others. He does not think first of what is best for himself. He thinks first of what is best for his family. He spends time with her. He does not insist in having things done his way.
5. He makes sacrifices for her. With money, for example, he spends less on himself so that she can have more.

6. He respects her and treats her as a woman. If he is sitting, he gets up when she walks into the room. He opens doors for her. He lifts heavy things for her. When they go somewhere in a car, he usually drives.

7. He leads the family in spiritual things. He leads the family in prayer and Bible reading. He makes sure the family attends church meetings.

8. He prefers her above other women. He is careful not to pay undue attention to other women. He does not compare her to other women. He does not have close friendships or long, private conversations with other women. She knows he only has eyes for her.

9. He compliments her and expresses gratitude to her for the things she does.

10. He does not let the sun go down on his anger. He never goes to bed at night with a conflict unsettled or leaves the home in anger.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Masterpiece of the Holy Spirit

I read a sermon this week preached by the "Prince of Preachers" Charles H. Spurgeon in London on Sunday, June 17, 1855. The message, "The Power of the Holy Spirit," was based on Romans 15:13. At one point, Spurgeon speaks of the power of God in creation and of the Holy Spirit’s special power in creating Jesus in the womb of Mary:

We have seen some of his works in creation. But there was one particular instance of creation in which the Holy Spirit was more especially concerned; viz., the formation of the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though our Lord Jesus Christ was born of a woman, and made in the likeness of sinful flesh, yet, the power that begat him was entirely in God the Holy Spirit—as the Scriptures express it, "The Holy One of Israel shall overshadow thee." He was begotten, as the Apostles' Creed says, begotten of the Holy Ghost. "That holy thing which is born of thee shall be called the Son of the Highest." The corporeal frame of the Lord Jesus Christ was a masterpiece of the Holy Spirit. I suppose his body to have excelled all others in beauty; to have been like that of the first man, the very pattern of what the body is to be in heaven, when it shall shine forth in all its glory. That fabric, in all its beauty and perfection, was modeled by the Spirit. "In his book were all the members written, when as yet there were none of them." He fashioned and formed him; and here again we have another instance of the creative energy of the Spirit.

Let’s not forget that December 25 is not the birthdate of Jesus. If a Christian is to discover any meaning in the holiday madness, it will come in quiet contemplation of the mysterious goodness and power of God in the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

An Ancient Witness to the Brutality of Paganism

One of the interesting things about my recent dialogue with self-described "Pagans" or "Neo-pagans" on this blog is their naïve view that pre-Christian human religions were somehow ethically and morally superior to Biblical Christianity. Of course, their worldview has no place for understanding human depravity, sinfulness, and the bondage of the will. Nor do they comprehend the light and hope the Christian movement brought to mankind.

Christian missionaries, pastors, and laymen preaching the gospel and teaching the Bible brought an end to the inhumane suffering of men and beasts in the Roman gladiatorial games, the aborting and abandoning of children in ancient garbage dumps, the binding of women’s feet in China, the burning of widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands in India, and the end of man’s enslavement of man in the Western world (Slavery still happens in some Muslim dominated areas—but there is little outcry by enlightened liberals against the "religion of peace" for this.).

Look at Julius Caesar’s description of the Druids in Gaul in 54 B. C.:

As a nation the Gauls are extremely superstitious; and so persons suffering from serious diseases, as well as those who are exposed to the perils of battle, offer, or vow to offer, human sacrifices, for the performance of which they employ Druids. They believe that the only way of saving a man’s life is to propitiate the gods' wrath by rendering another life in its place, and they have regular state sacrifices of the same kind. Some tribes have colossal images made of wickerwork, the limbs of which they fill with living men; they are then set on fire, and the victims burnt to death. They think that the gods prefer the execution of men taken in the act of theft or brigandage, or guilty of some offence; but when they run short of criminals, they do not hesitate to make up with innocent men (source: Jon E. Lewis, Ed., Mammoth Book of Eyewitness Ancient Rome, pp. 90-91).

Is this one of the "pagan rituals" we want to teach our children?

For a keen reflection on the "salt and light" influence of Christianity and the blessing it has been to humanity throughout history, see also the sermon by Scottish preacher David P. Murray, "What made Great Britain Great?" This message is also a tremendous warning to our nation and perhaps a prophecy of what lies ahead for American evangelicals.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Knox on Deborah

Been meaning to post this.

Back in October, I preached on the presentation of Deborah in Judges 4, rejecting the naïve interpretation of Deborah as a proto-feminist (listen to the sermon, Deborah: Feminist Icon or Reluctant Leader?).

In the days after the message, I read the great Scottish Reformer John Knox’s "The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women" (read it here) in which he rejects women as rulers in home, church, or, state. His polemic was aimed at his nemesis, Queen Mary ("that cursed Jezebel").

"The First Blast" was part one of an intended three part series that was never completed. Knox presented part one as an anonymous work fearing arrest for treason, but he intended to reveal his name after publication of the third blast.

This work is certainly no favorite of feminists.

At the close, Knox anticipates objections to his argument, noting that his opponents will be quick to raise the example of Deborah as a woman in civil leadership in Scripture.

