Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Friday, December 22, 2006
Current list of martial arts and self-defense items allowed on a plane:
UPDATE: Snow globes regardless of size or amount of liquid inside, even with documentation, are prohibited in your carry-on. Please ship these items or pack them in your checked baggage.
Mace/Pepper Spray - One 118 ml or 4 Fl. oz. container of mace or pepper spray is permitted in checked baggage provided it is equipped with a safety mechanism to prevent accidental discharge. For more information visit www.faa.gov., click on Passengers, then Preparing to Fly.
Martial Arts Weapons
Stun Guns/Shocking Devices
NOTE: Any sharp objects in checked baggage should be sheathed or securely wrapped to prevent injury to baggage handlers and Security Officers.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
A Statement on Divorce & Remarriage in the Life of Bethlehem Baptist Church
By John Piper May 2, 1989
This statement on divorce and remarriage is the product of several years of study and discussion by the Council of Deacons of Bethlehem Baptist Church. The final approval of its present form was given May 2, 1989. It should be read as the official statement of the ruling Council of the church beneath the authority of Christ and the congregation. While there are aspects of this statement that some deacons and pastors do not hold as personal convictions, we all assent to this statement being the church guide for membership and discipline. Ideally it should be read in connection with the paper, The Meaning of Membership and Church Accountability.
Divorce is painful. It is emotionally more wrenching than the death of a spouse. It is often long years in coming and long years in the settlement and in the adjustment. The upheaval of life is immeasurable. The sense of failure and guilt and fear torture the soul. Like the psalmist, night after night a spouse falls asleep with tears. Work performance is hindered. People draw near or withdraw with uncertain feelings. Loneliness can be overwhelming. A sense of devastated future can be all consuming. Courtroom controversy compounds the personal misery.
And then there is often the agonizing place of children. Parents hope against hope that the scars will not cripple them or ruin their own marriages some day. Tensions over custody and financial support deepen the wounds of years. And then the awkward and artificial visitation rights can lengthen the tragedy over decades.
Because of these and many other factors people with sensitive hearts weep with those who weep. They try not to increase the pain. And sometimes this care is confused with compromise. People think that loving care is incompatible with confrontation—that the tenderness of Jesus and the toughness of his demands can't both be love. But surely this is not right.
Jesus was an extraordinarily caring person. His teaching on divorce and remarriage was also firm: "What God has joined together let not man put asunder" (Mark 10:9). In fact firm and loving confrontation with the demands of Christ IS a form of caring, because a sinful decision is just as harmful to a person as the emotional pain.
The great challenge to the church in the face of divorce and remarriage is to love Biblically. John wrote, "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments" (1 John 5:2). In other words, the test of true love to people is not only the feeling of compassion in the heart but also conformity to the commandments of God in behavior. The great challenge is to mingle the tears of compassion with the tough love of obedience. This alone will honor Christ and preserve the spiritual health and power of the church.
Why Is there a Special Concern with Divorce and Remarriage?
There are at least nine reasons for devoting a special position paper to this issue.
1. People who come to Bethlehem want to know where we stand on this issue.
2. Inside the church people need clarification about where the leadership of the church stands and what the church position is.
3. Divorce involves sin that is more destructive than many others. The hurtful impact of a broken marriage on the spouses and the children and the web of relationships surrounding the marriage is immense.
4. Divorce is thrown into the public limelight by the recognition in our society that it must be handled by the civil courts.
5. Marriage, divorce and remarriage involve the mingling of solemn oaths and sacred physical union unlike any other relationship.
6. Marriage is unique among all relationships in that it is set apart by God to signify to the world the relationship between his Son and his bride the church (Eph. 5:21-33). Therefore the breaking of this bond is extraordinary among all human bonds.
7. Divorce falls into that group of acts which when they are committed are very hard to undo. The words, "I'm sorry," can make right many sins against another person. But divorce and remarriage cannot be made right like that.
8. Divorce happens by plan and intention of one or both spouses. It is not like a habit against which one struggles with successes and failures.
9. Divorce has reached epidemic proportions in our culture to the extent that even secular leaders are groping for a place to stand that may preserve the stability of the home.
Is Divorce or Remarriage the Unforgivable Sin?
When divorce begins to be discussed in this way it is common for someone to ask whether divorce is the unforgivable sin. The answer is found in the following texts.
"Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Hebrews 9:22).
"(Jesus said) this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28).
"Every one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (Acts 10:43).
"All sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin" (Mark 3:28f.).
"Let the wicked man forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:7).
"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
From these wonderful promises we learn that forgiveness for sins is available on the basis of the shed blood of Jesus. Forgiveness is available for all sins, without exception. Forgiveness is received freely through trusting Christ. And trusting Christ involves confessing sin as sin and turning away from it to embrace the ways of God with joy.
The only unforgivable sin is the sin that we refuse to confess and forsake. We commit unforgivable sin when we cleave to a sin so long and so tenaciously that we can no longer confess it as sin and turn from it. The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31f)is the resistance of his convicting work to the point where he withdraws, leaving the sinner in helpless hardness of heart.
Neither divorce nor remarriage is in itself the unforgivable sin any more than murder, stealing, lying or coveting. "All sins will be forgiven the sons of men." God is faithful and just to forgive—he will honor the worth of his Son's sacrifice for all who confess their sin and bank their hope on the saving work of Christ.
Forgiveness is NOT unconditional. It is conditional. This does not mean it can be earned. It means forgiveness is given to those who truly trust Christ. Trust is not an act by which anything can be earned. It calls attention to the worth of God's grace, not the worth of our action. But trust is not mere intellectual assent to Biblical facts. It involves hearty affirmation of the will of Christ. Therefore trusting Christ involves confessing sin as sin and taking up arms against it.
Therefore the ultimate form of church discipline (excommunication) is never a simple response to past sin. It is always a response to sin that a person continues to affirm or practice. No past sin that is renounced, confessed and forsaken is a ground of church discipline.
Therefore marital sin is in the same category as lying and killing and stealing when it comes to church discipline and church membership. If someone has lied, killed, stolen, or illegitimately divorced, the issue is not, can they be forgiven? The issue is do they admit that what they did was sin? Do they renounce it? And do they do what they can to make it right?
If a person in the church was known to affirm lying, killing or stealing as appropriate behavior for a Christian, that person would be liable to the discipline of the church. Not because they have lied, killed or stolen in the past and cannot be forgiven, but because they go on affirming NOW that sin is not sin.
Or if a person was openly planning to lie, kill or steal with a view to receiving (cheap!) forgiveness afterward, that person too would be liable to church discipline.
