Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Seasonal Pastoral Reflections: On Reformers, Sabbath, and Solemn Days

Seasonal pastoral reflections:

I have a lingering concern over whether or not it is appropriate for Biblical Christians to observe "solemn days" and hold meetings for public worship outside the regular Lord’s Day observances. For example, can we worship on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, taking advantage of the cultural celebration of Christmas to preach the gospel [this is our current practice at JPBC]? What should we do with Easter? At least it falls on Sunday, and we should be preaching the gospel of the cross and resurrection every Lord’s Day. But what about a special Sunrise Service? Is this Biblically appropriate? Of course, there is also the basic ongoing issue of conscience as to how properly we should view and observe the Lord’s Day.

In his exposition of the Ten Commandments in the Institutes (see Book II, Chapter VIII; all quotes are from Ford Lewis Battles translation, vol. I), Calvin offers his own perspective on the fourth commandment (remembering the Sabbath Day to keep it holy). First, Calvin does not appear to hold to the strict "Christian Sabbath" view of the later Puritans as reflected both in the Westminster Confession and the London Baptist Confession.

For Calvin, Christ himself is "the true fulfillment of the Sabbath" (p. 397) and the Jewish Sabbath has been "abrogated." Given this fact, "Christians ought therefore to shun completely the superstitious observance of days" (p. 397).

He admonishes those who "surpass the Jews three times over in crass and carnal Sabbatarian superstition" (p. 400).

The primary purpose for the establishment of the Lord’s Day, according to Calvin, was to provide order and peace for the church, allowing it a settled, stated time to hear the Word and partake of the Lord's Supper and an occasion for servants and workmen to rest from their labors.

What about church meetings on days other than the Lord’s Day? Calvin says this: "I shall not condemn churches that have other solemn days for their meetings, provided there be no superstition. This will be so if they have regard solely to the maintenance of discipline and good order" (p. 400).

Calvin’s views appear to be in harmony with those of Bullinger as reflected in The Second Helvetic Confession (1566; see Chapter XXIV Of Holidays, Fasts, and Choice of Meats; references are from John H. Leith, Ed., Creeds of the Christians Church). Regarding the Lord’s Day, the confession states:

"Yet herein we give no place unto Jewish observation of the day, or to any superstitions. For we do not account one day to be holier than another, nor think that mere rest is of itself acceptable to God. Besides, we do celebrate and keep the Lord’s Day, and not the Jewish Sabbath, and that with a free observation" (p. 180).

As regards "Festivals of Christ and the Saints," the confession notes:

"Moreover, if the churches do religiously celebrate the memory of the Lord’s Nativity, Circumcision, Passion, Resurrection, and of his Ascension into heaven, and the sending of the Holy Spirit upon his disciples, according to Christian liberty, we do very well approve of it. But as for festival days, ordained for men and saints departed, we cannot allow them" (p. 180).

Bullinger, it seems, had no problem with a gospel church celebrating Christmas, Easter, or, even Pentecost, as long as it did not get hung up in superstition or focus on the "saints" rather than God.

Was Bullinger still clinging to Roman Catholic traditions? Is the fullest and most mature expression of the Reformation (Biblical) trajectory reflected in the Puritans or did they transgress into reductionism and spiritual minimalism?


A 600 Year Old Christmas Letter

Note: The following article was posted on the blog of Tom Ascol, Executive Director of the Founders Ministry (founders.org), in December 2006:
John Huss (Jan Hus) was a forerunner of the Protestant Reformation. He was a Czech university professor whose extensive writings earned him the ire of the Roman Catholic Church. He was excommunicated, condemned and executed for his teachings against the papacy and Roman Catholic errors. On July 6, 1415 he was burned at the stake while singing, "Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me." His ashes were scattered in the Rhine River.Two years before his death, Hus wrote the following Christmas letter to his church in Prague while he was under the ban from the Roman Church. Many of its expressions reflect the desires of my own heart for my family, church and friends.Have a blessed Christmas!


To the Praguers
25 December 1413
Dearly Beloved!

Albeit I am now separated from you so far that it perhaps is not fitting that I preach much to you; nevertheless, the love that I have for you urges me that I say at least a few brief words to your love.

Lo! dearly beloved; as it were an angel today said to the shepherds: "I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." And suddenly a multitude of angels cried aloud, saying: "Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will toward men."

Rejoice that today the infinitely Great is born a child, that there may be glory to God in the highest.

Rejoice, because today is born the Reconciler, in order to reconcile man with God and angel, that there may be glory to God in the highest.

Rejoice, because today One was born to cleanse sinners from their sin, to deliver them from the power of the Devil, and to save them from eternal perdition, and bring them into eternal joy, that there may be glory to God in the highest.

Rejoice with a great joy that today a King is born to us, to dispense the fullness of the heavenly kingdom; a Bishop, to grant eternal benediction; the Father of the future age, in order to keep us as His children with Himself forever.

A loving Brother is born to us, a wise Master, a safe Leader, a just Judge, in order that there may be glory to God in the highest.Rejoice, you wicked, because the God-priest was born, who grants to every penitent absolution from all sins, that there may be glory to God in the highest.

Rejoice, because today the bread of angels, namely, God, became food for men, to refresh the hungry with His glorious body, that they may have peace on earth.Rejoice, that the immortal God is born, so that mortal men may live in eternity.

Rejoice, because the rich Lord of the Universe lies in a manger as poor, that He may enrich us needy ones.Rejoice dearly beloved, that what the prophets prophesied is fulfilled, that there may be glory to God in the highest.

O, dearly beloved, should there be but little rejoicing over these things? Nay, a mighty joy! Because a Redeemer is born to us, to free us from all misery, a Saviour of sinners, a Ruler of all His faithful; there is born a Comforter of the sorrowful, and given us the Son of God, that there be to us great joy, to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will.

May the God born to us this day deign to grant us that good will, peace, along with joy! Amen.


Note: Evangel article 12/25/08.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sermon of the Week: Leonard Ravenhill Interview

Leonard Ravenhill (1907-1994) was an Evangelist and Revivalist who offers a striking critique of evangelical church life in this old "Chapel of the Air" interview. You can really hear Ravenhill's influence on people like Paul Washer. Ravenhill is interesting. Sometimes consistency is lacking. On one hand, he can recommend the reading of Gurnall's The Christian in Complete Armour and Charnock's The Existence and Attributes of God. On the other hand, he seems to approve of the Finney's revivalism.

Ravenhill is also known for his maxims. Here are a few culled from another website:

“A popular evangelist reaches your emotions. A true prophet reaches your conscience.”

“The last words of Jesus to the church (in Revelation) were ‘Repent!’”

“A true shepherd leads the way. He does not merely point the way.”

“You never have to advertise a fire. Everyone comes running when there’s a fire. Likewise, if your church is on fire, you will not have to advertise it. The community will already know it.”

“Your doctrine can be as straight as a gun barrel—and just as empty!”

“John the Baptist never performed any miracles. Yet, he was greater than any of the Old Testament prophets.”

“I doubt that more than two percent of professing Christians in the United States are truly born again.”

“Our God is a consuming fire. He consumes pride, lust, materialism, and other sin.”

“There are only two kinds of persons: those dead in sin and those dead to sin.”

[Concerning the darkness that has enveloped most of Christendom:] “When you’re sitting in a dark room, you can either sit and curse the darkness—or you can light a candle.”

“Children can tell you what Channel 7 says, but not what Matthew 7 says.”

“Some women will spend thirty minutes to an hour preparing for church externally (putting on special clothes and makeup, etc.). What would happen if we all spent the same amount of time preparing internally for church—with prayer and meditation?”

“Maturity comes from obedience, not necessarily from age.”

“What good does it do to speak in tongues on Sunday if you have been using your tongue during the week to curse and gossip?”