How does Knox respond? First, he notes that the story of Deborah (and also Huldah) is really about the sovereignty of God. The Deborah account does not establish a "common law" but, "The causes were known to God alone, why he took the spirit of wisdom and force from all men of those ages; and did mightily assist women against nature, and against his ordinary course…. With these women, I say, did God work potently and miraculously; yea to them he gave most singular grace and privilege."

He continues, "For God (being free) may, for such causes are approved by his inscrutable wisdom, dispense with the rigors of his law, and may use his creatures at his pleasure. But the same power is not permitted to man…."

According to Knox God raised up Deborah to expose the spiritual weakness of Israel’s men: He did so partly "to advance and notify the power of his majesty" and "partly he did it to confound and shame all men of that age, because they had for the most part declined from his true obedience. And therefore was the spirit of courage, regiment, and boldness taken from them for a time to their confusion and further humiliation."

He further notes the humility of Deborah’s leadership, that "she usurps to herself neither power nor authority…. No she spoils herself of no power to command, attributing that authority to God."
What would Knox say about the lack of gender role distinction in contemporary society?


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Foundations for Christian Family: Part 1

Last Sunday morning I began a 13 week Bible Study on Sunday mornings at JPBC (Adult Sunday School) on Foundations for Christian Family. Here are my notes from the first session:

Part 1: Family in the Bible

Family is God’s idea. It is not man-made. It is the first institution created by God, and it was created before sin (Gen 3).

1. Family in the Old Testament:

God created mankind as male and female (Gen 1:27).

God created marriage as one man and one woman living together in a covenant commitment lasting a lifetime (see Gen 2:24).

God blessed the family with children (see Gen 1:28 and the command to be fruitful and multiply). In this way we mirror the creativity of God (see Gen 5:1-3).

Sin damaged God’s ideal for marriage and family. Mankind was cursed (see Gen 3:16-19). Brothers fought against each other (see Gen 4:9). Men took more than one wife (see Gen 16:1-3). Sexual perversion increased (see the homosexual lust in Sodom in Gen 19:4-5; the incest of Lot and his daughters in Gen 19:31-32; the adultery of David in 2 Sam 11:2-5).

Still God preserved the original goodness of marriage and family as a place where people can grow in godliness and in knowledge of the Lord (see Deut 6:4-9; Ecc 4:9-12).

At close of OT we have a vision for the restoration of family in Malachi 4:5-6.

2. Family in the New Testament:

Jesus was born into a family with a mother, (step) father, and (later) brothers and sisters (see Mark 6:3).

Jesus also said that he must have first place. Our commitment to him is above our commitment to family (see Matt 10:34-39; Mark 3:31-35).

But Jesus affirmed marriage (see Matthew 19:1-6).

Note in the early church that whole households came to faith in Christ (see Acts 16:15, 32-33).
See also the "household codes" of the NT (Ephesians 5:22-6:9; Col 3:18-4:1).

Note, however, that marriage is not for everyone (see 1 Cor 7:1-2, 7). Some have the gift of celibacy; others never find one to whom it is proper to be yoked. Better to be single and wish to be married than married and wish to be single. Jesus was single and singleness will be our eternal state.

3. Family and Discipleship.

Family is a workshop or laboratory of discipleship. It is where we learn about servant leadership, sacrifice, self-denial, and loving enemies.

Family is there to protect us from sin. It provides an environment for the next generation of believers to be raised up. Satan hates the family and will try to corrupt it. See C. J. Mahaney’s sermon "Cravings and Conflicts" on James 4:1-6 at SBTS chapel (10/26/06).

Pulpit Guardian: Sermon Filter System

Sacred Sandwich is at it again. Check out the ad for this new product you may want to add to your Christmas list if you attend an emergent church. Thanks for the link, Steve. I love the note at the bottom: "Some emergent sermons may not play at all."
Smiles, JTR

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Former JPBCer clerking at Supreme Court

The Daily Progress has an article this morning about a record number of UVA law grads clerking for the Supreme Court. Among those listed is David Bragdon (clerking for Clarence Thomas). David and his wife Ellen were active members at JPBC during their UVA sojourn. David is also a P.K. (Preacher's Kid--his Dad served Shiloh BC in King George, VA). Congrats to David on this honor!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Tips from Beeke on Time Management

While at the ETS Meeting I ran into Joel Beeke, Pastor of Heritage Netherlands Reformed Church and President of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. I ended up buying two of his books, Meet the Puritans (Reformation Heritage, 2006) and Striving Against Satan (Bryntirion Press, 2006). In addition to being a pastor and scholar, Beeke is also an entrepreneur!

The Striving book is based on lectures Beeke gave in 2004 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle Church in London. I have already read that one and was greatly encouraged by it.

We had thought of inviting Beeke to speak at the Evangelical Forum. I discovered that our best chance of getting him was 2010. He noted that 2009 will be the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth and that lots of events will take place around that time, so his dance card is getting full.

I am impressed at how productive this man is. He is a pastor, a seminary President, author, editor and speaker. I asked him how he is able to do so much.

His answer: First, he said he had a good wife who supported him. Second, he said he does not watch television. Third, he does not surf the internet.


