Thursday, March 30, 2006

Calvinism debate at Thomas Road Baptist Church

I said it would not happen but apparently it is...

Ergun and Emir Caner will debate James White and Tom Ascol on the doctrines of grace on Monday, October 16, 2006 at 7 pm at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, VA. The cost is free and with Lynchburg only an hour away I am sure a van from JPBC will be making the trip. See the announcement on the Founder's blog and a posting by White.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Church Covenant Series: Part 2 of 11

This series covers the eleven paragraphs of our JPBC membership covenant. We read this covenant at each church conference when we welcome new members and ask them to affirm it. The second paragraph reads:

We will worship God together regularly.

I would break this down into three parts:

First, We will worship God. This reminds us that worship on the Lord’s Day (Sunday) is fundamental to the Christian life. The Biblical pattern is of Christians gathering on the first day of the week to worship God through the risen Jesus (see John 20:19; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Revelation 1:10). It also makes clear that our focus in on God Himself. We do not come to worship to have our needs met, to receive a spiritual pick-me-up, or merely to enjoy fellowship and friendship with each other. We come to serve the Lord by singing, praying, and preaching before him. This is our glad duty.

Second, We will worship God together. I was speaking once to a member who had been absent from our meetings for some time, and I mentioned this part of the membership covenant to her. She quickly, and rather indignantly, told me that she had been visiting other churches and listening to worship on television, so she felt she was keeping this part of the covenant just fine. I pointed out that the important point is not merely that we worship but that we are intentional about worshipping together as a church family.

I can worship as a guest in another congregation, but the place I worship best is at JPBC. It is my church family and my spiritual home. Each Sunday worship service is like a family reunion. And when I do not show up the family misses me. Sunday morning worship is also the prime time when we are able to offer a visible and public witness to the world of our commitment to and love for Jesus. Worship attendance is our primary ministry as a believer. What does it look like to the world when Christians are not zealous to be in the Lord’s house on his day?

It is when we come together in worship that we hear the same Scripture and experience the same happenings. It is the occasion when we are able to spend time in prayer for our various needs. It is while we are together that the Holy Spirit leads us in ways we need to go. I have found that those members who most often have the hardest time understanding directions the church is taking are those who have failed to worship together with us. They wonder why the church is out step with them, when, in fact, it is they who are out of step with the church.

Third, We will worship God together regularly. The Biblical mandate for the frequency of worship is each Lord’s Day. The key Scripture passage is Hebrews 10:24-25: "And let us consider how to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much more as you see the Day approaching."

You will note that the covenant avoids legalism. It does not define regularly in legalistic terms. It does not say, We will worship God at least 50 out of 52 Sundays in a year. Or, We will worship God at least once a month (12 times a year). No, it leaves this up to our Christian conscience and life circumstances. Of course, we know that all our members will not be able to be present each Sunday. It is certainly understandable if we are absent for reasons of illness or travel or for circumstances beyond our control (this includes our elderly and homebound members). But when we are in good health and in town, we should make it a part of our personal spiritual discipline to be present in worship at JPBC each Lord’s Day.

Again, our regular gathering for worship is not a toilsome burden but an incredible joy!

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Monday, March 27, 2006

Follow up on Philadelphia ETS trip

The ETS trip to Philadelphia was a whirlwind. Hannah and I left Thursday early afternoon and got back after midnight Friday. By the way, we listened to 4 of the 17 (!) audio CDs of "Little Women" along the way.

Highlights of the Friday ETS meeting: First, this was my first trip to Westminster Seminary. The campus is modest, situated in a rather affluent neighborhood. The meetings were held in the Van Til building.

The sessions I attended:

Session 1: Mark Karlberg, Theological Writer-at-large, Paul Elliot’s Christianity and Neo-Liberalism: Drama in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

Karlberg, a former Westminster PhD student under Norman Shepherd, traced what he believes to be Westminster’s compromise on justification related to the teaching of Gaffin and Shepherd. Karlberg went so far as to speak of the "The Babylonian captivity of WTS and the OPC."

Session 2: Robert C. Newman, Biblical Theological Seminary, They Saw Jesus … Centuries in Advance.

Dr. Newman, a long time apologist who teaches at BTS and also with the Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, made a presentation of Jesus’ fulfillment of OT prophecy.