“Would we send our daughters off to have sex if it would benefit our country? Yet, we send our sons off to kill when we think it would benefit our country!”

“The only time you can really say that ‘Christ is all I need,’ is when Christ is all you have.”

“The Bible is either absolute, or it’s obsolete.”

“Why do we expect to be better treated in this world than Jesus was?”

“Today’s church wants to be raptured from responsibility.”

“Testimonies are wonderful. But, so often our lives don’t fit our testimonies.”

[Concerning one of the new “movements” in the church that was causing a stir among Christians:] “There’s also a stir when the circus comes to town.”

“My main ambition in life is to be on the Devil’s most wanted list.”

“You can’t develop character by reading books. You develop it from conflict.”

“When there’s something in the Bible that churches don’t like, they call it ‘legalism.’”

“We can’t serve God by proxy.”

“We must do what we can do for God, before He will give us the power to do what we can’t do.”

“There’s a difference between changing your opinion, and changing your lifestyle.”

“Our seminaries today are turning out dead men.”

“How can you pull down strongholds of Satan if you don’t even have the strength to turn off your TV?”

“Everyone recognizes that Stephen was Spirit-filled when he was performing wonders. Yet, he was just as Spirit-filled when he was being stoned to death.”

“If a Christian is not having tribulation in the world, there’s something wrong!”

[Concerning the fixation that today’s church has with numbers, with growth at any price:] “The church has paid a terrible price for statistics!”

“Any method of evangelism will work—if God is in it.” “Church unity comes from corporate humility.”

“You can have all of your doctrines right—yet still not have the presence of God.”

“Many pastors criticize me for taking the Gospel so seriously. But do they really think that on Judgment Day, Christ will chastise me, saying, ‘Leonard, you took Me too seriously’?”

“If Jesus had preached the same message that ministers preach today, He would never have been crucified.”

“You can know a lot about the atonement, and yet receive no benefit from it.”

“If the whole church goes off into deception, that will in no way excuse us for not following Christ.”


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Jewel

"My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand" (John 10:29 AV).

In a chapter on the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints in his book Living for God’s Glory (Reformation Trust, 2008), Joel Beeke writes, "God has never torn up a Christian’s birth certificate" (p. 126).

Beeke goes on to relate a remarkable dream that John Newton, the old sea captain and author of "Amazing Grace," once had:

In his dream, he was in Naples Harbor when a most glorious person came aboard the ship and gave Newton a beautiful jewel. Newton was thrilled. But soon another person came on deck and began to mock Newton, saying the jewel was no good and urging him to throw it away. Eventually Newton came to believe him and flung the jewel into the sea. Immediately, he was filled with horror. "Oh, what have I done?" he cried.

Soon the glorious person came to him again and asked about the jewel. With shame, Newton confessed that he had thrown it away. What would happen? Newton saw the glorious person go over the side of the ship and return with the jewel. As he came back on deck, Newton held out his hand for the jewel, but the glorious one refused, saying: "No. The jewel is yours; it always will be yours; but I will keep it for you." (p. 127).

In the end, what matters is not the hold that we perceive that we have on Christ but the hold that he has on us.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Note: Evangel article for 12/16/08.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Luther: Sin is in us like a beard

I'm reading through Joel Beeke's new book Living for God's Glory (Reformation Trust, 2008).

In his discussion of the doctrine of sin, Beeke quotes Martin Luther (who is frequently depicted with more than his fair share of stubble):

Original sin is in us like a beard. We are shaved today and look clean; tomorrow our beard has grown again, nor does it cease growing while we remain on earth. In like manner original sin cannot be extirpated from us; it springs up in us as long as we live" (p. 54).

What a great metaphor for Luther's contention that the Christian is simul iustus et peccator (at the same time just and a sinner).

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Exposition of Jude: Part 12 of 25

Left photo: A fragment of Jude known as Papyrus 78 dated to the 3rd or 4th century.
Note: This is a series of occasional verse by verse expositions of Jude. An archive of past commentaries may be found below under the label "Jude Exposition."

Jude 1:12 These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots;

Jude seems to draw from an endless supply of metaphors to describe the dangers and destitution of the false teachers he is battling. In vv. 12-13 he provides five such metaphors. The first three of these come in v. 12. The false teachers are:

First, "spots in your love feasts." The Greek word for "spot" here is spilas. It might also be translated as "stain." Imagine how the spilling of food on a perfectly clean garment spoils its otherwise pristine appearance. The "love feasts" apparently refers to special meals that the early Christians celebrated alongside their observance of the Lord’s Supper (see 1 Corinthians 11:17-34). Paul accused some in Corinth of unseemly, selfish, and irreverent behavior at such meals (see especially 1 Corinthians 11:20-22). Jude rebukes the false teachers as being "without fear." That is, they do not fear God or consider how he views their actions. Jude says they only "serve themselves." The word for "serve" here is poimaino. It is usually translated as "to shepherd" or "to tend as a pastor." Thus, they are like the shepherds (leaders) of Israel whom Ezekiel accused of being concerned only with feeding themselves and not with care for the flock of God (see Ezekiel 34:2, 8, 10).

Second, "clouds without water." The false teachers are like clouds that block the sun but yield no rain. They prohibit one good and withhold another. This image is also one of instability. They are "carried about by winds." Paul urged the Ephesians not to be "carried away with every wind of doctrine" (Ephesians 4:14) even as James warned against the "double-minded man, unstable in all his ways" (James 1:11). These peddlers of deception have no fixed and stable doctrinal convictions. One day they teach one thing, the next something completely contradictory.

Third, "late autumn trees without fruit." The late autumn is the time for harvest. It is the time for Thanksgiving. But when the harvesters come to these trees they find no fruit. They are barren. Jesus taught that false prophets could be discerned by their fruit (see Matthew 7:15-20). The lack of fruit reveals a lack of life. It is not that these trees are merely dormant. They are "twice dead, pulled up by the roots." They will never produce fruit, because they have no life in them. So too are the false teachers. Unless they repent, they too will be "twice dead," as they experience physical death and after that "the second death" which is God’s judgement for their wickedness (cf. Revelation 20:14).

  • How might Jude’s strong denunciation of false teachers serve as a warning to true Christians?

  • How might one become a "spot" or embarrassing "stain" in the gatherings of the church?

  • Are you ever erratic in your convictions and practices, drifting like an aimless cloud from one position to another? If so, how might you gain stability?

  • What spiritual fruit are you producing that gives evidence that you have real life in Christ?


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Lottie Moon's Legacy

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15).

Each year Southern Baptist churches collect a mission offering during the Christmas season to support the cause of international missions. The tradition began when Albemarle County native Charlotte Diggs "Lottie" Moon, wrote a letter published in the December 1887 issue of the Foreign Missions Journal urging Baptist women in the South to observe a time for prayer and self-denial for missions the week before Christmas. In that famous letter, Moon wrote:

Need it be said why the week before Christmas is chosen? Is not the festive season, when families and friends exchange gifts in memory of The Gift laid on the altar of the world for redemption of the human race, the most appropriate time to consecrate a portion from abounding riches and scant poverty to send forth the good tidings of great joy into all the earth?

She later added:

I wonder how many of us really believe that it is more blessed to given than to receive. A woman who accepts the statement of our Lord Jesus Christ as a fact, and not as "impracticable idealism" will make giving a principle of her life. She will lay aside sacredly not less than one-tenth of her income or her earnings as the Lord’s money, which she would no more dare touch for personal use than she would steal. How many there are among our women, alas, who imagine that because "Jesus paid it all," they need pay nothing, forgetting that the prime object of their salvation was that they should follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ!

After Moon’s death, the annual missions offering was named the "Lottie Moon Christmas Offering" in her memory. We join again this year in supporting this annual offering to further cross-cultural missions among the nations.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Note: Evangel article on December 4, 2008.

