Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Oh Yeah, Trust Us!

What's wrong with this? Besides the fact that Boston officials are complete idiots.
Boston’s much-ballyhooed “safe homes” initiative hasn’t received a single call to search a home for guns in the nearly four weeks since the program was launched.

Program advocates had hoped parents of at-risk youths who suspect their children of stashing guns would be among the callers to the hotline, 1-888-GUNTIPS.

Under the program, aimed at taking the battle against gun violence into teens’ bedrooms, anyone can request a voluntary search of homes where guns are thought to be hidden.

Homeowners or parents sign a waiver allowing a search team of clergy and plainclothes Boston police assigned to the public schools to conduct the search. In exchange, cops promise not to arrest the offenders for illegal possession, saying the goal is to take as many weapons off the street as possible. Read the whole story.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Different Perspective

This is another shot from this past Friday morning. I thought I would get down and look up at these Clydesdales that are kept at Grant's Farm near my home. This angle makes the mighty Clydesdale look a little like Mr. Ed. - Nikon D300w w/12-24 Nikkor at 12mm, 1/500 sec, f11, ISO 200, handheld. As always, you can find a larger, better image here.

Monday, April 28, 2008

A Fishing Joke for Jr. High & High School Boys

A woman goes into Cabelas to buy a rod and reel for her grandson's birthday. She doesn't know which one to get so she just grabs one and goes over to the counter.

A Cabelas associate is standing there wearing dark shades. She says, "Excuse me, sir. Can you tell me anything about this rod and reel?"

He says, "Ma'am, I'm completely blind; but if you'll drop it on the counter, I can tell you everything from the sound it makes." She doesn't believe him but drops it on the counter anyway.

He says, "That's a six-foot Shakespeare graphite rod with a Zebco 404 reel and 10-LB. Test line. It's a good all around combination; and it's on sale this week for only $20.00."

She says, "It's amazing that you can tell all that just by the sound of it dropping on the counter. I'll take it!" As she opens her purse, her credit card drops on the floor.

"Oh, that sounds like a Master Card," he says.

She bends down to pick it up and accidentally passes gas. At first she is really embarrassed, but then realizes there is no way the blind clerk could tell it was she who tooted. Being blind, he wouldn't know that she was the only person around.

The man rings up the sale and says, "That'll be $34.50 please."

The woman is totally confused by this and asks, "Didn't you just tell me the rod and reel were on sale for $20.00? How did you get $34.50?"

He replies," Yes, Ma'am. The rod and reel is $20.00, but the Duck Call is $11.00 and the Catfish Bait is $3.50."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Magic Light

The new banner for the blog is a shot I took Friday on Grant's Trail in South St. Louis county. I was riding my bike in the morning with my camera bag. I knew a storm was coming and so I hoped that there would be some good light. Well, the morning sun was shining slantwise as the dark clouds were coming in from the west. Photographers call this kind of situation "magic light." In fact, the light was so good that I was scrambling to find a suitable image to capture. Normally, you frame a great subject to capture but then make do with whatever cruddy light you have. This time I had great light and nothing much to shoot. As it turned out the fence, power lines, dirt trail, and the asphalt bike trail all make for a pretty nice vanishing point. I'll have more shots to post from this little bike ride. Oh yeah, I cloned out the power poles and lines for the blog banner because they didn't work with the close, narrow crop needed to make the banner.

Friday, April 25, 2008

From the field (Nov 10, 2007) . . .
. . . to my wall (April 2008).

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Putin's Church

At Expense of All Others, Putin Picks a Church

STARY OSKOL, Russia — It was not long after a Methodist church put down roots here that the troubles began.

First came visits from agents of the F.S.B., a successor to the K.G.B., who evidently saw a threat in a few dozen searching souls who liked to huddle in cramped apartments to read the Bible and, perhaps, drink a little tea. Local officials then labeled the church a “sect.” Finally, last month, they shut it down.

There was a time after the fall of Communism when small Protestant congregations blossomed here in southwestern Russia, when a church was almost as easy to set up as a general store. Today, this industrial region has become emblematic of the suppression of religious freedom under President Vladimir V. Putin.

Just as the government has tightened control over political life, so, too, has it intruded in matters of faith. The Kremlin’s surrogates in many areas have turned the Russian Orthodox Church into a de facto official religion, warding off other Christian denominations that seem to offer the most significant competition for worshipers. They have all but banned proselytizing by Protestants and discouraged Protestant worship through a variety of harassing measures, according to dozens of interviews with government officials and religious leaders across Russia.

This close alliance between the government and the Russian Orthodox Church has become a defining characteristic of Mr. Putin’s tenure, a mutually reinforcing choreography that is usually described here as working “in symphony.”

Read the entire NY Times article.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Satan's Light Bulbs

I drove by a Protestant church recently that had the following moral exhortation on their lawn marquee:

"Saving the world, one light-bulb at a time."

Wow! Talk about a test of faith. Don't think you're going to slide through the gates of heaven without renouncing Satan's bulbs -- not a chance!

Read the whole essay in the American Thinker

Wake up and smell the. . . .

