Friday, February 26, 2016

The Benefits of "Communion" Among Churches

Image: Rose bushes and fountain at Houston Baptist University, Houston, Texas (2.25.16)

Note:  I completed a short series on Churchmanship last Sunday with a message on “Communion Among Churches” (Acts 15).  Here are some notes from the closing application:

There are specific benefits that might come through “communion” or fellowship among churches:

We might appeal to one another for assistance in dealing with difficult doctrinal or other problems that lead to conflict within any church or churches (see the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15).

We might appeal to one another in cases of church discipline (see the 2LBCF-1689 chapter 26, paragraph 15).  Churches can act improperly and unjustly.  They can also act rightly and be accused of acting improperly and unjustly.  In either case it would be good to have a court of appeal.  Compare:

Proverbs 15:22 Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counsellors they are established.

We might spur one another on toward love and good deeds (cf. how Paul urged the Corinthians to consider the generosity of the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8:1-5).

We might assist each other in the ministry.

A church with only one elder might seek the counsel of the elders from other churches.

Sister churches might help a church that is without any elder by supplying preaching and counsel.

A man seeking theological education might seek to study with elders from various churches.

Churches might work together to host camps and conferences.

Churches might work together to plant new churches in places where there are no gospel churches.

We might aid and assist one another in times of distress and persecution.

We might pray for one another.  John Owen:  “There is not a single particular church or a member of any of them that does not have the prayer support of all the churches in the world and all the members of them every day.  Although this fellowship is invisible to the eyes of the flesh, it is glorious to the eyes of faith” (Gospel Church Government, p. 101).

We might hold one another accountable.  This means one church or group of churches might admonish another if it compromises its preaching of the gospel, its holding to the faith, its practice of community, or the purity of its worship and administration of the ordinances.

Last week I did a Bible study on the reaction to modern feminism known as MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way) and I read Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:

Ecclesiastes 4:9 Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. 10 For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. 11 Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? 12 And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

I was struck in preparing this message on communion among churches, how these principles might be applied here as well.  Churches need communion with other churches, lest they become CHiGTOWS:  Churches going their own way.

Indeed, this might well be one of the questions you ask of any church you might consider joining to evaluate its health.  Is it connected and accountable to other churches?

As we seek to be faithful in other areas of our life as a church let us also seek to be faithful in this area of communion among churches.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Vision (2.19.16): Philip Henry's Prayer

Note:  I shared this prayer Sunday before last at the close of the sermon on Membership in the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12):

Philip Henry, the father of the great commentator Matthew Henry, taught his children to pray these words of commitment:

            I take God the Father to be my God;
            I take God the Son to be My Saviour;
            I take the Holy Ghost to be my Sanctifier;
            I take the Word of God to be my rule;
            I take the people of God to be my people;
            And I do hereby dedicate and yield my whole self to the Lord:
            And I do this deliberately, freely and forever.

May this also be our prayer.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Scenes from trip to Highland County, Virginia (2.17.16)

Last Wednesday morning (2.17.16) I drove over to Highland County, Virginia to take a look at the OPC's Machen Retreat Center where we will be hosting our upcoming Virginia Reformed Baptist Youth and Young Adult Conference May 20-21.  This was my first time to visit this beautiful part of the Virginia and I was impressed with the snowy mountain views, history, and quirky sites of the area. Here are a few pics I took on the journey:

Images:  Entrance to the Machen Center at corner of Bull Pasture River Rd. and Job's Hill Rd.

Image:  Main building at the Machen center.

Image:  Picture of J. Gresham Machen on the wall in the dining room in the main building.

Image:  One of the cabins.

Image;  Snow covered stream at Machen.

Image:  The striking Clover Creek Presbyterian Church meeting house on Bull Pasture River Road.

Image:  More views of Clover Creek.

Image:  Historical marker. 

Image:  Interior view of the church.  Nice simple, Reformed worship space.

Image:  Historical Marker for Fort George.

Image:  Historical marker for Civil War Battle of McDowell, Virginia.

Image:  Headwaters Presbyterian Church building off Rt. 250.