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Happy Holidays? Pagan Evangelism

A JPBC member showed me this flyer that was sent home this week with students from a local elementary school in Albemarle County, Virginia.
Two observations:
First, note the zeal of pagans to "take back" Christmas.
Second, the fact that the school board allowed this notice to be sent home points out the difficulty of allowing religious expression in public schools (probably part of the reason this notice was sent) in a pluralistic society. If the school allows the Baptist or Methodist church to send home a note to its students about Vacation Bible School, it also has to allow the Unitarian Church to send home a note about its "Pagan ritual to celebrate Yule." Conservative Christians who want to "put prayer back in school" had better realize that it might not always be a Christian who is leading the prayers. This kind of note adds weight to the argument that it is high time for Christians to leave public schools for reasonable alternatives (homeschooling and private Christian schools).

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Understanding our Jerusalem

" shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
Been meaning to make this observation since the November election. Though the marriage ammendment passed by a margin of 58% to 42% in Virginia, it is interesting to note the figures for our county and city. In Albemarle County the Marriage Ammendment failed with 14,549 voting yes and 20,741 voting no. In the city of Charlottesville, it failed with 2,670 yes and 8,942 no. In the Jefferson Park voting precinct, where our church's meeting house is located, the count was 532 yes and 1,352 no.
Observations: First, our church has a wonderful opportunity to stand for gospel and Biblical truth in this Jerusalem. Second, what would these figures mean if we wanted to go with a "felt needs" approach to ministry? Would we avoid talking about the Biblical standards for marriage as one man and one woman? Would we avoid denunciation of cohabitation since "everybody's doing it" and folk would not likely come to our church if we were overt in our opposition to such?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Prayer Request for Paul Washer and Schedule Change

Dear friends,

I have some bad news.

I got a call last night from Dr. Nathan Berry an associate with HeartCry Missionary Society telling me that Paul Washer had been admitted to the hospital in Muscle Shoals, AL with severe chest pains yesterday afternoon. They are running tests to determine what is going on. In light of this, Paul will not be able to be with us this week as planned. Please be in prayer for Paul and his family (he has two preschool age children and his wife is expecting their third child). Dr. Berry (who also happens to be a physician) was very apologetic for the cancellation. I, of course, told Nathan that Paul's health was our primary concern and that our doctrine would compel us to see this as God's perfect will. We also see the goodness of God in the fact that this took place before Paul set off to drive to Virginia today.

I talked with Brian Davis last night on the phone. We considered getting another speaker at last minute, but decided not to do that. Instead, we plan to proceed with the special Wednesday evening meal and then view a video of Paul Washer's best known sermon delivered at a Youth Evangelism Conference in 2002. It is a very powerful message that has been downloaded over 36,000 times online. We will not meet on Thursday-Saturday.

I know that some of you have prayed much for this series of meetings and that you have already invited unsaved friends to come to hear the gospel. I pray that this will not dull your zeal for evangelism!

As they used to say when I was on the mission field, sometimes life call for "flexibility to the point of liquidity"!

Again, most key, please keep Paul and his family in your prayers.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Monday, November 27, 2006

Paul Washer Coming to JPBC

Paul Washer is coming to preach at Jefferson Park this week. Paul will preach each evening at 6:00 pm, Wednesday through Sunday (November 29-December 3). He will also preach in our Sunday morning service at 10:45 am.
Paul leads Heartcry Missionary Society. His sermon "Shocking Youth Message Stuns Hearers" which he gave to 5,000 youth at a Youth Conference in Alabama 2002 has been downloaded over 36,000 times at Click here to listen (or watch, there is video of the message online now too).
Paul is a combination of prophet and evangelist.
Plan to come hear him preach at JPBC.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

My two year old Isaiah as a Pilgrim, at the JPBC Preschool Thanksgiving feast today. Behind him is a table full of "Indian" guests.


Pilgrim Separatists

In last Sunday’s message on Judges 7, we reflected on God’s whittling down of the army of Israel from 32,000 to a mere 300 men through whom the battle would be won. The key point is when the Lord says to Gideon: "The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me’" (v. 2).

At the end I drew a parallel to the small band of Pilgrims coming to America:

This week we will celebrate Thanksgiving. Who would have thought when a group of a mere 102 passengers set sail on a cramped vessel called the Mayflower on August 22, 1620 for a perilous journey across the wild Atlantic that God would use them to establish a nation that would be a beacon of light and religious liberty. We now speak reverentially of those passengers as the Pilgrims, but their contemporaries called them "Separatists." Their fellow Englishmen ridiculed their desire to live separate from the world and the compromised Christianity of their day in the Church of England. They thought of them as religious fanatics, or as we might say today, "fundamentalists." God is pleased to do great things through slender means.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

2006 ETS Reflections Continued

ETS is the largest gathering of evangelical scholars, pastors, and students, probably in the world. There were literally hundreds of papers delivered in parallel sessions along with several larger plenary sessions.

Baptist Press has an article on ETS’ adoption of a more clearly definition of inerrancy as a test for membership in the society and an article on Wayne Grudem’s presentation in which he offers an evangelical evaluation of George Bush’s presidency and concludes it has been good. Though the general theme was "Christians in the Public Square" papers were presented on many topics.

