Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Augustine's Counsel to Christian Teachers on Using Scriptural Language

Image:  Ruins of ancient Hippo, in modern Algeria, where Augustine lived.

Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine is a classic early Christian work on the topic of Biblical hermeneutics.  The great North African theologian apparently began the work in c. AD 396, completing books I, II, and III (through paragraph 35).  He returned to it in AD 427, finishing book III and completing the work with book IV.

In the opening to book IV Augustine points out that his focus in the final section will turn from the method of Biblical interpretation to the method of Biblical teaching.  Indeed, his focus in the final book is directed toward helping the Christian expositor and teacher in effective communication.

At one point (in paragraph v) he encourages Christian teachers, especially those less gifted in speaking and rhetorical abilities, to make extensive use of Scriptural language in their speech.  For Augustine study of the Bible is more important than study of secular rhetoric in making one an effective teacher:

For one who wishes to speak wisely, therefore, even though he cannot speak eloquently, it is above all necessary to remember the words of Scripture.  The poorer he sees himself to be in his own speech, the more he should make use of Scripture so that what he says in his own words he may support with the words of Scripture.  In this way he who is inferior in his own words may grow in a certain sense through the testimony of the great.  He shall give delight with his proofs when he cannot give delight with his own words.  Indeed, he who wishes to speak not only wisely but also eloquently, since he can be of more worth if he can do both, should more eagerly engage in reading or hearing the works of the eloquent and in imitating them in practice than in setting himself to learn from the masters of the art of rhetoric…..

This sounds like good counsel for preachers today.


Friday, May 27, 2016

The Vision (5.27.16): Sinners in the hands of the living God

Image:  Rhododendron, North Garden, Virginia, May 2016 

Note:  Here’s the conclusion to the Sunday am sermon at CRBC from Hebrews 10:26-31 on May 15 titled “Another Warning Against Apostasy.”

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31).

This concept of sinners falling into the hands of the living God is perhaps best known from a sermon preached by Jonathan Edwards on July 8, 1741 in Enfield, Connecticut, which is credited with beginning the Great Awakening in New England.  His sermon was titled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (read it here).

It is said that though he read the sermon from his manuscript in a monotone it provoked gasps and tears from the congregation as they listened.

Nowadays the sermon often appears in literary anthologies to show the supposed  judgmentalism and legalism of the Puritans!

Edwards’ text was not Hebrews 10:31 but Deuteronomy 32:35 “There foot shall slide in due time.”  One of the best known passages in that sermon comes in what he called the “applications”:

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince;

But then Edwards adds this:

and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God's hand has held you up. 

The hand of God is not just a hand of judgment and wrath but it is also a hand of patience and preservation!

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.  It is a blessed thing to be upheld by the hand of the living God.

Would you not choose to be among those who cling to Christ rather than be among those who hatefully spurn him?

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Monday, May 23, 2016

2016 Virginia Reformed Baptist Youth Conference

Image:  Group Picture

We had a great time last weekend at the first annual CRBC sponsored Youth and Young Adult Conference at the Machen Conference Center in Highland County, Virginia.

Pastor Chris Sheffield of Grace RBC in Rocky Mount, NC brought three encouraging messages (appropriate for those of any age) which are now posted online:

Here are some scenes from the weekend:

Image:  Playing the get to know you game, "Find Someone Who..."

Images:  For dessert after supper Friday night, we played a Reformed Baptist version of the television show "Chopped."  Each group was given a bowl with the same ingredients (cookie dough, marshmallows, strawberries, whipped cream, Graham crackers, and a package of kool-aid) and asked to make dessert.  Serious cooking ensued:

Below are some of the creations:

Images:  The last dish was the winner, despite what was dubbed the "pond scum" color of the topping.

Image:  Teaching session.

Images:  Recreation, from "spoons" to "Heads Up!"

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Vision (5.20.16): 2016 Vacation Bible School Coming!