Image:  A working phone booth (!) near an open field and across from the Miller's Store in the Headwaters community.

Image:  The Confederate Breastworks on the line between Highland and Augusta Counties.

Image:  Path along the Confederate Breastworks.

Image;  I had to pull over and take a picture of this roadside shrine off Rt. 250 in western Augusta County.  Still trying to figure our what it means exactly.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Christian Response to MGTOW

Last night in our midweek meeting I did a short study in our current series on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood titled "A Christian Response to MGTOW" [listen to the audio here].  This message follows up a previous one in the series on "A Christian Response to Feminism" [see this post].

In the opening I attempted to answer, "What is MGTOW?"  Here are the first few paragraphs:

The acronym MGTOW stands for “Men Going Their Own Way.”

It is a loose way of speaking about a small but emerging group of men in Western society who are increasingly choosing to live without women in their lives and, for some, with as little contact with anyone else, men or women, as possible.

MGTOW can in some ways be described as part of the modern Men’s Movement, a reaction against the rise of feminism and which some believe has led to reactionary and unjust discrimination against men and masculinity.

The MGTOW movement largely exists as a cyber or virtual community.  Those who are part of the movement communicate with each other via social media, in various forums which some have dubbed the “manosphere.”

The movement is, by nature, hard to define and there are men who would identify with the movement at various levels.

I have also posted to the pdf of my full notes for this message [find the pdf here].


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Contrasting Ryan M. Reeves and John D. Currid: Was the study of the Bible in the original languages a hallmark of the Reformation?

The first misstep in our story, then, is the idea that Greek had been completely lost until the sixteenth century (Ryan M. Reeves).

At the beginning of the sixteenth century the ancient Greek language was, for the most part, unknown (John D. Currid).

Last week I did a post [find it here] critiquing a blog post which recently appeared on the Reformation 21 website by Ryan M. Reeves, assistant professor of historical theology at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, (Jacksonville campus).  I also did a Word Magazine on the same topic (see WM# 46).

Reeves’ article was on the 500 year anniversary of Erasmus’ Greek NT (1516).  In my critique I raised a number of questions about his post, including the historical accuracy of a number of his comments about Erasmus’ Greek NT.

Beyond my questions about the accuracy of Reeves’ Erasmus anecdotes, one of the questions I raised about his post was his suggestion that the “real” myth about Erasmus is that there was little study of the Biblical languages in the pre-Reformation period. According to Reeves, there was, in fact, a vibrant interest in the study of the Bible in the original languages that existed even before the Reformation era.  Here is how Reeves put it in his blogpost (with some relevant passages underlined):
So the myth of this story is not that Erasmus altered the course of biblical scholarship. He did influence future scholarship. It is not that the reformers considered Greek irrelevant. The myth is how we understand the context. 
Prior to Erasmus a number of scholars learned Greek, mostly for the sake of classical studies, but at times to study the Bible. The Renaissance was centuries old by the time of the 95 Theses, though the movement had begun to focus on classical and biblical languages only in the previous century. Over the years, though, humanists strove to learn the scriptures to the best of their ability, even in the originals. Luther's own right-hand man, Melanchthon, was one of these prodigies in the study of Greek and taught this as a professor at Wittenberg. 
The first misstep in our story, then, is the idea that Greek had been completely lost until the sixteenth century. It is not true that everyone prior to the Reformation rejected the original languages for a view of the Vulgate as a pristine text. Catholic commitment to the Vulgate was as much a result of the Reformation as its cause. Prior to the Reformation there was no real dispute over it and other translations were not scorned, except in cases where texts were used by heretical movements. During the medieval period, Bibles did not languish in chains in dusty libraries, unloved and unread. Most people were illiterate, and so only the educated few could read the Bible. The reason they chained it was because it cost as much as a house to produce. One does not chain up things that are unwanted. 
Reeves’ comments came to mind again this weekend as I read John D. Currid’s book Calvin and the Biblical Languages (Christian Focus, 2006).  Contrary to Reeve’s comments above, Currid states the following:

At the beginning of the sixteenth century the ancient Greek language was, for the most part, unknown.  It was a mere curiosity even among the educated of Europe, almost a freakish field of study (p. 39).

This stands in complete contrast to Reeves’ statement that the “first misstep” in poplar conceptions of Erasmus is “the idea that Greek had been completely lost until the sixteenth century.” Did Currid make a blunder here, a misstep?  In fact, Currid offers sources to verify his statement.  He cites, in particular, D. Rebitté's work Gillaume Budé restaurateur des études grecques en France (Paris: essai historique,1846), which noted three key eras for the study of Greek in sixteenth century France:  (1) the scarcity period (1500-1530) when very few knew Greek, except for Gillaume Budé; (2) the pioneering period (1530-1560) reaching its climax with the publication of Henri Estienne’s Thesaurus in 1560; and (3) the “full blossom” period (1560-1600).  He notes that Calvin began learning Greek in the second period.

Currid later makes the argument, contra Reeves, that the study of Biblical languages was, in fact, a unique and distinguishing part of the Reformation period, setting it apart from the preceding age, which slavishly followed the Vulgate.  Thus, he writes:

Catholic priests and scholars of the sixteenth century were trained in Latin in order to use the Vulgate.  Few of them, however, studied Greek and even fewer were trained and knowledgeable in Hebrew.  What need was there to learn the languages to get at the real meaning of the Scriptures when, in fact, Jerome’s Vulgate was the Bible of Christianity and the version upon which the Church of Rome based its doctrinal tenets and teachings? (p. 65).

Reeves suggested, however, that RC commitment to the Vulgate was “as much a result of the Reformation as its cause.Has Currid made another misstep?  Again, he cites a source to verify his view.  In this case his source is G. Lloyd Jones' The Discovery of Hebrew in Tudor England: A Third Language (Manchester University Press, 1983). Currid shares this quote from Jones:

Ignorant and illiterate monks, alarmed by the progress of the new learning, thundered from the pulpit that a new language had been discovered called Greek, of which people should beware, since it was that which produced all the heresies.  A book called the New Testament written in this language was now in everyone’s hands, and was ‘full of thorns and briers.’ There was also another language called Hebrew, which should be avoided at all costs since those who learned it became Jews (cited in Currid, p. 65).

While noting that this view was “commonplace” in pre-Reformation Europe, he evenhandedly observes that “it was dominant, but not absolute,” singling out Johann Reuchlin, in particular (p. 66).  Still, Currid firmly states:

In contrast to the Roman Catholic Church, the Reformers were, for the most part, seriously committed to the study of the original languages of the Bible.  It was a hall-mark of the Reformation (p. 66).

Later, he reiterates:

Yet, I would argue that the commitment of the reformers to the study of the original languages of the Bible was one of the hallmarks or emblems of the Reformation (p. 69).

Whereas Reeves appears to downplay the uniqueness of the Reformation interest in the study of the Bible in the original languages in distinction from pre-Reformation Roman Catholicism (and thereby he downplays the divide between the RC and the Reformed view of Scripture), Currid underscores it.

One would think that an article on Erasmus from a historical theologian on a blog titled “Reformation 21” would be a bit more like Currid than Reeves.


Monday, February 15, 2016

Searched and Known # 5: Who was Abijam's mother?

Ethan McG has posted Searched and Known # 5:  Abijam's Mother [Listen here]. In this episode Ethan and I discuss the perceived difficulty in harmonizing the identification of Abijam/Abijah's mother in 1 Kings 15:1-2 and 2 Chronicles 13:1-2:

1 Kings 15:1 Now in the eighteenth year of king Jeroboam the son of Nebat reigned Abijam over Judah. 2 Three years reigned he in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Maachah, the daughter of Abishalom.

2 Chronicles 13:1 Now in the eighteenth year of king Jeroboam began Abijah to reign over Judah. 2 He reigned three years in Jerusalem. His mother's name also was Michaiah the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah. And there was war between Abijah and Jeroboam.


Saturday, February 13, 2016

Word Magazine # 47: Gilbert and "Silly Statements" on the NT Text

That's right, back to back Word Magazines!  I have posted audio for WM # 47: Gilbert and "Silly Statements" on the NT Text.  Below are my notes:

On Monday, February 9, 2016 a blog post appeared on the Neo-Calvinistic Gospel Coalition website, titled, “Debunking Silly Statements about the Bible.”   The article is written by  Greg Gilbert, pastor of Third Avenue BC in Louisville, KY, the author of several books published by Crossway, a protégé of Mark Dever, and a regular 9 Marks ministry contributor.  A note at the end of the article explains that the post is an excerpt from Gilbert’s book Why Trust the Bible? (Crossway, 2015) and first appeared on the website.

The post is presented as a defense against “silly” attacks on the Bible like that which appeared in the notoriously flawed 2014 Newsweek article by Kurt Eichenwald which assailed the authenticity and authority of the text of the Bible as “copies of copies.”

It is Gilbert’s article, however, that has itself now come under fire for more than its fair share of factual problems and “silly” statements about the text and transmission of the Bible.

For some of these criticisms, see the comments (especially the post by James Snapp, a restorationist pastor well-informed on text matters and an intrepid defender of the Longer Ending of Mark) under the original posting.

Peter Head’s Evangelical Academic Critique:

More substantially, see the critique offered by Peter Head in a February 10  Evangelical Text Criticism blog-post and the comments.  Head, a Cambridge fellow whose area of study is text criticism, does not mince words in his review which begins, “Unfortunately all around (for the author, Greg Gilbert, his book, the Gospel Coalition) this post contains a number of Silly Statements about the Bible. Christians who want to defend the Bible have a responsibility to know what they are talking about.”  Head picks out seven problematic passages from only the first half of Gilbert’s article.  Here is a summary of what Head sees as problematic in Gilbert’s article and his responses:

1.  Gilbert talks about the Biblical original being written on paper.

Head:  “I think if we find a biblical manuscript on paper we can be 100 percent certain it is not the original.”

2.  Gilbert says we have 5,400 mss. going back to the third century or earlier.

Head:  Less than one per cent of the mss. we have go back “to anything like the third century” or earlier.

3.  Gilbert says there is only a gap of 45-75 years between the writing of the NT books and the mss. we have of those books.

Head:  “This is also potentially misleading. If we date P46 to around AD200 then we are looking at more like 140-150 years for the Pauline letters. For Mark we might have a gap of 200 years. For John perhaps 45-75 years works, but not for any other portion of the NT. Generalisations are not helpful.”

4.  Gilbert cites Codex Vaticanus as an example of a ms. in continuous use and suggests, “it’s well within the realm of possibility that we have in our museums today copies of the originals.”

Head:  Vaticanus is not a good example of continuous usage and:  “Nothing in this suggests that we have immediate copies of the originals in our museums, and as far as I am aware no one has ever argued such a case in any scholarly publication. Wishing doesn’t make it so.”

5.  Gilbert argues that the “gap” between the writing of NT books and the earliest mss. is not so great.  Also, the NT is better attested than other ancient works.  Gilbert says that we have only 8 copies of Thucydides' Peloponnesian War and the earliest is 1,300 years after the work’s writing.

Head:  “I really wish people wouldn’t keep saying this sort of thing. It is nonsensically ill informed. In fact there are 99 early mansucripts of Thucydides' PW, mostly papyrus, some of which go back to the third century BC, dozens from the first and second centuries (LDAB).”

6.  Gilbert discusses variants and argues they are over-counted by inclusion of versions and patristic citations.

Head:  “I’m really not sure where to start on this. It is nonsense from beginning to end.” He adds that Gilbert’s analysis “is completely vacuous. It suggests a lack of understanding of how the standard critical editions actually work, and no one who works with manuscripts would think like this.”

7.  Gilbert argues that the NT variants that do exist in the mss. are not widespread but are only found “in a few isolated places.”

Head:  “This is so wrong. I doubt this person has ever read a manuscript.”  He adds:  “The claim that textual variants within the New Testament ‘tend to cluster around the same few places in the text over and over again’ is not supported by any sort of reality.”  Head suggests opening any critical edition of the NT where one will find textual variants cited in the apparatus on every page.

Robert D. Marcello’s Evangelical Apologetic critique:

Adding to the critical pile-on to Gilbert’s article, on February 12 Robert D. Marcello, Research Director for the Center for New Testament Manuscripts, posted a critique of Gilbert’s article on Dan Wallace’s blog.

Here is a summary of Marcello’s five points of critique:

1.  Likely due to attempting to write on a popular level, Gilbert says the NT was originally written on paper rather than papyrus.

2.  Gilbert’s reference to Vaticanus and continuous use is a “false analogy.”  His claim that we have copies in museums that come directly from the originals is dubious.  Less than 1% of the mss. we have are within few generations of the originals.

3.  Gilbert’s discussion of the number of variants is wrong-headed.  Even conservative scholars acknowledge myriads of variants in NT mss. (not including versions and patristic citations).

4.  Gilbert’s statement that we have c. 5,400 NT mss. is too low.  The current number is c. 5,839 (5,600 at minimum).

5.  The “most egregious error” Gilbert perpetuates a common evangelical apologetic regarding variants [traced to Neil Lightfoot’s How We Got the Bible], wrongly arguing that the variant accounts do not refer to “unique readings” when, in fact, they do.

Marcello concludes:  “There is ample evidence to support the claim that the text of the New Testament is both reliable and stable. At the same time, we don’t need to appeal to false claims of bad counting or incorrect numbers to muster that evidence. These “Silly Statements” need to end if we are ever going to provide solid evidence for the reliability of the text.

A Confessional Critique of Gilbert:

As noted above, Head and Marcello have pointed out the factual problems with Gilbert’s article (book section).  Most importantly, they expose the problems with what we might call the “old evangelical” defense of the reliability of the text of the NT.  Evangelical apologist cannot get way with saying things like:

(1) We have thousands of early mss. of the Greek NT, when, in fact, only 1% come from the third century or earlier.

(2) Our thousands of NT mss. are superior to the  transmission of other works of antiquity.  This is true in many cases, but in some the transmission is comparable.

(3) The number of variants in the NT mss. can be dismissed or minimized.

This works in the evangelical “echo-chamber” but is less effective outside those circles.  It is not surprising perhaps that these kinds of arguments are found in a 9-Marks, neo-Calvinist author where insular and circular conversations are common (Dever endorses Gilbert, who endorses DeYoung, who endorses Dever, who endorses  Gilbert….).

Beyond the critiques offered by Snapp, Head, and Marcello, we can approach our critique of Gilbert’s article (book section) from another angle.  It fails not only due to factual problems but also and more importantly (IMHO) due to theological problems.

He is attempting to defend the reliable transmission of the Bible based on a restorationist approach rather than a confessional and preservationist approach.

Gilbert asks a good question:  “Are we left simply to give up and admit that all we have are a bunch of useless copies of copies of copies of copies, and that we’ll never have confidence what we have is what the authors actually wrote?”

But his apologetic answer is that we can have confidence (at least to a limited degree) in scholarly ability to reconstruct the original text (behind this, of course, is the modern notion of the elusive inerrant autographa).  This is why he rushes to defend gaps, variants, etc.  He does not defend the providential preservation of the autographa via the apographa, the view reflected in the Westminster CF and the 2LBCF-1689.  At core, then, Gilbert’s views on the text of Scripture reflect the weaknesses of those who are evangelical Calvinists but not confessional Calvinists.

Thus, Gilbert asserts his confidence in the restorationist approach:  “And for another thing, it turns out it’s precisely the existence of those thousands of copies, from all over the Roman Empire and with all their variations, that allows us to reconstruct with a huge degree of confidence what the originals said.” I find it striking that he puts “a huge degree of confidence” in italic.  This is one of the chief problems with the restorationist model.  It does not even see absolute certainty as a conceivable goal.