Which did I go to?

I got there late Wednesday, so I missed all of that day’s sessions, though I went with Marcus, et al to Capital Hill Baptist Church for their Wednesday evening inductive Bible Study led by Mark Dever on I Corinthians 1:4-10. Mark led an open discussion on whether or not denominations are bad. Reminded me of our covering of the topic recently in Body Life.

Thursday morning I went to Bruce Ware’s session on the Trinity in the "Gender and Evangelicals Study Group." Ware and Grudem have been criticized by some, like Australian Anglican Kevin Giles, for their views on the Trinity as supporting the complementarian views of men and women (ontological equality and functional distinction, but not mutual submission, a la the egalitarian view of the Trinity).

I then went to a very engaging presentation by Dennis M. Swanson of the Master’s Seminary on "Charles H. Spurgeon and the Ministries of the Metropolitan Tabernacle: A Model for Evangelical Action." He noted that Spurgeon’s view of man’s sinfulness led him to see the answer to societal ills in preaching the gospel to individuals rather than attempting to change social structures.

Next I went to Dan Heimbach’s (of SEBTS) presentation on "Rethinking Natural Law." The upshot: If you want to talk to a modern pagan about why you oppose gay marriage the best answer is just to appeal to the Bible rather than try to appeal to natural law (which the postmodern pagan does not accept anyway).

Thursday afternoon I went to the session by Bill Wilder (fellow UTS NT PhD grad from the Center for Christian Study here in C-ville) on Paul’s use of Psalm 68 in Ephesians 4:8.
I also went to John Makujina’s paper in the Apologetics Study group in which he gave an excellent critique and rebuttal of John Shelby Spong’s "The Sins of Scripture."

In the late afternoon, we went to the plenary session by John Piper (the Crossway Lecture) on "William Tyndale and the Vernacular Bible." The hall was packed and Piper did not disappoint. He contrasted the Erasmian quality of much modern scholarship and church talk (playful, light, clever, flippant, a la some emerging church folk) with the "blood earnest," gospel saturated life of the martyr Tyndale.

After the Thursday banquet we went to a private meeting held by the Bethlehem Institute with about 40 men including Bethlehem interns and guests with John Piper. The discussion ranged from missions, to whether J. Edwards’ view of justification is orthodox (you should have been there when one participant said he had come not to like Edwards very much!).

Friday morning we came back in, looked at the book exhibit, and I did my paper, "A Theological Critique of Multi-Site Ministry." I had a good audience and got encouraging feedback. Mark Overstreet of Criswell College was the moderator for the session. I hope to post the paper on the JPBC website soon.

I left Friday afternoon to meet my family in Woodbridge. On Saturday, we went to former JPBC member and UVA student Sondra Smith’s wedding to Eric Williams at Mt. Olivet Baptist Church in Beaverdam, VA.

Again, I do not usually travel much but the last two weeks have been busy. Thankfully we are home for Thanksgiving this year with all Llewellyn’s clan coming up from Sanford to spend the holiday with us.


2006 ETS Meeting Reflections

Playing catch up.
I don't travel that much in the course of a year, but I've been on the road a lot lately. I went up to Washington, D.C. for the 2006 Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) Wednesday-Friday (November 15-17) at the Washinton Hilton.
I stayed with former JPBC-er Marcus Deel at his inlaws' house in Chantilly along with two of Marcus' fine fellow SBTS MDiv students, Oren and Matthew. We drove into DC in the mornings, stayed till late in the night, and drove back to the suburbs. Lauren's parents gave us great hospitality in their lovely home! Here are a few pics, including one of Marcus, Oren, and Matthew in Chantilly; the three of them reading (one of the best thing about ETS is the huge book display with 50% discounts the norm--tough on the pocketbooks of pastors, scholars and students; you wonder how many wives get bent out of shape when the visa bill for books come!); and one of Marcus and I just after I gave my paper Friday morning.

Monday, November 13, 2006

2006 Evangelical Forum Update

The fifth annual Evangelical Forum was held on Wednesday, November 8th at the Green Run Baptist Church in Virginia Beach. For more photos from the meeting, look here. Tom Nettles and Andy Davis gave four outstanding presentations around our theme of "The Place of Doctrine in the Life of the Local Church."

Changes are in the works for next year that might include a new name for this ministry and a new meeting time for our annual gathering. More details TBA. Also hope to get the audio files online soon.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Gideon Parable

Last Sunday I began a four part series on the life of Gideon in Judges 6-8 (listen to part one here).
I gave a lot of focus to Judges 6:13 in which Gideon challenges God's goodness (why then has all this happened to us?) and God's greatness (where are all His miracles?). Gideon ends in v. 13 by charging God with having forsaken Israel (But now the Lord has forsaken us....) and having delivered them into the hands of the Midianites. Again he appears completely tone deaf to the voice of God. He is accusing God of forsaking Israel in the midst of God intervening to rescue them!!!
Consider this parable:

Imagine driving down the road one day and coming upon an accident. To your horror you recognize the mangled vehicle as being that of your beloved teenage son. Just that morning you had given him a lecture on safe driving because you had noticed his tendency toward carelessness behind the wheel.