In all these ways illegitimate divorce and remarriage are NOT in a class by themselves. They are not the unforgivable sin. When it comes to church discipline and church membership they should be treated the same way other public sins are treated.
What makes divorce and remarriage seem to be a special matter of concern in the church is that very seldom does someone affirm the rightness of lying, killing, and stealing. But people often affirm the rightness of divorce and remarriage.
In other words what usually causes the conflict is not whether divorce and remarriage are unforgivable sins, but whether they are sins at all —to be confessed (from the past) and to be avoided (in the future).
If a person has stolen things in his past and wants to join the church, no one would say that we are treating stealing as the unforgivable sin if we insist that this person confess his sin and begin to make amends to those he defrauded. A sin is not unforgivable because it must be confessed as sin, renounced as an option, and its effects made right (as far as possible).
So it is with illegitimate divorce or remarriage. It should not keep anyone out of the church nor put anyone out of the church any more than a past life of robbery. But there must be a heartfelt confession of the sin committed and a renouncing of it and an affirming of what is right, just as with all other sins of the past.
When we affirm the church covenant we are not only affirming what we pledge to do. We are also affirming what we believe ought to be done. In other words church membership is a commitment to hold in common convictions about what is right and wrong in behavior (Church Covenant) as well as in doctrine (Affirmation of Faith). Without this shared conviction the possibility of holding each other accountable is gone.
So the decisive issue concerning divorce and remarriage at Bethlehem is what we can agree on from the Scripture is right and wrong. Is there a Biblically legitimate divorce and remarriage which is not sin and so does not need to be confessed or avoided? If so what are the circumstances that define it?
Diversity of Viewpoints in Bethlehem and the Wider Church
Among the membership of Bethlehem in 1989 complete unanimity does not exist concerning the question what divorces and what remarriages are Biblically permissible. This lack of unanimity is a reflection of the evangelical church worldwide.
Devout evangelical Biblical scholars disagree. John Murray has written a standard work on the topic called Divorce, (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co., 1961). In this book he defends the view that divorce and remarriage are Biblically permitted when a partner is adulterous or when a partner deserts willfully and irremediably.
On the other side William Heth and Gordon Wenham have written a book called Jesus and Divorce (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984). They defend the position that while divorce may at times be unavoidable, all remarriage while the partners are living is wrong. There are many other books on both sides. 
This contemporary lack of agreement among evangelical Christians also reflects historic positions that have been taken for centuries. The historic protestant position that John Murray was defending was enshrined in the Westminster Confession of 1647. The pertinent part reads like this:
In case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce, and after the divorce to marry another, as if the offending party were dead. (Article 24, paragraph 5) 
Interestingly, when the Baptists of England adapted the Westminster Confession to their own use in the Second London Confession of 1689 this paragraph permitting divorce and remarriage was deleted from the section on marriage. 
Even more startling and convicting is the following fact: "In the first five centuries (among Christians) all Greek writers and all Latin writers except one agree that remarriage following divorce for any reason is adulterous. The marriage bond was seen to unite both parties until the death of one of them." 
This is all the more startling in view of the fact that both the Jewish and Roman culture of the time allowed divorce with remarriage. The followers of Jesus stood over against this culture with their radical prohibition of remarriage. In spite of this extraordinarily high, counter-cultural standard the church grew like wildfire for 400 years.
Many of those in leadership at Bethlehem share this early Christian consensus that remarriage after divorce is wrong while the spouses are still living. Pastor Piper's efforts to understand the Biblical teaching on divorce and remarriage led him to this conclusion some years ago.  While he does not count this view the normative one for the staff, deacons or church, it is the guideline for his own counsel, preaching and performance of weddings. The same freedom of conscience applies to each of the other pastors as well.
If we are to be a Biblical church—a church with mutual accountability and proper discipline—the question that must be faced is, what convictions concerning divorce and remarriage can we agree as a church to make the foundation of our accountability and discipline?
When the Church Covenant binds every member to be "faithful in our engagements" and to "sustain (the church's) worship, ordinances and discipline," what will we understand as faithfulness in the engagement of marriage vows?
Church discipline cannot be based on the convictions of a pastor or of a small group of leaders. The Bible says that a matter of discipline is to be taken "to the church" (Matthew 18:17). This means that under the Lord the church is the final court of appeal in all church discipline. This is only possible if the leadership and the church are largely in agreement on the matter at hand.
No one in leadership can be asked to act against his conscience (Romans 14). Therefore each pastor will teach and counsel and perform marriages according to his personal conviction within the parameters of this statement. But when it comes to church membership and church discipline we must find a level of expectation for marital relations that we can agree no member of Bethlehem may violate while remaining a member in good standing.
In other words what we need is a statement of the kind of divorce and remarriage which the church, as a concerned and responsible body, will regard as clearly outside the Biblical limits of what is acceptable.
Let it be made clear again what was said above: there is NO past divorce or remarriage that in itself brings church discipline. None of the divorced and remarried members of Bethlehem will automatically come under discipline because their divorce or remarriage falls in a category which this statement declares to be unbiblical. An expression of genuine repentance for the sin involved is all that is needed to settle the matter and make a person a member in good standing.
Even if a person is already a member of Bethlehem and finds himself or herself among a small minority that cannot affirm even the minimal expectations of this statement, they will not be disciplined or excluded from membership for that reason, because they joined the church during a time when these expectations were not made known to them. Our prayer is that all divorced and remarried brothers and sisters will gladly affirm this statement either because they believe their situation was Biblically legitimate, or because they now see that it was not, and are genuinely repentant as they look back.
Statement of Guidelines for Mutual Accountability
Marriage is a human relationship ordained and instituted by God (Malachi 2:14-16).  His original design was one man and one woman united by covenant and sexual union for life (Genesis 2:23-4). The relationship was a mystery in that it set forth symbolically in physical form the relationship between himself and his people (Eph. 5:21-33; Isaiah 54:5; Hosea 2:14-23; Ezekiel 16; Jeremiah 3:20). Therefore God hates divorce for what it does to people and for what it does to the glory of his own covenant with the church.
Nevertheless, because of the deceit and power of sin and because of the remnants of corruption in our own hearts, divorce still happens in the lives of some Christians. A mature and spiritual Christian may be forsaken by a disobedient or unbelieving spouse. Two professing believers may drift so far from the Lord that they no longer acknowledge in their hearts the authority of the Lord Jesus or the binding nature of their marriage covenant.
The church, as a spiritual family with radical commitment to Christ and earnest love for each other, should be ready to minister forgiveness, healing, reproof, discipline, correction and restoration wherever appropriate to its members. General guidelines for our life together are found in the Church Covenant and the Church By-Laws, and are explained in the paper entitled "THE MEANING OF MEMBERSHIP AND ACCOUNTABILITY IN BETHLEHEM BAPTIST CHURCH." Specific guidelines are needed regarding divorce and remarriage, and these are given below.
