westminster confession of faith

Theological Smackdown: The end is the beginning is the end

The last few weeks of Westminster Confession of Faith classes (WCFC) left me feeling a little bit like Hulk Hogan at a press conference…

We’ve changed the order somewhat due to the absence of our venerated leader, who for some reason decided that stuff about end times would be less controversial than stuff about the sacraments.

He was wrong. The chapters on the state of men after death and the resurrection and the one on the Last Judgment ended up being pretty heated.

The judgment study got bogged down in the question of whether Christians go through the process of judgment to be found innocent – or if we skip the process altogether.

It was a case of the one proof text verse the many proof texts – and both sides of the debate walked away thinking they’d won and the other side were idiots.

Our group features some John Macarthur fanboys (surely a breed as rabid as my posse of Mark Driscoll fanboys), who are very rigidly stuck on the idea that dispensational premillennialism is the only way to understand end times.

I’m not one of them. They told me I don’t understand Revelation. Or the Bible. I told them that Calvin was an amillenialist. It got a little ugly.

For some reason they also hold Revelation to be the most important book of the Bible. It’s like a trump card that can be played to render all perspicuous passages of Scripture relating to the same topic unclear at the sake of a fringe interpretation of a complex book.

The millennium sure is a curious little issue to think about – but at the end of the day it’s not a salvation issue. And we have freedom to disagree.

I think it matters though – because it’s the vocal fringe that brand Christianity as a bunch of crazies – and if you have a look at Christian cults – you’ll find that most of them subscribe to a premillennial eschatology. This may or may not be a strawman.

I just think they’re wrong. My thinking, like Dave’s about Christianity, comes from my parents. Check out dad’s most excellent sermon series on Revelation to see what I think about the millennium and the book of Revelation spelled out…

I think we get into trouble when we disregard the style a book is written in when we’re looking to it for meaning. That’s part of looking at context.

I got angry when I read this list of reasons Superman is better than Jesus because the guy took a verse (Luke 19:27) from a parable about a king out of context and applied it to Jesus.

Revelation 1 – “Witness Protection”MP3

Revelation 2-3 – “To Him Who Overcomes”MP3

Revelation 4-5 – “Who is Worthy?”MP3

Revelation 6-7 – “When are we going to get there?”MP3

Revelation 12 – “Defeating the Accuser”MP3

Revelation 13-14 – “The Power – or the Passion?”MP3

Revelation 15-16 – “Exodus Again”MP3

Revelation 17-18 – “The End of the Scarlet Harlot”MP3

Revelation 19 – “Onward Christian Soldiers?”MP3

Revelation 20 – “Pit Stop”MP3

Revelation 21-22 “Coming Home”MP3

One of the things that Willows Pressy doesn’t do that MPC does really nicely is the sermon outline and pithy title. I like the structure a sermon outline provides for my listening – even if it’s just so I know how long the guy up the front will keep talking for – I assume listeners to my sermons feel the same way…

Should we forget the forgetful?

Another day, another thought provoking iMonk post.

I don’t know if I mentioned this at the time… but during our Westminster Confession/doctrine classes at church a while back (so long ago I don’t remember the exact chapter we were discussing) I asked a question about whether non-Christian Alzheimer’s patients can be evangelised.

There’s a whole theology of disability that’s a little bit anemic. The post I’m referring to by iMonk is a question about how the Baptist Church handles the baptism of people with mental disabilities. It’s profound. Read it.

Then tell me what your thoughts are on the issue…

Also, if you’re an atheist and you want to hijack this post for your own snide purposes – I’m going to delete the comments. Feel free to comment constructively, but we’re working on the assumption that evangelism is a good thing and not a form of brainwashing or abuse.

Theological Smackdown: All’s fair

WCF classes took a new turn this week as we looked at the issue of Government. As long time readers will be aware, I get a bit excited about the subject of church and state. I don’t think it’s an issue the church handles particularly well, generally speaking. And it’s to our detriment.

My thoughts in a nutshell are that the church should let the state be the state and we should make sure our own house is in order. Who are we to complain about the legalisation of gay marriage when the global church is ordaining gay ministers? This sort of inconsistency is unhelpful. People will ultimately choose whatever lifestyle they like. That’s their decision. Not the government. The church needs to be free to be the church, we particularly need to be free from state oversight on particular matters (like who we can employ). But gay people should be just as free to be gay, and atheists should be just as free to be atheists, and so on, and so forth. The WCF was written in a time where the predominant social paradigm was “Christian” and the complexity of a modern liberal democracy is too much to bear – but there are some good points in the chapter about war, respecting government, and being part of government.

The best part of our discussion on Tuesday was about war. Just war vs pacifism. We were talking about when it’s “right” for a nation to invade, what makes a nation’s claim to nationhood legitimate, and whether leaders who are obviously on the nose with their people (eg Mugabe) should be removed. And then we talked about whether popular but evil leaders (eg Hitler) should be removed. While Germans got behind Hitler and his cause this couldn’t be said for the nations he invaded. We talked about whether Bonhoeffer (K-Rudd’s hero) was right to join a plot to assassinate Hitler. I was surprised that people could consider that wrong.

I came to the conclusion that pragmatism and pacifism are binary opponents. You can’t be both. The pragmatic solution to questions of international relations and human rights will almost always require an exercise of force.

I am a pragmatist.  

Theological Smackdown – is being wrong a sin?

At WCF last week (that’s Westminster Confession of Faith classes) we had a little discussion about oaths. I wrote about it here. It was more than a discussion. It was heated. It was an argument. Binary positions were taken. We “agreed to disagree”. Being the absolutist that I am, I hate agreeing to disagree. It’s a cop out. There’s a right and wrong on all issues. I’d rather find the right than be unsure. And if I think I’m right, I’d rather you be right than wrong.

Some people don’t like that.

The whole discussion got me thinking – especially when the other guy involved said he doesn’t think it’s a sin to be wrong, he just doesn’t do it. There’s a side issue of conscience here – where believing that something is wrong, and doing it, is wrong. But that’s not really my point. Saying that you don’t think someone is sinning when they do something that you think is wrong is a cop out. It is sinning (unless you’re wrong, then you’re sinning). It’s all forgivable though.

Mark Dever wrote a great piece on the issue of wrongness being sinful a while back where he managed to lovingly call his brothers (or himself) sinful on the issue of child baptism – depending on which position turns out to be correct.

He said this in an article in his journal:

“I have many dear paedo-baptists friends from whom I have learned much. Yet I see their practice as a sinful (though sincere) error from which God protects them by allowing for inconsistency in their doctrinal system, just as he graciously protects me from consistency with my own errors.”

That was quite controversial, so he clarified in a further post on his blog.

Some may think that such a "wrong" should not be called a sin.  I understand a sin to be disobedience to God (regardless of intent).  When I read Numbers 15:29-30 and Hebrews 9:7 I certainly see that Scripture presents some sins as being deliberate, and others as being unintentional.  I certainly do not think my paedobaptist brethren are intentionally sinning in this.  In fact, they even think that they are obeying God so, short of them changing their understanding of the Bible’s teaching on this, I can’t expect any "repentance," because they lovingly but firmly disagree with the Baptist understanding of this.

Sin taints everything. Even rightness and wrongness. It is, I think, as silly to expect that you can be purely wrong as it is to expect that you can be wrongly pure.

The question this poses is what to do with those who are wrong – do we respectfully let them stay in “sin”… I don’t know. I tend to think we should seek to lovingly speak the truth. Most objections to arguments are on the basis of conduct rather than intent. The act of speaking the truth is not the problem, it’s that it is not done with appropriate love. Wishy-washy tolerant people want to have their truth, and eat it too, while giving you the freedom to be wrong. Taking a position on a matter on the basis of “right and wrong” rather than personal preference removes subjectivity from the equation. Right and wrong, under God, are absolutes. I’m not talking about questions of taste – I don’t think anybody elevates what you have for breakfast to an absolute position. But once you’re discussing “truth” and providing any form or proof text or evidence from the Bible or elsewhere – you’ve moved into the grounds of “objective” and disagreement with your position is then, by definition, sinful. If my definition is correct.

In conclusion, I think we should be more prepared to call a spade a spade, a wrong a sin, and disagree heartily on things we don’t disagree about – so that we can work together to bring each other out of error, and sin. Oh, and we should repent of being wrong on areas we think we’re right. Agreeing to disagree is just a hollow cop out. Agree or disagree?

My oath

Our WCF classes have proven to be fun and exciting. Which is a surprise. We were up to Chapter 22 tonight – “Of Lawful Oaths and Vows” – it’s pretty controversial, because it prima facie contradicts instructions from Jesus in Matthew 5, and James, in James 5.

Things got heated. In a pretty good way – but raising a couple of points that I’ll post separately…

I’ve got to say that at this stage I’m with the Westminster assembly on this one. I think oaths are ok – despite the face value instructions not to swear them.

Let me explain.

In Matthew 5 Jesus is talking to the Pharisees – who have completely, and terribly, misunderstood the heart of the law. That’s the problem Jesus has with their approach to everything – from adultery to generosity.

Their problem with oaths is that they’re swearing but trying to get out on technicalities. So they swear on heaven, on Jerusalem, on anything and everything but God, because it gives them a way out. So Jesus tells them that’s not on – but he doesn’t rule out swearing an oath by God – nor does he in Matthew 23, where the issue comes up again. In fact, a natural reading of Matthew 23 (verses 16-22) is to see Jesus encouraging the Pharisees to swear their oaths by God rather than working around the issue with stupid technicalities.

Deuteronomy 6:13 tells Israel to take their oaths “in his name” – not in the name of the kingdom, Jerusalem or the hairs on one’s head.

My understanding of the Matthew passage is that the Pharisees are to aim for honesty (let your yes be yes) so that complicated oaths with easy technical get out clauses are not needed. And when Jesus says “anything more is of the devil” it would seem to be referring to anything designed to obfuscate.

Then the James 5 passage is a direct quote of this one, so should be understood the same way.

I can understand the other side of the argument – but I’ve got to say I’d be pretty comfortable swearing an oath on God’s name to tell the truth provided I then did, and pretty uncomfortable if I swore that and didn’t so not swearing seems to be the safer option anyway…

What say you?

On Worship

The iMonk bemoans the evolution of worship.

“Worship has now become a musical term. Praise and worship means music. Let’s worship means the band will play. We need to give more time to worship doesn’t mean silent prayer or public scripture reading or any kind of participatory liturgy. It means music.”

Sadly, the Bible’s definition of worship (Romans 12) suggests that doesn’t even come close to capturing the essence of worship… (but the cartoon does).

Romans 12:1
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.”

This question came up in my candidacy interview last week. The Presbyterian (Westminster Confession of Faith) use of the word worship falls between these two ideas in a sort of semantic compromise.

This issue creates more tension than it should because I think you can hold both ideas at once (the Biblical and the Presbyterian) and still be correct. Am I missing something here?

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