Plenary session: Robert B. Chisholm, Jr., Dallas Theological Seminary, Making Sense of Prophecy: Contingency and Contextualization.

Chisholm argued that much OT prophecy should be considered "dynamic not performative; contingent not conditional."

Basically he was trying to come up with an orthodox explanation of why some OT prophecies supposedly are "unfulfilled."

He listed four examples of "unfulfilled prophecy" in the OT:
1. Huldah’s prophecy of Josiah’s peaceful death (2 Kgs 22:19-20).
2. Ezekiel’s prophecy of Babylon’s defeat of Tyre and Sidon (Ezek 26).
3. Haggai’s prophecy of renewed glory.
4. Mesha the Moabite’s aversion of destruction by the sacrifice of his sin (2 Kgs 3).

These were explained as "dynamic" prophecies.

I was bothered on two levels by this explanation. First, it raises questions about God’s knowledge and decrees. Second, it raises questions about the inerrancy of Scripture. Are not what Chisholm calls "unfulfilled prophecies" what liberals call "errors"? Can we not seek an end for these prophecies that harmonizes with the character of God and with inerrancy?

Session 3: Stephen J. Nichols, Lancaster Bible College, My Jesus and Me: Forrays into American Evangelical Christology.

Nichols traced the christology of liberal early 20th century preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick which pictured Jesus as a model of self-sacrifice but then traced how this view is propogated in modern American evangelical "parallel institutionalism" (a phrase borrowed from Hunter) like evangelical entertainment. He chose examples from Christmas themed "Adventures in Odyssey" and "Veggie Tales" where the "moral lesson" of the story of the birth of Jesus is mere altruism (the "true meaning of Christmas").

The last session (4) was my own presentation on Piper's Baptism and Membership Proposal.
It went well. One attendee was a WTS student who is a member at Bethlehem. We had a good conversation afterward about baptism and church life.

Other reflections: Ran into Mark and Karyn Traphagan, former C-ville residents who are seminarians at WTS. Mark works in the bookstore. WTS, by the way, has a phenomenal bookstore with potential to bust the budget of any theologue. Also got to talk with fellow pastor Jason Poling of New Hope Community Church in Baltimore. For the second straight year ETS scheduled our papers in the same session so I did not get to attend his.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Anthropology project interview on gay marriage

With our proximity to UVa it is not uncommon for us to get contacts from students doing various research projects. Last week I got a call from a student, Meghan P., who wanted to do an interview with a pastor for an Anthropology class group-project on gay marriage. I reluctantly agreed (my reluctance coming from lack of time and fear of misrepresentation of my views) with the proviso that she send me a copy of her report.
After sharing some of my views I chatted with Meghan about her own personal views on the topic. She described herself as someone who grew up Catholic but who had not attended church while in college. It did not take long to discern that she was also sympathetic to uncritical acceptance of gay marriage. I ended our conversation by asking her to consider what it was that made a person a Christian, insisting that it was not a matter of what your parents believe or the way you were brought up. I suggested she get a Bible and read the gospel of John. I also encouraged her to think critically about how the culture (and even her UVA classes--particularly this one!) were trying to shape her attitudes toward homosexuality and life in general.
Meghan kept her word and sent me this copy of her report on our interview. There are a few place of misunderstanding (e.g., our "Confession of Faith" is the Baptist Faith and Message 2000) and lacunae, but it generally reflects our conversation with accuracy:

Meghan P.
Scott J.
Gay Marriage

For my section of the project I focused on the beliefs of the Jefferson Park Baptist Church here in Charlottesville. They are led by Pastor Jeff Riddle, and consider themselves a Conservative Evangelical Church. Their beliefs are outlined in a doctrine called The Confession of Faith, from which he read bits and pieces of to me throughout the interview. Jeff began by defining what he believes to be the definition of marriage, "Our church adheres to The Confession of Faith, which affirms the biblical understanding of marriage to be between one man and one woman, in a union of flesh". He went on to explain that God created Adam, and for Adam he created Eve, and that this was the founding for the "one man, one woman" marriage system. The Confession of Faith goes on to say that marriage is used for "the channel of sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race". This defines the family to be one father, one mother who form a covenant through God, to procreate through sexual relationships defined by the Bible. This excludes the types of non-blood related families made by lesbians and gays discussed in Weston’s "Exiles from Kinship".

He then went on to explain how homosexuality is viewed by his church. For this he used the Confession of Faith’s article on The Christian and Social Order. This states that, "In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography". He said that those who go outside the covenant of marriage and participate in sexual immorality experience great damage to their lives.

He said that there have been people within his church that have struggled with homosexuality. He explained that he has the same stance with homosexuals as he does with young men who deal with heterosexual lust (another sexual immorality). He said that if you’re not married, you should stay celibate.

When presented with the hypothetical situation of the US Government making gay marriage lawful, he said "We would absolutely not condone or conduct same gender marriages at our church- no matter what the civil government does". He then went on to say that he would hope the magistrate would stay out of their business for not complying with the law. He defended this stance by explaining that not just anyone is allowed to marry in the Jefferson Park Church, "It’s not just a wedding chapel". He said that if any proposing couple is "out of bounds of The Confession of Faith" then he would refuse to marry them, whether they were a gay or straight couple.

Pastor Jeff believes that if the US Government allows for same-sex marriages, that it will in turn "open Pandora’s box" and lead to possible allowance for incest, polygamy, bestiality, etc. This relates back to what this class has previously discussed with polygamy, and cousin marriage. People fear a "slippery slope" effect when it comes to these types of marriages. Jeff is also concerned with the media’s role in numbing people to the danger of homosexuality. He said that we have "been bombarded by media to accept homosexuality" and to scold those who are not accepting of the practice.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Piper paper at ETS (3/24/06)

I leave for Philadelphia this afternoon to attend the Eastern Regional Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) at Westminster Theological Seminary.
I will be doing another version of the paper "Piper's Baptism and Membership Proposal: A Neo-Landmark Response" at the meeting tomorrow (March 24) at 3:40 pm.
My daughter Hannah is coming along with me for the trip. She is bringing an unabridged CD of "Little Women" for us to listen to during our travel. Oh yeh, father-daughter bonding!
Here's the outline of my paper (I might post the full text version to our website at some point):

Piper’s Baptism and Membership Proposal: A Neo-Landmark Response
Evangelical Theological Seminary Eastern Regional Meeting
Westminster Theological Seminary, Glenside, Pennsylvania
March 24, 2006

The purpose of this paper is to present an overview of and response to the Baptism and Membership Proposal that is currently under consideration at Bethlehem Baptist Church (hereafter BBC) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As we shall see, the major point of contention in this proposal is that it recommends that BBC remove believer’s baptism by immersion as a necessary prerequisite for church membership. This suggestion is all the more significant, because it comes from a church and a pastor that have become known not only for the defense and renewal of foundational doctrinal truths, but also for the defense and renewal of evangelical Calvinism.

I. A history of the BBC proposal on "Baptism and Church Membership."

II. Piper’s argument against believer’s baptism by immersion as a test for local Baptist church membership.

The "crucial paragraph" in Piper’s initial "Twelve Theses" was this:

10. Therefore, where the belief in the Biblical validity of infant baptism does not involve baptismal regeneration or the guarantee of saving grace, this belief is not viewed by the elders of BBC as a weighty or central enough departure from Biblical teaching to exclude a person from membership, if he meets all other relevant qualifications and is persuaded from Bible study and a clear conscience that his baptism is valid. In such a case we would not require baptism by immersion as a believer for membership but would teach and pray toward a change of mind that would lead such members eventually to baptism (4).

Among the primary arguments Piper makes on the issue of baptism and church membership are the following:

1. The local church should not bar any sincere Christian from membership in the visible body of Christ on the basis of his understanding and experience of baptism (given that he does not embrace the concept of baptismal regeneration or reject baptism altogether).
2. Related to this is what Paul Dreblow calls "the saints of the past" argument.
3. It is more crucial that the teaching authority (elders) of a church be unified on doctrine than in the general membership of a church.
4. The requirement of believer’s baptism by immersion elevates a minor doctrine to the status of being a major doctrine.
5. Historical appeal to John Bunyan.