The following guidelines should be read in the light and spirit of the preceding introductory pages.
They should be read with the constant awareness that for many of us in the church they represent a minimum expectation for Christians and a weakening of Biblical standards. Even those of us who affirm them as entirely Biblical can imagine a married couple, previously held back from a divorce by the conviction that it would be contrary to Scripture, now going ahead with it because they can see an "out" in one of the statements below. None of us wants these guidelines to encourage divorce or weaken the commitment God means for us to have to our marriage covenant.
To encourage this kind of sensitive reading and careful application of the following statements we will expand on the statements with words that bring out the differences among us. In this way we will avoid giving the impression that all the statements are put forth as ideal positions.
1. A believer and unbeliever should not marry (1 Cor. 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14-15).
2. Since death breaks the marriage bond (Rom. 7:2-3; 1 Cor. 7:39), remarriage is permissible without sin for a believing widow or widower, if the marriage is with another believer.
3. Divorce may be permitted when a spouse deserts the relationship, commits adultery, or is dangerously abusive (1 Cor. 7:15; Matthew 19:9; 1 Cor. 7:11).  We are not here dealing with remarriage (see #4 and #5). We simply acknowledge that there are times when the Bible permits separation.
Some of us want to stress that "divorce" in this statement should not imply a decisive and permanent end to the relationship while the spouses are alive and not remarried. Even after long periods of separation and alienation reconciliation can happen, as when the people of God return to the Lord after periods of waywardness (Hosea 2:14-23). Others of us want to stress that decisive divorce in certain cases is permitted, and that this leaves the deserted, or abused spouse free to remarry (see #5).
We all want to emphasize that the phrase "may be permitted" holds out the possibility that inquiry may reveal that the deserted partner engaged in a wrong behavior that drove the other away, so that a change is called for at home rather than divorce.
In addition we all want to stress that forgiveness and reconciliation between sinning spouses is preferable to separation or divorce even where adultery has occurred. This is implied in Matthew 18:21-22, "Then Peter came and said to Jesus, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?" Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.'" (See Luke 17:3-4)
4. The remarriage of the aggrieving, divorced spouse may be viewed as severing the former marriage so that the unmarried spouse whose behavior did not biblically justify being divorced, may be free to remarry a believer (Matthew 19:9), if he or she has confessed all known sin in the divorce, and has made significant progress in overcoming any destructive behaviors and attitudes.
Recognizing the honest and devout differences of conviction in the church, those of us with more limiting standards for remarriage consent at this point not to make them normative for the whole body. Others of us, who regard this fourth statement as fully Biblical, respect those among us with a more limiting interpretation and do not require or expect them to act in any way against their consciences in attending, supporting or performing enactments of marriage they regard as contrary to Scripture.
All of us urge every member who contemplates remarriage to struggle in prayer and study with all the relevant Scriptures, with the sole aim of glorifying God through full obedience to his word. Consider fairly the arguments against remarriage and those for it.
Moreover we want to affirm the goodness and beauty of a life of singleness in God's service both before marriage and after marriage. It is commended in 1 Corinthians 7:7,11,32-35, and elevated by the examples of Jesus and Paul and hundreds of great single saints.
5. After serious efforts have been made toward reconciliation the aggrieved partners referred to in guideline #3 may, together with the leadership of the church, come to regard their marriages as irreparably broken. In such cases remarriage may be a legitimate step, if taken with serious reckoning that this cuts off all possibility of a reconciliation that God may yet be willing to produce.
This guideline is for some of us the hardest concession to make. Remarriage after a divorced spouse marries again (see #4) at least has in its favor that the possibility of reconciliation was decisively cut off before. But while the spouse is still unmarried and alive reconciliation is still Biblically possible. This makes it very hard for some of us to condone a step that decisively cuts asunder what God meant to be permanent and which could yet be permanent (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).
Others of us believe that 1 Corinthians 7:15 ("If the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so, in such a case the brother or sister is not bound.") gives freedom to a Christian to remarry if abandoned. We also believe that denying remarriage puts an unwarranted strain on the chastity of the divorced person who may not believe he or she has the gift of celibacy (1 Corinthians 7:7).
But we all agree that serious efforts should be made at reconciliation, including the intervention of the church if necessary, before any aggrieved spouse is resigned to singleness or is free to remarry.
6. The aggrieving partners referred to in #3 (who were guilty of abandonment, adultery or abuse) should repent and be reconciled to God and to their spouses (1 Corinthians 7:11; 1 John 1:9). If it is too late because their spouses have remarried, then they should remain single because they left their first marriage without Biblical warrant (Matthew 19:9; Luke 16:18; 1 Corinthians 7:11).
7. If a second marriage ends in death or divorce, the widow or widower in this case is not permitted to return to the first spouse in marriage (Deut. 24:1-4).
8. Persons remarried after divorce will forego positions of official leadership at Bethlehem which correspond to the role of elders or deacons (1 Tim. 3:2, 12).
9. The amount of time that has passed and the change in standing from unbeliever to believer does not alter the application of the guidelines for divorce and remarriage (See Matthew 19:4-6 which highlights the fact that enduring marriages are part of God's plan for all his human creation, not just his redeemed people.)
 For example, on the side of leniency toward remarriage there is Larry Richards, Remarriage: A Healing Gift from God (Waco: Word Books, 1981); and on the more rigorous side there is J. Carl Laney, The Divorce Myth (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1981); and Geoffrey W. Bromiley, God and Marriage (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980).
 Found in Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, vol. 3, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977), p. 656.
 See William Lumpkin, ed. Baptist Confessions of Faith (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1959), pp. 284-5.
 The evidence for this is compiled in Heth and Wenham, Jesus and Divorce, pp. 19-44. The quote is taken from p. 22. Some of the writers in view are Hermas, Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origin, Tertullian, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory Nazianzsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Jerome, etc. The one exception was Ambrosiaster.
 The summary of that study can be read in "DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE: A Position Paper" (July 21, 1986) in the church office files. Also Tom Schreiner, a church member and Sunday School teacher at Bethlehem, and a professor at Bethel Seminary came to the same conclusion independently. His study is entitled "DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE: BIBLICAL AND PASTORAL CONSIDERATIONS."
 "The Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. Take heed then, to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce" says the Lord, the God of Israel, "and him who covers his garment with wrong," says the Lord of Hosts. "So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously."