Monday, December 01, 2008

I am but one...

Over Thanksgiving I read D. A. Carson's little biography of his father, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson (Crossway, 2008). Carson's father was a missionary church planter in Montreal, Canada who labored through difficult circumstances and saw little visible fruit. Near the end, Carson shares this quote from his Dad's journal that gives some clue to his father's perseverance:
When I was in Sunday School as a boy at Calvary Baptist Church, there was a saying hanging from one of the walls where everyone could see it:
"I am but one, but I am one;
I cannot do everything, but I can do something;
what I can do, I ought to do;
and what I ought to do, God helping me, I will do."
"She has done what she could" (see John 12:1-8; Mark 14:3-9) (p. 143).

Sermon of the Week: David Murray on "Reformation Worship"

We are seeing a resurgence of interest and passion for Calvinistic soteriology in contemporary evangelical life. These views have been popularized in the writings of men like John Piper and in conferences like "Together for the Gospel."
In his sermon "Reformation Worship," David Murray, professor at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, makes the point, however, that true end of the Reformation movement is not merely the embrace of Biblical soteriology but Biblical Worship.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

With Thanksgiving for Religious Freedom

Photos: Me in front of a plaque in the Roger Williams National Memorial noting the fact that Providence was established as "a shelter for persons distressed." The building behind me on the right is the spot where Williams' own house stood.
Let each be fully convinced in his own mind (Romans 14:5).

While in Providence, Rhode Island last week for the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, I walked from my hotel one afternoon over to the Roger Williams National Memorial. Williams migrated to Boston from England in 1631 and not long after took up an assistant minister position in nearby Salem. His separatist views soon brought him into conflict with the powers that be. He criticized the Puritans in New England for not separating fully from the Church of England, and he resisted their efforts to have the civil authority impose religious conformity.

His "new and dangerous opinions" led the Massachusetts Bay authorities to convict him and plan to deport him to England. Williams barely avoided arrest and fled the colony in 1636. After spending the winter among the Wampanoag Indians, Williams made his way to the headwaters of the Narragansett Bay where he founded the city of Providence after "God’s merciful Providence unto me in my distress" and the colony of Rhode Island. This new colony became a beacon of religious liberty. The first Baptist church in America was formed by Williams in 1638. He did not remain long with the congregation, however, because he believed no church on earth could fit "first and ancient pattern" of the New Testament until Christ’s second coming. Rhode Island is home not only to the first Baptist Church in America but also the first Quaker Meeting House and the first Jewish Synagogue.

Sometimes Williams is anachronistically presented as a kind of "anything goes" bohemian. The National Park Brochure on the Williams Memorial, however, points out:

Yet Roger Williams’s belief in religious freedom should not be confused with a casual acceptance of all faiths. When he was 69, Williams rowed 30 miles from Providence to Newport for a spirited debate with the Quakers. He mistrusted a religion that relied more on "inner light" than on the New Testament. His passionate opposition to the Quakers makes it all the more significant that no Quaker in Rhode Island was ever punished for his or her religious beliefs or practices—this during a period when Massachusetts barred Quakers, hanging four of them for repeatedly returning to the colony after being expelled. The first charter of Rhode Island stated that as long as they obeyed the civil laws, all its citizens were free to "walk as their consciences persuade them."

Williams’s life proves that true religious freedom is not attained when we abandon all convictions, but when we hold firmly to our beliefs while trying to convince those who disagree through persuasion and not coercion.

This Thanksgiving we can thank God for religious freedom.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Note: Evangel article 11/26/08.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Campolo's Confused Ethics on Display at BGAV

Photo: Tony Campolo speaking at the very post-modern looking stage at the 2008 BGAV Meeting on the theme, "Who is My Neighbor?"
Social Gospel activist and American Baptist preacher Tony Campolo was the theme interpretation speaker at this year’s annual meeting of the moderate Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) November 11-12 in Roanoke.

Campolo stirred things up by saying that he was against California’s recent successful passage of Proposition 8 affirming a traditional definition of marriage. Robert Dilday offers this report on Campolo’s comments in his Baptist Press article (see the ABP article also by Dilday):

Interpreting the meeting's theme "Who Is My Neighbor?" Campolo said, "The Samaritans were those who were considered spiritually unclean, abominations in the eyes of God." Some of today's "Samaritans," he said, are the poor, Muslims, illegal immigrants and gays.Campolo called himself "a conservative on the issue" of homosexuality, but said he opposed Proposition 8.
Describing homosexual behavior "contrary to the teaching of God," he nonetheless questioned what was gained in passing the ballot initiative."What did we win? ... I'll tell you what we won," he said. "We won tens of thousands of gays and lesbians parading up and down the streets of San Francisco and New York and L.A. screaming against the church, seeing the church as enemy.
"I don't know how we're going to reach these brothers and sisters," he said, "but I'm an evangelical and I'm going to win them to Christ.... And we're not going to win them to Christ if we keep sending them bad messages, and we've sent them a bad message. I think the decision in California was in agreement with how I believe, but sometimes you've got to consider the person before you bang them over the head with your principles."

Campolo is more than a little confused in his argument. First, our primary concern should not be whether or not sinners will be upset when Christians stand up for godly values. We should be concerned with how God views our actions and not man.

Second, Campolo’s method does not seem to agree with that of Christ’s. When Jesus met the woman at the well he did not hesitate to expose her sin: "for you have had five husbands and the one whom you now have is not your husband" (John 4:18). His final word to the woman caught in adultery is "Go and sin no more" (John 11:10). Campolo seems to think that the loving thing to do is to ignore sin. This is not the track Jesus took.

Finally, Campolo can say he takes a "conservative" view on homosexual practice all he wants. In fact, he often notes that he disagrees with his wife who promotes full and uncritical acceptance of homosexual practice (By the way, where is his spiritual leadership in the family on this issue?). But, in truth, his view is far from any definition of "conservative" that I know. He clearly does not see homosexual practice as an abominable sin in the way the writers of Scripture do (see Gen 19; Lev 18:22; Rom 1:26-32; 1 Cor 6:9-10; 1 Tim 1:8-11).

To illustrate, let’s say that California had a proposition that would ban incest, bestiality, or pedophilia (things that also are clearly denounced in Scripture). Would Campolo say of Christian support of the civil authority’s efforts to ban such activities:

"I don't know how we're going to reach these brothers and sisters … but I'm an evangelical and I'm going to win them to Christ.... And we're not going to win them to Christ if we keep sending them bad messages, and we've sent them a bad message. I think the decision in California was in agreement with how I believe, but sometimes you've got to consider the person before you bang them over the head with your principles."

Would he worry about "sending bad messages" to pedophiles or warn Christians against banging the incestuous "over the head with your principles"? The very nature of his argument reveals that he does not truly believe homosexual practice to be a vile abomination before God.

Do those who claim to be conservative, Bible believing Christians need any more evidence as to why they and their churches should leave the BGAV as soon as possible? Conservative Pastors in BGAV churches: Copy the Dilday article and give it to your laypeople to read. Let them put the pieces together.