Actually, I captured this image at sunset in my back yard. This little tree rat was in the ? tree above me when I was BBQing. So what kind of tree is this?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ordination for Life?

I have always been sceptical of the so-called "indelible character" of ordination to the ministry. If find the idea nowhere in the Bible. The popular notion is that once a man is ordained he is "ordained for life." Now, true enough, this is God's intent and calling in ordination—that a man will be faithful to this special calling all his life, through thick and thin.

But what if he proves to be faithless and by the judgment of the church he is deposed? Or what if he changes his mind or cannot find church that desires his ministry? If he is faithless, then he is deposed. If he is unable to find a call, then he leaves the ministry and demits voluntarily.

In either case, this means that his ordination, his is call to the ministry, is removed. He is stripped of his office. Period. He can't go around saying, "I'm still ordained" or "I'm a minister for life." Phooey. A minister's calling is not something that he holds independent of the judgment of the church, except of course in extraordinary circumstances where the church herself is faithless.

I base my comments on converasations, even disputes with men who have been deposed, but who still believed the are "called to the ministry," or "once a minister, always a minister." My response to them is: if a congregation calls you and you are approved by the church for service in that parish, then you are indeed called to the ministry. Until that happens you are not. You are a former minister of the Gospel.

I have Luther on my side. In speaking against calling ministers "priests," according to the late Medieval Roman Catholic understanding, Luther says, "If they are merely ministers, the 'indelible character' also perishes, and the eternity of their priesthood is nothing but a fiction. A minister may well be deposed if he ceases to be faithful. . . In fact, the minister of matters spiritual is more subject to removal than any civil servant, because if he turns unfaithful he becomes more unbearable than any civil servant, who can work harm in matters of this life only" (LW 40, pp. 35-36).

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Challenge of Theological Terminology

The issue of theological language is huge. Unfortunately, venerated ecclesiastical documents, especially the Westminster Standards, have bequeathed to us the idea that theology is about defining terms ("Justification is. . ." "Sanctification is. . ."). Consequently, conservative Reformed churches usually work with an incredibly wooden understanding of the function of theological and biblical language. We do theology by sloganeering.

And what's worse, we read the Bible as if the definitions we have attached to our theological vocabulary must be dumped into every biblical occurrence of these same words. So when we see "Son of God" in the Scriptures it must always refer to Jesus' divinity. "Justification" to the imputation of Christ's alien righteousness. "Sanctification" to the process of growing in holiness. "Regeneration" to an invisible event in the soul of man. When we read of "deacons" in the New Testament, then it must be referring to what we in the PCA call "deacons." Same with "elder," and so on. If you suggest a different "meaning" for any of these words or phrases, if you believe that a particular biblical context demands a meaning other than the traditional theological definition, then you are obviously departing from the faith. Never mind that technical meanings we have attached to these terms in our tradition don't seem to be present in many biblical passages.

At the very least, every theological student must read Vern Poythress's Symphonic Theology and John Frame's Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. These are essential books for theological and pastoral students. Here's my challenge to you, reader. If you are engaged in any way in any of the current debates about election, baptism, regeneration, justification, deacons and deaconesses, but have not read either of those two books, then don't say or write another word until you read at least one of them. I would start with Symphonic Theology.

When terminological definitions become security blankets in our denomination we are in serious trouble. They keep us from thinking like adults about the biblical texts that are supposed to be authoritative for us. Demanding that everyone define terms in precisely the same way has the appearance of keeping everything nice and manageable. This tactic seems to protect the system of doctrine, which effectively means the stipulated definitions that we have assigned to these words. Unfortunately, it also means the end of all theological development; it insures that we will continue to live in the 17th century.

I have a paper that illustrates this problem by examining Romans 1:4, where Paul says that Jesus was "declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead." In that passage "Son of God" doesn't refer to his eternal divine sonship. You can download the paper as a PDF file from this page.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Earthquake at 4:30 AM This Morning

My wife woke me up and said, "Stop shaking the bed." I sat up and said, "Not me. It's an earthquake." The dog, who sleeps in bed with us, was standing bolt upright and looking around the room.

I woke my son up this morning and he said that the wind was rattling his bunk bed last night. The wind. I said, "Nope. It was an earthquake."

I went into Julie's room and woke her and told her we had an earthquake about an hour ago. She rolled over and yelled at me, "Dad! Why do you always say crazy things in the morning just to get me out of bed. Go away!"


Microcosmic New World

This about the Tabernacle from Terence Fretheim's commentary on Exodus in the Interpretation series:
At this small, lonely place in the midst of the chaos of the wilderness, a new creation comes into being. In the midst of disorder there is order. The tabernalce is the world order as God intended writ small in Israel. The priests of the sanctuary going about their appointed courses is like everything in creation performing its liturgical service--the sun, the trees, human beings. The people of Israel carefully encamped around the tabernacle in their midst constitutes the beginnings of God's bringing creation back to what it was originally intended to be. The tabernacle is a realization of God's created order in history; both reflect the glory of God in their midst.