 Note: Not all of us would want to use Matthew 19:9 as a support for this statement, since we believe the "exception clause" in this verse ("except for unchastity") refers to fornication not adultery, and is meant to exonerate those, like Joseph in Matthew 1:19, who break a betrothal because of unfaithfulness. Others of us believe it refers to adultery in marriage and is meant to exonerate those who divorce and remarry after a spouse has been impenitently unfaithful.
Monday, December 11, 2006
I thought this was a really interesting little article. Maybe this is what people do in premarital counseling, but I found to be pretty comprehensive. And it seems like one should want to answer many of these questions well before you consider marriage to someone. But I have been known to be uber-practical... :) Coming soon...John Piper's writings on divorce & remarriage, stay tuned!!
Topics for Conversation When a Man and a Woman Are Considering Marriage to Each Other
By John Piper January 1, 1995
In each of these sections one item could be added that I have not listed, namely, How do you handle and live with differences? How do you decide what can remain differences without jeopardizing the relationship? So as you deal with each subheading, include that in the discussion.
- What do you believe about . . . everything?
- Perhaps read through the Bethlehem Baptist Church Elder Affirmation of Faith to see where each other is on various biblical doctrines.
- Discover how you form your views. What is the reasoning-believing process? How do you handle the Bible?
Worship and Devotion
- How important is corporate worship? Other participation in church life?
- How important is it to be part of a small accountability/support group?
- What is the importance of music in life and worship?
- What are your daily personal devotional practices? Prayer, reading, meditation, memorization.
- What would our family devotions look like? Who leads out in this?
- Are we doing this now in an appropriate way: praying together about our lives and future, reading the Bible together?
Husband and Wife
- What is the meaning of headship and submission in the Bible and in our marriage?
- What are expectations about situations where one of you might be alone with someone of the opposite sex?
- How are tasks shared in the home: cleaning, cooking, washing dishes, yard work, car upkeep, repairs, shopping for food, and household stuff?
- What are the expectations for togetherness?
- What is an ideal non-special evening?
- How do you understand who and how often sex is initiated?
- Who does the checkbookor are there two?
- If and when, should we have children? Why?
- How many?
- How far apart?
- Would we consider adoption?
- What are the standards of behavior?
- What are the appropriate ways to discipline them? How many strikes before they're . . . whatever?
- What are the expectations of time spent with them and when they go to bed?
- What signs of affection will you show them?
- What about school? Home school? Christian school? Public school?
- Own a home or not? Why?
- What kind of neighborhood? Why?
- How many cars? New? Used?
- View of money in general. How much to the church?
- How do you make money decisions?
- Where will you buy clothes: Department store? Savers? In between? Why?
- How much money should we spend on entertainment?
- How often should we eat out? Where?
- What kind of vacations are appropriate and helpful for us?
- How many toys? Snowmobile, boat, cabin, Segway?
- Should we have a television? Where? What is fitting to watch? How much?
- What are the criteria for Movies and theater and video/DVD? What will our guidelines be for the kids?
- What makes you angry?
- How do you handle your frustration or anger?
- Who should bring up an issue that is bothersome?
- What if we disagree both about what should be done, AND whether it is serious?
- Will we go to bed angry at each other?
- What is our view of getting help from friends or counselors?
- Who is the main breadwinner?
- Should the wife work outside the home? Before kids? With kids at home? After kids?
- What are your views of daycare for children?
- What determines where you will locate? Job? Whose job? Church? Family?
- Is it good to do things with friends but without fiancé, or without spouse?
- What will you do if one of you really likes to hang out with so and so and the other doesn't?
Health and Sickness
- Do you have, or have you had any, sicknesses or physical problems that could affect our relationship? (Allergies, cancer, eating disorders, venereal disease, etc.)
- Do you believe in divine healing and how would prayer relate to medical attention?
- How do you think about exercise and healthy eating?
- Do you have any habits that adversely affect health?
© Desiring God
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Wednesday, December 06, 2006
God loved the world with an extravagant tenderness. He spun into our genes a strand of divine DNA. Imago dei, this God with usit's an astonishing intimacy.
The Bible shows it from various angles: God is a hen, and we are the chicks. God is a Shepherd, and we are the straying sheep. God is a Bridegroom, and we, his church, are the bride.
We can see God draw near, and it is dizzying.
But does all this closeness mean that Jesus is the personal boyfriend of Christian women? That God is my fiancé? That the First and the Last is my husband? That he and I are dating?
So it appears to some.
In a popular book, I learn of women who set up date nights with Jesus. Christie enjoys her Friday nights by going to Barnes & Noble "to drink coffee with the Lord and to read whatever book from the Christian living section he guides me to" or by cooking a wonderful meal and setting the table for two, then "talking to God as if he is actually sitting there at my table with me, because I know that he is."
The author of this book calls women to "prayer, praise, and pampering" retreats: "Although God certainly loves us even with unshaven legs, no makeup, and a bed-head hairdo, he also deserves to occasionally have his princess sit at his feet while she is looking and feeling her best." She casts these retreats as exciting dates. "You are running away with your Lover, not confining yourself to a convent."
In another book, the author assures her readers that "you are the one that overwhelms his heart with just 'one glance of your eyes,'" quoting from the Song of Solomon. "His gaze is fixed on you," she writes. "He is captivated by your beauty."
These teachings have spread into churches. My friend's mother took part in a "tea with the Lord," during which she and the other women wore their wedding gownsthose, at least, who managed to squeeze into themand fancied themselves as brides of Christ. An influential Kansas City church teaches thousands of people the so-called Bridal Paradigm, which encourages a quasi-romantic relationship with Christ. And who among us hasn't detected an eerie resemblance between a contemporary Christian song and a pop diva's breathy rendition of a sensual love ballad?
But such eros-laced sentiments directed at Jesus aren't a new trend. Neither is reading the Song of Solomon and other biblical passages as erotically charged letters addressed directly to the reader.
Several of those whom liturgical Christians call saints considered themselves wives of Christ. Catherine of Siena received a vision in which Christ married her and gave her a ring. It was made from foreskin left over after his circumcision. Before you laugh, consider this: After this event, Catherine devoted herself to the sick and the poor.
According to Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia, edited by Margaret C. Schaus (Routledge, 2006), medieval nuns used to participate in marriage liturgies as brides of Christ. The tradition continues in various forms today. The bridal imagery "presents explicit erotic content, yet also extols celibacy and pronounces the inherent sinfulness of sexual desire (concupiscence)."
Some men, too, managed to see themselves as brides.
The great poet John Donne besought God in the often-quoted sonnet:
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
I don't question the devotion of anyone who says she loves Christ intensely, whatever language she uses to express it.
But I have little patience for taking biblical metaphors too far and giving one's relationship with God an air of irreverent chumminess. Somehow, the scenario in which "his princess" shaves her legs for a date with Jesus seems to leave little room for fear of God.