You rush to the car and manage to unhook his safety belt and pull him out of the vehicle to safety just as gas spilling from the ruptured fuel tank busts into flames engulfing the car in flames. As you reach out to embrace your precious son, he pushes you away and sneers: "This is all your fault! Why did you ever let me out on the road? If you had been driving this would never have happened!"
The words of Gideon here have something of the tone of this ungrateful son.

Chantry on Forgiveness

Another memorable Scripture commentary from Walter Chantry in the Banner of Truth (July 2004 issue) is the one in which he examines the strained relationship between David and Saul in 1 Samuel 26. Chantry rejects a cheap, unbiblical view of forgiveness:

In Luke 17:3-4 Jesus taught, ‘If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you saying, "I repent", you shall forgive him’.

Readiness to forgive those who say, ‘I repent’ is a duty. To put the matter behind one’s back and to see no further judicial recourse for an injury from that moment is required to those who forgive. However, the repair of trust when broken is not so easily accomplished. Nor is it required that anyone expose himself to further injury after he has been seriously and repeatedly hurt by the hands of one who has shown himself ‘unstable’.

Churches and Christian counselors go too far when they insist that forgiveness requires returning to former relationships as though nothing has broken them. Forgiveness does not require the injured to risk more of the same mistreatment in friendship, marriage or business. In these days we hear of too many unwise pressures which are brought upon injured parties in the name of forgiveness. There may come a time when men must go separate ways: ‘David went on his way, and Saul returned to his place’ (p. 32).

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day Report from Red Hill

I had the 6 am to 9 am slot working my voting precinct at Red Hill School in Albemarle County this morning for the marriage amendment. The older children joined me for a living civics lesson. The photo was taken when Llewellyn came to vote and we were watching Isaiah and Madeline (Marshall, whom we are keeping till her mom and Dad, Heidi and Chris, come home today from the hospital after the delivery of her brother Benjamin).
Working the precinct was an eye opener. Observations: I did not realize what a strong Democratic presence there is in my precinct. My family was there from 6-9 am but after us we had no replacements to pass out flyers for the amendment. We left our material at the Republican table. A few people gave us a positive response; most seemed indifferent, but a few were snippy and even rude. When I left to drive out I noticed that someone had taken down my sign in front of the school entrance and thrown it on the ground (see the photo after I put it back up). A couple of women were there early working agressively to hand out flyers urging rejection of the amendment, and they were joined by a young woman with a dog (that was an interesting contrast--a single woman with a dog against the marriage amendment and Dad with three children for it) and a man who told me he was a counselor and was sure that if the amendment passed it would lead to an increase in domestic violence (I politely disagreed). Celebrity sighting: Got to see Mary Chapin Carptenter show up to vote. When the Republican poll worker offered her male companion a sample ballot he responded: "No thanks! I'm against racism!" Also got to see several of my friends and neighbors including Roy Cress from church who bought us breakfast at the Trading Post store around the corner from the school.
The last Mason-Dixon poll before the election showed support for the marriage amendment slipping to only 49% approval. We'll see what happens.

When Leaders Fail: Worship God!

News broke last week about the moral failing and deception of Ted Haggard, Pastor of the New Life Church in Colorado and leader of the National Association of Evangelicals. The disclosure of the scandal was suspiciously timed for the weekend before election Tuesday, just as Colorado considers a marriage amendment similar to the one on the ballot in Virginia.

Such a scandal is, of course, disappointing in many ways. For some it will only reinforce the notion that Christians are just a bunch of hypocrites. In worship last Sunday evening, I made the observation that the media reaction to such scandals might actually have something positive to say about the way non-believers view the evangelical church. Namely, they expect something different from us and from our leaders. They expect a higher standard of moral and ethical behavior. It is news, not business as usual, when Christian leaders fall into gross error.

Haggard has been held accountable by his church’s governing board. Last Saturday he was dismissed from his position as pastor. A letter of repentance was read to his church on Sunday morning. His church leaders will seek to minister to him even in his failings.

What do we learn from this story? First, all leaders are human and are sinners. Parents will fall into sin in leading the family. Pastors, Elders, and Deacons will fall into sin in leading churches. Civil authorities will fall into sin in leading governments. This does not excuse sin, however, when it occurs in any of those situations. Leaders in every sphere of influence must know that they are vulnerable to temptation and they must also be held to account.

Second, as I suppose the folk at New Life are discovering, we must be clear that we do not come to church (or not come to church, for that matter) for the personality of any man. Please do not come to Jefferson Park Baptist Church for the personality of Jeff Riddle or any other sinful man. If we place our hope and trust in men, we will be disappointed every time.

In the book of Revelation, the apostle John records his encounter with a brilliant angel. As John falls at his feet to worship this excellent creature, God’s messenger replies: "See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!" (Rev 19:10; cf. also 22:9).