Moreover, this microcosm of creation is the beginning of a macrocosmic effort on God's part. In and through this people, God is on the move to a new creation for all. God's presence in the tabernalce is a statement about God's intended presence in the entire world. The glory manifest there is to stream out into the larger world. The shining of Moses' face in the wake of the experience of the divine glory . . . is to become characteristic of Israel as a whole, a radiating out into the larger world of those glorious effects of God's dwelling among Israel. As a kingdom of priests . . . they have a role of mediating this glory to the entire cosmos (T. E. Frethem, Exodus, Interpretation [Louisville: John Knox, 1991], 271-72, cited on p. 72 of Batholomew and Goheen, The Drama of Scripture).

HT: Brian Nolder.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Space Vulture

There are some SciFI books that make you think about moral or philosophical issues, some that delight you with descriptions of alien races and worlds, some that make your head spin with technical descriptions of future technologies. But there are some that are just plan fun. Lots of fun for everyone. Space Vulture is that SciFi book. It's all about boys, ray guns, smelly aliens, heroes that are too good, and a villain that is a cosmic bad boy.

This is not a book about big ideas or complex philosophical conundrums. In fact, it's rather childish. But I must confess, it had me ginning on more pages than most novels I read. Is the plot contrived? Yeah, of course. But the characters are likable, if not believable. This is SciFi pulp fiction. It's not meant to be taken seriously. It's meant to be enjoyed. And it's absolutely safe for children. I don't often get to say that about books I like. Without giving away too much, you should be prepared for some interesting Christian themes. This is great pulp space opera. The big adventure. For some reason, it reminded me of the old Johnny Quest cartoons.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Worship in Spirit & Truth - Part 2

This is the conclusion to my discussion of John 2:24 and the regulative principle of worship.

Jesus’ words—“worship in Spirit and truth”—must be understood according to the context of Jesus’ discussion with the Samaritan woman. She had asked where the proper place of worship should be—Mt. Gerizim in Samaria or Mt. Zion in Jerusalem? Jesus responds with a prophetic statement, an utterance about something that will soon be in effect. At the time Jesus spoke to the woman, Jerusalem was the place where God had placed his Name. The Spirit descended in glory upon the tabernacle and temple. If you wanted to be faithful to the truth and enter into the environment of the Spirit, you went to Jerusalem with the people of God. In contrast to this, the Samaritans worshipped in ignorance. They bowed down as a people in the wrong place. There was no guarantee of the Spirit’s presence on Mt. Gerizim. Jesus makes this clear. They were wrong to worship God on the mountain of their own choice.

But a time was coming—indeed, it was being inaugurated in Jesus’ own ministry—when bowing down “faithfully” and “in the Spirit” could be done by God’s people anywhere, not merely in Jerusalem. The post-Pentecost situation would radically decentralize corporate worship. Not individual worship. That had always been decentralized. The big change now would be that longer would worshipers gather together only at Jerusalem, but now the Spirit would be present wherever the church assembled in the Name of Jesus. That's what this passage is all about.

Today most commentators agree that in proclaiming worship "in Spirit and truth," Jesus was not contrasting external worship with internal worship. His statement has nothing to do with worshiping God in the inner resources of one’s own spirit. The Spirit Jesus speaks of in this passage is the Spirit of God, not the spirit of man, as vs. 24 makes clear . . . . Jesus is speaking of the eschatological replacement of temporal institutions like the Temple, resuming the theme of 2:13-22. In 2:21 it was Jesus himself who was to take the place of the Temple, and here it is the Spirit given by Jesus that is to animate the worship that replaces worship at the Temple.

In John 4:24, therefore, Jesus is not emphasizing the importance of one’s inner emotional experience. Jesus is not saying if you want to have genuine worship you must participate with your innermost spirit. If that was what Jesus was saying, then there would be nothing new about such an admonition. It was true in the Old Testament. If worship “in spirit” only meant that individuals should worship sincerely, honestly, with one’s heart and soul, such an assertion could not have answered the Samaritan woman’s question.

"Spirit" is not a description of God’s non-material nature. We should not read this like this: God is a spirit. That is, God is in the category of what we call “spiritual, immaterial beings.” That is not John’s concern. The “S” should be capitalized. God is Spirit. This is not a statement about the “nature” of God, but of the way in which God is present to human beings, his dynamic relations with humanity. The Father gives the Spirit (John 14:1) and the Holy Spirit is the medium of his personal relations to us.

Compare this with 1 John 1:5 (“God is light”) and 1 John 4:8 (“God is love”). These statements do not describe God’s “nature,” but his relational being. To say that “God is Spirit” in the context of a discussion about the place where one should bow down means that God will be properly worshiped wherever his Spirit is. We must be “in the Spirit” if we are to be in God’s presence, the place where he is. This is similar to Jesus saying that one must be “born from above” and “born of water and Spirit” (John 3:3-8). The Spirit connects us with heaven, with the Father.

So if you want to worship the Father, you will be where the Spirit of truth is. Once again, I am not denying we can worship individually anywhere and anytime, and by the Spirit. That was true in Old Testament times as well. But there is a more specific sense of "in Spirit," which is in the community of believers gathered at a specific place for special worship. The context makes it clear that Jesus is speaking in this specific sense. It's as if the woman asked, "Where is the Spirit present so that we can be sure to be worshiping God in the right place? Is the Spirit in Jerusalem or on Mt. Gerizim?"