CRBC “Puritan” Vacation Bible School

June 20-23, 2016 (Monday-Thursday)
@ Bells Grove Church (2997 Courthouse Road, Louisa, VA)

Image:  Singing "The Fruit of the Spirit" at the 2015 VBS

2016 Theme:  The Life and Letters of the Apostle Peter

VBS is for children ages preschool to 12.  Older children (ages 13-18) will be youth helpers.  Parents and family may also stay and participate in the sessions if they like.

Free Light Lunch will be served on site for participants and families daily from 12:30—1:00 pm.

VBS Daily Schedule:

9:50 am—10:00 am                      Arrival
10:00 am—10:30 am                   Opening (procession, songs, etc.)
10:30 am—10:45 am                   Bible Lesson
10:45 am—11:15 am                   Recreation
11:15 am—11:30 am                   Refreshment Break
11:30 am—12:00 pm                   Craft
12:00 am—12:15 pm                   Bible Lesson Review
12:15 pm—12:30 pm                   Closing
12:30 pm—1:00 pm                     Lunch/Pick-up

VBS Daily Bible Topics:

Monday:  Peter follows Jesus (Mark 1:16-20)

Tuesday:  Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ (Mark 8:27-38)

Wednesday:  Peter denies Jesus (Matthew 26:31-35, 69-75; John 21:15-19)

Thursday:  Peter Ministers as an Apostle (Acts 2; 9:32-43; 10; 1-2 Peter)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Augustine on Christianity and Superstition

A recent local story here made national news when a self-proclaimed psychic was indicted for bilking her “clients” out of over a million dollars, after promising to remove curses for them.  I have often driven by her house, located off Rt. 29 North of Charlottesville, with its prominent sign advertising “psychic readings.”

That story brought to mind a section  I recently read from Augustine’s On Christian Doctrine (Book II, Section XX), in which the theologian describes early Christianity’s opposition to “superstitious things” instituted by men, including “prognostications,” “magical arts,” “books of haruspicy and augery,” the wearing of amulets, “enchantments,” “secret signs,” and other occult acts.

Augustine proceeds to list a number of superstitious practices common in his context (4-5th century Roman North Africa), including:

Wearing rings hung on the top of each ear and little ostrich bone rings on the fingers for good luck;

Telling a person with hiccups to cure his condition by holding his left thumb in his right hand;

It’s bad luck “if a limb trembles, or if a stone, dog, or child comes between friends, walking arm in arm [he notes that some on these occasions have been known to slug a small child with his fist and to strike dogs as well, though some dogs have bitten the attacker back!];

Kicking a stone can destroy a friendship;

It’s good luck to step on the threshold if you leave your house by the front door;

If you sneeze when putting on your shoes in the morning you should go back to bed;

If you stumble when leaving your house, you should go back home;

If mice gnaw on your clothes it is an omen of future ill [He cites an anecdote from Cato who when consulted by a man worried that mice has gnawed on his shoes replied there was nothing strange about that, “but that it would be strange indeed if the shoes had gnawed the mice”!].

Before we laugh at the ancients we should consider those today who carry a rabbit’s foot or who avoid stepping on cracks, having a black cat cross their path, or walking under ladders (though the latter has a practical dimension).

Augustine is describing how the rise of Christianity brought the rise of reasonable thinking and liberation from slavish superstition and occult practices.  Of course, this was evident even in the time of the apostles when the converts at Ephesus got rid of their books of “curious arts” (Acts 19:18-19).

The formula is simple:  more Christianity leads to less superstition; Less Christianity leads to more superstition.  As we enter what some demographers are calling a “post-Christian” society, we must wonder if this will mean more superstition and less reason.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Thoughts on Goldwater, Obama, Bathrooms, and Education

I recently read Barry Goldwater’s 1960 booklet “The Conscience of a Conservative.”

