Saturday, October 17, 2009

Lectio Divina – A Rising Mystical Phenomenon Among Evangelicals: Five Reasons To Avoid It

1. First of all, the lectio divina was spawned, nurtured, and matured in papistry.

“The practice of lectio divina was incorporated into the rules of Rome’s dark monasticism. It was systematized into four steps in the 12th century by Guido II, a Carthusian monk, in “The Ladder of Four Rungs,” or “The Monks Ladder.” The four steps are reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation, which are supposed to be the means by which ‘one can climb from earth to heaven’ and learn ‘heavenly secrets.’”

Dismissing the genetic fallacy by knowing Romish dogma (re: Justification by works and faith, instead of just by faith) , and understanding lectio divina based on it, we can see that it is a heresy.

2. The meditation that lectio divina advocates has little to do with Scriptural meditation. Scriptural meditation involves thinking about a passage (or passages), praying to God about it for understanding, and expecting that enlightenment by the work of the Holy Spirit so that we (and He) might apply it practically in our lives. Alternately, lectio divina involves meditating on a passage (with no regard to the content) as a device to lead us into a contemplative mood, so we can pray for an empty mind which somehow enters a numinous state with the Holy (ostensibly, God). Robert Webber, a very influential spokesman for neo-mysticism (ancient-future faith) and postmodern evangelical worship, gives a typical understanding of this meditation:

“ The goal of Lectio Divina is union with God through a meditative and contemplative praying of Scripture. … All such attempts at verbalizing the experience necessarily fail to express the reality for the simple reason that CONTEMPLATION TRANSCENDS THE THINKING AND REASONING of meditation … Contemplatio shifts praying into a new language (SILENCE). This silence does not ask us to do anything, it is a call to being. Thomas Merton says, ‘THE BEST WAY TO PRAY IS: STOP.’”

3. The technique, typically, leads the practitioner to seek revelation or experience outside of and beyond Scripture. Because the nature of lectio divina is mystical, union with the godhead is its goal. In order to achieve this union – not described or prescribed anywhere in Scripture – the contemplative must empty his mind, divorce himself from reality, and find some sort of experience which he can identify as being united (somehow) to the godhead. This extra-Scriptural experience – obtained through an altered state of consciousness, as is similarly achieved by drug usage - becomes his personal revelation from God. Madame Guyon, a 17th century Quietist explains:

“Once you sense the Lord’s presence, the content of what you read is no longer important. The scripture has served its purpose; it has quieted your mind; it has brought you to him. … You should always remember that you are not there to gain an understanding of what you have read; rather you are reading to turn your mind from the outward things to the deep parts of your being. You are not there to learn or to read, but you are there to experience the presence of your Lord!”

Brian Flynn, a former New Ager says:

“By taking passages of Scripture, which have an intended meaning, and breaking them down into smaller, separate segments, often for the purpose of chanting over and over, the true meaning of the passages are lost. Rather a form of occult mysticism is practiced – with the hope and intention of gaining a mystical experience that God never intended when He gave the inspired words to His servants.”

4. Often, whenever Scripture is affirmed, a secondary (from Origen’s influence in the origins of lectio divina), spiritual meaning is arrived at when contemplating a particular passage. For example, Thomas Keating - a papist mystic who is becoming more and more appreciated by evangelicals through the influence of people like Richard Foster – describes the result as:

“…sitting with a sentence, phrase or even one word that emerges from the text, allowing the Spirit to expand our listening capacity and to open us to its deeper meaning; in other words, to penetrate the spiritual sense of a scripture passage.”

5. Discernment is inherently lacking in the practice of lectio divina due to its mystical nature and focus: denying rationality, dismissing the plain meaning of Scripture, altering one’s state of conscience, and trusting in the experience of the numinous. Thus, if one is not willing to test the spirits and rely on Scripture as his standard of revelational authority, he becomes open to false doctrine based on experience or – worse – (demonic) spiritual deception.