In the context of the Old Testament “bowing down in Spirit” meant gathering with the people of God for corporate, sacrificial worship wherever the tabernacle was pitched or at the site of the temple in Jerusalem. But not any more. The Spirit that descended and filled the old tabernacle and temple is the same Spirit that descended and remained upon Jesus, the true and final Temple.

In the new world, the place where God and man are united is in the flesh of Jesus. He is the new Temple (John 2:19-22). Jesus will ascend to heaven shortly after his discussion with the Samaritan woman, and he promised to send the Spirit to indwell and empower his body, the church (John 14-16; Acts 1:8; 2:1-4). When the church gathers, the Spirit is there. Where the Spirit gathers the church, there is Christ. She is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:21). And so worship to the Father occurs through Jesus and in the Spirit where the earthly temple of living stones is gathered (1 Pet. 2:5). Thus, in the New Testament, people who worship “in Spirit and truth’ will gather with the Body of Christ to participate in Spiritual worship of the Father (1 Cor. 12:12-14).

Some have even used Jesus’ statement to argue that he was condemning all kinds of external and material worship—rituals, corporeal objects, and the rest. That doesn't work. No way. Jesus is not speaking here about individual, in-your-thoughts worship. But about people and what they do. The Samaritan woman asked where one should “bow down,” that is, where is the proper place to bow down before God and experience his Spirit.

In the New Covenant God has not suddenly become available only to individuals who turn inward or seek some immaterial/spiritual means of communion. Nor has he become a “vagabond God” (Luther’s phrase), wandering here and there apart from any place. Rather just as God limited and bound himself to specified places and times and people in the Old Testament, so also in the New. This has not changed in the New Testament. We have not become disembodied spirit beings! We have no independent, immaterial access to God in the New Covenant. What we have is a different set of physical means appropriate to the change made in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

In the Old Covenant the place of corporate worship was one place and people—the tabernacle, the temple, the ark of the covenant, the altar, and the physical rituals of sacrifice that were performed at these centralized sites. We Christians, however, unlike the believers in the Old Testament, are no longer bound to one geographical location, to one physical temple at the center of the world. We no longer go to one nation that has been given the ministry of priestly intercession and ministry. The Spirit no longer binds himself to one location or one people. This is evident even in this passage. The living water that the woman receives (i.e., the Holy Spirit) wells up in her such that when her fellow towns people hear her witness, they too receive the living-water Spirit and believe (John 4:28-30, 39-42). And they are nowhere near Jerusalem!

What Jerusalem and the Jews were to the Old Testament—the place and ministers by which God met with men and women—Christ and his Body, the Church, are today. Jesus’ humanity is the place to which God summons us. Christ alone is the new sanctuary, the mercy seat, and the high priest through whom we must draw near to God. And Christ has given the Spirit to fill his Body, the Church, on earth so that she might be the place where humanity finds God. She is the New Jerusalem. If we wish to worship God in Spirit and truth, we will seek God among his people, where the Word is audibly read and preached, where the physical sacraments are given and received. He still embodies his presence by the Spirit, but it is no longer a centralized, geographically limited embodiment.

The Spirit is given by Jesus (as John 14-17 will make clear). He is the proper environment of worship. And the Spirit brings men and women together in various places by the Spirit in order that they might worship God through the Messiah. In union with the humanity of Jesus, we have access to the Father through the Spirit. We bow before God in Christ in the environment of the Spirit. Luther reminds us that the ministry of the Holy Spirit “is thoroughly external and completely available to our sense . . . we see and hear the Holy Spirit in the dove, in tongues of fire, in baptism, and in a human voice.” Paul Althaus summarizes it well:
“Christ is present to us in very earthly ways. Everywhere in the history of revelation God embodies himself for us. His Spirit came in the form of a dove and the fiery tongues of Pentecost. And God still embodies himself for us. The Holy Spirit comes to us and brings Christ to us through the external, physical, sensible means of the word, of the human voice, and of the sacraments.
God meets with us at trysting places (Luther’s evocative terminology). Where the people of God are gathered as the Church and there is baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the word of God on the lips of his ministers and all his believers—that is where God is. That is where we bow down in Spirit and truth.


I reject all four of the deformations of the Reformed regulative principle of worship. Much better is A. A. Hodge’s simple comments on the Westminster Confession of Faith 21.1. According to Hodge, this section teaches,
“That God in his Word has prescribed for us how we may worship him acceptably; and that it is an offense to him and a sin in us either to neglect to worship and serve him in the way prescribed, or to attempt to serve him in any way not prescribed.”
This is a very productive summary of the regulative principle. It avoids the dangers of an unworkable, overly strict formulation (like “whatever is not commanded is forbidden.”). It does not, of course, answer all of our questions in advance. We must still do the hard work of biblical exegesis to determine precisely how God regulates worship. We can be confident, however, that God has prescribed for us in his Word how we may worship him acceptably. This authoritative prescription comes by way of command, principle, and example from both the Old and New Testaments.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Laser Music?

This looks really weird to me. And wouldn't your arms get tired after a few minutes of playing this thing?