III. Concerns that this proposal raises.

A. Paul Dreblow raised six points of concern:
1. The issue had not been studied thoroughly enough by the BBC elders.
2. Baptism by immersion of born again believers in the only standard and practice of described and taught in the NT.
3. The timing of the issue related to campus ministry. Here Dreblow asks if the church is not being driven by pragmatism.
4. Challenges the "saints of the past’ argument and asks if this will lead to greater compromise down the road: "If we make exceptions to stated doctrinal agreement and practice here, then where else?" (26).
5. Whose conscience is at stake? What about the conscience of the members who believe that believer’s baptism by immersion is essential to church membership?
6. Creation of confusion and disunity in the body of Christ.

B. Further concerns:
1. I would challenge Piper’s argument that baptism is a minor doctrine. On the contrary, I would argue that it is a central and significant doctrine.
2. I would challenge Piper’s argument that barring a person from membership in a local Baptist church who is not willing to experience baptism by immersion is equivalent to barring him from participation in the visible body of Christ.
3. I would challenge Piper’s "saints of the past" argument by asking, "Is it any better to allow ‘the saints of the past’ into the church as members and then bar them from the office of Elder?"
4. This proposal creates a two-tier membership.
5. Slippery-slope argument. Compromise here leads to compromise on other issues.
6. I would challenge the historical appeal to Bunyan by noting that, after thorough discussion, Bunyan’s views were rejected by his fellow Baptists.

IV. A final reflection on what it means to be a Neo-Landmark Baptist.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Church Covenant Series: Part 1 of 11

Our JPBC membership covenant has eleven paragraphs. We read this covenant at each church conference when we welcome new members, and we ask them to affirm it. I begin today a series on those eleven brief statements that we have committed ourselves to as members of this local church. The first paragraph:

We have been bought with the blood of Jesus Christ, and we now live for His purposes. We therefore dedicate ourselves to do God’s will in humility and purity, to walk in the Spirit, to live together in Christian love, to strive for the advancement of ourselves and others in faith, in knowledge, in wisdom, in holiness, and in service, and to support the work of the church in our worship, prayer, discipleship, teaching, giving, doctrine, and ordinances.

This first statement reminds us that a church is composed of those who are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, those who have been "bought with the blood of Jesus Christ." Ours is a "regenerate church membership." In addition to our convictions on the timing and mode of believer’s baptism by immersion, this is why we do not baptize or hold infants in membership. The visible body of Christ is made up of those who show evidence and fruit of salvation.

It follows that if we are saved, we will love and support the local church in obedience to the command of Christ: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (John 13:34).

Members, look through this list of ways we can tangibly support our local church (worship, prayer, discipleship, teaching, giving, doctrine, and ordinances) and humbly evaluate how faithfully you have been able to keep the pledge of your word in this covenant.

We can be sure of one thing: Jesus loves the church. He loves it so much that he laid down his life for the church (Ephesians 5:25). Jesus loves faithful local churches where the Word is preached and the ordinances are observed. You cannot love Jesus and then have no affection for his bride, the church.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Problems with "the religion of peace"

A recent AP article chronicles the plight of Abdul Rahman, a 41 year old brother arrested last month in Afghanistan and charged with the "crime" of converting to Christianity from Islam (a so-called "relgion of peace"). The judge in the case is quoted as saying, "We are not against any particular religion in the world. But in Afghanistan this sort of thing is against the law.... It is an attack on Islam."
Is this what our "liberation" of Afghanistan has given us: A state where the Taliban is not in power but where the law of the land is based on Islamic Shariah law?
Here is the rub with any naive effort at nation-building in Islamic nations. You cannot build a democratic society (where basic human rights, including religious freedom, are respected) in a nation in which Islam is the dominant worldview.
We should pray for this brother and his testimony and for God to raise up a vibrant church in Afghanistan.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Our Lady of the Movie Theatre

Velocity Church in Richmond opened over the weekend with meetings at the Short Pump Regal Cinemas (see the article by Alberta Lindsey of the Richmond Time-Dispatch).
Attendees could enter the lobby, drop off their kids, pick up popcorn and sodas at the concession stand and choose the venue of their choice. The present offerings are rock-n-roll and pop country services though velocity hopes to offer even more choices in the future. Lead minister Tim cole is quoted as saying, "We hope to have three or four options. A more traditional service maybe. We would be open to jazz gospel." He also notes, "It's a fun church done just outside the box."
The church claims to be the second in the nation to use 25 minute video teaching instead of a live sermon. Cole notes, "We are able to select great preaching from great preachers. We can control the quality of the sermons by only showing the good ones." He adds, "and rather than spending 20 or more hours per week in sermon preparation, I can focus more on what our church is doing in the community and ministries."
It is hard to know where to begin to outline the problems with this approach. For starters:
  • It is man-centered, based on musical styles and preferences of worshippers.
  • It makes "worship" a form of entertainment.
  • It devalues preaching. What if the sermons you thought were "bad" were ones that pressed your conscience with issues that you would rather not address?
  • It confuses the role of the pastor. He is the teacher. What "lead minister" will not be "apt to teach" (see 1 Tim 3).
  • It recalls Paul's warning in 2 Tim 4:3-4 about those with "itching ears."