Some of the many practioners/promoters of Lectio Divina (or similar practices):

Thomas Keating

Richard J. Foster

Robert E. Webber

Madame Guyon

Luke Dysinger

Thomas Merton

Mike Pershon (Youth Specialties: Mike Yaconelli)

John Michael Talbot

Thelma Hall

Basil Pennington

Dallas Willard

Brother Lawrence

Rick Warren

*Loosely based on David Cloud’s Contemplative Mysticism: A Powerful Ecumenical Bond (Port Huron: Word of Life, 2008), pp.77-84. All quotes, as they appear in Cloud.



Saturday, September 19, 2009

Keegstra, the Holocaust, Zionism, Free Speech and Christianity: Initial Observations

Keegstra

The Central Alberta teacher who – in the mid ‘80s - was fired from his job, his teaching license suspended, and found guilty in Court for “promoting hatred” against an identifiable group. He was alleged to have been teaching a form of Worldwide Zionist/Jewish Conspiracy to his grades 9 and 12 Social Studies students for over a decade. The particular conspiracy theory he advocated postulated a nebulous cadre of Talmudic Jews, and their cobelligerents, who, beginning with Adam Weishaupt’s Illuminati began to, and now do, secretly rule the world and control events behind the scenes.

Keegstra based his teachings on several things: a) the Social Credit (political) ideology of C. H. Douglas, b) the preponderance of Jews in key influential industries like Entertainment and Finance, c) the sometimes anti-semitic and so-called revisionist literature available through Social Credit connections and Ron Gostick’s Canadian League of Rights, and d) his own brand of Christian theology.

Holocaust

Keegstra, on the side so-to-speak, doubted the alleged and/or mainstream version of the Holocaust and its numbers. He, like many (including me) agreed that Jews (among many other groupings) had been targeted for detention and even killed. However, he disagreed with the establishment conception of the final solution and the extraordinary numbers allegedly gassed. Subsequently, he felt (as do many others, including Jews) that the Shoah was used as a PR device to initially establish the state of Israel, then to leverage Israel’s ongoing security and sovereignty demands.

Zionism

There seems to be several factions in regards to this topic: a) the political Zionists – who have believed in the establishment of the state of Israel by any means necessary, they are usually irreligious or – at the most – nominally religious Jews; b) the religious Zionists – who are religious Jews that look to the Torah and Talmud for inspiration regarding their return to and occupation of the promised land; c) the Christian Zionists – who are usually dispensational premillennialists (mainly Evangelicals) who interpret biblical eschatological passages literally and see the state of Israel as a necessary fulfillment of prophecy and their bounden duty to support/promote; d) the so-called Israel Lobby – a political segement of (predominantly) American society which sees the (geopolitical, economic, etc.) interests of the West (specifically, in most cases – the U.S.A.) best served by a vigourous defense of a non-Arab state – Israel – in the Middle East. This lobby is, naturally, aided and abetted by the political arms of the Christian Zionists (Falwell, Robertson, etc.); e) various other minor groupings of individuals and/or organized entities who have reason to support the state of Israel at one time or another (political coalitions, economic co-operatives, etc.).

Free Speech

During the Keegstra Trial, Douglas Christie, Keegstra’s lawyer, made this prediction:”Fear will grow and silence will grow and people will be more and more suspicious about what they say and who they say it to.” This points up one of the focuses of (and surrounding) the trial: freedom of speech. Though the Alberta government (through the Attorney General’s department) prosecuted and found Keegstra guilty of promoting hatred, many citizens (including parents of and students of Keegstra), and civil liberty, media and church groups either cautioned against prosecution or suggested the trial was a mistake (esp. against freedom of expression). A vocal lobby of free speech supporters (Keegstra, for example, supporters wore “Freedom of Speech” buttons to the trial) were heard before, throughout, and after the trial. Initially, the Crown (government) lawyer was hesitant to prosecute Keegstra due to the perceived difficulty of convicting him of ‘promoting hatred’ when a basic human right was supposed to be (even by Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms) freedom of expression. Regardless, the Crown went ahead with the support of a Canadian interpretation of this right – that it was limited by some greater societal good/peace, etc. in special circumstances, and by legal precedent (the Zundel Trial and one other). Obviously (or, maybe not), this could not have happened in the United States, due to their supposed enshrinement of an unassailable right to free speech. (However, a case in California I hear, during the same time frame and with similar grounds, was successfully prosecuted.) Freedom of speech (or, expression) may be seen to be the secular dilemma mirror of the Christian’s liberty in Christ – both being circumscribed by responsibility and consideration of their brethren.