Paglia on Hillary

From Salon's Hillary's slick willies:
Many Democrats, including myself, have come to doubt whether Hillary has any core values or even a stable sense of identity. With her outlandish fibbing and naive self-puffery, her erratic day-to-day changes of tone and message, her glassy, fixed smiles, and her leaden and embarrassingly unpresidential jokes about pop culture, she has started to seem like one of those manic, seductively vampiric patients in trashy old Hollywood hospital flicks like "The Snake Pit." How anyone could confuse Hillary's sourly cynical, male-bashing megalomania with authentic feminism is beyond me.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Worship in Spirit & Truth - Part 1

This post is actually the next installment for my series on the "regulative principle of worship." But since it's all about John 4:24 and it will take me two posts to deal with the phrase "worship in Spirit and truth," I've renamed it accordingly.

A New-Testament-only approach to the regulative principle invariably ends up advocating an overly inward, rationalistic approach to worship. The inward, spiritual, non-material movement of the mind is more important that the movement of the body (tongue or knees or hands) in worship. So anything material detracts from the true “spiritual” worship of the New Testament.

Here's an illustration of this: A long time ago in a church far, far away a seminary professor of mine, after participating in worship at our church, commented to me about how much he appreciated the times of silence in the service. “That was true spiritual worship!” he said. Now, I think times of silence in the worship service are fine, but they are definitely not more “spiritual” than when the congregation is belting out a vigorous hymn or Psalm. In the Bible the adjective “spiritual” means “of the Holy Spirit,” not something non-material or inward or mental as opposed to the material, physical, and outward.

This “spiritualizing” of the regulative principle of worship is the fourth distortion to analyze. It is often justified by a misreading of Jesus’ discussion with the Samaritan woman in John 4. Jesus’ assertion in John 4:24 is often lifted from its context and dangerously misconstrued to function as a warning against all “outward” and “external” liturgical worship. A more literal translation, however, will help us understand what Jesus means by worshiping in “Spirit and truth”:
The [Samaritan] woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our Father’s bowed down [proskuneo] on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to bow down.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will your people bow down to the Father. Your people bow down to what you do not know; we bow down to the one we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming and is now here, when true worshipers will bow down to the Father in Spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to bow down to him. God is Spirit, and those who bow down to him must bow down in Spirit and truth.” (John 4:19-24).
Jesus is not saying that God is non-material, so therefore his worshippers must unite with him by means of their spirits or souls. He is not disparaging the body in worship or advocating some sort of "immaterial" worship, whatever that might be.

The NIV study Bible is quite wrong in its explanatory note: “The place of worship is irrelevant, because true worship must be in keeping with God’s nature, which is spirit.” Jesus is not redirecting genuine worship to inward, sincere worship. This follows from two considerations: 1) the meaning of the word proskuneo, often translated “to worship,” and 2) the redemptive-historical context of Jesus’ remarks.

First, the Greek verb proskuneo (used 9 times in 6 verses in John 4:20-26) means “to bow down,” “to kneel,” or “prostrate oneself.” Even though my translation of this passage is awkward, I have tried to bring out the ritual dimensions of the conversation by consistently translating proskuneo as “bow down.” One must remember the very concrete meaning of proskuneo in the ancient world. Doing “obeisance” means bending your body and placing yourself “under” another. When you proskuneo-ed before someone, you bowed down in their presence, even at their feet.

The English word “worship,” especially as it is used in modern times, is not a very helpful translation. One of the problems with our word “worship” is that it now refers to all sorts of activities, both physical and mental. In fact, a recent fad is to stress that all of life is “worship” and that genuine worship is mental and happens every day and all through the day in our minds and hearts. In some sense this is true, but only in a very loose sense. When used in this sense “worship” denotes a mental disposition.

But this is not the sense in which this word proskuneo or “bowing down” is ordinarily used in the Scriptures. If you want to say that all of life is “bowing down,” that is fine; but this can only be so in a very abstract or metaphorical way. If you are working hard on a painting job, for example, you may, indeed you should mentally give thanks and praise to God while you do so, but . . . you are not bowing down at that time with others in a congregation to offer praise and thanksgiving to God.

The woman and Jesus are not talking about this kind of mental attitude. Jesus is addressing the question of where one should bow down to the Father. It's all about the proper location. Jesus is talking about the ritual act of bowing down or kneeling before God in order to honor him and express one’s proper devotion.

The Samaritan woman asks, in effect, “Where is the place, the location, where we should bow down to God?” We will see how Jesus answers that question in a moment, but for now simply attend to the kind of devotion in question. The activity in view here is what we might call “special” as opposed to “general” devotion. It is special in the sense that it happens at a known location and it involves the people of God in acts of embodied ritual devotion before God. Furthermore, the bowing down in question has to do with corporate or public worship, not private worship.

Bowing down, then, is a kind of synecdoche for everything the people of God do when they gather together in corporate worship. It simply has to be this. Everyone, both Jews and Samaritans knew that one could pray and praise and petition God, one could even get down on one’s knees anytime or place. Individual bowing down was never restricted to the Temple or Jerusalem or in Samaria, to Mt. Gerizim. Individual, private, mental worship had no restrictions in the Old Covenant.

Please, pay careful attention to this point. The big point being made by Jesus in this passage cannot be that now in the New Testament individuals can individually bow down, pray to, or mentally worship God wherever they want. That had always been the case. The controversy here is about where the people of Samaria should gather to bow down in special corporate worship. All special, corporate worship in the Bible is external and bodily and involves the biblical ritual (among others) of kneeling or bowing down.

So what did Jesus mean when he said that the time is coming when people would "bow down in Spirit and truth"? I'll deal with that in the next part.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

PCA GA Colloquium on Sacraments

It might be easy to miss this on the official GA website seminar schedule. But there's a pre-General Assembly colloquium on the sacraments scheduled for Tuesday morning, June 10th from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Reunion Ballroom F.

The speakers for the Colloquium are Will Barker, Ligon Duncan, Jeff Meyers (me), and Rob Rayburn. The question to be discussed: What do the sacraments actually accomplish in their administration?

There will be 4 main presentations by each of the speakers (25 minutes each), then 4 responses by each speaker (10 minutes each). Following that there will be 30 minutes of Q & A from the audience.

If you know someone who would be interested in this kind of discussion, you should alert him so that he makes plans to arrive at GA in time for this Tuesday morning gathering.

SCI FI & Fantasy TV Series We Missed

Red Dawn

More info about this picture.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Regulative Principle of Worship, Part 3

Marcionite RPW?

The third problem with some formulations of the regulative principle is when it is applied in a dispensational, semi-Marcionite way. For some people the regulative principle means that we only look to the New Testament for biblical warrant. Only what the New Testament expressly prescribes ought to be done. All that ceremony and ritual, well, that was Old Testament worship. The Old Testament had a lot of "outward" and "material" religious ceremonies, but in the New Testament our worship is inward and spiritual.

More often than not, popular Protestant imagination inadvertently links Roman Catholic worship with Old Testament worship, as if Catholicism is somehow a throwback to Old Testament worship. The Puritans tended to make this mistake. For example, John Owen (an independent Puritan) does not like the Lord’s Prayer. Why? Because it was part of Old Testament worship structures:
Our Savior at that time was minister of the Circumcision, and taught the doctrine of the gospel under and with the observation of all the worship of the Judaical church. He was not yet glorified, and so the Spirit was not as yet given; I mean that Spirit which he promised unto his disciples to enable them to perform all the worship of God by him required at their hands, whereof we have before spoken. That, then, which the Lord Jesus prescribed unto his disciples, for their present practice in the worship of God, seems to have belonged unto the economy of the Old Testament. Now to argue from the prescription of, and outward helps for, the performance of the worship of God under the Old Testament, unto a necessity of the like or the same under the New, is upon the matter to deny that Christ is ascended on high, and to have given spiritual gifts unto men eminently distinct from and above those given out by him under the Judaical pedagogy (Owen, Works, vol. 15, p. 14).
Frank J. Smith asserts “Romanism . . . retained much of the Old Covenant sacrificial system” (Worship in the Presence of God, eds. Frank J. Smith and David C. Lachman (Greenville, SC: Greenville Seminary Press, 1992), p. 11). What exactly does this mean? How can Roman Catholicism be said to have “retained” Old Covenant sacrificial practices? Did the error of the Mass develop because the church returned to the liturgical elements of the Old Testament ceremonial system? Or did it develop as a result of the influence of alien philosophical (Aristotelian) categories on biblical teaching? Does Frank Smith want to suggest that the God-given sacrificial system was Romanist? Are we to believe that the corruption of the medieval church came about because of the influence of the Old Testament on the church’s liturgy? This kind of argument is historically and theologically erroneous.

There is a disconcerting penchant among Reformed theologians, from the Reformation on, for disparaging Old Covenant sacrificial ritual by identifying it too closely with Roman Catholic errors. This erroneous identification became more and more prominent in the 17th and 18th centuries. Even though it is not about worship per se, I highly recommend Henning Graf Reventlow’s The Authority of the Bible and the Rise of the Modern World (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985). Reventlow chronicles the rise of Deism in England and Germany as the precursor to higher criticism. In the process of his research he shows how English Protestants, particularly the Puritans, displayed a deep-seated hostility to anything that smacked of material ceremony and ritual, and that they read the Old Testament with these colored lenses such that they tended to interpret Old Testament religion as a kind of Catholicism before Rome.

Furthermore, according to Reventlow, this moralistic, anti-ceremonial bias fed right into (or possibly even “caused”) the rising humanistic antipathy to revealed religion, particularly that of the Old Testament, leading to the rise of higher critical methodologies that deconstruct the first four-fifths of the Bible. At any rate, Reventlow’s research on the anti-ritual “spiritualism” of the English post-Reformation theologians is extremely troubling. This work reveals something of the shortcomings of our own anti-liturgical, spiritualistic heritage.

Another odd characteristic of much of Reformed polemics on the regulative principle has been the appeal to synagogue worship over against the Old Testament biblical regulations regarding the temple liturgy. I say it is odd because there are no explicit biblical regulations concerning synagogue worship. We know that the people of Israel worshiped weekly in local assemblies since a Sabbath day “holy convocation” or “assembly” was commanded by Yahweh in Leviticus 23:3: “Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to Yahweh in all your dwelling places.”

Now, it is true that the local Sabbath worship was not explicitly regulated. That is, God did not lay out a how-to list like he does in Leviticus. But that doesn't mean that wise Levites and elders in the local towns would not understand that the regulations of the Temple and sacrificial system applied mutatis mutandis to the local services over which they presided. We have a great deal of evidence to suggest that this is exactly what synagogue worship became: sacrificial worship without the animal sacrifices. Synagogue practice was modeled on the temple (e.g., prayers were described as "sacrifices," similar to the New Testament and the synagogue itself was considered holy space). Although a staple of much Reformed anti-liturgical polemics, the notion that synagogue worship was “simple” and a-liturgical and therefore must function as a model for “simple” New Testament worship lacks credible support.*

Add to this the fact that the New Testament everywhere talks about the church as the fulfillment of the Temple. There's very little to connect the synagogue and church. But all the imagery and symbolism of Israel's Temple comes to fulfillment in the life of the church. Going to the OT and reading it through the lens of it's fulfillment in Christ in order to learn about corporate Christian worship is the great need of the day. This is why, for example, the order or sequence of the "offerings" in the sacrificial worship of Israel is so important.

I could say a lot more about this topic, but I think I'll stop here. The bottom line is that we need to be whole-Bible Christians when we reflect on how the Bible regulates congregational worship.

*See Peter J. Leithart, “Synagogue or Temple? Models for Christian Worship,” Westminster Theological Journal 64:1 (Spring 2002): 119-134; Leithart, From Silence to Song, chapter 6; John W. Kleinig, The Lord’s Song: The Basis, Function and Significance of Choral Music in Chronicles (JSOT Supplement #156; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993); and Donald D. Binder, Into the Temple Courts: The Place of the Synagogue in the Second Temple Period (SBL Dissertation Series 169; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 1997).

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Regulative Principle of Worship - Part 2

Not Commanded – Not Allowed?

The second problem with some ways of explaining the regulative principle of worship concerns a too narrowly defined principle. The regulative principle is not well formulated when we say that only that which is commanded ought to be allowed in worship. Whatever is not commanded therefore is forbidden. But why should we need only explicit “commands”? This is completely unworkable, and in practice has never been followed. It makes for great rhetoric, but lousy biblical and liturgical theology.

Where does the Bible command that a “call to worship” be issued at the beginning of a service? It must be forbidden.

Where are we commanded to give a benediction at the close of the worship service? Therefore it is forbidden!

Where are we commanded to have choirs? Therefore they are forbidden.

Where are we commanded to celebrate Baptism as part of the worship service? It must be forbidden.

Where are we commanded to take vows as part of the baptismal ceremony? That, too, must be forbidden.

Where are we commanded to take an offering during the service? Can't do it.

For that matter, where are we commanded to have a sermon each Sunday? Where are we commanded to meet on the first day rather than the seventh? Must all of these practices be forbidden if we cannot find a verse that commands us to do them? Some insist that we must actually come up with a proof text that explicitly commands a practice before we are authorized to do it in the worship of the church.

Much better than this is the Strasbourg Reformer Martin Bucer’s explanation of the regulative principle of worship: “nothing should be introduced or performed in the churches of Christ for which no probable reason can be given from the Word of God.” Filling this out a little, we can state the principle like this: the church must have biblical warrant for the way she worships God; such warrant can be derived from biblical commands, principles, or examples.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Regulative Principle of Worship, Part 1

Reformed Presbyterians have a rule called “the regulative principle of worship” that theoretically guides them in determining how to worship. The rule is good and proper when it is understood correctly. Even though controversy continues to swirl around the precise meaning and application of this principle, I am convinced that the regulative principle of worship simply means that the content and ritual of our Lord’s Day corporate worship must be informed and regulated by the Word of God. Nothing should be added to the church’s worship without biblical warrant. The regulative principle is laid out in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 21, Article 1, and the Westminster Larger Catechism, Questions 108 and 109. Here's WCF 21.1:
Westminster Confession of Faith 21.1. The light of nature sheweth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.
It is crucial to remember that God does regulate what happens in worship much more tightly than he does the rest of life. That's a biblical principle. It's all over the Bible.

Nevertheless, questions remain. What counts as worship “instituted by God himself”? How exactly does the Bible regulate worship? Can we look to the principles or examples in the Bible or must we have a direct command? Are we restricted to what is commanded or exemplified in the New Testament or can we also use the Old? I cannot address all of these questions in this short chapter. What I propose to do here is widdle the issues down a bit by cutting off some of the more unacceptable misconstruals of the regulative principle. Unfortunately, the regulative principle of worship has too often been sloganized and applied so narrowly as to be unworkable, not to mention unbiblical. There are at least four unworkable conceptions of the regulative principle of worship (RPW).