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Chantry on Leadership

I enjoy reading Walter Chantry's Scripture notes at the end of the Banner of Truth monthly magazine. In the October 2006 issue he offers some unconventional insights on pastoral leadership and church discipline in his notes on King David, drawn from 1 Kings 1-2:
Those who despise all confrontation and conflict are not suited to rule. Not everyone can be considered welcomed to live in a nation or in the membership of a church. Although the church may not wield the sword, there are effective spiritual disciplines available to be exercised. No organization which has the goal of doing good can succeed if it allows those who would sabatoge its goals to snap at the heels of the leadership with impunity (p. 32).


Holiday Notions

On a lighter note, thanks to Steve Hills for sharing this link to the "Reformation Polka" as a suggestion for next year's Reformation Day celebration:

And for those doing some early Christmas shopping, this one to the Ergun Caner talking doll:

Monday, October 30, 2006

Southern Baptists from Vermont(!) and Marriage in Virginia

Yesterday we had a couple from Vermont visit us in Sunday School and worship at JPBC who are considering relocating to our area. They come from what sounds like a really dynamic dual SBC-BGC church, Christ Memorial Baptist Church, with a Reformed, Baptistic, and evangelical identity. Check out especially the New England Theological Seminary ministry started by this church and its church planting efforts (listen to this pitch: NETS is looking for a few good men. Do you have what it takes to plant a church in dry New England soil?).

Couple of thoughts: First, these folk found us the way most of our visitors and new attendees seem to these days—through our website.

Second, as the conversation heats up concerning the upcoming vote on the marriage amendment in Virginia, one of the arguments made by those in opposition is that it will drive away homosexuals and their supporters from taking up residence in Virginia. This is a weak argument on many levels, not the least of which is the fact that the opposite might also be true. Conservative folk, like these Southern Baptists from Vermont (of all places!), might be attracted to a place like Virginia, precisely because it is more conservative and does not allow gay marriage.

The polling data on the marriage amendment is alarming. The recent Mason-Dixon poll showed only 52% in Virginia in favor of the amendment. Hardly a landslide. For pro-amendment info look here. See the recent Baptist Press article: "Homosexual activists eye victory in the South." Even the South is drifting away from its Christian influenced social conservatism. The Bible belt has been loosed a notch or two. The marriage amendment in Virginia is, no doubt, having trouble picking up steam, because it threatens not only the legality of the marriage of homosexuals but also, indirectly, heterosexual cohabitation. Some advocates seem apologetic on this front, but from a Christian perspective, should we not also be outraged by cohabitation as an end run around marriage?
OK, so let's assume the marriage amendment passes (even narrowly) this year. Here is the question. What will the vote say about our culture in 2006? What would the percentage of approval have been 100 years ago in Virginia? Or even 10 years ago? So, it passes this year. What will happen ten more years from now after even more relentless exposure to homosexual advocacy in the general population through media, education, etc.? What kind of culture will my children and my children's children be living in? The pressures on them to conform will be immense. How vital it is that we instill a Biblical worldview in them now.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

All the fat is the Lord's (Leviticus 3:16)!

In our Leviticus series last Sunday evening, we were pondering the description of the "peace offering" in Leviticus 3. In making the sacrifice of an animal from the herd or flock, the Israelites were instructed to burn on the altar the fat, the kidneys, and the liver of the victim animals. These were likely considered the choice parts of the animal by the ancient Israelites.

The spiritual message appears to be that Israel was expected to offer up the choice parts of their lives to God and to keep nothing of these back for themselves. This was the only way they could have peace with God.

Do we offer up to God the choice parts of our lives? Do we give to him the best of our mind, heart, and strength? Does the Lord get the choice portions of our time, our effort, our money, our passions, and our energy? Or do we give him the leftovers, the parts we do not really want or need?

I thought of Bill Wallace, a young man from Tennessee who went to medical school back in the early 1930s and trained to become a surgeon (listen to the audio biography). Rather than pursue a profitable medical career at home, however, Wallace answered a call to become a missionary to China in 1935. He bravely led a little Chinese mission hospital in Wuchow through the chaos of World War II, and he remained serving in China after the war even as communism enveloped the country. Arrested on trumped up charges and suffering merciless torture, Wallace died in a dank prison cell on February 10, 1951. He was only 43 years old. A few of his Chinese Christian friends later erected a makeshift marker over the simple grave where his body had been buried without ceremony. The marker read: "For me to live is Christ."

Can it be said of our lives, as one might say of Wallace’s, that "all the fat is the Lord’s"?

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Monday, October 23, 2006

Oh sinner! Does the food on your plate want to choke you?

One of the best things I have read of late is Norman Well’s abridgement and modernization of Joseph Alleine’s Wake Up & Live (Evangelical Press, 1998). Banner of Truth has also published the 1672 original under the titles, "An Alarm to the Unconverted" and "A Sure Guide to Heaven." After reading the book I ordered 10 copies to use in evangelism.

