Monday, June 20, 2022

Images of Christ: Reconsidering a Common Exception

 

Images of Christ: Reconsidering a Common Exception

Larger Catechism question 109 states

What sins are forbidden in the second commandment?

 The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.”

Common Rationale #1

The common objection to this portion of the catechism usually concerns images of Christ. Specifically, men taking this exception will acknowledge that images of Christ should not be used for worship, but they see no problem with images being used for didactic purposes, by which they mean that they see no problem using images of Christ to teach children. This is so common an exception it’s often called the “Jesus Storybook Bible exception.” However, the problem is that images of God will be connected to worship and that education should be connected to worship.

As always, we should begin by considering scripture itself. Exodus 20:4-6 says, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

What’s frequently overlooked when considering the second commandment is the fact that it contains two imperatives, not one. In forbidding idols this commandment does not simply say “You shall not worship them.” It says much more than that. It first says in verse four that you shall not make them. Significantly, the language does not say “You shall not make them in order to worship them.” The Hebrew conjunction ‎ לְמַעַן generally translated “in order that” is conspicuously absent. Verse four is a separate sentence in Hebrew as well as English. The second commandment has always been “you shall not make any idols” and “you shall not worship them.” No Israelite could ever make an image of God or any other gods and plead its acceptability on account of its not being used for worship, but only didactic purposes.

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Monday, June 13, 2022

Finnish Member of Parliament is Acquitted of ‘Hate Speech’ for Quoting the Bible

 

Finnish Member of Parliament is Acquitted of ‘Hate Speech’ for Quoting the Bible

Today in Finland, lawyers for Member of Parliament Paivi Rasanen and Bishop Juhana Pohjola will make their final arguments defending the two against “hate crimes” charges for publicly expressing their Christian beliefs. While intended to suppress Christianity and criminalize the Bible, with ramifications for the entire West, the prosecution has also created opportunities to proclaim Christian theology all over the world, Rasanen told The Federalist in an exclusive interview last week.

“I was happy to have the possibility to also tell the gospel—the solution to the problem of sin—in front of the court and in front of the media,” she said. Speaking about the first day of her trial, which occurred in January, Rasanen said, “When so many people were praying for the day, God also answered the prayers. It was quite a hard day, but I thought it was a privilege to stand for the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion and stand for the truth of the Bible.”

Watch an interview with Paivi Rasanen here.

Paivi is a great example of a Christian standing firm for the truth of Scripture in the public square, using the free speech in her country to speak for Christ.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

The Importance of Gathering for Worship

 The Importance of Gathering for Worship

by Jon Payne January 18, 2022

Is gathered (in-person) worship optional for Christians? The question is a profoundly relevant one, especially in our day of endless online services and superficial views of public worship. The Bible’s answer is unmistakably clear: No, gathered worship is not optional. In fact, it’s a divine requirement for every follower of Christ. Indeed, unless providentially hindered by legitimate impediments such as illness or perilous weather, believers are commanded to assemble for worship in the context of a biblically constituted church (Heb. 10:24–25)—that is, a local body of believers who are under the loving shepherding care and discipline of qualified elders. These elders oversee the souls of Christ’s flock and faithfully execute the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, and the public prayers (Acts 2:42; 14:23Eph. 4:11–161 Tim. 3:1-13). Gathered worship in a biblical church is, therefore, a nonnegotiable—an essential mark and means of Christian piety, discipleship, and witness. The church is certainly more than the sacred assembling of believers on the Lord’s Day, but it is never less than that.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Ash Wednesday?

 

Ash Wednesday: Picking and Choosing our Piety

The rise of Lent in non-Roman, Orthodox or Anglican circles is a fascinating phenomenon.

When Presbyterians and Baptists and free church evangelicals start attending Ash Wednesday services and observing Lent, one can only conclude that they have either been poorly instructed in the theology or the history of their own traditions, or that they have no theology and history. Or maybe they are simply exhibiting the attitude of the world around: They consume the bits and pieces which catch their attention in any tradition they find appealing, while eschewing the broader structure, demands and discipline which belonging to an historically rooted confessional community requires.

It’s that time of year again: the ancient tradition of Lent, kick-started by Ash Wednesday. It is also the time of year when us confessional types brace ourselves for the annual onslaught of a more recent tradition: that of evangelical pundits, with no affiliation to such branches of the church, writing articles extolling Lent’s virtues to their own eclectic constituency.

Liturgical calendars developed in the fourth century and beyond, as Christianity came to dominate the empire. Cultural dominance requires two things: control of time and space.  The latter could be achieved through churches and relics. The former was achieved through developing a calendar which gave the rhythm of time a specifically Christian idiom. It remains a key part of Roman, Orthodox and later Anglican church practice.

The rise of Lent in non-Roman, Orthodox or Anglican circles is a fascinating phenomenon. I remember being on the campus of Princeton Theological Seminary a few years ago on Ash Wednesday and being greeted by a young man emerging from Miller Chapel with a black smudged cross on his forehead. That the bastion of nineteenth century Old School Presbyterianism had been reduced to this – an eclectic grab-bag of liturgical practices – struck me as sad. Old School Presbyterianism is a rich enough tradition not to need to plunder the Egyptians or even the Anglicans.

I can understand Anglicans observing Lent. Hey, I can even approve of them doing so when I am in an exceptionally good mood or have just awoken from a deep sleep and am still a little disoriented. It is part of their history. It connects to their formal liturgical history. All denominations and Christian traditions involve elements that are strictly speaking unbiblical but which shape their historic identity. For Anglicans, the liturgical calendar is just such a thing. These reasons are not compelling in a way that would make the calendar normative for all Christians, yet I can still see how they make sense to an Anglican. But just as celebrating July the Fourth makes sense for Americans but not for the English, the Chinese or the Lapps, so Ash Wednesday and Lent really make no sense to those who are Presbyterians, Baptists, or free church evangelicals.

What perplexes me is the need for people from these other groups to observe Ash Wednesday and Lent. My commitment to Christian liberty means that I certainly would not regard it as sinful in itself for them to do so; but that same commitment also means that I object most strongly to anybody trying to argue that it should be a normative practice for Christians, to impose it on their congregations, or to claim that it confers benefits unavailable elsewhere.

The imposition of ashes is intended as a means of reminding us that we are dust and forms part of a liturgical moment when sins are ‘shriven’ or forgiven. In fact, a well-constructed worship service should do that anyway. Precisely the same thing can be conveyed by the reading of God’s Word, particularly the Law, followed by a corporate prayer of confession and then some words of gospel forgiveness drawn from an appropriate passage and read out loud to the congregation by the minister.

An appropriately rich Reformed sacramentalism also renders Ash Wednesday irrelevant. Infant baptism emphasizes better than anything else outside of the preached Word the priority of God’s grace and the helplessness of sinful humanity in the face of God. The Lord’s Supper, both in its symbolism (humble elements of bread and wine) and its meaning (the feeding on Christ by faith) indicates our continuing weakness, fragility and utter dependence upon Christ.

In light of this, I suspect that the reasons evangelicals are rediscovering Lent is as much to do with the poverty of their own liturgical tradition as anything. American evangelicals are past masters at appropriating anything that catches their fancy in church history and claiming it as their own, from the ancient Fathers as the first emergents to the Old School men of Old Princeton as the precursors of the Young, Restless, and Reformed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer as modern American Evangelical. Yet if your own tradition lacks the historical, liturgical and theological depth for which you are looking, it may be time to join a church which can provide the same.

I also fear that it speaks of a certain carnality: The desire to do something which simply looks cool and which has a certain ostentatious spirituality about it. As an act of piety, it costs nothing yet implies a deep seriousness. In fact, far from revealing deep seriousness, in an evangelical context it simply exposes the superficiality, eclectic consumerism and underlying identity confusion of the movement.

Finally, it also puzzles me that time and energy is spent each year on extolling the virtues of Lent when comparatively little is spent on extolling the virtues of the Lord’s Day. Presbyterianism has its liturgical calendar, its way of marking time: Six days of earthly pursuits and one day of rest and gathered worship. Of course, that is rather boring. Boring, that is, unless you understand the rich theology which underlies the Lord’s Day and gathered worship, and realize that every week one meets together with fellow believers to taste a little bit of heaven on earth.

When Presbyterians and Baptists and free church evangelicals start attending Ash Wednesday services and observing Lent, one can only conclude that they have either been poorly instructed in the theology or the history of their own traditions, or that they have no theology and history. Or maybe they are simply exhibiting the attitude of the world around: They consume the bits and pieces which catch their attention in any tradition they find appealing, while eschewing the broader structure, demands and discipline which belonging to an historically rooted confessional community requires. Indeed, it is ironic that a season designed for self-denial is so often a symbol of this present age’s ingrained consumerism.

Carl Trueman is a professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College and a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.  This article is used with permission.

Friday, January 28, 2022

The Folly of Humanism

 


January 28, 2022
The Folly of Humanism
“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.” (Psalm 14:1)

Despite all their pretense of scientific intellectualism, those who deny the existence of a personal Creator God are, in God’s judgment, nothing but fools. The 14th Psalm, the 53rd Psalm, Romans 3, etc., all describe the inner character of all such people—whether they call themselves atheists or humanists or pantheists or whatever. This repeated emphasis indicates how strongly God feels about those who dare to question His reality. It is bad enough to disobey His commandments and to spurn His love; it is utter folly to deny that He even exists!

The Bible describes the awful descent from true creationism into evolutionary pantheistic humanism. “When they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools...Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator” (Romans 1:21-22, 25).

Certain atheists/humanists claim to be moral people, though their criteria of morality are often quite different from those of the Bible. No matter how admirable their humane acts of “righteousness” may seem, however, they are guilty of the sin of unbelief, the greatest sin of all. “Without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is” (Hebrews 11:6). With all the innumerable evidences of God’s reality as seen in the creation and throughout history, and then especially in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, it is utter foolishness to plunge blindly into eternity to meet the God whom they deny. HMM

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Is Jesus "Woke"?

 

Is Jesus “Woke”?

Texas Lieutenant Governor candidate Matthew Dowd suggests Jesus would affirm LGBTQ “rights” and other liberal causes – a far cry from the Jesus in the Bible.

by Ken Ham on November 22, 2021

Would Jesus be declared “woke” by political conservatives if he came to earth today, instead of 2,000 years ago? According to a recent tweet, the Democratic lieutenant governor hopeful of Texas, Matthew Dowd, believes so. Is Dowd right? Is Jesus “woke”?

Well, “woke” means many things today. In his tweet, Dowd appears to define it with the following statement:

How about we just say it is human decency to treat all with respect and dignity and that it is constitutional to say all men and women are equal.

Now, in his tweet he’s basically defending being “woke” as thinking like Jesus thinks and treating everyone with “respect and dignity.” Of course, that’s not how most people are using the term “woke.” Generally, it refers to being “awakened” to the so-called “issues of our day,” such as presumed LGBTQ rights, abortion, CRT, and so on. Dowd’s tweet is an example of the common practice of those who don’t really know or believe Christ and the Bible, using the Bible or Christ to affirm whatever they want!

When we look to God’s Word, we see that Jesus taught against many of the teachings of his day, particularly the false, self-serving doctrines and practices of the religious elites of his day. Often he did this by teaching from the Scriptures and showing them their error and sin. And he would do the same today—indeed he is doing so each and every day through his eternal, unchanging Word!

So, we don’t have to wonder if Jesus is “woke.” Jesus, who is God, gave us his Word, filled with everything he wants us to know about who he is, who we are, what he has done for us, and what he expects of us. And much of what he taught is upside down to what our sinful hearts expect or want—and that certainly includes today’s “woke” crowd.

Jesus taught:

  • Love your enemies (Matthew 5:44). This flies in the face of “cancel culture.”
  • Forgive as Christ has forgiven you (Colossians 3:13). “Anti-racism” and “wokeness” don’t even have a category for forgiving others! It’s an endless cycle of victims being victims and oppressors, real or imagined, doing penance for their, or their culture’s, “sin.”
  • Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31). The “woke” crowd tends to love this one, but they never define “love” according to God’s Word! When we do, we see that God defines love as self-sacrifice for the good of another (e.g., 1 Corinthians 13).
  • He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and no man comes to the Father except by him (John 14:6). In other words—there isn’t “my truth” and “your truth”; there’s only Truth.
  • Sexual immorality is a serious offense against God, whether that’s lust, adultery, homosexual behavior, etc. (Exodus 20:14, Matthew 5:28, 1 Corinthians 6:9, Hebrews 13:4).
  • Marriage is for one man (male) and one woman (female) (Matthew 19:4–5).
  • Lay down your life for others (Luke 9:24, 1 John 3:16). Abortion says the opposite—you will die for me.
  • And so much more!

So, no, Jesus wasn’t “woke” by any definition of the term. And, frankly, it’s irrelevant today—Jesus was accused of being demon-possessed (Mark 3:22) and more on earth because people didn’t want to believe he is who he said he was: God the I AM, the Creator, the Judge, and the Savior.

Really, Dowd and the “woke” crowd need to judge what they believe against the absolute authority of the Word of God! That’s the only way we can know the Truth that sets us free.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Christ's Descent Into Hell

In our church, we recite the Apostles' Creed. What does it mean when we confess that "He descended into hell?"  1 Peter 3:19 says of Christ, "He went and preached to the spirits in prison," which some believe occurred when He literally went to hell.  The following devotional from Ligonier Ministries corrects this notion and explains that Jesus did not literally descend into hell between his death and resurrection, but precisely the opposite.

Christ's Descent Into Hell

Throughout the course of church history, many people have taught that Jesus’ spirit descended into hell after His death on the cross. Basing this idea on Ephesians 4:8–10 and 1 Peter 3:18–20, most of those who have taught that Jesus’ spirit went to hell after His death have said that He went there to proclaim judgment to sinners and/or rescue the saints of the Old Testament. Today, many in the heretical Word of Faith movement teach that the crucifixion was insufficient to atone for our sins and that Jesus also had to suffer three days of torment in hell.

Faithfulness to all of Scripture, however, requires us to deny that Jesus’ spirit went to hell after He died. First, Jesus told the repentant thief on the cross that he would be with Christ in Paradise on the same day of their crucifixion (Luke 23:39– 43). Second, nothing in Ephesians 4:8–10 says Jesus descended into hell; Paul means only that Christ descended into the grave. Third, 1 Peter 3:18–20 likely refers to the Son of God preaching by the Holy Spirit through Noah to the people of Noah’s day. Finally, Jesus finished His atoning work on the cross. The New Testament speaks of propitiation, the turning away of the Lord’s wrath, only in relation to Jesus shedding His blood on the cross (Rom. 3:25Heb. 2:17; 9:1–10:181 John 2:2; 4:10; 5:6–11). Moreover, our Savior’s last words on the cross were “It is finished” (John 19:30). He saw His work as completed when He died.

Jesus’ spirit never went to hell, but on the cross He suffered the full wrath of God that is poured out in hell. True, the scourgings of the guards, the nails in Christ’s hands, and the other physical pains Jesus suffered manifested God’s wrath. Nevertheless, the most intense suffering Christ experienced was spiritual in nature, the hopelessness of losing the gaze of His Father’s blessing and the torment of experiencing God’s wrath for the sins of His people (Mark 15:34). John Calvin comments, “After explaining what Christ endured in the sight of man, the Creed appropriately adds the invisible and incomprehensible judgment which he endured before God, to teach us that not only was the body of Christ given up as the price of redemption, but that there was a greater and more excellent price — that he bore in his soul the tortures of a condemned and ruined man” (Institutes 2.16.10).

Coram Deo

Sin against an infinite being demands an infinite punishment in hell. In a few hours, Jesus suffered and exhausted the infinite punishment that impenitent people cannot exhaust even after an eternity in hell. He could do this because, in His deity as the Son of God, He is an infinite being. This is a great mystery, but as the Heidelberg Catechism states, it does assure us that we are fully delivered from the anguish and torment of hell in Christ (Q&A 44).

https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/christs-descent-into-hell