And consider how unhelpful this misreading must be to single women who are hormonally awake. The cruel message they get is: If Jesus is really your husband, what's your problem? Be satisfied!
The Bible is replete with breathtaking metaphors that hint at God's love for us. Thank God, we don't always take them to illogical ends: I've never heard a preacher take the Good Shepherd image to mean that God raises his children to ultimately kill and eat them.
So, yes, in addition to being the Shepherd, the Bread of Life, and the Vine, Jesus is, poetically speaking, the Bridegroom. And wethe churchare his bride.
But that doesn't mean I'll be getting into my wedding gown anytime soon. Not that it would fit.
Monday, December 04, 2006
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Reformation Day Reflections
The Pope of blogging (Tim Challies) has called all bloggers to post reflections on the Reformation and its meaning for us today. In obedience to the pontiff of posts, I thought I’d kiss the ring and share my two cents on so important an observance.What does a German monk nailing a long list of complaints on a church door have to do with an African American ministering in a small, international Caribbean island? Luther’s world and my own couldn’t be farther apart it seems.But on closer inspection, I would not be in Cayman if it were not for that massive Christian church split some 500 years ago. I’ve been thinking a lot about church splits lately… and this one I am quite thankful for. I could wish that the result had been sweeping reform in the Roman Catholic Church. But failing that, I’m thrilled for the recovery of the Gospel.If there had been no recovery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—the grand promise of justification in the sight of God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone—I and most African-Americans and Caribbean peoples would likely be utterly and eternally lost today.The greatest miracle of the Reformation is that enslaved Africans heard, above the din of rattling chains and the back-slashing crack of whips, the free Gospel call at the hands of slave traders and many less-than-heroic gospel preachers in the plantation south. That untutored Africans, imprisoned in a foreign land and surrounded by hostile wilderness, heard with clarity the learned oracles of Christ, were spiritually set free, and found the glorious banks of Zion is astounding!However crude, however hampered by their conditions, however assaulted and persecuted by white brothers and sisters in Christ, the Reformation found expression among African descended peoples. There was every earthly reason why it should not have happened. But the one heavenly reason why it should – justification by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone – prevailed even among the meanest slaves of the south and the Caribbean.You see… this gospel truly makes everything level at the foot of the cross. The conversion of African Americans and Afro-Caribbean peoples proves this. Despite caste and castigation, slaves came to Jesus! It’s inexplicable apart from the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Why would the master’s Master become the Master of the mastered? Because He is Master of all.Clifton Johnson’s classic collection of slave conversion stories, God Struck Me Dead, makes the point in the slave's own words. One slave recalled:
I saw in a vision, myself in two bodies, a little body and an old body. My old body was dangling over hell and destruction. A voice said to me, “My little one, I have cleansed you of all iniquity. By grace are you saved and it is not of yourself but the gift of God. Weep not, for you are a new child. Abide in me and you need never fear.” I looked in the distance and saw the rejoicing and singing.
I know that I have been dug up and made alive and my soul made satisfied. (God Struck Me Dead, p. 48).The slave understood God’s sovereignty in election (and all things for that matter) in a way that many of us still fail to grasp:
He (God) spoke to me once after I prayed and prayed trying to hurry Him and get a religion. He said, ‘I am a time-God. Behold, I work after the counsel of my own will and in due time I will visit whomsoever I will (p. 7).Another convert tells a similar story: “I began to pray for my soul more and more and began to hurry God. He gave me the gift in His own time. He was drawing me all the time but I didn’t know it” (p. 41).They knew the sovereign election of sinners in their own experience:
I was born a slave and lived through some very hard times. If it had not been for my God, I don’t know what I would have done. Through His mercy I was lifted up. My soul began singing and I was told that I was one of the elected children and that I would live as long as God lives (p. 23; emphasis added).“How can we find God? God has a chosen people. He has always had a chosen people and He calls whomsoever He wills. Any child who has been born of the spirit, knows it for he has felt His power, tasted His love and seen the travail of his soul.”“After I passed through this experience (a vision of Jesus and the city) I lost all worldly cares. The things I used to enjoy don’t interest me now. I am a new creature in Jesus, the workmanship of His hand saved from the foundation of the world. I was a chosen vessel before the wind ever blew or before the sun ever shined.
“Religion is not a work but a gift from God. We are saved by grace and it is not of ourselves but the gift of God” (p. 57).These are the testimonies of field hands at the twilight of chattel slavery. To these we could add the more educated voices of Jupiter Hammon, Lemuel Haynes, Phillis Wheatley and country preacher Joseph Bayesmore (Weldon, NC) and a host of others. As John Saillant put it: “the Calvinism provided the deepest structuring elements of their thought.”The miracle is that the Reformation Gospel came to African America and the Caribbean.The work that’s left before us is to recapture it and to reform our churches according to the Word of God. There’s much to celebrate this Reformation Day… and much work to be done once the celebration is over.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Losing Our Religion
A gathering of scientists and atheists explores whether faith in science can ever substitute for belief in God.
By Jerry Adler (Newsweek) - Updated: 11:43 p.m. CT Nov 11, 2006
Nov. 10, 2006 - The great Danish physicist Niels Bohr, it is said, had a good-luck horseshoe hanging in his office. "You don't believe in that nonsense, do you?" a visitor once asked, to which Bohr replied, "No, but they say it works whether you believe in it or not."
If one thing emerged from the "Beyond Belief" conference at the Salk Institute in LaJolla, Calif. it's that religion doesn't work the same way. Some 30 scientists—one of the greatest collections of religious skeptics ever assembled in one place since Voltaire dined alone—examined faith from the evolutionary, neurological and philosophical points of view, and they concluded that some things only work if you do believe in them. Richard Dawkins, the British evolutionary biologist and author of the best-selling book "The God Delusion," said he couldn't have a spiritual experience even when he tried. After another panelist, neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran of the University of California, San Diego, explained that temporal-lobe seizures of the brain create profound spiritual and out-of-body experiences, Dawkins disclosed that he had participated in an experiment that was supposed to mimic such seizures—and even then he didn't feel a thing.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Thursday, November 09, 2006
The T in TULIP - Part 1
Yesterday morning my pastor preached on Romans 12-13 under the heading of "Cross-Centered Authenticity." Though I missed much of the first half of the sermon walking the halls with a fussy baby, I returned in time to hear the end of the first (and longest) point and the final four points. I am glad I heard at least the summary of the first point, for it is a critical one. The pastor spoke of how the cross is the great leveller. "All of us have the same disease. All of us have the same problem. So I say the cross levels us. It makes us all equal. We all come to Christ dead in sin; no one is in less need of grace than anybody else and if we feel a kind of clinical detachment from other sinners...then I say to you that you don't understand your own sin."
This fit well with something I have been pondering in recent days. I have felt the desire to write a short series of articles on the Five Points of Calvinism (also known as TULIP), not primarily to rehash the theology of each of the points or to provide an apologetic of Calvinism, but to draw some fresh application as well. I hope to show that these doctrines of grace are more than "mere theology," but can be integral in living out the Christian faith. I am assuming that my readers are, by and large, familiar with the Points of Calvinism. If this proves not to be the case, I will gladly step back and defend them from Scripture. But for now, we will assume at least some knowledge of them.
So let's begin this series (which, unlike several other series I've embarked upon, I hope to actually complete) by discussing Total Depravity, the T of TULIP.
The term "total depravity" has fallen out of favor in recent days, in large part because "total" seems to be a word that confuses, rather than clarifies the doctrine. James Boice and Philip Ryken suggest "Radical Depravity," as does Steve Lawson; R.C. Sproul suggests "Radical Corruption" and Michael Horton goes with "Rebels Without A Cause." Regardless of the terms used, the doctrine reads something like this:
"Total Depravity is a theological term primarily associated with Calvinism, which interprets the Bible to teach that, as a consequence of the Fall of man, every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin. In other words, a person is not by nature inclined to love God with his heart or mind or strength, rather all are inclined to serve their own interests over those of their neighbor. Put another way, even with all circumstances in his favor a man without God can do nothing but work for his own destruction; and even his religion and philanthropy are destructive, to the extent that these originate from his own imagination, passions and will" (Wikipedia).
There is a sense in which Total Depravity undergirds the doctrines which follow it (Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints). Without Total Depravity, for example, it is possible for God to base election on the condition of a free will choice, thus rendering Unconditional Election invalid.
There is a bounty of biblical support for this doctrine. Genesis 6:5 tells us that "God saw that the intent of every heart was only continual evil." Just two chapters later we read of man that "The intent of every heart is evil from its youth" (Genesis 8:21). Romans 3:10-18 tells us that there is none righteous. There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside. Other passages include Isaiah 64:6-7, Jeremiah 17:9, John 3:19, 1 Corinthians 2:14, Ephesians 2:1-3 and 2 Timothy 2:25 and 26. Because the purpose of this article is not to defend this doctrine, I will make no further comment by way of defense.
When we say that mankind fell in Adam, we affirm that as our federal head, Adam's sin was passed on to all of us. Adam represented the human race, and when he decided to forsake God, he did so on behalf of all of us. This is similar to a head of state declaring war on another nation – his declaration means that each person within his nation, each person that he represents, is now at war with the foreign country. Job laments "Or how can he be pure who is born of a woman?" (Job 25:4) No one who has been born of man can escape this radically sinful nature. Nature tells us that like begets like; a dog can only give birth to dogs, not to cats or frogs or birds. Similarly a sinful person can only bring forth other sinful people.
Another affirmation we make in the Christian view of the fall is that there is a sense in which the first sin is ours in the same way in which it was Adam's. While we did not actually take the piece of fruit and eat it, God foreordained our relationship to Adam long before Adam fell so that from the moment of our conception we are sinful. We are not innocent until we commit our first sin, but are condemned, sinful people from the moment our lives begin. Psalm 58:3 tells us that "the wicked are estranged from the womb; They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies." Before we are even born we are already sinful, and deliberately go astray as soon as we are able.
And so it is that humans are sinful from the moment life begins. But how sinful are they? We will turn to this now.
As we have seen, many Calvinists are uncomfortable with the term "Total Depravity." Like others, I am convinced that a term such as Radical Depravity or Radical Corruption is superior. I believe these issues contribute to clarifying the matter, for by total depravity we do not mean that people are as depraved as they could possibly be--they are totally corrupt in some ways but not in others. It is here that it is helpful to distinguish between extent and degree.
When we say humans are totally depraved in extent, we mean that their depravity has reached every part of their being. It extends to every part of them – their mind, body and spirit are all corrupt. When we speak of a total degree of depravity, we indicate that something is exactly as bad as it could possibly be so that there is not even a tiny bit of good left.
Consider the illustration of three glasses of water. The first glass contains clean, pure water and represents Adam in his perfect state before the Fall. Now consider a second glass which contains this same clean, pure water. We can put one drop of deadly poison in that glass and it renders that entire glass poisonous so that if you were to drink it, you would quickly drop dead. That one drop extended to every part of the glass even though the entire vessel is not filled with poison. This represents humans after the Fall. While they are not wholly corrupt, the corruption they do have extends to every part. And finally consider a third glass which is filled entirely with poison. From top to bottom there is nothing but deadly poison. This represents Satan, who the Bible portrays as being absolutely corrupt so there is no good left whatsoever, but this does not represent humans here on earth. Humans are not as depraved as they could possibly be. We must note that sinful men who have been cast into hell will also be in this state where they are wholly depraved.
One might ask, then, why God has allowed men who are corrupt in extent not to be corrupt in degree. The reason we find in Scripture is simply that God is merciful. Had He not intervened every human would indeed be corrupt in both extent and degree. If every person in the world were as filled with sin as he could be, the world would be uninhabitable, filled with murderers, thieves and all manner of evil. Thankfully God has allowed even sinful men to avoid being wholly corrupt. There are several means He has given to do this.
Conscience – Every human being has been given a conscience, an inner working which helps restrain the desire to do evil. Paul writes in Romans 2 "...their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them." (verse 15)
Government – God has put civil authorities in place to restrain men from evil. Furthermore, He has given them the authority to dispense justice and punishment. Romans 13 verses 1 through 5 speak to this. "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake."
Fear of Death – Humans have a natural fear of death. Every man-made religion emphasizes the necessity of doing good so that we can store up a treasure of good deeds to supposedly sustain us in the life after death. Hebrews 2:14-15 reads "[Jesus] likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage."
Society – People are also restrained by the desire to appear good before their friends, families and society in general. Doing good is generally valued highly enough that people seek to attain to some degree of goodness.
That is the Christian view on depravity. All humans are corrupt in extent – every part of us testifies to our imperfection, but thanks be to God, not in degree. And before us lies a decision. God tells us that when we die we can anticipate either becoming perfected, so once again we will be like that glass of water that is crystal clear, free from any poison of corruption or being cast out of His presence where we will become like that glass of poison, as corrupt and evil and filled with hate as we could possibly be.
In our next article, I'd like to make an application for this doctrine.
The T in TULIP - Part 2
This is the second article in a series dealing with the Five Points of Calvinism and attempting to draw some fresh application from them. I anticipate that each of the five points will merit two articles.
The first article dealing with the T in TULIP can be found here. Today we will seek personal application for this doctrine.
Total Depravity: The Great Equalizer
I often feel that I have a boring or even uninspiring testimony. Like most believers, I have sat through (and sometimes endured) courses, seminars and Bible studies that have taught the value of a good testimony in evangelizing the lost. Many of these have taught evangelistic techniques that begin and end with a riveting testimony, as if God can only save through such a testimony. Of course, like any long-time believer, I have heard some incredible and inspiring testimonies. I have heard about women who were prostitutes giving their lives to the Lord and becoming active in ministry to women. I have met men who were drug dealers, living lives that would cause the most hardened of us to pale, but who were convicted of their sin and, through God's grace, were saved. Compared to these, my testimony seems bland. It seems boring.
My testimony goes something like this: I was born into a Christian home. I was a pretty good kid and never got into any real trouble. Sure I lied a little bit and stole some pocket change from my mother on occasion, but I never did anything really bad. At some point during my teenage years I became a Christian. I do not have a crystal-clear idea of when this happened, but I do know that by the time I graduated high school I was a committed Christian. The end. Not surprisingly, no one has ever offered me a book deal or a spot on the speaking circuit to share that testimony with others.
Rebecca of "Rebecca Writes" fame, once expressed a similar sentiment in an article on her blog. "I came to Christ when I was very young. For almost as long as I can remember, I have been a crooked arrow being made straight rather than a crooked arrow spinning wildly. My testimony doesn't start with 'I was a teenaged prostitute drug-dealing felon, but God saved me.' Nope. 'I was a naughty five-year-old' is about the worst I can do."
In the article Rebecca expresses a belief that I share - Total Depravity is the great equalizer of believers before God. Even when we compare the most sinful man to the young boy who was saved long before he even knew how to get into serious trouble, we see that all men are equal before this law. After all, the Scriptures teach that we are not sinners merely because of the degree of our depravity, but because of the extent. As we saw in the first article on this topic, if we were to speak of a person who was totally depraved in degree, we would mean that the person was exactly as sinful as he could possibly be. Every thought of his heart and every action he undertook would be wholly, completely evil. Clearly there are some people in the world who are more depraved in degree than others and thus the degree of human depravity varies from person to person. This is why we need to distinguish between degree and extent. When we speak of a person who is totally depraved in extent, we mean that every part of that person has been affected by sin. His mind, body, spirit, motives, and thoughts are all corrupt and imperfect. In this measure, all men are equal.
The extent of my depravity is just as great as that of the worst sinner the world has ever known. The thoughts of his heart were continually evil, and so were mine. He hated God, and so did I. I had little opportunity to express this hatred and resentment, yet the Bible teaches that it was there all along. Titus 3:3 tells us that "For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another." These words are as true of a child as they are of an adult. Even a young child passes her days in foolishness, disobedience and malice towards both God and men. There are none who are truly innocent before God.
Ephesians 2:1-3 reads, "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." Rebecca writes, "Yep, there I was, in the evil band of those marching along the wrong path. I looked innocent enough, with my ringlets and ruffly dress and patent leather shoes, but what you couldn't see is that I, too, was being energized by a spirit ruled by the prince of the power of the air. Yet God, in his mercy, reached down and plucked me from the power of darkness and transferred me to the kingdom of the Son."
Were it not for Scripture's clear teaching on Total Depravity, I may have cause to boast or to consider myself somehow more innocent than a person who instigated and endured much pain and suffering before being drawn to the Lord. Yet the Bible teaches me that my depravity, even as a child, was as great in extent as anyone's. It was only His grace that kept me from being as corrupt in degree. If God delights in saving us, who are depraved in extent, we know also that God can save anyone despite the degree of his sin. If I compare myself to another and find him more in need of a Savior than I, I have made the mistake of comparing my sin to his, instead of comparing my sin to God's perfection. God does not judge us by comparing one to the other, but against His perfect Law.
Before I close, I want to return briefly to those of us with what we perceive to be boring testimonies. It is amazing - shocking really - that the miracle of being delivered from death to life can be considered bland by myself or anyone else. Yet we all love a good story, and my story does not seem particularly exciting. But in reality, I think the testimony of a person, raised in a Christian home, who was saved in childhood is the most exciting testimony we can be privileged to hear. Is it not immeasurably beautiful that God is, indeed, faithful from one generation to the next? He promised the Israelites that He would show "steadfast love to thousands [of generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments." (Exodus 20:6). Perhaps this is best-expressed (as the footnote in the ESV says) as "showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation" of those who love Him. When the child of believing parents is given the gift of eternal life, we can marvel in God's faithfulness to His promises. We can marvel also in His grace, that there are some whom He so blesses so that they do not need to experience such a degree of sin. Truly God is merciful. I pray and plead that He will extend such grace to my children, that they, too, may have testimonies of being drawn to Him while they are still young.
Total Depravity is not mere doctrine, but is truth that should and must impact the believer's life. This truth is the great equalizer, for it shows that the best and worst of men are all equally corrupt in light of God's perfect standard. "The man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does." (James 1:23) Rebecca writes, "Total depravity is both the nastiest and loveliest of truths, because it's only by seeing exactly what I was that I can understand what has been done for me. Knowing the depth of God's love comes only as I fathom how far he had to stoop to grasp me." God had to stoop just as far to grab me as He did the lowliest criminal, for we were equally dead, equally depraved and equally in need of His grace, His life. We are equal as we fall to our faces before the cross.
We will continue this discussion in the future, as we move to the "U" in TULIP.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Monday, November 06, 2006
What It Means To Be Reformed
Every year or so I find myself crawling back to a definition of the word Reformed that I first wrote up a couple of years ago. I find it worthwhile to revisit this every twelve months or so. With the amount of reading and studying I do in a year, I feel it is interesting to turn to this definition to see what I would change and what I would refine. I also find it humbling to see which parts of the definition I may have emphasized at the expense of others. And so today I thought I would define the word Reformed, trusting that the readers of this site will find it helpful. While Calvinism and Reformed are not fully synonymous, most people understand them to be so. Because the differences between them are subtle, I will use them synonymously.
It is important to understand that because the Reformed tradition arose from the Protestant Reformation, the term Reformed was not defined from within a void. Rather, it was defined as a biblical response to the excesses and perversions of the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformers, having returned to Scripture, attempted to carefully and faithfully rebuild the church upon the teachings of the New Testament. Thus by affirming Reformed theology, a person is implicitly denying certain other theologies, such as Catholic theology (which Reformed theology rose in opposition to) and Arminian theology (which later rose in opposition to Reformed theology). While Calvinism predates Arminianism, it was only codified in the five points after the rise of Arminianism. There is a sense in which Calvinism is both a cause of and the reaction to Arminianism. Or perhaps we could say that Arminianism is a response to Reformed theology, and the codification of Calvinism is a response to Arminianism.
There are many expressions of the Christian faith that are based at least partially on the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Bible. These are separated into four main divisions: Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant and Cults. Protestantism can be fairly readily divided into two camps: Arminian and Reformed. The vast majority of Protestants hold to Arminian doctrine. We will concern ourselves today with the minority who consider themselves Reformed. These tend to be people who attend Presbyterian or Reformed Baptist Churches, though they may be found in other churches as well. Sadly, there are many churches that were once Reformed and may still use the title, even if they have long since abandoned the theology.
It is surprisingly difficult to find a worthwhile definition of Reformed. While many people claim to understand the Reformed faith and are eager to provide a definition, few seem to be both fair and adequate. Here are a couple of examples culled from a Google search:
- A term used to refer to a tradition of theology which draws inspiration from the writings of John Calvin (1510-64) and his successors. The term is generally used in preference to "Calvinist."
- Referring to the Reformation, it's theology, and/or those subscribing to it. Also used to differentiate a,) Calvinism from Lutheranism, or b.) Continental European Calvinism from Scottish Calvinism, aka Presbyterianism.
Those are both concise definitions but ones that do not capture the full sense of the word. A far better and more complete definition is found at Five Solas. There Professor Byron Curtis, a professor at Geneva College breaks the definition into four parts which I will expound in some detail. The first two parts define foundational Protestant beliefs and the second two are exclusively Reformed. According to Curtis, to be Reformed is:
- To confess the consensus of the five first centuries of the church:
- Classic theism: One omnipotent, benevolent God, distinct from creation.
- Nicene and Chalcedonian Trinitarianism: one God in three eternally existent persons, equal in power and glory.
- Christ, the God-Man, the one mediator between God & the human race, incarnate, crucified, resurrected, ascended, & coming again.
- Humanity created in the image of God, yet tragically fallen & profoundly in need of restoration to God through Christ.
- The Visible Church: the community of the redeemed, indwelt by the Holy Spirit; the mystical body of Christ on earth.
- The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
- The Sacraments: visible signs and seals of the grace of God, ministering Christ's love to us in our deep need.
- The Christian life: characterized by the prime theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.
It would be correct to say that, to this point, we are dealing with a statement of the Protestant faith more than a statement of the Reformed faith. From this list we see that Reformed Christians adhere to all the foundational beliefs taught in the Bible. These beliefs were the foundation of the early church and are based on the teachings of the Bible as interpreted by the apostles and early church fathers. Many of these beliefs were changed or lost as the Catholic Church grew in power and authority from the fifth century onwards. Throughout history there were isolated and often-persecuted pockets of non-Catholic believers who held to many or all of these points of doctrine, but they were largely lost until their rediscovery at the time of the Reformation.
We will find that Professor Curtis' definition is based largely upon a Presbyterian understanding of several doctrines. Reformed Baptists may take issue with the sacraments being signs and seals. I would suggest that Reformed believers will have a high view of two sacraments, though they may differ somewhat on just how they are to understood and how they are to be administered.
- To confess the four solas:
- The authority of Scripture: sola scriptura (Scripture alone)
- the basis of salvation: Sola Gratia (Grace alone)
- the means of salvation: Sola Fide (Faith alone)
- the merit of salvation: Solus Christus (Christ alone)
Again, these form the basis for Protestantism as much as they do for the Reformed tradition, though sadly the majority of Protestants will never encounter the terms. These are the principles that drove the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century and separated it from the Roman Catholic Church. These four points of doctrine are based entirely on the Bible and were the theological driving force behind the newly formed Protestant movement.
- To confess the distinctives of the Reformed faith:
- In salvation: monergism not synergism. God alone saves. Such monergism implies T.U.L.I.P., the Five Points of Calvinism from the Synod of Dordt:
T = Total Depravity U = Unconditional Election L = Limited Atonement, or, better, Particular Redemption I = Irresistible Grace P = Perseverence and Preservation of the Saints
These five distinct points of doctrine are also known as the five points of Calvinism as they were first articulated by John Calvin after the Reformation was in full-swing. They are based entirely on the Bible. When people speak of being Reformed these five points of doctrine are most often what they are referring to. Most evangelical (non-Reformed) churches do not hold to all of these points. Some hold to two or three (and occasionally even four), but most reject them in favor of Arminian theology which is, at heart, synergistic, relying on a cooperative effort between man and God.
- In salvation: monergism not synergism. God alone saves. Such monergism implies T.U.L.I.P., the Five Points of Calvinism from the Synod of Dordt:
- Other Reformed Distinctives:
Professor Curtis goes on to list other points of doctrine he believes are Reformed distinctives. They include: The Regulative Principle of Worship, Covenant theology (The Church is the New Israel - we most often see an expression of this theology in infant baptism, but it also impacts eschatology and many other doctrines) and Life is religion (Christians have neither jobs nor careers; they have vocations (callings)). I would not consider adherence to these principles necessary to consider oneself Reformed and I suspect the majority of Reformed Christians would agree with me. It is these distinctions that provide some of the differences between Calvinist and Reformed.
- Finally: in everything, Soli Deo Gloria - to God alone be the glory in all things.
This is, once more, something all Christians would claim, either explicitly or implicitly. In all areas of life we are to give glory to God alone.
So what does this all mean? To be Reformed is to adhere to the purist teachings of the Bible - to affirm the doctrine taught by Jesus, Paul and the apostles. Scripture is considered the ultimate authority in matters of life and faith and all Reformed doctrine is founded on the Bible. I am convinced that Reformed doctrine is nothing more than the teachings of Jesus, the Apostles and the totality of the Scriptures. Were it not for human sin we would have to make no distinction between biblical Christianity and the Reformed faith.
If you are interested in learning more about the Reformed tradition, there are many excellent resources availble to you. Here are a few favorites:
- Christian Handbook by Peter Jeffery - an excellent little book I reviewed here that introduces Christian beliefs from a Reformed perspective (A very brief review).
- Putting Amazing Back Into Grace by Michael Horton. This is an excellent, fun introduction to the Five Points (my review).
- Desiring God by John Piper - not for the faint-of-heart but does a great job of explaining Reformed principles (Discerning Reader reviews).
- What Is Reformed Theology? by R.C. Sproul (Discerning Reader reviews).
- The Doctrines of Grace by James Boice (Discerning Reader reviews).