When I heard last week of President Obama’s letter to public schools regarding “trans-gender” pupils and bathrooms and threats to take away federal funding for those who fail to comply, it brought to mind Goldwater’s chapter nine “Some Notes on Education.”  In citing his objections to any federal aid for education (see also chapter three “States’ Rights”), Goldwater wrote the following:

The first [objection] is that federal intervention in education is unconstitutional.  It is the fashion these days to say that responsibility for education “traditionally” rests with the local community—as a prelude to proposing an exception to the tradition in the form of federal aid.  This “tradition,” let us remember, is also the law.  It is sanctioned by the Constitution of the United States, for education is one of the powers reserved to the States by the Tenth Amendment.  Therefore, any federal aid program, however desirable it might appear, must be regarded as illegal until such time as the Constitution is amended.

The second objection is that the alleged need for federal funds has never been convincingly demonstrated....

The third objection to federal aid is that it promotes the idea that federal money is “free” money, and thus gives the people a distorted picture of the cost of education….

The fourth objection is that federal aid to education inevitably means federal control of education….

Goldwater then addresses the basic philosophical problems with those who desire central control of public education.  Here are a few sound bites from his comments:

In the main, the trouble with American education is that we have put into practice the educational philosophy expounded by John Dewey and his disciples.  In varying degree we have adopted what has been called “progressive education.”

In our attempt to make education “fun,” we have neglected the academic disciplines that develop sound minds and are conducive to sound characters.

Most important of all: in our anxiety to “improve” the world and insure “progress’ we have permitted schools to become laboratories for social and economic change according to the predilections of professional educators.  We have forgotten that the proper function of the school is to transmit the cultural heritage of one generation to the next generation, and to so train the minds of the new generation as to make them capable of absorbing ancient learning and apply it to the problem of its own day.

We should look upon our schools—not as a place to train the “whole character” of the child—a responsibility that properly belongs to his family and church—but to train his mind.

I am struck by Goldwater’s prophetic sense of where things were heading from his vantage point over fifty years ago and his warnings about the dangers of federal control of education and the efforts toward social manipulation to which it would lead.  It is also striking to think that the Republicans had men in those days who could think in this way, who were philosophically and principally grounded, and who could articulate those thoughts cogently.  They even put these sorts of men up for the highest office in the land (though Goldwater famously lost in a landslide in 1964).

I think the most important immediate take away for Christians from this recent bathroom letter episode, aside from any practical political efforts that might be made by Christian citizens in opposition to it, will be renewed consideration of the ethics of Christian participation in public schools. As has been quipped, “If you send your children to Caesar, you should not be surprised when they come back as Romans!” There has, of course, already been a significant exodus of Christians to private Christian schools and to home-education.  There will need to be more encouragement and assistance in this in the future, as well as the defense of our rights to do so, a battle which might be on the horizon.


Friday, May 13, 2016

The Vision (5.13.16): Three Exhortations

Note:  Here are some notes from last Sunday morning’s sermon which focused on the three exhortations in Hebrews 10:22-25:

First exhortation (v. 22):  “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith….”

Why would anyone in his right mind stand apart from Christ?  Would a man freezing to death not draw near to a roaring fire?  Would a starving man not draw near to a banquet of food?  Would a sick man not draw near to a physician?  Would an exhausted man not draw near to rest? 

The answer to spiritual struggle is never that you need less of Christ.  Or that you need to distance yourself from Christ.  It is always that you need more.  That you need to come closer.

Second exhortation (v. 23):  “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering….”

This is a call to commitment to Christ that lasts over the long haul.  Hold fast to your profession [homologia:  confession].  Be a man of your word!  Do not waver.

I’ll never forget the time when a friend from seminary stopped to see me and told me he was now a Buddhist.  Trading Christ for Buddha is like trading a golden treasure house for a handful of ashes.

You show you are a believer by remaining a believer.