Friday, March 17, 2006

Patrick Quote

A quote attributed to the pre-reformation Irish missionary:
"Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I arise.... Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me."
For more on the "real" Patrick, listen to the sermon by Northern Ireland preacher Ian Brown, "Patrick: No Snakes, No Shamrocks--Simply the Scriptures."

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Feedback on "In Defense of the Decalogue" book review

Ben Bartlett recently emailed the following feedback after reading my online book review of R. Barcellos' critique of "New Covenant Theology":

I just finished reading your review of "In Defense of the Decalogue," by Richard Barcellos. As you rightly summarize, Barcellos suggests that NCT "sees no continuing role for the Old Testament law in general and the Decalogue in particular for New Covenant believers."

I don't know if you have had the opportunity yet, but I would suggest that you read the book by Fred Zaspel and Tom Wells, New Covenant Theology. I think it provides an excellent summary of the NCT position (which is admittedly still an evolving one).

As I have interacted with those who advocate NCT, I have discovered some interesting things.
-They are almost all Reformed Baptists. By that I mean they almost all are five-point Calvinists, affirm the five solas, and practice baptism by immersion.

-They are exacting in making assertions on the basis of Scripture alone. Some have characterized NCT as being a "middle ground" between Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology, but if that is true, it is because of good exegesis and not because of a peacemaking attitude.

-They are extremely good at dealing with some of the areas of Covenant Theology that raise problematic questions, such as infant baptism, which OT laws to obey and which to ignore, and why Christ needed to come if people in the OT were saved in the same way they are in the NT.
My response:

Thanks for your note and thoughtful comments on the review.

In fact, I have read the NCT book (I read it before I read Barcellos) but I have not written a review yet. I also have a Pastor friend who for a season was very interested in the "New Covenant" approach and attended their annual Bunyan Conference. His interest in the movement has since cooled.

I do not doubt the sincerity of these brothers but I still find Barcellos' critique convincing. The biggest danger I see with NCT is its potential for neglecting the OT's place in the canon (Neo-Marcionite).

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Violence in Local Public Schools

All parents of school age children in the Charlottesville area should carefully read the article "Safety fears at Buford: New violence upsets many" that appears on the front page of the Daily Progress today (3/15/06). The article reports that Charlottesville’s Buford Middle School teachers and staff have been struck or felt threatened by students 12 times in the past year. If the adults have felt threatened and intimidated that many times, then just imagine what the school experience is like for the students!

The article reports that things came to a head earlier this month when police had to enter the school to break up a fight that occurred between lunch periods. Three students were arrested and led away in handcuffs.

A week later several students got in trouble for playing with pellet guns at a school bus stop.
The article also chronicles other disturbing acts of violence among city school students including two May 2005 incidents. The first was when a 14 year old student, Adam Dudley, was stabbed three times in the back while walking home from school. The second was when 14 year old Datron Washington was shot in the abdomen.

After reading this article, I would encourage you to buy and read Doug Wilson’s book "Excused Absence: Should Christian Kids Leave Public Schools?" (Cruxpress, 2001). Fathers, I think we need to think seriously about what we need to do to shelter and protect out own children and those of others.

Follow up on Roanoke Trip

Had a good time in Roanoke at the "Society" on Monday. By God’s grace, I was feeling much better than I had been on Sunday (getting over a stomach flu that hit everyone in my household).
Both presentations were well received and the Lord blessed. Enjoyed a late lunch and conversation at the "Bad Wolf" Barbecue joint on Plantation Road (really good!). It is always interesting to talk to veteran pastors, and it is especially fun to just sit on the sidelines and listen to men like Lloyd Sprinkle and Ron Young, Sr. talk about the old Baptists (Boyce, Broadus, Manly, Carroll, etc.) as if they just spoke to them last week.

Given the Piper presentation, much talk centered on baptism. It was asked if Piper had been influenced by some Reformed Baptists (Grace Baptist in Carlisle, PA was mentioned) who also accept pedo-baptists into membership. I do not know the answer on that one.
Sound byte: Lloyd recalled one Baptist who when the Presbyterians referenced the Church Fathers would always remind them that the "Fathers" should really be called "the church infants."

Also met Ovid (got to love a man with a Roman name!) Need of Bentonsville, VA and was introduced to his "The Biblical Examiner" publication.

I appreciated the opportunity to be there.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Kazakh Baptists leave Baptist World Alliance

Liberal Baptists were outraged when the SBC decided to withdraw from the Baptist World Alliance over differences in doctrine. This week the BWA not only announced the retirement of its current Executive Director but also the withdrawal of Central Asia's Kazakh Baptist Union from the BWA (and from the liberal European Baptist Federation). Here's an excerpt from the ABP article:
Lotz and Tony Peck, secretary of the European Baptist Federation, also announced that a Baptist denomination from Central Asia had withdrawn from both BWA and EBF. Leaders of the Baptist Union of Kazakhstan cited many of the same reasons that leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention did when that body voted to withdraw from BWA in 2004, he said.

"They're concerned about issues like holiness of life; they're concerned that sin is taken seriously," Peck said. "They're concerned about the excesses of the charismatic movement. They don't believe in women pastors."

SBC leaders, in recommending to the denomination that it end its 99-year-old relationship with BWA, accused the worldwide umbrella group of being too tolerant of member bodies that, in turn, tolerated affiliated congregations or institutions with doctrinal stances that they oppose. They also disagreed with BWA's recommendation that the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a moderate group that split from the SBC, be admitted as a full-fledged member.
BWA leaders responded that Baptist polity would not allow them to prescribe the doctrinal standards of member bodies.

Peck said EBF and BWA officials made much the same argument to Kazakh Baptist leaders and other Central Asian Baptist leaders during a meeting in Kyrgyzstan in February. He also said leaders from the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Kyrgyzstan had expressed similar concerns, but had not announced any formal action to EBF or BWA.
Liberal Baptists just do not get it. One cannot hide aberrant doctrine behind the facade of "religious liberty" or "Baptist principles."
The ABP article also quotes Peck's condescending spin on the decision of these Baptists in this formerly communist region: "this is quite a difficult idea for the Central Asian Baptists to get their mind around" in a region where Baptist denominations tend to be very conservative and authoritarian. How about the possibility that they are just trying to be Biblically faithful in not wanting to follow Western secular views on "freedom," feminism and sexual libertinism that have inculcated Baptist churches in the BWA?
The Kazakh brothers are to be commended for their courageous stand.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Speaking in Roanoke 3/13/06

I will be speaking next Monday (3/13) at Plantation Road Baptist Church for the "Society for the Preservation of Baptist Principles and Heritage." The group title sounds pretty grandiose for what is essentially a small, bi-monthly Baptist Pastors' fellowship. My invitation came from Pastor Lloyd Sprinkle of Sprinkle Publications in Harrisonburg who is the group's program coordinator.
I will be doing one teaching presentation and one sermon:

1. Teaching: "John Piper's Baptism and Membership Proposal: A Neo-Landmark Response"
Abstract: John Piper's influential Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis recently undertook consideration of a change in its constitution that would eliminate believer's baptism as a requirement for church membership. I will offer an analysis and response to this proposal.
I will also be doing a version of this teaching as a paper at the Eastern Regional Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) on March 24, 2006 at Westminster Seminary (Philadelphia).
2. Preaching: "A Biblical Picture of Worship" Nehemiah 8:1-12.
Abstract: An exposition of five traits of Biblical worship as revealed in Nehemiah 8:1-12.

You can get on the Society's email list for upcoming meetings by contacting David Hardin at

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Prayer: The Hour of Incense

Exodus 30:1: You shall make an altar to burn incense on….

Psalm 141:2: Let my prayer be set before You as incense….

Luke 1:10: And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense.

Revelation 8: 3 Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. 4 And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel's hand.