The first unacceptable way of understanding the RPW we might call the Reactionary Regulative Principle of Worship. The RPW must not be defined or applied primarily in reaction to Roman Catholic or Episcopal worship. Historical factors in our own history, particularly the life-and-death struggles between the Presbyterian Scots and the Episcopal English, have led to very one-sided rules about what the Bible supposedly forbids in worship. Although it is a bit of a caricature, we often think like this: if a practice involves ceremony or ritual and Catholics and Episcopals do it, it must be unbiblical. There are, of course, very understandable historical factors behind this attitude.

The attempt to impose the Anglican Prayer Book on the Scottish church, often by violent means, did not endear the Presbyterians to the English liturgy. For just this reason, “we will not do what the Anglicans or Catholics do” is deeply embedded in the historical consciousness of many Presbyterians. If Anglicans kneel for prayer, we will not kneel (even if God’s people bow down and kneel in the Bible). If the Anglicans used printed prayers, we will not (however, we will ignore the fact that God often provided his people with exemplary prayers, like the Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer). Anglicans use litanies as congregational prayers; therefore litanies are works of the devil (but we’ll pretend that Psalm 136 isn’t in the Bible). Do the Anglicans incorporate congregational participation in the worship? This must be unbiblical. The pastor should do it all.

To our shame this last "reform" is exactly what our some of our Presbyterian forefathers proposed at the Savoy Conference in the mid-17th century (1661). At Savoy Presbyterians opposed the Book of Common Prayer and asked “to omit the repetitions and responses of the clerk and people, and the alternate reading of Psalms and Hymns, which cause a confused murmur in the congregation.” They went on to argue that “the minister being appointed for the people in all Public Services appertaining to God . . . the people’s part in public prayer to be only silence and reverence to attend thereunto and to declare their consent in the close, by saying Amen.” Is that biblical worship? Must we ban all congregational responsive prayers, readings and tolerate no dialogue, no praying in unison of the Lord’s Prayer or any other, all because the Anglicans do this? Must the ministers do all the praying, the people following along silently? Hardly. We are no longer at war with the Episcopals. We need not react against their liturgical forms. After all, they were not the only ones who used these forms. The Reformed churches on the continent had been worshiping like this since the 16th century Reformation.

In addition to this, in their polemic against Anglican and Roman Catholic abuses, Protestant churches often accused their ecclesiastical enemies of imposing their liturgies. So much so that the warning against the imposition of liturgies has become a slogan. Unfortunately, on American soil the older argument against the imposition of Roman Catholic and Anglican liturgies by States on dissenting communities has been transformed into the individual’s supposed right to be free from a local church’s “imposition” of worship forms that he opposes.

That individual Christian “consciences” should be free to decide how to and how not to worship was not the issue in historical Reformed debates. Just as a pastor has the “power” to choose a text and "impose" it on the congregation each week, so also a pastor and/or elders have the power to ordain a time and place for worship, choose hymns and prayers, and decide on an order of worship. If this is “imposing a liturgy” on people, then the only alternative is absolutely free worship. Indeed, why should I even have to gather with others only to hear them pray about and say things that I don’t want to hear? There can be no genuine corporate worship without some “imposition” of liturgical content and forms.

Consider the “church year calendar,” for example. Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and Lutheran churches do it, so it must be wrong. Right? And where in the Bible are we commanded to have Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter? Confusion arises when statements like the following are advanced against the use of the church year calendar: “Our heritage is rightly suspicious of the creation of ceremonies and rituals not authorized in Scripture.” The problem with this is that technically the church year does not introduce new ceremonies or rituals; rather, it organizes and directs our Scripture readings, prayers, hymns, and sermons according to the life of Christ.

For the life of me, I don’t see how a church that celebrates Christmas, remembering Christ’s birth by singing, praying, and learning more about this particular event in the life of Christ is introducing new “ceremonies and rituals.” Now, there are a few traditional rituals associated with Christmas and Lent, like Advent candles and ashes applied to the foreheads of worshipers; but these need not enter into the discussion at this point, since they are not part of the essence of the celebration of the church year.

The question of liberty of conscience should not enter into the discussion at all. The members of the church promise to submit to their leaders in the area of worship. Are pastors guilty of an “abuse of church power” when they regularly choose the hymns for the congregation, select prayers and Scripture readings, and arrange the order of their Sunday services according to their own preaching schedule? What’s the difference? Do the Scriptures mandate or authorize pastors to force such an order on their congregations? Why should the congregation have to submit to worship services where the singing, praying, and Bible readings are correlated to 3 years of sermons through the book of Romans and yet be free to reject a year of prayers, readings, and songs organized around the life of Christ? What’s the difference? One has to suspect that the real reason we rail against the church year has to do with our passion to remain distinct from Roman Catholics and other liturgical churches and not because we think that such a way of ordering one’s readings, hymns, and sermons is forbidden in the Bible.

If this is what the RPW is—avoiding what certain churches do in worship—then it's just pitiful.

Beach World Sunrise

This is one of my favorite images. I took it last year, but I believe I've just now processed it to my liking.

See a better quality image here.

I know, I know. This site is becoming my photo blog. So be it. Theological blogging isn't safe these days. I'll leave it at that. Visit the Biblical Horizons Blog if you want some good biblical-theological stuff.