Notice v. 23 b:  “for he is faithful that promised.”  Where is the focus?  On the one who perseveres?  On the believer’s faithfulness?  No, but on God’s faithfulness.  If we hold fast to our profession it is only by the grace of God!

Third exhortation (vv. 24-25):  “And let us consider one another…. Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together….”

This exhortation relates to remaining true to the body of Christ, the local and visible body of believers.  Staying true to Christ also means staying true to his church.  It speaks to the mutual benefits of community.

Believers consider one another and provoke one another.  This does not encompass malicious provocation.  This does not mean hypocritical or high-minded judging.  It does not mean attacking, demeaning, maligning, insulting or putting down a fellow believer.  It means healthy exhortation by word and deed.  To what end?

To the provocation [eis to paroxusmon; the noun here is the root for the English word “paroxysm”:  a sudden attack or violent expression of a particular emotion or activity] of love and good works.

We are exhorted to love (agape).  This means love of neighbor.  It also means love of the brethren.

We are exhorted to good works.  Our emphasis on justification by faith does not mean we are against good works.  Paul is not at odds with James.  Faith without works is dead.  Consider:

Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

Titus 2:14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

And it includes not forsaking the assembling of believers (episynagago; v. 25).  Some are spiritual gypsies, floating here and there and never settling down.  Some make public commitments, even sign covenants, then turn around and break their word.  We need to come to church.  We need the meetings!  We need to be de-toxed from the world.  We need to meet with each other, but more than that we need to meet with our God.

The tabernacle of old was called the tent of meeting.  The answer for many spiritual problems is:  More meetings needed.  More meetings with God’s people, and, most importantly, more meetings with our God.

The sum:

Hold fast to Christ!

Hold fast to your profession!

Hold fast to God’s people!

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Translation Note: Hebrews 10:23: profession of our hope or profession of our faith?

Image:  From facsimile of KJV (1611)

The issue:

Last Sunday morning I preached on Hebrews 10:11-25 at CRBC.  A point of text/translation arose with v. 23.

The question:  Should Hebrews 10:23 read “profession of our faith” or “profession of our hope”?

In this case, there is a difference even within editions of the King James Version tradition, with some reading “faith” and others “hope.”

 The Greek text:

In this case there is little controversy with the Greek text.

Both the TR and the modern critical text read:  katechomen ten homologion tes elpidos akline [let us hold fast the confession of (our) faith without wavering].

The key point is that both include the noun elpis [hope] rather than pistis [faith].  The apparatus to the modern critical text does not show any textual variation at this point.

The Greek mss. read elpis.  One variation of note, however, is the fact that the pronoun “our” [hemon] is included in the original hand of Sinaiticus, the Old Latin, and Syriac Peshitta.

Survey of various translations:

Luther’s 1522 NT reads hope (hoffnung) rather than faith:  Lasst uns festhalten an dem Bekinntnis der Hoffnung

Tyndale’s NT reads hope (from the modern-spelling edition of the 1534 translation):  and let us keep the profession of our hope

Karolyi ‘s 1590 Hungarian translation reads hope (reménység) tartsuk meg a reménységnek vallását

The Geneva Bible (from 1599 edition) reads hope:  let us keep the profession of our hope

The original edition of the King James Version, however, reads faith:  Let us hold fast the profession of our faith

Modern translations, including the NKJV, uniformly read hope rather than faith (cf. RSV, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NRSV, ESV, etc.).

Variations in later editions of the King James Version:

As noted, though the 1611 edition of the KJV reads faith rather than hope, some later editions of the KJV read hope.

The Cambridge Paragraph Bible of 1873 (Hendricksen, 2009) edited by F. H. A. Scrivener, reads “hope” rather than “faith.”  My guess is that the editor sought to conform this edition to what he perceived was a more literal approximation of the Greek original (elpis).