Christianity

Christians – based on a biblical understanding - should consider Judaism just another ‘faith’ or ‘world religion.’ This is not the case. Generally. Many Christians either from the misguided 19th Century doctrine of dispensationalism, or from a poor application of Romans 11 (and similar passages), have viewed the Jews through ‘rose-coloured glasses.’ They forget or simply ignore the fact that the Judaism of the New Testament is far removed from the holy nation or royal priesthood or chosen nation of Israelites and their peculiar cultus in the Old Testament (never mind the Talmudic transformed and Zionist informed Jewish sects which abound today). This arises from a misunderstanding of the Israel of God: God’s elect people (in Christ Jesus) from Adam to the End of Time. This was the foundation for Keegstra’s outlook on modern Jews. Obviously, he added other influences that aggravated the negative perception which informed his beliefs and teaching. But, essentially, Judaism is to Christianity just another anti-Christian religion like Hinduism, or Islam, or Buddhism, and its adherents need to be presented with the evangel just like everyone else.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

We Are All Hindus Now ?!

"America is not a Christian nation. We are, it is true, a nation founded by Christians, and according to a 2008 survey, 76 percent of us continue to identify as Christian (still, that's the lowest percentage in American history). Of course, we are not a Hindu—or Muslim, or Jewish, or Wiccan—nation, either. A million-plus Hindus live in the United States, a fraction of the billion who live on Earth. But recent poll data show that conceptually, at least, we are slowly becoming more like Hindus and less like traditional Christians in the ways we think about God, our selves, each other, and eternity." - See the rest of the story here [HT: Lighthouse Trails]

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Fundamentalist?

"It is a mistake, often made by educated persons who happen to have but little knowledge of historical theology, to suppose that Fundamentalism is a new and strange form of thought. It is nothing of the kind: it is the partial and uneducated survival of a theology which was once universally held by all Christians. How many were there, for instance, in Christian churches in the eighteenth century who doubted the infallible inspiration of all Scripture? A few, perhaps, but very few. No, the Fundamentalist may be wrong. I think that he is. But it is we who have departed from the tradition, not he, and I am sorry for the fate of anyone who tries to argue with a Fundamentalist on the basis of authority. The Bible and the corpus theologicum of the Church is [sic] on the Fundamentalist side." —Kirsopp Lake, The Religion of Yesterday and To-morrow (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1925), 61-62. [HT: Kevin Bauder, In The Nick of Time; emphasis mine.]

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

This is from a discussion on a yahoo group list:

Another list member wrote:

I have not 'shouted' at you for quite a while now so thought I would chime in here though uninvited.

Hi, No problem.

I recognize with you that the Psalms we have in our Bibles is the Hebrew Psalter. With that being said and given due recognition, I call your attention to the NT passages speaking of singing (Eph 5; Col 3) and to notice they speak of the saints making use of three categories of praise; not one. Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

"A candid examination of the above evidence [linguistic usage by apostolic and post-apostolic writers], we believe, leads to the inevitable conclusion that the phrase 'psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs' is a rhetorical device intended as a reference to the biblical Psalms." - Michael Bushnell, Songs of Zion (Crown & Covenant, 1977). p.88 of the 3rd ed., 1999.