On Sunday evenings we have been working our way through the elaborate description of the tabernacle given to Moses in Exodus 25-31. Along the way we have been asking what these passages have to teach us about authentic worship. What principles in Old Testament worship apply in New Covenant worship?

Last Sunday in Exodus 30:1-10 we read the description of the tabernacle’s altar of incense. We no longer use incense in New Covenant worship, but what is the continuing relevance of the altar of incense? We noted several passages in Scripture that linked the rising of the incense with the prayer of the saints (see the texts above). As Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, is in the temple serving at this altar, the people are outside joined in prayer at "the hour of incense" (Luke 1:8-11).

Do we have an "hour of incense" in our personal lives? Do we have time set aside for intentional conversation with God in prayer? What about in our life together as a church? Do we have a zeal for attending the worship meetings of the church so that we might be engaged in the ministry of prayer? What if you had a real need for prayer in your life? Would you know that your brothers and sisters would be there to intercede for you? Have you made the commitment to do the same for others?

Gracious God, give to us an "hour of incense" in our personal lives and in our life together as your church.

Monday, March 06, 2006

This just in: Traditional Marriages Work

Yesterday's Daily Progress (3/5/06) carried an AP article with the title: "Study says wives happiest with sensitive breadwinners." The study of 5,000 couples found women were happiest when they were able to be stay at home wives and moms provided for by a sensitive and loving husband. Once again we are finding that modern femininism has offered women a false alternative. The traditional, Biblical model works (see Ephesians 5:21-33)!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Unfunny "Babtists" Cartoons

A few months ago the Religious Herald (the state Baptist paper in Virginia) began featuring a new cartoon called "Babtists."

Let me first say that I appreciate good humor. Let me also say that I have used irony and satire in writing and speaking that has been misunderstood and unappreciated. I write this to say that I do not approach this as an uptight prude when it comes to church humor. However…

The last two "Babtists" cartoons have really been awful (not to mention just plain "unfunny").

The first (in the Feb 16th issue) shows a group of grinning congregants in the pews. A bubble coming from off screen reads "…and in conclusion" (presumably from the preacher). A bubble over one particularly goofy, grinning man in the pew reads, "Amen!" And the caption under the cartoon reads: "The three words that will always bring a Babtist crowd to life."

The second (in the Feb 23rd issue) also feature a group of people in the pew. This time they are all snoozing with eyes closed and a collective "Z" overhead. The caption reads: "Babtists believe Jesus meant it when he said, ‘Come to me and I will give you rest.’"

What is wrong with these cartoons? They contain the not-so-subtle message that preaching is a boring and worthless part of worship. They also subtly undermine the authority of the pastor as preacher by making it seem to be a quaint, outdated, and uninteresting part of worship. The people in the pew merely tolerate the preaching. It is just something they have to endure.

Moderates denigrate pastors and preacher and then wonder why they are not producing men in their seminaries who want to preach the Word. See the recent comments by Curtis Freeman on the moderate "clergy shortage": "Moderate Baptists and mules have a lot in common. Both are strong and hard-working [i.e., stubborn], and both have problems reproducing."

These cartoons are not only theologically offensive but point to the pathetic spiritual state of so many traditional Virginia Baptist churches. In truth, there is not a hunger for hearing the word of God. The days foretold by Amos have come about:

"Behold, the days are coming," says the Lord GOD, "That I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine of bread, Nor a thirst for water, But of hearing the words of the LORD."

Compare the "harsh" words of Jesus in Matthew 13:12-13 about those who could not understand his parables:

12 For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

If we do not find the preaching of God’s Word of interest these words should make us shudder.

In contrast to "Babtists" consider the exiles during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah who listened to the Word of God read in the public square "from morning till midday" (Neh 8:3) and the church at Troas which listened to Paul preach till midnight (Acts 20:7; yes, this also records the slumber of Eutychus but not approvingly!).

No, our sinful flesh does not always love to hear the preaching of the Word of God. This is not something to be celebrated or winked at, however. It is worthy of our repentance. God has ordained the "foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (1 Cor 1:21), since "faith comes by hearing" (Rom 10:17).

Sadly, we must say that Brookins has put his finger on the heart of the spiritual problem with Virginia Baptist churches. We no longer love to hear the preaching and teaching of God’s word. It is not interesting and entertaining enough.

If only "Babtists" would wake up and become "Baptists" again (or for the first time).