Why does the KJV read “faith”?  There are, I believe, two possibilities for the KJV rendering. One is that the KJV translators had access to an early mss. which read “faith” [pistis] rather than “hope” [elpis], which they privileged.  More likely, this is probably an example of the KJV translators’ commitment to variation in English renderings of the underlying original language words.  As the translators tell the reader in the preface:  “we have not tied ourselves to an uniformity of phrasing, or to an identity of words, as some peradventure would wish that we had done” (see “The Translators to the Reader”).  In this case, the translators rendered elpis as “faith” rather than its more typical translation as “hope.”  As with the KJV’s rendering of Paul’s stock phrase me genoito as “God forbid” the KJV translators here make a rare preference for a more dynamic than formal rendering.  Perhaps this was to give emphasis to the noun homologia, confession or profession, with the translators conveying that the essential meaning of a “profession of hope” would be a “profession of faith.”  We must also keep in mind that the great “faith” chapter (Hebrews 11) follows this passage.

Is this rendering legitimate?  In his commentary on the verse, John Owen observes:  “Wherefore holding fast our hope, includes in it the holding fast of our faith, as the cause is in the effect, and the building in the foundation” (Hebrews, Vol. 6, p. 515).  Owen proceeds to make clear his preference for the translation “profession of faith” noting it “is more suited to unto the design of the apostle, and his following discourse” (Ibid).  When I preached on Sunday, I felt comfortable using the KJV rendering without making reference to variations in translation.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

2016 Youth and Young Adult Conference: May 20-21

2016 Virginia Reformed Baptist
Youth and Young Adult Conference

Friday-Saturday, May 20-21, 2016
(sponsored by Christ Reformed Baptist Church, Louisa, Virginia)

Conference Theme: “Be not conformed to this world” (Romans 12:1-2)

Participants: This conference is for youth and young adults (ages 13-26 as of May 20, 2016) who are members or participants in Reformed Baptist churches. Conference enrollment is limited. All participants must complete and return the conference registration form (see here).

Conference Cost: The cost is $25.00 per person. This includes lodging and all meals. Note: You must bring your own linens and towels!

Conference Speaker: Pastor Chris Sheffield, Grace Reformed Baptist Church, Rocky Mount, North Carolina

Conference Venue: Machen Retreat and Conference Center (OPC), McDowell, Virginia

Conference Schedule:

Friday (May 20):

Arrive anytime after 5:00 pm.
6:00 pm Supper
7:00 pm Session One: Responsible Use of Media
8:00 pm Campfire Fellowship
11:00 pm Lights out

Saturday (May 21):

8:30 am Breakfast
9:30 am Session Two: Redeeming the Single Years
10:30 am Break
11:00 am Session Three: Serving with Your Vocation
12:00 nn Lunch
1:00 pm Recreation and Free Time
3:30 pm Depart for Home

Friday, May 06, 2016

The Vision (5.6.16): Fathers and Family Worship

I know Mother’s Day is coming up this weekend.  At our midweek meeting on Wednesday, however, the topic was “Family Worship” and I read an excerpt from Joel Beeke’s booklet “How Should Men Lead Their Families” (Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), exhorting fathers to take the lead in family worship. Beeke writes:

Daily family worship ought to be the foundation of your fatherly exercising of your prophetical office toward your children.  Be determined over a period of two decades of family worship to teach your children the whole counsel of God, as Paul said he did for the Ephesians (Acts 20:17-27).  Your home is to be a little church, a little seminary, in which you serve as an instructing prophet, teaching your children God’s precious truth—addressing the mind, the conscience, the heart, and the will of each of your children.  Teach your children Bible stories and Bible doctrines, and apply these stories and doctrines to their daily lives, with the  Spirit’s blessing, for their proper spiritual, moral, and psychological development (p. 6).

May the Lord help us to establish a consistent practice of family devotions, encouraged by both fathers and mothers, within our households.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Augustine's Canon List

Image:  Augustine statue, limestone with paint and gilding, French, Burgandy, ca. 1450-1475.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.  April 2016.