Monday, November 24, 2008

2008 ETS Reflectons: Day Three (Friday, November 21)

Photo: A sign on a gate at Brown University: "Welcome O Undergraduate, Within This 87 gate! All Ent Ring Here Find Hope Endures. The Fount Of Knowledge Still Allures. And Here Good Fellowship Abides To Cheer and Help Whate'er Betides."
Friday (November 21):

The morning business session was at 8:30 am. It was not so well attended as one might have expected given the disputed doctrinal proposal that was on the table. To change the ETS constitution 80% was needed. The proposal failed by a vote of 47 yes and 140 no. I voted "yes" with the minority. I do not particularly like the statement, but some guideline is needed for ETS.
9:10 am: I went to John Oswalt’s (Wesley Seminary) review of research on the book of Isaiah from 1950-1985. He noted that since Duhm’s proposal of multiple authorship of Isaiah (c. 1892) the field has radically changed. EJ Young’s commentary defending single authorship is the exception. He noted that academy scholars see all prophecy as "ex eventu" and propose intentional deception to make the book appear earlier. He noted though that this is hypocritical as those same scholars then praise the author(s) as spiritual genius(es). This was a great paper!
10:00 am: We went to hear Maurice Robinson do a very good paper on text criticism. Robinson began with an autobiographical sketch of his career, his passion for promoting the Byzantine text, and for challenging the eclectic text critical method.

10:50 am: Our final paper. We heard Dennis Swanson (Master’s Seminary) speak on Titus as a model for a modern "Consulting [interim] Pastor."

After lunch, we took another walk through Providence, touring the First Baptist Church, the Roger Williams National Memorial, the statue of Williams in Prospect Park, and taking another stroll through Brown’s campus. By late afternoon it was off to the airport to catch our flight home.


2008 ETS Reflections: Day Two (Thursday, November 20)

Photo: The Rhode Island Convention Center.
Thursday (November 20):

8:30 am: I went to Douglas Huffman’s (Northwestern College) "Survey of Text-Critical Issues in the Book of Acts."

9:20 am: Rob and I sat in on Timothy George’s (Beeson Divinity) "Baptists, Calvinists, and Ecumenists." He noted that the impetus for this paper was his discussion with "Father" Richard John Neuhaus on what the resurgence of Calvinism in Baptist life meant for the future of ecumenism. This was an odd talk. George noted that Baptists aren’t really Calvinists because of disagreement with Calvin on (1) paedobaptism; (2) church government; and (3) civil magistrates. Granted. He further suggested a moratorium on the term "Calvinism." He preferred to say that the Reformation was the acute Augustiniation of Christianity. He noted the common ground that Calvinists have with Arminians in their understandings of grace, sin, and regeneration.

He said the verdict was out on what Calvinism meant for ecumenism.

In the discussion, Paige Patterson of SWBTS challenged George on minimizing differences with Rome in doctrine, noting that the two of them had spent ten years in SBC-Catholic dialogue and never got an admission from their Catholic counterparts that Martin Luther was a true Christian.

George made some odd-sounding remarks throughout. I already noted his references to "Father" Neuhaus. He also made reference to the Pope as "the Holy Father in Rome." Could George cross the Tiber with Beckwith?

10:10 am: I went to hear Gregg Allison of SBTS do a paper defending the use of the multi-site church model. I did a paper at ETS with quite the opposite view two years ago.

11:00 am: I attended Mark Strauss’s (Bethel Seminary, San Diego) session "Why the ESV Should Not Become the English Standard Version." Strauss was a translator on the TNIV and it was his time to take the ESV to task from a dynamic equivalency advocate perspective. Grudem and Piper were both in the room to pose questions after his presentation.

After lunch, the third plenary session was at 12:50 pm by Dan Wallace (Dallas Seminary) on the NT Text. Wallace defended the continuing search for the "original text" of Scripture at a time when liberals (like Bart Ehrman) are abandoning such a quest. He argued for closing the gap between church and academy by having evangelical scholars let the folk in the pew understand NT text issue, noting "It’s better that they hear the truth from us." Wallace noted that in the next edition of the NET Bible (of which he is NT editor) he hopes to relegate the Pericope Adulterae and the Ending of Mark to the footnotes! He does not believe these should be in the Bible!!! I found his comments disturbing.

The fourth and last plenary followed at 1:40 pm with Charles Hill (Reformed Seminary) on NT Canon.

In the afternoon I did my paper at 2:50 pm on "Baptized Couches? Mark 7:4 and the Biblical Mode of Baptism." I later attended Robert Polcheck’s paper on the "Pastoral Implications of Revelatory Gifts" and then took more book room time.

At the evening banquet, Rob and I sat at a table with Dr. Maurice Robinson of SEBTS and some of his students, one of whom is now an IMB missionary in China. The meal was really good (clam chowder and Salmon!). ETS President Hassell Bullock (Wheaton) gave the presidential address on Wisdom and Torah in the OT.

2008 ETS Reflections: Day One (Wednesday, November 19)

Photo: The view of Providence from my hotel window. The white steeple is the First Baptist Church.
I am back from Providence, RI and the ETS Meeting. Providence was my favorite venue for the ETS conferences I have attended so far. The Rhode Island Convention Center is a great facility and Providence is an ideal setting—easy to reach, plenty of things to see and do, great restaurants at reasonable prices, etc.

This year’s meeting did not seem as well attended as some in previous years. Among reasons I heard discussed by attendees: down turn in economy; lack of evangelical schools in close range to the meeting site; distance from the SBL Meeting in Boston, following ETS.

This year’s theme was "Text and Canon." Many of the papers were related to the topic as were the four plenary sessions.

The big news was the membership voting against acceptance of a new doctrinal "basis" that had been proposed by some members. More on this later.

The annual ETS meeting is an offering of scores of parallel break-out sessions where members present papers on various topics. There are also four plenary sessions (where one speaker addresses all attendees), a few business sessions, and a Thursday night banquet.
Wednesday (November 19):

8:30 am: I attended Darrel Bock’s (Dallas Seminary) session on Historiography in Acts.
He was reviewing a recent book by Penner on Acts and Greco-Roman historiography.

9:10 am I dropped in on a panel discussion titled: "Too Reformed to be Evangelical?" and heard a paper by D. G. Hart of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

Hart is an OPC elder. He argued that the evangelical movement has weakened confessional faith. He contrasted evangelicalism and the Reformed faith. Whereas Reformed faith has high view of church office bearers, evangelicalism has "thrown away the training wheels of the clergy" (quoting Nathan Hatch, Democratization of American Christianity). Evangelicalism makes faith private; whereas, Reformed view stresses importance of public worship as means of grace. He also cited evangelical compromises with Rome (see Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom, Is the Reformation Over?).

In discussion time he noted that Baptists aren’t truly "Reformed," because they don’t baptize babies. He prefers to call Calvinistic Baptists "Particular Baptists." The name "Presbyterian" implies a view of connectionalism in Presbyteries.

At week’s end, I would say this was one of the best papers I heard.

11:00 am: I went to Joel Beeke’s paper "Calvin on Prayer." It was vintage Beeke. Good scholarship and warm piety.

After lunch the first plenary session was by Peter Gentry of SBTS at 1:40 pm on the text of the OT. He gave a stellar overview of OT text criticism in c. 50 minutes.

In the afternoon I heard Edward Stevens (International Preterist Association) argues that the NT canon was complete by 70 AD and William Evans (Erskine College) trace "The Unraveling of the Conservative Reformed Soteriological Concensus" and perused the book exhibition area.

After supper the second plenary session on "OT Canon" was given at 7:30 pm by Stephen Dempster of Atlantic Baptist University of New Brunswick, Canada. A curiosity: Dempster used "BCE" terminology rather than "AD." Isn’t it safe to use "AD" at ETS? His conclusion on canon of OT is that it "zeroes in on David." First half of Hebrew Bible: Torah plus 4 Former Prophets; Second Half: 4 Latter Prophers plus Writings. Question: But what about the order of the canon in the Christian OT Scriptures (Genesis-Malachi)?

The evening business session began at 8:30 pm. The topic was whether or not ETS would amend its doctrinal "basis" for membership which now only requires affirmation of (1) inerrancy; and (2) the Trinity.

Two members, Ray Van Neste (NOBTS) and Denny Burke (Criswell) had recommended that ETS adopt a more defined statement. Their suggestion was that ETS adopt the doctrinal statement of the UK’s Tyndale Fellowship. You can read their proposal at AmendETS.com.

The impetus for this move has been recent challenges to the doctrinal consensus of ETS including challenges to the membership of Openness Theologians Clark Pinnock and John Saunders and, more recently, the resignation of Baylor’s Francis Beckwith as ETS President after he converted to Catholicism.

The ETS Executive Committee had recommended against adoption of the statement. A full hour’s debate was given. Among those speaking in favor of the proposal: Wayne Grudem (Phoenix), Michael Haykin (SBTS), and Albert Mohler (SBTS). Among those speaking against it: Bruce Ware (SBTS), Jim Borland (Liberty), and John Walton (Wheaton). Some of those who spoke against wanted a better doctrinal statement. Others argued that confessions were right for churches and denominations but not for academic societies. Vote was set for Friday AM.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

In Providence for ETS

I am in Providence, Rhode Island for the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. Providence is an absolutely beautiful and picturesqe town. It is cold here! Even the natives have said it is January weather in November. Above is the meeting house for the First Baptist Church of Providence, the oldest Baptist congregation in America and the oldest church of any kind in Rhode Island.

This plaque outside the church house notes the congregation's founding in 1638 by Roger Williams. The current building was erected in 1775.

Here's Pastor Rob Stovall standing behind the building. The church is on College Hill and a short walk up the street one find the Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University. We took a stroll through the sprawling Brown campus. This was the first Baptist school in America (founded 1674) by James Manning.

Rob and I wandered into "Manning Chapel" (the building also houses an Anthropology Museum). I took this bad photo above from the back balcony. If you look closely, you can see a group of students sitting on the floor and meditating in front of a small statue of Buddha. To think that Brown was once a center of evangelical fervor under the presidency of Baptist statesman, Francis Wayland (1796-1865)!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pipa on the Privileges of Worship

This challenge is taken from the concluding paragraphs of Joseph Pipa, Jr. "The Purpose of Worship," in The Worship of God: Reformed Concepts of Worship (Christian Focus, 2005): p 66.

Therefore, because of who God is and what He does we are to come into His presence with the service of corporate worship. As we are gripped by the nature and purpose of worship, we then will be compelled to enjoy this privilege and enter into it wholeheartedly. We minimize the privilege of worship. We often fail to grasp or to continue to focus on this glorious privilege that God gives us to come by Christ Jesus into His presence. There is no better privilege that belongs to us, no better work we do for God, but we often denigrate worship.

Some of you attend churches that do not have evening worship, while others of you may neglect the second service. Why in the world, if all these privileges are attached to worship, would we omit evening worship? Perhaps one cannot dogmatically assert from Scripture the necessity of the second service; it is surely implied both in Psalm 92 and in the pattern of the morning and evening sacrifice. Although I cannot make a dogmatic case, I can make a pragmatic one. When we come into worship and go up into heaven in God’s presence, when the Word of God is preached by the lawfully ordained man of God and Christ Himself is speaking to us, why would we want to be anywhere else? Why would we want to neglect the privilege of doing this twice on the Lords’ Day?

Some of you prefer to spend time on Sunday nights with your children to catechize them. I had a friend who said, "I do not come to the evening service, because I am spending time with my children and catechizing them." You ought to catechize your children, but why catechize them when Christ is speaking down the street and manifesting His presence? Some of us dread worship. You wake up Sunday morning—"Oh, no, it’s Sunday, and I’ve got to go to church." We need to be gripped with the beauty and glory of the privilege that is ours to enter His courts with thanksgiving.

Moreover, let us become zealous and jealous that God’s people will again discover the fullness of worship. God is most glorified in Biblical corporate worship. Let us pray and labor for the reformation of worship. Let us support those churches committed to such worship.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Note: Evangel article 11/16/08.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

New "Evangelical Forum Newsletter" Posted

The Summer/Fall 2008 Evangelical Forum Newsletter is now posted online. You can read it here.
Included in this issue:
  • Part three in my six part series on "The Doctrines of Grace." This time: "Unconditional Election" (see pp. 48-56).
  • A review of the Baptist Hymnal [2008 edition] (see pp. 58-61).
  • An excerpt from Richard Fuller's sermon on "Predestination" (see pp. 62-63).


Sermon(s) of the Week: Robert McCurley on Worship

My friend Rob Stovall recently completed the Fall 2008 Theology Conference at his church--Providence BC in Suffolk. The speaker was Robert McCurley of Greenville Presbyterian Church and the topic was worship. The messages are worth hearing:


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Video Recommendation: "Expelled"

Alert: Videos rarely get recommended on this blog, but here goes:

We rented and watched the Ben Stein video "Expelled" the other day. I recommend it. The whole video is worth watching merely for the final segment when Stein ties atheist crusader Richard Dawkins into a philosophical pretzel by pressing the question of where life on the planet initially came from. Dawkins ends up hypothesizing that a highly evolved alien civilization "seeded" life on earth. And he ridicules "religious" people who believe in the Creator God of Scriptures?


Who are Christ's Lambs?

From Sunday's sermon on John 19:1-17:

Peter replies to Jesus' question in v. 15: "Yes, Lord; you know that I love You." And Jesus responds with a commission: "Feed my lambs" (v. 15).
Who are Christ’s lambs?

The lambs are all those who will come to confess that Jesus is Lord. They are

the saints,
the elect,
the believers,
the followers of the Way,
the disciples,
the redeemed,
the called,
the kingdom of priests,
the heirs of promise,
the adopted sons,
the living stones,
the children of God,
the sons of light and sons of the day,
the seed of Abraham,
the slaves of Christ,
approved workmen,
the stewards of the mysteries of the kingdom,
the sons of the kingdom,
the Israel of God,
the good soil.
Jesus cares for His lambs.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Little Red Hen and Biblical Stewardship

Note: We had our annual stewardship breakfast yesterday at JPBC. This is the devotion I shared from an old Evangel article:

Do you know the children’s story, "The Little Red Hen and the Grain of Wheat"?

As the story goes, a little red hen finds a grain of wheat, and asks her friends, "Who will plant this wheat?" "Not I," say the cat, the pig, and the turkey, each in turn. "Then I will," says the little red hen.

After the wheat grows tall and ripe, she asks, "Who will reap this wheat?" Again, her friends respond: "Not I." "Then I will," says the little red hen.

After reaping the wheat, the little red hen asks, "Who will thresh this wheat?" Again, the cat, the pig, and the turkey reply, "Not I." And the little red hen says, "I will, then." And she threshes the wheat.

"Who will take this wheat to the mill to have it ground?" she asks next. Again, she hears, "Not I," as each friend replies in turn. So, she takes the wheat to mill and soon returns with flour.

"Who will bake this flour?" asks the little red hen. "Not I," says the cat. "Not I," says the pig. "Not I," says the turkey. So, she bakes the flour and makes a beautiful loaf of bread.

Finally, the little red hen asks, "Who will eat this bread?"
"I will," says the cat.
"I will," says the pig.
"I will," says the turkey.

The story ends with the little red hen responding to her friends, "I will," and she eats up the loaf of bread.

This child’s story, reminds us of some Biblical truth about stewardship of our resources (time, money, energy, activity). It would be wrong for us to contribute nothing to kingdom work and expect to reap the benefits.

In Luke 6:38 Jesus taught: "Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you."

In 1 Corinthians 12:7 Paul notes, "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all." And in Galatians 6:5 he says, "For each one shall bear his own load."

Too often a few carry the burden for the many. We are at work, by God’s grace, in making something beautiful in this church. How will we respond when asked questions like the following:

Who will keep the nursery?
Who will sing in the choir?
Who will find a personal ministry to pursue?
Who will be faithful and consistent in Bible study and worship?
Who will give tithes and offerings to support the work of ministry?