I submit to you, Harry, that while Psalms, as spoken of by Paul, might have been in Paul's mind fairly well limited to the book of Psalms in our OT, hymns are another matter.


"Humnos
occurs some 17 times in the Septuagint [Greek trs. of OT], 13 of which are in the Psalms, six times in the titles. In 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Chronicles and Nehemiah there are some 16 examples in which the Psalms are called 'hymns' or 'songs' and the singing of them is called 'hymning.' Philos (d.A.D.40) frequently designates certain Psalms as 'hymns.' The historian Josephus also repeatedly alludes to the Psalms as 'hymns.' According to Trench, humnos occurs nowhere in the Apostolic Fathers or Justin Martyr or the Apostolic Constitutions, and only once in tertullian (ad Uxor.II,8), perhaps because the word had by then taken on profane associations. But this consideration does not materially affect our understanding of the usage of the term during New Testament times. Generally humneo means 'to sing praise' or 'to praise in song,' but it can mean simply 'to praise' without any musical reference at all. There is, however, no clear instance of the latter usage in the New Testament (Heb.2:12 and Acts 16:25 are the only possible instances). What we see, then, in the Septuagint and in the early theological literature is a pattern of instances in which the noun humnos is used either in connection with or in reference to the inspired Psalms." - pp.85,86 ibid.

There are other praise passages in scripture that might well be called 'hymns.' Or a hymn might be a composition of any person and not taken from holy writ.

Disputed.

I further suggest that by "spiritual songs" Paul had reference to songs one would sing in the Spirit just as Paul said in I Corinthians 14 that he would sing with the Spirit and he would sing with his mind. One might also express it as "singing in tongues" (a spiritual gift).

"Odee [songs] occurs some 80 times in the Septuagint, 45 of which are in the Psalms, 36 in the Psalm titles. Josephus (Antiquities 2, 346) refers to Exodus 15 as a 'song of God.' At a later point odee came to be used only for biblical songs (apart from the Psalms) used in the liturgy, but usage in New Testament times is broader, there being no precise differentiation odee, psalmos and humnos. Philo, for example, in connection with Exodus 15 first uses the term 'sea song' and then simply humnos. As we shall see momentarily, the term odee is used quite frequently in conjunction with other musical terms to denote the biblical psalms." - ibid., p.86.

"Assuming for the moment that Paul is, in fact, speaking here of some kind of charismatic hymn singing, it ought to be clearly understood that such a situation in no way militates against exclusive psalmody. There are two very good reasons for this. In the first place, the charismatic gifts present in the Corinthian church at the time this epistle was written, passed away with the close of the New Testament canon and are not normative for today's church. If the advocates of non-canonical hymnody wish to use this passage to support their position, they are bound to produce Spirit-given, charismatic songs. But it ought to be obvious that such songs as these could never become the foundation for the Church's hymnody. Such songs may be interpreted by someone with the appropriate gifts, but their spontaneous origin and glossolalic [tongues] character prohibit their reproduction for corporate use. The singing alluded to in this passage is, in fact, not congregational singing at all. There is 'no thought here of liturgical music; it is the individual spontaneously using a special gift in the congregation.'
In the second place, it is important to note that the charismatic song interpretation of the passage places worship song in the same category as that of inspired prophecy or revelation and thus represents an implicit prohibition of uninspired worship song. [Thus, confirming exclusive psalmody!] It may be objected that the need for charismatic song in this instance implies the insufficiency of the psalter for New Testament worship. We reply that the Old Testament psalms are in a sense insufficient for the worship needs of the Church in this dispensation , but only in the sense that they require the interpretation of a completed New Testament canon to be properly understood, used, and sung. Go may well have given the Corinthians such charismatic songs to 'fill the gap' until this interpretive need was met. This was, in fact, what the charismatic gifts were all about. So the presence of charismatic singing in the early days of the Church cannot be offered as justification for composing new songs now, any more than the exercise of prophetic gifts in the same context can be seen as suggesting the need for new prophetic oracles in the present day." - ibid., pp.80,81.

So, yes, the Psalms are meant to be sung. Years ago, some of us would sing many scriptures and not just the Psalms and I would many times play my guitar. It is a great way to praise the Lord and memorize scripture.

So we are not limited to using only the Hebrew songbook.

Disputed.

You might notice that the very last Psalm in that book enjoins that everything that can make a sound should praise the Lord. Why limit ourselves when God is worthy of more praise that we can give at our best and most efforts?

Why not give Him the best and most perfect praise, His Word?
Limiting ourselves, as you say, is only another way of saying: "I want to worship God according to my own will, after my own fashion, and whenever I want to."
This is 'will worship."
This is the sin which, I believe, Nadab and Abihu committed: offering strange fire to the Lord.

As far as it goes, the only mention of singing in the NT scriptures is not indicated as limited to times when the church is assesmbled as such. We should speak to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs any time we have opportunity.

Think about it some more, Harry.

Yes, well, I have gone through all this, and am settled with the objective propositional truths of Scripture.
Hope this gives you a better understanding of where I am coming from.

Yours, for the Cause of God and Truth,

Witsius

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Three Covenants

"First, God established a Covenant of Works with Adam as federal head of mankind. In this covenant, eternal life was acquired by perfect obedience to God's commands. After the fall God established the Covenant of Grace as 'that particular form of the administration of salvation in which God, in Christ, gives himself as Mediator to the sinner who, in the way of the covenant, becomes the possession of God.' The foundation of the Covenant of Grace is the Covenant of Redemption or the Pactum Salutis, which is 'that arrangement in God's triune being, whereby the Father ordained the Son to be Mediator and demanded the fulfillment of all righteousness, with the promise of glory; and the Son freely gave himself thereto; while the Holy Spirit took on himself, to apply the work of salvation according to the will of the Father and the Son.'" - David Kranendonk & J.J. van der Schuit (Vital Balance, FRP, 2006).

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hermeneutics 101

Here are some basic points (in no particular order) to consider when interpreting Scripture:

1. Perspicuity - The Bible is simple and clear. Literate people can read and understand the Bible - esp. its general concepts and narratives. Obviously, there are some concepts that are above us (like the Trinity) which we can apprehend as comprising part of God's authoritative revelation; and there are some issues which may require research/study to discern (see, for instance, 2 Pet.3:16).

2. Analogy of Faith - Scripture interprets Scripture. Let the more clear passages interpret the less clear (esp. w/secondary doctrines).

3. Context - The word or phrase in its sentence; then in its paragraph or topical passage; then in its book (esp. audience); then in the context of the whole Bible.

4. Genre - Narrative, Poetry, History, Prophecy, Wisdom Literature, etc. Knowing which genre a passage falls into, helps us understand whether to, for instance, be aware of allegory, metaphors, literalness, typology, symbolism, etc.

5. Authorial Intent - A more difficult factor, but discoverable with the help of the other points listed here.

6. Setting - Including time, place, and audience, this consideration concentrates on the immediate intention and application of the Word.

7. Grammar - More technical, esp. for those working with the original languages. However, a simple part of grade school English regarding how sentences work, parts of speech, etc.

8. History - or Background. It helps to know a bit about the historical context of a passage (or Book), and sometimes even geography.

9. Presuppositions - Whether you actively pursue or unknowingly have, presuppositions are a significant consideration. Examine your worldview - the self-made, or learned from school, parents, peers, or catechism lens/filter through which you look at, categorize, judge, and act on the data of the world beyond your self - and you will find it affecting your interpretation of Scripture. If your worldview is deficient, correct it, make it biblical (through good shepherding, catechesis, Bible reading/study, and holy fellowship), and it will help you to understand the Bible better. Simple (basic) presuppositions like: God is the Creator, we are Creation, and all man is fallen and awaiting the wrath of a just God unless he finds a mediator (Christ) to redeem him, and God is true, etc. are fundamental concepts that inform our biblical interpretation; while systematic theology, the Creeds and Confessions form macro presuppositional grids with which we interpret Scripture.

10. Faith - This is a general category founded on the necessity of a person's faith (1 Cor.2:14, etc.). Regeneration is a prerequisite for proper biblical interpretation. The Holy Spirit must be indwelling a redeemed sinner to enable his sanctification and understanding (Eph.1:18, etc.). Then prayer is a means of Grace and a sure help in interpretation. Obedience to God, hiding His Word in our hearts, delighting in it and meditating on it are also beneficial considerations. Finally, Hearing the Word faithfully expounded is also a biblical means of Grace and sure help in interpreting Scripture.

Hope these are helpful, and that I didn't miss anything.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Young on Inspiration

This is part of an ongoing discussion on a Yahoo List

After discussing the foundation for biblical inspiration using just three texts – 2 Tim.3:16; 2 Pet.1:21; and Psalm 82:6 (as from Jesus in John 10:35) – E. J. Young, in his classic defense of inspiration Thy Word is Truth, goes on to discuss the woeful attitude of Christendom to the authority of the Bible (this in 1957).

He decries the Church’s willingness to let “the rationalism of the eighteenth century, the evolutionism and ‘higher’ criticism [the origin of the mythopoetic /allegorical reading hermeneutic, among others]* of the nineteenth century, and the ‘neo-orthodoxy’ and dialectical theology of the early twentieth century” distract us from the Bible’s own testimony to divine inspiration; and, causing us to trust the wisdom of man for interpretation and understanding rather than the revelation of God. To this, we could have added: the psychologizing influence of Freud, the experience-based authority of revivalistic movements, and the post-modern abandonment of truth in the latter half or the twentieth century.

Then Young exposes the fallacy of man’s wisdom determining Scriptural truths:

“And herein lies a disturbing question which must be raised. If we are not to regard the Bible as a trustworthy witness when it tells us what kind of book it is, and if we should listen to modern scholars rather than to the Bible, how do we know that the Bible is a trustworthy witness when it speaks to us about other matters also? Let us state this question as clearly as possible. The Bible, we say, is not to be relied upon when it tells us what kind of book it is [ie: the divinely inspired revelation of God]. But if it is not to be depended upon when it speaks of itself how do we know that it is to be trusted when it speaks about anything else? If it is so unreliable that we cannot accept its witness to itself, might it not be wise to reject all that it has told us about other matters as well?”

This plays out in the allegorical debate as: if we say that parts of the Bible are untrue – merely allegorical – and that they have no bearing on our faith, how do we determine what is and isn’t allegorical?, and what is required for our faith?, never mind what the Bible says about itself (we are basically bypassing the Bible’s knowledge of itself!).

Young continues:

“We listen to the Bible when it told us of the existence of the one living and true God. The Bible, however, we now learn, is not a trustworthy character witness. It has deceived us when it told us about its own inspiration. Possibly, after all, it was also wrong when it spoke about God! Possibly God, if there be a God, is quite different from the God we have learned to know from the pages of what we in our naivet√© thought was a Holy Book.”

Can you see the slippery slope that modernism places us on? This has been the tale of all who turn from Scripture’s own requirements for interpretation.

“Furthermore, what about Jesus Christ and that wondrous work of redemption He wrought for us upon the Cross of Calvary? Is it a reliable account that we have in the Bible? Has the great burden of our guilt really been removed, and are we living in a right relation with the Holy God, or have we been relying upon an account that is not trustworthy? If this Book is not reliable when it tells us what kind of a Book it is, how then can we possibly trust it when it speaks to us of other matters? If the Bible is not a trustworthy witness of its own character, we have no assurance that our Christian faith is founded upon the truth. We are left in the darkness of ignorance and despair.”

Can you see the logic? If the Bible is not a true and faithful witness of its own inspiration and authority, we are crazy to rely upon it for our knowledge of Christ Jesus, Salvation, and Truth… period!

* Someone has registered a dispute with this clause, pointing out that Augustine had used an allegorical method betimes. Here, in part, is my edited response:

True, for the allegorical part, alone, and in and of itself. As I have said elsewhere, Origen, for example (c.185-254 AD),was notorious for his allegorical mis-interpretations.

However, for the various attacks on the Bible from Higher Criticism - mythological reading, the Graf-Welhausen JEDP theory of the authorship of the Pentateuch, the literary dissection of the OT, the submission of the Genesis Creation account to Ancient Near Eastern mythologies, the two Isaiah's theory, etc. - which lead to the phenomena of modernism in American theology and the new bent for allegorical interpretations of much of the "harder to believe" or "harder to reconcile with science" portions of Holy Scripture are relevant to the new hermeneutic of which some appear to take part.
But this is not new. Theologians like Schliermacher and Barth have led Evangelicalism away from the authority and sufficiency of Scripture by their theories (eg: that the Bible contains the Word of God, rather than is the Word of God).


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Origins of the Baptists, Pt.1: The Anabaptists

"The great reformers - Luther, Zwingli, Calvin - had tremendous regard for the living tradition of the historic church. They moved cautiously for they had no urge to unchurch themselves. They hesitated to abandon the principle of the territorial church - parish or national. As they saw it, the existing church was indeed the true church, but it had fallen on evil days and into unworthy hands. Therefore, they sought to bring about a spiritual renewal from within. The Anabaptists, however, set out to discard the territorial church pattern with the gospel. Their objective was not to introduce something new but to restore something old. “Restitution” was their slogan, a restitution of the early church. From the Anabaptist point of view, the difference between the Reformers and themselves was the difference between reform and restitution.” – Earl D. Radmacher, The Nature of the Church (Western Baptist Press, 1972), p.55.

“The important point to emphasize is that the real issue here was not the act of baptism, but rather a bitter and irreducible struggle between two mutually exclusive concepts of the church. Zwingli was finally committed to the state church; and the continuance of the parish system and cantonal denominational division was implied. The Anabaptists, on the other hand, were out to restore apostolic Christianity. Baptism became important because it was the most obvious dividing line between the two systems, and because it afforded the authorities an excuse for suppressing the radicals by force.” – Franklin H. Littell, The Origins of Sectarian Protestantism (Macmillan, 1964), p.14.

Several Comments:

1 – The first author is a Baptist, and sympathetic with the so-called Free Church Movement, of which the Anabaptists were Reformation-era representatives. The second author was a Methodist.

2 – In most of Europe, during this era, society was “Christian.” The Church and the state had a far different relationship than what we can imagine today. Therefore, the state wielded the sword for the Church, and the Church legitimized the state. Everyone was considered a “Christian.”

2 – The magisterial Reformation, of which the “great reformers” were part and parcel of, was concerned with the reformation of the existing church. This has several implications:

a) They saw some continuity between the Church they were a part of and that which the Apostles had laid the foundation of.

b) Several aspects of the existing Church were either approved of or temporarily approved of – paedo-baptism being an example of the former, and church organization, esp. relative to secular government, being an example of the latter.

3 – The Anabaptists, not being concerned with fixing (as they saw it) the Church, were:

a) partaking of the recurrent mythology of the New Testament Church,[1]

b) radical (in that they wanted to scratch the existing Church, and start all over again),

c) basing their ecclesiology on who was “saved” (ie: only professing adult members made up the true church and must be baptized as their proof/profession of faith).

4 – Today, and indeed throughout history, the struggle to define the elect (professing, adult, baptized: Donatists, Anabaptists, etc., in this case) and return to a primitive Christianity has shaped the structure and make-up of the Church, and contributed to the proliferation of churches and denominations.

At this early stage of the Reformation (1523-25 with Grebel, et.al.), the Anabaptist was still a sect defining itself among many other sects which were also appearing. The uproar in Europe, precipitated by Luther and dependant on the new media of printing, was only exacerbated by the arrival of what is termed the Radical Reformation. It has proven useful to study the radicals as made up of three streams:

“This threefold scheme of Anabaptist, Spiritualist, and Rationalist, is now widely adopted by historians …” – Nick R. Needham, 2000 Years of Christ’s Power, Part Three: Renaissance and Reformation (Grace Publications, 2004), p.254.

God willing, we will try to examine these three arms of the Radical Reformation in the near future.



[1] More on this myth later, DV.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pink on Mans Impotence, Pt.3: Responsibility & Opposition

In which Pink discusses both the difficulty both in presentation and reception of teaching/understanding this doctrine, and mans natural vehemence to it.

Not only does the appalling ignorance of our generation cause the servant of God to labour under a heavy handicap when seeking to present the scriptural account of mans total inability for good; he is also placed at a serious disadvantage by virtue of the marked distastefulness of this truth. The subject of his moral impotence is far from being a pleasing one to the natural man. He wants to be told that all he needs to do is exert himself, that salvation within the power of his will, that he is the determiner of his own destiny. Pride, with its strong dislike of being a debtor to the sovereign grace of God, rises up against it. Self-esteem, with its rabid repugnance of anything which lays the creature in the dust, hotly resents what is so humiliating.Consequently, this truth is either openly rejected or, if seemingly received, is turned to a wrong use.

Here Pink intimates that due to both a modern deficiency in the background (mostly, Scriptural) knowledge of common Evangelicals (at least, 50 years ago, and we must readily admit that the situation has only deteriorated since then), and the sin nature of both unregenerate and professing Christians, that the doctrine of Mans Impotence is both rejected and abused.

Moreover, when it is insisted on that mans bondage to sin is both voluntary and culpable, that the guilt for his inability to turn to God or to do anything pleasing in His sight lies at his own door, that his spiritual impotence consists in nothing but the depravity of his own heart and his inveterate enmity against God, then the hatefulness of this doctrine is speedily demonstrated. While men are allowed to think that their spiritual helplessness is involuntary rather than willful, innocent rather than criminal, something to be pitied ratherthan blamed, they may receive this truth with a measure of toleration; but let them be told that they themselves have forged the shackles which hold them in captivity to sin, that God counts them responsible for the corruption of their hearts, and that their incapability of being holy constitutes the very essence of their guilt, and loud will be their outcries against such a flesh-withering truth.

When man is confronted with his sin nature, and its implications his impotence to do any good, or reach out to God Pink says his true colours begin to show: his fundamental enmity with God. The longer he labours under the delusion of self-worth, self-will, and self-action, the more obvious is his Spiritual impotence.

However repellent this truth may be, it must not be withheld from men. The minister of Christ is not sent forth to please or entertain his congregation, but to declare the counsel of God, and not merely those parts of it which may meet with their approval and acceptance, but "all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). If he deliberately omits that which raises their ire, he betrays his trust. Once he starts whittling down his divinely given commission there will be no end to the process, for one class will murmur against this portion of the truth and another against that. The servant of God has nothing to do with the response which is made to his preaching; his business is to deliver the Word of God in its unadulterated purity and leave the results to the One who has called him. And he may be assured at the outset that unless many in his congregation are seriously disturbed by his message, he has failed to deliver it in its clarity.

Here, Pink reminds us that God requires that the whole counsel of Scripture including this man-belittling doctrine of impotence - must be fed to men, if a minister is to faithfully carry out his duties. We must remember that the Gospel is both offensive (to the lost) and (ultimately) a sweet savour (2Cor.2:15,16) to those who are enlightened (Eph.1:18) to their condition and rely wholly upon His Grace.