I’ve recently been reading Augustine’s “On Christian Doctrine” (a work begun c. A.D. 396 and completed in A.D. 427).  In Book II, chapter VIII Augustine provides a canon list in which he includes the following:

Old Testament

Five books of Moses [Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy]

Joshua, Judges, Ruth

4 books of Kings [1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings], 2 books of Paralipomenon [1-2 Chronicles]

Job, Tobias, Esther, Judith, 1-2 Maccabees, 1-2 Esdras [apparently with Ezra-Nehemiah as “1 Esdras”, and 1 Esdras as “2 Esdras”]

Prophets:  Psalms of David, 3 books of Solomon (Proverbs, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes), Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, the Twelve (Hosea—Malachi), 4 Major Prophets [Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel].

OT Notes:

1. Augustine lists forty-four OT books [with Ezra-Nehemiah counting as one book and including seven apocryphal books].  This reflects his use of the Old Latin which followed the LXX.

2. Psalms and Wisdom Literature included among "Prophets"

3.  Daniel included among Major Prophets

New Testament

4 Gospels [Matthew, Mark, Luke, John]

14 letters of Paul [Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1-2 Thessalonians, Colossians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews].

1-2 Peter, 1-2-3 John, Jude, James, Acts of the Apostles, Revelation of John

NT Notes:

1.  Augustine lists 27 NT books.

2.  He lists 14 Pauline letters, including Hebrews.

3.  In the order of the Pauline letters, Colossians comes after 1-2 Thessalonians.

4.  In the Catholic Epistles James comes after Jude.

5.  The Acts of the Apostles comes after the Catholic Epistles.

Overall Analysis

Augustine’s list shows the fluidity of the recognition of the Christian canon in the late fourth-early fifth centuries, at least in N. Africa, both with regard to content and order.  He includes the seven apocryphal books in the OT.  Hebrews is counted among the Pauline epistles and Acts with the general epistles.

Though Augustine is to be praised in many regards, not the least of which for the influence his theological writings had upon later Reformers (e. g., Calvin), his views were deficient in others.  Warfield famously quipped, for example, that the Reformation was a triumph of Augustine’s soteriology over his ecclesiology.

His view of canon was not fully developed.  In fact, it might be said that the issue of canon was not firmly settled, recognized, and articulated until the Reformation era.


Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Poole’s experiential use of 2 Corinthians 12

Image:  Early Spring Scene, North Garden, Virginia

The morning Bible reading at worship at CRBC Sunday before last was taken from 2 Corinthians 12.  In the pastoral prayer that followed, I then drew upon Paul’s threefold request that the “thorn in the flesh” be removed, the Lord’s comfort to him (in v. 12:  “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness”), and Paul’s contentment in his suffering (v. 10).

Over lunchtime we were discussing how Christian interpreters have long drawn on Paul’s experience as a parallel to the circumstances of ordinary believers.  That conversation sent me to Poole’s commentary to see how he made experiential use of this passage in his exposition:

On Paul’s threefold request in v. 8:

It is lawful for us to pray for the removal of bodily evils, though such prayer must also be attended with due submission to the wisdom and will of God; they being evils in themselves, but such trials as God intendeth  for our good, (as it were in Paul’s case,)and which issue in our spiritual advantage.

On the Lord’s comfort to Paul in v. 9:

Those dispensations of providence, in which the souls of men have the greatest experiences of the power and strength of Christ, are most to be gloried in; but such are states of infirmities.  The text confirmeth Christ to be God blessed for ever;  for by his power it is that we are supported under trials, his strength it is which is made perfect in the weakness of poor creatures.

On Paul’s reference to his taking “pleasure in infirmities” in v. 10:

A child of God seldom walks so much in view of God as his God, and in view of his own sincerity, as when, as to his outward condition and circumstances in the world, he walks in the dark and seeth no light.

Indeed, believers can take comfort in laying the experience of Paul alongside our own experience in the life and faith.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle