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).