Last evening in preaching on the "peace offering" in Leviticus 3, I read the section titled "The whole world is against you," in which Alleine presses the unconverted man to understand his enmity against God using Romans 8:22:

It is a solemn thought to think that you are a burden to creation. If inanimate creatures could speak, the food on your plate would cry out to God, ‘Lord, must I nourish this person and give him strength to dishonor you? If you would only give me permission I would choke him!’ The very air that you breathe would say, ‘Lord, must I give this woman breath so that she can blaspheme your name, insult your people, and engage in corrupt speech? Just give the word and I will make sure she never breathes again.’ Even your regular means of transport would complain, ‘Lord, must I help him on his way to commit yet more sins against you?’ If you do not belong to Jesus Christ, the earth groans under you and hell groans for you until death shall satisfy both. While the Lord remains against you, you can be sure that all his creatures—in heaven and on earth—are against you. You cannot be at peace with what God has made if you have not found peace with God himself (p. 63).

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Report from Flat Creek

Last Sunday, I had the honor of preaching at Flat Creek Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va on the occassion of their 175th anniversary as a church. It was good to have fellowship with Pastor Ernie Carey and with the family of Jackie Rosser, a UVA student who attends JPBC, who grew up at Flat Creek. I preached from Acts 2:42 on "Four Marks of a True Church." Here's a picture my daughter Hannah took of me by the church sign and also one of the church building.

Daily Progress Article Features JPBC's Brian Davis

When I opened my Daily Progress this morning, I saw a mini-photo of Brian Davis on the front page with a note leading to a page two article about a seminar on safe internet use at UVA in which Brian was speaking. Here's the link to the article online, but it does not include the picture. In addition to being an information technology security and policy specialist at UVA, Brian is also a faithful deacon at JPBC and our church's webmaster.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Calvin on Christ-less Islam

For even if many men once boasted that they worshipped the Supreme Majesty, the Maker of heaven and earth, yet because they had no Mediator it was not possible for them truly to taste God’s mercy, and thus be persuaded that he was their Father. Accordingly, because they did not hold Christ as their Head, they possessed only a fleeting knowledge of God. From this it also came about that they at last lapsed into crass and foul superstitions and betrayed their own ignorance. So today the Turks, although they proclaim at the top of their lungs that the Creator of heaven and earth is God, still, while repudiating Christ, substitute an idol in place of the true God.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Book II, Chapter VI).

Monday, October 09, 2006

Parziale blocks punt

UVA fell to East Carolina 31-21 down in Greenville, NC in football last Saturday, but JPBC's Ben Parziale did block a punt at the start of the third quarter that led to a touchdown. See the article on Ben from Sunday's Daily Progress.

October 2006 Evangelical Forum Newsletter

The online version of the October 2006 EFN is online. You can read it here. Thanks to Brian Davis! The hard copy goes out in the snail mail this week. Thanks to Bonnie Beach!

Cavinism Debate Cancelled

The much anticipated Calvinism Debate set for October 16 has been cancelled over conflict between the participants over last minute changes in the format and recording of the event. See Tom Ascol's announcement.
That's really disappointing since we were planning to go, but perhaps it is all for the best.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Scary Costumes

On a lighter note, Steve Hills alerted me to these "Scary Halloween Costumes for Christians." I especially like the "Grumpy Deacon" and the Message Bible toting "Megachurch Youth Pastor."

Smiles! JTR

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Reality of Evil

As the horrific details of the Amish school shooting unfold, we are reminded again of the depravity of the human condition, apart from the grace of God. What could possibly lead a man to do what this man did? It is truly mind and spirit numbing to consider the evil of which men are capable.

There are some who deny the evil of the human heart. They explain all despicable human behavior as the result of environment, nurture, and culture. But even those raised in the best of surroundings are capable of the most awful crimes. As someone said, "Even the best of men are men at best."

Back in the early 1900s with the rush of "evolutionary’ philosophy, many Europeans and North Americans envisioned a glowing future for humanity. These thought that society would evolve and progress to higher and higher levels. Disease, poverty, war, and crime would all be eliminated in the brave new world of the future. After two world wars, the rise of fascism and communism, and now the rise of Islamic terrorism, few are as naively optimistic about the future of humanity. In a world like ours, we believers have hold of a powerful truth that many are eager to hear. Our only hope is in the Lord alone.

For those with ears to hear, Dr. Kostenberger reminded us of this in worship on Sunday when he preached from Ephesians 6. We are engaged in a great spiritual battle of cosmic proportions. Evil is a reality. The evil one seduces unstable men into the delirium of perpetrating the unspeakable. On a more subtle level he is always at work driving wedges between husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters, neighbor and neighbor, friend and friend. So then, let us put on the whole armor of God so that we may make our stand against the wiles of the devil (Eph 6:10).

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Monday, October 02, 2006

Seven Reflections on Music in Worship

I had someone ask for the text from the Sunday evening message I did a few weeks ago offering seven reflections on music in worship. Here are my notes:
Reflections on Music in Worship
JPBC September 17, 2006, evening sermon
Jeff Riddle

Luther said that when Satan fell from heaven he landed in the choir loft!

In modern times, there has been much division over music in worship—the so-called "worship wars."

In some sense, this is nothing new. J. B. Jeter left his pastorate of the FBC-Richmond in the 19th century after a controversy over whether or not to add an organ—which he opposed. When he moved to his new church in St. Louis, he found that they had installed an organ!

Seven reflections:

1. Music is a Biblical part of worship.

In the OT, we have the Psalms and the Levitical choirs.

In the NT, the key passages are Ephesians 5:18-19 and Colossians 3:16-17, both of which speak of singing "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs."

We might add the parting hymn sung by our Lord and his disciples after the Last Supper (Mark 14:26); the worship instructions in 1 Corinthians 14:26 mentioning a worshipper bringing a "psalm"; the possible hymn fragments in the NT (like the Christ hymn in Phil 2:5-11); and the hymns of the book of Revelation.

We should also, however, note the lack of detail.

Note, in particular, in the NT that no one is given charge of leading music in worship. The overseer is to be "apt to teach" (1 Tim 3) but not "apt to sing."

2. As with all worship elements, music is to give glory to God (the vertical aspect) and to edify the saints (the horizontal aspect).

Again, in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul notes that all things are to be done "for edification" (v. 26). "For God is not the author of confusion but of peace" (v. 33a).

3. Corporate worship should not focus on performance or individuals.

The emphasis, thus, should be on congregational singing (see Mark Dever’s The Deliberate Church, pp. 116-17).

4. Exclusive Psalmnody?

Some have argued that only the exclusive singing of Psalms fulfills the regulative principle for worship.

See Iain Murray’s little booklet, The Psalter—The Only Hymnal, in response.

-Not all the psalms are meant as corporate songs. Some are individual laments.
-The Psalms only speak indirectly and prophetically of Jesus Christ.
-The NT speaks of "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs." Is this not more than OT Psalms?

5. Instrumental accompaniment?

Some have likewise objected to instrumental accompaniment.

There is no direct reference to instruments in worship, except maybe Revelation (see 5:8 where each elder has a harp).

There is no doubt that instruments were used in OT worship (see Psalm 150).

Bottom line: Instruments are permissible but must not detract from God’s glory or the saints’ edification.

6. We should take care in the lyrics we sing.

We learn much of our theology in singing.

We should avoid over-use of the first person, preferring lyrics that are God-centered and Scripture based. The songs we sing should lead us to worship God by contemplating who God is (the vertical) or teach us great doctrines (the horizontal; cf. how "Holy, Holy, Holy" teaches the doctrine of the Trinity).

7. We should beware of worldly musical styles.

This is the danger of rock-pop music. We cannot separate the medium from the message.
Rock is about sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll (the modern version of wine, women, and song). It conveys an anti-authoritarian spirit to people in our age. So, how can we urge men to submit to God when we have music that conveys this unspoken counter-message, even if the lyrics are "Christian"?

The church’s music must be "sacred" and distinct.

When a worldling comes into our worship, he should note our distinction from the world’s ways even in our music.

See Dan Lucarini’s Why I Left Contemporary Christian Music. Music is not amoral.
What about those who object that Luther and Wesley used contemporary tunes (beer hall songs)? John Makujina in Measuring the Music has uncovered this as a contemporary evangelical fiction (see Lucarini, pp. 107-08).

John 2:15: "Do not love the world or the things in the world."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Reaching the Next Generation

In last Sunday's sermon I mentioned the most recent research report from the Barna Group titled, "Most Twentysomethings Put Christianity on the Shelf Following Spiritually Active Teen Years" (read the report). The study notes that although 81% of today’s twentysomethings were involved in churches as teenagers, only 20% of them are still spiritually active at age 29. Of course, what the report is unable to tell us is how many of these were ever actually converted.

Although the report does not connect the dots, it is, in fact, an indictment of the way that most modern churches have attempted to minister to teens, namely by putting them exclusively into age segregated groups that focus on entertainment rather than discipleship. The problem with this approach is that when children become older they find the world’s entertainment more appealing than the pizza blast down at the church fellowship hall.

I think these statistics also speak to the gap between youth and their families. Parents have the primary responsibility of discipling their children. They cannot farm off that task to anyone else, even the church. Children will most likely follow their parents’ example. If parents see the Christian life as a draining burden and obligation, rather than as a joy and privilege, then so will their children.

The conventional wisdom is that if it is not broken, then don’t try to fix it. These statistics, however, tell us that youth ministry in our churches is largely broken. How do we fix it? Here are some things we have done at JPBC and will continue to do:

1. Try to integrate young people into the life of the church as a whole rather than constantly segregating them into their own same-age groups. This quarter in Sunday School, for example, we have asked our 9-12th grade youth to join their parents in one of the adult tracks. This does not mean that it is always wrong to have young people of the same age get together for fellowship. That is why we have continued our Sunday evening youth gathering, and we will likely offer special Sunday School tracks especially for teens in upcoming quarters.

2. Equip fathers and mothers to offer spiritual guidance and oversight in the home. A Christian Dad and Mom who are not self-righteous but who are humbly striving to live a faithful Christian life are the best "youth ministers" a child will ever have. If we disciple the parents, we are discipling the children.

3. Get the focus of our ministry to young people away from entertainment and on to gospel ministry (evangelism, discipleship, spiritual disciplines, Bible study, and worship). This does not mean that we eliminate all "fun" events, but we do not make them the central focus of our ministry.

May God give us a heart for reaching this generation of twentysomethings and teenagers with the gospel!

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle