Monday, November 11, 2019
Image: CRBC baptismal service (11.10.19) [in the baptistery of Louisa BC]
In his article in the book On Being Reformed: Debates over a Theological Identity (Palgrave Pivot, 2018) [see WM 137] defending the propriety of Reformed Baptists to be considered “Reformed” and distinguishing Reformed Baptists from those who are merely Calvinistic Baptists, Matthew C. Bingham offers this succinct summary (pp. 47-48):
With the wider Reformed tradition, Reformed Baptists affirm monergistic soteriology, an appreciation of God’s meticulous providence, and a robust declaration that all things work “to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness, and mercy” [2LBCF 5:1]. But alongside these things, and also in keeping with the wider Reformed tradition, Reformed Baptists affirm the regulative principle of worship, demand that a plurality of elders rule in the local congregation, and recognize the need that local churches not be isolated from one another but are instead called to hold “communion together” for their mutual “peace, union, and edification” [2LBCF 26:15]. With the wider Reformed tradition, Reformed Baptists embrace the Lord’s Day as the Christian Sabbath, understand the Lord’s Supper to be more than a bare memorial but rather a means of grace given for our “spiritual nourishment” (2LBCF 30:1], and recognize that the Lord of the Decalogue has given therein a summary statement of his immutable moral law. And with the wider Reformed tradition, Reformed Baptists understand all of Scripture as covenantally structured, rejecting dispensationalism and seeing the New Testament church as properly and fully “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16).
To this he then adds:
On these and other points, those Christians subscribing to the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession of faith identity, not with the nebulous and ill-defined “Baptist” community, but rather with the Reformed tradition out of which their confessional document emerged. The fact that seventeenth century churchmen who drafted the confession would not have used the term “Reformed Baptists” to describe themselves was the result of political and cultural, rather than theological, considerations and should not dissuade contemporary Christians from embracing the term without embarrassment. Ultimately, then, if pressed as to why I would eschew terms like “Calvinistic Baptist” and stubbornly persist in calling myself “Reformed,” I would simply have to say that I agree with R. Scott Clark and others when they remind us that “Five Points” are not enough. A Calvinistic and Augustinian monergism does not exhaust the confessional heritage to which I subscribe; for that I need a better term: “Reformed.”
Saturday, November 09, 2019
This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History. Here is Book 5, chapter 1. Listen here.
Notes and Commentary:
Book 5 begins with a brief preface in which Eusebius, after noting the succession of Eleutherus as bishop of Rome following Soter, explains that whereas non-Christians historians write about victories in wars, triumphs over enemies, and the exploits of generals, Christian historians write about the martyrs, those “athletes of piety” who are “valiant for the truth.” The idea of the martyrs as athletes engaged in a great contest of faith is a theme throughout this chapter.
There then follows a very long and extended opening chapter.
Eusebius begins by citing a description of the martyrs of Gaul (Lyons and Vienne) from his “collection of martyrs.”
These included Vettius Epagathus, called “the Comforter of Christians.”
He records that some, under duress, failed in faithfulness. Heathen household servants falsely accused the brethren of Thyestean Feasts (eating children) and Oedipodean intercourse (incest).
Among the martyrs there was Blandina, a woman mercilessly tortured but who confessed, “I am a Christian and nothing wicked happens among us.”
There was also Sanctus, the deacon from Vienne, who despite unspeakable tortures would only say, “I am a Christian.”
A woman named Biblis first denied Christ, but then rallied and confessed faith to die as a martyr.
Those not immediately killed were thrown into prisons to suffer and die.
Account is given of the sufferings and abuse of Pothinus, the 90 year-old bishop of Lyons, who died after just two days in prison. This recalls the martyrdom of Polycarp.
Even those who initially denied Christ did not escape, but they suffered shameful death in imprisonment.
Description is given of Marturus, Sanctus, Blandina, and Attalus who were led to wild beasts. Marturus and Sanctus were first tortured in the amphitheater by being roasted on an iron chair. Blandina was hung on a stake, as if crucified. Attalus had a placard paraded before him which said, “I am a Christian”, and he was railed against by the crowd.
Mention is made of Alexander, a Phrygian physician, who was encouraging those who had initially denied the faith to be restored, till he was also seized and cast into the amphitheater to join the martyrs.
On the last day of the gladiatorial sports, the still-suriving Blandina and Ponticus, a fifteen-year old believer, were brought forward. Blandina encouraged the youth till he met his end, then she was put in a net and thrown to a bull.
The bodies of the saints were afterwards abused by the pagans in their zeal and hatred. Those who died in prison had their bodies desecrated and fed to the dogs, with the pagans mocking, “Where is their god and what good to them was their worship, which they preferred above their lives?” After six days the bodies of the martyrs were burned, and the ashes thrown in the Rhone river so as to leave no relics. The account ends with pagans mocking their hope in the resurrection: “now let us see if they will rise again….”, but the reader knows the reality of this hope.
This narrative not only describes the persecutions endured by early Christians, but also the brutality and bloodthirstiness of the pre-Christian Roman world. It also illustrates the early Christian interest in the cult of the martyrs (cf. the epistles of Ignatius of Antioch and the Martyrdom of Polycarp).
Friday, November 08, 2019
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on 1 Kings 19:19-21. Audio not yet available.
“…and Elijah passed by him and cast his mantle upon him…And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah…Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him” (1 Kings 19:19-21).
The call of Elisha to follow after the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19:19-21 anticipates the call to follow after Christ. This is Old Testament discipleship, a shadow or type of a greater coming reality. Not only does it point forward to Christ’s ministry as the great Prophet who would call men like Peter, Andrew, James, and John to leave their nets and follow after him, but it also points to a present reality as we are being called to abandon all and follow after the Lord Jesus Christ.
Notice at least six aspects of the call of Elisha:
First: The call came upon Elisha suddenly and unexpectedly (v. 19).
Second: The call demanded that Elisha leave his present circumstances (v. 20a).
Third: The call took precedence over all other relationships, including even that of his own family (v. 20b).
Fourth: The call required sacrifice and abandonment of former things (v. 21a).
Fifth: The answering of the call was accompanied with joyful celebration (feasting) (v. 21 a).
Sixth: The call required lowliness of spirit and willingness to serve in the humblest of ways (v. 21b).
Christ still calls upon men to deny themselves, to take up the cross daily, and follow him (Luke 9:23). May the Lord grant us grace to be his faithful disciples.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Thursday, November 07, 2019
WM 127: Round Table: Are Reformed Baptists Reformed? is posted. Listen here.
This episode was recorded on Wednesday, November 6, 2019 in Sandston, Virginia, following a fraternal meeting of RB pastors. In it, I join with four brothers to discuss the book On Being Reformed: Debates over a Theological Identity (Palgrave Pivot, 2018).
This booklet has four essays written in response to and discussion of R. Scott Clark's Recovering the Reformed Confession: Our Theology, Piety, and Practice (P & R, 2008), especially relating to the question of whether or not modern Reformed Baptists can rightly be labelled as "Reformed."
In favor of Reformed Baptists being Reformed, there are two articles from Baptist scholars:
Chris Caughey and Crawford Gribben, History, Identity, Politics, and the "Recovery of the Reformed Confession"
Matthew C. Bingham, "Reformed Baptists": Anachronistic Oxymoron or Useful Signpost?
And on the opposite side, two articles suggesting that Reformed Baptists are not really Reformed:
D. G. Hart, Baptists are Different
R. Scott Clark, A House of Card? A Response to Bingham, Gribben, and Caughey
Beyond analysis and evaluation of the booklet we also discussed issues like whether a Reformed Baptist church should have the name "Reformed" in its title, how to interpret/explain Reformed theology to those new to our churches or the faith, etc.
Thanks to these brothers for taking part in the discussion!
Image (Left to Right): Clevenger, Jones, Loomis, Davidson
Tuesday, November 05, 2019
I shared this quote in WM 136 from Charles Marsh, who served as a longtime Brethren missionary in North Africa, from his book The Challenge of Islam (Ark Publishing, 1980), under a section headed “Mistakes to avoid” in doing evangelism with Muslims:
Do not give him a free tuition in Islam! Remember that not every Muslim is a theologian. In fact, many who come to Europe as students or workmen know very little about their faith. A man in the villages of Algeria once assured me, ‘Everything I know about Islam I learned from the missionaries!’ The Christian states, ‘The Bible says…, but you Muslims believe….’ The Muslim was totally unaware of that particular point of the Islamic faith. It is the missionary who taught him. Avoid the type of discussion which is based on comparative religion. Religions have always antagonized, but faith in a living God who works in men’s lives carries conviction (171).
See also this blog post on Marsh from 2015.
Monday, November 04, 2019
A friend sent me a copy of comments apparently posted today to FB by popular internet apologist James White (JW) responding to the recent Text and Canon Conference (find audio here), in which he began with the following (bold and underlined added):
On Mark 16:9-20:
I have gotten through 4+ hours of the Text and Canon conference from last weekend. A great deal to talk about as time permits, but two things right now:
First, to my fellow apologists who do not buy into TROnlyism and who seek to give a defense of the NT against atheists, Muslims, etc., in the public square (something that to my knowledge the TR Only position has yet to attempt in any major way), you will need to tune into the arguments being put forward by the TR Only guys, because *they will be taken up and used against you by the atheists and Muslims.* ....So, you will have atheists and Muslims, in particular, quoting these guys in their favor against you. ....
So, JW believes that content from our conference will be used by atheists and Muslims to disprove the Christian faith and the Christian Scriptures?
In light of his statement, I want to issue a challenge to JW. I am going to provide embeds below to five videos posted from just one Muslim apologetics youtube.com channel (Muslim by Choice), which feature clips from James White’s teaching on text criticism. These videos are posted by Muslim by Choice in order to support the Muslim contention that the NT is hopelessly corrupted. One will also note that Muslim by Choice sometimes tandems clips of JW’s teaching with similar teaching by Bart Erhman and others.
My challenge to JW is to post at least five similar videos in which Muslim apologists have posted teaching from advocates of the Traditional or Confessional Text to support their attacks on the integrity of the Christian Scriptures.
If he is able to find five such videos (which, admittedly, I am doubtful he will be able to locate), I will then match them with five more videos in which Muslims apologists have posted clips from his teaching, and then (if he can find them) he can post five more videos, and so forth, until we see who runs out of material first.
This should allow us, in a fair and open manner, to see whose views on Scripture are actually more prone to being used by atheists and Muslim apologists in order to promote their cause. This, then, will help us evaluate which approach to the text of Scripture, in fact, provides the strongest defense of the faith (apologetic) in the “public square.”
Here are my first five videos:
On Mark 16:9-20:
On 1 John 5:7, Mark 16:9-20, and John 7:53-8:11:
On Mark 16:9-20:
On 1 Timothy 3:16:
On Luke 23:34:
Update (11.5.19): After I posted this someone also shared with me the following video which essentially makes the same point of this blogpost "challenge" in a perhaps more entertaining and less time consuming manner:
Saturday, November 02, 2019
WM 136: Text and Canon Conference Follow Up is posted. Listen here.
A few follow ups to the 2019 Text and Canon Conference:
1. Thanks to Lily for her cartoon on the conference. She did a good job of picking up the distinctions between the TR, Majority, and Modern Critical text approaches.
2. It was a good conference. People came from Seattle, WA, Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan (at least 12 states). We also had folk there from Canada and one from the UK. There were RBs and Presbyterians and wider conservative evangelicals there (even a couple of Primitive Baptists and one Fundamental Baptist).
3. TBS was there: Bill Greendyke and Jonathan Arnold.
4. Eight messages were given by three speakers over two days. There was lots of fellowship, conversation, and networking. Great to meet people in person you’ve known online and humbling to meet people who follow the blog and WM podcast. Audio from lectures are already online at CRC’s sermonaudio.com site and will be posted later to youtube.com.
5. Thanks to the hospitality of CRC! They were great hosts. Atlanta was also a great meeting place for travel purposes, but, oh, the traffic!
6. One of the themes stressed was the fact that textual issues are canonical issues.
7. I tried to put my messages on the traditional text in a four-part framework: emergence, triumph, challenges, reaffirmation.
8. In the first two lectures I addressed four historical questions: (1) Is the NT text like other texts?; (2) How was the NT transmitted?; (3) How many early mss of the NT do we have?; (4) Why don’t we have very many?
9. My talks used a good bit of material that folks will know from my podcasts and previous writings. Newer emphases: (1) the care of the early transmission of the text; (2) the paucity of extant mss. evidence; (3) the limits of the reconstruction method.
10. At one point I made reference to text, apologetics, and Islam. Here is the specific reference to which I made ad hoc reference: Charles Marsh, The Challenge of Islam (Ark Publishing, 1980): 171.
11. I had copies available at the conference of a new books of my new book on the Doctrines of Grace and will soon also be publishing another book titled John Owen on Scripture.
12. I did a podcast Wednesday evening with Josh Gibbs of Kansas City’s “Talking Christianity” podcast. See this post.
13. The Agros guys have continued their furious writing pace this week. See Taylor’s Reformation Day article that contrasts the Warfieldian view with the classic Protestant Reformed view of text. See also Dane’s article on the Agros church blog site: “Is the Received Text Position Really a Minority Position?”
May the Lord continue to use this conference to influence and encourage, as we go forward.
Friday, November 01, 2019
Image: Holy Trinity Chapel on the top of Mt. Sinai, Egypt.
Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on 1 Kings 19.
And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice (1 Kings 19:12).
We could call 1 Kings 19:9-18 Elijah’s cave experience. At Horeb, Elijah settles into a cave (v. 9). This says something about his spiritual state.
The word of the LORD, however, came to him in the cave. The Lord does not desert Elijah. He is there at the highest heights and at the lowest depths. And he continues to send his word.
The Lord examines Elijah: What doest thou here, Elijah? (v. 9b). Have you ever been examined of the Lord in this manner? Has he ever asked you: What are you doing in the place where you are?
Elijah defends himself before the Lord (v. 10). He notes how jealous he had been for the Lord. And in contrast he notes the failures of the children of Israel. This is the spirituality of comparison. We can always find someone who is in a worse spiritual state to make comparison to ourselves. The question is not how we compare to other sinners, but how we compare to the righteous standard of Christ.
Elijah contends that he is the only faithful man left in Israel, but we know this cannot be the case. Obadiah had hidden at least a hundred faithful prophets from the ravages of Jezebel (see 18:4, 13).
Elijah, it seems, is having a major pity party. In his narrative, he is the only man in the entire world who has been faithful to God, while everyone else has failed. That is a spiritually dangerous mindset.
Finally, he notes that God’s enemies are seeking his life. Elijah has a fear of man and a fear of death. Everyone has these kinds of fears.
The Lord then commands his prophet to go and stand on the mountain before him (v. 11a). And the LORD passed by. This recalls the Lord showing his glory to Moses (see Exodus 33-34).
There then follows a series of the Lord’s manifestation of his power and presence:
A great and strong wind descends with power to rend mountains and breaks the rocks into pieces. But the Lord was not in the wind.
After the wind, there was an earthquake. But the Lord was not in the earthquake.
And after the earthquake, a fire (v. 12). But the Lord was not in the fire.
So we have God moving powerfully in wind, earth, and fire. These were among the basic elements that many ancients considered to be the building blocks of life.
Finally, there was “a still, small voice” (v. 12).
Many have pondered the significance of this. Could it be that God does not speak as clearly to sinful man in general revelation as he does in special revelation? Could it be that he so often chooses to speak to us not in loud and spectacular extra-ordinary experiences but in small and quiet ordinary experiences? He speaks to us in a still, small voice when we pray, read the Scriptures, and meditate upon them.
May the Lord continue to speak to us in a still small voice, especially when we enter into our own cave experiences.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Thursday, October 31, 2019
I was a guest last evening on Josh Gibbs's podcast "Taking Christianity." He was in Kansas City and I was in Charlottesville. Unfortunately, due to a skype malfunction only my audio feed would work (and even then I sometimes had a hard time hearing/following--sorry Josh!). We discussed the recent Text and Canon conference, along with general discussions on the Confessional Text and Modern Text Criticism, apologetics, etc. The podcast appears on multiple platforms, but here is the youtube.com version:
Wednesday, October 30, 2019
Image: Canon tables, Rabula Gospels, illuminated Syriac Gospel Books, c. sixth century, Florence, Italy
This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History. Here is Book 4, chapters 27-30. Listen here.
Notes and Commentary:
These chapters continue the discussion of various early Christians writers, theologians, and apologists.
Chapter 27 describes the ministry of Apolinarius of Hierapolis. In addition to his apology to Marcus Aurelius (mentioned in ch. 26), Eusebius notes the following from his pen:
Five books Against the Greeks
Books one and two On the Truth
Books one and two Against the Jews
A treatise against the heresy of the Phrygians (a movement contemporaneous with and related to Montanus).
The two works against Greeks and Jews, shows the precarious state of Christians as neither Jews nor pagans.
Chapter 28 describes the writing of Musanus against the heresy of the Encratites. Lake explains, “they seemed to have preached an ascetic doctrine somewhat resembling that of later Manichaeans” (395).
Chapter 29 traces the roots of the Encratite movement to Tatian as “the author of this error.” Eusebius cites Irenaeus who said the Encratite ideas had come from Saturninus and Marcion, but had been introduced by Tatian, who had been a “hearer” of Justin Martyr, but who had left the church after Justin’s martyrdom.
The Encratites are described as preaching against marriage, annulling the orthodox doctrine of creation, especially the special creation of man and woman. It is noted that Tatian, in particular, denied the salvation of Adam.
The movement was later led by one Severus and the followers are also known as the Severiani. These, Eusebius says, used the Law and the Prophets of the OT and the Gospels of the NT, according to their peculiar interpretations, but rejected Paul’s letters and the book of Acts.
Eusebius also surveys the writings of Tatian, including:
The Diatessaron (a harmony of the four Gospels)
A paraphrase of the apostles, “correcting their style”
Against the Greeks (the only work that Eusebius says the orthodox might find helpful).
Chapter 30 introduces Bardesanes of Mesopotamia “an able man and skilled in Syriac” and “a powerful arguer” who wrote against Marcion. His most noteworthy work was a dialogue with Antoninus (Marcus Aurelius) Concerning Fate. He wrote in Syriac and his works were translated into Greek. Eusebius notes he had formerly been a Valentinian but had become orthodox. Nevertheless, “he did not completely clean off the filth of this ancient heresy.”
The book ends rather abruptly with the announcement of the death of Soter of Rome.
Eusebius continues to stress the clash of orthodoxy and heresy in pre-Constantinian Christianity. Of note is the discussion of the Encratites and the battle over the canon of Scripture, as well as the discussion of Tatian and his Diatessaron, which was rejected by the orthodox who affirmed four separate and distinct canonical Gospels.
Friday, October 25, 2019
Images: Scenes from 2019 family retreat (top to bottom): Friday campfire; Saturday morning men and boys prepared pancake breakfast; Saturday afternoon recreation.
But speak thou the things that become sound doctrine (Titus 2:1).
Our CRBC family retreat was held last Friday-Saturday at Lake Anna. For our Saturday devotional we focused on Paul’s instructions in Titus 2 on how to encourage intergenerational fellowship within the church, with exhortations for older men, older women, younger women, and younger men (see Titus 2:1-18).
We got together in family groups to read and discuss this teaching and then came back together for a group discussion. Here is the discussion guide we used:
1. Preliminary discussion:
How is your family’s day to day schedule right now? If you could change one thing to make it better what would that be?
Be brutally honest: How is your family doing at family devotions? Prayer before meals? At regular church attendance and participation? Rate your family 1-10. Are there any changes that could be made to improve the spiritual life of your family? Note: This will not be discussed in the larger group, but is just for your own “in-house” evaluation.
2. Read aloud together Titus 2 and answer the following:
What four groups are addressed in 2:1-8?
What is each group commanded to do? Are there any instructions here that you find surprising?
Take one group addressed and find an example in the Bible that illustrates either a good or bad model of this.
Thanks to those who participated in the retreat. If you did not make it this year, plan to come next year.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle
Wednesday, October 23, 2019
Image: Remains of the synagogue of ancient Sardis, c. AD third century, Manisa Province, Turkey
This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History. Here is Book 4, chapter 26. Listen here.
Notes and Commentary:
This chapter focuses on Melito of Sardis, though brief reference is also made at the start to Apolinarius of Hierapolis, whose work will be covered in 4.27.
It is noted that both Melito and Apolinarius wrote apologies to the Emperor (Marcus Aurelius, who ruled from 161-180).
A summary is given of Melito’s writings, the titles of which Lake notes are sometimes hard to decipher.
The works cited include:
On the Passover
On Christian Life and the Prophets
On the Church
On the Lord’s Day
These seems to be primary, and then there is added:
On the Faith of Man
On the Obedience of Faith
On the Senses
On the Soul and Body (Lake notes the text is uncertain for this title)
On Baptism and Truth and Faith and Christ’s Birth (Lake says these may be chapters in the same book)
An unnamed treatise of prophesy
On Soul and Body (same title as above?)
On the Devil
The Apocalypse of John
On God Incarnate
And To Antoninus (To Antoninus Verus or Marcus Aurelius)
So, Melito was a prolific author. The interest in the Old Testament and Jewish practices seems to belie the fact that Melito was a Jewish Christian.
Eusebius offers a quote from the book On the Passover and notes it was cited by Clement of Alexandria.
He also gives several longer extracts from the apology to the emperor. In them Melito refers to Christianity as a “philosophy” noting that it had originated during the time of Augustus and that it was “an omen of good” to the Romans. He suggests that the Roman Empire had flourished under Augustine, because he did not persecute Christians. He says that only Nero and Domitian had persecuted believers and with them had begun the practice of falsely accusing Christians.
Eusebius also cites the preface to his six-volume work called the Extracts (Eklogai) in which he quotes a letter from Melito to a brother named Onesimus in which he provides a list of the canon of the Old Testament, as accepted by Christians. Here are the OT books as he lists them in this letter:
The five books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy,
Joshua, the son of Nun, Judges, Ruth,
Four books of Kingdoms [1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings], two books of Chronicles,
The Psalms of David,
The Proverbs of Solomon and his Wisdom, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, Job,
The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, the twelve in a single book,
Daniel, Ezekiel, Ezra
Some point of interest in this OT canon list:
1. The book of Esther is not mentioned.
2. The book of Lamentations is not mentioned, but it is likely included with Jeremiah.
3. The book of Nehemiah is not mentioned, but it might have been included with Ezra.
4. The ordering shows the influence of the LXX. For example: Ruth is listed with the historical works and Chronicles is listed with Kingdoms rather than at the end with a grouping of “the writings” in the tri-partite Hebrew Bible ordering.
5. The listing is distinctive, however, in that it does not include the apocryphal books. The one exception could be the Wisdom of Solomon, but it might be that the phrase “The Proverbs of Solomon and his Wisdom” simply refers to the book of Proverbs.
Conclusions to be drawn from this list:
1. This list shows that the early Christians accepted the OT as part of the Christian Scriptures, contra Marcion.
2. Melito’s OT canon excluded the apocryphal works of the LXX, showing that at least some early Christians rejected these works as canonical and, instead, received the same books as those of the Hebrew Bible.
3. Melito’s OT canon also gives evidence that there was still some apparent controversy about which books were canonical, especially with regard to the book of Esther.
Melito of Sardis was an important figure in early Christianity, another of the “writing bishops.” This description is especially valuable for the insights it provides on the early Christian view of the Old Testament.