On Commitment Sunday at JPBC, let the church be filled with little red hens who say, "We will!!!" to the glory of God.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Monday, November 03, 2008

He loved us even when He hated us

In the Institutes, Calvin aprovingly quotes Augustine in describing God's simultaneous love for us and his holy hatred for our sin:
Thus in a marvelous and divine way He loved us even when He hated us. For He hated us for what we were that He had not made; yet because our wickedness had not entirely consumed His handiwork, He knew how, at the same time, to hate in each one of us what we had made, and to love what He had made.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Sermon of the Week: Paul Washer's "Ten Indictments"

It was October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther posted his "Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences" (better known as "The Ninety-Five Theses") on the door of the Castle church at Wittenberg. In that spirit, our sermon of the week is a modern jeremiad against the contemporary evangelical church in America from Paul Washer: "Ten Indictments Against the Modern Church in America." If you've ever listened much to Washer you'll hear many of the same illustrations and anecdotes in this message he uses in others, but it's still worth considering.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Robert George on Obama's Abortion Extremism

For any pro-life evangelicals out there who have been flirting with the idea of voting for Obama, read this sobering article by Robert George, a professor at Princeton and member of the President's Council on Bioethics.
The article begins:
Barack Obama is the most extreme pro-abortion candidate ever to seek the office of President of the United States. He is the most extreme pro-abortion member of the United States Senate. Indeed, he is the most extreme pro-abortion legislator ever to serve in either house of the United States Congress.
Yet there are Catholics and Evangelicals-even self-identified pro-life Catholics and Evangelicals - who aggressively promote Obama's candidacy and even declare him the preferred candidate from the pro-life point of view.
What is going on here?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Christian's Joy in Worship

I recently read an article on worship by Terry Johnson ("Worship from the Heart" in The Worship of God [Christian Focus, 2005]: pp. 161-80) that offers a good discussion of the concept of joy in worship.

Johnson notes that "Christian joy is not the joy of the bar room or the ball field, but of those who fear the God whom they love." He adds that "even in the athletic world, there is a difference between the joy expressed when the winning touchdown is scored and that expressed at the awards banquet two months later. In both cases the emotion is joy, yet the manner of expressing it differs as one moves from one setting to another. Similarly the joy of worship is not like that of the arena."

In answer to the preacher who asked why we can’t get as excited in the church as we do at football games, Johnson replies, "that kind of excitement is unsuitable for public worship; gospel joy is a different kind of pleasure." He continues, "Our joy is a deep emotion, similar to peace, experienced at a level unrecognized by the world. It is not the noisy exuberance and excitement of the arena, but it is ‘inexpressible and full of glory’" (1 Pet 1:8).

He concludes his remarks on joy in worship: "Our joy is a reverential joy, in public displayed with restraint. Ostentatious displays of zeal, whether by shouting, by raising hands, by leaping about, or by other such physical manifestations, have been restrained in Reformed circles by a sense of what is appropriate in public worship service, as well as the desire not to draw attention to oneself or to claim too much for oneself. We do not pray so as to be seen by man, whether on the street corner or in the public assembly. God alone is to be glorified (Matt 6:1-18)."

May the Lord grant to us the experience of this kind of peace and reverential joy in his presence!

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Note: Evangel article for 10/21/08.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Routley on Calvin and the tendency of musical worship toward degeneracy

I just read Erik Routley little book Christian Hymns Observed (Prestige, 1982). Chapter 3 is titled "The Crisis of the Reformation." He describes the formation of the Genevan Psalter under Calvin and notes, "It remains a monument to all that was best in Calvin's conception of religion" (p. 21).
He concludes, "You might say that Calvin saw the infinite possibilities of degeneracy in these new [Reformation] freedoms; you might even say he saw 'The Old Rugged Cross' coming and did what he could to warn us against it. But he didn't win" (p. 21). Routley's sense seems to be that Calvin promoted the singing of unaccompanied canonical psalms alone, because he wanted to build a protective fence around "degeneracy" in the realm of the musical aspects of worship (typified for Routley in schmaltzy songs like "The Old Rugged Cross").


Jesus: Our Temple

Note: Below is an edited excerpt from last Sunday’s sermon (10/19/08) on Mark 13:1-13:

As Jesus went out of the temple, one of his disciples said to Him: "Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!" (Mark 13:1). Indeed, the temple of Jesus’ day was a remarkable structure. It was one of the wonders of the Roman world.

We should not be surprised that the disciples of Jesus, as pious Jews, were in awe of this place. Nonetheless, they were clearly demonstrating their dullness to the teaching and mission of Christ. Jesus had exposed the spiritual corruption of the temple. The religious leaders had made it a den of thieves (Mark 11:17). Jesus had come to do away with this whole place and its entire sacrificial system by his "once for all" death on the cross. This whole place would be obsolete by the end of the week! It would be replaced by Christ. And Jesus’ disciples are still admiring the building!

Matthew Henry says of this passage: "We may see here how apt many of Christ’s own disciples are to idolize things that look great, and have been long looked upon as sacred…. How little Christ values external pomp, where there is not real purity…."

When I read this, I thought of people who decided on the church they will attend based on the aesthetics of the building. Better to attend a gospel preaching church that meets in a storefront, a field, or a barn than one that meets in a grand old building but is void of the gospel.

I also thought of folk who want to have a grand wedding in a church building in a lavish ceremony, but they do so without any thought of what it might mean to have a Christian marriage.

Notice Jesus’ answer in Mark 13:2: "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down." Can you imagine the look on the disciples faces when Jesus said this?

On one hand, Jesus is here making a prophetic prediction about the total destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 AD. It was burned to the ground and the great stones they were admiring were, as Josephus wrote, "dug up to the foundation" with nothing left "to make those that came hither believe it has ever been inhabited."

Beyond the prediction, however, Jesus is also taking a wrecking ball to their false conceptions of piety. It is not rich men making great gifts but a widow putting in two paper thin coins (Mark 12:41-44). It is not a magnificent building, but his body. Jesus himself is now our temple!

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Evangel article for 10/22/08.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Persecuted Church in India

Photo: A Christian in her burned home in the Indian state of Orissa.
I began preaching yesterday on the Olivet Discourse in Mark 13 and gave some attention to Jesus' prediction of persecution his disciples would face in the gospel age:

Mark 13:9 But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them. 10 "And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations. 11 But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.

I noted some of the persecution faced by believers today including recent stories about a Gospel for Asia missionary and his wife beaten by Hindu radicals (see here). Someone sent me this story today from the New York Times ("Hindu Threat to Christians: Convert of Leave") about current threats against believers in India. It begins:

BOREPANGA, India — The family of Solomon Digal was summoned by neighbors to what serves as a public square in front of the village tea shop.

They were ordered to get on their knees and bow before the portrait of a Hindu preacher. They were told to turn over their Bibles, hymnals and the two brightly colored calendar images of Christ that hung on their wall. Then, Mr. Digal, 45, a Christian since childhood, was forced to watch his Hindu neighbors set the items on fire.

“ ‘Embrace Hinduism, and your house will not be demolished,’ ” Mr. Digal recalled being told on that Wednesday afternoon in September. “ ‘Otherwise, you will be killed, or you will be thrown out of the village.’ ”

India, the world’s most populous democracy and officially a secular nation, is today haunted by a stark assault on one of its fundamental freedoms. Here in eastern Orissa State, riven by six weeks of religious clashes, Christian families like the Digals say they are being forced to abandon their faith in exchange for their safety.

The forced conversions come amid widening attacks on Christians here and in at least five other states across the country, as India prepares for national elections next spring.

Join me in praying for believers in India.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sermon of the Week: A Young Pastor Reflects on Life and (Near) Death

I ran across this message on sermonaudio and want to commend it to you. Brad Baugham is a young pastor (in his early 30s) in South Carolina who experienced serious heart problems that have threatened to end his life. He preached this reflective message on his experiences to his congregation: "A Peronal Testimony: The God of All Mercy." Baugham manages to be honest and forthright in telling his personal story, while also remaining humble and lifting up Christ. Give it a listen and you will be encouraged, or share it with someone you know facing serious illness.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Exposition of Jude: Part 11 of 25

Note: This is a series of occasional verse by verse expositions of Jude. An archive of this and past commentaries may be found under the label "Jude Exposition" below.

Jude 1:11 Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.

Jude announces a warning here against false teachers. That warning is: "Woe to them!" The prophets of the Old Testament often announced similar "woes." One of multiple examples would be Isaiah’s words in Isaiah 3:1: "Woe to the wicked!" Jesus also, like the prophets of old, announced such "woes" on the wicked of his day. Read Matthew 23 where Jesus seven times said, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" (see vv. 13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29)!

After this woe of warning, Jude makes comparison between the false professors of his day and three examples of wickedness in the Old Testament.

First, he points to the story of Cain (Genesis 4). Cain was, of course, the man who committed the first murder, unjustly striking down his brother Abel. The "ungodly men" (Jude 1:4) whom Jude opposes have followed in "the way" of Cain, rather than the way of Christ. Perhaps, as with Cain, they had failed to flee from sin which was crouching "at the door" (Genesis 4:7) with a desire to rule over them. Maybe these men had committed murder, or they had been filled with an irrational and unjust anger (the moral equivalent to murder; cf. Matthew 5:21-22).

Second, Jude notes that they ran greedily "in the error of Balaam for profit." Balaam was a pagan prophet whom the Moabites hired to curse Israel (see Numbers 22-24). When Balaam opened his mouth to curse Israel; however, the only thing he could utter were blessings. Nevertheless, Balaam stands in Scripture as a negative example of those who do spiritual things for greedy motives. Jude accuses the false teachers of peddling the things of God for material gain (cf. 1 Timothy 6:6-10).

Third, comparison is made between these men and the those who joined Korah in his rebellion against the leadership of Moses (see Numbers 16). The Lord’s response was to open up the ground under their feet and to swallow them up (see Number 16:30-33). Perhaps, like Korah these false teachers were rebelling against those in spiritual authority over them. Perhaps they were rejecting the authority of the Scriptures. They wanted to be in charge and make up their own rules.

So, we see Jude denouncing three specific kinds of wicked behavior: a murderous or hateful spirit (Cain); a greedy spirit (Balaam); and an anti-authoritarian spirit (Korah). To all these, Jude announces a "woe" of warning.

  • How are the "woes" announced by the prophets, Christ himself, and Jude a sign of God’s gracious desire to see sinners turn from wickedness?

  • Do you ever struggle with the sin of Cain (unjust anger or a murderous spirit)?

  • What signs of a spirit of Balaam (desire for greedy gain) do you see in the church today?

  • Like Korah, do you ever struggle to respect and submit to rightful authority, including the authority of the Scriptures?


Baptist Faith and Message (2000) Catechism

SEBTS Church historians Keith Harper and Nathan Finn run the Baptist Studies Online site. It has some interesting article and resources.
Among these is a link under primary sources to three Baptist Catechism. Catechisms are currently enjoying renewal of use in churches and families after a long dormant period. The three posted include: Keach's 1677 Catechism, Spurgeon's 1858 Catchism, and "Know the Truth: 60 Questions and Answers On Christian Belief, A Catechism for Boys and Girls" based on the Baptist Faith and Message (2000) that was developed by the First Baptist Church of Tallassee, Alabama. This is the first catechism I have seen based on the BFM (2000).

Monday, October 13, 2008

True Woman Manifesto

Several of our ladies from JPBC attended the True Woman Conference in Chicago last week. The Nancy Leigh DeMoss organized event drew over 6,000 women on site with thousands of others participating online. It promoted "The True Woman Manifesto," a counter-cultural statement on Biblical womanhood. You can read the Manifesto here and sign it here.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Lord's delight in making saints of those who hear and perceive

Here's an excerpt from last Sunday's message at JPBC from Mark 12:28-34. I was reflecting on the scribe who came to Jesus with a sincere question:
Mark 12:28: Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, "Which is the first commandment of all?"
There are two marks of openness in this man. First he was hearing ("and having heard" is just the participle for hearing or listening). This man had been listening as Jesus had been reasoning with the Pharisees and Herodians (v. 13) and the Sadducees (v. 18). He was willing to listen to the responses of Jesus. Second, he was perceiving or knowing that Jesus had answered well. How many have come to listen to Christ in his Word thinking that it will be little more than nonsense? Then, they find to their great surprise that they perceive in the reply of Christ what appears to be the very standard of what is wise, sensible, and true, while it is his critics who appears shrill and unreasonable. Jesus delights in taking captive the hearts of men and women who think they will be opposed to him, but when they stop to hear and perceive, they find themselves intrigued by Christ, drawn to Christ....

I think of the great expositor of Scripture Arthur Pink. Before he came to know the Lord he was in what was then called a "Theosophical Society," a kind of forerunner of the New Age movement. Iain Murray titles the first chapter in his biography of Pink, "A Spiritualist Medium Becomes a Christian." As a young man in his early 20s Pink was a rising star and in demand speaker in these Theosophical Societies. He had even been invited to move to India to study more closely Eastern religions.
His father, however, was a believer and one evening as Pink came home from a speaking engagement, his father gave him this verse: "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 14:12). That verse tormented Pink and he spent three days in his room praying and crying out to God. When he left that room he was converted. He kept his appointment to speak at the next (and what would prove to be his last) Theosophical meeting, but his message was not what they expected to hear. He shared with them the Gospel. Later he recorded, "Why did I leave Spiritism and Theosophy?… Because it failed to satisfy my soul. I was trying to save myself. There was no peace for a burdened conscience, no assurance of sins forgiven, no power of sin broken, no sanctification of heart. I found I could not save myself and came to the only one who could save me" (in Murray, The Life of Arthur W. Pink, p. 12).

The Lord still delights in taking skeptical scribes and making them his saints.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Palin Predicament and Two Point Complementarianism

I plan to watch the Vice Presidential debate tonight. The nominaton of Sarah Palin as the Republican VP nominee has kicked off a lot of discussion in conservative evangelical circles over the propriety of women civil magistrates. It's an old debate (see John Knox's 1558 tract, "The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women" challenging the rule of Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Mary of England).

Moderate David Gushee of Mercer wrote an op-ed piece ("The Palin Predicament") in USA Today chiding conservative evangelicals who would not allow a woman to serve as Pastor in their local church but who are enthusiastically welcoming Palin as a VP nominee. The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) responded by arguing that there is no contradiction in holding a complementarian view of gender roles in the home and church but not in the civil sphere. David Kotter of CBMW has written a series of articles supporting the propriety of women serving as civil magistrates (see the first here).

On the other hand, Doug Phillips of Vision Forum has called the nomination of Palin "the single most dangerous event in the conscience of the Christian community in the last ten years at least." Pastor Eric Einwechter has written an article ("Sarah Palin and the Complementarian Compromise") critiquing not only Palin's nomination but, more pointedly, the mainstream evangelical embrace of her nomination. He has also responded to Gushee's USA Today article. See also an article today in the Los Angeles Times on the debate over Palin among conservative evangelicals.

Phillips and Einwechter charge CBMW, Al Mohler, and other leading evangelicals with promoting partial or compromised complementarianism. Einwechter calls it "'two-point complementarianism' (i.e., the view that the headship of men and the separate roles of men and women apply in the family and in the church but do not apply in the social or civil sphere). One wonders if in addition to identifying three, four, or five point Calvinists, we might also begin to hear a distinction between those who hold a two or three point complementarian position.


The Conversation Continues: What's the deal with angels?

Note: This is a series of responses to questions that we did not get to discuss in our summer church family fellowship.

Question: What’s the deal with angels? When were they "created"? What’s the order/rank of angels?


The Bible teaches that angels are distinct, spiritual creatures who function as God’s special messengers and servants. They were created by God at some point in holy history. In Nehemiah 9:6 we read, "Thou, even thou art LORD alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host…." The Bible does not give us a direct narrative description of the creation of angels, as it does of the creation of human beings (see Genesis 2). We must assume that they were created sometime before the sixth day of creation (see Exodus 20:11: "For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them….). The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture states that the Bible does not provide us everything that we could possibly know but only with everything that we need to know.

Just as the creation of angels is never directly described in Scripture, neither is there a direct narrative of the rebellion and fall of some of the angels. By Genesis 3:1 the serpent is there to deceive Adam and Eve. In Revelation 12:9 John describes "the great dragon that was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan." Satan has "his angels" who oppose the cause of Christ (see Rev 12:7, 9). Jude 1:9 speaks of "the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation" whom God "hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgement of the last day (cf. 2 Peter 2:4).

We are told the specific names of only two angels in Scripture: Gabriel (Dan 8:16; 9:21; Luke 1:19, 26) and Michael (Dan 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 1:9; Rev 12:7). As to the order of angels, there are distinctive groups of angels, like the cherubim (Gen 3:24; Psalm 18:10; Ezek 10:1-22); the seraphim (Isaiah 6:2-7); and the four living creatures (Ezek 1:5-14; Rev 4:6-8). Michael is called a "one of the chief princes" in Daniel 10:13 and an "archangel" in Jude 1:9 (cf. 1 Thess 4:16 for the only other use of this word in the Bible). He leads the hosts of heaven against Satan in Revelation 12:7. Through the years, many have been tempted to veer into detailed speculation about the order and ranks of angels, but we should beware of going beyond what is clearly revealed in Scripture.

Angels are our fellow creatures. Mankind is made "a little lower than the angels" (Psalm 8:5) and at the resurrection we will be "as the angels" in that we will not marry or be given in marriage, but our entire focus will be on the service and worship of God.

It is certainly wrong to have an unhealthy interest in angels. There are two great scenes in Revelation in which the apostle John falls down in worship before angels, but then he is firmly rebuked by the angel: "See thou do it not: I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God…" (Rev 19:10; cf. 22:9). God will not share worship or devotion with any creature—even with angels!


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

2008 Evangelical Forum

The 7th annual Evangelical Forum was held last weekend (September 26-27) at JPBC. Here's a scene from Friday evening's service.

Here's Dr. Pipa carrying on a theological discussion over lunch.

Rovall and Stiddle: Rob Stovall and Jeff Riddle having lunch.

The Evangelical Forum was held last weekend (September 26-27). Our speakers did an excellent job on the theme "Of and of the Holy Trinity." The audio of the plenary sessions are online:

Dr. Joseph Pipa, Jr.: The Window on God
Dr. Joseph Pipa, Jr.: The Impetus of Worship


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Conversation Continues: Social Justice?

This is a series of responses to questions that we did not get to discuss in our summer church family fellowship.

Question: What role should the church have (if any) in advocating for social justice (fighting racism, helping the poor, etc.)?


The church’s primary task is making disciples (see the Great Commission of Matt 28:19-20). We do this by giving verbal witness to the gospel. As Paul said, "So then, faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God" (Rom 10:17). When the gospel changes hearts, it also changes lives. Those who have been influenced by the gospel are more likely to live upright lives, be committed to the institution of marriage, be better parents, avoid destructive addictions, shun racism and elitism, be kind neighbors, extend mercy to the poor, and be responsible citizens.

The best thing that believers can do to improve society, then, is simply to preach the gospel and be the visible church in their communities. In so doing we become salt and light, "a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden" (see Matt 5:13-14). We become an influence for good beyond all proportion to our numbers.

We have a special obligation to care for the needs of those within our local church body and for fellow believers beyond our local body. Whatever we do for the least of our Christian brothers, we do for Christ (see Matt 25:40). Jesus gave his disciples the "new commandment" that we "love one another" (see John 14:34-35). This does not mean that believers only take of each other. Their love and good deeds also spill out beyond the circle of the church. As Paul put it in Galatians 6:10: "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Gal 6:10).

Sadly, many churches, particularly those in the traditional mainline Protestant denominations, often place more emphasis on doing good deeds (the "social gospel") than on the ministry of evangelism (verbal witness to the Biblical gospel). In recent years, this attitude has also crept into many evangelical churches. Some want to be socially relevant. Others naively think that simply by doing laudable good deeds they will win unbelievers to Christ. This view does not take into account the reality of sin and the hardness of men's hearts. We also do not find this pattern for evangelism in the New Testament. When Paul and the apostles went into a new city they did not build a platform of good works, but they simply preached Jesus and watched as the Lord won converts to himself. Again, we will do the most social good by addressing the long-term spiritual needs, not merely the immediate physical needs, of men.

Indian evangelist K. P. Yohannan makes this point as only a third world evangelist can, when he writes: "There is nothing wrong with charitable acts—but they are not to be confused with preaching the Gospel. Feeding programs can save a man from dying from hunger. Medical aid can prolong life and fight disease. Housing projects can make this temporary life more comfortable—but only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can save a soul from a life of sin and an eternity in hell!" (Revolution in World Missions, p. 113).


Monday, September 22, 2008

2008 Evangelical Forum this Weekend (September 26-27)

JPBC will host the seventh annual Evangelical Forum meeting the weekend of September 26-27. The Evangelical Forum is a network of Pastors and laymen who desire to see renewal and reformation within Baptist churches in Virginia. In addition to publishing a quarterly newsletter, the Evangelical Forum has as one of its main focus to sponsor this annual leadership and theology conference.

This year the theme will be "Of God and of the Holy Trinity." We will have two well known theologians as our guests: Dr. Bruce Ware, Professor of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky and Dr. Joseph Pipa, Jr. President and Professor of Theology at the Greenville Presbyterian Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina.

The schedule:

Friday (September 26):

7:00 pm Session I
Dr. Pipa: The Window on God
Dr. Ware: The Transcendent Excellence and Perfection of God

Saturday (September 27):

9:30 am Session II:
Dr. Ware: Relationships in the Trinity
Dr. Pipa: The Impetus of Worship

11:30 am Lunch break on site, served by members of Providence Baptist Church of Suffolk, Virginia

1:00 pm Open Dialogue with speakers

This conference is primarily aimed at those serving as Pastor, Elders, and Teachers. We will have Pastors and laymen visiting from sister congregation in the area and around the state. The conference is open, however, to anyone who wishes to attend. There is no cost to attend.
For more info, look here.

Grace and peace, Jeff Riddle

Thursday, September 18, 2008

His Books

An old copy of the 1920 edition of The Oxford Book of English Verse came into my hands. One of the poems that struck my fancy is this one by Robert Southey:
His Books
By Robert Southey (1774-1843)

MY days among the Dead are past;
Around me I behold,
Where'er these casual eyes are cast,
The mighty minds of old:
My never-failing friends are they,
With whom I converse day by day.

With them I take delight in weal
And seek relief in woe;
And while I understand and feel
How much to them I owe,
My cheeks have often been bedew'd
With tears of thoughtful gratitude.

My thoughts are with the Dead; with them
I live in long-past years,
Their virtues love, their faults condemn,
Partake their hopes and fears;
And from their lessons seek and find
Instruction with an humble mind.

My hopes are with the Dead; anon
My place with them will be,
And I with them shall travel on
Through all Futurity;
Yet leaving here a name, I trust,
That will not perish in the dust.