Later Gilbert compares restoration of the text as like solving a “logic puzzle.”  He adds:

That’s exactly the kind of work scholars have done for centuries on the fragments and manuscripts of the New Testament available to us. The puzzles they face, of course, are far more complicated than these simple examples, but you get the idea. By comparing the ancient copies we have, and thinking carefully about why certain changes or errors might have been made by copyists, scholars reach highly confident conclusions about what the original documents said. It’s not a matter of guesswork or magic, much less of assumption or simply “making things up,” but rather of careful deductive reasoning.

He assures the reader:

Of course you’re free to disagree with any one of the conclusions those scholars reach; Christians have fun arguing about this kind of thing all the time.

And he concludes:

And far from diminishing our ability to identify what the originals said, the vast number of existing copies actually allows us to deductively reason out, to a high degree of historical confidence, what John, Luke, Paul, and the other writers actually wrote.

Note again the emphasis on “a high degree of historical confidence.” 

Here is the problem: What do we do if one scholar reconstructs the text in one way and another scholar reconstructs it in another way?  Which side do we choose?  Who has the competence to make this decision?  Can you make this decision without knowing Greek, studying mss., etc.?  Is it a personal and individual choice for every Christian to make individually?  A decision to be made by a committee of scholars?  An ecclesial decision?  If so, by each local church?  By a body of churches (synod, association, denomination)?  What of the catholic (universal) church?  At root here is in fact a crisis of epistemology and authority for evangelicals who have embraced the modern critical text and the restorationist method.

There is an alternative:  confessionalism.


Friday, February 12, 2016

Word Magazine # 46: Reeves on Erasmus

I have recorded a "spoken word" version of  my written critique of Ryan M. Reeves' recent Reformation 21 blog post on "Erasmus and the Greek NT" and posted it to as WM # 46:  Reeves on Erasmus.


The Vision (2.12.16): Membership in the Body of Christ

Image:  A sketch by Leonardo Da Vinci, studying the proportions of the human body.

Note:  We began a three part series on Churchmanship last Sunday in our am service.  The first message was on Membership in the Body of Christ, based on 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.  Here are some notes from the exposition of the passage.

Now ye are the body of Christ and members in particular (1 Corinthians 12:27).

Here are at least four points that might be drawn from our passage:

1.  The one body with many members has true unity through a common experience of the Lord Jesus Christ (vv. 12-13).

We share a common confession (v. 3) and a common experience of baptism (the reference to baptism here may be both to baptism in the Spirit through regeneration, repentance, and faith, and the ordinance of believer’s baptism by immersion in water).  We believe in a regenerate church membership.  There was diversity in the church at Corinth (Jews and Greeks) but unity in Christ (cf. Gal 3:27-28).

2.  Every member of the body has a distinct and necessary role (vv. 14-20).

Just as the body has a diversity of members, so does the church (vv. 14-17).

Notice the sovereignty of God over the body (v. 18).  In some sense, we can say we do not choose to join the body but He chooses to place us there.

If there was stifling uniformity the body would fail to be a body (vv. 19-20).

3.  We are not to despise the role that God has given to us whatever that may be (vv. 21-25).

Paul speaks here of some members of the body being “less honorable” and of others being “comely parts.”  Perhaps he was speaking of the fact that some (like the officers) service in public ways while others serve in private and largely unseen ways.  The point is that all are essential to the whole, and we should not despise whatever role we have been given.

4.  Each member of the body is to provide mutual care for the others (vv. 26-27).

We cannot be an anonymous gathering of people.  We cannot be indifferent to each other’s needs.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919) was a writer who published nearly 40 volumes of verse in her life, most of which was dismissed by critics as airy and sentimental and is now forgotten, but her best known work, a three stanza poem titled “Solitude” continues to strike a chord with many readers.

The first stanza begins with the well known line:

            Laugh and the whole world will laugh with you
                        Weep and you weep alone….
The second:

            Rejoice, and men will seek you,
                        Grieve, and they turn and go….
And the third:

            Feast, and your halls are crowded,
                        Fast, and the world goes by….

I think the poem resonates, because it expresses an innate human desire for a community that not only rejoices with you but also weeps with you.  And Paul says that that kind of community can only truly be found in the people of God, in the body of Christ, because of the bond of faith that holds them together (v. 26).

Let us remember that we are the Body of Christ.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle